Sept. 28, 2005
John L. Waters wrote:
"Some skeptics run away. For example, apparently the famous skeptic James Randi ran away when Rico Kolodzey offered to show Randy evidence that he lived on prana and water."
John goes on to quote James Randi,
"Are you actually claiming that you have not consumed any food products except water, since the end of 1998? If this is what you are saying, did you think for one moment that we would believe it?
"If this is actually your claim, you're a liar and a fraud. We are not interested in pursuing this further, nor will we exchange correspondence with you on the matter."
This quote is accurate and true and has been discussed many times. John is just a little behind the times, but I'll be happy to answer his questions.
1. "Why aren't medical scientists in the USA seriously interested, and why wasn't James Randi interested in Mr. Kolodzey's claim to live on prana?"
The answer is simple: it is completely irresponsible to test such a claim. If someone claims that they can jump, naked, from the top of the Empire State Building and land, unharmed simply because "yogic force" allows them to float safely to the ground, should we test them?
When your claim contradicts known facts and the most obvious result is serious or fatal damage, it would be criminal to encourage someone to offer a demonstration.
The folks who claim to live off of sunlight and air have been tested, on several occasions, as safely as possible. Unfortunately, safety restrictions prohibit proper testing. If you say you've lived on nothing but water, air and sunlight for years, relying on a mystical force for sustenance - you can't prove that without risking death. If you just go a short time without food, you've proved nothing exceptional and if you go a longer time, you've only proven that you're willing to risk your health. If you go long enough - you'll die.
2. "Why does James Randi just dismiss people who are doing something mysterious, like living on "yogic energy" without really investigating their earnest claims?"
He doesn't. He dismisses those claims which would result in serious injury or death if the claimant fails - because, as sure acorns fall down instead of up, someone attempting to live for an extended time without food is going to die. It's also incredibly difficult to test. You have to isolate the claimant and observe them 24/7 for an extended period of time. The individuals who have been tested have needed serious medical attention or have been caught cheating.
John also asks:
"Might this be a deceptive feint that one might expect from a former professional magician?"
What an amazingly clever argument ad hominem.
The deception, my friend, has been demonstrated many times and it's always on the part of the person making the claim. They're either unintentionally deceiving themselves, or intentionally trying to deceive the public. If someone claims they have lived on nothing but water, air and sunlight for many years - they're most likely intentionally trying to deceive others.
Why can "fire walkers" walk across hot coals, yet not stand on my hot stove? For the same reason that a paper cup can heat water in a bed of coals, yet bursts into flames on my stove - wood is a poor conductor of heat, and the metal coil on my stove is a great conductor of heat. Should we test the fire walker who claims he can stand on my hot stove?
If you have an exceptional, supernatural claim which isn't likely to result in your death if you fail, that's something we can test. If your claim is factually unsound, and would most likely result in serious injury or death, it would be tantamount to criminal negligence to encourage your delusions. And what happens when we agree to test someone claiming to live on "prana" and they are caught cheating or die? The believers claim that the test wasn't fair, that something interfered with the claimants abilities or that he simply wasn't the "real deal" - but this other guy is legit, we should test him next. You haven't proved that it's "impossible", just that it didn't happen in this case.
Personally, I'm inclined to be in favor of testing this. Let's take everyone who claims to be able to live only on "prana" air, water and sunlight and lock them in a large plexi-glass structure with running water and ventilation. Then place all of their followers outside the glass to watch. I'm betting we'd see an end to these sorts of claims in a relatively short amount of time. The claimants would die off, and their followers would be disinclined to continue promoting dangerous, superstitious claims like these.
It would also allow us to prosecute the next person who endangers the life of a gullible individual by claiming they don't need to eat. Anyone who believes Mr. Kolodzey has eaten no food since 1998 should seek professional help, immediately.
Make your claim, and have it tested, Mr. Waters. Asking why skeptics aren't willing to watch the gullible commit suicide is completely irrelevant to your claim and its validity.
About the author: Matt Dillahunty is an active member of the Atheist Community of Austin (www.atheist-community.org). In addition to his article submissions for Useless-Knowledge, he enjoys e-mail and forum debates.
He also hosts/co-hosts on a weekly call-in television program (The Atheist Experience) and a bi-weekly Internet radio program (The Non-Prophets), which are both sponsored by the ACA.
After more than 20 years as a fundamentalist Christian, his interest in apologetics, skepticism and critical thinking convinced him that his religious beliefs were the result of irrational, uneducated thought and the beliefs of Christianity and other religions are simply untenable.
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