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About this week’s eSkeptic

In this week’s eSkeptic, Dustin White reveals the inside story, detailing his personal experience faith healing, performing exorcisms, and doing psychic surgeries. White recounts the deception, lies, theatrics, motivations, and justifications involved. This article appeared in Skeptic magazine issue 19.1 (2014).

Dustin White focused on religious studies at Concordia College in Moorhead, MN, and is now pursuing a Masters of Arts in Theological Studies. He is also a professional magician who uses his knowledge to lecture on topics such as psychics and other con artists.

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Becoming a Faith Healer:
An Insider’s Look at the Business
of Revealed Religion

by Dustin White

In 1996, when I was just eight years old, I got involved in faith healing. My family had been attending a non-denominational church called Faith Family Church in Minot, ND. Non-denominational was really a code word for evangelical. In fact, we were a spirit-filled branch of evangelical Protestantism called Pentecostalism, which believes in the inerrancy of scripture, the acceptance of Jesus as one’s Lord and Savior, and especially the belief in the baptism of the Holy Spirit that grants people the power of such spiritual gifts as speaking in tongues and divine healing. For the next decade, I was deeply involved with this movement and then became a young faith healer myself. Shortly after I left the church at the age of 18 in 2006, the church told me that they were rejecting my ordination with them, and disavowing any association with me. After I left, the church discovered that my theological ideas had changed to the point that in fact I had became an atheist. I had also become considerably more liberal in my social attitudes in that I didn’t condemn anyone who had different ideas, as one is apt to do when deeply involved in religion. Shortly thereafter, because of the decreasing number of members and dwindling resources, the minister suddenly “had a calling to a new church,” and our Faith Family Church shut its doors for good. But in that decade I learned a lot about human psychology and the power of belief.

Becoming a Faith Healer

Faith healing began for me not long after I became a member of this Pentecostal church where “healings” were almost a weekly occurrence. Being young and easily influenced, I was amazed by such feats. There was no way I could have questioned them because my church encouraged blind faith. When I eventually got the chance to become a faith healer myself, I was ecstatic.

Becoming a faith healer was like becoming a superhero. It was not just that it meant that one would have “power” over the natural world, and especially over sickness and disease, but that one was actually chosen by God. The sense of power was overwhelming, at least at first. Power over others can be intoxicating, but stronger still was the belief— the “fact” in my mind—that what I was doing was God’s work.

Initially, the act of faith healing began as a group experience. The children in the church would be brought up to the front at the end of the service so that they could lay their hands on the “sick.” These people, however, were never the severely ill. We never attempted to “heal” anyone who had a serious disorder or problem. We were told that our faith was not yet strong enough to heal the truly sick, so instead we were instructed to lay our hands on individuals who would have gotten better anyway, such as people who had a common cold, or who were grieving. Yet, we believed—as did the people we laid hands on—that it was through faith that they were “miraculously” healed.

Illustration copyright 2014 by Pat Linse

Illustration by Pat Linse

Shortly after these group healings began, the minister approached my father and step-mother. I recall my parents telling me that the minister had been impressed with me, and that he thought that the spirit was working through me especially strongly. This confused me because the things that the minister had allegedly said he witnessed (such as me prophesying) were things I did not remember doing. Being unable to recall the actual incidents that were mentioned, I was sure that what the minister described did not happen. However, who was I to disagree with him? At that age, who disagrees with adults? There was no reason I could think of why the minister would lie about something like this, so I questioned myself instead.

It was after this that the minister took me under his wing and began teaching me more about faith healing. My initial impression that this was a gift given by God soon began to erode. I was told that sometimes we had “to help God.” It was sometimes necessary to fake miracles in order to help inspire faith in others. This deception, I was told, should “not be seen as lying” because it was bringing people to the faith. It went further than this though. I was encouraged not to see using information given to me freely as being unethical. Instead, I was told to see it as the information being delivered to me by God. God supposedly worked through the process of having me purposely learn all I could about the congregants so that I could feed it back to them later. I was learning how to do the “hot” version of cold readings!

This manipulation, however, did not stop at just learning about the congregants. It was also important to know how to create an environment that lent itself to creating emotional ecstasy. An effective tool to this end was music, which we used to create the “right state of mind.” Through the use of music, we were able to create the impression that God had entered into fellowship with the congregation. Combining this with the “heartfelt” words of a charismatic minister, the potential to create an ecstatic uproar in the church was almost guaranteed. I later discovered that it was also a surefire way to get the congregants to open up their wallets.

Faith healings were only part of our job description. We also performed exorcisms on both people and their homes. They believed that many illnesses and/or disorders were caused by demonic influence, so the primary way to deal with such problems was to exorcize the demons. And believe me, these exorcisms were great performance pieces, especially when some creativity was thrown into the mix.

Seeing demons was something that I was encouraged to do from a young age. Growing up, I was taught that being able to see demons was a “gift.” For me, I was convinced that the shadows I saw at night were in fact demons. It was truly terrifying. Having an overactive imagination did not help matters when I began seeing demons everywhere, which made me terrified of the dark. At any moment I felt as if I could be attacked by these nearly invisible beings whose only intentions were to cause harm. Making mad dashes to the restroom at night became frequent occurrences—but only when I could muster the courage to do so as I was often curled up in my bed, frozen in fear.

However, once I began exorcising demons that fear evaporated. When I eventually came to the conclusion that demons were just fictional creations, that made exorcisms all the more interesting, as it turned the act of an exorcism into a theatrical piece. It became my duty to convince the participants that either they or their house were possessed by demons, and this made them commit more fully to the performance. It didn’t take much of a push, but adding some creative trickery allowed for a mediocre performance to become a great show.

There were a number of methods used to fake a demonic possession of a house. The simplest trick was having a pocket full of pebbles and occasionally throwing one at a random object. There was little chance of getting caught because there were plenty of distractions taking place, especially since everyone was kept busy praying. After we were done exorcising a room, we devised a great excuse for one of us to hang back for a while so we could clean up the pebbles. We did this under the guise of anointing the room with oil, supposedly in order to keep demons from reentering the room. The oil itself was nothing special—just regular vegetable oil with vanilla and lavender mixed in to give it a more appealing scent.

But it was also an ideal chance to do a little investigation. While the minister moved the exorcism to the next room, I had a chance to search through the room to see what could be found out. There was always a good deal of information to be gathered, from sources such as photo albums, greeting cards (especially sympathy or get well cards), as well as open mail lying on a table, desk, or computer screen. It rarely took much searching to find useful information such as illness in the family, money issues, or love problems. Such difficulties are common in every family, so it was just a matter of getting the details for each particular case, privacy be damned.

Staying behind in a house also gave me time to rig up some of the larger deceptions that we would later pull off. This often consisted of causing some havoc in a room that we had not yet exorcized of demons. Papers, books, pillows, or clothes would be scattered throughout the room. Pictures that were hanging on the wall would be either placed on the ground, or tilted off center on their hooks. If a room had a crucifix or cross we would move it outside of the room, or turn it upside down. When I did the latter, I would attach a piece of thread to the crucifix and at the climax of the exorcism I could tug on the thread and have the cross swing around to its right-side up position, thereby confirming that the demons were gone. The thread trick also worked well to create evidence of realtime demonic activity: I would attach a piece of thread to a picture frame sitting on a table or ledge, then give it a pull at a propitious moment to send it crashing to the floor. While this was a frightening ordeal for the participants it also encouraged them to pray harder—it was a sign that they were winning, that the demons were becoming frightened and that they would be expelled from the house.

Our tricks were not always harmless—often they caused physical damage. One time I used hooks in order to create the appearance of claw marks climbing up the sheet rock in a bedroom closet. It was extremely effective in creating the impression that our exorcism was real since it was done in the one room that we had not yet blessed, giving the illusion that a frightened demon had no other way out besides struggling to crawl up the walls in order to escape. Another time I used those same hooks to create the impression that a demon had shredded pillows and curtains. We justified such vandalism by believing we were giving people hope—the rationalization for many cons.

My favorite trick was faking a demonic attack. These were always directed at either myself or the minister and had the effect of strengthening the participants’ faith in us. If the demons were physically attacking us, it meant that they were afraid of us— and for good reason because we had God on our side. A common method we used was to shred a sleeve of our shirt with a razor beforehand, and then hide the damage under a coat. During an intense moment of the exorcism, the minister or I would initiate the fake attack by suddenly appearing to be pulled from behind, which was accomplished by just lunging backwards. After falling to the ground, which we orchestrated in a place that would obscure the participants’ view of us, we would simply slip off the coat, revealing our shredded shirt as evidence of the demonic attack. The effectiveness of the trick was intensified by continuing on with the exorcism as if nothing happened, as if this was just part of the expected battle with Satan we had to endure. It kept everyone from noticing the fact that there were no apparent scratches on our skin, and it extended the climax of the exorcism. Before leaving the room, however, we always made sure to put our coat back on to prevent anyone from inspecting our arms for scratch marks.

These house exorcisms also proved to be a valuable source of information that we could use during subsequent sermons. The word of mouth that spread after a house exorcism generated a phenomenal turnout for our sermons the next Sunday, and this of course drove up revenue through greater donations. We would have the individuals whose house we had exorcised come up for a public healing and/or additional exorcism. We first had to be sure that the individual believed they were possessed. This was not that hard to establish since most people who came to us asking for such an exorcism already believed that demonic forces caused their problems. However, in order to really sell an exorcism, there was some coaching and prepping we needed to do. For example, through numerous “counseling” sessions, we would reinforce the person’s belief that a demon was dwelling within them. This was done by asking them leading questions and getting them to admit that they were sinners who were unable to control their weaknesses—such as lying or drinking. It was easy to attribute such actions to a demon, and our marks were only too happy to shunt the blame to supernatural forces beyond their control. The main purpose of these sessions, though, was to let people know how they should act during the exorcism. We told each individual what they should expect from the ordeal. We suggested that demons do not want to let go of their hosts, and that this would cause the spirits to become violent. This violence would manifest itself in the form of outbursts and threats. The individual would have to be restrained, as the demon would attack the poeple casting it out of its vessel. We also informed them that the tools we would be using—such as holy water and crosses—would make the demons writhe in pain. Explaining all this helped insure that our marks would fully commit to the performance and become willing participants in it. If they truly wanted this demon to be gone, they were going to have to act like it.

This was the key to the entire faith healing, and exorcism performance: letting the participants know how they were expected to act. If they were to be healed, they better follow this ritualistic performance. It was an unspoken agreement, and was so ingrained in the congregation that it was not questioned. As an additional bonus, such acts demonstrated their faith, and if they did not act in such a manner, then it was their fault for not having faith. It was never the faith healer’s fault if the healing or exorcism failed.

It also did not matter if people said they were not ill. As with demon possession, it is very easy to convince a person that they have some sort of illness, especially if you know their family history, which we always did. If heart disease or some other health issues ran in a family, they could be made to believe they also had the same problem, even if it had not manifested itself yet. Often, such issues were attributed to some sort of negative spirit that we, of course, would have to exorcise from them. Knowing the family history also allowed us to avoid “healing” them from a disease they really had and that we knew we could not cure. For example, if I were to diagnose someone with breast cancer and they actually had it (and more importantly knew about it), there was a risk that they would believe it truly was healed and not then go in for treatment. To be responsible for someone’s death would be too much, and even though crossing ethical lines is something that I did, there was still a limit. It was also the reason that there is a refusal to “heal” someone with a terminal disease. To do so is crossing an ethical line that was far past the limit. Instead, it was much better to console the family by saying that it was in God’s plan that their loved one would pass on. This also often meant a large payout to the church.

There were additional methods we used to increase the benefits we got from the faith healing performances. The addition of a few extra details sold the performance to the entire congregation. The main one, as I mentioned before, was hot reading the audience by gathering information about individuals ahead of time. Besides snooping around while performing house exorcisms, we also gathered intel during routine house calls. There was always a time for either myself or the minister to walk off and take down a few notes while the mark was being distracted. Counseling sessions also proved to be a jackpot for obtaining information. People in distress will give away many personal and intimate details that can be fed back to them later on. Even easier were the prayer cards we passed out before each sermon, filled out ahead of time by the people in attendance. After collecting them we would have all of the information we could ever want to use during the service. We would go to the office after the offering was collected (when the prayer cards would also be handed in) and take note of a handful of easier ones, or we would simply take the prayer cards, slip them into a Bible and read from them. The Bible method was especially effective, as it guaranteed an accurate reading of each card, free from error, and at the same time gave the performance a little more authority as the Bible was being evoked.

There were also times when we would plant individuals in the audience in order to give the illusion of greater miracles. This was not a practice that was used often—it was reserved for special occasions. It allowed for great performance pieces, such as healing a person who was blind, and having them throw their glasses and cane down while naming everything they could now see. We also were able to give the appearance of individuals being able to walk again, and have them dance on stage. In some cases, to make a greater impact, we would even purposely dress these individuals up to look older than they were. Finding such stooges was very simple—money is a great motivator. We actively sought out different local actors who were struggling. If nothing else, we would pick up a homeless person off the street and give them a crash course in acting. It really did not take much, and the money we paid out was always recouped by the church in the donation sessions.

During my stint as a faith healer, I was also taught how to do psychic surgeries. These were rare and always reserved for near the end of a performance. The method was simple. We would select an individual and convince them that they had a tumor that needed to be removed, and have them lie on a table at the front of the church. A little bowl filled with fake blood and chicken gizzards was hidden on a shelf attached to the bottom of the table. Lifting up the individual’s shirt to expose their stomach, we would take a wet towel and “clean” the area where the surgery incision was supposedly going to be made. The wet towel served several purposes. Wetting the subject’s skin made the fake blood flow faster and spread more dramatically. The towel itself could be positioned on the subject’s stomach to block the audience’s view and hide material taken from the bowl. And it could be moved around under the guise of wiping up blood, allowing the hidden chicken parts to be transfered under the hand which was positioned over the supposed surgery site. Reaching under the hand that was now concealing the bloody gizzards, we would fake a struggle when extracting the pieces as if we had seized a tumor that didn’t want to come out. This would be repeated a few times, until all of the tumors were removed. All the while we would wipe around the wound which allowed us to squeeze more water into the fake blood to get it to run more. After the gizzards were removed, we would lay our hand on the “patient’s” stomach, say a prayer, and then clean them up until they were whole again.

When performing a psychic surgery, we always made sure to choose our patients carefully. They were people who, as far as we could tell, didn’t really have anything wrong with them but who could be manipulated into thinking they were sick. We convinced them that they had kidney stones, or some sort of tumor that God had revealed to us. And since we had a personal line of communication with God, who could doubt us? Often these people felt lucky that God had revealed their condition before it got to the point they were aware of it.

A final technique that we used was to give the appearance of people falling over after being touched by the spirit. There were many ways to create this effect. In some cases, we simply pushed the person over. It was quite easy, as they never saw it coming, and when they did fall backwards, they were conditioned to think that it was the spirit touching them. This was often masked by delivering an energetic prayer for the individual—and then suddenly we would push them. A more subtle means of toppling a believer was by placing a hand on their lower back, and then while praying for them (with our hands on their forehead), slowly push their head back until they lost their balance and fell backwards. Other times, the people just fell over willfully, as that was the role they were expected to play. Undoubtedly, some of these people faked it, but we did not mind as we were faking the whole ordeal as well.

Finally, in case you’re wondering about our motivation, it’s not complicated. For my minister, it was for the money. After he drained church coffers, he was gone. For me, I felt as if I was helping people. Yes, of course, I knew that I was manipulating them and in many cases flat out lying to them; however, I also knew that many people gained hope from these experiences. It gave them the sense that someone cared, and that someone was looking out for them. In turn, I believed that this brought them happiness, at least for a short while. Even though it was not God’s work, I figured it was still good work.

After the minister left, people continued coming to me. They wanted to believe that what I did was real, so I allowed it. For many, they did not know what else to do, so they approached me, hoping that maybe something could change. Others came because it gave them a sense of being part of the congregation. For others, it was a way out, an excuse—it is easier to blame a demon for one’s actions rather than admitting to one’s own faults.

After the church closed, I figured I was done with the whole ordeal. They had broken all association with me, and I had no desire to remember that time in my life. I was no longer living in Minot, so there was little chance that I would run into someone who had belonged to the church. For around seven years I put it all behind me and kept silent. Now, being 25 years old, I have begun thinking about that time of my life again. Initially, I tried to find my old minister, but nothing turned up. The church he was supposedly called to either never existed, or it also has closed its doors. So instead, I decided that I needed to come clean about the con that I had participated in. This seemed especially necessary because for the last several years I have been lecturing on the methods of psychics. It felt dishonest for me to be exposing the methods of another group of cons, when I was guilty of having been involved with similar dishonesty. This has not been easy. It meant that I had to admit exactly what I did and at the same time relive those experiences. This article is a step toward reconciliation with myself, and also with those I conned. I hope in the process that by exposing the techniques we employed it can also serve to ward off others from being so deceived. END

22 Comments »

22 Comments

  1. ML says:

    Thank you for a most elucidating window on yet another dark and mysterious world of deceit and manipulation; the church. Across time and culture these organizations have continually undermined a true ethical evolution necessary for our greatest sociological ideals to actually be realized; the implementation of justice, freedom, equality, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to name a few. It seems to me that secular aspirations to benefit society are much closer to being “Godlike” than the religious constructs. It’s way past time for the transparency needed throughout all human endeavors to facilitate a successful and prosperous continuation, else we tragically and painfully perish. Just sayin’ :o)

  2. Anne says:

    Thanks for “outing” yourself. I’ve known people obsessed with psychics and miracle workers which I always intuitively known were fakes. I’m not surprised to learn that people know how to manipulate needy people spending money on faith-based programs. Recently finished a fascinating book, Zealot, which explores the life of Jesus the man. During that time miracle workers roamed from village to village as a way of earning a living. One reason he became popular is he was one of the few who didn’t charge for the magic acts. When you read about the history of the time and his path it’s easy to see how he ended up the son of God.

    Fascinating read. Thanks again.

  3. Awc says:

    OK I understand someone young going along with what an adult says.

    Many of us have worked at businesses where services are not as advertised. Ending the work place initially ignorant with rose colored glasses on. Later realizing the truth. However in a busineness at least money is the reason and you are delivering something of value (I hope).
    How does an adult who is claiming that the very “demon” they are fighting has the attribute of “deception” rationalize their position? Are they not 100% in conflict and go into this initially believing it is true? As an adult !!!
    I would like to understand more about this.
    Don’t give me the greater good argument when the thing they claim to fight is “deceiver” is the opposite of their actions.

    .

  4. Jack T says:

    maybe it is just me, but I think that even the smallest degree of sceptical analysis indicates this entire account is somewhere between highly exaggerated and total fabrication. The description of the “trickery” methods used in the exorcisms of houses, such as throwing pebbles about and pulling threads attached to picture frames on a walk-through. Really? Come now. Perhaps those techniques were only employed on the blind and deaf homeowners.

    Most of this appears to be at best no more than a poorly written fiction of many of the classic and well known techniques employed by faith-healers and similar charlatans.

    • Bob Pease says:

      If anything, the account here is condensed, and probably represents only a small
      part of all the stuff that happened to this “Abused ” child.

      These folks represent a worldview which defines obligation and evil in ways
      we think are just nuts.

      The real problem here is that they usually advocate a “Dominionist”
      future with their gang in charge.
      (Check out “The Handmaid’s Tale” for a not-too-fictionalized account of what they have in mind)

      I lived in De Beque Colordo for a while in the ’70’s
      Lotsa folks were devoting time and energy to warn and prepare for the
      RAPTURE, which was expected within a few years.

      IMO these folks and their modern ilk are a front-line danger to Democracy,
      although they have plenty of competition to fashionable Anti-Science “Newage” craperooni !!

      RJP

    • Awc says:

      It would be investing to read about a transformation in this situation. However I am skeptical that someone that would convince themselves of this has the self awareness to disect their personal journey.
      I agree the parlor tricks desceribed here are a bit hard to believe. I thought how filthy is the house that a string is hanging off a picture or cross going unnoticed? The other side of this is something must have been going on that kept them believing as adults. How much time in the week would be spent working on this 30 min or 8 hours?
      I don’t think I’ll be buying the book

  5. Rickh says:

    This seems just a bit too glib. I don’t see any serious remorse for deceiving and essentially stealing from the “marks”. It seems to me an uphill battle to convince your readers that you’re on the level (this time). Interesting that you continue your studies of “theology” even after you have had first hand experience of how impoverished it is. Add in the magic and the psychic stuff and we have fairly good confirmation that people rarely change much.

    • Bob Pease says:

      More dangerous than Elmer Gantry types, are folks like this.

      I believe that he can use charaltan tricks to stay in the public eye, gain attention, sell books or whatever.
      if he’s being a phoney now, he is using tricks which
      would not have been considered phony in his world at the time.

      ” For me, I felt as if I was helping people. Yes, of course, I knew that I was manipulating them ”

      In other words..

      Jesus loves you and has chosen you for his work.
      However , the gift of Salvation is laden with a heavy “burthen”
      Thank Jesus for choosing you at such a young age and
      TRUST AND OBEY.

      Many of his colleagues would rave about Mustard seed and
      SATAN’S GOTCHEE MA BOY!!

      I need to know if I have percieved madness and recovery correctly in this case.

      RJP

  6. MW says:

    I would really love to know the name of the pastor you worked with to see what kind of shenanigans he is up to now.

    • Bob Pease says:

      Elmoor Pantry ??

      We have an Elwood Schmantry on the Staff of
      Jeeter Jones School af Religion and Pizzacraft at

      Bob Dobbs University
      Church Of the Subgenius

      Pope Bobby III

  7. Hmmm says:

    Something about this story seems fishy. There is no Theological Studies Master’s at Concordia College unless he’s going elsewhere. No information on the church (except unverified info on a larger organization’s website), stated that the pastor is not able to be found…..

    The story would have some more legitimacy with more information. Without it, it’s just a story.

    • Bob Pease says:

      Thanks for checking this out.
      It should be the responsibility of the moderator to this site
      or the “Book” reviewers for reviewing outrageous phony books.

      Even with this caveat, the topic of Fundo Child Buyers and sincere delusion
      still stands

      RJP

  8. Max Dawson says:

    While I agree that there may be some exaggerations in this article, I would consider the bulk of what White writes to be fairly accurate. These are things that healers use to deceive people. I have spent more than 40 years investigating the claims of healers in America, Mexico and Africa. I have exposed numerous tricks and deceptions that are used by these fakers. I have found no one with any supernatural power. While my investigations do not rule out the possibility of someone having miraculous gifts, if anyone did actually have supernatural powers, he would then stand head and shoulders above other claimants.

    James Randi (The Amazing Randi, a stage magician) was a guest on my radio broadcast a number of years ago. He explained how many of the tricks are performed. I am indebted to him for giving me insight on this matter and helping me with my investigations.

    In my experience, a number of the men who claim miraculous powers from God are conscious frauds. However, there are some who are also self-deceived, who actually believe they can work miracles if only their faith is strong enough. But, whether it is the conscious fraud or the self-deceived, both end up with the same results. They have nothing–no miracles, no supernatural powers–nothing.

    Yet, the fact that these men can produce nothing does preclude the possibility that such powers exist, or that they may have existed in the past. As an example, the New Testament scriptures present a case for miraculous gifts that is at least worthy of consideration. It portrays the supernatural powers as being given for a definite time and definite purpose. When that time was completed and that purpose was accomplished, the gifts would be no more. The question would then become: Is the evidence presented in the New Testament sufficient to convince the rational and logical mind that such powers were active in the past? The answer to such a question has far-reaching and dramatic consequences for us individually and as a culture.

    It something worthy of serious thought by those who are open-minded and not afraid to think for themselves.

  9. Hmmm says:

    While I don’t doubt that some of the details may be accurate in the sense that these are things that frauds do…it doesn’t mean that this particular story is true. The tricks he described are well known and discussed at length by many (including James Randi) and because of this, it would be easy for someone to incorporate those details into a fabricated autobiographical story. I’m not saying that I 100% believe Edward White’s story isn’t real, I’m just saying it’s questionable. As a skeptic, I look for the holes in the stories…sometimes too much…but I don’t take much at face value.

  10. Hmmm says:

    I’m sorry…correction to my above post…the author is Dustin White…not Edward. I was reading something else prior and combined names. :P

  11. Richard Harkness says:

    Max Dawson says: …”While my investigations do not rule out the possibility of someone having miraculous gifts, if anyone did actually have supernatural powers, he would then stand head and shoulders above other claimants…Yet, the fact that these men can produce nothing does preclude the possibility that such powers exist, or that they may have existed in the past…
    It something worthy of serious thought by those who are open-minded and not afraid to think for themselves.”

    I think Max, in trying to be open-minded, cedes too much ground here. My understanding is that the supernatural does not–in fact, cannot–exist in our universe. Whether it’s now or in the past makes no difference. All things that exist must obey what we call the natural laws of physics (otherwise how could they exist in the first place?). There are undoubtedly laws of physics yet to be discovered, but there’s no sensible reason to think that there are any laws of NON-physics. Therefore, any so-called “dualism” is not between physical and nonphysical (i.e., supernatural), but between physical and nonexistent. A key misunderstanding that fosters confusion–even among highly educated and very smart people, in my experience–is equating stuff we call “abstract” with “nonphysical”–the two terms are not synonymous.

    • Bob Pease says:

      The problem we have is the (intenional?) dumbing-down of the population who are in control of the finances and energy use worldwide.
      Thyto find ANONE who can define “Energy”

      the best I can get is
      “Magick fluid that flows through the Chakras”

      The usual answer ampunts to “you’re a Pinko Commie wiseguy, why don’t you tell me!!!???”

      Verbal imagery from “Mindswap” by Robert Sherley

      Sic transit

      Dr.S

  12. Max Dawson says:

    A correction to my post of July 10, 2014 at 9:42 am: The first sentence of the fourth paragraph left out the word “not.” It should read as follows…

    “Yet, the fact that these men can produce nothing does not preclude the possibility that such powers exist, or that they may have existed in the past.”

  13. Max Dawson says:

    I agree with Robert Harkness, that if the “supernatural…cannot exist” then there is no possibility of the miraculous at any time. But, that begins with an anti-supernatural bias. What if evidence were to be presented that demonstrates the supernatural? Would we conclude that it cannot be true because of our bias?

    I am not suggesting that we cede anything, but I am suggesting that we be open to evidence. In my judgment, I think we are better off to say, “At this present time I see no evidence for a god or for the supernatural; thus I do not believe…”

    That is not only a safe position, it is also a reasonable and logical position. While I have observed a lot of things in my seven decades on earth, I have not seen everything. And it just may be that the one thing that I have not seen is evidence of the supernatural–if indeed such evidence does exist somewhere. Why should I not be open to evidence? Is my position so weak that I cannot look at evidence?

    I have always tried to be a pragmatist. With reference to the faith healers who claim supernatural power, I say, let them demonstrate their power. If they can work miracles, fine. But if all they have are claims, then I conclude that they have nothing. About 25 years ago a Pentecostal preacher told me he had power to raise the dead. I have many friends buried in the cemetery near where I was working at the time. I asked him to go and demonstrate his power. He claimed that I was evil and that I was “tempting God.” But, if he had gone to the cemetery and raised one of my friends that I knew had been dead for some time, that would be sufficient evidence for me. I would believe the Pentecostal preacher had supernatural power. That’s why I say I am a pragmatist.

    • Richard Harkness says:

      Max,

      As I said in my prior post, according to my understanding of the import of the laws of physics, the only alternative to physical existence is nonexistence. If an instance of what is purported to be supernatural is found to actually exist, then it can’t be supernatural. That is, its existence is proof of its natural origin. Though there have been millions of claims of supernatural phenomena down through the ages, in every case, whenever the actual explanation was found, it has turned out to be mundane, natural. This is telling or at least highly suggestive. Contrary to popular belief, mysterious is not the same as mystical. Unexplained or inexplicable is not synonymous with supernatural. Supernatural would be synonymous with nonphysical–stuff that does not have to obey the laws of physics. Nonphysical means not made of physical substance, which would equate to nothing, which would equate to nonexistent. What is there to make stuff of other than physical substance? Again, it’s important not to equate “abstract” with “nonphysical.” In line with what Bob Pease said in his last post, in my everyday discussions I have yet to find anyone who understands what the abstract term “energy” actually means. If laypersons understood the basics of Reality, they would be less likely to be hoodwinked by con-artists who use nonsensical terms like “psychic energy,” “spiritual energy,” etc.).

      • Bob Pease says:

        AMEN.

        “What we got here is a failure to communicate!!” …Cool Hand Luke

        But “Lay” persons are quick to label “US” as
        “CLOSE(sic)-minded brainwashed nerds.”
        I think this means “CLOSED MINDED, but in their world, inqiuty is proof of pathology
        ususllay being labelled some kind of a “Phobe”

        I’ve given up trying to reason with these folks,,but laissez-faire
        “What about them Broncos!!!”

        may really NOT be a solution to the drift into the eschatron that we are experiencing

        RJP

  14. Jana A. says:

    When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I too was heavily involved in a Protestant evangelical church group very similar to the one described by Mr. White. I find Mr. White’s account to be highly suspect, for these reasons.

    First, born-again believers who believe in speaking-in-tongues, demons, the laying-on of hands, spiritual healing, etc., do not need to be “tricked” or otherwise persuaded to believe in exorcism or prayer. They ALREADY believe, regardless of what occurs or of the outcome. No persuasion necessary.

    Second, White describes instances where the minister in charge pays local actors or even homeless people to pretend to be healed at the church prayer services. Wouldn’t he be worried that a local actor may know or be known by someone at the service, or that he may speak to the local media about what the minister is asking him to do? This account is not believable.

    Finally, but by no means lastly, it just seems to me that a crooked preacher such as the one White describes is taking an awfully big chance in putting his trust in a naive young teenager. If I were a charlatan, I’d bring in my own side-kick, seasoned and ready to go. I can’t believe that someone in that situation with so much to lose would depend on a pubescent boy.

    What I find most irritating is that a magazine devoted to insisting on evidence in support of any claim fails so miserably in this case. I am most disappointed.

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