Science and Religion Index
By Richard Bruce BA, MA, and PhC in Economics
Former Instructor St. John's University, New York City

The Amazing Randi Web Site Says that Religious Claims Can Not Be Tested in His Famous One Million Dollar Challenge

The Amazing Randi was formerly a professional magician. More recently he used his skills as a magician to catch people who were fraudulently claiming to have supernatural powers. He found that as a magician trained to deceive people he was far better than scientists at catching fraud. As part of his campaign against the paranormal, he set up his famous one million dollar challenge.

The challenge is administered by the James Randi Educational Foundation, JREF, and they refer to it as the JREF Challenge. As they explain on their website, no one has collected the million dollars and in fact, no one has made it to the final stage of testing.

Many people take this as powerful evidence that religion is false, but if one checks the rules and guidelines, you find that 2.5 says spiritual claims "...are, for the most part, untestable."

Here is the complete quotation, check the link if you doubt me.

2.5 Why can't I submit a religious or spiritual claim?"

"Because they are, for the most part, untestable. For example, you can look at a series of events - say surviving an automobile crash, surviving a plane crash, surviving a near-drowning and say "This was the hand of God," but the point of the Challenge isn't to give anecdotal evidence. It is to give something testable. Most religious people believe it's impossible to test God. We're pretty sure they're right, though perhaps for different reasons.

As it happens I sent the Amazing Randi a letter many years ago. I do not have that letter, but I do have a letter sent at about the same time to the Skeptical Inquirer which I believe made much the same argument. I quote from that.

"While one can use experiments to study impersonal forces, like gravity, one is not able to use experiments to study supernatural personalities that do not want to cooperate with your experiments."

This maybe one of the reasons that the Amazing Randi is referring to when he says, "Most religious people believe it's impossible to test God. We're pretty sure they're right, though perhaps for different reasons."

The Amazing Randi replied to my letter with a postcard in which he said that he had sent two demons to get me. He asked me to inform him if they showed up.

More generally there is a belief that miracle claims are carefully checked by science and that they all fail. In fact, people are busy and claims are rarely checked. I have submitted the new evidence for the miraculous to many, but rarely is there any evidence of a careful attempt to refute my various lines of evidence. Actually, it is very rare that the critics show any understanding of the evidence. They casually dismiss it with something like the Amazing Randi's two demons.

If you see an argument online that the JREF challenge proves that miracles do not happen, or God does not exist, I suggest that you briefly note the JREF challenge specifically excludes religious claims. Then you could link to the JREF site, or this page.


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