The New Age: Notes of a Fringe Watcher

By Martin Gardner | Go to book overview

8 The Relevance of Belief Systems

In the January 1984 issue of the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, my Science: Good, Bad and Bogus was reviewed at length by Douglas M. Stokes. Dr. Stokes (his Ph.D. is in experimental psychology at the University of Michigan) is chairman of the mathematics department at the Shipley School, a private preparatory school in Bryn Mawr, and an associate editor of the Journal of Parapsychology. Although he spent a year in Rhine's laboratory, he has since retired from experimental work in parapsychology. He is more skeptical than most parapsychologists; indeed, he stopped doing work in the field of psi phenomena because of frustration at his failure to obtain reliable evidence.

I must say that Stokes's nine-page review was much more tolerant of my opinions than I would have expected, and I am grateful for his many generous remarks. There is, however, a passage in his review on which I should like to comment because, although it expresses a notion common in the rhetoric of parapsychology, I consider it to be misguided. I refer to the belief that in evaluating psi research it is always irrelevant to mention the researcher's religious views.

If by "religious views" one means a metaphysical system nowhere in sharp conflict with firmly established science, then they are indeed irrelevant. But if the system demands adherence to eccentric science, the situation is quite different.

Stokes takes me to task for pointing out that Harold Puthoff was once a believer in Scientology and that one of Puthoff's assistants and some of his most successful subjects in remote viewing were and are Scientologists. "Gardner maintains," Stokes writes, "that this is relevant information, as the Church of Scientology adheres to a belief system which is, in Gardner's view, irrational." Stokes goes on to say that many "orthodox religions" are equally irrational. "Would it not be offensive," he asks, "to argue that, say, a cosmologist's research is suspect because he is a Catholic?"

Well, it all depends on the kind of research and the nature of the scientist's Catholic beliefs. In the days of Galileo, when all Catholics believed

-57-

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The New Age: Notes of a Fringe Watcher
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 7
  • Preface 9
  • Part 1 11
  • 1 - Project Alpha 13
  • 2 - Margaret Mead 19
  • 3 - Magicians in the PSI Lab 25
  • 4 - Shirley MacLaine 32
  • 5 - Freud, Fliess, and Emma's Nose 38
  • 6 - Koestler Money Down the Psi Drain? 44
  • 7 - Targ: From Puthoff to Blue 50
  • 8 - The Relevance of Belief Systems 57
  • 9 - Welcome to the Debunking Club 65
  • 10 - The Great Stone Face 72
  • 11 - From Phillips to Morris 79
  • 12 - George McCready Price 93
  • 13 - Wonders of Science 99
  • 14 - Tommy Gold 103
  • 15 - Rupert Sheldrake 109
  • 16 - The Anomalies of Chip Arp 115
  • 17 - Thoughts on Superstrings 119
  • 18 - The Third Eye 123
  • 19 - Irving Kristol and the Facts of Life 129
  • Part 2 135
  • 20 - The Great SRI Die Mystery 137
  • 21 - Perpetual Motion 145
  • 22 - Psychic Surgery 167
  • 23 - 666 and All That 170
  • 24 - D. D. Home-Sweet-Home 175
  • 25 - PK (Psycho-Krap) 179
  • 26 - Chicanery in Science 182
  • 27 - Fools' Paradigms 184
  • 28 - Look, Shirl, No Hands! 188
  • 29 - The Channeling Mania 202
  • 30 - Who Was Ray Palmer? 209
  • 31 - Prime-Time Preachers 223
  • 32 - L. Ron Hubbard 246
  • 33 - Psychic Astronomy 252
  • Name Index 265
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