06-Apr-87 22:53 MST
Sb: APca 04/03 Skeptics Convention
By LEE SIEGEL AP Science Writer
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) -- Spoon-bending psychic Uri Geller and spiritual
mediums made famous by actress Shirley MacLaine were challenged to prove their
supernatural claims during a convention of skeptics.
Reports of unidentified flying objects and claims that the Shroud of Turin
was Jesus Christ's burial cloth also came under fire Friday as 1,200 scholars,
scientists and others met during the annual conference of the Committee for the
Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal.
"The history of society is replete with bamboozles," said committee member
and Cornell University astronomer Carl Sagan, who added that widespread belief
in the supernatural "may be a quest for illusory certainty in a world of
Sagan and others challenged so-called "trance channelers," such as Yelm,
Wash., housewife J.Z. Knight, to substantiate claims that they communicate with
spirits from beyond the grave by entering trances.
Miss MacLaine's 1985 book, "Dancing in the Light," told how the actress
explored her "past lives" with the help of Knight, who claims to be the channel
through which Ramtha, a 35,000-year-old warrior, speaks his wisdom -- for a $400
"Spiritualists used to do it in the dark and say they talked with ghosts,"
said skeptic James Randi, a magician who performs as "The Amazing Randi" and
debunks supernatural claims. "Now they say they talk to entities and they do it
in the light."
In a statement issued by spokesman Les Sinclair, Knight replied: "Isn't it
wonderful we have a society which allows us freedom of speech, movement, ideas
and beliefs." She also said it was wonderful the skeptics "can attain national
media attention which allows them fame and glory. God bless them."
Randi, who spent the early 1970s debunking Geller's claims that he could bend
spoons and keys with his psychic powers, challenged Geller to submit to
scientific tests of his latest claim that he became rich using his supernatural
abilities to find oil and gold deposits.
Randi contended Geller, whose claims are contained in his new book "the
Geller Effect," is simply a magician whose tricks "used to be on the backs of
"Uri Geller is back again making claims of psychic powers. Geller is a
magician, and as far as we can tell, he has no psychic powers," said Paul Kurtz,
a State University of New York philosophy professor who is CSICOP's chairman.
Geller, reached by telephone in New York, insisted his powers are real and
said he "loves" CSICOP "because they're my free publicity department. I will
always be happy and glad to hear their comments about me and my powers as long
as they promise to spell Uri Geller correctly. ... I'm rich and famous because
CSICOP has spent years debunking reports of flying saucers, the Loch Ness
monster, the Bermuda Triangle and the Big Foot creature.
The group Friday renewed its call for the Vatican to submit to impartial
scientific examination of the Shroud of Turin, a piece of cloth that some
believe bears the image of Jesus Christ and was used to wrap his body after his
Sagan and other scientists said during the convention that intelligent life
almost certainly exists in outer space, but that not one of more than 1 million
reported UFO sightings since 1947 has been verified.
Trance channeling was satirized recently in Garry Trudeau's "Doonesbury"
comic strip, in which a spirit named Hunk-Ra speaks through the character
Boopsie at a meeting of California's newly formed self-esteem commission.
Declaring that channeling is simply "warmed-over spiritualism," Kurtz
challenged Knight and other channelers to prove their claims.
Other sessions during the convention, which ends today, included criticism of
reports that people had burst into flames spontaneously, and a talk by Los
Angeles police bunco Detective Patrick Riley on money-making "psychic fraud"
"People have a right to believe anything they want, and if they want to waste
their money, they have every right to do so," Kurtz said. "Unfortunately, a
great number of sincere people are taken in."
Randi said if people don't treat supernatural claims with skepticism, "they
will start to vote for and give their money to people who promise them fantasy
instead of something real."
Copyright 1987 by the Associated Press. All rights reserved.