06-Apr-87 2253 MST Sb APca 04/03 Skeptics Convention By LEE SIEGEL AP Science Writer PASAD

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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 fundamental uncertainty." 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 fee. "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 cornflakes boxes." "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 of them." 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 crucifixion. 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" fortune-telling scams. "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.


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