Good Reason

It's okay to be wrong. It's not okay to stay wrong.

The Medium Challenge

Many thanks to everyone who has responded to the news of my mother’s death. I’ve appreciated everyone’s comments, and I was especially intrigued by this one from a long-time commenter.

I would love you to meet my good friend, I’ve spoken of her before, the clairvoyant one.

I would like you to test her objectively, with your atheistic views intact. Ask her to get in touch with your mother.

I should add (for the religious minded amongst your readers) she is a pure Catholic – purest of pure hearts. And I should also add I am almost an expert on the biblical views on visionaries, prophets, and the like. So no-one can argue badly against her without my intervention!

She is likely to get some wisdom and advice from your mother – you can test it for yourself.

I’m challenging you to a duel of sorts, on belief.

Now, I don’t think spirits exist, since no one’s yet presented evidence for them. And the idea of having a medium contact dead relatives is silly. If my Mom’s going to go to the trouble of crossing boundaries of time, space, and matter to give me a message, then I think she’d come to me, and not someone who has to fish around for information, saying “I’m getting the colour red; what does that mean to you?”

I don’t like what psychics and mediums do. I think they’re either fooling themselves into thinking they can communicate with spirits, or they’re vultures, preying on the grief and desperation of the bereaved. Their techniques are well-known — cold reading is something that you can learn to do. You throw out a lot of suggestions, wait for the subject to feed you information, take credit for the hits, and hope they forget all the misses.

In short, I’m with this guy.

It’s the whole problem of rigour. Going to a medium wouldn’t be a good test for me, since I’m as capable of fooling myself as anyone else. (And maudlin emotionalism, too. After Dad died, I cried watching Blades of Glory, for Pete’s sake. On a plane! It doesn’t take much when you’re in a state.)

With all that in mind, I think the Medium Challenge is a great idea. Even though I don’t believe in spirits and psychic phenomena, I could be wrong, and if we don’t do the experiment, we won’t learn anything new. So I’d like to run the experiment. But it’s going to be a controlled experiment. I want to get not one, but three clairvoyants, psychics, mediums, what have you. As a control, I’ll also need three non-mediums — people who don’t believe in psychic power or readings — doing their best at their own readings.

To make sure I’m not feeding the mediums information, some tight controls will have to be in place. I will be obscured from view by a screen, so the readers won’t be able to read my actions. (It should be all the same to the spirits.) I will only respond to direct questions, and I will only say “yes” and “no”. Other than that, I’ll be very helpful, truthful, and accommodating. The test will be whether the mediums are able to get hits with any greater frequency than the non-mediums, or random chance.

I’d like to video this and turn it into a programme — YouTube at the least, possibly more. Full recordings of all the sessions will be made available via the Internet. And — this is important to me — I’ll be publishing the results no matter what they are, even if they run counter to my current belief. (Or those of the psychics.)

The test needs to be blind, so I won’t know who the mediums or non-mediums are. For this reason, Maureen has kindly agreed to assist in lining up the readings for various nights in November or thereabouts. So if you would like to volunteer as a medium or a non-medium (you-know-who, your friend has priority), please contact her at

I still need to work out the particulars of the experiment, so watch this space for the full list of rules and conditions here in comments.


  1. This would be a great experiment. Look forward to it.

  2. There's been some problem with the Atheist blogroll, and anyone who has the old version on their blog is getting blocked by Chrome browser(and possibly other) users for malware.

  3. Your experiment sounds like a lot of fun, and I hope you get some good offers. However, this is not some kind of Crossing Over With John Edwards Show that I would participate in, or dob my friends in for. You don't write the rules on these matters.

    And there's the rub. You're supposed to try the experience, but you're not supposed to take any reasonable steps to ensure that what you're experiencing is real.

    What this tells me is that you don't care about what's true. You just want to stick with what you already think. Which is a lousy way to try and understand the world, and most disappointing coming from you, JEV.

    James Randi describes this exact thing. Psychics should be anxious to show that they're for real, but instead they scurry like roaches when the light goes on. I hope your friend is different. Here's a chance for her to step up and demonstrate that she can do what she claims. Spots are still available.

  4. I'll give you a kickass psychic reading, Daniel! I've been practicing =)
    Still rubbish at metal bending though.

  5. You are generally friendly but find some people frustrating. You bear with them but often question yourself as to why you bother. You are both pedantic and easy going and it is this that brings the frustration.

    You have academic tendencies and a desire to share knowledge and ideas freely with others.

    You value language yet maintain a sort of "anything goes" attitude toward it. This brings still more frustration.

    Your name, Daniel, means 'judged by God'. As such, you constantly question your atheism with an open mind and look for reasons why you should believe. When people try to show you evidence, it only leads to more frustration.

    Your name also means that you regularly enter the "lion's den" – with trepidation but also with clear intent and you relish success when it happens.

    In short – you're messed up.

    How'd I go?

  6. By Jove, you nailed everything, especially the bits that were complimentary.

    You must be very perceptive with a quick sense of humour, and yet sometimes you feel that your wit fails you at the crucial moment. 'Andy' comes from 'Andrew' through Greek 'andro' (man), which betokens your deep concern for people, with a view to advancing human knowledge. Though sociable, you have a close circle of friends in whom you confide.

    You like to eat food, and you tend to wear clothes in public.

    Also, I'm getting the number 17. Does that mean anything to you?

  7. Yes, I was 17 once. Uncanny.

    I'm seeing a birthday cake and boxes. I'm guessing you or someone near to you is having or just had a birthday. Are you in the process of moving?

  8. Amazing! I had a birthday 5 months ago. You have the gift.

  9. That makes sense as the person who's coming through was saying "five". It didn't make sense at the time.

    Those boxes could represent unresolved issues or a tendency to try and categorise aspects of your life. If it doesn't make sense to you. give it time.

    Jean (might be Jan or Joan or a "J" name) says "Hi".

  10. OMG you channeled my uncle Jehosephat!

    Folks, Andy's the real deal. He told me stuff he couldn't have known.

  11. That explains her beard – I didn't want to say anything earlier.

    S/he has a brown dog with him/her. It's very happy to see you. Actually, it seems uncomfortably happy so I think I'd best leave it there.

  12. Hmm, the last comment was so funny I nearly fell off my chair. But I started to wonder why I was so upset about being made fun of and maybe should not have deleted all my comments.

    Turns out my friend has done it again – this time accurately predicting a meltdown in my brother's marriage. I can produce witnesses to this one. But anyway, why would I be telling an atheist blog, run by a person I don't even know, about all this – what was I thinking???

    You're all allowed to be sceptical, and probably should be. But it seems I have my own personal soothsayer, and you guys can all suck eggs.

  13. Well, if this person's worth their salt, she'll be able to do it under controlled conditions. I predict she'll fall apart.

    Recently, I myself was able to tell that a friend's relationship was under stress, and I was right. That doesn't mean I'm psychic. It means I can tell things about people I know. Your friend knows a lot of information about you and your family, and that's going to feed into her guesses.

    Oh, and JEV, we're not taking the piss out of you in particular. Those of us who are skeptics have known about the phony psychic thing for a number of years. They do it because it works, and you're not immune to being fooled. No one is.

  14. @JEV, no, I wasn't taking the piss out of you.

    I was demonstrating something I've seen too many times. While Daniel jokingly (I assume) referred to an Uncle Jehosephat, I'd bet that, if he thought about it, he does know a woman by the name of Jean (or Joan, Jan, Jen… or J name). Since I never said she was dead, I'd almost certainly guarantee it.

    Were Daniel inclined to believe – and if he wasn't aware of my scepticism – this could appear significant to him – especially if it was the name of his mother or close friend who'd passed away. He'd also ignore the vagaries in my message – that's what believers do.

    I predict issues in other people's lives all the time. It's simply not remarkable, unusual or special. It's just normal.

    You may well have astonishing evidence of something genuinely paranormal but on a comment thread like this, it's just one more unsubstantiated anecdote from a committed believer. It's not remotely convincing and history suggests you're probably wrong. But you're hardly alone – lot's of people share your belief.

  15. @Daniel. I thought what my friend said about you was nice, particularly since she has never seen your blog and doesn't know you from a bar of soap. Oh, and she also said: "Lots of good in this person". Nice, considering that I have asked her about other people in the past and she has bucketed them from a standing start. She doesn't believe you are a full atheist "He is NOT an athiest." but she is a good Catholic girl and I think to her an athieist is someone who absolutely denies the existence of God. I doubt whether many people can get to that position, anyway. She seems to think your mother knew that you were more agnostic, in doubt, than denial, though. Take it with a grain of salt.

  16. Oh, and by the way, apologies for my various misspellings of "Atheist". It is getting late…

  17. We used to play this cool party trick when I was a law student years ago, and this post reminded me of it. Apparently you can levitate a person ! I don't know why it works or how, but I did observe that it seemed to work. This is how we did it. You need 6 people.

    1. Lightest person sits on a chair in the middle of four standing people (say 60 kilos or so). Sixth person supervises.

    2. Each of the four standing persons is allocated an arm or leg of the seated person, and extends both middle and index fingers of both hands palm side up under the (respectively) thigh and calve, upper and lower arm, of the seated person, and all try to lift. Everyone notes that it can't be done.
    3. Each person then places their hands palm side down directly above the seated person's head. The sequence was something like all four persons' left hands, then all right hands, not touching, above the head, in a tall row.
    4. The sixth person then supervises, counting to thirty quietly.
    5. Then all "lifters" try to lift the person again – and this time it appears to work. You can lift the person off the chair. It's quite amazing – not sure how it works though.

    Perhaps you could try it and put it on you tube. All I can say is that it seemed to work for us 20 years ago – usually after a couple of beers – even better. I just did a quick google and note there are some variations on this party trick . Long time since I did it.

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