You might have seen the video of the little girl playing near a doll, a doll which twitches its head without visible promoting. The video switches views and sees the same girl drawing on a table. Unbidden, papers fly about, things are pushed hither and yon, and even the table begins drifting.
The Mirror’s headline is “‘Demon possessed doll’ blinks and nods head before entire room shakes leaving young girl terrified: The ‘haunted doll’ is filmed twisting its head from side to side before objects fly across the room in the creepy [sic] vide.”
Many are saying the video was faked, with the strongest evidence being a supposed manipulation of the time markers. Others says it’s real and that similar things have happened to them or to loved ones. But we’re not here interested in whether this particular video was fraudulent or proof of demonic activity. What is more interesting was a comment to the Mirror’s piece from somebody calling himself Bill Jefferson:
James Randi settled this nonsense years ago, with Uri Geller and spoon bending. He said that any “miracle” or “paranormal event” that can be duplicated by a skilled magician using his regular conjuring tricks must be considered as such and ignored.
Let’s see something no magician could add to his act.
Below this was a rejoinder from “Rcxy”, who said, “I do think it’s fake. However, Randi’s statement is not conclusive, since many things can be faked.”
Regular, long-time readers will recall I know Randi and have had dealings with him in the past; he helped and critiqued an experiment I designed to test some claims from the founder of Dahn Yoga. I also wrote a skeptical (I do not say dismissive) book with the not-so-skeptical title So, You Think You’re Psychic (free PDF, book, wrote years before I finally figured probability out). Mathematician and magician Persi Diaconis, now of Stanford, was on my PhD committee when I was at Cornell because of a shared interest in examining extraordinary claims. I also have many books written by professional magicians, with a special focus on mental magic, and have practiced the same. I list these as a few of my bona fides in writing about the subject of faking mystical phenomena.
The gist is that Rcxy is correct and Jefferson and Randi (assuming these are a fair representation of his remarks) are wrong.
Proof that the video above was faked would be in the form of direct evidence, such as a confession by the video maker, the discovery of wires or strings that manipulated the objects, or an argument how the time stamp was forged, and the like. It could not possibly be that this video was proved fake because a magician (or some other person) could duplicate what was seen.
Thus it is not proof Uri Geller is a fraud because I, or even you, Dear Reader, with minimal training, can bend a fork using mundane means and pretend it was done via psychic vibrations (it’s always vibrations). We conclude (a decision, not a probability) Geller is a fake because he cannot produce his magic under controlled conditions, when he is watched with the eyes of a magician-hawk, when all (known!) ways of his using artifices have been removed, and because he has been caught cheating (though some disagree!). That parenthetical “known” is key, because, as my library of magical books attest, new ways to cheat are being discovered regularly. And Geller is (or was) clever.
We also can suggest that Geller is a fraud based on arguments like, Why would human beings come equipped with a bizarre power to mentally manipulate kitchen cutlery only in the presence of television cameras? And so on.
Rcxy was right to suggest Randi’s, and David Hume’s, from where such ideas were given to the modern world, criterion is too harsh. It is possible to fake the moon landing (see the movie Capricorn One, with excellent cameo by Telly Savalas), therefore the moon landing was faked. It is possible to fake the death of a man, therefore Elvis hasn’t really left the building. It is possible to fake human skin and voice using sophisticated makeup and technology, therefore Hillary Clinton really is a lizard alien come to conquer the human race.
No. That any event can be said to have more than one cause is not, is never, and can never be, proof that the suggested cause isn’t the real cause. This means all the criticisms of miracles which only offer alternate explanations, without ever proving the alternate explanations, like in the video critiques above, have done nothing, because why? Because it is possible to posit endless causes for anything.
Proof is not so simple as wish, which is all Randi’s criterion (if we may call it that) is.