August 3, 2001

About Falun Gong, Wrong Saint, Yet More Geller Boo-Boos, Light on Buxton, Clarifying the JREF Challenge, KKK.....

The cult of Falun Gong is hardly different from so many of the numerous science-bashing movements, but this one is of note because it has taken in so many citizens of the world's most populous country, China. Other countries, too, have been infected by the nonsense behind it, and as with the Sai Baba cult of India, this one threatens to spread worldwide.

The Chinese government's concern with the popularity of Falun Gong is much more than political, I believe. Being very realistic, it's a fact that any pseudoscience, any superstition, any cult action, is a negative element in any society. And, when an individual assumes the position of a deity, there will always be enough persons to support him or her simply because of the charisma generated. Sai Baba - previously discussed in detail here - appeals to the masses because he performs a few crude sleight-of-hand tricks. Elizabeth Clare Prophet, of the Church Universal and Triumphant in the USA, bases her support on hyperbolized claims of imminent invasion from aliens of various kinds, and even though her promised events of this sort have failed to take place, she still holds her followers in a state of armed fear. Jim Jones and the People's Temple flourished due to the followers' terror of an outside world they did not understand. Falun Gong simply denies science, appeals to venerated Chinese traditions, and uses the fictional fašade created by founder Li Hongzhi, as well as his also-failed predictions, as a romantic base for acceptance.

Li started out by changing his own birthdate to something more suitable for a deity. July 7th, 1952, was not an auspicious date, so he maneuvered local officials into giving him an I.D. card that says May 13th, 1951. Since Chinese tradition has the birthday of Buddha as the eighth day of the fourth lunar month, which is May 13th, this provided Li with a basis for divinity. His preposterous comic-book claims range from bringing all his disciples to fly in the sky, to the fact that all things are composed of water. He commands his followers to denounce all science, and to ignore doctors and medicine of all kinds. He says that he himself made his own grandparents. It goes on and on.

Li, now living comfortably in New York, supported by the wealth he has sucked from his disciples, is another nobody who seized an opportunity to become powerful and rich on the naivety of a populace. I differ with the government of China on political matters, but not on this humanitarian catastrophe.

The national constitution of China, while rejecting religion, states that all citizens have freedom of religious belief. They are constitutionally protected from forceful interference with their religious practice. The government encourages "democratic discussion" and "persuasive education," and Mao Tse-tung himself wrote that religions could not be abolished by decree or by force. That's what the official rules say. As with all such official stances, we must wonder if in practice it is the same.

Presently, we find an active movement - largely sponsored and promoted by Li Hongzhi's movement - that criticizes the official Chinese stance on Falun Gong, stating that it is an evil influence. My last visit to Australia produced an effective demonstration by my good friend and colleague Sima Nan, a man who has been very active in fighting superstition and pseudoscience in China. That appearance was preceded by an official representative of the Chinese government, a man who rather chilled the entire event with his repetitious reference to "the evil cult of Falun Gong." It was not at all welcome to that audience to hear such formulated recitations as, "The government of the People's Republic of China look upon the evil cult of Falun Gong as an evil force that denies the validity of science as embraced by the government of the People's Republic of China and the evil cult of Falun Gong has been teaching citizens of the People's Republic of China that the philosophy of the evil cult of Falun Gong is the means by which...." well, you get the idea. By simply demonstrating some of the side-show tricks that Falun Gong teachers use, Sima Nan was a hundred times as effective as any formula speech, believe me.

Go to www.falundafa.org and see what's offered. You'll find "How to Get Started," "Exercises." and "Common Questions," but not a word about the basic claims of the religion. You come away with the idea that this is a series of stately exercises performed in the park, not a science-bashing, fanatic, irrational, cult. The pages of L. Ron Hubbard's Scientology sites give the same kind of an impression, with no mention of the blue octopi in the volcanoes that eventually show up in their creed if you can pay long and bountifully enough.


Reader Craig J. Rushforth of Bath, UK, relieves me of a certain ignorance about saints with this posting:

I was struck by your quotation from Augustine on [last week's] page. You ascribed the words to the Augustine who supposedly founded the English Christian Church, who is also known as Augustine of Canterbury (for obvious reasons). However the words were actually written by Augustine of Hippo (354-430) - a man who was hugely more influential in the development of Christian teaching than his namesake in England. Many of his writings are still in print to this day - his "City of God" and "Confessions" are available in the popular Penguin Classics editions - at least they are in England where I live!

The text that you quote is quoted at greater length in a book called "The Biblical Flood" by Davis A. Young and is taken from Augustine, "The Literal Meaning of Genesis," translated by John Hammond Taylor (New York: Newman Press, 1982). I reproduce it below.

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of the world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from knowledge and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. . . . Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.

Although you have dig at Rome I think these words are far more applicable to the vocal anti-science Creationist movements in the USA.

Mea culpa..... As I told Craig, we live, we learn. Yes, I got the wrong Saint Augustine by about two centuries. (Blush) Several readers pointed out that the present Pope has accepted evolution, and admitted that Galileo was right. My response to that, is that I find little merit in recognition of the evident, the obvious, the inarguable.....


Mark Lipczynski in London has more on Mr. Uri Geller, a subject who I would just as soon ignore, except that his lawyers are requiring me to explain details, so I must clarify each reference, I believe....

Very interested to read about the amazing Mr Geller in your commentary. Back in November 1997 I interviewed Uri for a short film I was making while at University. I asked him whether he would try to help the England football (soccer) team in the forthcoming World Cup in France. I only asked because he had laid claim to helping England reach the semi-final of the 1996 European Championship (but inexplicably failed to shoulder the blame when they subsequently lost.) Uri confirmed that he would attempt to sneak into the grounds in France and plant his crystals behind the goal. England had a poor tournament over-all, so I suppose Uri couldn't get inside the arena, or his crystals were dud or something.

Recently I heard that Uri and the Reading soccer team had parted company. The club were no longer prepared to give Uri free tickets on the grounds that they weren't actually doing any better, despite all the crystals. Mr Geller promptly switched his allegiance to another team, Exeter City...that's loyalty for you. Personally I think that Uri Geller and soccer should have some sort of restraining order placed on them.

It may also interest you to know where Uri gets his powers from. He had a few theories such as the tired old cliche about humans only using 10% of their brains, and maybe he had access to more of his brain than others. He also stated that there could be a spaceship floating around the earth full of aliens, and I quote, "The little, tiny, extra-terrestrial children are playing around with me." Uri was quick to add that this was just a theory, which he could not prove, but could not totally dismiss because it might be true. By that logic it could also be true that his powers emerge from anyone or anything in this world or the next, but I didn't press him on this point.


Garry Parker in the UK, in the same vein, tells us:

As you may already be aware, Uri Geller's prediction of David Coulthard winning the Formula 1 race last week failed miserably as Coulthard had a crash in the first lap at the first corner, and as a result of the damage had to retire on lap 3.

Simon Clark writes, also from the UK, concerning the interesting Buxton co-incidences that were celebrated in the media there, and which we discussed on this page:

The claim is that on June 14th, a 10-year-old U.K. girl named Laura Buxton found a balloon in the garden of her home in Pewsey, Wiltshire. I saw this on TV here in the UK - with both Lauras and their parents present to explain the story. The balloon was not actually found by Laura but by a neighbor who saw the balloon with Laura's name on it. The neighbor then returned it to the Laura he knew, thinking it belonged to her. This greatly increases the chances of the balloon ending up in the hands of a Laura Buxton. All other similarities between the girls were then picked out by hand after the first apparent coincidence. I also seem to recall - but then again I may have mis-remembered this bit - that the girls names were not identical but similar. Maybe they were different spellings but pronounced the same - I can't remember as I haven't seen a written version of the story.

Well, as usual, the longer we stay with one of these remarkable reports, the more ordinary it becomes. No surprise at this desk. UFO accounts and contacts-with-the-dead go through much the same evolution, as do tales of wonderful performances of spoon-bending and other miracles - only when the information is available, of course.


Boy, some folks just don't like me. I know that's not news, but I received this encouraging note from a chap who berated me for believing that I could test psychic phenomena without believing in them, first..... Don't look at me. That's his idea, not mine. He told me:

I just finished a conversation with a pair of doctors on a Yahoo discussion group who are literally foaming at the mouth. One said, "Randi is a professional trickster whose life's work is to fool people." The other said, "he's reincarnated from Stalin, Hitler or Mao.....or maybe he's possessed by one or all of them" and "If Randi had his druthers, he'd start by burning the US constitution, hanging all the "educated" people and destroying every book except those he either wrote or agreed with."

Note: these are "doctors." Yeah, I'll bet. Here we have two "doctors" who believe in demonic "possession" and in re-incarnation, who resent my being a professional trickster (how could we function without lawyers or politicians, smarty-pants?) and who don't volunteer to help me hang those few educated folks, nor burn those couple of books that disagree with me. Let's get organized, here!

And, pray tell, was it by psychic power that this chap knew there was foaming-at-the-mouth going on, via Yahoo? Excellent Internet connection he has, I'd say.

Some folks don't have much of a life.....


In closing, I'll ask you to take a look at the message board we have up on the opening page. Just click on "JREF Forum," and enter it.... We've had a huge reaction to this feature, and we're happy to offer it to you. Enjoy!

There are, as of this posting, 217 registered members from 21 countries represented here. Those countries are, Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, England, Eritrea, Finland, Germany, India, Iran, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Scotland, Sweden, Switzerland, USA, and Venezuela. And all within less than one week!