On psychics, spiritual advisers, homeopaths and other charlatans

30


Discussion by: The Devout Atheist

The way I see it, for a con to be pulled off, it requires both a conman and a mark.  Can we ascribe any culpability to the person taken in by something they should really have been suspicious of, and if so, to what degree?  To put it another way, at what point do we stand up and say; “Well, yes, that spiritual adviser had a moral (and perhaps legal) duty of care, but you really should have known better than to, for example, heed the life savings investment advice by someone who made their financial planning certificate with buttons, glitter and glue.”

30 COMMENTS

  1. I think it is generally agreed that in civilised society, the strong have a moral duty to protect the weak against the evil. This argument must be as valid in the intellectual domain as it is in the physical.

    That said, there is a difference in my mind, between a bogus official ripping off a vulnerable pensioner, and a slick con-artist taking advantage of a young, educated man’s blind greed! Both are still wrong, it’s just a prejudicial differentiation I make!

  2. Ah, I see the problem here!

    A con only applies to someone who should know better, religious instruction only works on kids before they’re capable of knowing better. The spiritual advisors didn’t get near me untill I was nine years old, whereapon I had a damn good (literally- from their perspective) argument.

    The trick case is where the ‘believe or burn’ hook was put in at age five, but the line isn’t pulled untill early teens, when the instructor can reel off parables and let the mark build up a mental catalogue of sins and pursuade themselves that their immortal soul is in peril, or better, that their parents / favourite sibling or some other person near them has ‘fallen from grace’. If the spiritual advisor can persuade the mark that they need to ‘save’ someone else, they’re well up in the infamability brownie points.

    If you look at it as a cheap power game it makes a lot of sense, telling the mark to believe in gods is no different from sending a medical intern to the dispensary for a meter of fallopian tubing.

  3. I think The Devout Atheist makes a reasonable point here about con men and the culpability of a responsible victim, but Alistair Blackhill has, as far I can see, gone off at a bit of a tangent.

    Firstly, there is a world of difference between con-artists (in all walks of life) and people who genuinely believe something with which others disagree. Unsurprisingly, commentators on this site generally dislike religion and it provides a forum for them to express that freely. However, it is only right to be fair – even about people whose beliefs you oppose.

    Like it or not, Christianity has been a foundational part of western culture for centuries and one can hardly write this off as being forced by extremists, uneducated religious nuts, or whatever other phrase one might use. Hating that fact does not mean it’s fair to be dismissive and antagonistic. A person who wishes to be “free of the shackles of religion” opposes it vehemently, as he sees it as impinging of his own freedom of thought and action. Don’t forget, though, that others may talk of feeling liberated by having faith in God because, among many other things, it gives them a sense of having and eternal perspective and one that is not limited by this life alone. (I would add as an aside that, looking at the behaviour of people in the world, we’d all be a lot safer if a few more people had their freedom of expression “impinged upon” by a godly conscience.)

    Where Alistair Blackhill’s comment seems to over-generalise, in my view, is that he majors (in comment 3 at least) on religious people getting their hooks into people before the age of five and filling them with terror about eternal damnation (I paraphrase). This is not reflective of Christians whom I know. It is not wrong for parents to want to pass on their values to their children, in fact, what other values could a parent pass on? People of faith with children love their children at least as much as any other parent. And if they believe it’s true that there is more to our existence than this life only, why should they not seek to provide their child with a similar outlook. To make out that children who are brought up in a faith-filled environment are always victims of brain-washing and such-like, is not accurate. For a person who claims to think with reason and logic he should surely have spotted this.

    Believe me, children do not all grow up as unthinking clones of their parents – some lose a faith they were given, while others find a faith they were not offered. Some will lose their faith because they think it through and come to a conclusion that it is not worth pursuing: others just drift away because the glitz and glamour of this world can detract from a desire to pursue godliness. I would suggest, however, that very few people who retain their faith do so through lack of thought or apathy.

    People are different and, in line with the implication in The Devout Atheist’s post, any person has a responsibility to act in accordance with his own conscience, based on his own level of knowledge and ability.

    • Lonevoice, I find myself disagreeing with a number of points you made: first, victims of a con who fall hook, line and sinker, (I assume the con we’re talking about is religion), cannot be held entirely to account. As Alistair says, when you indoctrinate children the hooks go very deep and are difficult to extract, and the resulting adults have had some of their intellectual defences removed.

      You talk about people who ” genuinely believe something with which others disagree”. I would say that they genuinely believe something which is patently, demonstrably untrue.

      By modern standards, the beliefs of most people for many centuries really do look extremist and uneducated but this is certainly not “writing it off” nor is it “hating that fact”. Of course it is the truth that Christianity dominated western society for a long time after it was forced onto cultures which already had belief systems, thriving trade, language, art, poetry, songs etc. but no one disputes, or even dislikes, that fact. It simply is what happened and is part of the continuous ebb and flow as societies rise to dominance and then fade or fragment. I oppose religion not because it impinges my freedom of thought, but because it cripples others’.

      So the world would be safer if more people had a godly conscience, would it? It seems to me that god is the exact opposite of conscience. It is simply the mechanism by which people shift their guilt so that it becomes easier to commit atrocities. “Conscience” is an entirely human quality and I think if people felt it more – and weren’t table to blame a supernatural being – we really might be a little safer.

      Yes, brainwashed parents will of course pass on their own delusions to their children, that doesn’t mean it’s not brainwashing.

      In reply to #4 by Lonevoice:

      I think The Devout Atheist makes a reasonable point here about con men and the culpability of a responsible victim, but Alistair Blackhill has, as far I can see, gone off at a bit of a tangent.

      Firstly, there is a world of difference between con-artists (in all walks of life) and people who genuine…

      • In reply to #5 by Dom 2061:

        Lonevoice, I find myself disagreeing with a number of points you made: first, victims of a con who fall hook, line and sinker, (I assume the con we’re talking about is religion), cannot be held entirely to account. As Alistair says, when you indoctrinate children the hooks go very deep and are diffi…

        …and there was me thinking my comments were fair an balanced. Silly me. You’re of course free to disagree, but your emotive language speaks volumes.

        With regard to parents bringing up children, I was alluding to any parent naturally passing on their values to their children. It cannot be avoided. Parents (all parents, I mean) do not just teach their children by sitting them down with a book with the intention of indoctrinating them to their own way of thinking – children learn so much from their parents – from what they say, how they act and the like. You have not accepted this general, obervable and demonstrable fact, but have limited your comments to religion and in that extremely narrow context and called it brain-washing and indoctrination. That is not a fair assessment – it’s simply you expressing your view forcefully. Indeed, the kind of family environment that any child grows up in goes deep – it becomes something of who they are. Funny how when you’re talking about this in the context of people with faith, you call it a hook that needs extracting. Again – not a balanced argument and it’s just your opinion.

        Once more, the words we use are very important, because often they convey attitudes more than facts – as yours do. You have stated that Christianity was forced on civilisation: someone else might simply say that various counrties adopted it as the national religion and basis on their law? Also, your comments imply that a Christian culture in the past has stifled creativity. I can’t comment on that precisely because I don’t know what kind of arts you were referring to, but the wealth of art, poetry, music, theatre – all sorts of things have surely grown and flourished. I don’t know enough to say whether it’s because of or in spite of a Christian culture that we have such a rich heritage, but the evidence of a prolific history of the arts is there for all to see. Galleries across Europe are filled with thousands upon thousands of paintings, stautes etc etc. And the quality of them is astounding.

        I would add that it is with a Christian mindset and against the backdrop of a Christian-influenced society that the very growth of scientific discovery emerged. And that is logical. After all, if you believe that an orderly Creator created things in an orderly manner with observable laws, then you can study it and know from observation that there is predictability and have confidence in the results. (I’m not trying to prove God exists with this comment, by the way, that’s a different discussion and He can’t be proven to exist or not exist, so that would be pointless to pursue. I’m just saying that scientific study is compatible with belief in God.I am not saying, however, that belief in God is necessary for scientific study.)

        With regard to your blatantly biased (and I might say, obtuse) response to my statement that we’d all be safer if more people had a godly conscience, I am frankly astonished that you could possibly even think that people (I’m only talking Christians, now) with faith in what they call a loving God actually make the world more dangerous. Let me ask you a question: if you were out on a dark night and you were suddenly faced with six big burly guys coming round the corner, would you feel physically safer or more at risk if you knew that they had just come from a Bible study group?

        With regard to your comment that you “oppose religion not because it impinges my freedom of thought, but because it cripples others.” Frankly, I don’t even believe your comment. How kind and caring you must be – so much more than the rest of us. Come on, please.

        Having said all I’ve said, there is no doubt that people who do wicked things in the name of their religion are evil indeed and, on that point, I would totally agree with you and other posts on this site that make that point (and to save any confusion, I also include people who say they are Christian). However, there is a world of difference between evil people who use religion to commit atrocities, and those ordinary people who have faith in God, want to please Him but make mistakes because they’re human. For you to be so dismissive of all religious people is ridiculous, irrational offensive. And to say that God himself is against conscience is not a logical conclusion.

        Back to the initial tenet of this discussion string: I made my decision to be a Christian. I had no Christian upbringing. Does that make me a victim who has fallen hook, line and sinker? (Cliches never do make a valid point in a debate, by the way! so don’t use them and think that proves your position). So, here we are – I am a Christian of my own volition. Just one case to prove that you cannot make sweeping generalisations about how people come to have faith, their motives or their actions. Call me a fool, ignorant, anything you like, but don’t make sweeping generalisations about people just because you disagree with what they stand for. Every person is an individual and each has his or her own story.

        • In reply to #6 by Lonevoice:

          Also, your comments imply that a Christian culture in the past has stifled creativity. I can’t comment on that precisely because I don’t know what kind of arts you were referring to, but the wealth of art, poetry, music, theatre – all sorts of things have surely grown and flourished. I don’t know enough to say whether it’s because of or in spite of a Christian culture that we have such a rich heritage, but the evidence of a prolific history of the arts is there for all to see. Galleries across Europe are filled with thousands upon thousands of paintings, stautes etc etc. And the quality of them is astounding.

          You seem to miss the point, that rich art and architechture, were expressions of luxury life-styles by tyrannical royalty and dominant theocrats, (tithes) spending money extracted from the starving poor. The architects and masons, were similarly employed the build castles for robber-barons, palaces for kings and cathedrals for bishops, while most lived in hovels.

          I would add that it is with a Christian mindset and against the backdrop of a Christian-influenced society that the very growth of scientific discovery emerged.

          That is simply wrong! It was only when the dominance of Rome was reduced by Protestant rebellions that the scientific and cultural “enlightenment”, brought Europe out of the Dark Ages by reducing the religious dominance.

          And that is logical. After all, if you believe that an orderly Creator created things in an orderly manner with observable laws, then you can study it and know from observation that there is predictability and have confidence in the results.

          There can be elements of truth in that, but scientific objective methodology and faith-thinking are opposites. Faith elements of thinking obstruct scientific reasoning.

          I’m not trying to prove God exists with this comment, by the way, that’s a different discussion and He can’t be proven to exist or not exist, so that would be pointless to pursue.

          There is only the numerous conflicting religious claims and an absence of evidence for gods. Absolute (negative) disproofs are not possible for gods or other speculations.

          I’m just saying that scientific study is compatible with belief in God.I am not saying, however, that belief in God is necessary for scientific study.)

          Many religious people have done good scientific work in specific fields, but their “faith” obstructs their wide-field view, roughly in proportion to its strength. They have to compartmentalise their thinking.

          With regard to your blatantly biased (and I might say, obtuse) response to my statement that we’d all be safer if more people had a godly conscience,

          I think there are many sectarian disputes and wars, which would show this to be biased wishful thinking, projected on to others.

          I am frankly astonished that you could possibly even think that people (I’m only talking Christians, now) with faith in what they call a loving God actually make the world more dangerous.

          Perhaps you should try to tell that to the victims of the crusades, Spanish Inquisitions, the sectarian violence in Ireland, the homosexuals beaten up by people enraged by ranting preachers, the women who die from complications in pregnancy because the dogmatic religious prevent them from having abortions, or those infected with AIDS because religious liars obstructed their supply of condoms.

  4. Lonevoice #4 “So, here we are – I am a Christian of my own volition. Just one case to prove that you cannot make sweeping generalisations about how people come to have faith, their motives or their actions. Call me a fool, ignorant, anything you like, but don’t make sweeping generalisations about people just because you disagree with what they stand for. Every person is an individual and each has his or her own story.”

    My parents did not raise me to believe in Santa Clause. At age 30, of my own volition, I started to believe in Him.

  5. Whoever tries to sell me anything, any product, idea, or “truth” is attempting fraud, even if that thing is valid, or “good.” If a Ferrari salesperson tries to sell me one without my invitation, she is also attempting to defraud, even though a Ferrari would be great. It shouldn’t be my crime that I did not make a purchase. If I use my power to steal the salesperson Toyota instead then I might be culpable!

    FYI: All about any adviser obtaining leverage (Power) over their mark (A Person).

    1. Reciprocity returning a perceived favor
    2. Commitment & consistency honor a perceived agreement
    3. Social proof do like the majority
    4. Authority do as the perceived highest ranking, fanciest looking person does
    5. Liking following people you are attracted to
    6. Scarcity perceived scarcity generating perceived abundance

    TOC, R. Cialdini, Influence: The psychology of persuasion, recommended by illusionist and inspirational atheist, Derren Brown.

    • I don’t understand. What did you think was going to happen when you went into a Ferrari showroom? Or is my assumption that you were in a Ferrari showroom unfounded? Had you been led to believe you were waiting to see the doctor? Deceit is a necessary element in fraud. Absent that, the salesperson may be guilty of something but not of fraud. Your lack of invitation may make the sales attempt a nuisance but so far you have in no way described a fraud.. You then refer to a crime you haven’t identified. Don’t get it

      And canadian_right, your point about No True Scotsman is accurate right up to the interesting moment you offer a slightly convoluted version of one yourself re children burning in hell. i’m going to be lazy and duck out of the rather lengthy explanation that would entail but I believe you’ll see what I mean. In any case, while clearly it must often occur, that doesn’t justify it as the far-reachingly wide generalisation you seem to be offering it as which, after a lifetime living all over London, is utterly outside my experience. Once upon a time maybe, but let’s stay grounded.In reply to #8 by fractaloid:*

      Whoever tries to sell me anything, any product, idea, or “truth” is attempting fraud, even if that thing is valid, or “good.” If a Ferrari salesperson tries to sell me one without my invitation, she is also attempting to defraud, even though a Ferrari would be great. It shouldn’t be my crime that I…

  6. If we are talking about a run of the mill conman then the conman is the only bad guy. A conman sets out to deceive and defraud. His victim may have shown poor judgement to trust the conman, but that isn’t a moral failing.You can certainly say the mark showed poor judgement, but not that they are culpable.

    On the other hand someone who sincerely believes fairy tales, and wants others to share their joy in these fairy tales is not doing anything morally wrong by proselytizing. Misguided, yes, but not morally wrong as long as the fairy tales don’t include having believers do immoral acts.

    Lonevoice is using the “no true Scotsman” argument to try to support teaching Lonevoice’s “nice” version of Christianity. Even if your sect isn’t advocating hanging gays, it is still based on beliefs that are not supported by any evidence and contradict much of what we know as fact about the real world. I still see it as better to believe in doing the right thing for good reasons instead of unsupportable beliefs and feelings. Lonevoice may not be familiar with parents that teach their children they will burn in hell if hey are bad, but the sad truth is that is common among Christians.

    An open mind, a knowledge of science, and normal human empathy is all that is needed to learn that it is best to be good, that being good and trying to make the world around you good leads to a better life for yourself and the people around you. This is a good without irrational hatred of the “other”. A good that can see that trivial things like skin colour and tribe are not important. A good that cannot ever justify killing others for not having my beliefs. Only an irrational belief that a person thinks cannot be shown to be wrong by any worldly evidence can lead to evil.

    The most dangerous man in the world is one that knows the Truth.

    • In reply to #9 by canadian__right:

      On the other hand someone who sincerely believes fairy tales, and wants others to share their joy in these fairy tales is not doing anything morally wrong by proselytizing. Misguided, yes, but not morally wrong as long as the fairy tales don’t include having believers do immoral acts.

      What about pedophiles proselytizing their views? It does morally matter that they’re misguided, leaving your caveat about immoral acts void.

      • In reply to #10 by fractaloid:

        In reply to #9 by canadian__right:

        On the other hand someone who sincerely believes fairy tales, and wants others to share their joy in these fairy tales is not doing anything morally wrong by proselytizing. Misguided, yes, but not morally wrong as long as the fairy tales don’t include having belie…

        and he said…

        What about pedophiles proselytizing their views? It does morally matter that they’re misguided, leaving your caveat about immoral acts void.

        In my world child abuse is immoral so the “as long it isn’t immoral” covers it.

  7. I wasn’t aware that I had used particularly emotive language in my post; certainly not with any intention to be perjorative or insulting. I use the terms “hook” and “con” simply as a way of paraphrasing Alastair and to elaborate on the theme of the original post, namely: can a person who falls for a con be held partly responsible? (I believe the OP intended this thread to be more about woo woo science, but it has veered in the direction of religion).

    It is a matter of historical fact that, not too long after Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 312 which was supposed to tolerate all religions, Christianity was relentlessly and viciously enforced upon all subjects of the Roman empire. Warfare, massacres and torture were routinely used to eradicate paganism, and it became the stated aim of emperors and Popes like Innocent III to do so. Laws were passed to execute any Saxon who refused to convert during the Saxon wars, and the inquisitions of Spain and Portugal were renowned for their use of extreme torture. The reason most of the big” Christian” festivals in western culture are pagan in origin is because of the attempt to graft the new religion onto the old.

    We have no disagreement about the influence parents have on their children. Again, I use the word ” brainwashed” because you did and one assumes that when a word is used by one party in the discussion, it is common currency to be used and understood by others without it being picked out as evidence of unpleasantness. Yes, I ” limit my comments to religion” because I thought that was what we are talking about. It is, in fact, you who suddenly restricted the discussion to your own personal version of a loving god in your reference to ” six burly guys”.

    Nowhere did I state that ” Christianity had stifled creativity”, so I’m not sure where you get that from. I merely pointed out that the cultures to which it attached itself were already well-rounded and established. You mentioned the wealth and quality of art almost as if that is somehow a credit to Christianity, when in fact most cultures produce art and most art refers to the dominant cultural tradition. There are some stunning paintings depicting scenes from Greek mythology, for example.

    Science did indeed develop against a backdrop of Christianity in Europe, and the Christian establishment fought against it every step of the way. Its roots, of course, go far back into pre-Christian civilisations.

    You seem keen to dissect my comments on the basis of semantics, (I’m not sure how my use of clichés invites judgment, by the way, or even if a commonly-used turn of phrase constitutes a cliché), but you appear to have missed the apostrophe after “… cripples others’” which may have led you to misunderstand the meaning of that sentence. If not, I’m not sure I understand your reaction. In reply to #6 by Lonevoice:

    In reply to #5 by Dom 2061:

    Lonevoice, I find myself disagreeing with a number of points you made: first, victims of a con who fall hook, line and sinker, (I assume the con we’re talking about is religion), cannot be held entirely to account. As Alistair says, when you indoctrinate children the hoo…

  8. Lonevoice 6

    With regard to your blatantly biased (and I might say, obtuse) response to my statement that we’d all be safer if more people had a godly conscience, I am frankly astonished that you could possibly even think that people (I’m only talking Christians, now) with faith in what they call a loving God actually make the world more dangerous. Let me ask you a question: if you were out on a dark night and you were suddenly faced with six big burly guys coming round the corner, would you feel physically safer or more at risk if you knew that they had just come from a Bible study group?

    New to the site and the dialogue, huh? You obviously have not heard Hitchen’s hilarious send up of the rather foolish arguement that you just made. Look it up.

  9. My personal experiences reveal that many followers of pseudo-science are almost as insulted as godbots when their beliefs are challenged. To point out that somebody’s distant Reiki “healer” is a total fake is interpreted as a personal insult, as if you called them “stupid” or “gullible”. Facts alone don’t always suffice. Facts, plus tact, plus time can be effective. Sometimes.

  10. On being sold BS: The only JC quote I like is “Oh ye hypocrites!” It sounds funny, but it became even funnier when I read that this was JC’s response to his identity being challenged. Imagine:

    Q: “Are you God?”

    A: “Don’t be a hypocrite!”

    Q: “OK I believe you…”

    A: “… you sinful lot…”

    Apologies for showing emotion. Sheesh!

  11. The way I see it, for a rape to be pulled off, it requires both a rapist and a victim. Can we ascribe any culpability to the person taken in by something they should really have been cautious of, and if so, to what degree? To put it another way, at what point do we stand up and say; “Well, yes, that rapist had a moral (and perhaps legal) duty of care, but you really should have known better than to, for example, wear something provocative or walk home alone at night.”

    Should we let a smart ass teenage boy off because he was one of several who gang raped a drunk girl at a party? Should we look past someone who lies on their resume that they have a college degree when they don’t? Victimizing the vulnerable is wrong. Pychics, astrologers and such do what they do so well because they have convinced themselves that they are legitimate. Someone needs to tell them they are not. I’ve been to several psychics in the past. I think it was partially entertaining to observe them. Many of these psychics charge the same amount of money as someone who has an advanced degree.

    Fairly recently, three young kidnapped women were found alive after being held chained in a basement (not too far from where I live.) The mother of one of the girls, obviously vulnerable and distraught, asked Sylvia Brown for advice. After being told that “Your daughter is not the kind who wouldn’t call home.” (She’s dead) This mother went home and started getting rid of her daughter’s belongings and gave up hope of ever seeing her alive. This vulnerable mother died without ever having hope that her child was still alive. What if this woman kept looking? What if she kept knocking on doors and pleading to the media?. Could this situation have turned out differently? Could she have lived a little longer? We don’t know, but people like Sylvia Brown need to be stopped.

    http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2013/05/amanda_berry_is_dead_psychic_t.html
    http://abcnews.go.com/US/amanda-berrys-mom-told-pyschic-sylvia-browne-berry/story?id=19126853

  12. Lonevoice claimed Christians do not tell children they will burn in hell if they are bad. I’m just pointing out that this is in fact common. Even if they wait until the child is a teenager it is still pretty harsh. There is no mainstream Christian church that I’m aware of that doesn’t expect sinners to go to hell. I’m not sure you could even be a Christian without this belief.

  13. Some take advantage of a situation. Now I have no sympathy for those leeches, but I do have sympathy for the victims. General everyday fluff (astrology, tarot reading, homeopathy, religion, alternative medicine), both can jog on. Believing in that stuff does leave you vulnerable to more elaborate cons, mind you, so when the psychic comes knocking at your door, you are kind of a free meal to them at that point.

    So yeah, me and my brother tell my mum to stay away from that crap as much as we can. She ain’t stupid and pretty strong-headed, but it’s not always as easy or black and white as it seems. These people are vultures, and we deal with them accordingly.

  14. This has become a really useful thread, mainly through lonevoice’s efforts.

    The most elaborate of the faith’s automated defenses are discussed here, so while I regret causing lonevoice the upset, the responses made need to be carefully considered.

    The version of Christianity championed here is the upmarket version as used in some of the more recent Christian literature (See ‘Deadly disclosures’ by Julie Cave.)

    Well worth much study.

  15. Response to Alisatr Blackhill : so while I regret causing lonevoice the upset . . .

    No upset cause in the slightest, but thank you. I just took the opportunity to bat for decent people with faith (and there are some) who would not indoctrinate, brainwash or commit atrocities. I like balanced and fair discussions and wanted to say that not all people of faith are evil as seems to be the generally view on this site. I fully acknowledge that my comments have not been taken as balanced, but you can’t win them all.

  16. Why pick on psychic, spiritual healers and homeopaths it seems to me there are far more charlatans in the political, corporate, media and medical world that are having a far more damaging effect on the people of the world than the ones you mention?

    • In reply to #22 by Tellmetruth:

      Why pick on psychic, spiritual healers and homeopaths it seems to me there are far more charlatans in the political, corporate, media and medical world that are having a far more damaging effect on the people of the world than the ones you mention?

      Why condemn dishonest activities when there are other dishonest activities?

      That is easy. —- Condemn ALL dishonest and fraudulent activities. Some dishonesty is not excused because other dishonesty exists!

      The claims of psychics, spiritual healers, and homoeopaths, have been shown to be unevidenced, false and fraudulent over and over again.

      • Ok I accept your criticism of my reply your right.

        In reply to #23 by Alan4discussion:

        In reply to #22 by Tellmetruth:

        Why pick on psychic, spiritual healers and homeopaths it seems to me there are far more charlatans in the political, corporate, media and medical world that are having a far more damaging effect on the people of the world than the ones you mention?

        Why condemn dish…

  17. Perhaps it is not unreasonable to apportion some blame to people who fall for such trickery as homeopathy, psychics etc. because there is such a mountain of evidence which demolishes their claims. You could argue that the victims are simply too lazy to do some research of their own volition and too unthinking to question what is being presented to them.

    However, I think the problem extends far more widely into our society, culture and education: we simply do not teach critical thinking nor what constitutes valid proof or evidence. We don’t explain the scientific method or the fact that science works by constantly trying to prove itself wrong; we don’t show how to test a claim or distinguish subjective experience from objective fact.

    I have quite a large team of carers to look after me and I feel locked into a constant battle to break through these barriers. A couple of examples: there was a recent report that probiotic yoghurt can beneficially affect mental well-being and mood. I haven’t checked and for all I know their research may be absolutely rock-solid, but if I was tempted to spend money on these foods I would certainly be inquisitive about the fact that the research was sponsored by a yoghurt manufacturer.

    A few years ago the weathermen apparently promised ” a barbecue summer” here in the UK. It turned out to be a total washout, and this is repeatedly trotted out as proof that they ” always get it wrong”. I am very tired of pointing out that what they actually said was, ” because of certain weather patterns, there is a 40 percent chance of a barbecue summer this year”.

    I would contend that religious belief evidences similar thought processes, but to a greater degree: it appears to take what it sees as lack of evidence against its claims as concrete proof for them. I hope I’m never in a court run along similar lines!

    Lonevoice, I can’t imagine there are many people here who would assert that religious people are inherently bad – that would be patently absurd – but it is difficult to begin every sentence with, ” of course, most theists are nice people, (just like everyone else), but…”, one assumes that to be a given. When I see discussions on religious websites, I do not take their generalisations about atheists to be anything other than broad shorthand for the sake of simplicity.

    Religions, in the same way as belief in fake subjects like homoeopathy, systematically dismantle critical faculties and that is profoundly damaging. When Richard Dawkins refers to it as child abuse I think this may be what he is alluding to.

  18. Thanks all for the contributions. The discussion (maybe inevitably) strayed pretty quickly towards religion, which is not necessarily a bad thing! If speaking about religion, I feel like the apportioning of “blame” between proselytizer and indoctrinee (Is that even a word or can I finally claim to have coined something) is made more difficult because in most cases indoctrination starts from when we are young and, by definition, cannot know better. I therefore am initially sympathetic to people who were “taken in” by religion.

    However, when speaking about spiritual healers, astrologers, homeopaths etc. I was attempting to ascertain IF a more “tough love” approach be taken with the victims, i.e. You were taken in by them, so don’t come crying to me about it. I do realise, after this discussion, that a hard-line approach isn’t really appropriate for a number of reasons: the spectrum of skepticism/gullibility on which victims lie (i.e. some people are just better equipped to spot a scam); how detrimental the consequences of heeding the advice are (i.e wasting some money vs drinking the Kool Aid); and the fact that there are both flim flam artists who genuinely belive what they are selling as well as those who maliciously purvey a service they know is fake.

  19. Thanks all for the contributions. The discussion (maybe inevitably) strayed pretty quickly towards religion, which is not necessarily a bad thing! If speaking about religion, I feel like the apportioning of “blame” between proselytizer and indoctrinee (Is that even a word or can I finally claim to have coined something) is made more difficult because in most cases indoctrination starts from when we are young and, by definition, cannot know better. I therefore am initially sympathetic to people who were “taken in” by religion.

    However, when speaking about spiritual healers, astrologers, homeopaths etc. I was attempting to ascertain IF a more “tough love” approach be taken with the victims, i.e. You were taken in by them, so don’t come crying to me about it. I do realise, after this discussion, that a hard-line approach isn’t really appropriate for a number of reasons: the spectrum of skepticism/gullibility on which victims lie (i.e. some people are just better equipped to spot a scam); how detrimental the consequences of heeding the advice are (i.e wasting some money vs drinking the Kool Aid); and the fact that there are both flim flam artists who genuinely belive what they are selling as well as those who maliciously purvey a service they know is fake.

  20. I’ve heard it said you can’t con an honest man.

    I think the mark is culpable to some degree in all cases but it’s right to look at cases on an individual basis. most con artists, particularly those who claim some spiritual powers, like some of their work to be done for them in breaking down the mark’s defences so recently bereaved are often targetted. the problem here is maybe they should know better than to believe in life after death but that belief has never hurt them in the past. religious indoctrination is partly to blame for giving people poor rationalising skills in the first place.

    religion loves a victim too, look at Job. great example of how a good mark should be, the more shit you give them the more they lap it up.

    there’s a hard lesson to be learned. those who don’t learn it as children are likely to have another lesson as an adult at some point. maybe it’s not fair to say they deserve what they get but it’s fair to say they get what the get because life’s not fair anyway you look at it.sometimes good people die of illness or loose their savings through having to deal with some unexpected financial crisis.

    victims of con artists can at least have the comfort of knowing they helped another human get rich along the way to their victimhood

  21. Pretty much any medical con has to do is toss in words like “organic” “natural”, “small-scale”.

    The competition is a nasty pharmaceutical company already caught a dozen times cheating its customers and trying to fob off improperly tested drugs.

    Miss Airhead thinks, who would I prefer to buy from, someone nice and organic who makes me think about bundles of wildflowers, or some cold megacorporation that tortures rats and does anything to make money. It is no contest. She is making her choice based on emotional associations not evidence of efficacy.

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