James “The Amazing” Randi, internationally renown skeptic and world-famous magician, turned 83 this past Sunday, August 7. Critical thinkers rejoice; Mystically minded shudder.
Over the last few decades, Randi has made a career out of exposing frauds and charlatans and testing paranormal claims. From Ouija boards to faith healing, Randi has championed critical thinking by investigating the supernatural (He avoids the term “debunker”).
His organization, The James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), offers a “Million Dollar Challenge” to anyone who can prove they have a paranormal or supernatural ability or power under agreed-upon conditions. Since the prize was started in 1996, countless applicants have sent in submissions. The money remains unclaimed to this day.
Some of Randi’s more famous and well-known exposés include spoon-bending, “psychic” loon Uri Geller and phony faith healers (as if there’s any other kind…) like Peter Popoff and W.V. Grant.
Back in the early 1970s, Uri Geller was a rising star. His self-proclaimed psychic ability wowed millions and re-awakened public interest in psychics and mind reading. After a 1973 appearance on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson, Geller was exposed as a fraud. Johnny Carson, a former magician himself, collaborated with Randi to “weed out any possibly trickery.” Turns out that’s all Geller’s performance was, as seen below.
Fast-forward to the 1980s. America is in the midst of a fundamentalist religious revival (as the GOP can attest). Televangelists and faith healers (or worse – both) have great control over the minds and purses of their followers.
During this time, Randi began following several healers and investigated numerous claims, which he chronicled in his 1987 book (a personal favorite of mine) The Faith Healers. Randi’s investigation of Peter Popoff, for example, resulted in Popoff’s ministry declaring bankruptcy (sadly, Popoff can still be seen on television…today). Peter Popoff, W.V. Grant, A.A. Allen, Oral Roberts, Pat Robertson and Ernest Angley were also exposed in Randi’s classic exposé.
James Randi shows no signs of slowing down. The sharp 83-year-old recently beat cancer and came out of the closet as a gay man. His brainchild, JREF, holds an annual meeting that hosts world-famous skeptics and critical thinkers. Called “The Amazing Meeting” (TAM), attendees from all over the world flock to the conference to hear and exchange ideas (I have yet to go…but I WILL!).
The world is changing and progressing, despite widespread ignorance and superstition. James Randi has helped bring logic and critical thinking into public discourse by debunking paranormal claims and exposing frauds. His work is priceless and necessary. I hope he has several more birthdays to come.