Uri Geller

December 20

Uri Geller (1946)

It was on this date, December 20, 1946, that Israeli psychic, clairvoyant and part-time spoon-bender Uri Geller was born in Tel Aviv, of Hungarian and Austrian heritage. He was a male model from 1968-69, and started performing psychic feats about then. By 1971 Geller had achieved international fame with his ability to erase computer tapes, stop clocks, locate minerals underground, and bend spoons. As James "The Amazing" Randi, quipped, "If Uri Geller bends spoons with divine powers, then he's doing it the hard way." Randi has written two books detailing Geller's trickery.

Another hard way to become a world-famous psychic is to sue anyone who claims that you're merely a dishonest magician performing parlor tricks for money. That Geller has lost these lawsuits doesn't seem to dampen the enthusiasm of his fans, or to have damaged his money-making prospects: he's now hawking New Age Mind Power Kits. He claims to have been tested at the Stanford Research Institute, which demonstrates only that scientists are better equipped to detect the predictable workings of nature than the trickery of conjurors.

Of course Geller finds religion, or at least prayer, useful. "You don't have to believe in God to believe that prayer can heal you and make you stronger," says Geller on his website:

Put your faith in medicine and science: prayer works as well in the lab as it does in a church or synagogue. ... If you feel stupid "praying", call it meditation instead. ... I do believe in God. My conviction is that all living things are connected, and that our energy flows between us when we focus our thoughts ardently. We call this prayer.*
Geller has not yet been able to stop a bullet, or lift a London fog, or even win the lottery. What all this flim-flammery and spoon-bending means is that Uri Geller's supposed psychic powers, even if genuine, are trivial at best. As physicist Richard Feynman said, "Because a good magician can do something shouldn't make you right away jump to the conclusion that it's a real phenomenon."**

* Uri Geller's website can be found at this link, but beware of the confetti.
** A skeptical article on Geller can be found at this link.

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Sidney Hook


Sidney Hook (1902)

It was also on this date, December 20, 1902, that American philosopher Sidney Hook was born in New York City. A protégé of John Dewey, Hook earned a doctorate at Columbia University in 1927 and taught at New York University from 1927-1972, including over 20 years as head of NYU's philosophy department (1948-69). Perhaps his best-known quote is, "If one shoots at a king, one must not miss."

From a thorough study of Karl Marx, especially at the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow — he wrote The Meaning of Marx (1934) and From Hegel to Marx (1936) — Hook later turned against Marxism and became actively anti-Communist. He once said, "More important than any belief a man holds is the way he holds it." His later publications included such works as Heresy Yes, Conspiracy No (1953), The Place of Religion in a Free Society (1968), and Academic Freedom and Academic Anarchy (1970).

But Hook's right turn might not have been as radical as many have supposed. As Vanderbilt professor Robert Talisse pointed out, Hook criticized the student anti-war movement and the Communist Party principally because they were anti-democratic. And he criticized the 1960s school prayer cases because he believed the education of the citizenry is preferable to a court-imposed mandate.

In fact, Hook was an Atheist and actively involved in the American Humanist Association and the Council for Democratic and Secular Humanism (CODESH). Hook wrote for The Humanist and Free Inquiry magazines and once said, "As a set of cognitive beliefs, religion is a speculative hypothesis of low order of probability."*

Hook died on 12 July 1989. It was Sidney Hook who said, "Religious tolerance has developed more as a consequence of the impotence of religions to impose their dogmas on each other than as a consequence of spiritual humility...."**

* Quoted in The Partisan Review, March 1950.
** Quoted in "Religious Liberty from the Viewpoint of a Secular Humanist," from Religious Conflict in America, 1964, p. 141.

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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance writer.
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