George Claassen

Can the dead really talk?

2005-05-27 08:54

The SABC's decision to broadcast yet another series of the absurd and sometimes hilarious programme, Crossing Over With John Edward, once again emphasises the way the media are neglecting their duty to inform consumers in a rational scientific way.

The SABC is not alone. KykNet has a similar programme, in which Marietta Theunissen, like John Edward, misleads viewers in Die Ander Kant into believing that she is talking to the dead.

Which brings me to the question: Why do people act in such irrational ways to believe that Edward and Theunissen are really talking to their beloved deceased?

The astrophysicist Carl Sagan wrote in The Demon-haunted World - Science as a Candle in the Dark that scientists are equipped with a baloney detection kit which is brought out "as a matter of course whenever new ideas are offered for consideration".

People who really believe Edward and Theunissen are crossing the Styx to talk to the dead, are in dire need of a baloney detector.

They have lost their critical faculties to determine between truth and lies. That the media are indeed strengthening and sustaining this lack of critical scientific thinking, borders on criminal.

Ignorance 'enhanced'

Instead of enlightening and educating gullible and susceptible people in the findings of science, this type of programme enhances ignorance and weakens rational thinking.

Why do people fall for this type of entertainment? Crossing Over and Die Ander Kant astonishingly show how 21st century men and women are still stuck in the mind-set of the Middle Ages where belief in witches, demons, heaven and hell was part and parcel of virtually everyone's thinking.

Science saved us from all that, and it started with Copernicus and Galileo more than four centuries ago - not that you would notice it if you watch the tears rolling down bereaved people's cheeks when Edward and Theunissen purported to have crossed over into Hades with comforting messages from the deceased.

"Life is contingent and filled with uncertainties, the most frightening of which is the manner, time, and place of our own demise. Under the pressure of reality, we become credulous. We seek reassuring certainties from fortune-tellers and palm-readers, astrologers and psychics," Michael Shermer, president of the American Skeptics Society writes in his enlightening book, Why People Believe Weird Things - Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time.

It is time that we allow science to reinvent our lives and the way we think. Otherwise the words of HG Wells, spoken in the 19th century, will still be valid for and applicable to our age: "The forceps of our minds are clumsy things and crush the truth a little in the course of taking hold of it."

Otherwise, the absurdities of the Edwards and Theunissens will banish reason and truth from our minds - to our own detriment.

  • George Claassen is science editor of Die Burger. His book, Geloof, Bygeloof en Ander Wensdenkery: Hoe Vrees en Vals Hoop Mense Mislei, will be published shortly by Protea Boekhuis.

  • Books by John Edward

    Send your comments to George or discuss this column now in our debating forum.

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