Do you believe in miracles? Do you believe that our heavenly father can suspend the laws of biology and physics to make seemingly impossible things happen right before your eyes?
Yeah, me neither. But a lot of people do, and while it might seem like the right thing to do is to let people believe whatever they like, we inevitably run into problems when shameless hucksters exploit those beliefs to rob earnest people of the little cash that they have. Enter the world of the faith healer – unscrupulous predators that use cheap trickery and hypnotic suggestion to separate desperate people from their hard-earned money.
Derren Brown, celebrity skeptic and magician, did something that is truly miraculous – he decided to enter the bible belt with a preacher who is admittedly fake, and expose the whole charade as fraud:
The interesting part of the lead-up to the final performance is the number of ethical quandaries the crew finds themselves in. While this bothers the people who are up-front and open about their masquerade, it clearly doesn’t bother the vultures that exploit the conditioning of blind faith in the audience.
A friend of mine once made a really powerful point in a debate he had with a creationist: the advantage of atheism (or at least general skepticism) is that we will never fall victim to someone who tells us that God can heal our infirmities, no matter how badly we want that to be true. Reliance on faith as a means of understanding the world makes you particularly vulnerable to exploitation and deception by slick-talking and fundamentally evil fraudsters.
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