On the intersection of Magic and Skepticism

On April 2 at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, the Pangburn Philosophy Club hosted an evening of magic. I wish I had been there; I was actually on a plane as this conversation was happening flying back to Toronto from Vancouver after having done some shows there the week before.

The renowned Canadian magician and escape artist, James Randi, was interviewed as a kick-off to the evening before the magic show.

Randi was a respected performer and escape artist and also designed illusions for Alice Cooper. He had another facet to his career exposing fraudulent psychics and faith healers — the two names that spring to the top of that list are Peter Popoff and Uri Geller. Later he founded the "James Randi Educational Foundation" which investigated claims of the paranormal and offered a "million dollar challenge" to anyone who could demonstrate psychic or paranormal ability under controlled experimental conditions. Later still came out as gay well into his eighties. So an important role model to many, many people the world over.

Matt Dillahunty is a magician, but is primarily known for his debates with religious people. He runs a video channel called the "Atheist Debates Project" where he deconstructs different arguments, good and bad, and is an ongoing project to make people more reasonable. I love his personal motto:

I want to believe as many true things and as few false things as possible.
— Matt Dillahunty

Here is their full conversation on stage, which runs just over an hour:

The one thing he said, which seems to have generated some discussion is that he prefers to be called a conjurer instead of a magician. Superficially, conjurer just sounds like a snobby British equivalent to magician. Although originally, a magician was supposed to be a person with "real" powers whereas "conjurer" has built into the definition the idea that it's magic tricks — a facsimile of magic. 

Personally, I've opted to go with magician. This is primarily because it's simpler. (There's nothing worse than having a word on your business card that most people won't understand.) But also out of a desire to reclaim magic as a secular term. Since we all know "real magic" doesn't exist — subject of course to your own personal definition of real — we should be able to use that term for the magic that people do in real life... you know... in a magic show