- Religion and Philosophy
Is Witchcraft Real? No!
Is Witchcraft Real? No!
Witchcraft involves the use of magical powers to cast spells on people or objects. Witchcraft used to be seen mostly as a bad thing that went against God, with witches using their powers for ill, and as a result there have been witch hunts, resulting in many innocent people being killed. In modern times witchcraft is seen in a mostly more positive light, such as with Wicca, which is regarded as a kind of pagan religion whose followers have good intentions. A philosophical question that lay people may answer much differently than scientists is this: is witchcraft real? With the rise of the prestige of science in the last century, non-scientists gradually were rejecting the belief that witches have real magical powers, but recently with the emergence of New Age philosophy, belief in magical powers is on the rise again. However, scientists have consistently argued that magical powers go against what we know about physics, and they hold that there is no scientific evidence that such powers exist. Proponents of New Age philosophy disagree with these two claims, but they are wrong in my opinion.
The argument about physics is one that can’t be adequately covered in a short article like this one, and in any case arguments about theory are much harder to resolve than arguments about facts. So, regarding the evidence argument only, the main rebuttal from the New Age thinkers is to say that the scientists explain away or ridicule evidence for things like ESP that really is out there, because they have a bias against belief in these phenomena and want to be able to maintain that there is no “real” evidence. Such a claim of bias does not seem unreasonable; why can’t it be that scientists are explaining away evidence in the same way that theologians in the 19th century explained away fossil evidence because they were biased against the theory of evolution? One answer is that although scientists are indeed influenced by bias just as other people are, because they are scientists they are also more committed to using mechanisms to control for the bias and are more aware in general of how bias can influence them.
The other answer, which is easier to defend, is that if you examine the objections that have been made by scientists to specific evidence that New Age thinkers say is solid, those objections don’t look unreasonable. Taking just one example among very many, there was one study in which the pregnancy rate for infertile women doubled if they were prayed for. The principal objection scientists raised was that one of the authors was imprisoned for fraud, and that doesn’t seem like an unreasonable red flag to me. The true answer to the query “is witchcraft real?” is “it is not.”