Friday, April 25, 2008

Leg Lengthening: A Scam for the Credulous

It's always fun to read the comments at William Dembski's blog, Uncommon Descent. Because that blog is carefully moderated, hardly any criticism is posted. The result is an unadulterated picture of the views of Dembski's supporters, and that picture isn't pretty. But it is funny.

Take, for example, this thread. It starts with the idiocy of Barry Arrington, who seems to think that Karl Popper wrote "scientific text[s]".

But the hilarity really starts with a post by "Gods iPod", who wrote

I PERSONALLY have witnessed a bona-fide New Testament-level miracle.

I don’t expect you to believe on my say-so, but I have witnessed, not on a stage a hundred feet away, but less than 10 feet away, a woman’s leg grow about 1 1/2 inches. She was born with one leg shorter than the other. There was no song and dance, no raised voices, no spectacle, just a short request to God to heal her leg, and it did. In front of my eyes.

So yes, I believe in miracles.

Yes, that is funny. But I have to admit that I honestly feel sorry for credulous and deluded believers like "Gods iPod", who are taken in by the "leg lengthening" scam and feel that they have witnessed a miracle, when all that they have seen is a common carnie trick employed by fake faith-healers. James Randi discusses precisely this scam on pages 128-130 of his book, The Faith Healers, with pictures and an explanation of how the scam was carried out by phony faith-healer W. V. Grant.

What better evidence that we need to have courses in critical and skeptical thinking beginning in the early grades?


Mark said...

Are you sure it's a scam? I get an awful lot of email offers for products to lengthen a certain part of my anatomy, and they must be legit or else they wouldn't be allowed.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Hee,hee! Brilliant satire, Mark.

bobdiven said...

Thanks for this post -- this trick was used on me at a prayer meeting for my initiation into Charismatic Christianity when I was 15. I wanted to reference this phenomena in a (god-less) "sermon" I'm writing and needed to find some explanation of the practice and where it came from -- so I very much appreciate the reference.

Anonymous said...

The only ways to lengthen legs are when young by growth hormone (I've also heard something about a new hospital treatment involving magnetism) or as an adult by an unpleasant process of severing the leg and slowly letting new bone grow in as the halves are pulled apart over months. Certainly not by quackery scams!

Bruce C said...

I witnessed a leg-lengthening in Zimbabwe about 15 years ago, which I never questioned for years: An American visiting speaker, first time in the country, his first engagement a small youth group; very informal. He asked if someone had one leg shorter than the other, with associated back pain; a girl I didn't know came forward. I stood very close to her as he sat her down on a hard chair, took her shoes off, ensured her hips were square against the back of the seat, got her to lock her knees, and pushed against the soles of her bare feet, revealing the left leg to be about 1 inch shorter than the right. (I don't remember if her knees were visible; the lower parts of her legs certainly were).

He then prayed a very simple prayer, and I saw the left leg grow, over a couple of seconds, slowing till it stopped at the same length as the right (like some CGI special effect). I didn't speak to her afterwards, just accepted what I had seen.

There was no hype, and no mention of it when the same man spoke in our large church a few days later (with no further miracles). He seemed quite sane and down-to-earth, and would not have benefited in any way I could see from performing an elaborate hoax in such a 'quiet' manner.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

And yet with these alleged miracles, there is never any medical documentation proving that the leg has lengthened - with associated x-rays before and after.

And yet somehow, these healers are never able to restore missing limbs.

And yet these supposedly genuine healers are doing the exact same thing that is a well-known carnie scam.

And yet people are known to be extremely poor witnesses about what they see, with known weaknesses exploited by every magician.

Still people want to believe...