Derren Brown: Messiah

After watching this, manicstreetpreacher wonders why all religious people think that their prophet or saviour is the only genuine one in an ocean of mountebanks, charlatans and frauds.  Must be why they call it faith.

I recently re-watched the YouTube videos on my post “Refuting William Lane Craig’s five ‘arguments’ for the existence of God” and in video three, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the narrator recommends watching this programme (RichardDawkins.net / Wikipedia) by British illusionist and arch-sceptic Derren Brown (Homepage / Wikipedia) first broadcast in 2005 as he tours America assuming various false identities convincing supposed experts in the supernatural that he has special powers.

Brown pretends to five separate sets of people that he is respectively a psychic, an evangelical preacher capable of instantly converting hardened atheists, a survivor of alien abduction who can now tell a person’s medical history by touching them, the inventor of a machine that can record people’s dreams and a clairvoyant who is able to talk to people beyond the grave.  In each of the scenarios Brown aims for these people to endorse him publically as the real deal, but if they ask him directly whether he is faking it, he will own up to them.  None of them asked whether this was a con and indeed all swallowed it hook, line and sinker.

Like James Randi, Brown is a self-confessed sceptic of the paranormal and admits that he uses hypnotism, cold-reading and various other behavioural manipulation techniques to get his spectacular results from his subjects.  Only sporadically does he reveal his secrets and I very much recommend his full uncut interview with Richard Dawkins filmed for The Enemies of Reason for a backstage look at cold-reading.

YouTube playlist

YouGoogle Part 3 of 6 (since irritatingly at the time of publication, YouTube Part 3 and only Part 3 was blocked with the message “This video contains content from Channel 4, who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds”?!)

I post these videos to make the point that the miraculous deeds of Jesus and countless other “messiahs” can easily be replicated by sceptics using mind tricks on gullible and credulous people; effectively mental sleight of hand.  If you are reading minds, contacting the dead or bending metal objects using magic powers, you’re doing it the hard way.

So why do people believe that any of them are genuine?

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5 Responses to “Derren Brown: Messiah”

  1. PaulJ Says:

    Derren Brown is very impressive, but I do wonder if we can believe anything he says in his TV documentary specials (his “prediction” of the lottery numbers comes to mind).

    I watched Messiah a while ago, and I remember being struck by the alacrity with which he effected religious conversions. It just didn’t seem possible that someone could be so instantly changed in their worldview.

    I appreciate this isn’t central to the point of your post. You’re asking why people believe in stuff which can be convincingly faked. Isn’t it simply because for some people it is convincing? The majority of religious believers, I suspect, have never examined the evidence (or lack of it) for their beliefs. They believe it because they always have.

    Those who do examine the basis of their faith will either find the evidence lacking, and abandon their previous belief, or they will find they have so much invested in their belief-system that they will continue to believe in spite of the lack of evidence (for some, that’s what “faith” is).

    There will of course be others who claim that they do have good evidence for their belief, but they will likely be a small percentage of the total number of believers. Unfortunately it’s that minority (the apologists, such as WLC) who are the most vocal.

  2. manicstreetpreacher Says:

    I don’t know what to make of DB sometimes either. It’s pretty obvious that he BSed us all with his “explanation” of the lottery numbers prediction!

    He must have hypnotised the atheist audience all at once in order to “convert” them. It’s the only way he could have done it unless they were in on the setup.

    I agree that people don’t assess the evidence in support their religious beliefs, but why on Earth not? I was brought up in a moderately religious family and went to Christian-orientated schools. It was fun learning about Noah’s Ark, the Exodus and the Nativity as well as singing hymns and carols in morning assembly.

    I just couldn’t swallow any of it because there was no more evidence to believe that Jesus rose from the dead than there was for Perseus slaying the Kraken.

  3. Oli Lea Says:

    A Christian would reply “Can Derren Brown be crucified and raise himself up in 3 days?” But I’ll leave it to you guys to rip that apart however you see fit… 🙂

  4. manicstreetpreacher Says:

    Oli – Perhaps that’s more David Blaine’s department!

  5. Chet Payne Says:

    “Most” religious people can be conned into just about anything!

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