Martin Gardner was the most powerful individual antagonist
of the paranormal during the second half of the twentieth century.
A 15-page section is devoted to his life and work.
Gardner is the godfather of the skeptical movement.
He came to public notice in 1952 with his In the Name of Science.
It was revised and re-released in 1957 under the title Fads and Fallacies
in the Name of Science, and it remains in print. Since that time,
he has produced a steady output of books and articles denouncing psychic
phenomena. In 1976 he helped found CSICOP.
Gardner began writing for magic magazines while still
a teenager. He went on to contribute a massive amount to that literature.
His best critiques of parapsychological research are from the standpoint
of a magician, but few of his parapsychologist-targets realized his stature
Most people seem to expect Gardner to be an atheist.
He’s not. He believes in “a personal god, prayer, and life after
death” (letter to author 16 Nov 96). He considers himself to be a
Platonic mystic. He has explained his religious views at length and
admitted that he is most pleased to have written The Whys of a Philosophical
Scrivener (1983) and The Flight of Peter Fromm (1973).
Both of these books deal with religion extensively.
Gardner’s antagonism to psychic research is in part
due to his religious beliefs. His essay “Prayer: Why I Do Not Think
It Foolish” is revealing; for in it he says: “It is possible that paranormal
forces not yet established may allow prayers to influence the material
world, and I certainly am not saying this possibility should be ruled out
a priori . . . As for empirical tests of the power of God to answer prayer,
I am among those theists who, in the spirit of Jesus’ remark that only
the faithless look for signs, consider such tests both futile and blasphemous
. . . Let us not tempt God” (Whys, p. 239). Nor is the above
quote an isolated example. He also objects to interpreting miracles
in terms of parapsychological concepts. He goes on to say that “If
I were an orthodox Jew or Christian, I would find such attempts to explain
biblical miracles to be both preposterous and an insult to God” (Whys,
The trickster is a paradoxical and confusing character.
So is Martin Gardner. Like a trickster, his essays mix diverse, seemingly
unrelated topics (e.g., religion and mathematics). Gardner, paradoxically,
believes in God and the power of prayer, but he allies himself with atheists
in his battle against the paranormal.
The Trickster and the Paranormal
discusses all this in conjunction with his critiques of parapsychology.