Is Witchcraft Real? No, it´s Not!

Using some kind of magical power to cast spells on people or objects is commonly called witchcraft. Witches have historically been seen as evil people using their powers for evil and against God, with the result that many innocent people have been killed in witch hunts. 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. One question that may be answered quite differently by scientists than by ordinary citizens is this one: is witchcraft real?

Belief by non-scientists in the magical powers of witches had been on the decline in the last century as science gained prestige, but recently this trend has reversed with the emergence and spread of New Age philosophical ideas. Scientists, on the other hand, have long held that no real scientific evidence of any magical powers exists, and also have said that any powers of this kind would not be compatible with what we know about physics. Proponents of New Age philosophy disagree with these two claims, but they are wrong in my opinion.

The argument over physics would need a much longer article than this one to cover adequately, and it´s also true that disputes about theory are much harder to solve than disputes about facts. So, to take a look just at the evidence, the principal New Age rebuttal to the scientists is to say that scientific evidence really does exist for things such as ESP, but the scientists find ways to explain away or ridicule this evidence in order to be able to maintain that no “actual” evidence exists, because they have a bias against believing in such things.

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. To take just one example among many, there was a scientific study that indicated that infertile women who were prayed for got pregnant twice as often as women who weren´t.

The biggest objection to the study raised by scientists was that one of its authors went to prison for fraud, and that sounds like a reasonable criticism to me. The true answer to the query “is witchcraft real?” is “it is not.”