Is Witchcraft Real? It is Not!

Witchcraft traditionally means using magical powers to affect objects or people by casting spells. 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. Today witchcraft is often viewed more positively, as in the case of Wicca, which is seen as a type of pagan religion whose practitioners have no evil intent.

Scientists and non-scientists may give very different responses to this question: 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. But scientists have consistently held that there is no credible evidence that magical powers of any kind exist, and they further argue that such powers are not consistent with what we know about physics. New Age thinkers disagree with both of these arguments, but in my opinion, they are wrong.

The physics argument is one that is too involved to be adequately covered in a short article like this one, and anyway, arguments involving facts are much easier to resolve than arguments about theories. 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.

A bias claim like this doesn’t seem unreasonable; what’s to stop scientists from doing the same kind of explaining away of evidence that theologians of the 19th century did regarding fossil evidence because they didn’t want to believe in evolution? One answer to this claim is that while scientists are as vulnerable to bias as any other group, as scientists they are also more aware of the influence of bias than non-scientists, and more committed to using controls to counter that influence.

Easier to defend is the other answer, which is that if you look at actual objections by scientists to specific evidence that is said to be solid by New Age people, those objections look pretty reasonable. To cite one example among many, a scientific study concluded that infertile women who were prayed for doubled their pregnancy rate. The main objection to this by scientists was that one of the study’s authors went to prison for fraud, and that doesn’t sound like explaining away to me. The proper response to the question “is witchcraft real?” is “no, it’s not.”