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An Interview with James Randi (Part Four)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2017/02/22


An interview with James Randi. He discusses: discernment between the mere superstitious and the real, and fear of death as fundamental; government promotion of religion; secular humanism and humanism; American and a Canadian science communicators and secular humanists; previous humanists’ and science communicators’ working beginning to take effect, and the naturalness of humanism and rationalism to him; and that you have to go all of the way in concern and care for others.

Keywords: humanism, James Randi, rationalism, science communication, secular humanism.

An Interview with James Randi: Conjuror/Professional Stage Magician; Founder, James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) (Part Four)[1]

*Footnotes in & after the interview, &bibliography & citation style listing after the interview.*

*This interview has been mildly edited for clarity and readability.*

12. Something that ties into that is discernment between the mere superstitious and the real. Knowledge of the general principles behind the phenomenon of the natural world can be anchors from which people can reason and then discern who’s full of it and who is not when they’re making a claim about reality. Does this seem correct to you?

You got to realize: from my point of view, of course, fear is what it’s all about. Fear that you’ll die some day. Hey, I’m 88. I’m not terribly worried. It looks fine to me at this moment. Tomorrow, I’ll see. But I’m not in fear of death, whatsoever. I’m going to be a bit annoyed when it comes closer, and it comes closer with every minute of every day, and every day of every year. I’ll just simply be a broken machine. An exhausted machine, busted, and it won’t work anymore. I hope to have my next book out, my 11th, by the time that happens, or die knowing that it will be published, eventually. That would be satisfactory. I’m not in a rush, by the way.


I’ve had so many good friends go. Isaac Asimov, he was a very close friend of mine. Over the years, well, so many people, I cannot begin to name some of them because I’d have to leave a lot out. Many of the people that I’ve known, like Asimov, were inspirations to me. They shared my feelings about the world and how it works, and doesn’t work. We didn’t have to discuss it much because we knew what was going on in the heads of the others. Richard Dawkins, oh my goodness, I see him from time to time. Richard and I will have a lot of laughs, I’m sure, as will his friends. So, no fear of death, and no reason to fear. Death is simply the end of a long adventure. And it has been an adventure. It hasn’t all been fun, but a lot of it has. Oh my goodness, I’ve written a lot of books about it so far.

[Looks up at the ceiling]

Will you give me enough time for a 12th? I hope to have enough material for a 12th


I think my philosophy is correct, that we die and make room for other people because the Earth is getting crowded, though there’s lots of room left, lots of room left. I’m not talking myself into something here because I’ve had many close brushes with death, everything from cancer to heart attacks. I recovered very nicely, thanks to medical science – you may have heard of it. No, it’s not perfect, but it’s so damn good, it’s almost perfect. I’m very happy about that fact. I was born at just the right time, I think. I didn’t plan it that way. I had nothing to do with it.


I celebrate the fact that I’ve been able to see these things happen.

13. You said earlier, “It’s about fear.”

Yes, fear of death, of not living forever. People are given that sort of mythology in order to keep them in line. It works very well. Governments promote religion because they realize it does keep people enslaved, and there’s no way of calling them back from the dead. It’s fear that that won’t happen. I never had any fear of that, at all.

14. You are a secular humanist as well. What defines secular humanism to you? What makes this almost a truism to you?

Humanism is a respect for human beings and their rights. I don’t have a definition of humanism, but I should really have one on hand. It’s the study of human beings as animals, perhaps, as intelligent animals, as the prominent biological feature of Earth. And we’ve done pretty well, done pretty well. Mind you, we’re well beyond Alley Oop. That was a comic strip when I was a kid, so, if you don’t know about Alley Oop, you’ve been badly treated.


He had a pet dinosaur. I forgot the name, perhaps “Dino”. I’ve forgotten a lot of things. The old brain is filled up. It’s a bit swollen up there. I think humanism is a very good way to go. In some ways, I can see some problems with it that I wouldn’t quite agree with. It all depends on the humanists that you speak to. There are humanist organizations all around the world. Most of them do very, very well. I’ve spoken for maybe a hundred of them over the years.

All over the globe. I always enjoyed myself. I had very few fist fights.

15. There are prominent individuals. Those that are deceased and those that are not. Some come to mind. You mentioned Isaac Asimov. There are others alive such as Lawrence Krauss, Richard Dawkins, Bill Nye, and Neil deGrasse Tyson for the United States. In Canada, one of the more prominent would be someone like David Suzuki who does communicate science in a respectful and positive light.

Oh yes. I never met Suzuki. I don’t know how that never happened. I’ve been close to him so many times, but we just never bumped into each other in the halls or something. I’d like that opportunity, and I’m sure we’d hit it off very well.

16. These individuals are becoming more prominent and gaining more respect, slightly before my generation and moving into the present. It’s due to the hard work of just probably about 1 or 2 generations back that the real effects of communicating science, communicating humanistic values in the public forum has begun to take effect. Do you think people like the aforementioned are part of that increase of that number?

Yes, I hope it did have that kind of influence. I suspect that it would, because the humanist point of view and the rationalist point of view have been very attractive to me, obviously from what I’ve told you and what you’ve read. I think that if the nonbeliever percentage could be increased by 10-15% in the next 10-12 years, perhaps, I think that would be “gangbusters”.


It would spread. Reason does spread, you know, finding out the truth. Look at the reaction I told you about to the An Honest Liar film. It’s been seen across Canada now. I get mail from people in Canada who have seen it, who have their own ideas on it. Not negative, I receive almost always positive, though a couple of malcontents doubted certain aspects that were stated in the film. I think humanism and that kind of living, and that kind of reasoning, is contagious. I certainly hope it is. I hope that people would adopt a humanist point of view, particularly on behalf of their families because that’s who it affects, it is not just individuals, it’s to entire families. If you can start an entire generation going with humanist ideals, you’ve achieved quite a great deal. Humanism is so natural to me, so obvious. I just wish it were a little more obvious.

17. In a way, there seems to be an obscuring of natural human sentiments. In a way, when people start focusing on a hereafter, on the otherworldly, things like souls. Things like ghosts, and angels, and demons, and so on, heaven. They become detached from what would be termed the physical things, the material things. The things in the sensory world. That seems to be where the damage comes from. I have the same feeling as you. That seems to me a truism, because society wouldn’t function if people didn’t care about other people to at least a sufficient degree.

The fact that people care about each other and other people less fortunate than themselves is an admirable and, I think, a very positive attitude to have and such, but you have to go all the way. I think you’d go all of the way, and will go all of the way, if you’ll allow it to happen. That you go so far that you look at yourself in the mirror and say, “You’re not going to live forever. You’re going to die eventually. Get to work. Do what you can, now! Don’t wait, don’t wait. I know you’re only 88 years of age, but I know you have lots of work to do.”


I am fortunate medically – and genetically and such – to be alive as I am at my age. I have problems, all of the problems that you can pretty well have, but I’ve managed to beat them and science has been very much my friend. I’m fortunate in that respect. I lay that at the door of medical science. They’re to blame for my longevity. Don’t come to me and yell at me. Yell at the doctors who saved me. I think that humanism is very respectable, very positive and possibly one of the elements that will save the human race from going up in a radioactive cloud.

Thank you for your time, Mr. Randi.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Conjuror/Professional Stage Magician; Founder, James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF).


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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