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The mystery move - examples please

I am looking for examples of how people attempt to protect their belief system - immunize it against rational criticism - by appealing to mystery.

Religious examples are good (do provide them), but I also want non-religious examples, e.g. people dealing with apparent scientific refutations of the claims of crystal healers, etc. by suggesting that science is limited in its scope and we must acknowledge "there are more things in heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio", etc.

If the examples can be accessed on the internet, that helps. It's for forthcoming book. I imagine there are skeptical websites that have many examples but I am struggling a bit to find them...


Podblack said…
Hello! I think I sent you an email a while back, but you may be very busy (with the book, for example).

Of course, Tim Minchin's beat-poem 'Storm' comes to mind (lyrics here: ).

Then there's parapsychology and some of the examples they give - I did an essay on how more recently quantum theory is being used, as a part of my studies:

If you like, I can round up a few skeptical friends to give you more examples - I would suggest that you check out the investigations done at the Mind, Body and Spirit festivals by the Skeptic Zone podcast, where we have sound-bites from people. There's also the Australian Skeptic magazine, which is online at the Australian Skeptic site? Dr Rachael Dunlop may be of use there. :)
Alasdair said…
Have you looked at the practitioners of alternative medicine (chiropractic, and all other quack "healing" practices)? I did a quick web search, and found nothing so far, although

talks about the "mystery of the mind" in one of their subject descriptions. I would guess there should be rich pickings out there. Good luck with your book - We shall certainly buy it when it is published.
Angie said…
How about checking out places like - they have articles and a forum that may be of interest.
Ken Pulliam said…

I am a former evangelical theologian and I used the mystery card often. Here are some examples:

1) Trinity--how can three be one?
2) Atonement--how can it be just to punish an innocent in place of the guilty?
3) Evil--how can a good God allow evil, especially natural evil
4) Incarnation--how can one person be both divine and human at the same time?
Stephen Law said…
Thanks for these. And Podblack - I replied. Didn't you get it? I just replied again....
DM said…
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TaiChi said…
The obvious example that comes to mind is the 'mystery of consciousness'. Many people proclaim that consciousness is fundamentally mysterious, citing the failure of science to fully explain consciousness thus far as evidence for consciousness being a fundamentally different sort of thing from matter (therefore, Dualism). The projection of ignorance here becomes a reason not to even inquire into the latest findings of science on the matter, which aim to chip away at the mystery*. Perhaps you could look to a writer like Dennett for a description of this move in his field of expertise?

*(I don't mean that this applies to all dualists, but I think something like this works on a popular level).
Flea said…
I don't have an example but what I think is a great quote; from Spinoza, Ethics, Apendix, part I):
"(...) And thus they will pursue you from cause to cause until you are glad to take refuge in the will of God, that is, the asylum of ignorance."
jeremy said…
I liked this one, by the spokeswoman (sic) of the [British] Society of Homeopaths, explaining why it is that the gold-standard format for clinical trials shouldn't apply to them:

"It has been established beyond doubt and accepted by many researchers, that the placebo-controlled randomised controlled trial is not a fitting research tool with which to test homeopathy."

She doesn't, of course, offer any alternative... (And do note the contradiction with the paragraph just above it: "Many previous studies have demonstrated that homeopathy has an effect over and above placebo." She'll take the trials, so long as they aren't the meticulous RCTs!)
jeremy said…
Sorry, the url is here
Giford said…
Did you know Catholics have an offical phrase for the 'mystery move'?

"The existence of theological mysteries is a doctrine of Catholic faith defined by the Vatican Council, which declares: "If any one say that in Divine Revelation there are contained no mysteries properly so called (vera et proprie dicta mysteria), but that through reason rightly developed (per rationem rite excultam) all the dogmas of faith can be understood and demonstrated from natural principles: let him be anathema"

tbh, I've found it surprisingly difficult to find examples of someone saying 'it's a mystery' - perhaps this argument is on its way out...? Here's what I did find. First an off-topic For Your Interest, with relevance to the God of Eth, I found this while Googling 'Why does God allow suffering' (which produced a multitude of 'mystery' responses of varying stripes):
"While there is much evil in the world, there is even more that is good. This is proved by the mere fact that people normally try to hang on to life as long as they can."

Here are some specific 'mystery moves' from religion:

"We ourselves do not establish the standards of what is right. Only the Creator of all reality can do that. [...] Having settled this by faith, we are then free to seek for ways in which we can profit spiritually from the sufferings in life."

"I have nothing to say that makes sense of this horror - all I know is that the message of the death and resurrection of Jesus is that he is with us."
- Archbishop of York, John Sentamu
Quoted at: (it continues: "Canon Giles Fraser, preferred to respond "not with clever argument but with prayer".")

The Book of Job is worth a read.
"Job's friends do not waver from their belief that Job must have sinned to incite God's punishment. As the speeches progress, Job's friends increasingly berate him for refusing to confess his sins, although they themselves are at a loss as to which sin he has committed. The three friends continue to argue that Job must have sinned, and therefore must deserve his misfortune. They also assume, in their view of theology, that God always rewards good and punishes evil, with no apparent exceptions allowed. There seems to be no room in their understanding of God for divine discretion and mystery in allowing and arranging suffering for purposes other than retribution. "

Eventually God Himself turns up and, to be frank, blusters:
"The thrust is not merely that God has experiences that Job does not, but also that God is King over the world and is not necessarily subject to questions from His creatures, including men."
Preceeding two quotes from:

Is that the kind of thing you are after?

scott roberts said…
I am looking for examples of how people attempt to protect their belief system - immunize it against rational criticism - by appealing to mystery.

This seems a rather begging-the-question thing to look for. I would be more interested in people who have had their belief systems challenged by mystery. What does one make, for instance, of Haldane's "The Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose."

While you see the religionists as appealing to mystery to maintain their beliefs, I see the non-religionists as ignoring mystery (of consciousness, mainly) to maintain theirs.
Alasdair said…
Have a look at this page about Reiki (which I once saw described as "hands-off faith healing without the healing"):

Oh it's a mystery all right...!
Giford said…
"in addressing these various forms of the [Problem of Evil], we ought never to think we have removed all the mystery, and indeed terror, of the misery and suffering that people endure everyday in this broken world. Exhaustive answers as to why God has deemed it proper to allow sin and evil into His good creation are not forthcoming. Also, while I have denied the possibility of fully explaining God’s ways, I have defended the belief that the [Problem of Evil], in the multiple variations in which it appears, does not invalidate the rationality of Christian belief in God."
saramolly said…
The three friends continue to argue that Job must have sinned, and therefore must deserve his misfortune. They also assume, in their view of theology, that God always rewards good and punishes evil, with no apparent exceptions allowed.

Best Attorney
Unknown said…
Dear Stephen,
Then there are the political and economics theorists who always have an explanation why things didn't turn out the way they predicted.....

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