SGU Episode 423

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SGU Episode 423
24th August 2013
(brief caption for the episode icon)

SGU 422                      SGU 424

Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella

B: Bob Novella

R: Rebecca Watson

J: Jay Novella

E: Evan Bernstein


SE: Sanal Edamaruku

Quote of the Week

It is morally as bad not to care whether a thing is true or not, so long as it makes you feel good, as it is not to care how you got your money as long as you have got it.

Edmund Way Teale in Circle of the Seasons

Download Podcast
Show Notes
Forum Discussion


You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality.

This Day in Skepticism ()[edit]

  • August 24, 79: Mt. Vesuvius erupted

News Items[edit]

No Proof of Creation ()[edit]

Area 51 ()[edit]

Hydrating Beer ()[edit]

Indian Rationalist Shot Dead ()[edit]

Free Roaming Planets ()[edit]

Who's That Noisy? ()[edit]

  • Answer to last week: QH4

Questions and Emails ()[edit]

Question 1: Sugar and Hyperactivity ()[edit]

Recently I was listening to one of Steven Novella’s lectures from The Great Courses regarding sugar and its effect on children. Basically he said there’s no correlation between the two. I found this surprising and happened to mention it to a registered dietician who said the recent scientific studies have shown a link. Further, she mention the physiology of the body implies a natural effect of simple carbohydrates on the body. She also mentioned that many studies on this subject have been funded by the sugar industry and therefore implies a conflict of interest. I would appreciate it if you could cite the studies were Prof. Novella has obtained his information. Thanks Mike Cottrill Ontario, Canada

Interview with Sanal Edamaruku ()[edit]

S: We are here at TAM 2013 and we are joined now by Sanal Edamaruku. Sanal, welcome back to the Skeptics Guide.

SE: Thank you.

S: Also sitting with us is John Rennie, "as seen on TV." Ooh.


E: I have seen you on TV, yes.

JR: That guy owes me money.

S: From "Hacking the Planet," of course former editor of "Scientific American." So Sanal is the founder and president of "The Rationalists International" the president of "The Indian Rationalist Association." You were on the show before talking about your tantric killing challenge, which made you not only a celebrity in your own country of India, but really an international celebrity especially among skeptics and rationalists, and your problems have not ceased since then. People are still trying to kill you. Tell us about that.

SE: Well, the Tantra Challenge has, in a way, helped me a lot to expand my horizon. The Indian Television [...] of course we had a presence earlier, but that has given new dimensions and a lot of new viewers that have seen our programs. And it has been going very well, I mean, I have been on television on an average some 200 times in a year for the last four years, and in most of the time I would be meeting directly face to face with some astrologers, some tantrics, some gurus, some holy men, and all ended with their careers diminishing after that. And this was quite a successful process which was going on. Eventually, I mean this has given a kind of scare amongst a lot of people and developed a lot of efforts to stop me. But because of my popularity, things were not that easy.

Last year, there was a miracle in a Mumbai church. It's not, interestingly, not [...] the Hindu holy men, I mean, who belong to the majority community of India, who were after my life, but when I exposed this miracle in Mumbai that turned totally different.

The miracle was very simple. A statue of Jesus, a crucifix, was dropping some water from the feet. Driplets were coming. And the church claimed, "Jesus is weeping, and the tears are coming down."

S: He's crying from his feet.

J: No, no. It's dripping...

SE: No. Crying and it's flowing through the body and then dripping on the feet.

J: He cries a lot, Steve. A lot of tears.

E: So do I.


J: [...] caused some problems.

SE: Quite a lot. Quite a lot, to be distributed to a thousand people basically every day.

J: And they were ingesting it, right?

SE: They were just drinking it. I mean some drops were given on their palm and they were licking and drinking it. And it was offered them by the church. First I have responded to them in a television program sitting in Delhi in a television window, I said, "This need not be even investigated because no statue would ever produce water. It needs some water source. So I would request the church authorities, if they have not artificially done it, they have to look around and see what it is, and stop it immediately. That would be the most reasonable thing I would address."

So there was a very interesting response from them. They took our arguments and starting telling that, "You always insist on empirical evidence, so you don't have an empirical evidence that this is not a miracle. So you should come to Mumbai and verify it, and you should prove that this is not a miracle."

E: So throwing the burden back on to you.

SE: Yeah. So, but that was a cleverly made trap, that I understood later. Cause five, eh, five days later when I reached Mumbai, first just waited for a long time to allow me to visit this place. I have gone with a crew of television people. When I reached there a thousand people were there, making a prayer, and the priest was reading from Bible. And I waited 'til the prayer was over. But halfway they stopped to distribute the holy water to everybody. Brought to me, also. And I refused to drink it. And collected some samples for chemical analysis. And after the prayer I was allowed to watch this thing. Now the priest came and gave me hammer immediately. And I asked "Why this for?" "You said there could be water trapped inside, why don't you hit it, and see? Break open it and see where there is water."

J: Break open the statue?

SE: Yeah.

E: Ho ho ho!

SE: [...] simply they offer it. The idea was very simple. And if I take the hammer in my hand, if I think "Okay that's a good opportunity," and I do that thing, that moment a hundred camera flashes would be recording it.

E: They're going to use that against you.

SE: And they would immediately claim that he has came and he just come and damaged our statue. That would be serious crime. I would not get any support from anywhere. So I refused to touch even the hammer. And they said, "You have some supporters with you, why don't they dig the floor and see?"

SE: I said, "We don't want anything of that sort." First of all we would like to have primary observation about the scene. So I verified the area, and first thing I found was the wall behind was wet.

J: The wall behind the statue was wet.

SE: Yeah. The statue was independently standing on a cement base. And in, just behind that was a wall and it was wet. And algae was growing already on that.

E: Oh ho.

SE: Which means water presence for quite some days. So I went behind the wall, and again there was water and algae growing. So then I went through the algae line and it reached a toilet...

E: Ohhh

SE:...straightaway. And then I looked and found that the toilet water is leaking heavily through that thing. And I went back again through the line and then I found that it's, it's open at one place with the uh FI stone covering it. I removed the stone cover of it and it was stinky water clogged for so many days. And it's really, really, really stinky. And I took photographs of the whole scene. Videographed the whole thing, recorded everything properly. And then I went out and I wanted to see one more thing. Whether there is water presence above the feet of Jesus, or it's from the nail only down. So I was almost clear that capillary action is taking water up on the wall similarly OR the cement base it has taken up and the nail there was a hole on the feet and it was draining down through the nail and dripping down to the feet.

J: Oh my gosh.

SE: I wanted to confirm it once again, and have gone there and touched both the feet. No, there is no water, but on the nail it's wet. And down it is dropping. And of course I smelled - unbearable smell.

J: Oh no.

B: Ugh.

SE: I had to wash it so many times. It's I mean, chemicals, so that the stink goes. And I uh, well I knew what was happening, and some of them also understood what I identified.

J: Now who the other people that understood were like your camera crew or people that were in the ...?

SE: The camera crew understood, the priest accompanied me, apparently he understood it, OK, what was happening. So he suddenly asked me to explain to the crowd what I have found.

S: Um hmm.

SE: That's again another trap.

JR: Yes

SE: See, if I talk to the crowd, somebody can simply attack me. And later it would be seen that this intolerant guy has come here and I mean tried to make trouble amongst the people, so a crowd has attacked and killed him. Very simple like that. That's quite possible in India. One of the best ways to eliminate a person would be: "Agent Provocateurs in a Crowd" I mean, making an attack. And nobody's responsible after that.

E: Ahh.

SE: So it would look somebody's provoking somebody's religious sentiments and they reacted. It would look like that. I refused to make a statement.

JR: Wise.

SE: But they insisted, "You have to speak, otherwise you will not be allowed to go." That was a very hard position. So then I thought, "Well, I'm a good speaker," I decided, yes, to handle the situation, I said, "Okay, I speak." And then I started speaking about Indian Constitution, the fundamental rights of inquiry, free expression. Then I spoke about Hindu miracles, or the Sikh miracles, and their own miracles, which was refused by Vatican. There could be natural explanations, and I looked at the face. I mean, as a speaker, I was very successful. Half the people, I mean, the common devotee is not very fanatic. They were listening to me and started shaking heads.

J: Right.

SE: And then the priest found that it's not very good.

J: Uh oh.

SE: Okay, okay. Now off you go.


JR: So it was, it was working far better than they had hoped.

J: So you filibustered.

JR: Yes!

SE: But things did not end there. That was the interesting thing. I decided to, I mean the channel wanted me to speak in the prime time at nine o'clock about this exposé, and they gave me ten minutes to speak about this miracle, but the church insisted that it should follow a discussion, but the church representatives also should be there to defend the miracle. So the channel agreed. I also agreed, what's the problem?

J: I mean, why not?

SE: I got ten minutes, and I explained everything so properly and so well, and it worked so well. Because on an average there were a thousand people 'til that day. The miracle is over that night. Next day on there was nobody visiting to collect this water.

JR: Wow.

SE: It's simply finished. They had even started constructing guesthouses for pilgrims and all this [...] kind of things. Everything collapsed. The whole... money hopes the church had, is all blown up, completely. So, but in the television program, the five people who came; that included a priest, a lawyer from the Supreme Court, from the church side, and the first two of the church some organization leaders and they all argued so hysterically, and I didn't really get time to I mean, speak anything, because five people shouting so hysterically, and the moments when I got time, I said that it's not a miracle, and you have been claiming that it was a miracle, and they said, "Water would not climb up, that's against God's law. Water goes down only." That's...

B: Oh wow.


SE: Very interesting arguments they have been making. But the bishop apparently understood the danger of the damage his own people were doing publicly.

J: Right.

B: Okay

SE: So halfway, the bishop asked the channel that he would like to join the program. So it was quite impressive the [...]. So bishop joins halfway. So the Mumbai bishop comes and starts the very interesting statement. So he says that you come from a very responsible organization, but I would like to say that like anybody, you are a born ignorant person. I said, "That's a very interesting statement but I would like to say that I mean, you have been telling all these years that we are all born sinners. This argument is first, I mean, heard from you, but would you please explain what this ignorance that I have." "Miracles do happen. And you do not know about that." I said, "Anything that is not understood, is taken by some people as miracles. But on other cases, fraudsters and fakers do miracles and you take it like that.

J: Right.

SE: So, "We do not promote miracles." He tried to be soft in the beginning. I said, "But you do promote miracles. There are two miracles to be attributed to every saint when he or she is declared as a saint and you have more than ten thousand saints. Means twenty thousand miracles Vatican has officially attributed.

J: Exactly, yeah.

SE: And on the other side the latest history of Mother Theresa. You offer, I mean as far as anybody knows about that thing. Mother Theresa was declared a saint after a lady, Monica Besra, claiming that she had tumor and she put a picture of Mother Theresa on the stomach and the tumor has vanished. But I found from the hospital records that she had a surgery before making this statement and removed it surgically.

J: Wow.

SE: That made a big damage to them. So I mentioned about this case. So he got angry. He said, "Do you know that we promote science and you are speaking on behalf of science. How can you dare to do it?" I said, "How did you promote?" "So the Pontifical Science Institute has made the scientific progress in Europe. And the atheists and skeptics and freethinkers are making claim that it's against the church. Or against belief." It's not like that; it's the other way around. I could not stop laughing.

JR: Yeah.

SE: I said "I would not answer that thing. But in your own terminology I would 'invoke' two people from history. One is Giordano Bruno, the second would be Galileo Galilei. They would answer you." He said, "Do you know Galileo Galilei has at last apologized to the church?"

J: He... wait, "at last"?

S: Like recently?

E: Under, under threat of death.

SE: ...has not apologized to him, but...


SE: Galileo of course and after twelve years of imprisonment he has apologized. For getting his freedom. That was after twelve years of rigorous persecution.

S: Yep

SE: I said, "You have persecuted a person and the poor person at the end of it wants to have a free life. And if he cannot stand straight in a jail for twelve years and he wants to go out and stand straight, he would apologize. But I'm a person who would not apologize even in that situation." He said, "You have to apologize and we will see to it that you apologize for all what you said." I said, "That became very serious." Then he said that, "There are laws in this country, where I know how to stop you. You will not see sunlight again."

B: And he's saying this on TV?

SE: On TV live! And I say, "Look, this is the language of Medieval times. And you brought Dark Ages at that time, and we would not allow you to bring Dark Ages in India." That's where the program ends. Bishop walks out angry. And of course when I wanted to go out, the channel personages came to me and said that you are invited to be... channel CEO... have a dinner with him, because there is a crowd waiting for you.

JR: Wow.

SE: And I was taken to the channel [...] room and we had dinner together so that the crowd disperses. In meantime, some of the channel people identified who were the people in the crowd. They were not devout Catholics, but professional Beating-People, Mumbai Mafia, that the Church has hired to beat me.

B: Thugs.

S: Right out of gate they hired goons.

J: So, so. But I want to, I want to try to make sense of this, though. In order to get the thugs there, do you think they hired them before the TV show appearance?

SE: No. No. No. When the bishop has started the conversation, in between, apparently, he has advised the priest and other people to call them. So by the time the program was over and it took some thirty minutes to wind up the whole thing. And before I come out, the group... I mean some for some ten people, some twenty to thirty-five, forty people were there outside waiting.

J: And they're all killers.

SE: They were...I don't know "killers," but professional beaters. Professional beaters. In Mumbai, you can get anybody attacked by paying some money to Mafia.

E: We, we call them "Teamsters" here in the United States.


SE: Then "Teamsters" is...they were waiting outside. And officially, they were claimed to be coming from the church because they were angry. But they were not Catholics, not even Christians. Some professional people coming from different religions. And I remained inside and later at four o'clock in the morning I was taken out from the back door in a different car. And straight away to the airport and I flew to Delhi.

But I found that the newspapers in Mumbai are reporting about the case and they said that the church is filing cases against me. "Times of India" published a report, then I telephoned and asked. No, they know that seventeen police stations they have different people have filed cases against me. I asked, "What case?" This was television debate, and whatever I said, if they did not approve, they had full opportunity to counter it, there were six people including the bishop and priest, and I'm all alone. And I'm, I mean, if they could not counter it and they lost the argument in a debate, and they want to beat me and they want to put me in prison, that's ridiculous. And of course the, I mean, discussion went completely in my favor. It was very clear. They looked completely hysterical and I was cool and laughing. There's a law in Indian penal code. The penal code was made in 1860, during the colonial times. That was a British law, which we continued later. And this law, Article 295A says that anybody hurting anybody's religious sentiments and anybody complains and a police officer can verify it, and if he is satisfied, the person can be arrested, without an arrest warrant, and it's "Cognizable." And "Cognizable" is explained further: there is no right for a bail.

B: Ooh.

SE: Means, 'til the investigation is over, I can be kept in prison. And also there is another provision that I can be kept in prison for my safety.

[mirthless laughter]

SE: So otherwise fanatics would attack me. If that argument is raised I can remain in prison for several months. So I understood the consequence and then I discussed with the Home Minister's office in Delhi, because Delhi police has a different...Delhi has a different police. Police is a state affair in India.

J: Yeah.

SE: So I was told that, "There is no arrest warrant against you. If you are to be arrested, the Mumbai police has to approach the Delhi Metropolitan Magistrate and get an approval. That's a formality only. They would give it because the law agrees it. Only after that can you be arrested. 'Til that comes, you are safe here in Delhi. Don't go to Mumbai."

J: OK.

SE: "But if it comes, though we are friends, we can't do anything. You have to be arrested and handed over to them."

J: Right.

SE: "It's law." So I agreed and I remained in Delhi and I started appearing in television programs to talk about the same case and the way I was handled, spoke about other gurus also, about miracle mongering of Catholic church. I've been in some twenty television programs during this time. But meantime, my lawyer suggested that I should go for an "Anticipatory Bail Application." Which means I've only one real legal remedy. Before they arrest comes, I can get an "Anticipatory Bail," then I cannot be arrested. But if I'm arrested, it's non-bailable.

J: Right.

SE: So it's a technical game.

S: Yeah.

SE: So my lawyers moved to Delhi High Court straight away. And the Delhi High Court apparently was afraid to touch the issue. They said, "Why don't you go to Mumbai and apply there?" "Because legally I have to apply in Delhi because that's my place of residence."


SE: They simply suggested that... We argued so heavily, no, because seven lawyers from Mumbai come from the church. And they say that, "There's no apprehension of arrest and the case is in Mumbai, and I cannot prove that I am staying in Delhi." But I was staying in Delhi, I have my Driving License, I have my...everything in Delhi. I was staying there for thirty years. The bail application is rejected. So we decided to move to Mumbai High Court. Of course, Mumbai High Court also rejects it on a technical ground. They say that we went to the High Court first. I'm legally allowed to go to the High Court, to avoid several lines of argument.

J: Right.

SE: "Go back to the lower court. And if the lower court rejects it, come back to us." You know what it means? It was summer vacation and lower court is closed. Means I cannot go there.

J: Right.

SE: I have to wait for months.

E: Oh boy.

SE: One and a half months. So I understood that things are not coming to my favor. The legal system is not coming to help me. It was very clear for me. Still I decided to remain in Delhi and fight it out. Media started supporting me. That Mumbai bishop is so angry that I cannot be touched. So he wants to get me abducted to Mumbai. And to get me arrested in Mumbai.

J: So he wanted that the police to actually...

SE: No, not the police, but before the police could come he wanted some gangsters come and take me up to Mumbai and get me arrested there. So, so, so harsh tactics...

S: Just kidnapped. Basically.

SE: Kidnapped yes. My lawyers said that, "Go away from public scene, and remain somewhere secret." I said, "It's not possible for me, I'm not that easy face to hide because everyone knows me in this city."

JR: Right.

SE: I'm so popular in the city because I'm on the television every day.

S: Yeah.

SE: So but still I decided to move to one of my friend's house. Move some three, four houses. Went to the University and stayed there, I mean all this kind of things were going on.

J: How long was this happening for?

SE: One and a half months I remain in hiding. Then I had another major thing that I was planning to go to Poland for a lecture tour for twenty five days. And before that, if I am arrested, the whole plans will get upset. So I decided I would go to Europe now or somewhere outside India, and go for the lecture tour, and come back. When this dust settles down.

J: Right.

SE: But this plan was going on, some discussions were going on, OK, now I have to apply for a visa, because my visa was over and I suddenly found that I didn't have any visa on my, on my passport that moment. Because my U.S. visa was expired so British visa I had to renew, I mean [...] visa was over, so I need some time. American Embassy said twenty-one days for the visa. British Embassy needs fifteen days. So, my Finnish friends who had some connection with the government, talked to them, they got a visa, in something like four hours.

J: Wow.

JR: Wow, that's good.

SE: The next day morning I flew off India. And meantime, when I was in Finland, I heard that there were efforts to locate me by other people also at the... it's all discussed in the...

J: It's a manhunt.

SE: It's a manhunt, yes.

J: So when was this?

SE: This was, the miracle exposure was on tenth of March 2012. And I had to leave India by June fifteenth. So it's more than one year now. I cannot go back to India. But I remain in Finland, but not simply remaining in Finland, I'm travelling around. I've been travelling eleven countries in last one year, giving something like sixty-nine or seventy lectures.

J: What a story!

S: Yeah that's amazing.

J: I've been following it, but I didn't get to this level of detail until talking to you. I didn't you know but I, you know, but I, I remember when it first broke; I was so worried about you.


J: I mean, really, I remember like, I think it was an article written by a local skeptic that was talking about the church fighting you. And I, it just looked really dark. I didn't think... You know, I'm glad that you escaped, you know when I found out that you left the country, I'm like you know, wh... that was a good move.


SE: Good. I mean, I think, at the end, we would be laughing, not the church.

J: I hope so, and you are an inspiration, cause you know a, we, we all fight for the same, you know, rationalist, skeptical cause but, nobody's hired thugs to come beat us up, so it kind of puts things into perspective.

E: Sure.

S: Well, Sanal, thank you so much for sitting down with us and for everything you're doing. It's wonderful. Thanks.

SE: Good. Thank you for the discussion.

E: Thank you.

Science or Fiction ()[edit]

Item #1: Scientists have identified a blood test that can identify those at increased risk for suicide. Item #2: A recent study finds that heavy rains in Australia over 2010-2011 actually caused global sea levels to drop measurably. Item #3: Breeders have produced a variety of chicken that lays cholesterol-free eggs.

Skeptical Quote of the Week ()[edit]

It is morally as bad not to care whether a thing is true or not, so long as it makes you feel good, as it is not to care how you got your money as long as you have got it.

Edmund Way Teale in ’Circle of the Seasons’, quoted by Carl Sagan in ’The Demon-haunted World’

Announcements ()[edit]

S: The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by SGU Productions, dedicated to promoting science and critical thinking. For more information on this and other episodes, please visit our website at, where you will find the show notes as well as links to our blogs, videos, online forum, and other content. You can send us feedback or questions to Also, please consider supporting the SGU by visiting the store page on our website, where you will find merchandise, premium content, and subscription information. Our listeners are what make SGU possible.


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