The Big Bird, the Big Lie, God and Science
A young man claims to have amazing distant-healing powers, but a skeptical look at the facts raises serious questions.
by Jill Neimark
Skeptical Inquirer March/April 2006
There was a time in the spring of
2004 when I was willing to entertain the idea that a nineteen-year-old kid in
Then there was the lure of his youth and anonymitya kind of cloaked Leonardo di Caprio of healing, a teen whose photo magazines and newspapers respectfully refrained from publishing, a boy whose real name was never revealed. It seemed either bold or deeply cynical that hed donned as his pseudonym the name of Gods first human creation.
When I spoke with his mother, Liz, she said that when Adam works on someone it looks like hes holding X-rays up to the light. His hands are outstretched, and he starts with his fingers manipulating stuff, and sometimes he uses his hands to move from screen to screen, as if hes pulling something from one side to the center. I suppose thats when hes getting a different holographic level. Adam himself said to me that when he goes into trance, I see three dimensional images of the person in front of me, and I can go into different layers physically and energetically. Where it lights up, is where the problem is.
I was curious to have Adam work on
me, and his parents told me he was willing (most communication to and from Adam
comes through his parents, Liz and Frank, often by e-mail.) I let his family
know I had lyme disease, and
told them that I was also interested in attending an upcoming workshop in
After a few distant healing sessions, where I dutifully lay on my bed in the dark and relaxed for about twenty minutes, Adam had little to report to me except that my nervous system looked foggy, I needed to alter my diet, and I had emotional issues. I had equally little news to report, at least about my health status, and e-mails between me and Adams parents Liz and Frankbecame almost acriminous; his mother in particular contended I was not participating actively in my own self-healing, and I admitted I was not daily doing the visualizations recommended in Adams books. These visualizations included exercises like imagining a lightning bolt coming down through the top of your head, and did not appeal to me. Adam could give me a few treatments, his parents explained, but what ultimately happened was apparently up to me and
While being a seemingly truant patient, I had, however, been asking questions. Edgar Mitchell, one of Adams strongest proponents, told me quite openly on the phone that he never had biopsy-proven cancer. I had a sonogram and MRI that was consistent with renal carcinoma, Mitchell recalled when I interviewed him, which is about the best they can do without a biopsy. I didnt have the biopsy. Adam worked on Mitchell from December of 2003 until June, when the irregularity was gone and we havent seen it since. But he didnt have the biopsy. Is Mitchell convinced it was cancer? Sure. Is there any definitive proof? No.
Ronnie Hawkinss story also
raised questions: Bryce Taylor, chief of surgery at the University Health
were still alive; a woman with fibromyalgia told me shed been cured of it by Adam.
Researching Adam a little further, I used a neat search engine, waybackmachine, to view his earlier, archived Web pages, which included other domain names, such as distanthealing.com and energyhealer.com. In three years the healer had blossomed remarkably. His homepage of June, 2002, was headlines in all capitals: LONG DISTANCE XRAY VISION AND HEALING. Further down the page: Please do not confuse this site with all the phoney healers on the net. This is a very real ability. In a June 2002 FAQ on the Web page, Adam explained: The healer possesses a gift, which allows him to have x-ray vision and the ability to remove the energy blocks . . . he energetically enters your body and
removes the blockages . . . the same process seems to work whether the person is sitting next to the healer or on the other side of the world. The FAQ also noted that To save time and increase the healing please let us know the exact problem you are having. This allows us to concentrate on that area of the body, rather than doing a complete body scan which takes more energy. If you are interested in just witnessing the ability he has at determining where you have problems then feel free to keep your ailments to yourself.
Back then the cost of a brief
report was $20, removing energy blockages another $25. By November of 2002, the
front page had a map of the world, and captions noting that Adam is a
sixteen-year-old healer. . . . Recently helped people with pancreatic cancer,
tumors, asthma and breast cancer. . . . By the time Adam published his
first book, Dreamhealer, X-ray vision had
shape-shifted into quantum holographic healing. Adam cited Edgar Mitchell as
inspiration for this new interpretation; indeed, says Mitchell, My role
has been largely to explain to him how I see him getting the
information. By 2005, Adams weekend workshops were selling out
months in advance, with 300500 people gathering to pay $99 Canadian for
a day of wisdom and group healing. A requirement of the workshop: read both of
Adams self-published books, priced at $15, distributed by Hampton Roads
Publishers. In addition, a book-deal was in the works with Penguin
The Big Bird and the Big Lie
There is a theory in psychology called the Big Lieif you tell a colossal lie often enough, people tend to believe its at least partly true. And yet who, if they pause for just a moment to reconsider, can believe the story that a bird downloaded all the information in the universe into one teenagers brain? How exactly was this feat performed? And what does it even mean? Can Adam explain string theory, tell us what happened before the Big Bang, and verify whether panspermia is a valid theory? Does he know what tubeworms at the sea vents are made of, and the elements at Earths core? Does he have information about the torque of DNA and how it changes enzyme reactions? What is all the information in the universe?
Adam likes to tell the story of
this bird at his workshops, and when I interviewed him last spring, and asked
his mother to remain on the phone line with us, I asked him to recount the
story for me personally. At age sixteen, he told me, he dreamed about a huge
black bird that told him to go to Nootka. I had this
vision in my sleep, said Adam, it was such a vivid dream there
was no way I could ignore it, he told me. I was soaring across
the ocean, then running through the woods, and all of a sudden I stopped and a
big black bird was sitting in front of me, and it told me I had to go to
Nootka. I didnt know where Nootka was, never heard of it before.
Adam told his family, they did a bit of research, and discovered it was an
island west of
I asked Adam if he would send me a
few photos. Id bring them to the
Not everybody believes the Big-Bird-Big-Lie; on a news-group called alt.slack in 2003, there were some witty comments about Adams claims. Someone by the nom de plume of ghost asked, Quantum healing ability? Does that mean he comes in little packets?; another fellow answered, No, it means if the healing doesnt work, it actually did work, youre just looking at the wrong cat. I laughed out loud at that one, and hope that if Schrodinger were alive, he would too.
But what is most interesting about
Adam may be the phenomenon of distant healing itselfa field which the NIHs Center for Complementary and Alternative
Medicine has spent $2.2 million funding in the last five years. I wonder whether
the surge of interest in this particular form of healing is, in large part, the
result of our global communityone where airplanes, television, cellphones,
satellite, and the internet connect us at a distance
anyway. In this cyber-soaked, science-savvy world, distant healing may be the
latest battleground over God. As Anne Harrington, Ph.D., co-director of the
No wonder this field is so hotly contested
and folks like Adam so revered by some. Research into distant healing is now regularly
conducted by scientists at universities as respectable as
Larry Dossey, M.D., executive editor of the journal Explore, author of Prayer is Good Medicine, and well-known for his interest in all aspects of what he calls non-local consciousness, including distant healing: I believe the fact that a shift happens, period, means the interaction of consciousness with the so-called material world, which has been denied in modern science. Whether one moves quanta or mountains is not the point. That either happens is whats significant.
I agree with Larry Dosseyif consciousness can interact at all with matter, something interesting is going onand on the spectrum of mysticism and skepticism, I find myself exactly like the double helix: wound of one strand of rationalist science, and one strand of pure mystic. As Robert Provine wrote in a recent essay on John Brockmans The Edge forum, There is not any blue in electromagnetic radiation, pitch of B-flat in pressure changes in the air, or sweetness in sucrose. All are neurological derivatives of the physical world, not the thing itself. Were all in search of the thing itself. Few of us, even the most supremely rational folk, dont in some corner of ourselves hold open a door for mystery, for the thing that is ultimately platonic in its naturewhether its math, a unified field theory, or a personal God. As William James wrote, The deepest thing in our nature is the region of the heart in which we dwell alone with our faiths and fears. Whether were inclined to make a Pascalian wager, or argue against miracles as Hume did, we all live in a world influenced by deeply held beliefsand not all those beliefs can be wholly accurate or objective.
But when considering someone like Adam, or in attempting to study distant healing, we should take extraordinary care. What constitutes a dose of prayer, anyway? These studies are exceedingly hard to design, and no study follows exactly the same protocol, rendering meta-analysis very slippery. What of all the unknown sources of prayer? As Richard Sloan points out, When you conduct one of these studies, you have no control over friends, family, colleagues, neighbors, and members of religious congregations praying for someone who is ill. And thats not to mention the members of religious orders who pray daily for all the sick around the world. Its likely that all this supplemental prayer vastly exceeds the distant healing from designated intercessors in the studies.
Whether you are a theist, deist, nontheist, atheist, or pantheist, distant healing and its
close relative, petitionary prayer, are questionable.
The problem with distant healing and petitionary
prayer is that they dont accept that the universe is beyond our
control, says bioethicist Stephen Post of
Perhaps the most practical studies in distant healing are the ones that narrow their band of influence to a very precise and specific marker. In 1990, for example, William Braud, Ph.D., placed red blood cells placed in test tubes of hypotonic saline which usually causes hemolysis, where the cells swell and burst. He reported that distant intention significantly slowed this process, protecting the cells. Why arent there more studies like this? Why dont institutions like Harvard and Duke, instead of studying prayer on far-flung humans, follow the traditional arc that biotechs and pharmaceuticals do when attempting to test a new drug: start with in vitro studies. Why not see if healers in the same room, the next room, the next town, the next countrycan significantly impact hemolysis or bacterial growth in a petri dish? Then move on to animal studies, which can be conducted in controlled conditions. Leave humans for the clinical trials, if the drug proves effective and safe.
When we hope that a kid like Adam
is real (particularly when he borrows the language of quantum mechanics, even
in a very crude way), or design studies to see if distant healers can impact
the outcome of cardiac patients, its because, as Anne Harrington pointed
out, we really are arguing over God. The problem is, we are attempting to use
science to win the argumentand in a sloppy fashion. We dont study
healing on blood cells and bacteria much because they arent the stuff of
theology (except of course, to biologists, who marvel
at them under the microscope). Slowing bacterial growth just wont suffice
for a Pascalian wager. We need a four foot black bird on the