The four main targets of skeptics are the paranormal, alternative medicine, pseudoscience, and religion. The one entity that fits in all these categories is Scientology.
It started in the early 1950s as a mix of hypnosis, science fiction, and terrible psychology. A few years later, L. Ron Hubbard founded the Church of Scientology after saying he discovered the soul (and its accompanying tax exempt status).
He outlines his ideas in Dianetics. Throughout the book, Hubbard makes vague, extraordinary, and unfalsifiable claims, such as “Dianetics contains a therapeutic technique which can treat all inorganic mental ills and organic psychosomatic ills, with assurance of a complete cure.” Grandiose, untestable, and non-peer reviewed claims like these are featured in many other pseudosciences and pseudomedicines. What differentiates Scientology from the rest is its $100,000,000 in annual tax free income.
If Dianetics truly is medicine, that means Scientologists should be arrested for practicing it without a license. Moving onto the pseudoscientific, Hubbard writes, “Dianetics is an organized science of thought built on definite axioms and natural laws and physical sciences.” However, Hubbard never uses the Scientific Method, never explains his research (generously assuming he conducted any), and subjected none of it to peer review.
The gist of it all is that mental and psychosomatic illnesses are traced to engrams. These are ghosts of unpleasant experiences. If something bad happens when hearing a lawn mower, hearing the same sound later might bring back that bad feeling or illness. Anxiety, claustrophobia, and hacking coughs all come back to the engram. There is no way to empirically test such claims and Diantetics “research” is limited to anecdotes from persons who may not be real.
Dianetics is an arduous read, full of undefined terms, unproven claims, and insufferable, tangential language. One example: “An engram is a definite and permanent trace left by a stimulus on the protoplasm of a tissue. It is considered as a unit group of stimuli impinged solely on the cellular being. Engrams are only recorded during periods of physical or emotional suffering. During those periods the analytical mind shuts off and the reactive mind is turned on. The analytical mind has all kinds of wonderful features, including being incapable of error.”
Imagine going through 600 pages of that. No telling how many engrams that has caused. Elsewhere, Hubbard writes, “Cells are evidently sentient in some currently inexplicable way. Unless we postulate a human soul entering the sperm and ovum at conception, there are things which no other postulate will embrace than that these cells are in some way sentient.” Hubbard here gets in three logical fallacies in just two sentences: The false dilemma, the appeal to ignorance and begging the question.
Like all good religions, Scientology creates both the problem and the solution. To get cured of an illness, you need a Dianetic therapist to release the engram. To do this, the Scientologist uses what Hubbard calls a reverie. He describes this as intense use of a faculty of the brain which everyone possesses, but only Hubbard got around to noticing. Hubbard goes through a verbose description of the process, but in the end it’s little more than one man telling another his worries. A bartender does that, plus you get a beer with it.
Accompanying these release sessions are a piece of ersatz electronics called an Electropsychometer, a sort of rudimentary polygraph. Per Dianetics, the meter is used to measure “the state of electrical characteristics of the static field surrounding the body,” a scientifically worthless claim. Usually, the subject holds something akin to a soda can with protruding wires, while repeating “Thetan.” Once free of engrams, the person “would be in full control of their mind and psyche. As such they would have special abilities, such as perfect memory and analytical powers.” So then, an hour with Scientology Man and one’s problems are solved for life, right?
In reality, sessions get more costly and can create a cycle of persons returning for more expansive and expensive cures. The meter, when used by a trained Scientologist, is supposed to show if a person has been freed of spiritual baggage. With a claim this vague, as well as there being no way to tell how the meter works or how the therapist is reading the data, the subject can be kept coming back indefinitely. With the money some people spend on this, they could have started their own movement.
Since it only became a church for legal benefits, Scientology barely ventures onto religious terrain. But when it does, it can compete with the Venusian telepathic communicators and Magic Underwear purveyors. It teaches that an alien dubbed Xenu led a contingent of space ships to Earth 75 million years ago and blew up some volcanoes. Aliens died in the explosion, with any persons that have come along since bearing the Scientology equivalent of Original Sin. Blurring the thin line between religion and the paranormal, Scientology holds that the alien genocide victims are still around in energy form, emitting negative vibes that Diantetics will protect from. Hubbard was a science fiction writer before penning Dianetics, so Xenu and his minions may be part of a shelved work.
Scientology doesn’t really address god, but Scientologists who attain a higher level can access Thetans, which are the dead space aliens. These are the same aliens that were best avoided before, but graduate level Scientologists presumably have some secret knowledge that allow them to do this safely. Scientology maintains man is immortal, but offers little about the afterlife or how people can increase their chances of a good one.
The movement has a litany of other oddities, such as believing in man’s descent from clams. Also, Hubbard was against both breastfeeding and baby formula. So he came up with his own concoction, one conspicuously lacking in vitamins. He was also against pain medication for birthing mothers, a great irony since he was also against noise in the delivery room. Then we have the Purification Rundown, where Scientologists ingest large doses of vitamins before hopping in the sauna for a five-hour sojourn. I actually do this one. Except the vitamins are in orange juice form and I skip the sauna part.