You may have heard that the Fox News host Bill O’Reilly made a complete fool of himself in an interview with American Atheists Group president David Silverman. The subject of the interview, which was really an informal debate, was the existence of God.
Having put up posters at Christmas time saying, “you know it’s a myth,” Sliverman’s group had now installed a new billboard in Huntsville, Alabama with Christian, Jewish and Islamic symbols on it and a message that reads: "You know they’re all scams." O’Reilly didn’t like it and he would show Silverman that he was wrong. After a small amount of banter, O’Reilly set up the debate that would follow:
O’REILLY: Let’s just be — let’s just be regular guys instead of I’m a Catholic and you are an atheist. We’re just regular guys now, OK? You say something is a scam on a sign and then you come in here where millions of people are watching you and say that’s not an insult. What does the word "scam" mean to you?
SILVERMAN: Scam means deliberately misleading people.
. . .
O’REILLY: You know, I’ll tell you why it’s not a scam, in my opinion, all right? Tide goes in tide goes out, never a miscommunication. You cannot explain that. You can’t explain why the tide goes in…
SILVERMAN: Tide goes in, tide goes out?
O’REILLY: The water, the tide comes in and it goes out, Mr. Silverman. It always comes in…
SILVERMAN: Maybe it’s Thor on top of Mount Olympus who’s making the tides go in and out.
And this is where most journalists and bloggers stopped reporting. In every way they could, they mocked O’Reilly. He didn’t know, journalists marvelled, that the gravitational forces from the moon (it’s actually a bit more complicated and the sun plays a role) made the tides come in and out. O’Reilly really did seem to be ignorant about some very basic science. Silverman seemed to be the victor. But wait:
O’REILLY: No, no, but you can’t explain that.
SILVERMAN: A scam and a myth. The myth and religion are the same thing.
O’REILLY: You can’t explain it.
SILVERMAN: It doesn’t matter if I can explain it.
O’REILLY: It doesn’t?
SILVERMAN: That doesn’t mean an invisible magic man in the sky is doing that.
Silverman didn’t seem to know anything more than O’Reilly. But O’Reilly has his own show and this gave him an opportunity to try to clarify his earlier remarks: I know it’s the moon, he told everyone. But, "Where’d the moon come from?”
It was too late. The damage was done. Bloggers were having a field day. O’Reillyisms were popping up all over the Internet. On the subject of toasters, for instance: "Bread goes in, toast comes out. You can’t explain it." One of the bloggers commenting on O’Reilly’s mistake was Andrew Sullivan from The Atlantic magazine. After a blog posting, a reader wrote to him saying:
I watched his re-explanation for how the tides work (i.e. who put the moon there?) and wondered how you, as a man of faith, would counter his argument exactly. His belief is (and I’m paraphrasing): "It requires more faith to believe this was all luck than it does to believe in God".
But Sullivan, a staunch Roman Catholic wasn’t buying it.
I do not believe that God "put the moon there". That kind of specificity, when science can easily explain how all this occurred, is not orthodox Christianity. If O’Reilly meant that there is a profound mystery about our existence and consciousness in the universe(s) that we inhabit, and that that mystery cannot be explained by science alone, I’m with him. It’s just so depressing to see Christianity represented by someone who sounds like your uncle after too many drinks at Christmas.
Perfect. I agreed completely. And it got me thinking about Shroud science: "Where’d the image come from?" Unlike the moon, we have no solid idea. Sure, there are some preliminary hypotheses. But nothing yet approaches being a theory — no specificity and no science that can easily explain how it occurred.
Why are we trying to figure it out? Merely for the sake of knowledge? Or are we trying to do more? Perhaps we want to prove the Resurrection and indeed in doing so prove that God exists; that he is not, as in Silverman’s words, "a scam?" Are we trying to leapfrog orthodoxy and eliminated mystery. Are we?
In more sane moments, I want us to figure out how the image was formed and in doing so discovering that there is no miraculous component — no light, no radiation, no loosed particles from dematerialization, no articulated chemical reaction. I want (and I personally suspect) that we will learn nothing that reduces mystery and faith when it comes to the Resurrection or the reality of God. I want us to figure out the image, but merely for the sake of knowledge.