Mars, Weeping Mary and the Shroud

imageAn inner voice was pestering me as I read the article. How can I disagree? My inner voice wanted to know. I can’t:

Without an ability to reason critically, people believe in weeping statues of the Virgin Mary, the existence of a carved face on Mars, out-of-body experiences, and Christ’s image captured on the Shroud of Turin.

That is what Jeff Schweitzer had just written in the Huffington Post Science blog. I like Schweitzer’s postings. He is a marine biologist and a strong advocate of scientific skepticism. He served as a scientific advisor in the Clinton White House.  I don’t get around to reading him enough. This time I did, possibly because Google caught the reference to the shroud.

The title of the posting was Ignorance Kills; the following paragraph gives an idea of what it’s about but you should really read the whole posting; it will only take two or three minutes:

Scientific illiteracy is pervasive in the United States. Examples are depressingly easy to find. People opposed to irradiated food ignore the existence of more than 50 known strains of E. coli that can cause bloody diarrhea, kidney failure, and death. This is a typical case of poor risk-benefit analysis. People are duped by claims of harmful emissions from cell phones. Life-saving diagnostic x-rays are eschewed from fear of radiation, and vulnerable people are persuaded to rely on crystals and astrology for guidance. The public is unable to filter exaggerated claims by environmental groups (Alar in apples) from legitimate concerns like global climate change. This ignorance has deadly consequences; ask the parents of every child who died from a preventable disease, or farmers looking at starvation in the face of crops withering in a changing climate.

What does this have to do with the shroud? Nothing! Sometimes simple examples make for much better explanations than longer dreary narrative. Schweitzer stumbled, however.

It is true that without the ability to reason critically, you might believe that Christ’s image was captured on the shroud. I think that happens a lot. But it is unfair to compare the shroud to a carved face on Mars or weeping statues of Mary. The number of published peer-reviewed papers on each of the subjects might be a clue. Consider, too, the number of accomplished scientists and academics in many disciplines, all able to reason critically, who believe the shroud is authentic. You can, by reasoning critically, come to believe Christ’s image was captured on the Shroud of Turin.