Last week, Discovery News published an article called, “Day of Jesus’ Crucifixion Believed Determined.” The article was based on a report published in the International Geology Review which focused on Dead Sea sediments. The report talks about a passage from the Gospel of Matthew in an attempt to see if that passage might correlate to a real event which might explain issues within the sediment record.
The date of the crucifixion story stuck and went viral. I originally found the story on Huffington Post and then read half-a-dozen similar stories all saying pretty much the same thing. I too reported on the story criticizing the absurdity of using the earthquake data in an attempt to determine the date of an event based on an obviously fictional account. I pointed out that the very next verse talked about zombies.
The problem is that the report had nothing to do with the dating of the crucifixion. Someone in the media misrepresented the report and then others in the media (myself included) spread the story. I had an e-mail conversation with the principle author of the report, Jefferson Williams. He states:
“The title and byline of the Discovery News article are misleading. We did not determine the date of the crucifixion from earthquake evidence.”
The problem in my opinion is that the abstract of the report wasn’t as clear as it could have been and the media are quick to try to show science supporting religion. In this case, the report actually shows that science refutes a literal view of the earthquake mentioned in Matthew 27:51-52.
This is not the first time something like this has happened. Last year, CNN (among others) reported on a study showing that anger with God is common among atheists. After reading the actual study and having an e-mail conversation with the principle author, it was pretty clear that the media reporting was misleading. Here is what I found.
It might be helpful for people within the scientific community to be mindful of how the media will likely report their research and to make sure to include clarifications and disclaimers in the abstract, introduction, or other easy to find location to address probable distortions. I also think that those in the media should make an effort to contact the principle authors whenever possible for clarification.
You can find out more about the research that geologist Jeff Williams is doing at crucifixionquake.info. For the record, I do think the blog title plays into the misrepresentation of his report.
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