"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
December 11, 2008
Avoiding the syndrome of shaken faith
by Orson Scott Card

Those who put their faith in science are likely to be disappointed. Not because science changes -- so does revealed religion -- but because there is so much bad science out there.

Not too many years ago, we were warned about "shaken baby syndrome" (SBS). Doctors were given a list of symptoms that always meant a baby had been shaken.

When a baby was found with the symptoms on that list, it was regarded as a sure sign that someone had shaken the baby, and the justice system took action. Whoever was the last to be alone with the baby --often a parent -- was arrested, charged, and tried; the baby would often be taken from the parents to keep it safe.

But now a recent article in Discover reports that serious evidence suggests that fatal SBS may be rare or nonexistent. Some doctors have found that there is always a better explanation for the symptoms, while a diagnosis of SBS can lead to the real cause remaining undiscovered and untreated.

At this moment, most doctors still believe in SBS -- but they may be unaware of how flimsy the original "science" was, and how new, solid research casts doubt on the possibility that shaking a baby can cause such damage.

People have lost their children, have gone to jail, have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars defending themselves -- all because of a scientific "certainty" that was accepted without question by doctors and prosecutors.

At least with SBS there were symptoms to be explained. In Try to Remember: Psychiatry's Clash over Meaning, Memory, and Mind, Dr. Paul R. McHugh -- one of America's foremost psychiatrists -- exposes the utter nonsense behind the rash of "recovered memories" of childhood sexual abuse and satanism.

Witch hunts, trials, ruined reputations, destruction of families, and prison terms have resulted from the dogma that the human mind tends to repress horrible memories, which can then be "recovered" through hypnosis, allowing "treatment" to begin.

In fact, these "memories" are invariably implanted, not recovered, by the "therapist," and the patient only gets better when she gets away from the therapist and returns to reality.

After their theory was thoroughly discredited, these "therapists" simply moved on to exploit belief in the equally unproven "post-traumatic stress disorder," continuing to cause havoc and cure no one of anything.

Real science never leaps to conclusions. It examines possibilities, tries to disprove its own guesses, and regards no answer as final.

Yet many scientists and doctors seem just as prone as anyone else to jump on the bandwagon, never questioning the "scientific" conclusions even though the consequences of error can be so devastating. They simply assume that others have done the checking.

Why do vicious fads like these, without foundation in real science, spread through the scientific, medical, and legal communities?

Because they fit into the belief system -- the faith, if you will -- of the peoplewho become true believers. SBS fit right in with the beliefs of people eager to catch all child abusers -- a noble cause, but only when the accused are actually guilty of wrongdoing.

"Recovered memory" theories served the purpose of domineering "therapists" and also served to attack the family.

Anthropogenic global warming was seized upon by those who believed fervently that human beings do nothing but harm the environment -- they did not wait for evidence before demanding civilization-wrecking changes in our laws. The science now shows that alternate explanations explain climate fluctuations much better than CO2 emissions (which do not track with global temperatures at all) -- but instead of embracing the better data, thousands of "scientists" refuse even to consider it.

Judges make sweeping new laws changing the definition of marriage, even though there is no evidence of benefit to anyone from such changes, and strong scientific evidence of harm to a society that jettisons the social ideal of two-gender marriage.

"Henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive" (Eph. 4:14).

The "winds of doctrine" in our culture blow this way and that, sometimes advanced by charlatans (as with "recovered memories") and sometimes by fervent believers who don't pause to question their own questions.

What makes me sad is how many Latter-day Saints leap like kites into these winds and then cut the thread of faith that would have left them with some connection to truth. Untethered, they blow wherever the wind takes them.

They think they're smarter than ordinary Latter-day Saints. They think they have "graduated from the gospel." In fact they have flunked out.

I don't mean that faithful Saints never question anything. In fact, the gospel of Jesus Christ, just like good science, demands that believers find out the truth of old and new revelations for ourselves.

If the gospel is true, it can bear all manner of questions -- as long as we are open-minded enough to keep questioning. To doubt our own doubts. To be skeptical of our skepticism.

But the common pattern is for would-be "intellectuals" to seize upon some scrap of evidence that either justifies their sins or allows them to feel superior to the poor rubes who actually believe all that "gospel stuff," and then refuse to admit any further questions or evidence.

If they were intellectually honest, they would learn about the new hypotheses but refuse to believe in them until they can be examined root and branch.

What is the evidence for this idea that seems to contradict the gospel? What are the likely consequences if we act on this information?

Experiments with the gospel are carried out in the way we live our lives; and, as with science, the results can only be checked by those willing to perform the same experiments to the same rigorous standards.

So many of these Saints, having full information about a plan that has passed the test of time and experience, eagerly give that old faith a hard shake and toss it aside in favor of new ideas that excite or please them.

But I ask: Are you actually applying your mind to test these ideas? Or are you merely joining a club of people who believe them without question?

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More by Orson Scott Card

About Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card is the author of the novels Ender's Game, Ender's Shadow, and Speaker for the Dead, which are widely read by adults and younger readers, and are increasingly used in schools.

Besides these and other science fiction novels, Card writes contemporary fantasy (Magic Street, Enchantment, Lost Boys), biblical novels (Stone Tables, Rachel and Leah), the American frontier fantasy series The Tales of Alvin Maker (beginning with Seventh Son), poetry (An Open Book), and many plays and scripts.

Card was born in Washington and grew up in California, Arizona, and Utah. He served a mission for the LDS Church in Brazil in the early 1970s. Besides his writing, he teaches occasional classes and workshops and directs plays. He also teaches writing and literature at Southern Virginia University.

Card currently lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Kristine Allen Card, and their youngest child, Zina Margaret.

More about Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card currently serves as second counselor in the bishopric.

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