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Ask the Patriarch 191
Apparitions of the Virgin Mary

from: Glenn Berg

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Dear John,

If there are witnesses to an event, I take it that is objective evidence?

There is objective evidence for the appearance of the Virgin Mary at a church in Egypt called Zeitoun

Here we go


Are all the people hallucinating.  One argument put forward that around that time there were due to seismic activity. Seismic activity doesn't produce detailed apparitions of the Virgin Mary

Glenn Berg

The Patriarch replies:


My views on your question were essentially provided four years ago in Virgin Visions. As for the particular instance of pareidolia you are questioning, it is most certainly not objective evidence, it is completely subjective.

I'll give you a simplistic summary of the difference from a site called God on the Net (so it must be authoritative.)*

SUBJECTIVE EVIDENCE is evidence that you cannot evaluate -- you have to simply accept what the person says or reject it. 

OBJECTIVE EVIDENCE is evidence you can examine and evaluate for yourself.

I will agree that the people saw something. What it was, I have no idea, nor will I venture a guess. Based on the poor quality photographs of paintings of the apparition in the website you provided a link to, I find it hard imagine how anyone interpreted it as anything other than a glowing white fog. And how you, Glenn, possibly manage to call that fog "detailed apparitions" is entirely beyond my comprehension. But I am quite certain the observers did not see the Virgin Mary. What happened was one person initially interpreted (subjectively) the sighting as the Virgin Mary, and the others just reacted (subjectively) "Oh, yeah! Well, would ya look at that!"**

And later viewers went in the expectation of seeing the Virgin Mary, and (subjectively) interpreted what they saw accordingly. Just exactly as a person will see the Virgin Mary in the infamous grilled cheese sandwich after being told told it looks like the Virgin Mary. (Not to mention the Virgin Mary's derriere in a pita.)

But the Virgin Mary, if she existed, has been dead for over 1900 years. No-one living knows what she looked like. Not a single one of the artists who created widely differing portraits and statues of her ever saw her. We simply do not know what she looked like. Whatever anyone saw a Zeitoun, they had nothing on which to base an opinion that it was the Virgin Mary.

And Glenn, if you believe they did see the Virgin Mary, then I suggest that you convert to Coptic Christianity right away if you have not already done so. Because to a believer, it can only be a sign that the Coptic version of Christianity is the One True Church.

And sorry Glenn, I know you like follow-up questions, but I will not engage on further correspondence on this. It would be pointless and repetitive.

Best wishes


* If you want to get a "heavier" treatment of whether or not we can accept any form of evidence as a basis of knowledge, this might provide an interesting starting point: http://www.ozsl.uu.nl/articles/schaar02.pdf

** An example from personal experience. There is a rock formation along one of the hiking trails I like which I consider looks like Winston Churchill. Whenever I have done the hike with others, no-one has ever commented on it, though they have noted images in other formations. But if I point it out and say "Look! It's Churchill!" they immediately see a resemblance. They see what I prepared them to see.