by Emrys Westacott
You have been called for jury service. The trial is complex and much hangs on the relative credibility of different witnesses, particularly those offering expert testimony regarding whether a certain medicine is likely to produce aggressive behavior as one of its side effects. A professional psychiatrist called by the defense testifies that in his opinion this effect is very likely. During cross examination, however, the wily prosecuting counsel manages to unearth a surprising, seemingly irrelevant, but nonetheless startling fact about this “expert”: he believes that aliens from space landed in the Nevada desert around 1965 and now effectively control all branches of government using advanced mind-control technology. The “expert” has in fact published several articles arguing for his views in the journal Alien Watch, and is a founding member of MASA (Mankind Against Space Aliens).
When the jury eventually retire to deliberate, it is not long before these beliefs become the focus of attention. One juror refers to the expert as “that nutcase who believes in UFOs.” Another calls him a “crank.” A third describes him as “cuckoo.” Inevitably, his beliefs about aliens damage the credibility of his other testimony in the eyes of some jurors, even though he undoubtedly has the requisite qualifications to be considered a legitimate expert on the side effects of certain medicines.
One juror, however, playing the role of Henry Fonda in Twelve Angry Men, resists this wave of skepticism. “Did anyone notice,” she says, “that the expert called by the prosecution wore a crucifix around her neck? This ‘expert' may well believe that a man called Jesus walked on top of the sea, changed water into wine, came back to life after being executed, and ascended to heaven on a cloud. I hate to be awkward, but to my way of thinking these beliefs are even more incredible than the idea that space invaders landed in the desert. After all, the belief about aliens—unlike orthodox Christianity–doesn't assume anything supernatural or contrary to the scientific view of nature.”
Listening to the debate, you feel yourself pulled in two directions. On the one hand, you can't help agreeing with those inclined to question the judgment of someone who believes the government is controlled by aliens from outer space. On the other hand, supposing for the sake of the argument that your general outlook on the world is thoroughly secular, you sympathize with the view that many orthodox religious beliefs are just as implausible. So you find yourself astride a paradox.