Someone in this blog suggested that because I am an Anglican, I probably am unaware of the topic of Eucharistic Miracles. Well, that’s right, mostly. It was hanging around Catholic shroudies for several years that made me somewhat aware. For instance I know something about the Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano. (Call me skeptical. And a good friend, a Jesuit priest, shares my skepticism. So it is not just an Anglican thing.)
Anyway, the subject reminded me of Frank Tipler’s book, The Physics of Christianity. Why? Well, as I recall, Tipler wanted to test a consecrated host to see if two molecules, once separated, say by the breaking of the bread, maintained quantum coherence – I guess the spin of electrons. Why this would happen with consecrated bread was something Tipler maintained was characteristic of the Second Hypostasis of the Triune Singularity that was God. Tipler wanted to scientifically determine who was right, Anglicans or Catholics. Yes, he wrote that in his book.
What follows is a slight revision to something I wrote in late 2008.
Back in November of 2008, A. S. Haley, who calls himself an Anglican Curmudgeon and writes a blog by that name, recommended reading Frank Tipler’s The Physics of Christianity. He wrote:
. . . I regard that book as one of the most remarkable books about Christianity that I have ever read. In fact, the book is so remarkable that I have decided, at the risk of my reputation as a reliable curmudgeon, who can always be counted on to tell you what is wrong . . . to tell you instead about some of the things which this amazing book shows are inescapably correct about traditional Christian belief. . . .
Well, I had read the book. (There is a lot about the shroud in it.) I certainly didn’t share Haley’s enthusiasm. Tipler’s book is not so remarkable. It may be, as Haley tells us, that Tipler obtained his doctorate under John Archibald Wheeler, the man who named the black hole and whose most famous student was Richard Feynman. It is only too bad Tipler didn’t pick up Feynman’s warning: “I believe that a scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy.”
Frank Tipler, a Tulane University professor of mathematical physics does propose an interesting idea. He argues Christian doctrine is an expression of all cosmological reality as it can be described by modern physics: God is a triune singularity. The second hypostasis of this singularity entered history in our universe (and indeed in other universes of the multiverse) as God incarnate in Jesus for the sake of mankind. The miracles attributed to Jesus and other most other historical miracles are not violations of nature and are scientifically possible, even plausible. Two miracles in particular, the incarnation and resurrection, are indeed scientifically possible and, as Tipler sees it, essential for immortality.
Indeed, the cosmological picture Tipler paints with the laws of nature is consistent with orthodox Christianity as expressed in the Nicene Creed. At the same time, however, his hypothesis seems amazingly discordant with a Christianity grounded in history and faith.
Tipler, as you might have imagined, is not some self-acclaimed, navel-gazing, self-published guru. His previous book, The Physics of Immortality, received considerable attention. “A thrilling ride to the far edges of modern physics,” wrote the New York Time Book Review. “A dazzling exercise in scientific speculation, as rigorously argued as it is boldly conceived,” said the Wall Street Journal. Science, the prestigious, peer-reviewed academic journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science wrote, “Tipler has written a masterpiece conferring much-craved scientific respectability on what we have always wanted to believe.” It remains to be seen if this sequel will get the same attention.
Of this sequel, Bryan Appleyard, a columnist for the Sunday Times (of London), in a review that appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer (June 10, 2007) wrote: “I doubt this book will make many converts. Believers will continue to believe, perhaps with a little more confidence, and skeptics will continue to doubt, perhaps a little less. But Tipler should not be ignored by anybody.”
Yes, but. As an orthodox Christian, who like Tipler, has no issues with the theory of evolution or a universe that is thirteen-some billion years old or is but one of a seemingly endless number of universes, I found myself scoffing at Tipler’s assertions. It is important to remember that physical cosmology, like biblical exegesis and theology is controversial and unfinished. Even from certain facts and generally accepted theories, cosmologists, astronomers and theoretical physicists arrive at many different conclusions about the nature of reality. Tipler’s thesis is but one of many, something he recognizes. He simply dismisses all others out of hand by declaring everyone else wrongheaded.
The theological perspectives Tipler offers on miracles, the virgin birth, the incarnation and the resurrection are well worth reading. The scientific explanations offered along with the theology are interesting so long as it is well understood that they are only possibilities. He speculates too much.
Some topics are weak. His characterization of the difference of opinion on the real presence of Christ in the consecrated bread and wine of communion between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Church is naïve. It is based on a smattering of mostly old documents, long since revised and amended. He quotes from the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion of the Church of England, circa 1571, that states that transubstantiation is a “blasphemous fable” and a “dangerous deceit” and ignores the wide spectrum of contemporary opinion held be Catholics and Anglicans. Many Anglicans do in fact believe in transubstantiation. I do. Most of his defense of transubstantiation is biblical. His interpretation from physics is just as easily an argument for a more Protestant view: consubstantiation.
Tipler’s discussion of the Shroud of Turin is worth the price of the book. Tipler clearly thinks the Shroud is genuine. So do I. But, I am far from being convinced that the so far unexplained images are the product of sphaleron quantum tunneling. Some details, particularly the proposed history of the cloth between 1204 and 1356 CE is fiercely debated among shroud researchers. Some of the scientific claims he makes lack sufficient rigorous confirmation; they should not be used to support authenticity at this time. Overall, however, Tipler presents a well-reasoned argument for authenticity.
Tipler’s scenario for the Resurrection is, well, interesting, or something. Jesus, he argues, may have dematerialized through a physical process known as baryon annihilation via electroweak sphaleron tunneling. By baryongenesis (what happened after the Big Bang) Jesus then rematerialized so that his followers would know he had been resurrected.
Is there in this a purpose to the incarnation? Yes. Jesus, Tipler contends, entered history inside of our space-time to show us how to achieve immortality. It is with mankind’s technology that immortality will be achieved. Not only will all people, past and present, gain immortality, according to Tipler, but that mankind will save the universe. To do so, mankind must populate the universe to its very edge. And he must construct computers and software powerful enough to emulate the mind, consciousness and soul of everyone.
Mankind can only accomplish this task by figuring out how to annihilate baryon particles (protons and neutrons are two examples of baryon particles formed by quarks). This process would provide the unlimited source of energy required for conquering the outer limits of space. By annihilating the right quantity of baryon from everywhere throughout the universe, the expansion of the universe will be halted, something which is necessary if the universe is to survive and necessary for the futurist computers of immortality to exist in space-time.
But in figuring out how to annihilate baryon particles, mankind will also then know how to build the bombs (much more powerful than conventional nuclear weapons) that will inevitably lead to the destruction of the world. So what role does Jesus have in all this? Tipler speculates that Jesus left his image on the Shroud of Turin as a clue to enable us to figure out the process of baryon annihilation.
Tipler’s technological doomsday scenario is to happen soon. Though it is unlikely to happen in my lifetime, it will happen, by his estimate, in the lifetime of most of his students at Tulane. This cataclysm, he suggests, may be the Great Tribulation foretold in Matthew’s Gospel: “For at that time there will be great suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.” (24:21 NRSV)
This idea for immortality is in essence no different than what Tipler proposed in his previous book, which the prestigious scientific journal science praised by saying, “Tipler has written a masterpiece conferring much-craved scientific respectability on what we have always wanted to believe.”
The fly in the ointment is this: What if a terrorist or an accidental fire destroys the Shroud of Turin before we can figure out baryon annihilation. Is immortality doomed? It is hard to tell if this is possible in Tipler’s model, which is largely deterministic. Would a second coming of the second hypostasis of the cosmological singularity prevent this? And why is a scientific riddle embedded in the images on the Shroud? Why not an explicit set of instructions carved in stone?
Is Frank Tipler a modern Hildegard of Bingenof? Her scientific visions in the 12th century were derived from the ancient Greek cosmology. Has Tipler turned the tables on those who think we should only believe what can be proved with science? If Tipler is right, some of us alive today will know it. Or we won’t.
Any volunteers to try this? It is a page from the book:
‘2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” ‘ Matt 18:2-5
I don’t imagine that little children have much in the way of advanced knowledge in baryonic science or quantum physics. So maybe Frank Tipler hasn’t quite got all his theory right just yet. Incidentally, scientific determinism went out at the end of the 19th century with the discovery of quantum mechanics – it’s all probabilities!
Clearly, Tippler is on the edge and his work is speculation. Frankly, I have to read it (in my spare time, Ha!) However, Dan, don’t forget Abramoff and his speculation on the relation of quantum mechanics to near death experiences. And then again there is Teilhard.
Whether Tippler’s speculations are over the top is a possibility. But that he points the way to a direction that science and religion are heading, is another question. Science is treading on religious ground and has been doing so ever since science determined that Mauna Loa wasn’t a god but a volcano.
Dare I write it again from the not so old but abndoned by the Vatican: “Love makes symbols real.” Thing is, I really believe that. Really!!
Pardon my hang-up on the word “real” but it’s a quantum thing.
Frank Tippler wrote a very interesting book, however there is no need to explain everything in terms of science. If he read the NT carefully he would quickly grasp the fact that Jesus described himself not only as someone different from the prophets but also from the rest of mankind!
I believe you have a touch of Jansenist in you. Whatever your biblical exegesis. the fact is that the consistent position of the Church for a millennium or so is that Christ was a true man (among other things) and also a true God.
I quote Elaine Pagels from her landmark work The Gnostic Gospels:
“In its portrait of Christ’s life and his passion, orthodox
teaching offered a means of interpreting fundamental
elements of human experience. Rejecting the gnostic view
that Jesus was a spiritual being, the orthodox insisted that he,
like the rest of humanity, was born, lived in a family,
became hungry and tired, ate and drank wine, suffered and
died. They even went so far as to insist that he rose bodily
from the dead. Here again, as we have seen, orthodox
tradition implicitly affirms bodily experience as the central
fact of human life. What one does physically—one eats and
drinks, engages in sexual life or avoids it, saves one’s life or
gives it up—all are vital elements in one’s religious
development. But those gnostics who regarded the essential
part of every person as the “inner spirit” dismissed such
physical experience, pleasurable or painful, as a distraction
from spiritual reality—indeed, as an illusion. No wonder,
then, that far more people identified with the orthodox
portrait than with the “bodiless spirit” of gnostic tradition.
Not only the martyrs, but all Christians who have suffered
for 2,000 years, who have feared and faced death, have
found their experience validated in the story of the human
Looks like you misunderstood me because what I stated is fully in keeping with traditional Christian teaching, agreeing with what the German scripture scholar Father Rudolf Schnackenburg meant when he said that Jesus “hovered” above the Gospels. You may know that Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict VI says in his “Jesus of Nazareth” that he began where Schnackenburg finished and he did a good job too. Yet there is much more he has to say, which he couldn’t say in the series about Jesus, because it is about science. He began this week by asserting that RD had written science fiction.
Please, there is not even a bit of the Jansenist in me. They were more linked with the Calvinists, with their predestination and other issues, with which it is very difficult to agree, and I like biblical studies much more than theology because lately theologians have come up with many strange ideas. While systematic theology is essential for the science-theology dialogue there does not seem to be much consensus when it comes to theologians, in fact I had to tell one scientist-theologian friend of mine that it looked like they have to imitate the icon artists — who pray for inspiration before painting— before they write something.
Regarding the quotation form Elaine Pagels, it is something one could expect since she had no choice but to say some things like that. At least she admitted what the orthodox thought and did, although she did not agree. There are top scholars, some of them at universities at your end, who have gone much beyond her.
That is why your book will be interesting. When do you think you will finish?
Hi, Dan Porter. For the details on how physicist and mathematician Prof. Frank J. Tipler’s Omega Point cosmology precisely matches the cosmology described in the New Testament, see my following article:
James Redford, “The Physics of God and the Quantum Gravity Theory of Everything”, Social Science Research Network (SSRN), Sept. 10, 2012 (orig. pub. Dec. 19, 2011), 186 pp., doi:10.2139/ssrn.1974708. http://archive.org/details/ThePhysicsOfGodAndTheQuantumGravityTheoryOfEverything
Additionally, in the below resource are six sections which contain very informative videos of Prof. Tipler explaining the Omega Point cosmology, which is a proof (i.e., mathematical theorem) of God’s existence per the known laws of physics (viz., the Second Law of Thermodynamics, General Relativity, and Quantum Mechanics), and the Feynman-DeWitt-Weinberg quantum gravity/Standard Model Theory of Everything (TOE), which is also required by the known laws of physics. The seventh section therein contains an audio interview of Tipler. I also provide some helpful notes and commentary for some of these videos.
James Redford, “Video of Profs. Frank Tipler and Lawrence Krauss’s Debate at Caltech: Can Physics Prove God and Christianity?”, alt.sci.astro, Message-ID: jghev8tcbv02b6vn3uiq8jmelp7jijluqk[at sign]4ax[period]com , July 30, 2013. https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/alt.sci.astro/KQWt4KcpMVo
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