Nature abhors a vacuum.
Scientists abhor the lack of an explanation.
“It was mind-blowing,” wrote a friend. “I was scanning through some past issues of Materials Evaluation, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Society for Nondestructive Testing, when I suddenly came across an article on the Shroud of Turin. What was it doing there? When I think of ASNT, I think of buildings, bridges, factories, and power plants, I think of steel and modern materials, not religious relics. Had some publishing house mixed things up? But no, I checked. It was supposed to be there. It has an official DOI like most peer-reviewed journal articles.
“The author says his purpose is to encourage future testing. Still, there is no disguising that this was mostly about trying to convince us that radiation caused the images. Since you are interested in the shroud I’m sending you a copy. . . . What do you think? Did radiation cause the images?”
No! Let me explain why.
The article in the ASNT journal is by Robert (Bob) Rucker who is well known and well respected by many of us in the world of the Shroud for his numerous papers and talks on radiation as an imaging mechanism and a cause for a potentially erroneous carbon-14 dating of the linen cloth. The article Bob wrote for ASNT is well written and clear. It begins with a description and short history of the Shroud, and a discussion of previous testing undertaken over the years. The real focus, however, as my friend suggests, is a discussion of “The Mysteries of the Shroud of Turin,” and how they are explainable with radiation. The article sits behind a $25 paywall for non-society members but there is a free blog version on the society’s website. The link is The Mysteries of the Shroud of Turin. This one paragraph from near the end of the article summarizes Bob’s position very well.
A hypothesis has been discussed as a possible explanation for three of the most significant mysteries of the Shroud. This hypothesis proposes that an extremely brief intense burst of radiation from the body produced heating and/or ozone that discolored the fibers to form the images of a crucified man. This burst of radiation included neutrons that produced new C-14 in the fibers, which shifted the carbon date forward from the time of Jesus, about 33 AD, to 1260–1390 AD. If it was brief enough and intense enough, the radiation burst could have thrust the dried blood off the body onto the cloth by a natural process called radiation pressure.The Mysteries of the Shroud of Turin
I find the article complicated and fraught with difficulties. At one point, Bob tells us:
STURP concluded this discoloration is not due to any substance or material (such as atoms) added to the fibers but rather is the result of a rearrangement of the atoms already in the fibers. The discoloration process can be described as a dehydration-oxidation process that formed the images of the crucified man.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t mention that this conclusion is now controversial because of more recent research. See The Evidence and within this linked page scroll down to a section labeled, Point 1: The Color We See As An Image.
Bob also states that “Many, if not most, Shroud researchers believe the images were formed by radiation.” Those four words, “many, if not most,” may be the most abused collocation in the English language. I know; I say it frequently. That a peer reviewer permitted this “ad populum” slip of the keyboard —— a fallacy that suggests something must be true because most or many people believe it —— is disappointing. I would hope that the claim can be revised, particularly because Bob doubles down on the claim in response to a comment on the ASNT blog.
This scientific evidence has forced most Shroud researchers to believe the images were formed by radiation. This is not “completely off the rails” [echoing the commenter’s words] but is the result of carefully following the scientific evidence where it leads, i.e., by reverse engineering from the evidence back to the cause.
Anyways, I don’t agree with the claim. It reminds me of another lofty claim that the Shroud is the most studied artifact in history. It is something I had to learn to stop saying because it is nonsense as Hugh Farey has made clear.
Science journalist Philip Ball, who has been close to the subject for many years, gives what I think is a more accurate picture:
There’s no shortage of hypotheses. Some suggest that the image came about through natural processes; some impute considerable ingenuity to medieval forgers of relics; others invoke wondrous physical processes associated with the Resurrection. But do any have any merit?BALL, P. (2015, JUNE 19). HOW DID THE TURIN SHROUD GET ITS IMAGE? BBC NEWS. HTTPS://WWW.BBC.COM/NEWS/MAGAZINE-33164668
Bob calls radiation a hypothesis. Although there is no cast-in-concrete definition for the word, I think speculation might be a better choice of words. In science, a hypothesis is not only a proposed explanation for a phenomenon or a set of observations, it is also a testable prediction and should be specific and measurable, meaning that it can be supported or refuted through experimentation or further observation.
That may be the crux of the problem in calling it a hypothesis. Bob tells us that “Only vertically collimated radiation emitted from the body can communicate to the Shroud the information that is encoded in the images and deliver this information in a focused manner.” If radiation is to be emitted from a body, itself an amazingly unlikely thing, it can only be vertically collimated or collimated at all with a collimating mechanism such as a lens. A brilliant physics professor I consulted put it this way to me:
While it’s true that there’s much about the laws of nature that remains elusive, certain assertions can be confidently made based on our current understanding. We can definitively state that the Earth is not flat, and pigs do not possess the ability to fly. Similarly, the idea of a human body emitting vertically collimated radiation appears unlikely given the knowledge we have. Certain minerals, like Uraninite, can produce collimated radiation due to their atomic structure which naturally forms a collimating pattern. However, a human body, lacking such a specific structural arrangement, is not expected to generate such radiation. To argue otherwise would be to invoke a scenario that defies our current understanding of natural laws – a miracle, if you will.
Bob doesn’t mention a miracle or resurrection or even God in the ASNT article. But the context is inescapable. How can one not read between the lines?
I know from reading other papers by Bob that he admirably attempts to respect the lines between science and religion. In one of his other articles, “Holistic Solution to the Mysteries of the Shroud of Turin,” he writes this:
. . . research should be performed with a neutral mindset, i.e., it should be assumed that the Shroud of Turin may or may not be Jesus’ burial cloth, God may or may not exist, Jesus’ resurrection may or may not be a real historical event, and the Shroud may or may not have experienced a unique event that is outside or beyond our current understanding of the laws of physics. This last point is the issue of naturalism. As used here, naturalism is defined as the assumption that the only explanations allowed are those consistent with the known laws of science, so nothing outside of science, as we now understand it, is possible.Rucker, R. A. (2020, September 18). Holistic Solution to the Mysteries of the Shroud of Turin. Retrieved from https://0201.nccdn.net/1_2/000/000/192/b90/holistic-solution-to-the-mysteries-of-the-shroud.pdf
Admirable, yes, but insufficient. Follow the evidence, Bob tells us. It leads us to hypothesize that an extremely brief intense burst of radiation from the body is the probable cause of the images and provides an potential explanation of why the Shroud’s carbon-14 level is high enough to make it seem medieval. It may even help explain why the bloodstains are the way they are. But critical thinkers demand much more. Normally, human bodies only give off very small and insignificant amounts of background radiation from naturally occurring radioactive isotopes in our bodies such as carbon-14. So what caused the extremely brief intense burst of radiation from the enshrouded body?
“Nothing in nature and nothing exceptional that I can think of,” said the professor I had consulted. “Like I said, about vertically collimated radiation, it would require a miracle. And since I do not believe in miracles, I do not think it is radiation.”
But some of us do believe in miracles. And if we believe in the Abrahamic God, worshipped by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, we inherently acknowledge a one and only God regarded as having ultimate power, which we call omnipotence. And if we believe he has bestowed us with free will and a natural world, then we can expect miracles. C. S. Lewis put it so well when he wrote, “If we admit God, must we admit Miracle? Indeed, indeed, you have no security against it. That is the bargain.”
This raises the question: Why would an omnipotent God resort to natural processes, such as radiation, unless he is bound to do so, rather than achieving what could be accomplished instantly and abruptly? It’s an issue of parsimony. In science, parsimony means with a preference for simplicity and economy of explanation. As such it is the philosophical underpinning of Occam’s Razor. But when it comes to miracles, if we are to believe in them, we must in the interest of simplicity and economy reduce them to only what we can know. All we can know about a miracle is that there is a will and a result. To wit:
Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the person in charge of the banquet.” So they took it. (NRSV)
That is parsimonious! Will and result! It is the model found throughout scripture from “Let there be light” to the healing of Publius’s father by Paul at Malta.
Would Jesus, when healing a man suffering from cancer, utilize radiation to eradicate the cancer cells, employ laser photocoagulation to rectify a debilitating retinal condition, or resort to gene therapy injections? Or, with his omnipotent power, would Jesus opt for a more parsimonious approach and instantly heal him? Would God, use a receding tsunami and a strong sustained wind to part the waters for Moses and the Israelites? Would God provide a sandbar just beneath the surface of the water so Jesus could appear to walk on water?
From the 19th century onward, proponents of Liberal Protestant Theology, Catholic Modernism, and in more recent years, other radical movements like the Jesus Seminar, have sought to harmonize established religious doctrines with modern intellectual, cultural and scientific advancements. They prioritized reason, ethics, and the historical context of scripture. When it came to the subject of miracles, certain notable scholars in these movements, such as Protestant scholars Rudolf Bultmann and Paul Tillich and Catholic theologians Ernesto Buonaiuti and Hans Küng, proposed that some so-called miraculous events might simply be natural phenomena.
Many scholars of the liberal-interpretation movements, understood miracles to be mostly myths or exaggerations. But some like Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth and Jesuit theologian George H. Joyce, contended that miracles were just as Christians have held them to be since Augustine of Hippo: events that supersede and disregard nature.
Then There Was the Combo Radiation Miracle
It was to be a new kind of miracle, seemingly dreamed up for the Shroud of Turin: a hybrid or compound miracle, one that was part miracle and part nature.
With nature thus gaining a toehold on the resurrection narrative, another concept found a way into our thinking: dematerialization. The earliest reference to the word “dematerialization” as part of Jesus’ resurrection may have been by J.H. Salter in his book The Flaming Sword , published in 1912, in which he wrote, “The substances had become Holy Spirit by dissolution and dematerialization.”
In 1952, Anglican Bishop John A. T. Robinson suggested dematerialization in his book The Body: A Study in Pauline Theology. He wrote,
It is not impossible that the resurrection body was in some sense a ‘dematerialized’ body, a body which had passed through the process of death and had been transformed into a new mode of existence.
Robinson’s idea of dematerialization was based on his understanding of the Pauline writings suggesting that the resurrection body is not a physical body, but rather a spiritual body that is able to exist in both the physical and spiritual realms. Hold that thought for we will return to it later.
Exactly when radiation became part of the discussion isn’t clear. The credit is generally thought to belong to John Jackson, a physicist in Boulder, Colorado. The general idea was that radiation emitted from the body of Jesus caused the image on the Shroud. Jackson wrote a seminal paper, “Is the Image on the Shroud Due to a Process Heretofore Unknown to Modern Science?” It was originally published in 1990 and revised in 2014. The idea was brilliant and crazy at the same time, inimical to science yet compellingly scientific, believable and unbelievable.
Mystery surrounding the enigmatic images on the Shroud led to many ideas. Ideas from psychics to parapsychologists to physicists poured forth. For an interesting detour, read “The Turin Shroud and the Resurrection in the light of mediumistic evidence,” reprinted from The Christian Parapsychologist in the Shroud News Issue #41 June 1987 beginning on page 8. Therein we discover that Bishop Robinson, who died in 1983, had suggested that the images might have resulted from, “some sort of radiation sufficient to have left marks of thermal discolouration on the cloth. It would be the last trace, the final foot-print, as it were, of the old body.” So perhaps the bishop should have the credit (though I doubt it).
In an article published in the British Society for the Turin Shroud in July 2001, Thaddous J. Trenn suggests:
If during the resurrection, “weak dematerialization” of the body occurred, accompanied by a release of thermal neutrons, these would easily produce excess radiocarbon distributed non-uniformly, denser along the central axis of the entire cloth.
Thus, and by the time Bob got ahold of the idea, the images on the cloth, a wrong carbon-14 age of the linen cloth, and even some blood transfer anomalies were highly explainable. Well, almost.
John Jackson hypothesized that Jesus’ body became mechanically transparent, allowing the Shroud to pass through it and react to a form of ultraviolet light in the process. This may sidestep the problem posed by vertically collimated radiation. Frank Tipler, in his book “The Physics of Christianity,” suggested Jesus manipulated the quantum fields of his body to initiate baryon annihilation, thereby producing radiation. However, none was as clear and comprehensive in discussing speculations as Bob in a paper, “The Disappearance of Jesus’ Body – Part 2: Physical Considerations.”
. . . scientists often define a miracle as a violation of the laws of science, while they also often believe that the laws of science are known with such certainty and completeness that our current understanding of the laws of science can never be violated. Logically, this means that a miracle can never happen. A scientific researcher starting with this belief system, or a priori presupposition, will certainly be biased toward believing that miracles could not have played any part in the formation of the image on the Shroud of Turin and thus naturally reject the possibility of Jesus’ resurrection as well as the possibility that radiation could have been given off by the dead body of Jesus . . .
He then goes on to present several speculative scenarios by which he believes Jesus’ body might have disappeared from the tomb. Not again, even once, did he mention radiation in this paper. He also leaves it to us to imagine what a violation of nature is. This is, of course, a very complex subject involving centuries of debate ever since David Hume declared miracles as violations of nature in 1748 in “An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding.” Nor does Bob define resurrection, himself, though there is a wide swath of meanings within Christianity upon which to draw.
So when Jesus’ body disappeared from the tomb, the atoms, including the neutrons, protons, and electrons in the atoms, had to disappear from the tomb. While understanding that God is the ultimate cause of Jesus’ resurrection and thus of the disappearance of Jesus’ body from the tomb, it is legitimate to consider various physical processes or mechanisms that were operative in the disappearance of Jesus’ body from the tomb, such as the following options:
1. The molecules in Jesus’ body broke into their constituent atoms which then passed through the shroud and into the walls of the tomb.
2. The atoms in Jesus’ body disintegrated into their neutrons, protons, and electrons, which passed through the shroud and into the walls of the tomb.
3. The atoms in Jesus’ body disintegrated, with the entire mass of his body being converted into energy – specifically electromagnetic energy such as light, ultraviolet, and X-rays. The photons of this electromagnetic energy penetrated through the shroud and into the walls of the tomb.
4. The atoms in Jesus’ body disintegrated, with the entire mass of his body being converted into neutrinos and anti-neutrinos which would have penetrated through the shroud and through the walls of the tomb.
5. Jesus’ body was transported out of the shroud and the tomb into some other location in this physical universe by a wormhole.
6. Jesus’ body disappeared from inside the shroud by a transition into an alternate dimensionality.
7. Jesus’ body disappeared by an unknown mechanism not related to, and not an extrapolation of any known physical phenomenon or law of physics.
The Disintegration of Jesus (Options 1 – 4) Examined
The first four options Bob dispatches with considerable details. But he also neatly summarizes them for us:
In review of the options involving disintegration of Jesus’ body, option 1 should be rejected because of lack of evidence on the Shroud of Turin, option 2 should be rejected because of the huge amount of energy that must be put into the body without any evidence of it being left on the Shroud, option 3 should be rejected because the Shroud, the tomb, and Jerusalem were not vaporized, and the mechanism behind option 4 should be rejected due to probability considerations. Another sufficient reason to reject all concepts of disintegration is that it leaves you with no body. If the body disintegrates, then it no longer exists. So to explain Jesus’ appearances after the resurrection, of which there are at least ten (Mt. 28:9-10, 16-20, Luke 24:13-32, 36-49, John 20:11-21:25, Acts 1:3-12, 1 Cor. 15:3-7), the body has to be either recreated out of new atoms for each appearance, or it has to be recomposed from the original materials.
In the last three sentences above, are we not exploring the philosophical question of omnipotence? Couldn’t Jesus, without the aid of nature, simply reposition himself outside of the tomb without having to disintegrate into subatomic particles. Have the Enlightenment philosophers and, later, the liberal theology scholars, so influenced us that we feel unable to grasp the full power of God? Classical philosophers had struggled with the question by wondering if God could create a stone so heavy that He could not lift it. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century seemingly resolved the apparent paradox by arguing that God can do anything possible but not anything that’s intrinsically impossible or contradictory, such as creating a square circle or, arguably, a stone so heavy that an all-powerful being can’t lift it.
Is Jesus’ exit from the tomb intrinsically impossible? Yes and no. perhaps scientifically impossible but not so miraculously.
Have we decided that God is not quite omnipotent enough that he must do all this scientific stuff?
Jesus Through the Wormhole (Option 5) Examined
This option seems to be pure science fiction genre, like in the 1997 movie, “Contact,” based on the novel by Carl Sagan, in which Dr. Ellie Arroway, played by Jodie Foster, travels to other star systems through wormholes.
So in option 5, a wormhole would have to be created inside the Shroud as it covers the body inside the tomb. The wormhole would have to transport the body to another location and/or time in this physical universe, according to current theory. The wormhole would have to transport the body back for the first post-resurrection appearance and then away again when the appearance is over. This process would have to repeat itself for each of the ten post-resurrection appearances. And each time, there would have to be nothing else transported in either direction. For example, when the wormhole initially transports the body out of the shroud, it would have to transport no part of the shroud away, because we still have the entire burial cloth’/ as the Shroud of Turin. And when the wormhole transports Jesus’ body into the midst of his disciples in the upper room, his disciples are not injured in any way by the wormhole and there is no indication of anything else being deposited in the room along with Jesus’ body. A wormhole occurring as a natural phenomenon would not behave this way, and a wormhole resulting from a black hole would have destroyed anything that falls into it, including Jesus’ body. As with disintegration, this would again leave us with no body to return for the post-resurrection appearances. Even if God is appropriated as creating the wormhole each time, the complexity of option 5 and the many miracles that would be required to make it work argues strongly against it.
Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.
Jesus and the Fifth Dimension (Option 6) Examined
This idea is very well analogized in Madeleine L’Engle’s ground-breaking science fiction and fantasy classic for children, “A Wrinkle in Time.” (Now also a Disney movie). In her book, characters travel through space using a fictional concept called “tesseract.” A tesseract is a speculative extension of a three dimensional cube into a four dimensional cube thus giving us at least five dimensions when we include time. This in turn creates a wrinkle in the space-time fabric, which allows people to move between different parts of the universe instantaneously.
Bob offers a better and more interesting analogy that shares concepts with “Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions,” a short novel by Edwin A. Abbott, first published in 1884. Bob improves on the story. He calls it, “Mr. Dotman in Lineland.” This is a wonderful quote from the Mr. Dotman in Lineland:
But this prison was deeper and darker for they had killed him – but only his body. And they placed his body in a prison and placed many guards outside with orders to watch very carefully lest anything strange should happen. But again he knew what to do, for the supposed four dimensional reality, D(x, y, z, t), of the country called earth was actually only a subset of a higher dimensionality containing 10 dimensions, D(x, x’, x’’, y, y’, y’’, z, z’, z’’, t),
where the primed and double-primed dimensions were wrapped so tightly around the x, y, and zaxis that they were not even noticed by the people living in the land. So when he moved his body from x’ = y’ = z’ = 0 over to x’ = y’ = z’ = 1, the guards, who were confined to the x-y-z space at x’ = y’ = z’ = 0, screamed and ran away for his body had simply vanished from before their eyes as they were looking right at it. And when the guards reported to the king what had happened, the king bribed the guards to say that his friends had come at night and stolen his body from the prison while they were asleep.
Returning to Bob’s analysis:
In option 6, Jesus’ body disappears from inside the shroud by a transition into an alternate dimensionality. If we apply the characteristics of such a transition as presented in the above story to Jesus’ resurrection there are many similarities. In Jesus’ resurrection, there is no evidence in Scripture that his body disintegrated, or that it ceased to exist, or that it caused a huge energy release or that it injured anyone. The only evidence in Scripture is that his body was no longer in the burial shroud in the tomb as if it had disappeared from within the wrapped burial shroud. After his resurrection, He also had the ability to reappear and disappear and did so at least ten different times in his post-resurrection appearances (Mt. 28:9-10, 16-20, Luke 24:13- 32, 36-49, John 20:11-21:25, Acts 1:3-12, 1 Cor. 15:3-7). There is no evidence in scripture that his reappearances and disappearances involved a significant energy release, no one was injured, and these passages read as though his reappearances and disappearances are occurring simply as the result of an act of his will. This is most consistent with his body continuing to exist between his post-resurrection appearances. If this is so then his body never disintegrated and it never ceased to exist. It was always somewhere though not in our dimensionality, D(x, y, z, t). The concept that Jesus’ resurrection and his post-resurrection appearances are transitions to and from an alternate dimensionality seems to fit the evidence very nicely.
As with wormholes, alternate dimensions are theoretical constructs without definitive empirical evidence. They are both used in certain areas of theoretical physics to help explain or predict certain phenomena, but neither has been directly observed or proven to exist. Are we not building a hypothesis superjacent to another hypothesis?
Bob had written for option 7:
Of course, a yet undefined process that is beyond even an extrapolation of our current laws of science could be the cause of the disappearance of the body, but this option could not be scientifically assessed due to its vagueness.
It is too vague, I agree. But, John Jackson’s and Frank Tipler’s hypothetical ideas are not explicitly included in Bob’s list, so we should probably add them.
- 8. In Jackson’s hypothesis, an intense burst of vacuum ultraviolet radiation produced a discoloration on the uppermost surface of the Shroud’s fibrils as the cloth collapsed into the body of Jesus as it became mechanically transparent. This overcomes the need for vertically collimated radiation but gives rise to believing in mechanical transparency.
- 9. Frank Tipler, in his book “The Physics of Christianity,” put forth the idea that Jesus resurrected by manipulating the quantum fields constituting his body to initiate a process of baryon annihilation, thereby producing radiation that might create the image.
In all of the options discussed so far, there is no specific mention of how radiation came about. We can easily imagine it might happen in the first four options as well as Tipler’s baryon annihilation suggestion. In the end, however, the significant argument for radiation is that it seems to conform to what has been observed in the Shroud’s images even if we can’t know how it happened. Bob does an excellent job of itemizing the characteristics for us in How the Image Was Formed on the Shroud. He writes: “This hypothesis [=radiation] is attractive because of its explanatory power.” In other words, we sort of reverse engineer ourselves halfway or so, to a point where we can say, it looks like radiation is the cause even if we can’t explain how the radiation could have come about. For some this might be acceptable were it not so iffy:
- If we can believe in combo miracles that invoke nature (e.g. radiation) and then, necessarily, miraculously it seems, manipulate it, or to be perfectly clear, unnaturalize it.
- If vertically collimated radiation or mechanical transparency could exist for a human body.
- If, indeed, the image is a chemical change to the fiber and not a chemical change of a coating on the fiber.
- If there were not other possibilities.
Maybe the Body Did Not Disappear
There is always the possibility that the body did not disappear from the tomb. According to some highly respected polls, one in three Catholics, one in three mainline Protestants and one in five Evangelical Christians in the United States find it difficult to believe in a bodily resurrection. By extension, this usually means they find it difficult to believe the tomb was open and empty and they don’t assume that Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances share a continuity with his pre-crucifixion body. See: Is Proof Possible.
Maybe the Resurrection Was Not a Compound Miracle
There is also the possibility that the disappearance of the body from the tomb is completely miraculous and not, partly or even completely, a process. Maybe it is something that cannot be scientifically assessed. Maybe that’s good.
How do the Christians, who believe that the resurrection is a bodily miracle, envision the miracle of Christ’s resurrection? I was unable to find any meaningful studies so granular. If art through the ages is any indication, and that may be a good indicator, we see Jesus:
- walking out of his tomb
- climbing out of a sarcophagus with a banner or a ceremonial cross
- hovering in the air above the guards sent to watch his grave
- bursting out in some unexplained way
- doing something like one of Houdini’s famous vanishing tricks
My favorite envisioning comes by way of a Catholic priest, the pastor of a large New York parish and very much a skeptic-of-the-Shroud of Turin.
Dematerializing is not resurrection. Nor is exiting the tomb. Nor is it animation. Resurrection is very much also about being conscious, being aware and being awake. If you wish to prove Resurrection you must prove everything about it. . . . I see a glorified Christ rising, first just to his knees while he prays to our Father, then victoriously upright, his burial wrappings now turned into brilliant colorful robes. In fact, in my mind, I don’t think the Resurrection happened in the tomb at all. Jesus was buried in a tomb and indeed the tomb was empty on Easter. But Christ, in my imagination, awoke and rose to his knees and then his feet in the garden near Mary Magdalen. Why not?(as recalled)
When miracles are considered within a religious tradition, they are often seen as divine interventions that may not be fully comprehensible within the limits of human understanding or natural laws. In other words, by their very definition, miracles are phenomena that we wouldn’t expect based on our understanding of the natural world.
However, the belief in miracles often doesn’t stem from a direct comprehension of how they would be possible, but rather from an understanding of their implied significance or effects. Though I am not Catholic, but Anglican (Episcopalian in the United States), I put great stock in the Catechism of the Catholic Church when it says (#645), “No one can say how it came about physically. Still less was its innermost essence, his passing over to another life, perceptible to the senses.” And that says to me, not entangled with nature, not by radiation, atoms, or theoretical constructs.
St. Thomas Aquinas offers us a useful analogy from his seminal work, “Summa Theologica,” and his study of angels. Aquinas argued that angels are incorporeal beings, composed only of spirit, with intellect and will. They don’t occupy physical space in the way that ordinary humans do, but they can appear in physical form to humans when necessary for their divine missions, as seen in numerous biblical accounts. They can manipulate matter and interact with the physical world, but their true nature remains spiritual. When going from place to place they do not pass through the in-between nor take time to do so.
If this is so for mere angels, why not the risen Christ, as well. Why can he not be where he wills whenever he wants: in the locked upper room, on the road to Emmaus, in front of Mary, on the road to Damascus? He has no need to dematerialize or transition to other dimensions or travel through wormholes. He is “not limited by space and time but able to be present how and when he wills,” as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says so clearly (#647).
Corpus in spiritum et spiritus in corpus
The measure of a miracle is the result, not the process. This I believe: There are no moments, no arrows of time in a miracle. Time explicitly does not exist. There is no moment when a miracle has started but not yet ended. There is no moment, for instance, when water is in the process of becoming wine. There is no moment when carbon atoms, that do not exist in water but are essential to wine, are becoming carbon. The carbon, normally found in the wine we drink, was created sometime well after the Big Bang in red giant stars, which in their dying, compressed with enough force to fuse a helium-4 nucleus with a beryllium-8 nucleus. It made its way into our gravitation trap over eons, to our earth in particular, well before the first plant or creature emerged. We and good wine share some very ancient atoms.
Madeleine L’Engle would go about playfully telling her young fans that she was made of stardust. They thought she was being joyfully silly. She was not. Carl Sagan put it very well: “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”
To my way of thinking, there are two ways to change water into wine: 1) nature’s way which includes crushing and fermenting grapes (wine is still 85% water after all) or 2) God’s way at Cana, which ignores nature altogether and is beyond our ability to comprehend.
Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the person in charge of the banquet.” So they took it. (NRSV)
What was water is suddenly wine. There was no swapping in and out of atoms or molecules or anything. There was no process at all. Water was water and then it was wine. There was no moment when the water was becoming. Scripture, if you take it quite literally, seems to be intentionally telling us this.
Can we imagine fish and bread forming by atoms pouring in from someplace over the horizon during the feeding of the multitude? Or was the food just there as needed? It seems starkly free of any process. Are we to imagine a process when a man’s eyesight is being healed, partially healed after one second and the rest of the way healed after two, three, four?
I’m guessing that the Resurrection is supra-conceptually so. I’m thinking, a gazillion times more amazing.
If the Resurrection is real and it was physical, which is what I believe, then it seems to me that Jesus’ body was in the tomb and then it wasn’t. He did not walk out, fly out, stream out, dematerialize, go through a wormhole or visit some other dimension. Nor did a cloth fall through a mechanically transparent body; there was no motion at all as there was no time for that. There was no vacuum where Jesus had been, not even for an instant. And as there was no time, which nature requires, there was no radiation. There was no process of resurrection. From nature’s point of view, there was only a before and after.