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Outlandish Theories

This brilliant Sidney Harris cartoon captures what is so deeply unscientific about the scientific study of the Shroud of Turin: the mixing of miracles with science. Even without the speech balloon, the meaning is clear.

The cartoon can also be turned on its head: Instead of two scientists trying to explain a process, imagine two shroud apologists trying to explain how the image was formed within the miracle of the Resurrection. Change the wording of step 2 so it reads, “THEN A NATURAL PROCESS OCCURS.” That is what we do when we try to explain how the image on the Shroud was formed by radiation, free electrons or energy.

What kind of process? Bob Rucker suggests vertically collimated radiation. John Jackson proposes a body that becomes mechanically transparent, allowing the image to form as the cloth falls through the body. Others are not so specific.

It’s not just about the image, either. Bob Rucker suggests that the radiation he thinks formed the image might have elevated the cloth’s carbon-14 levels, making the Shroud appear to be from the medieval era. Mark Antonacci suggests that Jesus could have exited his tomb through a wormhole in spacetime. In contrast, Bob proposes that Jesus might have departed the tomb by transitioning into a fifth dimension. He thinks this method might be more feasible than a wormhole, especially when considering so many post-resurrection appearances. Charles Rogers suggests that “an interface opened between our world and a higher dimensionality to swallow the body, while leaving behind [a] void populated by electrons and photons that created an image on cloth.” Frank Tipler suggests that Jesus resurrected himself by first annihilating himself by smashing baryon and antibaryon particles together. This, he suggests, would emit a shower of supernatural energy that created the image on the Shroud.

Meanwhile, Teddi Pappas suggests, that instead of emitting supernatural energy, Jesus used a supernatural energy to resurrect himself:

When a body is dead, the energy that once gave it life is depleted. And, for a body to be resurrected, that energy needs to be restored in the body. These are, actually, straight-forward concepts. I believe that it only makes total sense that God would use a supernatural type of energy to resurrect Himself –why, after all, would the Creator of the Universe dabble in using energy that we inferior humans could harness? To me, it is quite obvious –given the context that surrounds the Shroud– that it does, indeed, give breathtaking and compelling evidence that Jesus supernaturally rose from the dead, and that the energy used to resurrect Him is what, simultaneously, gives us His image.

Except for the last five words (a subject for another day) I like what Teddi says. It has theological oomph. It is wonderfully open to numerous interpretations. For instance, if we mean biological energy is depleted, then we might imagine, in this, some sort of reanimation like Jesus walking forth victoriously from his tomb in glowing white robes. Others might see — as I quite imagine — an earthy, cave-like stillness, a nothingness that explains everything; for he is gone. Others, still, in maybe thinking of the supernatural energy as spiritual energy, might see, divine shared apparitions of the risen Christ on that Easter day and in the days to follow. Some biblical scholars, like John Dominic Crossan, while teaching New Testament at DePaul University, a Catholic school in Chicago, argued that the empty tomb narratives are later additions to scripture meant to illustrate what his followers believed: he is risen. And because many Christians believe in a spiritual resurrection rather than physical resurrection, “supernatural energy” is a useful metaphor.

To my way of thinking, all of the many ways of understanding the Resurrection are acceptable. Teddi writes with wonderful aplomb. I can’t. I equivocate. Mark helps us with this. When Jesus is asked to heal a boy who is possessed by a demon, the boy’s father cries out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

The real Resurrection, probably, far and away, transcends anything any of us can imagine or logically believe in. As the Catholic theologian, Hans Küng, puts it:

For the raising of Jesus is not a miracle violating the laws of nature, verifiable within the present world, not a supernatural intervention which can be located and dated in space and time.

Didn’t C. S. Lewis remind us:

The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation. They say that God became Man. Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this.

Wouldn’t supernatural energy, unlike that of us “inferior humans,” already reside in the hypostatic union? It is something else to ponder.

When it comes to the Shroud, with its theoretical constructs such as vertically collimated radiation, wormholes, fifth dimensions, baryon annihilations, pools of free electrons – and the mixing of the supernatural with the natural – science has become too much like an Agatha Christie mystery, filled with outlandish theories that only a Poirot can imagine. And solve.

Consider, instead, the wisdom of many great thinkers:

The Westminster Confession of Faith (ca. 1640) contains instructive sentence that conveys the message that God is beyond our full comprehension, and that there are some things that we will never fully understand. Intended, in part, to quash outlandish ideas afoot in merry olde England, the quote is as follows:

Of God there is no comprehension but what he is pleased to reveal of himself, either by word or by works, in the book of nature or of Scripture.

And the Shroud? I don’t think so. It is not a third book. It is not a sign from God, not proof, not even evidence until we really know what it is. I see nothing from interpretation, logic, or reasoning in Shroud science to convince me that the image was a product of the Resurrection or that the Shroud is authentic. Not yet.

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