Published with Pierre’s Kind Permission

Pierre looks upward as if to God for some wisdom, scratches his head, and inserts the phrase”how should I say?” anywhere in a sentence when he is unsure of the right word or grammar to use. He might say,  “The Shroud of — how should I say — Torino?” Sometimes, I let him try to figure it out. Other times, I fill in the blanks to keep the conversation going. Pierre is one of my long-distance ESL students (English as a Second Language). I am, by chance, his student in wonderful new ways of thinking as we look for topics with which to practice his English.

Inevitably, by the grace of Google, some of my ESL students discovered my Shroud of Turin blog. Pierre from Zürich was one.

“I read your latest blog posts,” he informed me as we started a practice session. “To the casual or curious observer of — how should I say — sindonology . . . “

“Shroud research works better,” I interrupted.

Note to reader: Henceforth I will use brackets to suggest interpretations or corrections I have uttered so as to not interrupt the flow of our conversation.

“As a casual observer,” Pierre repeated, “I wonder why so many researchers believe that the Shroud of Turin is authentic despite carbon-14 dating proving that it is from the 13th or 14th century. I think that these researchers believe that if they can explain how the images on the shroud were created during the resurrection, they will be better able to believe what they want to — how should I say — packed to the top [= fully] believe.

Seeing that the top of his head was cut off, Pierre took a few seconds to adjust his laptop’s camera angle. “Okay,” he said. “It is a topic filled with so much magical thinking. “We can discuss, yes?”

“Magical thinking?” I asked. “You mean ‘miraculous’?”

“No, I mean magical thinking. Miracles are what God does. We observe the result. ‘Magical thinking’ is what we think God does because we want it to be the way we want to understand it.” 

“Can you give me an example,” I said.

“The resurrection of Jesus is a miracle. His followers observed that and I have chosen to believe that. But the idea that his body broadcasted [= emitted] light or particle radiation to create images on the sheet [= shroud] is magical thinking. It is not part of the story of the resurrection, and it is not necessary to explain the miracle. We guess it up [= make it up] only to help us explain the images. And in a more radical example, the body is floated up in the air. 

“Levitated,” I suggested. I could see him scribbling a note to himself. 

“In one of your blogs, you mention a scientist named Robert Rucker. He seems to know that radiation is magical thinking when he says the radiation would be like billions of lasers. 

What had Bob Rucker written exactly?  I tried to remember. Pierre, who had already anticipated my curiosity, pasted this into a chat box on the ESL platform: 

Since there was no lens between the body and the cloth to focus this radiation, the radiation had to be emitted in vertically collimated directions up and down, like a billion vertically oriented lasers going off simultaneously within the body.

Rucker, Robert A. “Image Formation on the Shroud of Turin.”

“But that only works if the burial cloth is flat and positioned above and below an elevated body,” I said.

“You said levitated before. Now you are saying elevated.”

“The difference is subtle,” I said, “but in this case either word works,” That was a poor answer but I wasn’t sure I could explain it.

Pierre rescued me. “I’ll look it up later. How should I say — Irregardless [= regardless is preferred], it doesn’t matter here. It doesn’t work at all. It would take a miracle to make rays of light or streams of particles go straight away from the body — how should I say — straight out from the body, with each beam of radiation parallel to the others”

“Collimated,” I suggested.

“Yes, ‘collimated’ is the word Dr. Rucker used, he said. “However, it is not necessary for the radiation to be collimated in order for God to create the images on the Shroud of Turin. Being omnipotent, God could aim the radiation in any way he desired, even if the cloth was drooped [ = draped]. God could even bend a beam of charged particles to produce the images he wanted. How should I say —  for God that is easy peasy lemon squeezy.”

With that, Pierre waved his little book of English idioms in front of the laptop’s camera and smiled. “Will I ever use that again in business English?” he asked.

“What? Easy peasy lemon squeezy?” I asked.

“No, collimated.”

“No, probably not. And not easy peasy either unless you are describing how to make lemonade.”

Pierre picked up a piece of paper, looked at it, and continued: “John Jackson has a hugely [= very] different idea. Instead of the body broadcasting [= emitting] electromagnetic radiation or charged particles, Dr. Jackson believes that the shroud is drawn to the body and then moves through it.”

There can be no question that Pierre had prepared for this discussion. Again, he pasted a quotation into the chat box:  

The concept of a cloth falling into the underlying body region and receiving an image, in essence, requires that two separate assumptions be made. First, we must assume that the body becomes mechanically “transparent” to its physical surroundings and, second, that a stimulus is generated that records the passage of the cloth through the body region onto the cloth as an image. 

Jackson, John P. “Is the Image on the Shroud Due to a Process Heretofore Unknown to Modern Science?”, 2014.

Pierre continued, “That would require ignoring the electromagnetic force that keeps solids from passing through each other. Is that not similar to asking whether an omnipotent God can create a stone so large that he cannot lift it? Can God create the fundamental forces of the universe and then defy them? 

Pierre held up a finger.  “One minute, I need to answer the knock at my door. My Burger King delivery is here.” The wait was short.

“Why all the rigmarole?” he said as he sat back down in front of his laptop. “If God wanted an image on the cloth . . . 

“Very good,” I interrupted.

“What, my English or my philosophy of magical thinking?”

 “Your vocabulary,” I said. “But, Pierre, the word is rig|a|ma|role, with four syllables.”

“No, it’s not,” he shot back. “Both spellings are correct, with three or four syllables.” Pierre held up his vocabulary book victoriously.

“Why all the rigamarole?” he said again. “If God wanted images on the cloth why didn’t he simply say, ‘Let there be images’?”

“Let there be images.“ I repeated. “Easy peasy lemon squeezy for God, and without all of the magical thinking and rigamorale.”

“Piece of cake,” he replied.

“So, Pierre, do you think the Shroud is real?”

“No, maybe, I don’t know.”

“Tomorrow, okay?”

See Part 2 Tomorrow