Off Topic Warning: About the Eucharist and Then Some

imageI will certainly be accused of going off-topic. Okay. Yes. But. And then again, I can do it anyway. It is interesting. Many times when I read or hear something profound about the Eucharist, I am reminded of Frank Tipler’s book, The Physics of Christianity. This is one of those times. So, if you can humor me for a bit I’ll try to redeem myself.

On Saturday, the Episcopal Church in the United States elected a new Presiding Bishop (In most other places in the Anglican Communion we would call him an Archbishop).  The Right Rev. Michael Curry, the 62-year-old Bishop of North Carolina, was overwhelmingly elected by the Church’s General Convention in a single ballot in the House of Bishops.  Curry, who is African American, received 121 votes out of 174 cast.  The House of Deputies consisting of priests and laypersons approved the election 800-12. Read Episcopal News Service account of the election.

Scanning for material about him I found this video. It touched me.

On to Frank Tipler’s book, The Physics of Christianity. Tipler wanted to test a consecrated host to see if two molecules, once separated, say by the breaking of the bread, maintained quantum coherence –  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 (Episcopalians) or Catholics. Yes, he actually wrote that in his book.

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. . . .

I 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 does recognize. 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 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 far 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 interesting. 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.”

Now. Did I justify showing that video? Did I redeem myself?  Of course not. It was a good try, though.

Your thoughts on the Eucharist or Tipler are welcome.

The haters are, almost by definition, stupid.

imageThe Virtues of Know-Nothing Criticism by Noah Berlatsky (pictured) appearing in the Los Angeles Review of Books on New Year’s eve has nothing to do with the Shroud of Turin and perhaps everything to do with how we sometimes argue about it. It’s a light two-minute read:

The problem with demanding a certain kind of knowledge or a certain kind of expertise in criticism, then, is that it can end up presupposing, or insisting upon, a certain kind of conversation. And often that seems like the point: expertise is used as an excuse to silence critics — and especially negative critics. Gamergate’s response to Anita Sarkeesian is the most obvious example, but you can see it in virtually any fandom. Folks who adore, say,Game of Thrones, are way more likely to have read all the books and seen all the episodes of Game of Thrones. People who dislike Game of Thrones are less likely to put in the time. How can you watch one episode of Game of Thronesand dismiss it? How can you read half of Maus and think that it’s boring and pompous? What gives you the right? Expertise becomes a quick, efficient way to shut down naysayers. Those who love video games, or Game of Thrones, or Wonder Woman are the only ones who can truly understand; the haters are, almost by definition, stupid.

[ . . . ]

. . . Expertise, then, seems an excuse to make everyone talk about the same things in the same way. But there’s no one true way to view a piece of art; no one privileged perspective that will give you the right experience of Shakespeare, or Wonder Woman, or video games, or romance novels. A partial view may be as meaningful as a whole one, and being alienated by a work of art, or feeling you don’t want to finish it, or look at it for a second more, is as valid as obsessive interest and passionate fandom.

A Miracle Debate

They recognized that a universe in which miracles are possible
is a world in which science, strictly understood, is impossible.

You may wish to read Why I believe in miracles by Matt K. Lewis (pictured second) in The Week for December 9th, and the reaction a week later by Damon Linker (pictured first), The age of miracles is over — even for the religious.

Linker writes:

imageMiracles have traditionally been understood as temporary transgressions by God of the natural order. You know, like Moses parting the Red Sea, or a virgin giving birth to a child, or the resurrection of a man three days after his death. All three events and many others recounted in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament are inexplicable in natural terms. They are divine incursions into the order of things, a suspension of the necessities that govern that order — like the necessity that tells us, for example, that only a female who has been impregnated by the sperm of a male of the same species can give birth to offspring. That necessity reigns supreme, without exception, in nature. But Christians believe — or are supposed to believe — that God overrode that necessity in impregnating Mary, a woman who had never had sexual relations with her husband Joseph or any other man.

imageLewis, like many contemporary believers, uses the term "miracle" to mean something very different and far less, well, miraculous. Instead of referring to a divine intervention that overturns natural necessity, Lewis maintains that a miracle is any event within the world that appears to have personally beneficial consequences. As something taking place within the natural world, the event will always be explicable in scientific terms. But the believer is also free to interpret the event otherwise — as having been mysteriously authored or brought about by the hidden hand of God. That is the kind of miracle that Lewis believes in.

Linker argues:

The great early modern defenders of science (men like Baruch Spinoza, Thomas Hobbes, and David Hume) understood that the belief in miracles was an obstacle to the advance of human knowledge, keeping alive the possibility that the findings of scientific investigation are at most provisionally true — true only so long as God doesn’t act within the world in a way that contravenes natural necessity. That’s why these and other partisans of the Enlightenment actively sought to explain (or rather, to explain away) miracles and undermine popular belief in them. They recognized that a universe in which miracles are possible is a world in which science, strictly understood, is impossible.

Centuries later, the philosophical critique of miracles has been so successful that many of the faithful are more comfortable affirming the truth of soft providentialism, which is perfectly compatible with science because it makes no empirically verifiable (or refutable) truth-claims about the world at all. It’s even compatible with Darwinian evolution, which posits the radically non-theistic view that species evolve through a process of random mutation and adaptation, since it’s always possible that God plays a crucial and hidden (but scientifically undemonstrable) role in the process. Perhaps God causes evolution’s seemingly random mutations, or controls the environment to which these mutated organisms adapt themselves.

The good news for religion is that it has survived the philosophical-scientific assault on miracles. But the bad news for religion is that it now lingers on in a profoundly weakened state. Where faith once confidently ventured truth-claims about the whole of creation and its metaphysical underpinnings, now it often offers mere expressions of subjective feeling about a world that science exclusively reveals and explains. That represents a remarkable retreat.

Oh? Really? I find that we have proponents of both views in the world of the shroud and, interestingly, they are not self-segregated into pro- or not-pro- authenticity stances.

Utter hogwash

imageIt has been mentioned at least twice in comments to postings in this blog. So here is a good article by Greg Carey (pictured) that appears in the Huffington Post:

Just this week another Jesus hoax has appeared in the media. Media producer Simcha Jacobovici has collaborated with a professor named Barrie Wilson on a book called, "The Lost Gospel: Decoding the Ancient Text That Reveals Jesus’ Marriage to Mary the Magdalene." I don’t wish to be rude, and I will freely admit I haven’t read the book yet, but the entire premise is utter hogwash.

[ . . . ]

We might begin with the book’s title. "The Lost Gospel" suggests the discovery of a new literary source, one that is either recently discovered or has been largely neglected. Instead, the "lost gospel" is actually an ancient Jewish (perhaps Christian) novel we call "Joseph and Aseneth." It’s well known, and it’s received quite a bit of scholarly attention. Joseph and Aseneth is included in the standard collections of ancient Jewish literature that all biblical scholars consult. This month’s Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting, the most significant gathering of biblical scholars in the world, will include two papers devoted to the story. Just type "Aseneth" into your Amazon search window, and you’ll find quite a few books devoted to the story, including monographs by leading scholars.

Unfortunately, Jacobovici and Wilson describe the text as "Gathering dust in the British Library" and suggest they have "uncovered" it. Unfortunately, the media has bought into that narrative. . . . In fact, Duke University professor Mark Goodacre created his Joseph and Aseneth home page in 1999 — quite a bit before its recent "uncovering."

The new book’s subtitle reveals a second problem: "decoding." The authors claim this ancient novel carries a secret meaning. Joseph and Aseneth makes perfect sense without decoding.

[ . . . ]

It is always bad form to attack a theory by condemning its proponents, but Simcha Jacobovichi is a notorious peddler of misleading theories. He promoted an ossuary as containing the bones of Jesus’ brother James, a theory that has been disconfirmed. He also developed a documentary that claimed to unveil the Jesus family tomb, also refuted by experts, and even claims to have uncovered the nails used in Jesus’ crucifixion. It’s a shame that the media ever pays attention to him, at least when he’s talking about Jesus.

Scientific truth is a pathway to God

As the Huffington Post describes him:

imageBr. Guy Consolmagno SJ is an astronomer at the Vatican Observatory and president of the Vatican Observatory Foundation. A native of Detroit, Michigan, he has two degrees in planetary sciences from MIT and a doctorate from the University of Arizona. He is a past president of the IAU Commission 16 (Moons and Planets) and past chair of the American Astronomical Society Division for Planetary Sciences (AAS/DPS). Along with more than 200 scientific works, he is the author of six popular astronomy books (most notably Turn Left at Orion, with Dan Davis, and Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial? with Paul Mueller) and the winner of the 2014 Carl Sagan Medal for Public Outreach from the AAS/DPS.

He has put together an interesting posting for the HuffPo blog: Science, Religion and the Assumptions We Make.  He concludes (but do read it from the top)

I believe that the physical universe we study was was made deliberately by God who found it good — and who makes Himself known in the things He created (to quote St. Paul). Thus scientific truth is a pathway to God. Even a scientist who denies the existence of any creator God must nonetheless worship at the altar of Truth, or else that science is worthless.

And why, at the end of the day, do I choose one religion over another? I can accept that all religions ultimately are looking for the same God. But I suspect that some religions do a better job of it than others… just as Newton’s physics was an improvement over the medieval view, and quantum physics picks up where Newton’s version fails. The religions of The Book — Judaism, Christianity, Islam — all recognize a God outside of nature who created this universe and found it good. Of these, I adopt the Catholic view because to me it is the most complete, most coherent vision of God and God’s interaction with our universe.

I find that my religion’s understanding of the universe is consistent with everything that I observe about life: not only in science, but in my experience of beauty, love and all the other transcendentals that science does not treat… including those experiences that I interpret as prayer, my direct experience of God.

It’s not a proof. But it is a consistency argument. Your mileage may vary.

And one of those things may be the shroud.

Guy Consolmagno on Science and Religion

imageDavid Freeman writing yesterday in the Science section of the Huffington Post, How A Vatican Astronomer Views The Science-Religion Divide:

In an interview with HuffPost Science editor David Freeman, Brother Guy [Consolmagno, S.J., astronomer and planetary scientist at the Vatican Observatory, pictured] said he believes the antagonism between scientific principles and religious faith exists mostly among fundamentalists.

"I mean fundamentalists on both sides," he said, "because there are also science fundamentalists. And what is a fundamentalist? It’s somebody who is clinging to the fundamentals of their truth because they don’t have the confidence or the faith in their faith to be able to say, ‘I’m settled, I’m happy with this, let’s see where it goes.’ Fundamentalism is a sign of fear."

The audio of the interview is available here.

Wikipedia Entry for Guy Consolmagno.

Speaking of “our own” commenters in the big papers

You need to click on the picture to see this screenshot from the New York Times in its full size. Recognize John Klotz, there? His comment has been featured. And it should be. Here is the link to the New York Time article, A Church So Poor It Has to Close Schools, Yet So Rich It Can Build a Palace.

image

Here is what John Klotz wrote:

I once remarked to the late Fr. Robert Poveromo, that I thought the greatest of all saints since the time of the Apostles was St. Francis. "Some of us," he replied "think he was the only one." As disgusting as the conduct of the the New Jersey Archbishop is, when I clicked the link to read of Father Grange, I was edified by an example of obvious sanctity and a compelling biography of dedication to the poor.

By what miracle, Pope Francis came to pope I do not know. I can only say that the Archbishop of New Jersey should be afraid, very afraid. Perhaps the poor priests and nuns who tend to the poor of New Jersey will get a new place to retreat and renew. Or maybe, I place for poor children to escape briefly from the dire circumstances of their life for awhile. 
However, I suspect that it will be a cold day in Hell before the Archbishop gets to live in his vacation palace.

May I suggest for him a trip in sack cloth and ashes to Rome to beg forgiveness?
As for NY Times Michael Powell, I am in awe. I have only one phrase, a modern cliche, for him and his editors at the Times. "Keep on, keeping on."

http://Johnklotz.blogspot.com

Off Topic: Descent from the Cross

imageI’ve long been a fan of Marc Chagall, the Russian Jewish 20th Century modernist. Right now, through February 2, there is an exhibit, Chagall: Love, War, and Exile at the Jewish Museum on Manhattan’s upper east side. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to work in a trip to New York to see the exhibit.

Religious News Services is reporting about it:

NEW YORK (RNS) At a moment when the world is flush with new books and ever-evolving interpretations of Jesus, one of the last century’s artistic masters is providing art lovers with a striking take on the first-century religious figure.

The first U.S. exhibition exploring the “darker works” of Marc Chagall (1887-1985) shows a Jewish artist obsessed with Jesus.

Chagall: Love, War, and Exile,” at The Jewish Museum in New York showcases the work of the Russian-French artist during World War II as he tried to make sense of a world gone mad.

Of particular interest are paintings depicting the crucified Jesus — depictions that are often read as metaphors not only for war but the particular expressions of Jewish suffering and persecution in Europe during the 1930s and 1940s.

clip_image001One painting, among many that I particularly like, is Descent from the Cross (1941) (pictured above). It reminds me of the second illustration in the Hungarian Pray Manuscript (pictured to the left).

It is interesting to note that Chagall often painted Jesus with a halo. In most of his crucifixion works, he depicted Jesus wearing a loincloth with a tallit-style pattern. In one famous work, Apocalypse en Lilas: Capriccio, Chagall depicts Jesus naked on the cross above a storm trooper with a backwards swastika.

You may click on the images for larger versions


Note: Descent from the Cross, 1941, (upper right), ink and gouache on paper, 19 1/2 x 12 7/8 in. Collection of the Rastegar Family, California. © 2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Photo courtesy of The Jewish Museum. This image is available for Web, courtesy of the Jewish Museum.

It Continues: James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus

imageLiz Klimas writes in The Blaze:

Inscribed on a stone box are the words at the center of more than a decade of religious and scholarly controversy: “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.”

These words etched into a burial box spurred a 10-year investigation that would ultimately end in a man cleared of forgery accusations. But discussion as to whether this is the earliest reference to Jesus Christ and the validity of the last three words — “brother of Jesus” — continues.

What Hath the Internet Wrought? Don’t Forget the Links

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Off Topic: New Novel – The Donation of Constantine

imageJason Pat writes:

This is to let you know that Simon LeVay’s new novel, ‘The Donation of Constantine,’ has just come out. It’s a religious-historical novel set in 8th-century Italy, and it revolves around the famous and enigmatic forgery known as — you guessed it — the Donation of Constantine. Here’s a brief description:

In the middle of the eighth century, the decaying city of Rome lies defenseless against the advance of the warmongering Lombards. The new Pope, Stephen II, appeals for help from the Eastern Emperor, but none arrives. In desperation, the Pope’s younger brother and an English nun conspire to change the course of history—at the risk of their own souls. Based on real people and actual events, this is a story of intrigue, passion, war, and the struggle for control of medieval Europe.

The book does deal seriously with Catholic politics and the evolution of the papacy — and in that sense it holds up a distant mirror to the present-day Church — but it’s all wrapped up in an adventure story that should please anyone.

There’s more information about His book at its website, www.lambournbooks.com This site includes information on how to order the physical book or the ebook in the U.S., the U.K., or Europe. The Amazon page for the paperback is here
http://www.amazon.com/The-Donation-Constantine-A-Novel/dp/147013215X/ref=sr_1_17?ie=UTF8&qid=1381341287&sr=8-17&keywords=simon+levay

[ . . . ]

Sounds fun. I ordered a Kindle version.

Stephen Jones wants to know

imageAre there any shroudies who are chess players like him? If so give him a shout. He tells us:

I was the second highest rated chess player in Western Australia in 1967, with a rating of 2070, but I gave competitive chess away for ~45 years until August 2012 when I joined the Perth Chess Club. I am gradually regaining my chess `mojo’ but my rating now is only 1782 and I doubt that I will ever get back to 2070.

If a computer says, “I’m Aware,” how do you know if it is telling the truth?

If it weren’t for Frank Tippler or John Klotz this would be completely off topic.

imageDid Hawking read Tipler’s book? Meredith Bennett-Smith writes in the Huffington Post:

Could your brain keep on living even after your body dies? Sounds like science fiction, but celebrated theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking recently suggested that technology could make it possible.

"I think the brain is like a program in the mind, which is like a computer," Hawking said last week during an appearance at the Cambridge Film Festival, The Telegraph reported. "So it’s theoretically possible to copy the brain on to a computer and so provide a form of life after death."

He acknowledged that such a feat lies "beyond our present capabilities," adding that "the conventional afterlife is a fairy tale for people afraid of the dark."

Life after death ala Tipler? There is still more blind faith that a computer – hardware plus software – can not merely emulate consciousness but be conscious than there is any hard science on this subject. Hawking is really a Johnny-Come-Lately. I’m told the book to start with is Explaining Consciousness: The Hard Problem edited by Jonathan Shear. The list of contributors is why. From the publisher:

At the 1994 landmark conference "Toward a Scientific Basis for Consciousness", philosopher David Chalmers distinguished between the "easy" problems and the "hard" problem of consciousness research. According to Chalmers, the easy problems are to explain cognitive functions such as discrimination, integration, and the control of behavior; the hard problem is to explain why these functions should be associated with phenomenal experience. Why doesn’t all this cognitive processing go on "in the dark", without any consciousness at all? In this book, philosophers, physicists, psychologists, neurophysiologists, computer scientists, and others address this central topic in the growing discipline of consciousness studies. Some take issue with Chalmers’ distinction, arguing that the hard problem is a non-problem, or that the explanatory gap is too wide to be bridged. Others offer alternative suggestions as to how the problem might be solved, whether through cognitive science, fundamental physics, empirical phenomenology, or with theories that take consciousness as irreducible.Contributors : Bernard J. Baars, Douglas J. Bilodeau, David Chalmers, Patricia S. Churchland, Thomas Clark, C. J. S. Clarke, Francis Crick, Daniel C. Dennett, Stuart Hameroff, Valerie Hardcastle, David Hodgson, Piet Hut, Christof Koch, Benjamin Libet, E. J. Lowe, Bruce MacLennan, Colin McGinn, Eugene Mills, Kieron OHara, Roger Penrose, Mark C. Price, William S. Robinson, Gregg Rosenberg, Tom Scott, William Seager, Jonathan Shear, Roger N. Shepard, Henry Stapp, Francisco J. Varela, Max Velmans, Richard Warner

Quotations for Today: Benedict XVI and Atheist Piergiorgio Odifreddi

clip_image001Dear professor, my criticism of your book is in part harsh. Frankness, however, is part of dialogue: Only in this way can understanding grow. You were quite frank, and so you will accept that I should also be so. In any case, however, I very much appreciate that you, through your confrontation with my Introduction to Christianity, have sought to open a dialogue with the faith of the Catholic Church and that, notwithstanding all the contrasts in the central area, points of convergence are nevertheless not lacking.

— — Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

, , ,  in an 11 page open letter to a prominent Italian Atheist, Piergiorgio Odifreddi, in response to a book by him, Dear Pope, I’m Writing to You.

The National Catholic Register reports:

Odifreddi said the entire 11-page letter will be included in a new edition of his book. He said that he and Benedict may disagree on almost everything, but they have

united in at least one common goal: the search for the Truth, with a capital ‘T.’

For a different take on the story see The Ratz is back, stung by atheist into addressing the ‘deviance’ and ‘filth’ in his Church in The Freethinker.

Off topic, nonetheless relevant to prior discussions here.

New Atheist vs Old Atheist Debate

The topic of atheism has popped up many times on this blog with no instance perhaps better than when Mark Shea, just a couple of weeks ago, was quoted as saying:

. . . The Atheist of the Gaps believes in such fake relics [e.g. the Luigi Garlaschelli fake pictured below] with childlike faith no matter how badly that fake fails to actually reproduce the Shroud. That’s because they need it to be a fake. It is an article of faith in advance of and in the teeth of all evidence,

This new video, just posted on Hemant Mehta’s blog, is a bit more off-topic. It is a five minute debate between Atheist Andrew Brown of The Guardian and Atheist Daniel Dennett, Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University and author of Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (Simon & Schuster, 1995). Off-topic, yes, but fun to watch.

Mehta comments:

What the New Atheists (and I would lump many other atheist activists under this umbrella, too) offer is a no-holds-barred critique of religion that comes at you all at once from many different angles. Instead of the periodic trickles of atheism we saw a few decades ago, “New Atheism” hits you like a firehose. You can’t escape the books and podcasts and websites and non-religious celebrities. Nor can you ignore the media mentions of atheists that happen with increasing frequency… or the way we’ve dominated Internet discourse. The New Atheism has made it safer for people to declare their godlessness. (That’s not to say it’s easy everywhere, but it is certainly easier than it used to be.)

As for Dennett, he believes that consciousness is but an illusion and that it may be possible to reprogram all of us. That is convenient, isn’t it. If he can figure out how, then he can make us all agree with him.

Shea had also written:

Strangely and hilariously, the absolute atheist refusal to consider the possibility of the Shroud’s genuineness vs. the Christian openness to all the strange possibilities this strange world holds is called by the Atheist of the Gaps, "Christian obscurantist close-mindedness vs. Atheist rational willingness to follow the facts wherever they lead". It’s of a piece with the "open-minded" atheist Emile Zola who, witnessing a miraculous healing at Lourdes, responded by declaring "Even if I saw all the sick at Lourdes healed, I would not believe."

If Émile Zola hadn’t lived so long before Dennett was born, we might suspect that he was the product of just such a reprogramming experiment.

This bring us to Michael Redux: Quantum mechanics, consciousness and love by this blog’s regular reader and frequent commenter John Klotz from about a year ago:

The question of whether human consciousness is a distinct phenomenon that survives death, is at the core of most religious belief. Now, it is becoming a scientific issue as well. Science is dealing with two related phenomena: the existence of human consciousness and the nature of existence of all matter at the quantum level. Science in attempting to explain human consciousness is science attempting to define the soul. Is our consciousness a discreet process that may operate independent of space and time? Or,  is it only an accumulation of sensations that ends when the individual dies and the brain is  rendered inert and decaying? Can  our consciousness operate independent of time and space? Is there any scientific basis for eternal life? Is the Resurrection real?

imageOK now. Watch the watch. You’re getting sleepy. Count slowly from ten to zero. Say after me: ‘The shroud is real. The carbon dating is wrong. A mouse lives in Dennett’s beard.’

What Else Doth Passeth All Understanding?

clip_image001Some of the email I receive. One might think this was spam except that it is so specific.

Of recent I contacted you and your organization regarding a claim for the "Shroud of Turin," of which it is referred to now. I am asking you once again how you wish for me to proceed in pursuing that claim without hardship, animosity or anguish to any of the parties involved therewith. Within it contained the remains of that which I am and my predecessors were related. We are prepared fully and completely to undergo any and all tests that said keepers of the Shroud and its governing body and/or government require to prove that we are physically related to that of the soul whose body was enshrouded therein.

I guess I should forward this to Turin.

Insanity Break: The Lizard People Made Me Post This

Can you imagine if PPP had asked about Leonardo da Vinci and the shroud’s image or if the carbon dating of the shroud was somehow fixed.  Here are some results from the April 2, 2013 Conspiracy Theory Poll Results from Public Policy Polling. By the way, I wouldn’t call all of these ‘beliefs’ conspiracy theories. Some are just wacko beliefs. And this is why I hope they don’t ask about the shroud:

imageOn our national poll this week we took the opportunity to poll 20 widespread and/or infamous conspiracy theories.  Many of these theories are well known to the public, others perhaps to just the darker corners of the internet.  Here’s what we found:

-         37% of voters believe global warming is a hoax . . .

-         6% of voters believe Osama bin Laden is still alive

-         21% of voters say a UFO crashed in Roswell, NM in 1947 and the US government covered it up. . . .

-         28% of voters believe secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government, or New World Order. . . .

-         28% of voters believe Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks. . . .

-         20% of voters believe there is a link between childhood vaccines and autism, 51% do not

-         7% of voters think the moon landing was faked

-         13% of voters think Barack Obama is the anti-Christ . . . 

-         29% of voters believe aliens exist

-         14% of voters say the CIA was instrumental in creating the crack cocaine epidemic in America’s inner cities in the 1980’s

-          9% of voters think the government adds fluoride to our water supply for sinister reasons (not just dental health)

-         4% of voters say they believe “lizard people” control our societies by gaining political power

-          51% of voters say a larger conspiracy was at work in the JFK assassination, just 25% say Oswald acted alone

-         14% of voters believe in Bigfoot

-         15% of voters say the government or the media adds mind-controlling technology to TV broadcast signals (the so-called Tinfoil Hat crowd)

-         5% believe exhaust seen in the sky behind airplanes is actually chemicals sprayed by the government for sinister reasons

-         15% of voters think the medical industry and the pharmaceutical industry “invent” new diseases to make money

-         Just 5% of voters believe that Paul McCartney actually died in 1966

-         11% of voters believe the US government allowed 9/11 to happen, 78% do not agree

And in Canterbury

imageJustin Welby Enthroned As Archbishop Of Canterbury And Leader Anglican Communion

March 21 (Reuters) – The new spiritual leader of the world’s Anglicans was enthroned by a female cleric on Thursday, taking the helm at a time when the troubled church risks tearing itself apart over gay marriage and women bishops.

In a colourful ceremony featuring African dancers, Punjabi music and Anglican hymns, Justin Welby, 57, officially became the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury [—going back well before the split with Rome –] under the gothic arches of Britain’s 900-year-old Canterbury Cathedral in front of a congregation that included heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles, Prime Minister David Cameron and other establishment figures.

For the first time in the Christian church’s history, the priest who placed him on the diocesan throne in Canterbury – the mother church of the Church of England and of the Anglican Communion – was a woman, Archdeacon of Canterbury Sheila Watson.
Another, male, priest then installed Welby in the chair of St. Augustine, marking his inauguration as Primate of All England and spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Welby, who is against gay marriage but favours the ordination of women as bishops, now faces a tough balancing act to keep the 80 million-strong Anglican Communion together.

Pope Francis sent a message from the Vatican:

”Please be assured of my prayers as you take up your new responsibilities, and I ask you to pray for me as I respond to the new call that the Lord has addressed to me," he said.

"I look forward to meeting you in the near future, and to continuing the warm fraternal relations that our predecessors enjoyed."

Justin Welby Enthroned As Archbishop Of Canterbury And Leader Anglican Communion (PHOTOS) (VIDEO)

In Francis, what is there not to like?

clip_image001In The Dish, Andrew Sullivan in an article, Francis Emerges first quotes Pope Francis and then puts some useful spin on it.

[Francis says:]

“Given that many of you do not belong to the Catholic Church, and others are not believers, I give this blessing from my heart, in silence, to each one of you, respecting the conscience of each one of you, but knowing that each one of you is a child of God. May God bless you.”

Respecting the conscience of each of you. That might seem to be the bleeding obvious – but it isn’t in the context of Benedict’s theological reign, which was far longer than his pontifical one. Benedict wanted to place conscience below revelation as authoritatively adjudicated by … himself. The central place of individual conscience established at the Second Council was left to wither in favor of a public, uniform religion. He seemed to me to want ultimately to restore the seamless cultural-political-religious unity of the Bavaria of his youth; and if the public square were empty, it had to be filled with religious authority. He tried. In the West, the public square moved in the opposite direction. He hunkered down, hoping for a smaller, purer church. What he got was a smaller one, but beset by scandal and internal division and a legacy of the most horrendous of crimes.

Francis seems to me to be taking the world as it is, but showing us a different way of living in it. These are first impressions, but there seems much less fear there of the modern world, much greater ease with humanity. . . .

And a picture, this one by Franco Origlia/Getty Images, can be worth a thousand words. But a friend, a Roman Catholic, wants him to wear symbolic “shoes of the fisherman,” even if “red Prada” was a bit too much.

CNN: Enhance your conclave experience . . .

imageIf you don’t want to spend your time glued to your computer screen watching the Vatican’s Habemus Papam Chimney Cam, you can arrange for cell phone text messages each time the smoke goes up from PopeAlarm.com, a service of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students. Their motto is, "When the smoke goes up, you’ll know what’s going down."

Better yet, for your iPhone is Conclave, an app from Logos Bible Software. It has everything you ever wanted. As CNN puts it:

Logos’ Conclave app has different sections combining new technology and social media with old information. In addition to a live video feed, a news feed from Catholic and Christian news sites and a Twitter feed that follows #Pope and #Conclave, an in-depth resources section provides information about every conclave since 1061.

Additionally, there are bios for all 115 cardinals participating in the conclave ranked by who is getting the most online "buzz" on NewAdvent.com. At the conclusion of Tuesday’s Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, Cardinal Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan, had the top ranking.

Prospect Heights church in the Diocese of Brooklyn made co-cathedral by retiring Pope Benedict XVI

imageJohn and Rebecca Jackson pass along this interesting, off-topic, good news story from EWTN:

The Church of St. Joseph in the Brooklyn borough of New York City is slated to become a co-cathedral, thanks to one of the last acts of Pope Benedict XVI before retiring.

"To receive the decree from Rome, dated for February 14th, 2013 – Valentine’s Day – in the midst of the Holy Father’s resignation as Pope, makes this all the more historic for our diocese and for St. Joseph’s," Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn said March 4.

This bit from the parish website describes this parish nicely:

Initially founded to serve the vast immigrant population fleeing the Irish famine 1846-1852, St Joseph’s continues to meet the needs of immigrants from places as far away as Manhattan and Queens. . . . Whether you are a young hipster, an aging yuppie, a family that escaped from the jungles of Manhattan, or an immigrant family that has recently made your home in the United States — We hope you will find the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph’s to be a place you can call home!

Lisa Miller on American Catholics

imageLisa Miller, writing in the Washington Post, explains why Even if they don’t follow its rules, Catholics stick with their church:

[America Catholics] wish, by a wide margin, that their bishops were talking more about social justice issues such as poverty and less about culture-war issues such as abortion. When asked what matters to them most about being Catholic, they overwhelmingly say the resurrection of Jesus, not Vatican authority or celibate, male priests.

[ . . . ]

“New Pope? I’ve Given Up Hope,” wrote the historian Garry Wills, perhaps America’s most eviscerating disillusioned Catholic. It’s as if Catholic identity has become entirely disconnected from the institutional church. “I’m Catholic,” a friend of mine explained to me. “I just don’t agree with anything the church says.”

During this historical caesura, when one pope has exited the stage and another has yet to enter, why not then ask the obvious, blasphemous question? What distinguishes these Christians, skeptical of authority and seeking meaning in their own interpretations of the gospel message, from their brothers and sisters who wholly reject the power of the pope? Bluntly put: Why are these Catholics different from Protestants?

Only American Catholics?

Read why Even if they don’t follow its rules, Catholics stick with their church