Ignorant indoctrinated and improperly educated theists

imageDan Arel has posted The Desire to Believe Anything at the Secularite. Just for fun, I’ve noted a few corrections. I don’t mind the grammar mistakes or even factual errors. I make such mistakes every day. What got my goat was the charge that, as a theist, I will believe anything and that “[i]t may be easy to forgive such ignorance of history stemming from what is often a lifetime of indoctrination and improper education.”

Dan Arel writes:

Atheists often proclaim theists will believe anything and this is this is [sic][repeated] an understandable position when one thinks about all the silly things in the Bible that are often references from [sic][recte to] talking snakes, a virgin birth, a man walking on water and later this same man rising from the dead. Why would we not think theists believe anything?

However, there [sic][recte their] willingness to believe anything seems to stretch further than that. It may be easy to forgive such ignorance of history stemming from what is often a lifetime of indoctrination and improper education. There is [sic][recte are] though, new discoveries in our lifetime that drive this willingness to believe anything to whole new levels.

First we have the shroud of turin [sic][recte Turin]. This academically accepted forgery still hangs  in a church today, on display as the shroud Jesus [sic][recte Jesus’] dead body was covered in [sic][recte with]. Christians simply refuse to accept any scientific evidence this is a fake and use it often as evidence for Jesus existence. [Christians, implying all or most? simply refuse?]

Now even more recently, a burial box discovered in Israel that supposedly has the words “”James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” carved into the side. [supposedly?  An inscription, “Ya’akov bar-Yosef akhui diYeshua” (Aramaic) meaning "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus" is actually carved into a side of the box.]

A group called the Israel Antiques Authority seized the box and tested it, finding it to be a forgery.

The forger was put on trial for the forgery but was found not guilty. Those who believe this is evidence of Jesus’ existence are using this trial as their proof that this is a real burial box of the brother of Jesus Christ. This is regardless of any anthropological evidence that this is an authentic artifact. [I would like to see an example]

“There is no doubt that it’s ancient, and the probability is that it belonged to the brother of Jesus Christ,” said [sic omit] Prof Gabriel Barkay of Bar-Ilan University tells The Guardian.

How can he state this probability when there is zero evidence that Marry, Joseph, Jesus or James even existed to begin with? Hundreds of other probabilities could be listed that hold more water than what this professor simply wishes to be true. His claim is based on nothing but faith and his claim is intellectually dishonest. [zero evidence? possibilities hold water? intellectually dishonest?]

It is often stated by theists that they would abandon their faith if the bones of Jesus were found and it was shown he did not rise from the dead. I must wonder however how quickly these theists would dismiss science as inaccurate if they found some way to verify the identity of these bones.

This suspension of reality is purely dangerous and stifles the critically thinking mind. Faith based thinking must be abandoned and the promotion of ration [sic][recte rational], critical and logical thinking must be endorsed and encouraged.

This was in fun and a response to Arel’s suggestion that as a theist I suffer often from a “lifetime of indoctrination and improper education” Would it surprise Arel to know that I am completely in favor of rational, critical and logical thinking. Faith should have no fears in this regard and benefits by such good discipline.

imageAccording to the staff page at the Secularist, Dan Arel is a freelance writer, speaker and secular activist residing in San Diego, CA. He writes on secular and humanist values on subjects such as secular parenting, church and state separation, education reform and secularism in public policy.

Building A House on .Argumentum ad Ignorantiam

imageWe do not order our lives by proof
beyond reasonable doubt.

— John Klotz

Earlier this morning, Fr. Duncan (+Dunk) responded to daveb who had made the point in a comment that nobody knows how the image was formed (see I agree. I agree. I agree. Mostly.). He wrote:

In one form or another it is the most used argument for the Holy Shroud’s authenticity: nobody knows how the image was formed therefore it is real.

Well, hmm! I would probably say, since we are talking about authenticity, nobody knows how the image was forged or faked or artistically created. And then yes, I would agree, the argument is used frequently. Philosophically, I don’t like it. We are voicing classic Argumentum ad Ignorantiam (argument from ignorance). Nonetheless, I find myself using the argument with the shroud. It seems true.

In 1963, John Walsh wrote:

The Shroud of Turin is either the most awesome and instructive relic of Christ in existence…or it is one of the most ingenious, most unbelievably clever products of the human mind and hand on record…it is either one or the other, there is no middle ground.

And we weren’t clever enough to figure out how it might have been manmade so many of us found ourselves agreeing it was real. We still do. Can such logic be defended? Stephen Jones is one of the few people to tackle this question and he has done so very effectively. In a posting, Shroud of Turin News, October 2013. Stephen began by  quoting Jonathan Pitts of The Baltimore Sun saying:

To believers, the Shroud of Turin, as it’s known, is the cloth that cloaked the body of Jesus before his planned burial. To skeptics, it’s a hoax conjured up to sell Christianity or draw tourists.

And then responding:

The “skeptics” (who are themselves “believers” in the Shroud’s non-authenticity) have no evidence that the Shroud was “a hoax conjured up to sell Christianity or draw tourists”. They cannot cogently explain: Who conjured it up? How was it conjured up? When was it conjured up? Why can’t they conjured it up (i.e. make a convincing replicate copy of the whole Shroud)? The “skeptics” (so-called) cannot even agree on how the Shroud was “conjured up”. As Ian Wilson concluded after reviewing all the major sceptical theories of how the Shroud was forged:

“Yet ingenious as so many of these ideas are, the plain fact is that they are extremely varied and from not one of them has come sufficient of a groundswell of support to suggest that it truly convincingly might hold the key to how the Shroud was forged – if indeed it was forged.” (Wilson, I., “The Blood and the Shroud,” 1998, p.10-11).

Quoting Pitts again:

It has been studied by everyone from theologians to NASA historians, and still, no one knows. “The shroud is the most analyzed artifact in history, yet it’s still the world’s greatest unsolved mystery,”

Stephen follows through with:

This alone is effectively proof that the Shroud is authentic. It is an important qualification of the usual “argument from ignorance”, that if something should have been discovered by qualified investigators but hasn’t been, that “absence of proof of its occurrence” is “positive proof of its non-occurrence”:

Argumentum ad Ignorantiam (argument from ignorance)… A qualification should be made at this point. In some circumstances it can safely be assumed that if a certain event had occurred, evidence for it would have been discovered by qualified investigators. In such a case it is perfectly reasonable to take the absence of proof of its occurrence as positive proof of its nonoccurrence. Of course, the proof here is not based on ignorance but on our knowledge that if it had occurred it would be known. For example, if a serious security investigation fails to unearth any evidence that Mr. X is a foreign agent, it would be wrong to conclude that their research has left us ignorant. It has rather established that Mr. X is not one. Failure to draw such conclusions is the other side of the bad coin of innuendo, as when one says of a man that there is `no proof’ that he is a scoundrel. In some cases not to draw a conclusion is as much a breach of correct reasoning as it would be to draw a mistaken conclusion.” (Copi, I.M., “Introduction to Logic,” 1986, pp.94-95. Emphasis original).

Stephen then concludes:

Similarly, if the Shroud were a 14th century or earlier fake, the science of the 20th-21st century should have discovered that by now (see below on the 1988 radiocarbon date of the Shroud to 1260-1390 is itself a fake!). So that absence of proof by modern science that the Shroud is a fake, after 35 plus years of intensive scientific study of the Shroud, is positive proof that the Shroud is not a fake!

Okay. That is unless we missed something. How do you evaluate that possibility?

That is all fine and good until argument from ignorance logic turns into a building foundation:

Myra Adams, in a recent article, Jesus `most significant person ever’ in new research study, (and see my posting, How the Shroud Becomes Part of the Conversation) stated:

. . . that is why [=Jesus’ significance] the mysterious Shroud, which could prove Christ’s physical resurrection – the foundation of Christianity, is still an open and active cause célèbre among believers in Jesus’ divinity and members of the scientific community who continue to study the Shroud and remain intrigued by its unique properties.

which resulted in a swift and direct reaction from Stephen:

The Shroud of Turin already has proved, beyond reasonable doubt, Christ’s physical resurrection and therefore that Christianity is true. But that does not mean that that proof cannot continue to be unreasonably denied, by those (including some Christians) who don’t like the implications of there being scientific proof that Christianity is true.

So am I a denier? And, apparently, I don’t like the implications of there being scientific proof that Christianity is true? Has a weak argument from ignorance become the basis for saying that we have “scientific proof that Christianity is true?”

Fear the person who has no doubt. Witness George Armstrong Custer.

— John Klotz

What if there is a breeze?

imageThe numbered claims/facts/absurdities (you decide) are taken directly from a featured, front page story on Catholic Net: The Tilma of Guadalupe by Joseph A’Hearn, LC.

The About page for Catholic net says:

In 2000, a partnership between Zenit news agency and several other Catholic organizations resulted on the creation of Catholic.net Spanish version as an outlet member of the RIIAL (Information Network of the Church in Latin America). . . . Catholic.net is committed to providing complete and accurate information on Catholicism, and in-depth education and personal guidance on any daily life subject through a Catholic perspective.

Currently Catholic.net is available on both English and Spanish with a database of more than 30 thousand articles and over a thousand alliances with other catholic sites and portals. Our visitors are more than three million a month and we have over a million subscribers to our mailing lists. (emphasis mine)

And here are the claims:

  1. NASA has stated that the image’s colors are not made from any material found on Earth. A laser that scanned the image even found that the colors float three tenths of a millimeter in front of the Tilma surface, without touching it.
  2. Microscopic analysis of the pupils of Our Lady of Guadalupe reveals what she must have seen in the instant her image appeared. She is surrounded by thirteen people. One of these is clearly identified as Bishop Juan de Zumárraga. Zooming in even more, to the point of examining the Bishop’s pupils, reveals the spectacle he saw: Juan Diego opening his garment in front of him.
  3. The Virgin exhibits qualities of a living person, too. Her eyes contract and dilate in response to light and darkness. The temperature of the Tilma remains stable at 98.6 degrees. A stethoscope has even measured the heartbeats of a baby in her womb.

NASA stated?  What if there is a breeze? The pupil in the pupil? As I was reading the article I found myself saying, “Please don’t mention the shroud. We have enough problems with credibility.” But alas:

Science has no explanation for such phenomena. We are talking about something supernatural. Can the same be said about the Shroud of Turin? Whether the Shroud is an authentic miracle and portrays the image of Jesus Christ is a hot topic for debate. Even touching on all the points that science, art, and other disciplines have investigated about the Shroud surpasses the scope of this article. Let it suffice here to mention some inconsistencies of those who reject its authenticity. . . .

Read on, The Tilma of Guadalupe.

The evidence of things not seen

imageJohn L. Allen, Jr. (pictured), a senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter and vaticanologist (why not, it is in the dictionary), in a special yesterday for CNN, writes:

First of all, the bones Francis will venerate on Sunday spent centuries resting in the site linked to Peter’s martyrdom and burial. That history makes them, at a minimum, what Catholic tradition regards as "relics by contact," meaning objects physically connected to the legacy of the saint.

Beyond that, Francis knows these bones have been hallowed by countless acts of prayer and devotion, and that like other famous relics, such as the Shroud of Turin or the Belt of Mary, they evoke awe and devotion regardless of their actual provenance. Especially for the first pope from Latin America, a continent where popular devotion is the very soul of religious experience, that mystical power is not to be dismissed.

Faith, as the Bible puts it, lies in "the evidence of things not seen." In that sense, an exhibit of the bones of St. Peter, surrounded by scientific controversy yet wrapped in a blanket of belief, is probably the perfect capstone for a "Year of Faith."

Does intense study and debate about the shroud similarly evoke awe and even devotion? Does it increase faith or get in the way. William F. Buckley, in Nearer My God: An Autobiography of Faith wondered, using miracles as a litmus test:

Is it perfect faith that conjures up the miracle? Why is it that no miracles have been recorded at the splendid shrine of the most wondrous of all relics, the Shroud of Turin, but a good many are said to have come to pass at the shrine of the girl-saint Bernadette Soubirous? Are miracles, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder? I do not doubt that Jesus worked his miracles; yet how long the results thereof endured, and whether what the witnesses beheld was physically ‘real,’ we have no means of knowing. Oh for a revelation!

Oh for a revelation!

It’s a negative. It’s 3D. Yes? Maybe? Sort Of?











So is Colin Berry onto something in his kitchen with this statuette taken from a crucifix? We see it being heated on a stove and then we see a scorch made with it in cloth.

See A challenging scorch assignment that I had been putting off, and off, and off…

In his blog posting there is a very impressive 3D image made with ImageJ (a VP-8 like tool):


I’m impressed.

But then again: maybe in the Resurrection the body didn’t dematerialize, maybe there was no radiation but heat instead, and maybe the body turned to hot gold or platinum or titanium or iron for an instant. I’m not really suggesting this. It is wild speculation only offered to make a point. Somehow flax fibers (or impurities upon them) seem to have been dehydrated and oxidized and by science we can surely find ways to do that. That cannot mean that one of those ways is certainly how it was done. It can never mean that. But, granted, science does deal in probabilities that are usually near the certainty end of the reality spectrum. Good show, Colin.

There are still countless issues with what Colin has done. The fact that there is no image under the blood might be one such issue. But is that really even a fact? We don’t know for sure. What we do know for sure is that our knowledge is growing.

In the end our newly developed knowledge may not provide an answer. Science is limited. So is history. If the shroud image is a true miracle and not some accidental byproduct of the snap, krackle and pop of the Resurrection (no rudeness intended) or some natural gaseous phenomenon, we must realize that God, nonetheless, had to have a way of coloring the image for mortals to see. God, too, may have his methods.

Science deals in probabilities. Miracles deal in improbabilities. I believe in both. Nice work, Colin.

Victor Stenger: The Shroud of Turin might have contained genetic material with no Y-chromosomes

imageVictor Stenger was Testing the God Hypothesis in yesterday’s blog posting of the Science section of the Huffington Post:

In my 2007 book God: The Failed Hypothesis; How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist, I applied the scientific process of hypothesis testing to the question of God. The common objection I heard was that the existence of God is not a scientific hypothesis. Let me explain why I say it is.

[ . . . ]

Consider the following hypothetical events that, had they occurred, would have favored the God hypothesis. Readers are invited to think of their own similar "might have been" scenarios. While not necessarily proving the existence of God, they would at least lend some credence to traditional beliefs that currently does not exist.

  • image[ . . . ]
  • Physical and historical evidence might have been found for the miraculous events and the important narratives of the scriptures. For example, Roman records might have been found for an earthquake in Judea at the time of a certain crucifixion ordered by Pontius Pilate. Noah’s Ark might have been discovered. The Shroud of Turin might have contained genetic material with no Y-chromosomes. Since the image is that of a man with a beard, this would confirm he was born of a virgin. Or, the genetic material might contain a novel form of coding molecule not found in any other living organism. This would have proven an alien (if not divine) origin of the enshrouded being.
  • [ . . . ]

But none of this has happened. Indeed, the opposite is true in some cases, such as an abnormally low number of atheists in jail. Every claim of a supernatural event has proved false. The hypothesis of God is not confirmed by the evidence. Indeed, that hypothesis is strongly contradicted by the observations of our senses and the instruments of science.

As I was posting this I noticed that Stephen Jones has provided a good treatment of this. Go have a look.

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.

Anglican vs Catholic Communion Wafers

imageSomeone in this blog suggested  that because I am an Anglican, I probably am unaware of the topic of Eucharistic Miracles. Well, that’s right, mostly. It was hanging around Catholic shroudies for several years that made me somewhat aware. For instance I know something about the Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano. (Call me skeptical. And a good friend, a Jesuit priest, shares my skepticism. So it is not just an Anglican thing.)

Anyway, the subject reminded me of Frank Tipler’s book, The Physics of Christianity. Why? Well, as I recall, Tipler wanted to test a consecrated host to see if two molecules, once separated, say by the breaking of the bread, maintained quantum coherence – I guess the spin of electrons. Why this would happen with consecrated bread was something Tipler maintained was characteristic of the Second Hypostasis of the Triune Singularity that was God. Tipler wanted to scientifically determine who was right, Anglicans or Catholics. Yes, he wrote that in his book.

What follows is a slight revision to something I wrote in late 2008.

Back in November of 2008, A. S. Haley, who calls himself an Anglican Curmudgeon and writes a blog by that name, recommended reading Frank Tipler’s The Physics of Christianity. He wrote:

. . . I regard that book as one of the most remarkable books about Christianity that I have ever read. In fact, the book is so remarkable that I have decided, at the risk of my reputation as a reliable curmudgeon, who can always be counted on to tell you what is wrong . . . to tell you instead about some of the things which this amazing book shows are inescapably correct about traditional Christian belief. . . .

Well, I had read the book. (There is a lot about the shroud in it.) I certainly didn’t share Haley’s enthusiasm. Tipler’s book is not so remarkable. It may be, as Haley tells us, that Tipler obtained his doctorate under John Archibald Wheeler, the man who named the black hole and whose most famous student was Richard Feynman. It is only too bad Tipler didn’t pick up Feynman’s warning: “I believe that a scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy.”

Frank Tipler, a Tulane University professor of mathematical physics does propose an interesting idea. He argues Christian doctrine is an expression of all cosmological reality as it can be described by modern physics: God is a triune singularity. The second hypostasis of this singularity entered history in our universe (and indeed in other universes of the multiverse) as God incarnate in Jesus for the sake of mankind. The miracles attributed to Jesus and other most other historical miracles are not violations of nature and are scientifically possible, even plausible. Two miracles in particular, the incarnation and resurrection, are indeed scientifically possible and, as Tipler sees it, essential for immortality.

Indeed, the cosmological picture Tipler paints with the laws of nature is consistent with orthodox Christianity as expressed in the Nicene Creed. At the same time, however, his hypothesis seems amazingly discordant with a Christianity grounded in history and faith.

Tipler, as you might have imagined, is not some self-acclaimed, navel-gazing, self-published guru. His previous book, The Physics of Immortality, received considerable attention. “A thrilling ride to the far edges of modern physics,” wrote the New York Time Book Review. “A dazzling exercise in scientific speculation, as rigorously argued as it is boldly conceived,” said the Wall Street Journal. Science, the prestigious, peer-reviewed academic journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science wrote, “Tipler has written a masterpiece conferring much-craved scientific respectability on what we have always wanted to believe.” It remains to be seen if this sequel will get the same attention.

Of this sequel, Bryan Appleyard, a columnist for the Sunday Times (of London), in a review that appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer (June 10, 2007) wrote: “I doubt this book will make many converts. Believers will continue to believe, perhaps with a little more confidence, and skeptics will continue to doubt, perhaps a little less. But Tipler should not be ignored by anybody.”

Yes, but. As an orthodox Christian, who like Tipler, has no issues with the theory of evolution or a universe that is thirteen-some billion years old or is but one of a seemingly endless number of universes, I found myself scoffing at Tipler’s assertions. It is important to remember that physical cosmology, like biblical exegesis and theology is controversial and unfinished. Even from certain facts and generally accepted theories, cosmologists, astronomers and theoretical physicists arrive at many different conclusions about the nature of reality. Tipler’s thesis is but one of many, something he recognizes. He simply dismisses all others out of hand by declaring everyone else wrongheaded.

The theological perspectives Tipler offers on miracles, the virgin birth, the incarnation and the resurrection are well worth reading. The scientific explanations offered along with the theology are interesting so long as it is well understood that they are only possibilities. He speculates too much.

Some topics are weak. His characterization of the difference of opinion on the real presence of Christ in the consecrated bread and wine of communion between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Church is naïve. It is based on a smattering of mostly old documents, long since revised and amended. He quotes from the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion of the Church of England, circa 1571, that states that transubstantiation is a “blasphemous fable” and a “dangerous deceit” and ignores the wide spectrum of contemporary opinion held be Catholics and Anglicans. Many Anglicans do in fact believe in transubstantiation. I do. Most of his defense of transubstantiation is biblical. His interpretation from physics is just as easily an argument for a more Protestant view: consubstantiation.

Tipler’s discussion of the Shroud of Turin is worth the price of the book. Tipler clearly thinks the Shroud is genuine. So do I. But, I am far from being convinced that the so far unexplained images are the product of sphaleron quantum tunneling. Some details, particularly the proposed history of the cloth between 1204 and 1356 CE is fiercely debated among shroud researchers. Some of the scientific claims he makes lack sufficient rigorous confirmation; they should not be used to support authenticity at this time. Overall, however, Tipler presents a well-reasoned argument for authenticity.

Tipler’s scenario for the Resurrection is, well, interesting, or something. Jesus, he argues, may have dematerialized through a physical process known as baryon annihilation via electroweak sphaleron tunneling. By baryongenesis (what happened after the Big Bang) Jesus then rematerialized so that his followers would know he had been resurrected.

Is there in this a purpose to the incarnation? Yes. Jesus, Tipler contends, entered history inside of our space-time to show us how to achieve immortality. It is with mankind’s technology that immortality will be achieved. Not only will all people, past and present, gain immortality, according to Tipler, but that mankind will save the universe. To do so, mankind must populate the universe to its very edge. And he must construct computers and software powerful enough to emulate the mind, consciousness and soul of everyone.

Mankind can only accomplish this task by figuring out how to annihilate baryon particles (protons and neutrons are two examples of baryon particles formed by quarks). This process would provide the unlimited source of energy required for conquering the outer limits of space. By annihilating the right quantity of baryon from everywhere throughout the universe, the expansion of the universe will be halted, something which is necessary if the universe is to survive and necessary for the futurist computers of immortality to exist in space-time.

But in figuring out how to annihilate baryon particles, mankind will also then know how to build the bombs (much more powerful than conventional nuclear weapons) that will inevitably lead to the destruction of the world. So what role does Jesus have in all this? Tipler speculates that Jesus left his image on the Shroud of Turin as a clue to enable us to figure out the process of baryon annihilation.

Tipler’s technological doomsday scenario is to happen soon. Though it is unlikely to happen in my lifetime, it will happen, by his estimate, in the lifetime of most of his students at Tulane. This cataclysm, he suggests, may be the Great Tribulation foretold in Matthew’s Gospel: “For at that time there will be great suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.” (24:21 NRSV)

This idea for immortality is in essence no different than what Tipler proposed in his previous book, which the prestigious scientific journal science praised by saying, “Tipler has written a masterpiece conferring much-craved scientific respectability on what we have always wanted to believe.”

The fly in the ointment is this: What if a terrorist or an accidental fire destroys the Shroud of Turin before we can figure out baryon annihilation. Is immortality doomed? It is hard to tell if this is possible in Tipler’s model, which is largely deterministic. Would a second coming of the second hypostasis of the cosmological singularity prevent this? And why is a scientific riddle embedded in the images on the Shroud? Why not an explicit set of instructions carved in stone?

Is Frank Tipler a modern Hildegard of Bingenof? Her scientific visions in the 12th century were derived from the ancient Greek cosmology. Has Tipler turned the tables on those who think we should only believe what can be proved with science? If Tipler is right, some of us alive today will know it. Or we won’t.

Any volunteers to try this? It is a page from the book:


Near Death Experiences and the Shroud of Turin?

imagePaul in a comment about where science and religion are treading on the same ground writes,  “to get another perspective read about near death experiences.” Perhaps we should.

In past couple years two books have dominated the subject in the marketplace:

  • Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander has been on the The New York Times Best Seller list for 37 weeks. Alexander has taught at Duke University Medical Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, University of Massachusetts Medical School, and the University of Virginia Medical School. The book has not been without controversy. Although Alexander is an Episcopalian, the book is not from a particularly religious point of view. The book has not been without controversy. That, of course, is expected from the neuroscience community. An important CNN article on this book is Proof of heaven popular, except with the church
  • Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo is an account of heaven by his four year old son. The book has reached major milestonea by staying on the New York Times best seller list for more than two years. Within three weeks of its release, the book achieved a third place position on the list. By January 2011, 200,000 copies had been printed and the book hit #1 on the New York Times list as well as top positions on the best-seller lists from USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly, and National Public Radio. The book is from a very literalist Christian Evangelical point of view. This book was essentially ignored by the scientific community. Criticism of it has been mainly from Evangelical  biblical scholars.

Here are three earlier postings in this blog that addressed the subject:

A point now where science and religion are in fact treading on the same ground

imageIn my previous posting, New Atheist vs Old Atheist Debate, I quoted from John Klotz, a good friend of this blog. from his blog about a year ago, For readability, I quote him again:

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?

Now John has leveraged this same posting from his blog in a response to an Opinionator column in the New York Times Online, “Nothing to See Here: Demoting the Uncertainty Principle,” by Craig Callender:

In Arizona, Stuart Hameroff who has written on the nature of consciousness with Nobel winner Roger Penrose argues for that proposition. See http://johnklotz.blogspot.com/2012/08/michael-redux-quantum-mechanics.html

[ . . . You have to read John’s full response]

We are reaching a point now where science and religion are in fact treading on the same ground.

Science is, after all, nothing more than . . .

imageDave Pollard reviews a book I’ve been wanting to find the time to read, The Science Delusion by Curtis White. He writes:

The book takes on a whole horde of fervent adherents to scientism, technophilia, the myth of ‘progress’ and simplistic ‘theories of everything’. It courageously deconstructs the ludicrous arguments of the “new athiests” (Dawkins, Hitchens, Hawking et al), the dumb-it-down science ‘journalists’ and pop neuroscience cultists (Jonah Lehrer, Damasio, Seung, Huxley, Pinker, Florida, many marketing ‘gurus’ and linguists, and many of the TEDTalk performers). The collective message of these groups is, in White’s words: “The human mind is a machine of flesh, neurons and chemicals; with enough money and computing power the jigsaw puzzle of the brain will be completed, and we will know what we are and how we should act”.

. . . and he offers up a definition of science that should be useful should I ever get into a bar argument about what science is after three or four beers.

Science is, after all, nothing more than the creation of approximate, limited and ever-changing models and metaphors of some aspects of reality, that are often interesting and sometimes (enormously) useful.

. . . and I’m thinking of writing a comment and wonder if there is some way to work in Shroud Science. It never hurts to work that in. So I’m searching for a quote from this year’s news, perhaps from Eastertide, and I encounter this in the New York Times (Elisabetta Povoledo, March 29, 2013)

Scientists have struggled to explain the image of the man on the cloth, which has markings compatible with the wounds of someone who was crucified. Mr. [Giulio] Fanti said he thought the image could have been created by a “very intense burst of energy,” which could have mutated the percentage of carbon-14 in the linen, leading some scientists to wrongly date it to the 13th century.

Shish. Shush. No comment.

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.’

The most obvious synthesis of all the evidence

clip_image001Joe Marino passes along a Mark Shea (pictured)  column in the National Catholic Register: The Atheism of the Gaps and Its Sacramentals. Read it to understand why Mark concludes

. . . 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.

[ . . . ]

But materialist dogmatists cannot follow the evidence for miracles where it leads because they have a dogma forbidding miracles at all costs. One genuine miracle–just one–brings the atheist project down in ruins.  Unfortunately, in this case, all the evidence supports the claim that the Shroud is real. Catholics know that God, under carefully controlled laboratory conditions, can do as he pleases, even when that screws up the dogmas of atheists.  Catholics, at ease in a strange world where God sometimes does strange things, are cool either way. If the Shroud turns out to be a fake, oh well.  If it’s the real deal, then cool:  Praise God for this wonder.  As I have said, I think it genuine, not as an article of faith but as a matter of ordinary human evidence, as I think Lee Harvey Oswald shot President Kennedy.  It’s the most obvious synthesis of all the evidence we have.

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."


Image on right by Luigi Garlaschelli

Real Clear argumentum ad ignorantiam

imageJohn Klotz writes:

I had kidded Barrie about his extended tour in April being like a missionary journey of St. Paul. Not so fumy. Today after perusing the RealClearPolitics and History pages on the webs, I though I would drop in to the RealClearReligion page. http://www.realclearreligion.org/ Sure enough there was a linked story, ‘Science Can’t Explain the Shroud,’ and the link took you a Catholic News Service page with an article concerning guess who? We have all seen it before but the RealClearReligion page spreads the word even further. The linked  article is http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1301829.htm

The message of that article title, ‘Science Can’t Explain the Shroud,’ though something of an argumentum ad ignorantiam, is perhaps overtaking all the faked image hypotheses and burying the 1988 carbon dating deeper in the ash bin of science done badly. Seeing it on the front page of RCR is important, as John notes, in spreading the word.

New Novel Coming: The Linen God by Jim O’Shea

imageRiver Laker, publicist for an upcoming novel by Jim O’Shea (Wayside Press), writes:

The Linen God is based on the fascinating history and science surrounding the legendary Shroud of Turin. It is similar to Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons, taking readers on a thrill ride spanning continents and millennia. However, it is different than Brown’s secular works in that it delivers a powerful faith message while helping to establish historic and scientific credibility for the legitimacy of this amazing artifact.

As, who I believe to be a Shroud advocate like Mr. O’Shea, I was hoping you might help spread the word on this highly anticipated novel, due to hit bookshelves on July 1 (paperback and ebook). Mr. O’Shea’s goal with this novel is to reach not just people who have an existing interest in the Shroud, but even more those that may never visited a Shroud-related website or, in some cases, have no idea what the Shroud of Turin is!

We believe this novel may be able to reach people in ways non-fiction books, articles, television, and websites have failed to.

The Facebook link below contains a synopsis, sample chapters and advance reader’s reviews (currently rated 5 stars!) of The Linen God. I was hoping you could "Share" this Facebook page as well as forward this information along to friends/colleagues and perhaps post the link on the Shroud of Turin blog if you deem appropriate.


And River sent along a review excerpt by award-winning novelist Doug Peterson:

Weaving together Vatican politics and the mystery of the Shroud of Turin, Jim O’Shea has crafted a wonderfully engaging, page-turning thriller. In this fast-paced debut novel, O’Shea combines science and faith with a healthy dose of suspense, and the result is a harrowing adventure that is part Michael Crichton, part Frank Peretti.

Good and evil in their purest forms collide in a climax that threatens the future of the Church. And at the center of it all is the mystery of the Shroud and the mystery of the Incarnation, which left an indelible mark on the world—and quite possibly on a piece of ancient linen. The Linen God will leave its mark on readers as well.

Resurrection: What happens with quantum entanglement?

A reader writes:

I have always wondered, hypothetically, according to current physical theories (one or more hypothetical theories) _if_ a body (an "object" with mass in space/time, assuming some kind of unobserved QM state)… simply "disappeared".

What would happen? What would be the signature effects?

Would there be any non-local QM side-effects? What happens with "entanglement"? Is unobserved "disappearance" (or collapse to nothing) possible given current hypothetical physical theories?


And Thomas Aquinas only wanted to know if an angel in going from point A to point B had to travel through the in-between. It’s a good thing the good saint didn’t know about entanglements.

Here is a readable article by Tia Ghose from LiveScience that appeared in the Huffington Post just last month: Quantum Entanglement Experiment Reconfirms Physics Phenomenon Einstein Called ‘Spooky’

Want a brief definition?  This is from a HuffPo mouseover for the above picture:

According to quantum mechanics, two or more particles can become "entangled" so that even after they are separated in space, when an action is performed on one particle, the other particle responds immediately. (Shown here, two entangled mechanical oscillators made up of two pairs of trapped ions.)

The Shroud of Turin: A bit scary for Atheists?

imageOklahoma State Representative Rebecca Hamilton introduces a Barrie Schwortz video in her Public Catholic blog over at Patheos and then gets into a big argument with a Bill S.

Believers are, for the most part, quite equitable about whether or not the Shroud of Turin is the burial shroud of Christ. 

Atheists, on the other hand, tend to get worked up about it. They seem almost to fear it. I am guessing that this is because they’ve got so much ego invested in their non-belief that the thought that some artifact might rattle that a bit is scary to them.

I may not agree with Bill S. but I don’t agree much with Rebecca, either. Some of the most adamant shroud skeptics I have encountered are believers: biblical literalist fundamentalists who argue that the shroud is fake because it shows Jesus with long hair. Many of these same fundamentalists insist that Jesus was wrapped in strips of linen, mummy style, and not a shroud.  They are not equitable at all. It is not uncommon for them to send some very insulting fire and brimstone emails.

And when it comes to Atheists, I often encounter people who are completely unfazed by the shroud. They are so convinced that it can’t be real that they shrug and walk away.

Then again, how do we address the question of what Thomas de Wesselow believes: that the shroud is real and that the very natural image on it inspired belief in the Resurrection and hence led to Christianity.

Don’t get me wrong. I read Rebecca’s bio and I’m impressed.

Good Question: What would ‘proving’ Shroud do?

clip_image001Author and journalist James Rygelski has a prominent article, What would ‘proving’ Shroud do? in the Lifestyles section of the St. Louis Post Dispatch:

So I hope the pope grants the request for another test. Equipment exists that would quickly measure a section of the shroud for nuclear particle transfers. I know Mark Antonacci well enough to say that he’s doing this as a devout believer and not some glory-seeker. To view his foundation’s website, visit www.testtheshroud.com

However, I have cautioned Mark that while many of us will always believe in the authenticity of the shroud, the more important thing is that we believe in the authenticity of Christ – whether or not the shroud they wrapped Him in after the crucifixion still exists.

Jesus showed a doubting Thomas the wounds that Thomas said would be the only proof he would accept of Jesus’ resurrection. But Christ also told him, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (John 20:29).

Yes, I would like to see more tests. But I’m not convinced that those tests have been properly defined. Mark Antonacci has a petition on his site. I’m not ready to sign it. As for Rygelski’s caution to Antonacci: Amen.

Paper Chase: The seam and missing corners of the Turin Shroud

imageAdrie Vd Hoeven writes in The seam and missing corners of the Turin Shroud as characteristics of John Mark’s temple garment in a paper published at Academia.edu (uploaded April 5, 2013):


In this article I will use some known and new facts about the anonymous author of the Fourth Gospel,the so-called ‘beloved disciple’, and about John Mark, and I will compare and link these facts to each other in order to show how the temple garment lost by ‘Mark’ became the burial shroud kept by‘John’. This is illustrated in the figure below. These, and more, facts and links are discussed in more detail and with more sources and arguments in my long article “John Mark – Author of the Gospel of John with Jesus’ mother” on my site www.JesusKing.info.

Full article in HTML or PDF

Why Giulio Fanti Matters

Julian Sheffield writing in the Daily Episcopalian section of Episcopal Cafe explains why Fanti matters:


Mr. Fanti’s hypothesis cited in "Turin Shroud Going on TV, With Video From Pope" (New York Times, March 30), that the image on the Shroud of Turin resulted from "a very intense burst of energy" recasts the Shroud as a testament to Christ’s Resurrection, and not, as currently revered, a relic of Christ’s passion and death. This is a crucial reconception, one that makes sense of the scriptural record, and suggests that the morbid, and ultimately destructive, fascination of Christianity with the suffering of Christ is misplaced.

The scriptural record of the Resurrection of Christ has been interpreted as hoax, mass hypnosis, metaphor, and fact. While we live, none of us will know for sure which interpretation is closest to truth, but assuming arguendo that it contains fact, assuming arguendo that there is a God who became human in an extreme act of solidarity with humanity, the question of how it can be true demands to be explored.

Assuming arguendo God, the God of Christianity set up a universe with laws that God’s self is committed to respecting. God does not violate God’s laws. We haven’t yet discovered all those laws, and we don’t fully understand the ones we have discovered, but we have discovered enough to make sense out of some of the events described by scriptural record of the Resurrection.

The Resurrection is described as occurring with a great burst of light and sound (Matthew 28:2, I Corinthians 15:12). The resurrected body of Jesus is described as being in two distant places at the same time (Emmaus, Luke 24:13-31, and Jerusalem, Luke 24:35-36) and being able to pass through solid objects (doors, John 20:19). It is characterized by a changing, unrepeated aspect or physical appearance; the disciples, even those who have experienced the resurrected body once, never recognize the resurrected Jesus except by spoken words and gestures (Mary in the garden John 20:16, Thomas John 20:26-27, the disciples fishing all night John 21:1-13, and many more).

We now have a concept in physics that could account for these descriptions of the resurrection appearances: the risen body of Jesus conforms to the physical laws of something traveling beyond the speed of light. It can be at multiple places simultaneously, can pass through slow matter, can appear as it wills when it wills (coming perilously close to attributing volition to an object).

Further, Mr. Fanti’s hypothesis of "a very intense burst of energy" burning the image on the shroud would describe precisely the mechanics of a body moving from a state of rest to beyond the speed of light. Just such images were burned onto walls by atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Which points to why Mr. Fanti’s hypothesis matters. So much suffering is endured by so many humans and creatures in this world, it is understandable that people take comfort from a God who suffers with them. But the church has glorified suffering in such a persistent way that it tends towards and has actively articulated justification of inflicting and enduring suffering in the name of holiness and sacrifice, acceptance of the so-called will of God.

In fact, the will of the God co-opted by this kind of thinking, is not towards suffering or redemption by suffering. The will of this God is towards resurrection.

Physics can explain the accidents of the resurrection, the outward appearances and anomalies. But physics cannot explain, as yet, how God raised Jesus from the dead. And therein lies the hope of Christians, and perhaps of the world. If the catholic church chooses to appropriate it, the Shroud of Turin can be a locus for it to turn from worshipping suffering to worshipping the God who raises the dead – even a dead church may be raised.

Source: Shroud of Turin and physics of resurrection.

Danusha Goska on Catholics, Atheists, Censorship and the Shroud

clip_image001I first encountered the writings of Danusha Goska more than a decade ago when I read a comment about the shroud published by Barrie Schwortz (it is about 1/3 of the way down the page). I’ve discussed it in ‘If the shroud is a forgery, where are its precedents?’ almost exactly two years ago. I wrote “THIS IS A MUST READ: Bieganski the Blog: The Shroud of Turin.”

Now I see a new blog posting by Danusha in Send Save Delete: Catholics, Atheists, Censorship and the Shroud of Turin: Who Censored Whom?

It always drives me a little crazy when the popular press repeats this old misconception about the Shroud of Turin: "irrational, devout Catholics believe the Shroud was the burial cloth of Jesus, but scientists and other rational people have proven it to be a forgery."

I’m Catholic and I know that most Catholics have either never heard of the Shroud of Turin or are only vaguely aware of its existence and don’t think or care about it much.

Scientists are the ones who have obsessed on the Shroud, because its unique features make it a mind boggling puzzle worthy of their obsession.

and she concludes:

Although Delage made it clear that he did not regard Jesus as the resurrected Son of God, his paper upset the atheists members of the Academy, who prevented its publication. This act of scientific censorship marks the beginning of the academic refusal even to discuss the origin of the Shroud." Delage wrote a letter protesting the atheists’ censorship of his work. "I consider Christ as a historical personage and I do not see why anyone should be scandalized that there exists a material trace of his existence.”

I recommend it: Catholics, Atheists, Censorship and the Shroud of Turin: Who Censored Whom?

Danusha V. Goska, PhD, is a writer and teacher living in New Jersey. She has lived and worked in Africa, Asia, Europe, on both coasts, and in the heartland, of the United States. She holds an MA from UC Berkeley and a PhD from Indiana University Bloomington. She currently works at WPUNJ. Her writing has been praised by a variety of scholars, including John Mearsheimer, Father John Pawlikowski, Robert Ellsberg and Paul Loeb. She has won the New Jersey State Council on the Arts Grant, the Halecki Award, and the Eva Kagan Kans award.

The photograph is by Jeff Miller and Kesha Weber. © UW-Madison University Communications

Yeah, right!

A reader reacts to Fanti’s new book:

So basically, the Resurrection is now proven science? Is there a massive hidden conspiracy that prevents the entire scientific community from showing positive consensus here?