Without Excuse

A reflection on some evidences of God

 INTRODUCTION

 “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.   (Romans 1: 20-21)

Bertrand Russell, famous English philosopher and agnostic, once said that he had not been given enough evidence of God’s existence. Do we have the evidence?   

Our ancestors saw God in the grandeur of creation –majestic mountains, mighty seas, lightning flashes and thunder’s answering roar.  Modern man tends to dismiss all these wonders as mere products of natural processes, many of them unfolding over eons of time.  Those of a scientific bent consider man himself to be a product of nature, and they often deny the existence of a creative intelligence even in the role of an original causative agent.  But those who deny the reality of God ignore amazing proofs that science itself has helped uncover in the last century, and every day we unearth fresh evidences of God.

Of course, all of us have difficulties when we try to conceptualize God.   How can we envision Him?  How can we come to know Him?  There are many logical proofs of the reality of God, but in the final analysis, proof of His existence is not demonstrable in the scientific sense.  We cannot put God into a laboratory; and, even if we could, God is far too great for us to wrap our feeble intellects around Him. He is infinite.  He is the creator of the universe.  He has no beginning, He has no ending.  He is, He was, He always will be.  Perhaps C. S. Lewis best described man’s difficulty in visualizing God.  He compared man to a sentient (thinking) nail somewhere in the framework of a house located in the outskirts of a great city (the universe).  How can that poor nail imagine or understand the Master Builder who constructed that vast city?  How can mere man, a created being living in a finite world, conceive of the majesty and grandeur of God? God is above time and space and matter and everything else that we use to anchor our limited understanding of reality.

Knowing our natures and our limitations, God chose to reveal Himself to us through His prophets; and finally, in the fullness of time, He came to us in His Son.  God’s Holy Scriptures are our source for understanding our Creator, and even then, as Paul the Apostle wrote, “we see through the glass darkly.” For those who do not know or accept the Bible, the proofs of God’s existence are visible all around us, and, as Paul also wrote, those who ignore these proofs are without excuse.

Many scientists doubt or even deny the existence of God.  They believe that nothing somehow came from nothing, and then the laws of physics and nature caused the stars to coalesce, the planets to form, and organic life to appear and evolve.  There are billions of stars and planets in the Universe, and they are convinced that, given the right conditions, life has evolved in millions of places. 

Also, people often question the reality of a benevolent creator because of the chaos we see in the world around us.  Wars and pestilence, weeds and mosquitos, tigers and venomous snakes.  Did a good God create all this?

 There are no easy answers.  We see frequent instances of man’s cruelty to man, and never more so than in the horrors of World War II.  And there are the so-called natural disasters.  Death walks among us with no apparent regard for one’s age or innocence.  A tornado or hurricane may strike and snuff out the lives of hundreds or even thousands of men, women, and children. We also observe the tooth and fang behavior of the animal world and wonder what it means. 

Yet, God exists.  He is real.  He is always with us.

Several years ago there appeared a letter in our local paper in which the writer made unflattering comments about Christians who resist new evidence and new ideas (modern science).  She professed pity for those who “cling to . . . scriptures as a textbook when contemporary theories fly in the face of beliefs 2,000 years old.” She wrote that science and reason should be our guideposts in our search for truth and progress.

 Perhaps the letter writer should reflect on the fact that on November 10, 1793, at the great Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, Christian symbols were removed and a so-called “Festival of Reason” was celebrated.  As these atheists enjoyed their festivities, other French revolutionaries were sharpening their guillotines in another part of town, and most leaders of the Cult of Reason lost their heads in the Reign of Terror that gripped France during late 1793 and the first half of 1794.  More than a century later Communists and Nazis also tried to stamp out Christian beliefs, much to the sorrow of the millions who died under their brutal regimes. Such is the folly of believing in the efficacy of science and reason alone to answer the deepest questions and needs of mankind.

 I do not pretend to be a scientist.  Microbiology, higher mathematics, paleontology, cosmology, quantum physics – these are fields of scientific study that contain evidences and truths far beyond my understanding.  I am, however, a voracious reader, and I have learned much from those who speak and write about these things.  I am convinced that God has revealed himself to us in this modern age in ways that only fools would ignore.  Some of these new revelations are absolutely astonishing, but often they are ignored, misinterpreted, or downplayed by the media and remain unknown to the general public. Many if not most scientists also remain spiritual skeptics, and they search for any explanation, no matter how improbable, that does not involve a creator God. 

In recent years a few excellent writers have covered these subjects far more expertly than I can, but I feel compelled to contribute my own little bit to the discussion in the hope it will be of some interest and value to those who read these words.

INFINITY?

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)

Has the world existed forever?  Does it have an end? In the third decade of the Twentieth Century, a few years following the cataclysmic event known as The Great War, scientists discovered evidence that our universe had originated at a single point in time.  Later scientific observations confirmed this theory, and the age of the universe was calculated to be approximately 13.8 billion years.  At one instant at the beginning of time, from a single point of extreme density and temperature, an explosion of unimaginable power took place, and energy was hurled into the void.  At that very moment, time, light, the laws of physics, and all those things which we perceive as reality sprang into being.  Energy became matter, and the matter gradually coalesced into the universe we know. 

In the last hundred years our telescopes have reached further and further into space and back in time, and the more we look the more amazing this universe appears. The Hubble space telescope has spotted a distant galaxy 13.4 billion light-years away, and the same telescope has managed to identify an individual star, named Icarus, at a distance of 9 billion light-years.  Both these observations are seeing things as they were in the past, and it is highly probable that Icarus ceased to exist many eons ago. 

Everywhere our telescopes search there are more stars.  There are estimates of as many as 300 billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy alone, and more than 100 billion galaxies exist in the universe.  There are more stars in the heavens than there are grains of sand on all the beaches on Earth. Think of the immensity of it all.  Our Sun is a medium sized star in the Milky Way galaxy, but it has a diameter 109 times that of Earth.  If the Sun was hollow, it would take a million planets the size of Earth to fill it.  Yet, there are other stars in our galaxy that dwarf the Sun.  UY Scuti, for example, has a radius 1700 times that of the Sun and contains 21 billion times its volume.  If you replaced the Sun with UY Scuti it would extend beyond the orbit of Jupiter, swallowing up the first five planets and the asteroid belt.  Doubtless there are other stars in other galaxies, perhaps even in our own galaxy, even larger than UY Scuti.  And remember that there are billions upon billions of stars, a number so large that we have no word with which to label it and so immense that our finite minds cannot comprehend it. And all of this was brought into being by one gigantic burst of creative power.

Each living star is akin to a huge atomic furnace.  Planets are clustered around some of these stars where they absorb light and heat much as the Earth absorbs light and heat from the Sun.  Many of these planets have moons.  Since planets and moons are not light emitting bodies, they are very difficult to detect and relatively few have been observed.  Not all stars are still functioning.  Some have burned all their fuel and float as cold, dead bodies in space.  A star may explode and become a giant supernova, while other stars have collapsed under gravitational forces to form a black hole, an object so dense that even light cannot escape its pull and within which even time itself is believed to stand still.

The universe appears to be still expanding.   The most distant galaxies are moving away from us at incredible speeds.  Or perhaps it is us that are moving away from them.  All spatial positions are relative, so how do we determine who is moving away from whom.  Either way, it is a wonder.  Astronomers observe it and describe it, but I doubt that they truly understand it. 

And some physicists marvel at what they refer to as the “fine tuning” of the universe.  Many of them say that existence itself could occur only when certain universal dimensionless physical constants lie within a very narrow range of values, so that if any of several fundamental constants were only slightly different, the universe would be unlikely to be conducive to the establishment and development of matter, astronomical structures, elemental diversity, or life as it is understood.

The premise of the fine-tuned universe assertion is that a small change in several of the dimensionless physical constants would make the universe radically different. As Stephen Hawking noted, “The laws of science, as we know them at present, contain many fundamental numbers, like the size of the electric charge of the electron and the ratio of the masses of the proton and the electron. … The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life.”

There are scientists who see the finger of God in fine tuning, but other scientists go to great lengths to keep God out of the equation.  In searching for an alternative, a few physicists have developed the “multiverse hypothesis”.  This idea proposes the existence of countless universes with different physical constants, each created by its own big bang.  According to this theory, we were just fortunate enough to be born in a universe that supports life.  Sounds a bit strange, and it would appear impossible to prove or disprove, but some go to any lengths to deny the existence of God.

But let us try to understand the position of a poor scientist.  Even if a scientist believes in God, it is the nature of science to look for the how and why of everything and to develop a testable hypothesis based on “natural” causes.  If one posits a miracle it tends to short circuit any further quest for answers, and anyone who suggests divine intervention is subjected to scathing criticism from others in the scientific community.  Sometimes it even results in expulsion from academia.  Only a scientist with impeccable credentials and an unassailable position can safely invoke the name of God in a discussion of creation.

Yet, the more we learn the more apparent it becomes that a Creator God exists.

Amazing things have been discovered about our universe over the past century, and the discoveries go on.  Soon we will walk on the moon again, and there will be an expedition to Mars.  New space telescopes, more powerful than Hubble, will be built, and we will look further out into space.  As we do so, let us reflect on the beauty and grandeur of it all; and as more evidences of God’s creative power are found, let us give Him the glory.

“The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.” (Psalm 19:1)

REALITY?

As we look around us we perceive a solid, material world in which certain physical laws appear immutable. Iron and stone and other material objects are solid, gravity exerts its power, and time flows on at a steady rate.  But is our perception the whole of reality? What is going on in that unseen world that exists beyond the range of our senses?  

Ancient Greek thinkers used the term atom to describe the smallest bit of matter, the indivisible unit from which all things are made.  It was not until the early part of the 20th century that scientists began to understand the true nature of the atom.  We now know that there are different types of atoms for each element.  An atom is composed of a nucleus of one or more positively charged protons and usually an equal number of neutrons.  The nucleus is circled by negatively charged electrons of a number matching the number of protons.  All these subatomic elements are held together by certain elemental forces that are difficult to describe. The atoms of each element contain a different number and arrangement of neutrons, protons, and electrons. If the atom of a particular element has an unequal number of protons and neutrons it is called an isotope. Through a chemical process, atoms of one element may be bonded to atoms of another element or elements to create a compound molecule with different physical properties

Atoms are extremely small, and their numbers are beyond comprehension.  To give you some idea, the science writer David Blatner stated that the number of water molecules in ten drops of water (each molecule containing two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen) is greater than the number of stars in the universe.  That is a number that exceeds the number of grains of sand on all Earth’s beaches or droplets of water in all our oceans. How many atoms compose the Earth?  How can one conceive of such a number?

An atom is mostly space.  If you think of the nucleus of an atom being a small marble in the middle of a football field with a stadium seating 100,000 spectators, the much smaller electrons would be circling the field somewhere near the top row of the stadium. Of course, the nucleus is actually sub-microscopic in size, and the entire atom is almost immeasurably small. When a giant star collapses, the atoms in that star are subjected to such extreme gravitational forces that their nuclei and electrons are compressed to the point that a thimbleful of matter would weigh thousands of Earth tons.

When certain types of atoms are split apart (e.g., uranium and plutonium) they recombine into atomic isotopes.  These isotopes still retain the same number of protons as the original atom, but some of their neutrons are released in the form of energy.  The amount of energy released by a large number of atoms involved in a chain reaction splitting process is tremendous, as experienced by the residents of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

Energy release also occurs when lighter elements (e.g. isotopes of hydrogen) are combined to form a heavier molecule (e.g., helium).  The energy produced by fusion (combining) is even greater than that from fission (splitting), and it forms the basis for the hydrogen bomb as well as the gigantic atomic furnaces known as stars.

High school students are exposed to these facts in a science class, but how many of them appreciate the true marvel of it all?  And when physicists looked more deeply into the subatomic world even more wonders were revealed.

Towards the end of the 19th century, scientists discovered phenomena in both the large (macro) and the small (micro) worlds that classical physics could not explain.  The theory of relativity and the development of quantum mechanics arose out of an effort to resolve these inconsistencies.

Einstein’s theory of relativity came out of his study of light.  He determined that light has a fixed speed that cannot be exceeded.  To an outside observer of a spaceship approaching the speed of light it would appear that time in that ship was slowing down, whereas to the passenger in that spaceship time would be passing at the normal speed.  Because of this phenomenon, the person outside the ship would age much more rapidly than the passenger within.  Einstein thus proved that time itself is relative, and the speed at which time passes is dependent upon where you are in the universe and the speed at which you are traveling through space.  That statement appears to defy common sense and the human experience, but science has confirmed it to be true.  Einstein also helped verify that light has a dual nature.  Light acts as a wave, but light also exists in the form of discrete elements called photons.  Some of the properties and effects of light cannot be explained without reference to this duality.  Is light a wave or is it composed of particles? It’s both.     

Quantum mechanics is the science of the very small. It explains the behavior of matter and its interactions with energy on the scale of atoms and subatomic particles.  Unlike the rigorous precision of classical physics, quantum mechanics deals in uncertainties and probabilities. Many aspects of quantum mechanics are counterintuitive and can seem paradoxical because they describe behavior quite different from that seen at larger scales. For example, quantum calculations can show a particle to be in more than one state or place at the same time.  Even more astonishing, if two particles are “entangled”, an action performed on one of these particles will instantaneously affect the state of the other particle no matter how far apart those particles are separated in space.  Einstein himself had difficulty with this concept.  He called it “spooky.”  Yet countless experiments have proven these quantum calculations to be true.

A central feature of quantum mechanics is called the “observer effect.”  Particles being observed and the observer are somehow linked, and the results of the observation are influenced by the observer’s conscious intent.  This effect implies that the consciousness of the observer is vital to the existence of the physical object or event being observed.  Quantum mechanics thus acknowledges that the physical world cannot be fully understood without referencing mind and consciousness. 

Paraphrasing physicist Wolfgang Pauli, one of the founders of quantum mechanics, “the physical and the psychological (matter and mind) should be embraced as distinct but complementary aspects of one reality.”

Mathematician and physicist John von Neumann suggested that mind and consciousness constitute a fundamental component of the universe.

What is real?  What is REALITY?  We live in a wondrous world where unseen events, and perhaps even angels, whirl around us.

ORIGINS

In 1859 Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species.  That seminal book continues to exercise a profound influence on scientific thinking, particularly in the field of biology.  If the scientific community elected heroes, Darwin would certainly be in the front row of its pantheon of notables. 

Charles Darwin is often strongly criticized by Christians for throwing God out of creation, but they should give him credit for a brilliant performance.  Working within the limits of scientific knowledge in the mid-nineteenth century, Darwin constructed logically consistent and intellectually persuasive hypotheses as to how the great variety of life forms evolved from some simple unicellular organism.  The process, as he described it, was a natural one., and no divine agency was involved.  With some modifications, the neo-Darwinians of this day continue to espouse his theories, and woe be it to any biologist who dares to challenge scientific orthodoxy. As for the layman, any dispute with Darwinians immediately labels him or her as either a religious zealot or a prospective member of the Flat Earth Society.

If we are honest about it, we should admit that there is evidence that supports Darwin’s observations and some of his hypotheses.  There are ample proofs of variations and changes within species.  Think, for example, of how dogs, cats, and other animals have been changed or modified through controlled breeding. These changes can occur within a brief span of years.  We have also seen evidence of rapid morphological adjustments resulting from changes in the environment. Add millions upon millions of years to the equation, and consider the possibilities.  The fossil record certainly indicates gradual progression from less complex to more complex life forms, sometimes interrupted by major cataclysmic events such as meteor strikes or massive volcanic eruptions. 

Scientists claim that recent studies in genetics and genomics have strengthened the case for Darwinian evolution.   Indeed, analysis revealed that the genome of a chimpanzee is 96% identical to that of a human.  From this and other evidence, some scientists now confidently state that the chimpanzee and the human diverged from a common ape ancestor some five to seven million years ago.

There are, however, problems with Darwin’s evolution hypotheses, especially when they leave a creative intelligence entirely out of the mix.  We might note the following:

o- The study of fossils revealed that most modern animal phyla appeared in a comparatively short period of time (the Cambrian explosion).  Many complex creatures emerged at that time with no indication of an earlier, more primitive predecessor. This led some leading theorists to suggest that evolution consisted of long intervals of near-stasis “punctuated” by short periods of rapid change. Could these “punctuations” actually be the creative acts of a designer?

o- If, as Darwin described it, the evolution of animals came about in small increments over time, the very complicated process of developing one species from another, for instance an aquatic animal from a land animal, would have led to a huge number of intermediate or transitional species.  The fossil record does not begin to reflect the number of intermediate forms one should expect if the Darwinian model is correct.

o- Whereas evolutionary changes (micro-evolution) within species are quite common, macro-evolution, or the change from one species into another species, has not been observed in animals.  Geneticists have often experimented on fruit flies and other rapidly reproducing species and induced mutational changes in the hope that they would lead to new and better species, but these experiments have thus far failed to achieve their goal.  No truly new species has ever been produced.  Nevertheless, most paleontologists and geneticists remain convinced that there are many proofs of macro-evolution  in the fossil record, and they believe macro-evolution is also evinced in animal and human genomes.

o- Darwinian theory does not provide an adequate explanation of the inheritance of small variations in body parts that can be useful only when fully formed (e.g., the wing of a bird).  Such organs will be of no use in incipient or underdeveloped stages.

o- The principle of irreducible complexity makes it very difficult to understand how certain primitive organisms could have evolved from earlier forms.

o- Many species have not shown any significant morphological changes over tens of millions of years.

o- The greatest mystery of all is the original unicellular organism from which Darwin believed the tree of life had begun.  As the microbiologist Michael Denton wrote, “Although the tiniest bacterial cells are incredibly small, weighing less than 10-12 grams, each is in effect a veritable micro-miniaturized factory containing thousands of exquisitely designed pieces of intricate molecular machinery, made up altogether of one hundred thousand million atoms, far more complicated than any machinery built by man and absolutely without parallel in the non-living world.” The British astronomer Fred Hoyle  compared “the chance of obtaining even a single functioning protein by chance combination of amino acids to a star system full of blind men solving Rubik’s Cube simultaneously.”  And a functioning protein is only part of a living cell.  How did that original cell come to be? Furthermore, from whence came the remarkable code that fills the living cells in a multicellular organism?  This code, the genome is an organism’s complete set of genetic instructions, and each genome contains all the information needed to build that organism and allow it to grow and develop. In humans, a copy of the entire genome, more than 3 billion DNA base pairs, is contained in every cell that has a nucleus.  Our bodies contain billions upon billions of cells, each containing the incredibly complex code that determines the shape of our nose, the color of our eyes, etc, etc.   It’s like a recipe book for the body.

Who developed the recipe?? 

Who wrote the code?

OF MIND AND MATTER

In 1975 the American psychiatrist and philosopher Raymond Moody wrote a very popular book entitled Life After Life.  Moody described more than a hundred case studies of people who experienced vivid mental experiences at a time they were close to death or “clinically dead” and were subsequently revived.  Their memories of these experiences were remarkably similar, and Moody used the term “near-death-experience”, or NDE, in referring to this phenomenon.  Scientific investigations of NDEs began shortly after the book’s publication, and research continues around the world.  Surveys conducted in the United States and Germany suggest that a very large number of people have had a near death experience. Physicians, psychiatrists, and philosophers have become involved in the studies, and thousands of cases have been recorded in some detail.

In the words of Mario Beauregard, a Canadian cognitive neuroscientist, “NDEs are vivid, realistic, and often deeply life-changing experiences of men, women, and children who have been physiologically or psychologically close to death.”  Details may differ, but an NDE usually contains certain core features.  Perhaps the most common and most vivid feature is the sense of having left one’s body and being able to watch events from the outside, sometimes from a position above or beside one’s own body or at other times from a distance.  This is called an out-of-body event or OBE. This experience is often remembered in great detail, although the person having it may be in a comatose state and being medically recorded as having no brain function. 

An OBE experience is very important to NDE researchers because it often can be corroborated by other observers.   Some of these recorded experiences are truly amazing. There have been many instances where an anesthetized or comatose patient has accurately reported seeing or hearing things in the operating room or outside the hospital that the patient had no way of sensing.  These accounts have been verified by medical records and the observations of other witnesses, with the entire case being rigorously cross-checked to ensure validity. Perhaps the most astonishing OBE accounts involve blind persons who have reported verifiable visual experiences during their out-of-body ventures.

Usually an OBE is not the only part of a near-death-experience, but other features cannot be corroborated by outside observers and therefore must remain subjective.  NDE accounts often describe feelings of peace and joy.  Usually there is a description of a dark tunnel through which one passes to emerge into a region of unusual brightness.  The person experiencing an NDE frequently reports seeing an otherworldly realm of incredible splendor and hearing sounds of beautiful music.  They often meet deceased relatives and friends and encounter a “being of light” that radiates unconditional love and acceptance.

Often a person is returned to his or her body without volition. At other times the person having an NDE may encounter a wall, a river, or some other barrier, and he or she must decide to either proceed or return to their earthly body.  Of course, those who report this experience decided to return.

Not all near-death-experiences are positive, though the vast majority appear to be so. The effects of an NDE are usually intense, overwhelming, and real, and most persons who have one are profoundly and positively transformed by the experience. Normally they come back with a renewed appreciation for life and a sense of purpose.  One of the most remarkable and consistent changes following an NDE is an increased compassion for others and a greater capability and desire to be of service to one’s fellow man.  The NDE survivor becomes more tolerant, more forgiving, and less critical of others. Regardless of what they had believed before, the vast majority of those who experience an NDE also tend to assert that they now know with deep certitude that God exists, and they are confident that life goes on after the death of one’s physical body.

NDEs have not been ignored by film makers.  The movie Miracles from Heaven beautifully depicts an OBE involving a young girl in a deep coma, and Heaven is for Real and 90 Minutes in Heaven both had NDEs as their major themes.  The latter film was based on the real life story of Don Piper, who, when driving home from a minister’s conference in 1989, crashed into a semi-truck which had crossed into his lane. Pronounced dead by an examining emergency medic, Piper lay in his smashed car for more than an hour, covered in a tarp, at which time a passing minister who had also been at the conference came over to pray over Piper’s body and sing to him, with Piper soon joining in. An arm had been almost completely severed and one leg was barely attached to his body, forcing Piper to endure a long and brutal recovery, which included being bed bound for thirteen months. Piper claims to have seen Heaven while he was unconscious and believes he was on his way there before being pulled back to Earth. Piper has said that for some months he was angry at God for putting him back into his severely damaged body. His injuries meant he had to endure incredible pain before eventually regaining his mobility. After much soul searching, interaction with family and friends, and a partial recovery, he wrote the book upon which this film is based.  Eventually he resumed his ministry and became an accomplished public speaker. His book, with the account of the accident, his NDE, and his life since, sold seven million copies and has been translated into 46 different languages.

As always, atheists and agnostics are disturbed by any hint of a supernatural basis for these amazing experiences, and they try to find a credible naturalistic, physiological explanation for the more believable, more scientifically challenging NDE reports. So far, their efforts have been unsuccessful  

For those of a spiritual persuasion, NDEs provide further evidence that consciousness and the soul are somehow separate from the physical being, existing, as it were, in a different dimension, and that the soul continues to endure after the body dies.  

“When we’ve been there ten thousand years

Bright shining as the Sun,

We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise

Than when we first begun.”

SINDONOLOGY

(Revealing the Face of God)

In the year 1355 AD a large linen cloth was displayed in the small provincial town of Lirey, France.  The cloth was in the possession of the famous French knight Geoffrey de Charney and his wife Jeanne de Vergy.  The cloth was said to be the burial Shroud of Jesus of Nazareth, and on the cloth was the very faint image of a man who appeared to have been crucified.  Europe was awash with religious relics at the time.  There were probably enough pieces and nails from the sacred cross of the crucifixion to construct a modest dwelling, and there was more than one alleged burial Shroud of Jesus.  The Lirey Shroud was unique, and it inspired awe and veneration among those who saw it, but it did not attract scientific and worldwide popular attention until the end of the 19th Century.

In the meantime, the Lirey Shroud had passed into the possession of the House of Savoy, and in 1578 the Shroud was moved to the city of Turin, capital city of the House of Savoy.  Secondo Pia, an amateur Italian photographer, was invited to take the first photographs of the Shroud following an 1898 exposition of the Shroud in Turin. When Pia was working in his dark room he was shocked at what his negatives revealed.  Pia’s photographic negatives revealed for the first time the extraordinary, lifelike image of the man of the Shroud. Not only was Pia shocked, but also, all who viewed his negatives were shocked. Even today, people are “shocked” by what the negatives reveal. With the revelation of Secondo Pia’s negative images, true worldwide interest in the Shroud of Turin began. 

Since 1898 the Shroud of Turin has been subjected to every sort of scientific test known to man.  Some test it to prove its authenticity; others test to prove it a fraud. I have assiduously studied the evidence and the arguments on both sides and have come to the firm conclusion that the Shroud of Turin was indeed the burial cloth of Jesus Christ.  Furthermore, I believe that the Shroud proves the accuracy of Biblical accounts of the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord. I am also of the opinion that the Shroud of Turin is itself a miracle, preserved over the centuries, to prove God’s truth to modern, skeptical men.  Only in this age of science could the amazing information contained in the Shroud be fully revealed and understood.

First, let us consider the Shroud’s provenance. Where did it come from?  Radiocarbon dating tests were performed on the Shroud in 1988, and these tests seemed to show that the Shroud of Turin was a product of the Middle Ages.  But, contrary to scientific protocols recommended by a committee of experts, these tests were only performed on one small piece of material taken from a corner of the Shroud.  Subsequent studies revealed that the test piece was probably anomalous and not representative of the main body of the Shroud.  The radiocarbon testing results were therefore inconclusive.  Other evidence seems to confirm that the Shroud originated in the Middle East at about the time of Christ. 

The history of the Shroud can only be known with certainty since its appearance in Lirey, France, in 1355, but there are indications of its existence many centuries before that.  A strong hypothesis has been developed, based on solid historical references, tracing the Shroud back to its presumed origin in the first century. According to this hypothesis, the Shroud passed through Christian communities in Palestine, Antioch, and possibly Edessa before arriving in Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire, in the late sixth century. An image believed to have been the Shroud was venerated there for centuries. Constantinople was sacked by Crusaders in 1204, many religious relics were stolen, and the Shroud disappeared.  It is conjectured that the Crusader Othon de La Roche, putative ancestor of Jeanne de Vergy, took the Shroud home to France.

The Shroud is approximately fourteen feet long and two and a half wide.  The original dimensions are believed to be eight cubits by two cubits, a familiar measurement to Jews in Palestine during the First Century. The use of a single linen cloth is also consistent with Jewish burial practices of that time.  The Shroud is made of fine linen in a herringbone weave.  According to The Turin Shroud Center, “The weave and the particular stitching are very distinctive and rare. Nothing comparable to the Shroud has been found that originated in medieval Europe.” 

The image on the Shroud is anatomically accurate.  It depicts the front and back of a naked man of good form and about 5’10” tall.  Although tall for a first century Jew, the height is not unusual.  The image itself is a light, straw colored shading of the very top fibrils of the cloth, and it is microscopically shallow. There are certain features only visible with ultraviolet light, a phenomenon not understood until the 19th century. When viewing the actual Shroud, the image essentially disappears when observed from closer than approximately 3 feet.  The inability to perceive details when close to the Shroud is because of the low contrast between the colored image fibers and the uncolored background fibers, and because there are no defined image borders. The ability to perceive details on the Shroud is markedly and dramatically improved with the photographic negatives (negatives of negatives and therefore actually positives) that were not available until 1898.  One of the most amazing features of the image is the fact that it is a photographic negative with   three-dimensional qualities.  Using a high-tech image analyzer, scientists converted the figure on the Shroud from a two-dimensional photo to a remarkably life-like, three-dimensional figure. No artist could have painted it, and no one has developed a credible theory of how the image could have been created. Nothing else like it has ever been seen.

There is much blood on the Shroud, and testing proved it to be human blood type AB.  A full DNA analysis was not possible because of the Shroud’s age and the contamination caused by centuries of human handling.  The blood was on the cloth before the Shroud’s human image was formed, and there is no image under the blood.  The blood contains significant amounts of bilirubin, proving that the person exuding the blood had suffered extreme and prolonged torture before his death on the cross. At places on the Shroud the blood is surrounded by a serum ring that is only detectable by microscopic examination. 

The man in the Shroud was dead when he was covered head to toe, front and back, by the linen cloth.  He had been beaten severely before his crucifixion.  There are hundreds of scourge marks all over his back and the back of his legs, sometimes extending to his sides and chest. These marks show bloody dumbbell patterns that would have been created by a Roman flagrum (whip).  A beating of this severity would have left the victim in severe shock and barely alive. The man also wore a crown of thorns.  Instead of the traditional circlet shown in paintings, the man in the Shroud had a thorny cap covering the entire top of his head.  The thorns had penetrated his forehead and scalp, and the blood flows are visible on the linen.  His cheeks show the effects of being struck in the face, and his shoulders have abrasions consistent with the marks of someone having had to carry the crossbeam of a cross.  There is also abrading and denuding of the skin in the knee area that could be explained by the severely beaten and exhausted Jesus falling under the weight of the crossbeam before being relieved by Simon of Cyrene.

The man’s hands had been nailed to the cross.  Unlike almost all medieval depictions of a crucifixion, the Shroud’s victim had his nails driven in through the wrist area.  This is historically accurate. Only in this way would the nailed hands support the weight of the crucified man as he moved up and down, in excruciating pain, in an attempt to breathe.  The feet were also nailed to the cross, probably by a single nail driven through the feet into the crucifixion post.  Blood flows from both hand and foot wounds are visible on the Shroud.

It was the practice of the Romans to leave executed criminals on a cross for days.  Sometimes the condemned man lived for a considerable number of hours, perhaps more than a day, before expiring; and then the body might be left hanging there as a warning to other would-be malefactors.  Christ’s crucifixion took place on a Friday, immediately following Passover. Probably in consideration of Jewish sensitivities, the bodies of Jesus and the other victims were removed before sundown, the beginning of the Sabbath.  If the crucified man was not dead, the Roman practice was to break his leg bones.  That way he could no longer push himself up to breathe, and death would come almost immediately.  When the soldiers approached Jesus he appeared already dead.  Rather than breaking his leg bones, a Roman soldier thrust a spear into his side to confirm his death, “bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.”  The spear wound, blood, and fluid stains are clearly visible on the side of the man on the Shroud. The forensic evidence shows the wound to be post-mortem.  A post-mortem lance thrust into the thoracic cavity is consistent with the release of blood and a massive pleural effusion of fluid from the area around the heart.  This fluid had accumulated because of the trauma of the brutal scourging and crucifixion.  The pleural effusion would have the appearance of water.

There are other things on the Shroud that are of interest.  In the area where the cloth covered the man’s feet there is dirt, consisting of limestone particles, that is markedly consistent with a rare variety of  limestone found in the area of Jerusalem and only a few other places on Earth.  Also, pollen grains were found on the surface of the Shroud.  There are some 380,00 species of plants on Earth that have been identified, and the scientific study of the pollen of these plants is known as palynology. Each geographical region of Earth has its own unique geological imprint. forensic palynology has been employed in criminal, historical, or archaeological contexts as evidence to place an object in a certain place at a certain time of year. Noted criminologist Max Frei of Zurich, Switzerland, studied pollen from the Shroud and concluded that the Shroud originated in Palestine and then traveled through Anatolia (Turkey) to Constantinople, France, and Italy.

The most intriguing question of all is how the Shroud image was created.  Over the decades there have been many attempts to explain it.  In the early years many detractors, claiming the Shroud to be a fraud, insisted that it was a medieval painting.  The overwhelming evidence proves this to be impossible.  There are no paints on the Shroud, no artist has ever painted a negative image of such complexity, the image is not discernable at a distance of less than 3 feet, some minutiae are only detectable by using a microscope, and anatomical details are far beyond the abilities of any medieval artist.  Nevertheless, a few diehard Shroud debunkers continue to tout the possibility that a medieval genius painted it.  If so, I believe that would be a miracle comparable to the raising of Lazarus.  There have been other hypotheses trying to prove the Shroud a clever hoax, but many of them are patently ludicrous, and none of them survive the weight of careful examination. Truth is, there are some people who would rather die than admit that the Shroud is authentic or that God is real.  It would take more than a parting of the Red Sea to convince them.

Many serious scientists have undertaken an in-depth examination of the Shroud of Turin.  Indeed, no artifact has been studied more closely. Some physicists have developed an intriguing radiation-based image formation hypothesis theoretically consistent with all the Shroud’s image characteristics.  Dr. John Jackson and his research team at the Turin Shroud Center call it the “Radiation Fall-Through Hypothesis.”  This theory states that the body wrapped in the Shroud became radiant throughout its entire volume with light in the ultraviolet range, and simultaneously the body became mechanically transparent, thus offering decreasing resistance to the linen as it collapsed through the body. 

Dr. Jackson’s hypothesis is a scientific description of a miracle.  In other words, the body of Jesus, at the moment of resurrection, became radiant, and that radiance was so intense that it scorched the image of Jesus onto the face of the cloth.  The radiance was extremely powerful and incredibly brief, otherwise the linen would have been incinerated.  The body of Jesus became non-material, and the Shroud collapsed through it.  The resurrected Jesus then left the tomb.  Later that morning Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, and she informed the disciples.  Peter and John ran to the tomb and found the collapsed Shroud and the face cloth lying there.  Something about the appearance of the Shroud and face cloth impressed John.  “He saw and believed.” The rest is history.

The Radiation Fall-Through Hypothesis has received support from a number of the scientists who have actually studied the Shroud; and, insofar as the theory can be tested, it has survived rigorous analysis. 

He is risen!   He is risen indeed!

CONCLUSION

“And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.”

Assuming a benevolent Creator, how do we account for the chaos and the misery in this world? In searching for understanding, I sometimes think of the writings of C.S. Lewis.  His reasoning was along the following lines

(Paraphrasing) “Some think that the entire world is cruel and unjust, but from whence came their idea of cruel and unjust? How does one call a line crooked unless you have a straight line to compare it to? If the whole show (the world) is bad and senseless from A to Z, why should a person who is part of the show react so violently against it? If a person doesn’t believe in right or wrong, why should he attack someone else’s actions or defend his own actions on that basis? Without recognition of some moral law, our society would be complete chaos. And what is the basis of that moral law? The answer must be God.” 

It is difficult to refute this argument.  However, it does not begin to answer all the questions.

Most details of creation remain a mystery.  Evolutionary theories and discoveries give us a very superficial glimpse into the process.  I only know that God was there from the beginning.  At some point he breathed His Spirit into man and gave him a soul.  Man was given the knowledge of right and wrong, and he was given the freedom to make moral choices.  In other words, God made man “a little lower than the angels.”

When I consider human sins and earthly chaos, I find wisdom in the Book of Genesis.  According to the Biblical narrative, God created man a perfect creature in a perfect environment, but He did not make him an automaton.  Adam and Eve were given the ability to choose, and they were free to make good choices and bad choices.  For every up there is a down.  For every right there is a wrong. Without the possibility of evil there can be no good, and every evil act has profound consequences.  The sins of the father are thus visited upon the “the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” Out of a world of perfect order came chaos, and chaos spread.  Truly, in a world where men and women have free will (freedom of choice), there could have been no other outcome.  But God is with us in the midst of chaos.  He spoke to us through His prophets, and in the fullness of time He came to us in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ.  His words are there to teach us, and His Spirit is there to guide us through the storms of life.  The evidence of His presence is all around us and manifests itself in our inmost being.

Many people are fortunate enough to be born into a loving and supportive family, but that does not program them to always do the right thing. I believe that God gives each person freedom of action within the limits imposed by one’s experiences, talents, and opportunities. The more He gives us, the more He expects of us. I also believe that God has not abandoned those unfortunate persons from broken homes who are so often victims of neglect or abuse. Perhaps their horizons are more limited than the more fortunate ones, but those from unhappy family backgrounds also have choices; and they can rise above the most miserable of environments and gain control over bitter memories of a difficult past, actually converting experiential liabilities into assets.

In the end, it comes down to a matter of trust – of faith.  For example, take the matter of suffering.  I do not pretend to understand pain and suffering, but I do believe that our greatest problem is that we see things through human eyes and that God often allows disappointment and pain and sorrow for His own mysterious purposes. And we should never forget that accident or sickness and death are gates through which we all must someday pass on our way to the heavenly fields. Sometimes children and young people pass through these gates. At other times, it is an adult after a long and hopefully fulfilling life. We do not understand why these gates are often so difficult or why the passage is so bitter. Also, it seems that those who are left behind often suffer even more that those who die. But in these trials, as in all things, we must trust God.

None of us comprehend the goodness and greatness of God.  Never during our short span on this earth will we have all the answers.  As in Plato’s cave, we see pale reflections of reality and only shadows of God’s truth and majesty. At times the shadows are more distinct. We tend to perceive God more clearly when experiencing the joy of Christian fellowship or listening to the majestic sacred music of Bach and Handel.  In these special moments we long for that perfect world that lies just beyond our senses, and we somehow know that heaven is waiting for us.

In the meantime, know that one thing is certain.  We must love God and love one another. As Jesus said, they are the greatest of the commandments.

SOURCES

 I did not footnote. Most of the basic facts in this paper were derived from the internet.  A variety of sites were explored, and information was gathered in bits and pieces from here and there.   Most of it is in the public domain.  I will reference two books that I consulted when writing about the Shroud of Turin and NDEs.  Those books were:

The Shroud of Turin: A Critical Summary of Observations, Data and Hypotheses , Version 4.0, The Turin Shroud Center of Colorado, 2017.

Brain Wars, Mario Beauregard, Harper One, 2012.

 

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