Saturday, January 26, 2013

Denmark does not exist!

I discovered something astonishing.  Denmark does not exist!  It is a conspiracy by cartographers.  (Line borrowed from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.)

Think about it.  Probably you, like me, have grown up thinking Denmark was real.  But have you ever been there?  No?  Know anyone who has?  Suspicious, isn't it?  I met a girl once who claimed to be from Denmark.  Beautiful and deceptive.  I guess I just never thought of it before.

But where is the logical evidence that Denmark exists?  Maps?  Referring to maps is a fallacy, called "Call to authority."  How do I know that cartographers aren't all in on it?  And more likely, they are just all copying each other anyway.  Have you ever noticed that some maps have a distorted picture of Denmark compared to others? Like the risk board?  Think about it!

So maps can't be trusted.  What about people who claim to have seen it or visited it?  I don't want to say they are all liars, but they might be naive.  What they thought was Denmark could just as easily have been Sweden. I mean, it's remarkably similar, by all accounts.

But then there is the Danes- like that girl I met.  Some of them no doubt are just naive and have been lied to.  But a lot of them, notably the leaders and teachers, must be deliberately lying.  After all, there is no proof!  There's photos and videos and things, but these are all hoaxes.

How do I explain then the worldwide phenomenon of people claiming to have first hand experience of Denmark?  I'm sure there is an answer to that question.  Just cause I don't know it, though, proves nothing.  Don't argue from ignorance!

I even suspect that Shakespeare was aware of this, and he let on by saying "There's something rotten in the state of Denmark."  I'm gonna write a book about it, call it "The Shakespeare Code".

OK, so I am having fun with this....  but have you ever noticed that people argue against Christianity following these lines?  They say "There's no proof."  We say "There's documents, eye witnesses, authority of the Church, scientifically authenticated miracles, ".   They say "Documents could be faked, eyewitnesses could lie, don't use call to authority, and just cause a phenomenon that seems to demonstrate the very thing you are claiming-  well there could be another explanation for it so don't argue from ignorance."

Hmmm.  Fascinating!  

Now granted, there is better reason to doubt the existence of God than to doubt the existence of Denmark.  But unless you've decided to throw out the evidence for God ahead of time, there's actually quite a bit!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

How can God demand obligatory love?

This is one of the questions asked by Hitchens in his arguments against the morality of Christianity, and it was recently asked me by one of the youth I work with.  But the nature of the question shows that the very understanding of God and the love he 'demands' is skewed.

The first place where there is an error is the idea that God rewards or punishes us based on our performance, with Heaven or Hell.  This is not exactly accurate.  The most accurate analogy for God's love, and the one most frequently used in the Bible, is the love that a spouse has for another.  Being in Heaven is simply being married to God-  united with Him forever.  Being in Hell is being in no relationship with God.

So take the perception people have of how to please God and extend it to the concept of marriage.  Supposing my wife were to say to me "I demand that you love me at a satisfactory level, or I will divorce you."  Fair enough, in a sense.  If I don't love her, I cannot be in a relationship with her.  So in a sense love for her is obligatory.   But it would still be a rather demanding and unloving attitude she had toward me to say such a thing.

Instead, in order to be married to her, I had to choose to love her in the first place.  I had to make a commitment to her that said "I promise to be faithful to you, yada yada yada."  (Turns out the words yada yada yada are not precisely in the Catholic ritual, but you get my meaning.)   In other words, I had to choose to commit to love her!

I consider it a duty to love my wife, and to love my children, and to love my God.  Is this what is meant by obligatory love?  Am I obligated to love my kids?

Part of this too is confusion over the term love.  To a Christian, 'luv is a verb' (classic DC Talk), as well as a virtue, a commitment, the nature of God.... the emotion of love comes pretty far down the ladder. Though I doubt many Christians would deny the existence of the emotion.  if love is reduced to being merely an emotion, how could you demand it of anyone?  Contrariwise, how could you commit to it when you get married?

So the long and the short of it is that Heaven is not exactly a reward for being good-  it is the logical end of someone pursuing a relationship with God and therefore being with Him for all time.  Neither is Hell a punishment, but it is no relationship with God, the natural consequence of rejecting His offer of a relationship.  This is also what is meant by the way when people say that God does not send you to Hell, you choose it. You may not fully realize what you are choosing when you reject God, but it is what you are choosing!

Here's the troubling thing.  Hitchens debated all kinds of Christians in his lifetime.... how come no one told him this?  I suspect that they did.  I suspect he knew it even before he raised the question the first time.  I suspect that he was deliberately misleading when he misrepresented Christianity in his statements.  I know that most people are ignorant about what Christianity really teaches.  Most people have a concept of Christianity that they developed by the time they were 12, and they expect that true Christianity has no more meaning or maturity behind it than their 12 year old interpretation.   But I think Hitchens must have known better, and Dawkins must, and so when they refute the Christianity of 12 year olds, I think they are being deliberately disingenuous.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Why is it that when a culture get's more educated they reject Christianity?

I think the implied answer to that is obvious- that Christianity is just medieval superstition that does not stand up to the scrutiny of reason.  I think "The Thinking Atheist" said it best-  "You pray for me, I'll think for you."

However, obviously I am not going to draw that conclusion.  Truth is that while educated cultures do seem to move away from faith, they do not do so at nearly the speed that was anticipated 100 years ago. Atheists continue to lament that they cannot understand how people who are otherwise so intelligent in the world of business, economics, politics, and yes, even science, can continue to hold to religions. America is said to be the most advanced country in the world, while at the same time the most religious. How can this be?

Of course, I don't think religion is stupid.  Honestly, I think Catholicism is the intelligent answer to the big questions.  Unlike some other religions, Catholics welcome the scrutiny of reason because they believe that both faith and reason can lead to truth, and truth cannot contradict truth. I will not in this post defend why I think Catholicism is the intelligent answer-  I have done so at length elsewhere.  But I will take on the title question.

So, if the rejection of Catholicism by educated cultures is not indicative of Catholicism's foolishness, what is it?  We could go the root of "But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong." (1 Cor 1:27) because even in Biblical times teaching people that Jesus rose from the dead sounded foolish.  But I think there are other reasons yet.

One is that there are certain assumptions made by some academics, which are used as the framework within which discussions can be had.  For example, for natural Science to explain the origins of the universe, they need to construct a system that is only dependent on natural science, they cannot bring in a super natural or metaphysical source-  say God.  They succeed in explaining the universe, for the most part, without God and this is taken as a proof that God does not exist.  Anthropologists apply a similar framework when they study the origin of religions-  they assume that the religion must have been invented over time, and do not include the possibility that God actually did reveal elements of the religion. 

You see manifestations of this all the time.  When Hitchen's and Blair debated whether religion was good for the world, at no point did they ask the question 'Is it true?'.  The debate assumed the proposition that religion was a man made construct, and went from there.  I wish Blair would have noticed that.

What I am saying is that often in academic circles the question of religion does not even include the possibility that it is true-  it is necessarily excluded for the purpose of the science.

However, I would like to suggest that there is a bigger reason why Catholicism is rejected among educated cultures.  Furthermore, I would like to suggest that Jesus predicted this.

As a culture gets educated, the importance of money increases.  In fact our whole western culture and system is dependent on consumerism, and consumerism has become the assumption that is unchallenged by Christians.  never mind verses like "The love of money is the root of all evil." or "You cannot serve both God and money."   I would like to suggest that the reason our culture is rejecting God is because they are so wholeheartedly embracing the service of money. 

Jesus pointed to this in his parable about the sower in the field.  In that parable, some of the seed falls into the thorns, where it sprouts up, meaning cares for the word and embraces it, but the thorns choke it.  Jesus says the thorns are 'the deceitfulness of riches and the lust for other things.'

So according to Jesus, when we get too concerned about worldly things, the faith is choked in us and does not bear fruit.

It is interesting how the phenomenon of development works anyway.  Along with development (I will not enter the debate of causality) comes the sexual revolution.  As our values shift to seeking personal comfort and the elimination of suffering, so we choose to have smaller families, or no families at all.  But we still want sex. So we begin to value sex for it's physical and emotional pleasure that it gives, but divorce it from it's original meaning.  And the further we go down this path, the more our sexual values challenge that of Christianity.  40 years ago the Church's teaching on contraception was for many the biggest to accepting the validity of the faith.  Now I suspect it is becoming increasing the teaching on homosexuality.

So as we become educated our values shift more and more from those presupposed by Christianity.  And I think that even we Christians begin to make assumptions that are not in keeping with Christianity, and based on those assumptions we lose faith in Christianity.

I don't know about you but that last paragraph made my brain tired.

I have also found that when I personally am outside the state of grace due to some sin, by faith suffers as a result.  I think that our over attachment to money is sinful, and so as a culture our faith will suffer!

So in conclusion-  I do not deny that there are very intelligent reasons to doubt the faith.  But I think there are intelligent reasons to keep the faith as well.  I suspect that what is tipping the scales is not education but the values that come with it!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Is the Shroud of Turin real?

At the schools where I work I have a talk series called “unsolved mysteries” wherein I investigate 
Front view of the Shroud of Turin
some of the miracles or apparent miracles that seem to confirm the truth of Catholicism. If you have been following my blog, you will see that I regard these remarkable phenomena as evidence for Catholicism- and to me each one is so convincing that even looking at one of them should produce real credence in the claims of Catholicism in the mind of a skeptic.  Here is a bit about my favorite one, the Shroud of Turin.  I decided to write about this based on what I know and from having done some investigating online.  I will try to represent the facts as accurately as possible, but please don’t hold me to the high standards expected of professional journalists or investigators!  If I am wrong about something, I will gladly admit it and amend my article. If you want a more precise article, I suggest Wikipedia.  I have every intention of presenting a biased account, while not being misleading!

The Shroud is believed to be the one that Jesus was wrapped in when he was crucified. The theory goes that when he rose his image was left on it, and so the shroud is a long piece of linen which had the brownish imprint of an apparently crucified man. The first thing that you need to know about the Shroud of Turin is that no one knows if it is real.   The Catholic Church has not made a claim one way or the other.  This is important, because even if the Shroud were proven to be false, this would not disprove Catholicism.  In my mind some of the other miracles would!  If Padre Pio’s Stigmata, or Our Lady of Guadalupe were proven false, this would have massive implications because the Church has declared Padre Pio and Juan Diego (who gave us the Our Lady picture) to be saints.  If they turn out to be charlatans, this calls into question the whole authority of the Church to teach on matters of faith and morals, and it could even be reasonable concluded that the Church knew they were fraudulent and was in on the hoax.  None the less, it should be stated that while the Church has not made a formal statement on the matter, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI clearly seemed to believe in it themselves.

The shroud first appears in undisputed history in France in 1390.  Immediately we should be suspicious of this, since this is an era where relics and faked relics are turning up all over Europe, as people cling to the hope found in Christ while the black plague takes its toll.  Add to that the fact that the Bishop of the region declared the thing a fake and says the forger confessed, and we should really have a closed case.  But none the less, the thing survived and was revered, burned in a fire, damaged by water, repaired by nuns, and analyzed by 20th century science.   Notably in 1988 it was subjected to  carbon dating, wherein a sample was taken and sent to 3 separate labs, all of whom concluded that the shroud was created in 1260-1390AD.  At this point of course many people declared the shroud a fake- but the intrigue goes on.  While the accuracy of the science goes largely unchallenged, the theory is that there was a ‘sampling error’- that they took a piece of the cloth that was not from the original cloth, possibly from a patch.  One of the scientists who worked on STURP (Shroud of Turin Research Project) even published an article in 2005 saying that "The worst possible sample for carbon dating was taken.”

It should be noted that since that time, a nuymber of other mechanical and chemical tests have been performed on the Shroud, dating it to between 280 BC and 220 AD, according to CNN.

Whatever the case, it seems that much the evidence presented so far is against the shroud, and indicates that it is a fake or at least a likely fake, and not really good evidence for Christianity.  A part of me would like to say that the Carbon Dating was so conclusive that whatever else, the thing is not real. But when I started looking into this I found the evidence to be overwhelmingly in favor of considering the thing to be real-  so much so that I could not so easily dismiss it, and began to take seriously the sampling error argument!

There’s a lot of evidence that I am not particularly interested in, although they support the argument;

·         The linen was of a type consistent with 1st century Jerusalem.

·         The chemical signatures of dirt found on the cloth are identical to those in 1st century limestone tombs in Jerusalem.

·         There is pollen and a flower imprint on the shroud consistent with springtime in Jerusalem- and some consistent with Edessa and Constantinople, where the shroud is believed to have travelled before going to France.

·         In 1902 the image was declared “anatomically flawless”, and while since then there have been arguments both in support and against this, most people, even skeptics, agree that this is the case and therefore the image must have been created using a real human body.

·         NASA scientists detected impressions of 1st century Palestine coins on the eyes.

And so on.  But what fascinates me the most is the way the image was created!  If you do your homework you will discover that the image has been, to some degree, duplicated- by painting a man in olive oil and wrapping a linen shroud around him and baking the shroud in the oven for several days.  So it could have been faked- but consider the following;

In 1898 the shroud was photographed for the first time by a man named Secondo Pia.  While developing his photos, Secondo Pia made an astonishing discovery- The shroud was a negative!  For those of you too young to remember film cameras, when a camera would take a picture, it would appear on the film with all of the colours reversed- light would become dark, yellow would become blue, etc.  You may have an app on your smart phone that allows you to do this even now.  Take a negative of a negative, and you get a positive.  Here’s the question that bothers me- why would some hoaxer in the 14th century make his image a negative when technology to discover that will not be invented for 500 years?  Granted, it could be done, with the whole olive oil and oven thing- but why bother?  How would you even think of that in the first place?  Why not just paint the thing?

On the other hand, if it was real, it makes sense that at the moment Jesus rose he emitted some super powerful light that left the imprint on the cloth just as happens on film in a camera.  Even then no one knows quite how it was done, but it is believed that the high resolution indicates that the light source lasted only for hundredths of a second.  (There are some who propose that Leonardo Da Vinci created the hoax himself, using an Arab photographic technology.  The fact that we have a clear historic record going back to 1390, well before was born, does not appear to be an issue. In my opinion theories like that do more to hurt the skeptic’s case than help it!)

The implications of Secondo Pia’s discovery were such that he was accused himself of fraud, until he was vindicated in the 1930’s.  In 1978, STURP (Shroud of Turin Research Project) was created to conduct scientific tests on the shroud.  As is consistent with other miracle investigations in the church, scientists were selected who were unbiased, many of them not even holding that Jesus rose.  I once heard a fascinating testimony by a Jewish photography expert asked to analyze the shroud, who protested that he did not believe in it, but after his analysis he declared it authentic.

In 1976 the shroud was placed under a VP8 Image Analyzer, used by NASA to create 3-dimensional images of the moon.  Astonishingly, it created a 3 dimensional image of a man.   This is astonishing because even other photographs fail to do that.  And they could not duplicate it.  More incredibly, the image has since then been made into a hologram, which is supposed to be impossible for 2-d objects.  The hologram reveals even more about the shroud.  The thing that stood out to me when I saw it (in a museum in Rome) was that the body appeared to be hovering over the cloth, not right against it. The implication is that it was photographed at a small distance- as if Jesus body somehow began hovering, with the shroud ballooning around it, then emitted the radiation which caused the image, possibly at the moment that he rose.

The other piece that astounds me is the evidence of the blood. First , the blood was on the shroud before the image. (Some dispute this). This would be extremely strange for someone to fake- paint blood streaks down where the arms will be, and arms on after.  The blood from the wounds, including the scourging, is consistent with the tortures described  in the passion narrative, to a degree that is not described and should not have been known to a 14th century fraudster.  Such as the nature of the roman scourge. Or the fact that he is pierced through the wrist, not the hand, as he was always portrayed in medieval art.  The blood from the side is separated into red blood cells and serum- as happens when someone dies, and as is attested by John “blood and water came out.”  Which by the way can only be determined under UV light.  The rest of the blood is from a living person- rather, they were living when the man bled.  

So, suppose someone was faking this.  They would have had to get a living man’s blood onto the shroud, then a dead mans, in the exact right places such that 21st century science could not conclusively show it to be wrong, scourging marks accurate, pierced through the wrist, include undetectable serum on in the side wound, then photograph the whole thing using technology newly introduced from the Arab world, such that it would create a negative image with a high enough resolution to create holograms, and then they have to bother to include flowers and pollen and coins….

Does it take more faith to believe that this is real, or to believe that it was faked?

So why does it only appear in 1390?  I would suggest that it was known about all along.  We know of something called the “Image of Edessa”, which was said to show the face of Christ. That disappears, and then Constantinople claims to have the burial cloth of Jesus.  That too disappears during the crusades, when Constantinople is sacked in 1204.  A French knight claims to have the burial cloth in Lirey in 1353.  Is it possible that it is all the same cloth?  I would put to you that it is possible and reasonable to think so.

In fact, I think there is evidence that this is the case in Byzantine Icons.  Judge for yourself the similarities in the images- shoulder length hair parted in the middle, long thin nose, thin mustache, gaunt cheeks, often a 2 part beard.  Anyone ever ask you how we know what Jesus looked like?

But what’s really striking are the eyes.  Often Jesus’ left eye is distorted in Byzantine art.  Notice that this is also the case on the shroud!  Is it possible that when Jesus was arrested that he was struck on the cheek, and his left eye was swollen?  That artists who created the icons copied the shroud, and ended up with the same line- unintentionally distorting his left eye?

To me the evidence is remarkably in favor of regarding the Shroud as genuine.  Furthermore, if it is genuine, this indicates that Jesus really rose from the dead- and of course the implications of that are staggering.  I admit that the evidence of the Carbon dating is strong-  but to me it does not outweigh the body of evidence in favor of the authenticity of the shroud, especially in that  there are such strong indications that there was a sampling error.   I leave it to you- is the shroud real, or just an utterly remarkable fake?