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August 1, 2007

In this week’s eSkeptic we present two reviews of Frank Tipler’s book The Physics of Christianity (Doubleday, 2007 ISBN-13: 978-0385514248) The first review, by Lawrence Krauss, is presented below. Lawrence M. Krauss is Ambrose Swasey Professor of Physics and Astronomy and Director of the Center for Education and Research in Cosmology and Astrophysics at Case Western Reserve University. His most recent book is Hiding in the Mirror (Penguin 2006).

book cover detail

The Physics of Christianity (detail of cover)

Blinded by Science?

by Lawrence Krauss

By the time I was halfway through Frank Tipler’s new book I scanned the table of contents and was disappointed to find there would be no explanation of the recently reported miraculous appearance of Mother Teresa’s image on a cheese Danish in Nashville. That was unusual, given that Tipler goes out of his way to provide convoluted physics justifications for key Christian miracles, including the image of Jesus on the Shroud of Turin, long debunked as a 14th-century forgery by many experts. Moreover, whenever conventional physics doesn’t provide a sufficient explanation for the phenomenon of interest, Tipler re-invents it.

As a collection of half-truths and exaggerations, I was first tempted to describe Tipler’s new book as nonsense, but I soon realized that that would be unfair to the concept of nonsense. These descriptions are far more dangerous than nonsense, because Tipler’s reasonable descriptions of various aspects of modern physics, combined with his respectable research pedigree, give the distinct illusion that he is honestly describing what the laws of physics imply. He is not. This book provides an object lesson in the dangers of pushing science beyond its domain of validity, and using various scientific approximations as if they are completely valid in all contexts. Indeed, while he complains several times early on in the book that other physicists let their philosophical prejudices influence their conclusions, Tipler has clearly let his desires get the better of him. Based on my personal experience, I believe that Frank Tipler as an honorable man and I do not think that he intended to pervert reality to serve his goals, but nevertheless he has.

Allow me to give several cases in point: Tipler claims that the standard model is complete and exact. It isn’t. He claims that we have a clear and consistent theory of quantum gravity. We don’t. He claims that the universe must recollapse. It isn’t. (The current evidence indicates that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate.) He argues that we understand the nature of dark energy. We don’t. He argues that we know the origin of the matter-antimatter asymmetry in the universe. We don’t. I could go on, but the point is made.

When stretching the limits of knowledge beyond the pale doesn’t suffice, Tipler resorts to some interesting a posteriori uses of probability. For example, he argues that the resurrection of Jesus was accomplished as the atoms in his body spontaneously decayed into neutrinos and antineutrinos, which then later reconverted into atoms again to reconstitute him. He invokes here the fact that within the standard model of particle physics the decay of protons and neutrons is possible, although he recognizes that the mean lifetime for such decay is some 50–100 orders of magnitude longer than the age of the universe. Thus, the probability of such an occurrence is essentially zero. However, using a strange “Christian” version of the anthropic principle — a subject he co-authored a book about with John Barrow — he then claims that without Jesus’s resurrection, our universe could not exist, and therefore when one convolves this requirement with the near zero (but not exactly zero) a priori probability, the net result is a near certainty.

I have racked my brains to come up with a more extreme example of uncritical and unsubstantiated arguments in print by an intelligent, professional scientist, but I cannot. And, given some of the wild stuff that has appeared in the past decade, that is saying a lot. I believe the kindest thing that could happen to this book is that it languish untouched and unread. I urge potential readers, who may feel the need to seek out some empirical justification for their faith, to bestow a kindness on Professor Tipler and turn to another book with either better science or better theology.

Items of interest from Lawrence Krauss

Below, we present this week’s second review of Frank Tipler’s The Physics of Christianity — this one by Skeptic magazine’s religion editor, Tim Callahan.

The Physics of Nonsense

by Tim Callahan

Dr. Frank Tipler really, really — no, I mean really — needs to take a basic, freshman level, course in comparative mythology. He could also use a course in the development of Christian dogma. He could as well use a little knowledge of what the Bible actually says in the original Hebrew (for the Jewish Scriptures) and the original Greek (for the Christian Scriptures). For this last endeavor he wouldn’t even have to take any courses. All he would need are some good reference books, such as Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, an interlinear Greek-English New Testament and Liddel and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon.

book cover

Were Dr. Tipler to apply himself to all three of these suggestions he could, in the future, avoid much of the nonsense in which he indulges in The Physics of Christianity. This book is the latest in an unfortunate tradition in which Christian scientists or engineers attempt to fit the miraculous aspects of the biblical text to everything from tsunamis and earthquakes to “prove” the Bible and Christianity true. As is the case of previous works of this sort, Tipler’s attempt to shoehorn science into the Bible ignores the disciplines of biblical scholarship. There is an arrogance implicit in this. The author is saying, in essence, that his discipline should be respected, but that the disciplines of linguistics, biblical scholarship, comparative mythology, history, and archaeology are of no consequence.

In past exercises of this sort tsunami’s have been used as the explanation for the Exodus story of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea dry shod — when the waters rolled out just before the tidal wave — and for the ensuing destruction of their Egyptian pursuers — when the tsunami proper hit. Earthquakes have been used to explain the collapse of the walls of Jericho, and a multitude of scientific causes have been proposed for the sun standing still at the command of Joshua (see my article “Sun Stand Thou Still” Skeptic Vol. 7, No. 3, 1999). Tipler plays fast and loose with translation of the biblical text and Christian dogma, ignores comparative mythology as an explanation for such things as the virgin birth, and makes bizarre demands on science itself to prove as literally true the Trinity, the Star of Bethlehem, the Virgin Birth and, of course, the Resurrection.

He also uses straw man arguments to dismiss those who might disagree with him, as in this quote from the Introduction:

Most physicists dislike this Theory of Everything because it requires the universe to begin in a singularity. That is, they dislike it because the theory is consistent only if God exists, and most contemporary scientists are atheists. They don’t want God to exist, and if keeping God out of science requires rejecting physical laws, well, so be it.

So, if you disagree with Tipler’s view that physics already has an all encompassing Theory of Everything, which, I suppose, is the same thing as a unified field theory, it’s because you’re one of those nasty atheists.

Tipler’s basic hypothesis is that the universe began in a singularity and that it will end in a singularity. That is, the expansion of the big bang will reverse, and the universe will collapse back into a singularity. He identifies this singularity as God. Actually, the two singularities, one at the beginning of time and one at the end, are collectively God. Somehow, he also figures that there is a third singularity. This sets up his argument that there is a scientific basis for the Trinity: “But physics shows us that these three singularities are actually one singularity. The Three are One.” This, says Tipler, is the familiar Christianity belief that God consists of Three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Here is one point where Tipler could use a little knowledge of the development of Christian doctrines. That the Holy Spirit wasn’t necessarily initially part of a triune god can be seen in a curious incident in one of the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus from the Gospel of John. Jesus has mysterious appeared to the collected disciples inside a locked room, and has told them that, as he was sent by the Father, so he himself is sending them out to spread the word (Jn. 20:22): “And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” Here, the breath of Jesus is the Holy Spirit, as opposed to the Holy Spirit being a separate person. The Holy Spirit is portrayed in different ways in other parts of the New Testament, indicating that there was no hard definition of it among the gospel writers and other early Christians.

In fact, Jesus wasn’t even initially equated with God. The Gospel of Mark opens with Jesus about to be baptized by John the Baptist, as though he were an ordinary mortal who needed to be cleansed of his sins. It is only after being baptized that Jesus has a revelation that he is something other than an ordinary man, and this revelation is clearly subjective (Mk. 1:10, 11):

And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.”

In Mark, Jesus sees the heavens opened and the Spirit descending on him, and even though the passage says that a voice came from heaven, implying objective reality, the voice speaks to Jesus directly, implying that only Jesus heard it. Since Mark was written sometime after CE 70, it is clear that at least to a significant number of 1st-century Christians, Jesus was a mortal who was given a special status, mainly by being raised from the dead. The word “son” in the passage above may well be metaphorical, particularly given the fact that the kings of Judah were considered sons of God by adoption.

While Mark obviously didn’t identify Jesus with God, the Gospel of John, written between CE 90 and 125, obviously did. In the beautiful poem that opens the gospel, we are told that the Word (Gr. Logos), which is identified with God, became flesh in the form of Jesus. However, as previously noted, John also reduces the Holy Spirit to being the breath of Jesus.

Thus, the natures of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, as presented in the scriptures, were hazy and contradictory. The Trinity as a church doctrine was a political compromise between two opposing views on the nature of Christ — Arianism and Sabellianism. Arianism, or the Arian Heresy, was named after a priest from Alexandria named Arius (d. 336). He held that Christ the son was entirely separate from God the father. This was opposed by the Sabellian or Monarchian view, which held that God the Father and God the Son were merely two different aspects of each other. Emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea in 325 to settle this controversy. The Council eventually repudiated both Arianism and Sabellianism in favor of the Trinitarian view, that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit were all part of the godhead while at the same time being personalities separate from each other.

So the doctrine of the Trinity didn’t emerge until the fourth century. If the Bible is really the Word of God, and if this Word, backed by the physics of a triune singularity, says that God is a trinity, we might expect the Trinity to be spelled out in the Christian scriptures. The whole idea that the universe will end in a singularity, which is essential to Tipler’s singularity as God hypothesis, is itself questionable. The evidence of physics seems to be pointing away from such a conclusion, indicating rather that the expansion of the universe will never end. So, rather than nasty atheist scientists trying to ignore the facts because they can’t believe in God, in reality Tipler seems to be the one ignoring biblical literature and distorting scientific evidence so that he can. Combining the questionable physics with the late and politically motivated source of the doctrine of the Trinity, we have a dubious scientific concept used to prop up a completely human institution, all this to maintain not merely a general belief in God, but to create a scientific basis for a specific Christian doctrine. This, I’m afraid, foreshadows the rest of the book.

Not only must we believe in the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, and the Resurrection; Tipler also insists that we must also the apocalypse:

Christians claim that Jesus will come again, at the end of human history. Two developments in physics suggest that human history will end in about fifty years: computer experts predict that computers will exceed human intelligence within fifty years, and the dematerialization mechanism can be used to make weapons that are to atomic bombs as atomic bombs are to spitballs. Such weapons and superhuman computers would make human survival unlikely, and in his discussion of the Second Coming, Jesus said he would return when humans faced a “Great Tribulation” of such magnitude that we would not survive without his direct intervention. We will face such a Great Tribulation within fifty years.

Of course, the human apocalypse on earth is not the ultimate end envisioned in Tipler’s God as singularity scheme. The ultimate end is the singularity at the end of the universe, which, curiously enough, Tipler identifies as God the Father:

So the laws of physics have forced us to conclude that life at the end of time — at the Final Singularity — is omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent and transcendent to space and time. So I identify the Final Singularity — the Ultimate Future of reality — with God (the Father). The theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg has emphasized that the Ultimate Future is what God Himself claims to be in his self-description to Moses in Exodus 3:14: ‘I SHALL BE WHAT I SHALL BE.’ God ought to know what He is. Physics is saying the same thing.

Here Tipler plays fast and loose with scripture. Consider that in most translations of Ex. 3:14 God’s words are rendered as, “I AM WHO AM,” i.e. in present, rather than future, tense. The problem here is that biblical Hebrew has only two tenses, imperfect and perfect. Perfect can be present or past tense, and imperfect can be present or future tense, thus allowing Tipler to render God’s cryptic revelation of his name to Moses as future tense. Suffice it to say that this possible, but unlikely, translation of Ex. 3:14 is a ridiculously thin basis upon which to base an assertion that God the Father is the Final Singularity.

Tipler also uses — and abuses — Christian doctrine to bolster his marriage of theology and physics. For example, in referring to the hypothetical unseen universes of the multiverse (another untested and highly theoretical concept), Tipler says that the Nicene Creed asserts that there are worlds invisible to us. Could it be that the Nicene Creed predicted the late twentieth century scientific concept of the multiverse? Fortunately, we are not left to speculate on this possibility without any guidance, since Tipler includes three Christian creeds in an appendix. Here is the statement in question from the Nicene Creed, as translated in Tipler’s own book: “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.” I leave it up to the reader to determine if this refers to the multiverse.

Tipler continues to use biblical translation “freely” when he argues that the first singularity was the Holy Spirit: “I propose to identify the Ultimate Past Singularity with the Holy Spirit (in his transcendent Godhood), on the basis of Genesis 1:2, which ends in the phrase “and the Spirit of God hovered over nothingness.” This is an exact description of the Initial Singularity of the multiverse.”

What Tipler translates as the Spirit of God hovering over nothingness is translated in the King James Version as, “the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” This translation is fairly standard. The Hebrew word translated as “face” is paneh, and this translation is straightforward. “Waters” is mayim in Hebrew, the plural form of a word that can mean either water or juice. By extension, it can be used as a euphemism for semen or urine. So Tipler’s translation of the waters as nothingness is suspect. The first part of Gen. 1:2, generally translated as “The world was void and without form,” uses two Hebrew words, tohu and bohu, to characterize the emptiness and chaos of the original state of creation. Tohu is related to tehom, the deep. The feminine plural of this is tehomot, which is cognate with Ti’amat, the original creatrix and chaos dragon in the Babylonian creation epic Enuma elish. This epic may have initially been written as early as 1600 BCE or as late as 1100 BCE, in both cases easily predating the Hebrew scriptures. Bohu would then be related to behom and its plural / intensive behomot or “behemoth,” another biblical chaos monster. So, Gen. 1:2 is, not surprisingly, far more closely related to and about ancient mythology than it is a biblical version of the initial singularity.

Next, Tipler wades through well-trodden turf in the matter of the Virgin Birth, by trying to make the Immanuel Prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 fit the birth of Jesus, even though it was plainly misused by Matthew. Here is Is. 7:14 as rendered in the King James Version: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Here is the same verse as rendered in the Revised Standard Version: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign; Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

Notice that the “virgin” of the King James Bible has transmogrified into a “young woman.” This is because the Greek of the New Testament and the Septuagint had one word, parthenos, that could be rendered both as “virgin” and “unmarried woman,” whereas the Hebrew scriptures used two words. One, bethula, means specifically “virgin.” The other, almah, means simply a young woman. The word used in Is. 7:14 is almah. Ergo, it is not a prediction of the Virgin Birth, Q.E.D. Yet Tipler rationalizes (pp. 156-157) that maybe the meaning of almah changed over time, and asserts, without supportive evidence, that there are numerous references to the Virgin Birth in Paul’s letters, as well as in Mark and John.

There is an amazingly simple way to cut through all this rationalization and speculation, and that is to put the Immanuel Prophecy back in the context of Isaiah 7. King Ahaz of Judah is being attacked by King Pekah of Israel in alliance with Rezin, prince of Damascus. Isaiah assures Ahaz that God will protect him, saying that a young woman will shortly bear a child named Immanuel, meaning “God is with us.” After this prediction Isaiah says (Is. 7:16) that before this child knows how to refuse evil and choose good, that is, before he reaches the age of moral discrimination, 12 years old at the latest, the kingdoms of Israel and Damascus will be deserted. In other words, this prophecy dealt with the period of the Assyrian conquest of Israel and Damascus by Tiglath-pileser III ca. 732 BCE. There is simply no way to honestly stretch this to fit the Matthean Nativity and the Virgin Birth.

While Tipler’s attempt to use the Immanuel Prophesy as a prediction of Jesus being born of a virgin is both tired and tiresome, his attempt to make the Virgin Birth compatible with science is novel, if nothing else. He argues that parthenogenesis, whereby a female animal can reproduce without being fertilized by a male, could be a scientific way for a virgin to give birth. There are a number of problems with this. First, parthenogenesis has never been observed in mammals. Second, parthenogenesis results from the female egg not undergoing meiosis or reduction division, which produces a haploid cell that needs to unite with another haploid cell to produce a new individual. In parthenogenesis the egg keeps its full compliment of chromosomes, meaning, in mammals, two X chromosomes. Thus a parthenogenetic birth should only produce a daughter. How do we get Jesus? Tipler argues that Jesus was a double X male, an oddity that appears in one out of every 20,000 births. This might just be possible, though it’s still stretching things. However, just when you think Tipler’s going to be rational, he brings in something weird. In the case of attempting to prove that Jesus had a double X chromosome genotype, it’s the Shroud of Turin, from which he hopes to find Jesus’ XX genotype in the DNA from the blood on the Shroud. Most people know that the Shroud was radiocarbon dated to the 14th century. Not so says Tipler:

The radiocarbon dating of the Shroud is known to be incorrect, first because bacterial contamination was not taken into account (bacteria add carbon of a later date than the actual Shroud material and thus make it seem younger than it is), and second, because the Shroud samples tested were apparently from a section that had been partially “repaired.” The chemist Raymond Rogers has done a careful chemical analysis of linen fibers taken from all areas of the Turin Shroud, and he is almost certain that the linen used to obtain the radiocarbon date was medieval in origin. That is, the particular sample taken from the Shroud to obtain its age by radiocarbon dating was not manufactured at the same time as the rest of the Shroud. This suggests that the linen from the radiocarbon sample was added at a later date, probably to repair the Shroud. The radiocarbon analysis yielded a date between A.D. 1260 and 1390 completely inconsistent with Rogers’s chemical analysis of the linen fibers from the radiocarbon area.

It is interesting that the argument that bacterial contamination corrupted the date could be used against accepting the radiocarbon dates of the wrappings of the mummy of Rameses the Great or the beeswax used to seal the paint on the bust of Nefertiti. Of course, it never is because no one is trying to make Egyptian archaeology fit into the narrative of a holy text.

As to the argument that the parts of the Shroud tested were either burned or were patches, consider that in an article on the carbon dating of the Shroud in the February 16, 1989 issue of Nature, P.E. Damon and colleagues reported that textile experts took pains to select samples of the cloth away from areas that were either charred or patched. This was done under the auspices of the Holy See and under observation of the local Roman Catholic archbishop. Not only were samples of the Shroud sent to three independent laboratories, as controls they also sent pieces of cloth that were not from the Shroud. The pieces of cloth were labeled A, B, C, etc., and the laboratories were not told which samples were controls and which were from the Shroud. Also, the three laboratories did not compare results until after they had been transmitted to authorities at the British Museum, which was coordinating the testing. In other words, the samples of the shroud were not charred, nor were they from later patches. Furthermore, rigorous steps were taken to insure that the three independent findings were as objective as possible, with the following results reported by Damon in the Nature paper:

The results of radiocarbon measurements at Arizona, Oxford and Zurich yield a calibrated age range with at least 95% confidence for the linen of the Shroud of Turin of AD 1260-1390 (rounded down / up to the nearest 10 yr.). These results therefore provide conclusive evidence that the linen of the Shroud of Turin is medieval.

Defenders of the shroud’s authenticity also claimed that pollen in the cloth could only have come from Israel and that the red brown paint was actually blood. That the heightened defense of the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin in response to the radiocarbon dating by the independent labs is rooted in pseudoscience fueled by faith, can be seen if one considers what the reaction from these sources would have been had the three independent labs found the cloth samples to be from the first century. Then there would have been nothing but praise for the radiocarbon process.

What about the fact that myths of virgin births, along with heroes and demigods rising from the dead, parallel the Christian accounts? Tipler abandons reason and empiricism in favor of what “rings” true to him:

Indeed they were common, but the Gospel accounts of the Risen Jesus have in my judgment (and Pannenberg’s and that of most other scholars who have studied the matter with open minds) a ring of reality unlike these myths. Similarly, the accounts of the Virgin Birth in Matthew and Luke have the ring of reality, unlike the equally common ancient myths of the conception of a god born of copulation between a god and a human female. Matthew and Luke describe the Virgin Birth as the result of the action of the holy spirit, not as the result of intercourse between God the Father and Mary.

It is curious that Tipler finds that the accounts in Matthew and Luke of the Virgin Birth “have the ring of reality,” particularly since these two accounts disagree with each other in nearly every particular. Matthew says Joseph and Mary were living in Bethlehem, and only left for Nazareth to escape persecution, first from Herod the Great, then from his son Herod Archelaus. Luke says they were originally living in Nazareth, but had to go to Bethlehem to be entered into an empire-wide Roman census (which, by the way, is fictional). Thus, they had to make the 70-mile trek to get to Bethlehem with Mary in the late stages of pregnancy. This piece of melodrama, along with other important details, are missing from Matthew. Missing from Luke are the star of Bethlehem, the Magi, the slaughter of the innocents, and the flight of the holy family to Egypt. As to the supposed differences between the Christian myths and those of the pagans, consider what the early church father St. Justin Martyr (ca. CE 100–165) had to say on the subject in item 21 of his First Apology, a philosophical defense of Christian belief addressed to Emperor Antoninus Pius:

And when we say also that the Word, who is the First-begotten of God, was born for us without sexual union, Jesus Christ our teacher, and that He was crucified and died and rose again and ascended into heaven, we propound nothing new beyond (what you believe) concerning those whom you call sons of Zeus. For you know of how many sons of Zeus your esteemed writers speak: Hermes, the interpreting Word and teacher of all; Asclepius, who though he was a great healer, after being struck by a thunderbolt, ascended into heaven; and Dionysus too who was torn in pieces; and Herakles, when he had committed himself to the flames to escape his pains; and the Dioscouri, the sons of Leda; and Perseus, son of Danae; and Bellerophon, who, though of mortal origin, rose to heaven on the horse Pegasus. For what shall I say of Ariadne and those who, like her, have been said to have been placed among the stars? And what of the emperors, whom you think it right to deify, and on whose behalf you produce someone who swears that he has seen the burning Caesar ascend to heaven from the funeral pyre?

That Justin compares the Christ myth to those of Greek mythology and even to the deification of emperors, saying, “we propound nothing new beyond what you believe,” indicates that he saw the virgin birth and the resurrection of Christ in the same light as what he acknowledged to be already existing beliefs, only assuming that the Christian myth was the true one.

Tipler’s science behind the Immaculate Conception involves his theory that evil was implanted in our genes (his version of the Fall) in the distant past:

Applying force — evil — became possible with the evolution of the metazoans. Information was now coded in relationships between the cells, as in the nervous systems of chordates. This information was unique to the individual, not just the clone. It could be destroyed. Death and pain entered the world and, with them, the possibility for moral evil. A metazoan could impose its will on other organisms. It could impose its theories on other organisms. One way would be to eat these other organisms.

I have news for Dr. Tipler: Protozoans — one-celled animals — also eat each other. In any case, when did evil begin? “By the time of the Cambrian explosion, if not earlier, carnivores had appeared on Earth. Evil had appeared in the world. Genes now coded for behavior that guided the use of biological weapons of the carnivores. The desire to do evil was now hereditary. All this relates to the Immaculate Conception in that Jesus and Mary would both, according to Tipler, be free of this genetic evil. Here Tiper returns to the Shroud of Turin:

Since Jesus and Mary would share the same genome on my XX male theory, if the genes were absent from Jesus’ genome, they would be absent from Mary’s. Jesus would indeed have been conceived immaculately. A DNA search of the Shroud for the X-chromasome gene just mentioned would be the first step. If this gene were indeed involved in our tendency to commit evil, we would expect to see this gene modified from the human norm in the Shroud DNA. In fact, if the evil gene is connected to bone generation, the amelogenin gene, which codes for the generation of teeth, might be entirely absent from Jesus’ genome both in its X form and in its Y form. If so, this gene would be absent from the DNA in the Shroud of Turin if this artifact is genuine. If the Christian tradition that the Fall affected the entire animal kingdom is correct, we would expect to see a similar evil gene complex present in all animals, presumably in the chromosome coding for the sex differentiation.

Moving on to the Resurrection, Tipler claims that skeptics haven’t made a strong case against it. One could also argue that skeptics haven’t made a strong case against the existence of giant sea serpents. The fallacy in both statements is that it is virtually impossible to prove a negative. Those arguing for the validity of either sea serpents or the Resurrection are the ones bearing the burden of proof. The skeptic’s job then is to examine the evidence to see if it can be either verified or falsified. Here is Tipler’s evidence for the Resurrection: “[T]he evidence is strong that Jesus’ tomb was empty. If it were not then it would have been a simple matter to open the tomb and present the dead body of Jesus, conclusively refuting the claim he had risen.”

The fallacies in Tipler’s argument are as follows. First, there may not have even been a tomb. Jesus, as a criminal condemned of sedition, may well have suffered one last indignity after death. His body may have been thrown into a common pit and coated with lime. However, let’s assume, for the sake of argument that Jesus was laid in a tomb in Jerusalem. If that was the case, why didn’t skeptics open it and point to the body? First of all, by the time Christianity became a force to be dealt with, Jerusalem had been destroyed. In the year 70 the Romans razed the city. So thorough was their destruction that, according the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (an eyewitness to the destruction), had the Romans not deliberately left three towers standing, no passersby would have been able to tell that there had ever been a city there. Thus, the tomb in which Jesus had been laid was likely flattened, or at least buried in rubble, as well. Tipler also forgets that in the credulity of the time, as noted above by Justin Martyr, the idea that someone had risen from the dead was not that radical a proposition. Jesus was one of many who were supposed to have been raised.

Tipler’s explanation for the resurrection involves physics and cosmology, of course:

I am proposing that the Son and the Father singularities guided the worlds of the multiverse to concentrate the energy of the particles constituting Jesus in our universe into the Jesus of our universe. In effect, Jesus’ dead body, lying in the tomb, would have been enveloped in a sphaleron field. This field would have dematerialized Jesus’ body into neutrinos and antineutrinos in a fraction of a second after which the energy transferred to this world would have been transferred back to the other worlds from whence it came. Reversing this process (by having neutrinos and antineutrinos — almost certainly not the original neutrinos and antineutrinos dematerialized from Jesus’ body — materialize into another body) would generate Jesus’ Resurrection body.

Beam me up, Scotty.

All this might be well and good as a theoretical exercise in how the Resurrection might, at least, be physically possible; but then Tipler goes back to the Shroud of Turin for actual proof. He then compounds this offense with a whole section devoted to the idea that the Shroud is the actual Holy Grail. This is simply nonsense. The Grail is the invention of medieval writers, specifically the French poet Chretien de Troyes, who wrote his Grail story ca. 1180, the Burgundian Robert de Borron and the German Wolfram von Eschenbach, both writing in the early 1200s. Tipler is really reaching to try to make the source of the Grail stories the Shroud of Turin, which wasn’t even known to exist until after the Grail stories had been written.

Finally, Tipler turns his attention to the problem of evil and says all solutions to this problem are false because they aren’t based on the multiverse:

There was no physical law forcing Adolf Hitler to murder 6 million Jews. Hitler could have chosen not to kill the Jews, and he could have chosen not to establish the Nazi dictatorship over Germany. Therefore, there is a universe in which Hitler never rose to power and in which the Holocaust never occurred. There is a universe in which none of the evil empires that have murdered people in our universe ever arose. There is no evidence that any human caused evil is required by physical law. Therefore, there is at least one universe in which no human evil occurred.

Tipler also uses the multiverse — again, an unproven and possibly unprovable concept — to rationalize the predestination implicit in God’s foreknowledge with human free will. That is to say, God foreknows who will or will not respond, through their own free will, to his grace. However, though I may reject the idea of God in this universe, some analog of me in another universe will come to faith and be saved; all of which means that everything we do or fail to do is pointess and meaningless since it will all come out all right — or all wrong — in another, parallel universe.

There is no uncertainty about one thing, and that is Tipler’s motive for writing this book. At the beginning of his conclusion are five quotations from the gospels, two from Matthew and one each from Mark, Luke and John. Three of these are parallel verses, variant forms of the same verse from different gospels, and all of them involve, directly or indirectly, what is called the Great Commission. Matthew 28:19 is the quoted verse that probably expresses the Great Commission most directly and thoroughly. Tipler uses a truncated quote of the King James version, which merely says: “Go therefore and teach all nations…” However, the full verse, as rendered in the Revised Standard Version is (emphasis added): “Go Therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”

The Greek word variously translated as “teach” or “make disciples of” is matheteuo, and it means both “to teach” and “to become a disciple.” Herein lies the ultimate poison pill of monotheistic religions, particularly Christianity and Islam. While it is possible for other religions to coexist with those who disagree with them, this is not an option for those following the Great Commission. It is their duty to convert everyone.

Tipler concludes that developing a technology to use the materializing process would make Christianity a branch of physics. Until such experiments can be preformed and independently repeated, this is all a great mystery. Another great mystery is how Tipler managed to cram so much nonsense into such a comparatively short book.

Michael Shermer on
How to Fake UFO Photographs

screenshot from YouTube video

video screenshot of a fake UFO image
in Adobe PhotoShop

The best evidence that UFOs represent spacecraft from other worlds consists of grainy photographs, blurry videos, and anecdotes about things that go bump in the night. In this episode Michael Shermer shows how easy it is to fake UFO photographs, enlisting the help of children and disposable cameras to create convincing photographic evidence that even fooled experts!

WATCH the video >



  1. El says:

    Yet again, skeptics make a plethora of logical fallacies to attack anything outside of mainstream dogma.

  2. heratik says:

    Another great article by Tim Callahan! Of course the crazies and the freaks won’t be pleased, preferring to wallow in their silly ideas. But it’s a pleasure to read the work of real scholars, especially when they are debunking stupidity.

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