10 Attempts To Scientifically Explore Religious Concepts
Religion is based on faith. Although Enlightenment thought has taken some of the wind out of religion’s sails, some people still strive to prove the tenets of their faith with the methods or terminology of science.
Islamic theology holds that human beings were created from water and clay, angels from light, and jinn from smokeless fire. While many believe the jinn to be simple spirits, others have suggested that jinn means “foreigner,” suggesting an extraterrestrial origin. One study has suggested that the jinn may be a form of plasma life existing in the Sun, a hypothesis suggested in a 1980 book called Life Beyond Earth.
Plasma within the Sun’s photosphere could certainly be described as “smokeless fire.” It could also be understood scientifically as a form of life based on patterns of magnetic force, with positive and negative ions interacting in ways similar to proteins and nucleic acids on Earth and with the Sun’s radiant energy as a source of sustenance.
However, UFOlogist Chris Line has another hypothesis. He suggests that jinn exist on the infrared spectrum while angels exist on the ultraviolet spectrum. They have the ability to create electromagnetic lattices or holograms on their level of reality, so-called “blueprints” that cause molecules and atoms to form into the correct configurations in our world. This would account for the powers of illusion and wish-granting attributed to the jinn.
This theory also explains why UFOs began to appear in the sky after the 1940s. Apparently, the development of radar filled the atmosphere with microwave radiation that irritated or aggravated the jinn existing in the infrared spectrum.
Buddhism has a generally healthy respect for the scientific method, so it’s not surprising that many Buddhist thinkers have been trying to reconcile Western science with the dharmic concept of reincarnation. At the forefront of this research, University of Virginia psychiatrist Jim Tucker has spent years studying and collecting data on children who claim to have past life experience, hoping to gather some hard data and proof for the reincarnation of the soul.
Surprisingly, he has attracted little criticism. Although his hypothesis is as yet unproven, his research methodology is top-notch. He has even detected some interesting patterns in his data. Most children who claim to have past life experiences are between two and six, and the median age of their previous life’s death is 28. Around 70 percent claim to have died a violent or unnatural death, and 90 percent claim to be the same sex in this life as they were in their previous existence.
Some quantum physicists believe that the material world is derived from consciousness rather than vice versa. (Max Planck, the father of quantum theory, believed this as well.) If true, then consciousness may not need a physical brain to survive. This would provide a mechanism by which reincarnation from one body to another could happen within a scientific context, although it’s a controversial concept.
8 Virgin Birth
The miracle of the virgin birth of Jesus is an important part of Christian belief, and most assume it was simply the divine work of God. Others, however, have tried to develop scientific explanations (beyond the idea that Joseph and Mary lied about engaging in sexual intercourse). The main question is where did Jesus get the Y chromosome that made Him male?
One theory is that Mary carried XY chromosomes but had a condition known as “testicular feminization.” In that case, her X chromosome would have carried a mutation that made her body resistant to testosterone, so she would have developed as a woman despite being genetically male. Usually, such women are sterile with ambiguous genitals. But theoretically, Mary could have become spontaneously pregnant through a process known as “parthenogenesis.”
Even so, that would have made Jesus essentially a clone of Mary. He would have needed a back mutation to avoid being resistant to testosterone and suffering testicular feminization Himself. Another possibility is that Mary was a genetic mosaic, in which twin embryos become fused with one having a Y chromosome in this case.
Other theories maintain Mary’s technical virginity while she became pregnant. Joseph and Mary were betrothed but not yet married, so they may have engaged in some cheeky frottage, or “dry humping,” which could theoretically lead to pregnancy while leaving Mary’s maidenhead intact. There is also the possibility that Jesus was a chimera, a combination of a parthenogenesis-spawned embryo with an egg fertilized by Joseph, a process described by Popular Science as “making Jesus both the son of God and of man in the holiest three-way in history.”
7 Holy Trinity
Another central mystery of Christianity is how three aspects of God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost—can also be a monotheistic deity. Some believe the answer can be found in quantum mechanics, assuming that God created the physical world with scientific laws that are patterned after His divine nature.
In quantum field theory, a process can be described in three stages: A field of potentials generates force, which generates a kinetic or actual event. In the same way, the Trinity can be seen as three stages of salvation. It begins with infinite endeavor, or the divine love of the Father. This leads to the divine truth, represented by the Son, which leads to the actual salvation event through the Holy Spirit.
Another analogy drawn between God and quantum physics is derived from the fact that subatomic particles can be seen as particles or waves depending on how they are measured. This may also reflect the nature of God, who is the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit, depending on how He is known and measured and depending on the three relationships to one another.
“The Son is eternally begotten by the Father, the Spirit is eternally spirated from Father and Son, and the Father is the eternal begetter of the Son and spirator of the Spirit. It is the same divine reality in all three instances just as it is the same quantum reality that acts and is known as wave and particle.” The author does go on to say that it is only an analogy and an imperfect one at that.
6 Heaven And Hell
In 1972, Applied Optics applied the principles of thermodynamics to Heaven and Hell and got a rather interesting result. Isaiah 30:26 says of Heaven that “the light of the Moon shall be as the light of the Sun and the light of the Sun shall be sevenfold as the light of seven days.” This suggests that Heaven would receive as much radiation from the Moon as the Earth receives from the Sun and 49 times as much radiation from the Sun as the Earth receives.
Thermodynamics suggests that Heaven would warm up and emit as much heat as it has received, about 50 times more than Earth. Using the Stefan-Boltzmann fourth power law for radiation, that means the temperature of Heaven must be 525 degrees Celsius (977 °F).
However, we know from Revelation 21:8 that “the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” A lake of molten brimstone, or sulfur, must be maintained at or below 444.6 degrees Celsius (832 °F) to prevent it from becoming a vapor. Therefore, Heaven must be hotter than Hell.
An online rebuttal points out that these calculations have not taken into account the atmospheric pressure of Hell. Based on the estimates of a 19th-century mathematician, there would be about 29 billion billion souls in Hell by the year 2000. The estimated area of Gehenna, on which the concept of Hell is based, would be 7 square kilometers (3 mi2). Assuming each soul has a similar mass to the average human body in this limited area, the higher atmospheric pressure would allow sulfur to remain in a liquid form at temperatures much higher than 525 degrees Celsius (977 °F).
5 Speaking In Tongues
In 2006, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania took an interest in “glossolalia” (speaking in tongues), which is practiced by some Pentecostal sects around the world. Taking brain scans of five women while they spoke in tongues, the researchers discovered that the frontal lobes (which control willful action) and the language centers of the women’s brains were quiet while regions involved in maintaining self-consciousness were active. These results confirmed what Pentecostals had long claimed: that speaking in tongues was a unique conscious experience that lacked willful control.
Neuroscientists have suggested that loosening control over the language center of the brain may be the cause of strings of unintelligible speech. However, believers interpret the results of the experiment as a vindication of their belief that glossolalia originates from outside the human mind. Perhaps the Adamic language spoken in Eden was similarly unstructured. Or maybe speaking in tongues is a result of a direct connection between the limited human brain and the infinite languages of God.
Religious skeptics of glossolalia ask whether the study suggests that God possesses people, although this seems unlikely for the Christian deity. They also ask why each individual speaking in tongues uses only the phonemes found in their native language.
Some Muslims believe that the basis for modern science can be found in the Quran. Dr. Joe Leigh Simpson—an expert in gynecology, obstetrics, and genetics—commented that two Hadiths attributed to the Prophet Muhammad seem to reflect the process of embryogenesis. In one, the Prophet said, “In every one of you, all components of your creation are collected together in your mother’s womb by forty days.” In another, he said, “If forty-two nights have passed over the embryo, God sends an angel to it, who shapes it and creates its hearing, vision, skin, flesh, and bones.”
The idea that scientific truths can be gleaned from the Quran is important for those who wish to prove that the Prophet Muhammad was the last word in Allah’s truth. One Quranic verse reads: “And it is We who have constructed the Heaven with might, and verily, it is We who are steadily expanding it.” Some say this refers to the continued expansion and motion of the cosmos since the big bang.
The Quran is also said to have predicted orbits in space, the protective nature of the atmosphere, the Earth’s magnetic field, the relativity of time, and more.
In 1994, a trio of statisticians from the Jerusalem College of Technology and the Hebrew University analyzed the Hebrew Book of Genesis for equidistant letter sequences. (For example, “HXOXUXSXE” could be decoded as “house.”) Using this method, the researchers hoped to find particular words and phrases inserted by God.
They were building on previous work by Rabbi H.M.D. Weissmandel, who found similar patterns in the Hebrew Pentateuch (the Five Books of Moses). After arranging the letters of the Hebrew Genesis into a two-dimensional grid, the researchers analyzed the text with a computer to find encoded words and phrases.
They discovered “Zedekiah,” the name of a sixth-century BC Judean king, near “Mantanya,” which was Zedekiah’s original name. They also found “Hanukkah” close to the word “Hasmoneans,” the name of the Jewish family (that is celebrated at Hanukkah) who took the Temple back from the Assyrians. Three hundred such pairs of words and names were supposedly discovered.
According to some people, this is not coincidence or wishful thinking. Genesis is believed to have been written in 2300 BC, so references to events hundreds and thousands of years later are said to prove that the author of Genesis could not have been human and the encoded word pairs were left by a superior intelligence: God. Further statistical analysis supposedly detected the names of 32 Jewish figures from the ninth to the 19th century with their dates of birth or death.
However, not everyone believes this theory. Skeptic Brendan McKay demonstrated that equidistant letter sequencing (ELS) could be used to find the death of a prime minister in the text of Moby-Dick. According to his analysis, Moby-Dick predicted the deaths of Indira Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, Yitzhak Rabin, and Princess Diana.
2 Starlight Problem
Young Earth creationists believe that the universe, including Earth, is only about 6,000 years old. However, the farthest objects glimpsed by astronomers are distant quasars 13 billion light-years away. This is the “starlight problem,” and there have been various attempts to get past it.
One of the earliest was c decay, where c is the first letter of celeritas, the Latin word for light. C decay is the idea that the speed of light has decayed over time.
In a report entitled “The Atomic Constants, Light, and Time,” Trevor Norman and Barry Setterfield analyzed 163 experimental values to determine the speed of light from the mid-18th century to the modern day. They concluded that the speed of light has been decreasing at a rate of about 40 kilometers per second (25 mi/s) per year.
Other creationists have been leery of accepting the idea of c decay. To explain the observable universe being less than 10,000 years old, the speed of light would need to be around one million times faster than it is today, which would make changes in c produce catastrophic effects in terms of energy output from stars.
Promoted by Russell Humphreys, white hole cosmology is another theory that attacks the starlight problem by proposing that Earth is located in the well of a black hole. According to this theory, as billions of years pass in the outside universe, only a few days pass on Earth due to time dilation. Dodgy math and the essential lunacy of the idea has prevented it from gaining widespread acceptance.
A more recent theory is that of the anisotropic synchrony convention. The basic idea is that it is impossible to measure the speed of light going in one direction. Therefore, it is possible that light moving toward an observer travels nearly instantaneously while light moving away from an observer moves slower than c, transforming c into the average speed of a round trip. This concept is actually allowable in certain branches of special relativity, but it doesn’t explain why God would make a universe of artificially aged stars.
In 2005, Dr. Stafford Betty, a professor of religious studies at California State University, Bakersfield, published “The Growing Evidence for ‘Demonic Possession’: What Should Psychiatry’s Response Be?” in the Journal of Religion and Health. He argued that there is a wealth of evidence across world cultures from ancient and modern history that demons can possess human beings and that exorcism is an effective treatment.
He clarified that he didn’t necessarily mean the Judeo-Christian idea of demons with horns and pitchforks but rather “more or less intelligent beings, insensible to us, with a will of their own who seem to bother or oppress us or, in rare cases, possess our bodies outright, and with whom we can relate in a variety of ways.” He cites the spirits contacted by Spiritualists in the early 20th century, spirit possession and exorcism practiced in ancient India and China, and practices of exorcism and deliverance in the US.
Betty claimed that maintaining a purely materialist worldview in the face of such overwhelming evidence was foolhardy. He also believed that exorcism should be accepted for better diagnoses and as an alternative form of treatment in lieu of mind-altering drugs and electroconvulsive therapy. He wants psychiatrists to challenge their assumptions, examine evidence of the paranormal, and conduct research by allowing exorcists into medical facilities to see if they fare better than other forms of treatment.
Some people actually agree. Two years earlier, Dr. Alan Sanderson in the UK wrote a paper entitled “Spirit Release Therapy: What Is It and What Can It Achieve?” He claimed to have evidence from case studies that releasing spirits could cure patients of multiple personality disorder, adjustment disorder, and even gender dysphoria.
David Tormsen is the pen name for a jinni living inside the Listverse servers in New Zealand. They will never know. Email him at [email protected].