Guest post. A tough problem for theology: the Resurrection vs. the iPhone

April 11, 2012 • 9:04 am

Sophisticated theologians are an endless source of amusement.  When they’re not making stuff up about how Adam and Eve could sort of have existed, but not really, they’re musing about how the Resurrection could really have happened, but without leaving physical evidence.  Sigmund, our tireless watchdog of apologetics, reports on the latest way that theologians reconcile science with the resurrection.  This time it’s not at BioLogos, but that other source of Theology LOLz, HuffPo.  It’s really unbelievable that people a). get paid to engage in such thinking and b). get this kind of stuff published in a widely-read venue.  Note that Rev. Pideret has impeccable educational credentials.


Sophisticated Theology – the iPhone Conundrum

by Sigmund

According to Rowan Williams, the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, “the ultimate test of the Christian religion is not whether it is useful, beneficial or helpful to the human race but whether or not its central claim – the resurrection of Jesus Christ – actually happened.”

If, therefore, we are dealing with a real historical event rather than a parable or poetic metaphor, the question of physical evidence is important. If Jesus really did come back to life and appear to people living at that time, what might a witness have seen?

The question has vexed the minds of the foremost theologians of the world.

John Haught famously said:

“If you had a camera in the upper room when the disciples came together after the death and Resurrection of Jesus, we would not see it. I’m not the only one to say this. Even conservative Catholic theologians say that.”

It appears, however, that disagreement exists within the ranks of conservative Catholic theology.

Father John Piderit, the former president of Loyola University of Chicago and current president of the Catholic Education Institute in New York, has taken Haught’s camera question to its logical conclusion in a recent piece that’s positively dripping with sophisticated theology. Piderit’s article, “eResurrection”, published on the Huffington Post, updates Haught’s question by asking:

“What would a resurrection appearance of Jesus have looked like if an alert apostle had an iPhone and, assuming the apostle was not immediately told by Jesus to “put that iPhone away,” the apostle captured a minute of Jesus’s appearance with the iPhone video running?”

And also assuming that the sudden appearance of a re-animated Jesus doesn’t fluster the poor apostle so much that he accidentally tries to film the resurrected Christ using ‘Angry Birds’.

“Would anything other than the disciples themselves show up on the video?”

Well? Would it?

“Maybe, maybe not.”

Now I’m curious. Why might they fail to capture Jesus on camera?

“The reason for uncertainty comes from what was said above about the special qualities of Jesus’ body. In the Gospel appearances, Jesus as resurrected had to register in the retina of the eyes of his disciples, otherwise they would not have really seen him.”

Ahh, science. Now you’re talking my language. If the body of Jesus had been brought back to life, all the normal physical processes would apply, wouldn’t they? E.g., reflecting light, taking up space, applying gravitational pressure on the ground beneath his feet, etc.

“But the body of Jesus had special qualities.”

Wait a second…

“We do not know whether those special qualities — which allowed him to pass through walls or ceilings — would change the type of rays he emits such that a camera would register anything or would register only random rays.”

Where exactly is this ray-emitting, barrier-defying Jesus mentioned in the Bible? Quite frankly I don’t recall this sort of description in any Catholic sermon I’ve ever heard.

Is there a special edition of the New Testament available only to sophisticated Catholic theologians – the one which contains ‘The Gospel according to Stan Lee’?

“On the other hand, if the camera were running during the breakfast that he shared with the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias, whatever food Jesus ate would have had to be visible at one point and then disappear, since the disciples saw Jesus eat the food.”

So now he’s ‘The Invisible Man’?

“Let’s up the ante and pose a second hypothetical. If a Jewish reporter with an iPhone wanted to speak with Jesus, would the resurrected Jesus, if indeed he did create an image on the iPhone, have been willing to be interviewed?”

A Jewish reporter with an iPhone asking for an interview with Jesus?

But which Jewish reporter? Jesus would need to be careful – talking to a Galilean version of Jon Stewart might do wonders for his image. But what if he got a Joan Rivers! Or, heaven forbid, a Sacha Baron Cohen!

“The belief of the Church suggests no.”

Probably the safest option.

“The reason is, according to Christian belief, Jesus is already the fullest possible revelation of God in human form.”

I think we’re back in the safer realms of theology-speak here. Jesus wouldn’t supply evidence because that would constitute evidence. And evidence negates faith. But why appear to the apostles at all after the resurrection? Why not simply leave an empty tomb?

And how do you explain Jesus’s reported appearance in the Americas – preaching to the Nephites and, more recently, appearing to Joseph Smith and other Mormon Church leaders?

Funnily enough, I think we can all guess how Father Piderit would explain those appearances.

Piderit concludes the piece with a solid pronouncement on the theological implications of the matter.

“So, iPhones are great. But they would not facilitate faith in God made man nor would they enhance revelation.”

Personally, I think he’s missed the obvious theological reason why Jesus hates iPhones:

61 thoughts on “Guest post. A tough problem for theology: the Resurrection vs. the iPhone

  1. So he doesn’t show up on video, and can walk through walls — clearly he’s a vampire-ghost.

    I honestly don’t understand how one can talk of him being “resurrected”, but having these qualities. Surely the whole point of resurrection is that his physical human body came back from the dead, and last I checked people can’t walk through walls, but can be recorded by an iPhone. If his body wasn’t human, in what way was he “resurrected” (as opposed to “transfcrmed”)?

    1. I was also going to suggest the vampire connection, but I thought it was definitely proven that Jesus was a lich…?

      There does seem to be at least some precedent for invisible lichs, so maybe Father Piderit is onto something here…

    2. According to St Paul we will be resurrected into a ‘spiritual body’ not a normal physical one, so I assume Jesus’ resurrected body was also ‘spiritual’. He doesn’t go into the question of ray emission however so I can’t comment on that.

  2. …so…um…when Thomas fondled Jesus’s intestines, that was some sort of a virtual fondling of an invisible, insubstantial Jesus?

    …I’m so confused….


      1. Of course it is.

        It’s holy.

        Holy, holy, holy.

        <counts />


        (Erm…it is five holes, right? Two hands, two feet, and the great greasy glorious gut-hole? Not counting all the plot holes, of course…I can’t count that high, even if I take off my shoes and drop my pants.)


  3. Yes, you can’t avoid thinking about comic books when you talk about Jesus and try to make sense of the woo-woo aspects of his story. I point to the example in Luke 8 where the woman with the gynecological problem knew she could draw “power” to heal her by touching Jesus’ clothing – apparently like Rogue from the X-Men comics!

    1. Dude, clothes and items have power in the Bible, just like enchanted items in table-top or videogame RPGs.

      Apparently, animal blood is “+10 Smells Tasty to God when burned”.

      Elijah’s cloak could part frigging water, even used by other people (“On-Equip Ability: Part Water”)!

      And Moses’ staff sprouted while stored in the Ark of the Covenant; it was a mage staff to die for: “+5 to Snakes, +10 to Plagues & Nature Damage, Raise-Ability: Part Water, Strike-Ability: Bring Water from Rocks”! Moses was pretty good at magic: he cast that one spell to enchant a stick with a snake on it to add “Heals all allies who look at stick.”

      The Ark of the Covenant was even enchanted with “Instant Touch of Death (targets all foes and allies)”.

      Of course Jesus would have equipped a cloak with “+10 Healing and On-Equip Ability: Invisible to Cameras and On-Equip Ability: Teleport through Walls”! And those sandals must have had “+5 Water-Walking”.

  4. “We do not know whether those special qualities — which allowed him to pass through walls or ceilings…”

    So, why make a big deal about the stone being rolled away from the tomb? By two giant angels, no less.

  5. I think he’s missed the obvious theological reason why Jesus hates iPhones …

    There’s a better reason. From Walter Isaacson’s 60 Minutes interview: Steve Jobs’s tentative atheism influenced the design of every Apple product.

    [Jobs] said “sometimes I believe in God and sometimes I don’t … but then I think life is just an on/off switch: click, and you’re gone. … That’s why I don’t like putting on/off switches on Apple products.”

    1. That’s why I’ll never buy an Apple product.

      When Windows irritates me beyond all belief, I do at least have the knowledge that I have the ultimate power – the digital equivalent of a nuke – the OFF switch. 😉

  6. seems that “last thursdayism” is alive and well. Or that Jesus is now some kind of vampire that can’t be caught on technology. May as well use my husband’s idea that vampires can’t be seen in only old mirrors since silver has magic powers.

    and Ben has a great point, if Thomas poked JC, he couldn’t have been insubtantial magical “stuff”.

    1. oh and bible says that JC says himself that evidence given to get someone to believe and have faith is perfectly fine (John 10). So the excuse that JC/God only want pure blind faith is also more non-biblical excuses that Christians have made up.

    2. Sure he could’ve been. He turned off his powers for a second, is all.

      Any sufficiently sophisticated theology is inditinguishable from magic.

      (ACC, forgive me…)

      1. Actually, any sufficiently sophisticated theology is indistinguishable from bullsh!t.

        (I don’t know if you censor words, but some [s]blogs[/s]websites do it automatically.)

        1. (I don’t know if you censor words, but some [s]blogs[/s]websites do it automatically.)

          They do? God damn. Fuck that shit! How the hell is one supposed to properly describe religion if words like, “santorum,” might get the sharpie treatment?



        1. There’re those who’ll pay anything for a chance to see cheesy crisps, including shell out that kind of dough. I know — weird, considering how all it takes is some tortilla chips, a block of nice cheddar, a grater, and a broiler. But it’s the cod’s honest truth.

          Christians are weird. And dumb.

          Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think it’s lunchtime….


  7. The lulz is strong with this one!

    Man, I would love to see the Gospel according to Stan Lee.

    I thought jesus was a lich, but liches aren’t insubstantial….maybe he’s just a mage lich with gaseous form….

    All can be explained by D&D.

  8. OMG it’s the Apple of Knowledge! It even has a bite taken out of it! I wonder how many Christians are walking around carrying a symbol celebrating Man’s rebellion against God.

  9. Scientists spend their time thinking up ways to prove their hypotheses with evidence. Theologians spend their time thinking up reasons why they don’t need evidence.

  10. The whole “don’t test God” thing is so silly contrasted with what God actually allows in the Bible.

    Apparently, it’s perfectly okay for:
    -Gideon to test God a bunch of times for confirmation before doing anything (and God was already TALKING TO HIM)

    -God to literally send fire raining from the sky to prove that he was better than other gods

    -God to take over the visions of a sorcerer so that he wouldn’t curse Israel but instead bless it (why was God even messing with this guy’s free will…do other gods/demons really exist that would’ve magically cursed Israel just because of this guy’s words?)

    -God to send a magic storm after Jonah to get him back, which corrupted the free will of all those sailors who saw it stop instantly when Jonah was thrown overboard

    -God corrupting all those people who saw impossible miracles in the New Testament, and then saying those who failed to change their minds when such evidence was provided were worse than Sodom and Gomorrah

    -God to fly as a giant pillar of fire through the desert night for 40 years in front of millions of Israelites, absolutely proving his reality

    -God to send ridiculous amounts of magical food and water to the Israelites on the Exodus

    -God to plague the Egyptians supernaturally many times after Moses pronouncement, providing firm evidence that he existed to all of Egypt and Israel

    -God to send miraculous plagues, open up the earth to swallow people, and otherwise blatantly punish all of Israel for disobeying Him/Moses

    -God to take down the walls of Jericho, in view of all Israelite soldiers

    -God to stop the sun in the sky for hours for a mere tactical advantage (here’s an idea, God, KILL THEM YOURSELF!)

    -God to part the Red Sea and then the River Jordan in full view of all Israelites

    -God to harden Pharaoh’s heart, basically throwing free will out the window so that God has more chances to prove he exists (and kill more people too)

    -God sending Noah a message that was proven to all of mankind in a flood, and all who remained (Noah’s family, which somehow manage to repopulate the earth with 8 people) obviously had no way to deny that God was there after that flood

    But now, when Christians are asked why Jesus isn’t giving them all the things they ask for or need (exactly like Jesus promises in the Bible multiple times), they say “oh, it’s because he wants us to have free will”, or “oh, his plan is just different”.

    God literally just let people do magic on the spot without his permission multiple times: Moses striking the rock instead of speaking to it still worked despite God’s command to do it differently, people casting out demons without actually being Christians just by saying “in Jesus name”. God was still striking people dead for lying in the New Testament, proving himself decisively to witnesses, and giving all apostles that same miracle-power to convert people en masse.

    But when modern Christians can’t carry through on any of the promised abilities, they just waffle and make excuses, or blame the particular practitioner for not having enough faith or not asking for the right thing.

    Finally looking at it from the outside, it’s just horrifying.

    1. You forgot perhaps the biggest one: Satan’s rebellion/opposition. No Christian can believe in the standard conception of Satan and yet believe that knowledge of God’s existence prevents someone from freely choosing to follw Him (or not).

      If the standard stories are to be believed, fully a third of all the beings who ,i>know beyond a doubt that God exists, choose not to obey him.

    2. I never have understood the whole faith thing. Every time I have a discussion with a friend or relative who is an ardent believer I ask them the question – why is faith a virtue? I have never gotten a good answer. Usually I don’t even get a bad answer. I get a lot of hemming and hawing and a quick change of subject.

      I’ve never found a believer who actually acts like blind faith is a good thing. Got a phising email today? Did you have faith and send them your bank info? Of course not. Well, maybe it is only faith in God that is good then. Did you do what that lillies of the field passage in the Bible says and give away all your earthly possessions and quit your job because you believe Jesus that your heavenly father will provide? Are you kidding? They’re all Republicans!.

  11. Where exactly is this ra -emitting, barrier-defying Jesus mentioned in the Bible? Quite frankly I don’t recall this sort of description in any Catholic sermon I’ve ever heard.

    Barrier-defying? John 20:19-29 – the “Doubting Thomas” story. John makes a point of telling the readers that the doors were locked. Probably to play up the supernatural elements for his own group of Christians who were arguing against some other group of Christians who believed in fewer supernatural elements.

    Ray-emitting? Nowhere. Well, maybe you could stretch it and go for Matthew 17 (the transfiguration – “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light”), but that’s not really what the Reverend was going for, I think.

    I like how “the Resurrection all happened in the disciples’ heads” becomes “well maybe there are special Jesus rays that would act as a cloaking device so he doesn’t show up on cameras”. That’s some fine bit of theological contortion there….

  12. I’d like to point out that the good Father made a little bit of a logical leap when he asserted that Jesus must have cast light onto the retinas of the apostles. All we know for sure (and of course we do know “for sure”, because we “have” a bunch of documents that prove Jesus was real and rose from the dead and stuff!) is that the neurons in the apostles’ visual cortex fired in the appropriate patterns. It could have been due to photons striking their retinas, or it could have been due to impulses generated in their optic nerve, or the nerve firings could have occurred sui generis in the visual cortex itself.

    Personally, I find Father Piderit’s account to be wildly implausible. What kind of “magic” photons are these that can be received by sensed by the apostles’ retinas but not by the CCD sensors of an iPhone? That’s just crazy talk. A much more realistic scenario is that the apparition of Jesus caused a highly structured local electrical disturbance that caused his followers’ optic nerves to discharge in the appropriate configuration, but maintaining a low enough voltage that the iPhone’s shielding would protect it. Now that’s scientific!

    In any case, the whole scenario is absurd to begin with, because I’m pretty sure they didn’t have iPhones back then. Maybe BlackBerrys, but who wants to use one of those?

    1. What kind of “magic” photons are these that can be received by sensed by the apostles’ retinas but not by the CCD sensors of an iPhone?

      N-rays, of course.

      1. No, no. Jesus is made up of dark matter: invisible, and DM does not interact with ordinary matter (Weakly interacting massive particles, WIMPS). This explains why Jesus can walk through walls as well. So physica is cathing up slowly with theology, hehe. I won’t start with nonlocality in quantum physics and the fact I learned from cathechism that god is everywhere in space.

  13. I’ve never understood why god would prefer people who followed him out of blind faith.

    He wants gullible morons on his side?

    1. Because people who aren’t gullible morons would be hard to persuade and would make poor allies–they’d just question everything. Too much work! Better focus on the gullible fools.

  14. Talk about making shit up as you go!

    I guess Jesus couldn’t use an X-box Kinect, or use TV cameras to broadcast information directly. Bummer.

    I don’t even want to know what happens when Jesus walks into a rainbow . . .

  15. I just wrote a piece on this very thing to answer the religiously serious question, “what if the resurrection was a hoax?”

    The gist of my response is, the instant you start looking for actual evidence to justify a miraculous event, such as the resurrection, you naturally open the door to skepticism. And in the case of this particular event which is so central to Christianity, I suggest the question come with a buyer beware sticker.

  16. IIRC, ressurected Jesus seems to pass through a wall in his appearance in Luke, and then levitates in the sequel, Acts.

    If you want to know what other kind of Stanlee-esque superpowers the ressurectd bodies of Christians shal have, go to this article in the Catholic Encyclopedia,

    And scroll down to ‘Characteristics of the risen body’. It beats been at the scene of a Gamma Bomb blast!

  17. Screw the resurrection. Apple’s lawyers are going to be all over whoever leaked the iPhone 2000 years before release date.

  18. I remember being told that Jesus’ resurrection was the way God used to prove he could do it. So, christians can believe they will be resurrected at the end of times. Since there is a precedent.
    Does that mean that the resurrected will pass through walls and ceilings? And will their IPhone pass through as well?

  19. We do not know whether those special qualities — which allowed him to pass through walls or ceilings — would change the type of rays he emits such that a camera would register anything or would register only random rays.

    What do you mean, “We”? Speak for yourself, moron.

  20. As a scientist I mistrust people who try to blend science and religion – they are trying to live by incredibly different standards at the same time. This does not work.

    Then again as a scientist I am also always annoyed in discussions with religious people when they play the “because God says so” or some other ridiculous card that kills any further argument. I feel if they are going to promote their skewed version of reality – especially in political forums – they need to approach their beliefs with some sense of logic and question what they preach.

    It is very difficult…

  21. Why an iPhone particularly?

    At the risk of starting a Holy War(TM), it’s well known that Apple faithful worship their iGadgets. I’m waiting for Apple to come out with iGod….

  22. I so very much love the irony of a ‘sophisticated theologian(tm)’ embracing the heretical teaching of Docetism in order to argue in favor of his faith.
    You just can’t make this stuff up.

  23. Some years ago I did a lot of reading on the concepts of the soul in Middle Eastern religions. Not going to try to summarize it here, but my conclusion was that there was a gradual move away from physicality. First there was no soul distinct from the body, then, as in the Egyptian myths, there were a variety of physical receptacles for the human consciousness, and only much later a complete philosophical separation of ‘spirit’ from matter. There’s a lot of discrepancy in the various books of the Bible about what the nature of the soul is.

  24. The bit about walking through walls fails the same way that it fails for ghosts. A wall is a floor rotated over 90 degrees. Something cannot rest on the floor yet pass through wall. Unless one defies gravity, implying no mass. No mass means nothing is keeping the ‘spirit’ attached to the earth to begin with… which means that that spirit should just be hurled off the earth at the speed with which the earth rotates – or the speed with which earth orbits around the sun – or the speed with which the solar system moves through the milky way…

    Basically once you suspend one law of physics you end up having to revoke a whole lot more, ad hoc. It’s turtles all the way down.

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