The NYT touts miracles again

September 17, 2023 • 9:15 am

The NYT headline below is in line with the paper’s recurrent penchant for touting religion while at least admitting that some people doubt God’s existence. In general, though, if you read the headline, your first thought—if you’re not a diehard skeptic—is “yes, it’s a miracle!” (See the word counts at bottom.)

The miracle is a familiar one: a religious person is dug up after some time and their bodies are found to have been incorrupted—that is, they didn’t rot, shrivel, degenerate, or decay. Catholics often consider this a miracle, and the Vatican has a whole policy of inspection for incorruptibility, which can be seen as a miracle helping qualify the Incorrupted Person as a saint.

A famous example of this is Bernadette Soubirous (1844-1879), or Saint Bernadette of Lourdes. This case, once touted as showing miraculous incorruptibility, now shows the weakness of judging someone as “not decayed.” Although Soubirous was designated a saint based on other miracles, when exhumed 30 years after death, her body was declared to be in perfect condition. reports on three exhumations of Bernadette, the last in 1925. The inspecting doctor said this:

“What struck me during this examination, of course, was the state of perfect preservation of the skeleton, the fibrous tissues of the muscles (still supple and firm), of the ligaments, and of the skin, and above all the totally unexpected state of the liver after 46 years. One would have thought that this organ, which is basically soft and inclined to crumble, would have decomposed very rapidly or would have hardened to a chalky consistency. Yet, when it was cut it was soft and almost normal in consistency. I pointed this out to those present, remarking that this did not seem to be a natural phenomenon.”

Remarkable! Except if you look even at Wikipedia, you see that not only are the visible parts of Bernadette’s body (on view in the town of Nevers) covered with wax, but there’s also this note with the photo below (my emphasis):

The body of Saint Bernadette of Lourdes with wax face and hand coverings, declared to appear incorrupt by a committee in 1909 (subsequent exhumations indicated corruption). (January 7, 1844 – April 16, 1879).

Atlas Obscura is even more skeptical:

As part of the canonization process, her body was exhumed three separate times, in 1909, 1919, and finally in 1925, when she was moved to the crystal casket. Her body was pronounced by the church as officially “incorrupt,” but it seems the qualifications for that term may have been somewhat lax. In the words of the attending doctor in 1919: “The body is practically mummified, covered with patches of mildew and quite a notable layer of salts, which appear to be calcium salts… The skin has disappeared in some places, but it is still present on most parts of the body.”

After a few ribs were removed to be sent to Rome as relics, it was decided that the “blackish color” of her face might be off-putting to pilgrims, and so a “light wax mask” was in order. Her new face and hands were designed by Pierre Imans, a designer of fashion mannequins in Paris.

Yep, she was not incorruptible. She was rotting away.

Now it’s possible that Bernadette rotted somewhat more slowly than a normal body (perhaps due to special physical features of the body, casket, or soil; see below), but I can’t rule out with absolute certainty that God did it. (As Richard Dawkins has pointed out, science can’t be 100% certain about anything). But if God did it, why didn’t he just preserve her in perpetuity, with no need for wax or remaking of faces and hands? God can do that, you know, for He can do anything! Here we have another vexing question for Sophisticated Theologians™: why does God act so erratically with respect to the bodies of saints?

But on to the NYT, which reports on another “incorruptible” nun, whose face also has been be covered with a wax mask. There’s a racial dimension to this one, too, for as far as I know, this is the first incorruptible nun who was black. The NYT plays that up, of course, but I find the science of more interest.

Click on the screenshot below, and I also found the piece archived here.

An excerpt:

In life, Sister Wilhelmina Lancaster was known to her fellow nuns for her devotional poetry, her sense of humor and her fierce piety. “I’m Sister Wil-hel-mina,” she was known to say. “I’ve a hell of a will and I mean it!” A biography published by her order after her death at age 95 in 2019 described her as the little nun “who persevered in faith.”

In death, Sister Wilhelmina has become something much larger to some: a potential saint, a pilgrimage attraction, a miracle.

The transformation started this spring at the Abbey of Our Lady of Ephesus, run by the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of the Apostles, a small but growing conservative order whose headquarters are nestled in the rolling hills north of Kansas City. Four years after burying Sister Wilhelmina, the order’s founder, in a simple wood coffin in a corner of the property, the sisters decided to move her body into a customary place of honor inside their church.

My emphasis below in what seems to be a bit of fudging:

When they opened the coffin, expecting to find bones that could be easily cleaned and placed in a new box, they instead found what looked and even felt remarkably like Sister Wilhelmina herself. Her face was recognizable, even after years in a damp coffin, and the sisters said that her beloved habit was “immaculate.”

For the Benedictines of Mary, this immediately signaled that Sister Wilhelmina may be an “incorruptible,” a term the Catholic Church uses to describe people whose bodies — or parts of their bodies — did not decompose after death. Believers in the phenomenon say there have been more than 100 examples worldwide, mostly in Europe.

Michael O’Neill, who hosts a national radio show called “The Miracle Hunter” on the Catholic station EWTN, said that the case of Sister Wilhelmina, who was Black, was especially distinctive. “There’s never been an African American incorruptible; in fact there’s never been an American of any sort who’s an incorruptible,” he said. “So this is big news.”

Incorrupted, but after a paltry four years. But was she really that well preserved?

Here’s a photo of the body *(uncredited) from The Pillar, a Catholic publication:

Note that only her face and hands are visible (well, it would be salacious to show other parts), but The Pillar adds this:

In the case of Sister Wilhelmina, it is not clear how much of her body may be incorrupt. Photos circulating online seem to show a life-like face that has resisted decomposition, while skin on the nun’s hands appears leathery and dehydrated, but not rotting.

. . .The Vatican’s Dicastery for the Causes of Saints has norms on the examination process, which emphasize the respect due to the human body, he said. But there are no specific norms governing an investigation into whether a body is incorrupt.

In the recent Missouri case, Sister Wilhelmina’s canonization cause has not been opened, making the veneration of her mortal remains — and the prospect of an investigation — somewhat unusual.

The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph released a May 22 statement, which noted the need “to protect the integrity of the mortal remains of Sister Wilhelmina to allow for a thorough investigation.”

But when asked by The Pillar about what the investigation will entail — and who is responsible for it — a spokesperson for the diocese was not able to give a clear sense of the next steps.

Angelus, another Catholic publication, says this:

Cleaned and protected with wax, Sister Wilhelmina’s remains are now on display for veneration at the monastery. Following a May 29 rosary procession, the body will be encased in glass at the altar shrine, the religious community stated, adding that once devotion to Sister Wilhelmina has become “well established,” her cause for canonization “may be introduced.”

Another Catholic site shows her face (below), saying it’s covered with a “light transparent face mask”. If that’s true (and why any wax?), it is a remarkable case of preservation:

The NYT doesn’t say anything about a wax coating, or Sister Wilhelmina’s rotting hands. But they do manage to throw in one doubter toward the end, even though they dismiss science in the very next sentence. Bolding below is mine:

Inside the abbey walls, few openly question what they see before their eyes. To experts in forensic science, there are other potential explanations.

“It’s impossible to make many conclusions at all,” said Marcella Sorg, a forensic anthropologist and research professor at the University of Maine’s Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center. One of several explanations is the phenomenon of dry mummification, which can take place naturally if the body’s soft tissues stay dry enough. Factors include the person’s body fat, their diet in the days before death and the dryness of the wood used for the coffin.

For others, science is hardly the point.

Madeline Whitt, a clerk at the Hy-Klas grocery store in Gower, shrugged when asked if Sister Wilhelmina’s preservation was a miracle. “Even if it’s not,” she said, “if it brings more people to come and question things, then it is.”

Ms. Whitt, 17, has visited the abbey three times to see Sister Wilhelmina.

She attends a nondenominational Protestant church and said she had not ever seen a nun before her visits to the abbey. It was a “culture shock,” she said. But in a quiet, small town, it was also something to do.

In a 1,672-word piece. then, the NYT devotes 96 words, or 5.7%, to just one alternative naturalistic explanation. And there are others: after all, parts of Sister Wilhelmina are starting to degenerate, and for some unexplained reason they put wax on her body. If they are really looking for a miracle, leave off the wax!

And THEN they have the temerity to say that “science is hardly the point.” In fact, it is the entire point. Either there’s a naturalistic explanation for the incorruptibility of this nun’s body, or there’s not, and it’s supernatural. (I’m betting on the former.) And that distinction is precisely what Madelin Whitt meant when suggesting that people should see the body and “question things.”

Better yet, read up on forensic anthropology.  An Internet search for naturalistic explanations yields very little, even in the Wikipedia article. I’m sure there are explanations out there, though, and I suggest that readers look for them. In the meantime, although the NYT has mercifully ditched its weekly lucubrations on Jesus from Pastor Tish Harrison Warren, it continues to be very soft on religion. After all, the paper wouldn’t want to anger its “believing-in-belief” readers by acting like that nasty old skepic James Randi. Such doubt wins you no plaudits in religious America.

And I still want to know why God can’t make a saint’s body incorruptible without the use of wax.

h/t: Mike

67 thoughts on “The NYT touts miracles again

    1. I visited Lenin’s mausoleum in 1998. We had to take our hats off, keep moving and not talk. The guards sharply rebuked any transgressors. Lenin himself was smartly dressed and looked extremely well, much better than most of those struggling through the snow outside.

      1. On my continuing Grand Tour of the Embalmed Dictators of the World, I visited the Mao-soleum in 2001, but when we went to Moscow in 2009, Lenin was off at the spa for his yearly facial, so my lifelist of dicators stands at a measly 1.

  1. I didn’t know about this creepy practice – the needle of my hermetic alchemy detector is bouncing.

    Could the individual have drank formaldehyde?

    1. That would possibly preserve the gut. But the rapid death that would follow (you say “drank”, not “had formaldehyde poured down the neck”) would strongly reduce the penetration of the preservative to the extremities. The pattern of decay versus (relative) preservation would be pretty evident.
      If you found the lungs well preserved, you might infer the “pouring down the neck” stage had “gone down the wrong way”.

  2. How many deceased atheists, if dug up, would be well preserved? If there would be some then the miracle claptrap would be debunked. In other words if science ran an experiment (which it wouldn’t because it would probably be unethical), it would almost certainly put a nail in the coffin 😊 of this nonsense.

    1. “if science ran an experiment. . . .”

      No need for a full-blown experiment. All we need is some evidence of this phenomenon occurring in people who aren’t particularly religious. Is there such evidence?

    2. God never loses. If the body of an atheist (or multiple bodies of many atheists) were exhumed and discovered to be surprisingly preserved, it would be God demonstrating His power over Nonbelief. Yes, He loves even atheists and either the atheist converted after death, converted after the miracle, was damned and God’s signature placed on this, or it’s not about the deceased, but a Divine Message for the conversion of those who stubbornly fail to believe. Being able to discover/invent an explanation consistent with faith in God is a moral challenge for the soul.

      Science is hardly the point because religious belief is considered an exercise for virtue, not for reason. The story tells itself from the standpoint of it being true; it isn’t a mystery unraveling itself to be solved. Though, when the local storekeeper said science wasn’t the point, I did expect her to say that any increase of tourism in an otherwise insignificant town was Manna from Heaven to local shopkeepers. She probably thought it.

      1. “The story tells itself from the standpoint of it being true”

        ^^^very clear argument – accounts for a lot, I think.

      2. Yes, the same applies to the question in the OP about why god acts so erratically with respect to the decomposition of saints. God doesn’t have to be consistent because he works in mysterious ways and if we can’t make sense of his pattern of behaviour that is because we can’t hope to understand his ineffable ways. Of course the theologians then have it both ways by confidently asserting what is god’s purpose in relation to seemingly miraculous events.

    3. if science ran an experiment (which it wouldn’t because it would probably be unethical)

      The experiment has been done, repeatedly.
      Many countries (multiple US states, even) run “body farms”, where donated cadavers are exposed to the elements in multiple microenvironments relevant to the country (state) climate, entomology and even clothing norms. The reason being, to provide forensic scientists with objective evidence to cite in court about why they infer that the body had been in the shallow grave/ suitcase/ sunken car/ swamp/ permafrost for 3 weeks before being found …
      A simple FOIA request should unseal their statistics on cases of incorruptibility.
      More challenging, since the donors are normally anonymous, would be finding how “saintly” a life the donor had lived before their donation. You’d need that to establish the correlation between “saintliness” (criteria need some elaboration) and degree of incorruptibility.
      I’m sure the Vatican would be happy to support a properly phrased request for funding to carry out this investigation. Since it would be primarily a paperwork exercise in an already-well-documented series of experiments, the funding requirements should be modest.

    4. Recently I re-watched a documentary about Anneliese Michel, an epileptic young woman from a traditionalist Catholic family who died from starvation while her parents tried to rid her of the devil. Most exorcism sessions she endured were recorded on tape.

      The tapes reveal that Michel was subjected to a forced interrogation, in which she was expected to confirm that the devil was behind the modernist church reforms her family rejected. The Virgin Mary would also occasionally force the devil to give the modern church some helpful advice, e.g. to train priests in seminaries rather than universities (Michel sometimes forgot which side the devil was on).

      But none of the participants seems to have realized what was going on. Surviving participants insist that that what we can hear on the tapes are the very voice of Satan as Michel growls and utters some obscenities, and even more voices as she impersonates some specific demons like Nero and Hitler (all share her local dialect). Allegedly, one can also her her speak in foreign languages (a tired trope of demon possession, just like fear of holy water).

      The point: people will believe what they want to believe. I know Catholic nonsense from childhood experience. You cannot expect some believers to scrutinize even the most ridiculous miracle or saint story. In Anneliese’s case, her body was once exhumed, and the medical expert noticed nothing unusual. This has not stopped claims that she was in fact incorruptible, and that there was a plot by the local bishop and the government to cover this up.

  3. Whatever is the point of not having your dead body decay?
    If it were still alive, yes that could be wonderful. But since it’s a dead body, what’s good about having a dead body stick around? Dead bodies are not good things to have around!!
    If one’s body isn’t cremated, much better to have it turn back into earth or the other living or nonliving matter of the earth. So it can become part of some kind of life again.

    1. Your body can become a relic (or many, as they have often been chopped up). If you can inspire miracles, your continued presence might even be profitable.

      You could also become a fossil and be discovered by another species in the far future.

  4. A good place to start is an old book, “The Chemistry of Death.” But really, with our finding extractable DNA (though somewhat corrupted) in teeth of Denisovan and Neanderthal humans or soft tissues in dinosaurs, it is clear that there are SOME cases of remarkable preservation in Nature (assuming a deity would not be interested in preserving an uncorrupted T. rex for any reason).
    And, yes, the waxing is an interesting issue, because a kind of wax is associated with natural soft-tissue preservation.
    Look up adopicere; even the relatively clunky Wiki definition: “Adipocere (/ˈædɪpəˌsɪər, -poʊ-/), also known as corpse wax, grave wax or mortuary wax, is a wax-like organic substance formed by the anaerobic bacterial hydrolysis of fat in tissue, such as body fat in corpses. In its formation, putrefaction is replaced by a permanent firm cast of fatty tissues, internal organs, and the face.”
    Note that this preservation is variable, depending on the conditions of the corpse at burial and the physical conditions of the grave, so it is possible that SOME of the body would be well preserved, while the rest would deteriorate as normal (which may explain the contrast between some parts that were “uncorrupted” and other parts that clearly were not).
    A good recent review is here: Magni PA, Lawn J, Guareschi EE. A practical review of adipocere: Key findings, case studies and operational considerations from crime scene to autopsy. J Forensic Leg Med. 2021 Feb;78:102109. doi: 10.1016/j.jflm.2020.102109. Epub 2020 Dec 23. PMID: 33596512
    And this review suggests that infectious diseases present at death (even if not the cause of death) can also affect post-mortem decomposition and recycling of organic materials by insects and microbes: Whittington AE. Effects of peri-mortem infection on the entomofauna of decomposing buried human remains – a metadata analysis. Sci Justice. 2019 Jul;59(4):452-458. doi: 10.1016/j.scijus.2019.03.006. Epub 2019 Mar 16. PMID: 31256818.
    In our teaching, students often ask about the name of the “sacrum” because it sounds “holy” to them. Right! In the deep dark past, folks recognized that this dense conglomerate of fused vertebrae was much more resistant to decay than practically anything other than teeth. In a mix of contemporary scientific observation (such as it was) and religious doctrine, theologians declared that this bone remained intact so that God could use it to rebuild the bodies of the dead after the Second Coming. (Of course, [a] they expected the Second Coming to happen at any moment; and [2] even the sacrum WILL decay eventually under most circumstances).
    One wonders, however, why a deity that was capable of building an entire universe (or maybe many universes) from scratch would need to have the bones of the dead to rebuild their bodies.

  5. Madeline Whitt, a clerk at the Hy-Klas grocery store in Gower, shrugged when asked if Sister Wilhelmina’s preservation was a miracle. “Even if it’s not,” she said, “if it brings more people to come and question things, then it is.”

    Don’t really need to say more than that about the low bar for wonders these days.

  6. The glass display coffin for Saint Bernadette poses a practical problem, which is that surely the inside of the glass will be rapidly fogged by a fatty vapor and assorted funk. This would require regular cleaning done in secret.

  7. And in “The Brothers Karamazov”, the holy man Father Zossima dies, and they can’t bury him right away. And Dostoevsky describes how everyone believes that surely the body won’t decay, he’s too holy for that – but then the whiff of decay starts, and becomes more definite …
    Can anyone really believe that he was any less holy for that? That the advice he gave to so many with perceptiveness and love, was somehow diminished for that?

  8. Here’s the thing about miracles. When challenged with an “inexplicable” case like an incorruptible cadaver, the faith of someone who already believes in supernatural manifestations of the Divine may be strengthened — but nonbelievers like me can simply utter those three magic words that get us out of any difficulty, I don’t know — and carry on in our unbelief.

    So a supposed “miracle” doesn’t change anybody’s mind. And an actual god would know that. Therefore an actual god would not only wouldn’t bother creating miracles, He would know that it would actually be counterproductive.

    By the way, Bernadette Soubirous looks a lot better in death than she would have when she died of tuberculosis at age 35. I think it’s more likely an example of the artistry of wax model makers than anything miraculous. [source]

    1. Well, I take some issue with the claim that an acual God wouldn’t create miracles, since they wouldn’t change anybody’s mind. Both Carl Sagan and I have described miracles that, subject to proper testing, would make US at least tentative believers. One of Sagan’s was a Biblical verse spelled out clearly in the stars, and I give one example for myself in Faith Versus Fact.

      1. What exactly would a Bible verse in the stars cause someone to believe, beyond the fact that some stars were arranged in a way that’s extremely improbable, according to our ideas of what stars are likely to do?
        And maybe the people who reported it happening were hallucinating anyway …
        Closer to home, if some water turned into wine, what could one infer from that?

        1. Here’s one that would convince me: What if all the printed sacred books in the world would automatically get updated periodically to take into account new inventions, new ways to sin, or new ethical dilemmas? For example, the Torah could be updated to tell orthodox Jews whether pressing an electric light switch should constitute “work” and hence should be prohibited on the Sabbath. Or as science advances, the Bible could be updated so that it always reflected current knowledge instead of being stuck in a two-thousand-year-old worldview. One strong argument against a literal reading of the bible is that it says false things about the world, and a typical Christian answer is that god had to speak in terms that the ancient readers could understand. God could fix this by updating the bibles. If all bibles did get automatically updated, that would be strong evidence of this god’s reality. And to me, the fact that things like this do not happen is evidence that this god (who is said to want people to worship and obey him) does not exist.

          1. So in that case, there would be a new kind of life form in the world – these books that are constantly changing; each copy of the book changing in concert with the others.
            It’s an interesting idea, and maybe the books would start doing more than just acting autonomously intelligent, like getting into arguments with each other 🙂
            So then you would call these books collectively “God”? So we’d have theological scientists studying the phenomenon, trying to figure out it it’s due to aliens with dastardly designs on the earth …

            1. Well, you can choose to call it “another form of life”, but it breaks all our laws of physics, does not consist of matter, and works in a personal, intelligent way. Such a “form of life” fits the concept of a god fairly well.

        2. Closer to home, if some water turned into wine, what could one infer from that?

          Rapid death for the witnesses?
          The radiation dose from fusing 12 hydrogen nuclei into each carbon nucleus in each molecule of the ethanol (to say nothing of the dyes, conjoiners, etc that make the difference between vodka and “wine” ; consult our host for details ; somewhere I should have notes on the chomatographic breakdown of gin, vodka and absinthe, produced by chemists whose sense of humour follows tracks similar to mine) would be very damaging to witnesses, onlookers etc. The thermal consequences of the fusion reactions would …
          Oh, now we know what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah!

      2. “Proper testing” is the operative concept — and I don’t know what test would “prove” that something impossible had really happened! Even if I saw a Bible verse written in the stars with my own eyes, I’m afraid my first reaction would be to doubt my eyes. I have actually seen unidentifiable objects in the sky, twice — and all I can say with any certainty is that I simply don’t know what they were! It didn’t make me a believer in Little Green Men, when before I had been a skeptic.

        The problem with those already primed to believe, is they think they do know what something is, when they really shouldn’t be so sure.

        1. “God” is too vague a concept to believe or disbelieve. That’s how religious beliefs survive – there’s a lot of wiggle room for religious people.
          But if the religious person believes a miracle happened, that’s a definite belief. But does the belief in a miracle imply anything beyond just that miracle?
          Could belief in one miracle have other miracle claims in the religion as a logical consequence? How would that work?

        2. Carl Sagan may have been envisioning that everybody sees the same writing in the sky (or at least, everybody on that side of the earth).
          But even if that happened, what would it imply, more than just a really strange phenomenon in the stars, or in the human beings looking at the stars?

          1. Carl Sagan may have been envisioning that everybody sees the same writing in the sky (or at least, everybody on that side of the earth).

            Sagan, being an astronomer, would have been familiar with the “horizon” problem, and would have conceived of a pattern appearing on the sky spelling a Biblical verse on one side of the sky, and (approximately) simultaneously a Koranic verse appearing (in Arabic script) at the antipode on the sky. Even better if both are near the margins of our galaxy, and their light therefore having started travelling in our direction in about 70,000 BP/ BC/ BCE/ BH, from sites that could not have been in communication since about 130 kyr before anything even vaguely historical – like agriculture. (I’m allowing agriculture to be about 10 kyr old, but that’s almost certainly an underestimate.)

  9. The reporter also went to some trouble to connect the miracle to anti-black racism (as one does at the NYT). “Others question why Sister Wilhelmina is being promoted so eagerly by a largely white movement within the Catholic Church…Shannen Dee Williams, a historian at the University of Dayton and author of a book about Black Catholic nuns, said she hopes that Sister Wilhelmina is not ‘being used to counter the reality of what Black Catholicism is in the United States.’ She said Sister Wilhelmina’s beliefs did not make her representative of most Black Catholics, who tend to be more liberal on social issues.”

    It’s comforting in a way to realize that the USA is still so rich and deep that a person can develop a successful career as a social scientist at a regional public university studying the history of American Black Catholic nuns. The existence of such niches is a testament to the opportunities that still exist in your country, in spite of all the talk about declining empires etc. If that sounds sarcastic it’s not: I think this is great, sort of the opposite of those old Proxmire “Golden Fleece Awards”.

    1. Opportunities to study nonsense? Is it a great thing about America that people can go combing through bird names to look for those that might be connected to bad people? Or write papers on feminist glaciology and the unbearable whiteness of yoga and pumpkin lattes? Sorry, but I can’t share those kudos.

      1. Here here.
        So much nonsense. I can’t decide if conservative/Christ clapper bs bothers me more than woke garbage.

      2. I think Mike’s point is that America has the range (as Leonard Cohen sings in “Democracy”) that people aren’t constrained in what they can go looking for. You don’t get to tell them they can’t pursue their interest just because it’s nonsense. It all gets thrown out there into the marketplace of ideas to be judged as nonsense after the fact. As we do here. It’s messy.

      3. I agree some of those niche careers produce junk like feminist glaciology. I don’t mean that these kinds of careers are great or that studying nonsense is a good thing. I just mean that the existence of these opportunities to study the whiteness of pumpkin spice lattes says a lot about what a rich country Americans still have. Only great countries can afford to waste resources on this kind of stupidity. But I admit to maybe looking too hard for silver linings.

      4. Maybe a history of American black catholic nuns could enrich the world in some way – e.g. by comparison to the history of American white catholic nuns, or black catholic nuns in some other country …

        1. The first conclusion of such a study would be that nuns die of malnutrition at a lower rate than the general population. There wouldn’t be much point otherwise, would there?
          For most of history, avoiding dieing of childbirth would have been a significant “pull” factor into the nunneries too.

    2. As Clive James wrote, “everyone has a right to a university degree in America, even if it’s in hamburger technology.”

  10. I think it is funny that the teenager has visited 3 times because there is not much else to do in her small town. No doubt plenty of pilgrimages were/are based on boredom, curiosity (including the morbid kind), and a desire for adventure- every bit as much as true piety.

  11. Thousands of years ago, god’s miracles were BIG: raising the dead, splitting the red sea, fire-proof or lion-proof prophets, walking on water, Egyptian plagues, burning bushes. What happened to all your BIG miracles god? Was your apogee of miraculous power 2,000 years ago and today all you can muster is some meager decomposition which isn’t even true without wax intervening (and who knows what else)? Oh, how the mighty have fallen!

      1. Thanks. I still haven’t acquainted myself with Terry Pratchett…I hear his named dropped often on WEIT. I think I need to check him out.

        1. I still haven’t acquainted myself with Terry Pratchett…I hear his named dropped often on WEIT. I think I need to check him out.

          Run, don’t walk, to a bookstore near you. Pick a Pratchett at random – the links between books are mild enough that the various “reading order” holy wars are fundamentally unimportant (they wouldn’t be holy wars if they were important).

  12. The University of Dayton is not a “regional public University”; it is a Catholic one, once run and largely staffed by the brothers and priests of the Society of Mary (Marianists). Perhaps a little less surprising that the historian studies black nuns.

  13. Over at Quillette, a physicist by the name of Lawrence Kraus states that Darwin (not Einstein) was the greatest scientist of all time. What is you opinion? Please take off you biologist hat in answering. I have (sort of) grown up in the conventional physics tradition, which makes Einstein number one. However, this may be wrong.

    1. Not sure how relevant this is to the thread but it seems to me that this is an apples and pears sort of question. Both were great scientists who produced amazing insights that have had an enormous impact on their respective fields but how can you judge which was greater?

  14. Sokushinbutsu :

    “Sokushinbutsu (即身仏) are a kind of Buddhist mummy. In Japan the term refers to the practice of Buddhist monks observing asceticism to the point of death and entering mummification while alive.[1]”

    “There is at least one “self-mummified” 550-year-old corpse in existence: that of a Buddhist monk named Sangha Tenzin in a northern Himalayan region of India, visible in a temple in Gue village, Spiti, Himachal Pradesh.[5]”

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