Shroud’s Image Has a Brain the Size of a Caveman’s

From Gregory Paul, a freelance paleontologist, researcher, and artist:

The Shroud of Turin is again on short-term display. When I first saw it many years ago, I immediately realized it was a fake because of gross errors in the image. Yet many continue to believe it is the actual burial shroud of Jesus, encouraged by a body of pro-shroud researchers who were allowed to present their case without rebuttal in a two-hour cable documentary timed to coincide with the exhibition. The Catholic Church had long maintained a neutral position on the nature of the object, but according to the Associated Press, the pope has now endorsed the shroud as a photographic image of the crucified Christ, which is already encouraging belief that the shroud is what it seems to be.
Unfortunately, Pope Benedict did so just before I posted an analysis that shows that, although they do not know it, he and other shroud advocates are in effect proposing that Jesus was pathologically hypocephalic. This embarrassing mistake
is occurring even though it has long been understood that the image’s body is too long relative to the head. Having done some work on the evolution of brain size, I realized a few weeks ago that that if this is because the head is too small, then the brain has to be undersized. The results of calculations confirm that the brain volume of the shroud image would have been well below human norms, and in the range of ancient Homo erectus. This awkward defect of the image has yet to be noticed.
The actual explanation for the deformity is that the shroud is a Gothic forgery, small heads being a standard artistic convention of the time, and radiometric dating places the cloth at that period. Hopefully, the results of this analysis will make a major contribution to finally discrediting the validity of the notorious shroud.

Does Humanism Have an Expiration Date?

From Brint Montgomery, who teaches philosophy at Southern Nazarene University:

Humanism is a system of thought that rejects religious beliefs and centers on humans and their values, capacities, and worth. It gets its start, at least in the form we know it today, as a cultural and intellectual movement of the Renaissance, mainly as a result of the rediscovery and study of the literature, art, and civilization of ancient Greece and Rome. Thus, it has a negative and positive agenda. Down with religion; up with—well, whatever is otherwise understood to be the high products of human culture.
In some ways, humanism should now strike us as a very strange philosophy.
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Let Me (Spiritually) Entertain You

From Brint Montgomery, who teaches philosophy at Southern Nazarene University:

The media has been reporting on a procedure that removes tumors from the parietal region of the brain and leaves the patient with a different view of their own spirituality—in this case, perceived self-transcendence (Field Notes, February 11, 2010). Typically a person’s viewpoint of their own spirituality remains constant over time, but Cosimo Urgesi, one of the study’s lead researchers, explains that “changes of neural activity in specific areas may modify even inherently stable dispositional traits.” So the quick takeaway is that the brain can be modified to produce spiritual experiences by means of surgical intervention on a particular area.
Fine. Of course, producing the phenomena of spiritual experiences by modifying localized brain states has seemingly been done before by Michael Persinger, who used a modified helmet that contained solenoids strategically placed over the brain’s temporal lobes. Although controversial, his apparatus apparently induces a kind of epilepsy (via magnetic fields). People who are psychologically disposed to process experiences in a particular way come away form the procedure having felt the presence of another entity. (It’s no big surprise that Richard Dawkins wasn’t one of them and Susan Blackmore was.)
People have rightly noticed that the physical modification of the brain, whether through an intervention like surgery or the passive electromagnetic force of waveforms, is not a sufficient condition for encountering the spiritual world. Even without techno-intervention, about 50 percent of people claim to have had at least one experience that they would describe as spiritual; but there are many reasons why a genuine spiritual experience causally originating from a transcendental plane or source of reality should be carefully differentiated from mere phenomena of such. (By analogy, the genuine experience of being chased by a polar bear should be carefully differentiated from when you merely dream it.)
Temporal lobe epilepsy, chemical imbalances in the brain, and other quite this-worldly chains of causation can certainly give someone the phenomena of a spiritual experience without it being the real thing. Suppose, for instance, someone were to surgically modify the V1 through V4 areas of the brain, or perhaps even passively influence them with a magnetic wave, vision-inducing helmet. If that person were to then have an experience like seeing a dancing pink elephant, this would say nothing about the existence (or not) of such an entity. It would merely show (in yet one more way) that manipulation of localized brain states have causal influences on changes in particular mind states. That some very specific brain states correlate with, and even cause, some specific and often peculiar mind states is hardly a radical claim. This kind of analysis has been well noted before now, so I want to push the issue in another direction.
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The Religious Struggle over Cryptozoology

From Joe Laycock, a doctoral candidate studying religion and society at Boston University:

In 2003, Loren Coleman started the world’s first cryptozoology museum in Portland, Maine. Coleman’s International Cryptozoology Museum opened publicly in November 2009, and I recently made the trek north to see it. Cryptozoology—the search for animals not yet verified by Western science—is either a useful and legitimate zoological endeavor or a pseudoscience, depending on whom you ask. The media has focused intensely on the most legendary subjects of cryptozoology: the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, and the Yeti. But aside from “the big three,” cryptozoologists claim a number of recent discoveries, including the woodland bison, the giant panda, the okapi (an African mammal related to the giraffe), and the coelacanth—a fish once believed to have been extinct since the Cretaceous period.
You cannot get a degree in cryptozoology. It is not a scientific discipline but rather a network of investigators (often using their own funds) with training in zoology, anthropology, or marine biology. Cryptozoology often resembles scientific research before the advent of professionalization, when discoveries were made not by research institutions but by “men of science” epitomized by individuals like Benjamin Franklin.
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