Tom McLeish, Physicist, Professor of Natural Philosophy, University of York, and oh yes, Anglican Lay Preacher

We can’t go back in time. The Pandemic, the war in Ukraine happened. This is exactly like Easter and doubting Thomas. This is wisdom.

10 thoughts on “Tom McLeish, Physicist, Professor of Natural Philosophy, University of York, and oh yes, Anglican Lay Preacher

  1. ‘Good morning. I’m a physicist, dealing with known quantities which explain how life and the universe work; fixed parameters that have been established on evidence proved by centuries of experiment, testing, and re-testing. Yet I’m now going to talk about a dead body miraculously coming back to life. Not only will I thereby illustrate my ‘thought’ from a faith perspective,’ but I’ll speak confidently about this impossibility as though I really, really believed it. Confused? Not half as much as I have totally compromised my own credibility! Have a nice day.’

    I’m sure that Professor McLeish could easily find a forensic anthropologist who would explain to him the processes of bodily decomposition, which process begins immediately following death. McLeish might then consider how autolysis and rigor mortis begin to break down the internal organs in the initial stages of decay.

    McLeish’s church has long spun the tale that Jesus was ‘three days in the tomb,’ although a careful calculation of the scriptural verses suggests a day and a half tops. Either way, the body in the tomb would be well decayed within the first 24 hours. Yet the essential and indispensable tenet of the Christian faith is that, somehow, and miraculously, Jesus leapt uncorrupted and alive from the grave. I’m pretty sure that even ancient peoples, with no scientific knowledge, but lots of experience of death, found this hard to take. That anyone in the C21st can still claim this happened – especially a scientist – is pretty staggering.

    McLeish’s point seemed to be that, despite everything that might befall humankind, our only option is to go forward, learning from the past and shaping the future accordingly. I would agree wholeheartedly with this notion, and don’t need a fictional ‘coming-back-to-life’ tale to illustrate it. There are plenty of decaying bodies beneath the rubble of Kharkiv, and Mariupol, for which no miraculous resurrection is coming any time soon, Professor McLeish.


    1. [Working within the story.]
      As you say: one-and-a-half days, tops. In addition, take the time actually on the cross. Crucifixion was a process that could take up to three days to cause death and the body often left displayed as a warning but in this particular case lasted somewhere between three and six hours. This is such a short time that

      Mark, 15:44: And Pilate marvelled if he were already dead: and calling unto him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead.

      There is a strong possibility that death had not occurred when the body was transferred to the tomb, which had to be done before sunset.
      The whole story is suspect. Surely a scientist would notice.


  2. Another in the occasional series of, ” How one part of my uncorroborated story provides evidence that another uncorroborated bit of it actually happened.” No, Tom, that’s circular reasoning. Surely even lay preachers are taught the supposed actions are “early Christians” are only documented decades later, and by people who have more claim to that title than the characters in their stories.


    1. Quite striking , isn’t it? “Natural philosopher” McLeish would, you hope, see through the reasoning of “lay preacher” Mcleish in a flash. I think Wilkinson is at the moment better at tying himself in knots without giving any impression he’s aware of his own contortionism.


  3. It was noteworthy that when McLeish started talking about how we should learn from the past and move forward into the future he resorted to windy generalisations, rather than concrete examples. How, exactly, do we go about turning the war in Ukraine into a better outcome for Europe and the world (not excluding the Russians)? How, exactly, do we learn from Covid so as to benefit the health of people worldwide, especially the poorer ones? Any secular, rational commentator could have made a number of suggestions, which would at least have formed a basis for discussion.

    But this is TftD, so what we got was a long digression about the resurrected Jesus and Doubting Thomas, which Liverpudlian has rightly debunked. As with so much of the Gospels, the DT story (which appears only in the Gospel according to ‘John’) is a pious fiction, concocted to make a theological point, not to recount a slice of history. As AndyM says, you would think that trainee preachers were taught at least the rudiments of what lies behind their holy texts. Maybe they’re not; maybe they do believe all this stuff actually happened. No wonder they’re losing disciples and credibility by the shedload.


  4. I know that one is on a hiding to nothing by trying to take a rational look at fables from the BBOMS. But – taking the Doubting Thomas episode – why would the ‘risen’ Jesus still be bearing scars from the crucifixion? The process of execution would have created many traumas in the body; stretched limbs, dislocated joints, torn muscles, even before death. The ‘miracle of resurrection’ appears not only to have revived the heart and inner organs, but also the torn and tortured body – so why did the wounds in hands and feet and in his side not recover? The answer, of course, is obvious; those who concocted the story needed proof that your man Jesus had been on the cross. So… a complete resurrection wasn’t actually on the cards; certain aspects of his torture had to remain unhealed. Funny, that.


  5. Re: Doubting Thomas. Isn’t doubt the sine qua non of science? The entire process is driven through scepticism and the subsequent search for evidence. I recall someone saying once that if an experiment proves a theory, the theorist gets a Nobel Prize; if the experiment disproves the theory, the experimenter gets a Nobel Prize. It’s a contest in which only the best evidence wins.

    You’d think that for a scientist, Thomas would be the hero of that story, Jesus the argument-from-authority villain. Although his threshold for what constitutes evidence (some hand wounds) is pretty low, so maybe not. As Liverpudlian says, a bit more checking on his part and this whole “leap of faith” thing could have been sorted out once and for all. An hour of detailed examination and a paper submitted to The Judean Journal of Frankly Incredible Medicine – job done.


    1. Surely, from a believer’s point of view as well, Thomas’ story would have been a better illustration of faith if , having seen there were NO stigmata, he believed Jesus’ version of events. Aren’t we told that the true strength of faith is maintenance of a belief in spite of , not because of,the evidence?


  6. Just a point or two. At the monumental end of The King of Kings film Jeffrey Hunter as Christ displays no wounds on his hands when encountering Magdalene. Yet turgid modern hymns draw inspiration in thought from exactly the opposite impulse . They sing As wounds which mar the Chosen One bring many sons to glory. It’s like a celestial firing squad. Frank Lake the father of much Christian psychoanalysis insisted the hands which created the universe were nail printed. As people said in Shakespeare before Bawdler Swounds and did they mean it.


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