The Mysterious “Weeping” Statue of Jesus?

On March 10, 2012, an Indian skeptic named Sanal Edamaruku traveled to Mumbai to investigate a mysterious statue of Christ. The statue appeared to be “weeping” tears which proceeded to run over its feet. Was the statue the real deal? Or was it a hoax?

“Christmas 1914″ – Woman with Red Cross emblem nurses a wounded soldier near ruins of a church and a statue of Christ
Drawn by W.A. Rogers, 1914
Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Background

Sanal Edamaruku is a well-known rationalist. He has “exposed the man-made nature of the ‘divine flame’ at Sabarimala, and successfully challenged Hindu godmen on TV.” He is also the President of Rationalist International. This organization is intended to “argue for a rational approach to human problems, suggest reasoned alternatives to religious dogmas, defend freedom of thought and civil liberties and strive for the secularization of politics, society and educational system.”

On March 5, Sanal appeared on a television program in Delhi, India. At the time, the priest of the Our Lady of Velankanni church in Mumbai, India, along with several organizations, were “promoting the idea that water dripping from the feet of a statue of Jesus was a sign from God.” Hundreds of true believers had gathered at the Church to consume this “holy water.” Sanal proceeded to question the reports. So, the TV station flew him to visit the church and investigate the possible hoax on March 10.

Miracle or Hoax?

When he arrived, Sanal saw a priest leading a prayer near the cross. The “holy water” was being distributed to the participants. He also saw a photograph of the dripping water over which someone had written the world “miracle.” However, he wasn’t allowed to take a sample of the water for testing purposes.

So, Sanal investigated a nearby washroom. He pulled away some stones and discovered a blockage in the drainage system. This blocked water needed an outlet. And it found one in the statue.

“It was very simple: Water from the washroom, which had been blocked in the clogged drainage system, had been transmitted via capillary action into the adjacent walls and the base of the cross as well as into the wooden cross itself. The water came out through a nail hole and ran down over the statue’s feet.” ~ Sanal Edamaruku

In other words, the “holy water” was really just sewage run-off from a leaky drain. When Sanal returned to TV, he accused the Church of a hoax, describing it as “miracle mongering.” He specifically called out the PR campaign to support the “miracle” as well as the photographs they distributed of it. Church officials, who were present for the discussion, demanded he apologize and retract his statements. Sanal refused to do so.

Controversy Erupts!

On April 10, two separate individuals filed FIRs, or First Information Reports, against Sanal. The first was filed by Joseph Dias, general secretary of the Catholic Secular Forum (CSF). The second was filed by Agnelo Fernandes, president of Maharashtra Christian Youth Forum.

In India, an FIR is a document used to kickstart a police investigation. In the case of Sanal, both individuals accused him of a violation under Section 295 of the Indian Penal Code, which outlaws “deliberately hurting religious feelings and attempting malicious acts intended to outrage the religious sentiments of any class or community.”

“We never said it was a miracle, though devotees came to pray and atone for their sins. It was sad that it was claimed to be a money-making scam. Not a single penny was collected and even those who insisting on making donations, were told to feed the poor.” ~ Augustine Palett, Parish Priest, Velankanni Church, Irla.

Sanal, in turn, claims the FIRs are being used to silence his point of view on the “hoax.” He plans to use this opportunity to directly challenge the blasphemy law to India’s Supreme Court.

“I’m determined, I have a duty to develop scientific temper and promote inquiry so on these two grounds we will challenge the very veracity of this law in the Supreme Court.” ~ Sanal Edamaruku

Guerrilla Explorer’s Take

We wholeheartedly support Sanal Edamaruku in this endeavor. All too often, modern rationalists embrace a sort of relativism in which absolute truth is sacrificed for so-called individual truths. So, we find a lot to like about Sanal. He sought the truth and when he found a hoax, took it to the masses.

As many of you know, we here at Guerrilla Explorer have been the lead skeptics of the Baltic Anomaly. We’ve questioned the Ocean X Team’s vague and conspiratorial statements. We’ve pointed out that one of the co-founders of the Ocean X team, Mr. Dennis Åsberg has professional acting experience (albeit from several years ago). Thanks to an anonymous tipster, we’ve also learned that the Team created their website three months BEFORE they claim to have discovered the Anomaly.

And now, the Ocean X Team is attempting to turn their publicity into a major financial windfall, complete with a documentary produced by Titan Television, submarine rides, picture sales, sponsorships (it appears they’ve already used equipment from their sponsors to look for shipwrecks at a separate site), and most recently, a clothing line. All of these things don’t necessarily mean a hoax is at work, but it’s enough to raise a bunch of red flags in our mind.

We’ve received much grief for our position, especially from UFO enthusiasts. That’s not terribly surprising. Many people, especially true believers, find skepticism frustrating. However, we think it’s extremely important.

“Question: Why do people so readily believe in miracles?

Answer: For many, the regressive belief in superstitions and miracles is an escape from the hardships of life. Once trapped into irrationalism, they become more incapable of mastering reality. It is a vicious circle, like an addiction. They become vulnerable to exploitation by astrologers, godmen, dubious pseudo-psychologists, corrupt politicians, and the whole mega-industry of irrationalism.” ~ Jon White (Questioner) & Sanal Edamaruku (Answerer)

As we’ve stated before, skepticism isn’t about rejecting other people’s beliefs. It’s about suspending judgement until claims can be properly tested and verified. Just because we’re skeptical of the Baltic Anomaly being anything more than a natural formation doesn’t mean we reject it as a hoax out of hand. Indeed, we believe keeping an open mind is important.

“But while I’m extremely skeptical of Bigfoot, I certainly don’t reject the possibility of its existence. One of the things that frustrates me about modern science is the built-in disdain many researchers hold for fields like cryptozoology. Regardless of our opinions, we must continue to evaluate any and all scientific claims with an open mind…even if its about the legendary Sasquatch. After all, that’s what science is all about.” ~ David Meyer, Bigfoot Lives…!

Piltdown Man: The Fraudulent Missing Link?

On December 18, 1912, Charles Dawson and Arthur Smith Woodward announced the discovery of mysterious bone fragments at a meeting of the Geological Society of London. These fragments, which included part of a skull and a jawbone, seemed to prove the existence of a previously unknown human species with chimpanzee-like features. In other words, the Missing Link. What was Piltdown Man?

Reconstruction of the Piltdown Man Skull

Reconstruction of the Piltdown Man Skull
Attribution: J. Arthur Thomson, The Outline of Science, 1922
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Piltdown Man Hoax?

The discovery of the so-called Piltdown Man was greeting with frenzied excitement and some skepticism. But it would take another 41 years before scientists were able to uncover the dark truth about Piltdown Man.

In 1953, Kenneth Page Oakley, Sir Wilfrid Edward Le Gros Clark, and Joseph Weiner used modern chemistry to shed new light on Piltdown Man. In the process, they exposed perhaps the greatest paleontological hoax of all time…Piltdown Man was a fake.

Until that point, researchers believed Piltdown Man had lived 750,000-950,000 years ago. However, fluorine testing showed the bone fragments actually came from three different creatures. The skull was human and just 600 years old. The jaw was 500 years old and came from an orangutan. And the teeth had belonged to a chimpanzee.

The hoax quickly unraveled. The fragments had been treated with chemicals to create the impression of age. Also, someone had filed down the teeth and deliberately removed parts from the fragments to confuse scholars.

Who was behind the Piltdown Man Hoax?

So who perpetrated the hoax? And why? Over the years, historians have pointed the finger at a number of individuals. Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame has found himself a suspect. However, most people believe the hoax was originated by none other than the discoverer, Charles Dawson himself.

It turns out Dawson had the bad habit of forging other archaeological finds years before Piltdown Man. His personal collection included at least 38 fakes, some of which showed filed-down teeth. He deliberately aged flints with chemicals. And his written work included numerous examples of plagiarism. In short, Dawson had the means to perpetrate the archaeological hoax.

“Piltdown was not a “one-off” hoax, more the culmination of a life’s work.” ~ Miles Russell, Charles Dawson: ‘The Piltdown faker’

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

As for motive, Dawson once wrote to a friend that he was ”waiting for the big ‘find’ which never seems to come along.” This, along with his penchant for creating bizarre fossils and passing them off as real, would seem to imply he was driven by a desire for fame. Finally, Dawson had the best opportunity. Apparently, he was the only person present for the various discoveries of Piltdown fossils over the years. And all such discoveries ceased after his death in 1916.

The Horse that Could Calculate?

Beginning in 1891, crowds throughout Europe were spellbound by the amazing feats of the horse Clever Hans. Urged on by his owner William Von Osten, Clever Hans would answer questions by tapping a hoof on the ground. For example, 5 and 9 were once written on a blackboard and he was asked to add them together. Clever Hans proceeded to tap his hoof 14 times. What was his secret?

Did Clever Hans really know how to do math?

Clever Hans performs in front of an audience
Attribution: Karl Krall
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Secret of Clever Hans?

It took 16 years but finally, a philosophy professor named Carl Stumpf and his student Oskar Pfungst solved the mystery. It turned out that Clever Hans based his responses on “unconscious cues” provided by Von Osten. In other words, when Clever Hans reached the correct number of hoof taps, Von Osten would unknowingly change facial expressions or lean forward. Clever Hans would stop and then receive a reward for his “guess,” which served to reinforce the behavior.

Incidentally, this is a primary reason that modern psychologists use double-blind experiments or communicate with subjects via computers. Here’s more on Clever Hans from Benjamin Radford at Discovery News:

You may think your dog or cat is smart and amazing, but it’s got nothing on a horse that drew huge crowds in Germany and throughout Europe over a century ago.

The horse, named Clever Hans, was known around the world for his inexplicable abilities. William Von Osten put his amazing horse on display in 1891, and together he and Hans treated crowds to sights never before seen.

Not only could Hans count — something no other animals were said to do — but he could also tell time, read, and spell (in German, of course).

(See Discovery News for the rest on Clever Hans)

The Great Moon Hoax…of 1835?

On August 25, 1835, a strange article appeared in the New York Sun. The piece, attributed to famed astronomer Sir John Herschel, announced a startling discovery…the moon was inhabited by intelligent creatures. The Sun’s circulation increased dramatically and within a couple of days, was the most popular newspaper on the planet. What was the Great Moon Hoax of 1835?

Great Moon Hoax Lithograph

Lithograph from the Great Moon Hoax (1835): “Our plain was of course immediately covered with the ruby front of this mighty amphitheater, its tall figures, leaping cascades, and rugged caverns. As its almost interminable sweep was measured off on the canvass, we frequently saw long lines of some yellow metal hanging from the crevices of the horizontal strata in will net-work, or straight pendant branches. We of course concluded that this was virgin gold, and we had no assay-master to prove to the contrary.”
Source: Wikimedia Commons

What was the Great Moon Hoax?

In 1835, the moon was a source of great mystery. So, when the New York Sun’s headline blared, “Great Astronomical Discoveries Lately Made by Sir John Herschel, L.L.D. F.R.S. &c. At the Cape of Good Hope,” citizens turned their heads.

In total, six articles were published by the Sun, claiming to be supplements to the (non-existent) Edinburgh Journal of Science. Supposedly written by Herschel’s assistant, (the fictitious) Dr. Andrew Grant, the pieces described how Herschel had created a new telescope at his Cape of Good Hope observatory. This miracle of science was capable of 42,000x magnification, more than enough to see small objects in space. The resulting images were then reflected onto the observatory’s walls where they were sketched and described.

The Great Moon Hoax…Life on the Moon?

The articles insisted that Herschel had “discovered planets in other solar systems…firmly established a new theory of cometary phenomena…and…solved or corrected nearly every leading problem of mathematical astronomy.” Despite this impressive list of accomplishments, all of it paled in comparison to the shocking news that Herschel had spotted life on the moon.

After viewing rock, a poppy field, vast forests of yew trees, inland seas, and beaches, Herschel turned his attention to an oval-shaped lunar valley. He reported seeing bison herds and blue unicorns. But the most amazing animals were yet to come. On August 27, readers learned that Herschel had observed signs of intelligent life on the moon. More specifically, he saw a primitive tribe of biped beavers who lived in huts, used fires, and carried their young in their arms. The next day, he reported something even more spectacular…a population of winged humanoids who appeared to live near a golden temple. Herschel and Grant labeled these humanoids “Vespertilio-Homo,” or man-bat.

The man-bats appeared to be engaged in conversations, complete with gestures. While the initial creatures were somewhat primitive, more elaborate man-bats would soon make an appearance. Herschel would later report the existence of a beautiful race of angel-like creatures and a mostly human population of middle class citizens.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The story is now known, of course, as the Great Moon Hoax. Not only had Herschel failed to see any of the sights claimed by the article, he wasn’t even aware of the articles until well after they were published. From all accounts, he was initially amused by the incident but soon grew weary fielding questions about it.

The New York Sun reaped strong benefits from the Great Moon Hoax. Its circulation quickly rose from 15,000 before the series to 19,360 after its conclusion, making the Sun the most popular newspaper in the world at the time. Other newspapers followed suit and soon, the Great Moon Hoax was worldwide.

To this day, it remains unclear whether average citizens were aware of the Great Moon Hoax. At that time, newspapers were known for making up outrageous stories in order to drive sales. Also, it’s important to note that subscribers didn’t cancel their subscriptions once the truth began to emerge. Indeed, the Great Moon Hoax of 1835 became somewhat of a cultural icon for the time, leading to a play at the Bowery Theater among other things. Still, eyewitness accounts from the time make it clear that large numbers of people were fooled by the Great Moon Hoax. For example…

“Yale College was alive with staunch supporters. The literati—students and professors, doctors in divinity and law—and all the rest of the reading community, looked daily for the arrival of the New York mail with unexampled avidity and implicit faith. Have you seen the accounts of Sir John Herschel’s wonderful discoveries? Have you read the Sun? Have you heard the news of the man in the Moon? These were the questions that met you every where. It was the absorbing topic of the day. Nobody expressed or entertained a doubt as to the truth of the story.” ~ Yale Reporter, 1853

So, that leads us to our final question: who was behind the Great Moon Hoax? A reporter named Richard Adams Locke is usually given credit for the articles. However, Locke never admitted his involvement in the Great Moon Hoax and some researchers believe that the French astronomer Jean-Nicolas Nicollet, or Lewis Gaylord Clark, editor of the Knickerbocker Magazine, may have perpetrated it. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to know for certain. And unless new evidence comes to light, we may never know the hoaxer’s true identity.