How can an atheist explain a building surviving an atomic bomb?

Just after the Hiroshima bombing happened, a Catholic Church stood erect with only the roof and windows damaged. Within the church, eight Jesuit priests were alive, unharmed by the blast (or with only minor bruises and scratches). Some of the World’s greatest scientists have investigated the Hiroshima bombing.
They have provided the world with documentation proving beyond any reasonable doubt that these buildings should have been destroyed and the priests, not just killed, but annihilated.
How can this be explained but from a miracle from a higher level? Can an answer be given from a non-religious perspective?

Posted: May 21st 2008

SmartLX www

The answer from a non-religious perspective is a bunch of inconvenient facts, principal among which is the fact that Hubert Schiffer and the other priests were not the only survivors, or even the closest.

Those eight blocks place the church about 1km away from ground zero. According to different accounts (not even secular accounts; the only ones I could find all proclaimed a miracle) the church itself was destroyed; it was the parish house next to it, where the priests were having breakfast, which stayed more or less intact (Hubert Schiffer, the public face of the priests, said he was buried under a wall).

A bit of architectural knowledge helps too. Hiroshima was an industrial city, very earthquake-prone, working at full capacity making dangerous equipment for the war. Reinforced concrete, the next best thing to lead for protection from gamma radiation (and the best thing for neutron radiation), was everywhere. It would have been used to construct or renovate a tall building with big windows, such as a church.

So if the priests were a kilometre away in the shadow of a huge reinforced concrete building which took most of the force of the blast and the radiation, their survival without the help of a miracle sounds much more likely.

It is indeed unlikely that all of the priests would be completely unaffected by radiation, but there are a few things to consider:

  • The radiation was not constant everywhere. It blasted some things while leaving others unscathed. There was one Japanese lady, alive in the 1990s, who had one foot blown off but was not otherwise irradiated.
  • It’s not guaranteed that irradiated cells will be poisoned, it’s just increasingly likely over time.
  • Cancer can take a very long time. Hubert Schiffer and the future Father General Arrupe are the only two of the eight whose name anyone seems to know, though you can find most of the others if you look. After 1976 when they were apparently all alive, how many then quietly succumbed to cancer? What did Schiffer ultimately die of? (Old age and a stroke did for Arrupe.)

As I said earlier, there were closer shaves than the priests. Eizo Nomura survived in a basement, 100m from ground zero. Akiko Takakura survived in the Bank of Hiroshima, well above ground and just 150m away. There were plenty more between there and a kilometre. In amongst the tens of thousands of people who died instantly, there were those few in just the right places where the shockwave was absorbed, the fireball couldn’t reach and the radiation just wasn’t as strong.

The number one thing which makes me doubt the occurrence of a miracle in that parish house is that variations of your statement pop up everywhere: “Some of the World’s greatest scientists have investigated the Hiroshima bombing.
They have provided the world with documentation proving beyond any reasonable doubt…”

Who are the scientists and where are the documents? Nobody seems to have a link to their names or their work.

All I can find is the account of one Stephen A. Rinehart, Ph.D. who was a Catholic engineer. Only an account, no actual structural analysis as you’d expect from a military engineer in a blast zone. On the same page is the statement from another person, “...every other person who was within a radius of roughly one and a half kilometers from the center of the explosion died.” See above; that’s just not true.

One last point is that Arrupe, according to Wikipedia, “headed the first rescue party to arrive in Hiroshima after the atomic bomb.” He arrived after the bomb? So did he leave the shattered church and come back? Or was he never there and added in retrospect? Why was Schiffer the go-to priest for publicity if Arrupe, the eventual top Jesuit in the world, was there too?

The more one reads, and the less one realises there is to read, the less likely it seems that there was a miracle. But since it’s the kind of thing that seems like a miracle at first glance, every effort has been made to expose as many people as possible to that first glance, and no more. That’s what you do when you present the event and declare that it’s been proven, without providing documentation of the proof.

Posted: May 22nd 2008

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bitbutter www

Your post takes for granted that believers in miracles have an explanation for the fact of this building having survived the bomb blast. I’d like to examine this assumption.

The building was spared because of a miracle. What does that mean? If we accept the most widely agreed upon definition of a miracle, it means that God saw fit to suspend the normal laws of nature, and make an exception in the case of this building which otherwise would have been destroyed.

How did God do that? by what mechanism? What chain of cause and effect was responsible for this outcome?

When we explain something, we talk about the unknown in terms of the known. In this case the known is the fact that the building survived the blast. The unknown is the reason that the building survived. The supernatural is unknown and unknowable by definition. When we appeal to something supernatural to try to explain this building’s survival, we’re trying to use the unknown to explain the unknown, we’re trying to explain a mystery with another mystery. This doesn’t work. For this reason, appealing to a miracle is never an explanation.

Here’s something theists tend not to appreciate; there is no important difference between saying that an event was caused by unknown and unknowable means, and saying it was caused by magic. When a person claims that a building in Hiroshima was saved by a miracle, they are in effect saying that it was saved by magic. Notice what an inadequate explanation this is. Now try to imagine the kind of world we would be living in if the curiosity of scientists throughout the ages had been satisfied by the words 'God did it, by magic’ . This is not a response we should ever be happy to accept.

For those who have improved the human condition by advancing our knowledge instead of being content to stumble around in the fog of superstition, the response to a difficult question is not 'God did it, by magic’, it’s 'I don’t know, and I’ll try to find out’.

Posted: May 22nd 2008

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The suffering and destruction caused by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima was immense. If the Jesuit’s god did save them, than that god is a bastard for not saving everybody.

The disgraceful hubris of religious believers who think that they were singled out for rescue because of their unfounded beliefs truly disgusts me.

If a building was strong enough (10% of the buildings in Hiroshima were not completely destroyed), and if the initial blasts did not break your leg bones, you would have been able to flee the area before the firestorm hit thus increasing your chances of survival—and others besides the Jesuits did survive. Perhaps the Jesuits’ god had some mercy on non-Christians? How very nice of the bastard.

An atheist acquaintance of mine and his house survived a very destructive California fire—in fact, his house was the only one left among hundreds of others that burned to the ground. His happiness from being spared was diminished by the fact that he was stuck with a house that he no longer wanted to live in and realistically expected that no one would want to buy. However, one other survivor, but sans home, still wanted very much to live in that area so she paid an above premium price for his home. Shortly after, his car was the next in line to become crushed and trapped under the overhead highway collapse following the 1989 California earthquake. He was spared from another tragedy yet again.

Not once in all of these unusual circumstances did my acquaintance muse that they were miracles. He, like me, sees that such events happen because they are possible. No god needs to apply.

Posted: May 22nd 2008

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