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Weighing evidence on the Shroud of Turin (Journalist Accuracy)

August 29, 2008 Comments off

The News & Observer (Raleigh/Durham NC) has a short piece that they credit in measure to the LA Times. 

Some of the findings of efforts to authenticate or debunk the Shroud of Turin, which allegedly covered the body of Jesus after his crucifixion:

Supporting evidence

A 1978 research team found that the shroud was not painted, stained or dyed and concluded that the bloodstains were real.

. . .

Discrediting evidence

Radiocarbon dating by three separate labs placed the creation of the Shroud between 1260 and 1390.

. . .

No mention, at all, of the fact that these radiocarbon tests are at most discredited and at the very least meet the criteria of reasonable doubt.

Check out Journalist Accuracy 

newsobserver.com | Weighing evidence

Dead Sea Scrolls to appear on the Internet

August 28, 2008 1 comment

In the New York Times, Ethan Bronner reports:

scrolls JERUSALEM — In a crowded laboratory painted in gray and cooled like a cave, half a dozen specialists embarked this week on a historic undertaking: digitally photographing every one of the thousands of fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls with the aim of making the entire file — among the most sought-after and examined documents on earth — available to all on the Internet.

Equipped with high-powered cameras with resolution and clarity many times greater than those of conventional models, and with lights that emit neither heat nor ultraviolet rays, the scientists and technicians are uncovering previously illegible sections and letters of the scrolls, discoveries that could have significant scholarly impact.

cp: One Episcopalian on Faith – Full article at Israel to Display the Dead Sea Scrolls on the Internet – NYTimes.com

Categories: Off Topic

Quote from Chemistry Today (August 2008) on the Carbon Dating of the Shroud of Turin

August 27, 2008 1 comment

In 1988, Carbon-14 findings from three Accelerator Mass Spectrometer (AMS) Labs independently dated a sample removed from the Turin Shroud, a linen cloth believed by many to be the burial cloth of Jesus of Nazareth and unarguably the most widely-studied linen cloth in history. The dates reported ranged between 1260 – 1390 A.D.; thus, leading to the conclusion that the cloth originated in the Middle Ages (1). Since the dating, many hypotheses have been proffered attempting to explain the C-14 results (2), which appear contradictory to a plethora of data pointing to a more ancient origin (3-6). An acceptable hypothesis of why the Shroud dated between AD 1260-1390 must satisfactorily explain the precise, statistically-determined angular skewing of the dates corresponding with the individual laboratories, with reference to the location of the sub samples received. The hypotheses of generalized ionizing radiation, thermal effects, environmental carbon monoxide enrichment and bio plastic coating are incapable of meeting this latter requirement, as is the premise that the cloth itself, is, in toto, medieval (2). In 2005, the late Raymond N. Rogers authored a paper in Thermochimica Acta that reported the results of experimental tests evaluating the hypothesis that the radiocarbon dating of the Turin Shroud was invalid due to the intrusion of newer material in the sampling area (8). Based on data obtained from his analyses of samples from the area, Rogers concluded that the combined evidence from chemical kinetics, analytical chemistry, cotton content, and pyrolysis/ms proved that the material from the radiocarbon area of the Shroud is significantly different from that of the main cloth.

Third Tetherd Cow Ahead Exchange on the Shroud of Turin

August 27, 2008 3 comments

2_tied2treea I received a very comprehensive comment from anaglyph over at Tetherd Cow Ahead. It warrants a comprehensive response.

anaglyph wrote: You’ve kind of missed my point, either willfully or accidentally. I don’t really care if the Turin Shroud is ‘the burial cloth of late-Second Temple era crucifixion victim’ or a forgery or a tea-towel. What I’m saying is that the concept of the Turin Shroud being the burial cloth of Jesus Christ of Nazareth is hooey. As I’m sure you are aware, the evidence that has been offered up over the years in favour of this idea has been voluminous and contradictory. The discovery of pollen grains that were testament to the shroud’s pedigree was quickly thrown into question.

I respond: Thrown into question is not a bad thing. Indeed, much work needs to be done with the Frei tapes and other samples taken by STURP as well was some pollen aspirated from the cloth in 1973 and 1978 and collected by the ill-advised vacuuming of the cloth during the so-called restoration in 2002. For now, it is advisable to be cautious with the majority of pollen samples with regards to provenance. More work needs to be done.

anaglyph wrote: Impressions of ‘flowers’ on the shroud are plainly nothing more than paradolia.

I respond: I suspect the same thing, as do the majority of shroud researchers. At the Ohio Conference (August 2008), the subject was presented. I doubt that among 85 researchers in attendance that more than two or three people found the identifications plausible. I would say, to be more precise, that paradolia is the most likely explanation.

anaglyph wrote: A plausible method for the formation of the human figure (other than painting with pigments) has never been advanced.

I respond: Given that the image is composed of dehydrated and oxidized organic material (either flax fiber, which is unlikely or a polysaccharide similar to a Maillard product which seems certain), no one had arrived at a reasonable hypothesis. Given that Mark Anderson, who worked for McCrone, examined the fibers using laser microprobe Raman spectrometry and found that what McCrone thought was (inorganic) paint was in fact an organic substance and given the fact the shroud was tested with  visible and ultraviolet spectrometry, infrared spectrometry, x-ray fluorescence spectrometry, and thermography all showing negative results for paint or pigment and given that pyrolysis-mass-spectrometry tests at the Mass Spectrometry Center of Excellence at the University of Nebraska were also negative for paint or pigment we can rule out such applied colorants. It is perplexing.

But we must be careful here, as some have not, to avoid God-of-the-gaps types of thinking (as is so prevalent among Intelligent Design proponents). Because we so far lack an explanation, we cannot jump to conclusions — like miraculous or fraudulent. World view is not a valid input in science.

anaglyph wrote: The carbon-dating, which was sought for decades as the ultimate decider, was rejected by Shroudies when it didn’t return the desired result: there was something wrong with the dating (the data set was wrong/the sample was tainted by atmospheric carbon/the piece of cloth was taken from an anachronistic repair).

I respond: That is human nature, and indeed it is also a necessary ingredient in scientific endeavor. Strange ideas often lead to hypotheses and ultimately theories (in the scientific sense of those words). Conversely, a regrettable, strange ideas also produce conspiracy theories and lunatic fringe thinking. What happened is expected. However at this point there is sufficient reason to a have, at best, reasonable doubt about the carbon dating. The journal, Chemistry Today (August 2008) in a 12 page article summarizes it nicely:

Since the dating, many hypotheses have been proffered attempting to explain the C-14 results (2), which appear contradictory to a plethora of data pointing to a more ancient origin (3-6). An acceptable hypothesis of why the Shroud dated between AD 1260-1390 must satisfactorily explain the precise, statistically-determined angular skewing of the dates corresponding with the individual laboratories, with reference to the location of the sub samples received (7) (Figure 1). The hypotheses of generalized ionizing radiation, thermal effects, environmental carbon monoxide enrichment and bio plastic coating are incapable of meeting this latter requirement, as is the premise that the cloth itself, is, in toto, medieval (2).

The Chemistry Today article nicely makes the case for material intrusion into the samples from medieval treads. Indeed, that explanation is accepted by nearly every serious shroud researcher. This is what the Los Alamos study shows, what chemist Raymond Rogers found and published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, Thermochimica Acta (Jan. 2005) found and what Georgia Tech’s materials forensic chemist John L. Brown confirmed.

anaglyph wrote: As I pointed out, even the Bible itself contradicts the science that has come from the shroud – the amount of aloes and spice that was brought to the tomb by Nicodemus and used on the body was ‘a hundred pounds in weight’. That’s an awful lot of spices for absolutely no trace to survive in the cloth, especially if pollen allegedly did.

I respond: Actually, not all biblical exegetes agree that the spices were used. Remember, the funeral preparations were not finished and that the intent seems to be that Jesus’ followers would return following the Jewish Sabbath to complete funeral preparations. Regardless, biblical narratives, like world view, is not valid input into scientific observation. 

The strongest biblical objections to the shroud comes from Joe Nickell (which is strange given that he holds it to be mostly inaccurate) and from literalist fundamentalists, many who find the idea of the shroud abhorrent.

anaglyph wrote: This pattern of ‘moving the goalposts’ and cherry-picking the data is well known to any observer of pseudo-scientific belief: If the results don’t fit the preconception, then there is something wrong with the method, not the conclusion.

I respond: That charge is fair. But it goes both ways. We see it, not just in the arena of shroud research but in many areas (and by the way not just in the realm of pseudo-scientific belief as you characterize it but in science itself). We certainly see it in the debates between evolutionists and the proponents of so-called creation science and ID. Creationists are quite guilty of it. But so is Richard Dawkins, one of the greatest evolutionary biologists in history, which is too bad. Joe Nickell is quite guilty of it and many proponents of the shroud are too. It is too bad, but it is meaningless as an argument except to seek creditability through argumentum ad hominem.

anaglyph quotes me:

Let’s first address the question about seeking proof that Jesus Christ was resurrected… But it isn’t so. I seldom hear it from any shroud researcher.

and anaglyph wrote: What? Of of course it’s about acquiring proof, and of course no-one’s going to admit that’s what it’s about (especially to themselves) for the reason I gave: seeking evidence indicates lack of faith. And not just lack of faith in the resurrection, but lack of faith that Jesus even existed as the character he is concocted to be. (Quite obviously, establishing proof that the shroud is Jesus’ burial cloth implies proof of the story of the resurrection – if it didn’t, and it was just about Jesus being a normal mortal man, then the whole ideology of the Christian church surely collapses like a deck of cards). If it’s not about all that, then what is it about? Some abstract historical pursuit of a quasi-religious artifact? There are many of those and none of them attract the kind of zealots that swarm around the Shroud of Turin.

I respond: No, not at all. It is more like human nature. There is no doubt that people’s faith may bring them to interest in the shroud. And indeed some people would like more evidence. It really is no different than the work of biblical exegetes, archeologists, historians and even those who climb Mount Everest. It is there and there is a challenge or a mystery to be solved.

anaglyph quotes me:

Quite the opposite, people who did talk about their faith (and that wasn’t a big topic) expressed the view that the shroud has nothing to do with their faith.

and anaglyph wrote: I really can’t believe that you are quite that naive.

Perhaps. Naivety, like insanity, is difficult to self diagnose. So, too, are the opposites. I’m many things, some that I know about and some that I don’t.

anaglyph wrote: So, um, these people are just history students who happen to be obsessed to the point of fanaticism with this one religious relic? Oh, don’t get me wrong – I’m sure that if the shroud turned out to be a fake (or some other mis-identified personage) the discovery wouldn’t alter anyone’s faith, but I bet you’re all kinda hoping that it is Jesus. Because, deep down, that would sort of ‘help the faith along’, wouldn’t it? Your guess that there was ‘one atheist’ in a crowd of believers at the Ohio conference is telling – I don’t think any other truly scientific enterprise would throw that statistic.

I respond: I’m not throwing it as a statistic, just an observation. I would like to see more skeptics at such conferences. There might be one in 2010, so keep following this blog.

anaglyph quotes me:

But the evidence does not support the argument that it is fake.

and anaglyph wrote: Perhaps not, but there is a truckload of evidence to suggest to the sensible observer that the shroud is not the burial cloth of Jesus Christ. That it is a fake is plenty more plausible than that particular piece of wishful thinking. We know for certain that religious fakery has been rife through the ages, and when it comes to the Christian ouevre, particularly around the time that carbon dating and the historical records of the Catholic church place this particular piece of cloth.

I respond: When I first encountered the shroud, I felt the same way. Indeed, I thought of it, as you do, hooey. It took me a couple of years to change my mind. One of the things that slowed me down was some of what I consider the ridiculous evidence such as the flower images, coin images, etc. Sifting the evidence was problematic. And I found the historical records very compelling until I understood them better. (By the way, this is one area where Joe Nickell is flagrantly selective with evidence. Many artifacts from antiquity lack records that go back to their original provenance. Moreover, as is often the case with written records, there are gaps in the records. However, it is part of the work of historians and archeologists to find other evidence and bridge gaps in documentation. There is a drawing of a shroud from 1192 (nearly a century earlier than the earliest carbon 14 date) that is clearly identifiable from particular features as the current Shroud of Turin. It is well known that a cloth with a purported image of Jesus existed in Edessa as documented by Eusebius of Caesarea in the early 4th century. According to Eusebius (and this must be considered legend) the cloth was brought to Edessa by the apostle Thomas or the disciple Thadeus (of the 70). In 544 a cloth with an image thought to be of Jesus was found concealed above a gate in the city walls of Edessa. That cloth was transferred to Constantinople on August 14, 944. It was, at that time, described as a full-length burial cloth with an image of Jesus and bloodstains. Following the sacking of Constantinople in 1204, it became the property of Othon de la Roche, French Duke of Athens and Thebes. He sent it to his castle home in the town of Besançon, France in 1207. At Eastertide, it was removed from castle and displayed in the Besançon Cathedral until the cathedral was destroyed by fire in March of 1349. Any records that might have existed may have been burned in that fire as all church records were destroyed. In that same year, Geoffroy de Charny, a French knight married Jeanne de Vergy, a grand-niece of Othon de la Roche, and delivered the shroud to the canons of Lirey, thereby creating the earliest extant record in Western Europe. 

anaglyph wrote: Let me make you a prediction Dan: when the carbon dating data is re-examined, the evidence will still be unequivocal. In fact, if the Jacksons, or anyone else, manage to get a different segment of the cloth tested, I predict that the data will, once more, indicate something contradictory to the idea that the Turin Shroud is the burial cloth of Jesus Christ, and when that happens, a whole new reason will be advanced as to why the method is faulty.

I respond: I caught what you meant; equivocal not unequivocal. We’ll see. But don’t hold your breath. I don’t expect to see new tests in the foreseeable future. And yes, I agree with your corrective comment. I don’t we will ever get really unequivocal carbon dating results on the shroud.  

anaglyph wrote: Please feel free to revisit Tetherd Cow at that time and tell me if my conjecture is wrong.

I respond: And thanks for your comprehensive comments.

Dan

The word about the Shroud of Turin being shown in 2010 is spreading

August 26, 2008 Comments off

Pope Benedict XVI announced Monday the Shroud of Turin will be on public display in 2010. As someone who has casually followed the debate concerning the Shroud’s authenticity, this may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I hope Mrs. Wigderson and I are in a position to take advantage.

There is a website dedicated to the Shroud [and several such as Shroud Story] if you’re looking for more information.

See Wigderson Library & Pub: Turin in 2010

Categories: News & Views

More Tetherd Cow Ahead on the Shroud of Turin

August 26, 2008 7 comments

The Tetherd Cow Ahead sent in this comment. It should be addressed as its own posting:

Oh whatever. The details are trivial – a medieval repair/C02 contamination/incorrect calibration – I’m sure Shroudies could come up with a million reasons why the actual facts don’t fit with your theories. It doesn’t matter if someone dumped a truck full of scientific evidence at your door, you’d still cling to the irrational idea that the Turin Shroud is something other than the most likely explanation suggests, that is, a medieval forgery. I note you didn’t even attempt to address my question about why Christians seem desperate to get scientific proof that Jesus Christ was resurrected. Aren’t you just supposed to have Faith?

Let’s first address the question about seeking proof that Jesus Christ was resurrected. I see this stated frequently, and indeed it is part of the Joe Nickell polemic. But it isn’t so. I seldom hear it from any shroud researcher. To my knowledge only John Jackson and a couple of his associates ever state it. I was at the conference in Ohio and I never heard anyone talk about proof of resurrection. Quite the opposite, people who did talk about their faith (and that wasn’t a big topic) expressed the view that the shroud has nothing to do with their faith. And that is my view. I believe in the resurrection. I don’t know if it happened. It is a matter of faith.

At the Ohio conference there were Roman Catholics, Anglicans and Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, Evangelical Christians, a Jew and many who will not express their beliefs. I think there was one atheist. There may have been one or two more, I don’t know. I only identified one person who I would call a biblical literalist-fundamentalist. I know that theological interpretations of the resurrection included physical and spiritual interpretations.

In fact, I doubt that we can or ever will be able to prove that the shroud is the real thing. I think the closest we will get is to show that it is probably the burial cloth of late-Second Temple era crucifixion victim. Anything beyond that must be inference.

As for the comment that details are trivial, that is profoundly ridiculous. If 27 woven-in fibers from the carbon 14 corner of the cloth are cotton and there is no cotton elsewhere on the shroud it is significant evidence that the carbon 14 sample is suspiciously NOT representative of the cloth. If the carbon 14 area contains vanillin and the rest of the cloth does not, that too is an important detail. And by the way, the lack of vanillin in the cloth is a powerful argument that the cloth cannot be medieval and is at least twice as old as the C14 date.

Frankly, I still say, and most serious shroudies will agree, the shroud could still be demonstrated to be a fake. If so, I would like to know that. But the evidence does not support the argument that it is fake.

There was only one skeptical paper at the Ohio Shroud Conference. That is too bad. The best way to arrive at conclusions is open dialog. There is no truck load of evidence. And Joe Nickell with his ludicrous arguments does not advance knowledge.

Tetherd Cow Ahead has facts on Shroud of Turin all wrong

August 26, 2008 1 comment

When a site can’t get the facts right, you have to wonder about their conclusions, don’t you. 

Enter John and Rebecca Jackson who have somehow convinced Oxford University to re-examine the carbon-dating data from the 1988 test. Among other things they assert that the major portion of the cloth scrutinized at that time was not from the ‘original’ shroud, but from Medieval repairs made in the 14th century. Of course.

Actually, John and Rebecca Jackson don’t assert that the major portion of the cloth scrutinized at the time was not from the original cloth. That is asserted by Benford, Marino, Rogers, Brown and now a team of nine scientists at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. In fact, that finding is mutually exclusive with the Jackson’s hypothesis. So if Welease Woger! » Tetherd Cow Ahead can’t get this simple set of facts straight, we have to question just about everything e writes.

It seems he is another Joe Nickell fan. See previous post.

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