Third Tetherd Cow Ahead Exchange on the Shroud of Turin

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

3 thoughts on “Third Tetherd Cow Ahead Exchange on the Shroud of Turin”

  1. Aha. So now you’ve won me over Dan. That doesn’t happen very often. Thanks for a very reasoned and rational response.

    I will take only a couple of your points to task (although I do also have a few other issues with what you say, not least with the concept that the image on the shroud is formed with something other than a paint or pigment) and it is these:

    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.

    Two things here: contradictions within the Bible are, as you know, quite common. This provides a real problem for a rational person such as myself, and it is this: how do you choose which bits to believe? In my opinion one contradiction in the Bible opens it up to question, but so very many makes it entirely questionable. You may choose to ignore the passage in John in favour of other more ‘shroud friendly’ bits, but as the Michael Drosnin, the shyster who wrote The Bible Code, demonstrated, you can make the Good Book say anything you want with enough selective interpretation.

    Secondly, I agree that the Bible can’t be used as valid scientific input, but unfortunately a great many people who are obsessed by the shroud don’t make any differentiation between scientific method and what they consider an infallible historical document; the Gospel Truth, as it were.

    That charge [cherry picking/moving the goalposts] 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).

    I concur, but cherry picking is WAY more common in unscientific reasoning. Scientists do it, but as you obviously know, the scientific method is designed to weed out that kind of problem, and largely it works. Uninformed people don’t know it’s at work though, and pseudoscience loves to assemble a big pile of ‘facts’ accumulated in this manner. ‘Moving the goal posts’ is not common in science, but very prevalent in pseudoscience – if the evidence isn’t fitting your hypothesis, then, rather than examine the strength of the hypothesis, make new conditions for the evidence.

    Dan, it is obvious that your interest in the shroud transcends a mere need to have your religious beliefs validated, and for making that assumption, and for my terse tone in tangling with you, please accept my apologies. I’m not accustomed to anyone being able to hold their end of a rational debate in these matters (and as I am often heard to proclaim, I am entirely prepared to listen to rational arguments for anything at all – as long as they are truly rational arguments).

    To close, let me just say this: if there is a mystery of the Shroud of Turin, it is, in my opinion, that the figure represented is artistically quite out of keeping with anything else of the medieval period. The kind of relatively ‘realistic’ portrayal of a human body is, as far as I know, unique in the relic-making industry. Equivalent relic portraiture (such as the many ‘Veils of Veronica’) are unconvincing and contrived, where the shroud retains a level of ‘plausibility’ (which, in my opinion, is the reason for its continued interest – if it was as obviously fake as the Cottingly Fairies, say, or any one of the existing Veronica’s Veils. it would have faded into obscurity long ago). I hasten to add that I don’t believe that the execution of such an item would have been at all beyond the skills of an artist of the 13th/14thC, but it is contextually unusual. I’m surprised that this argument for the veracity of the shroud is not used more frequently.

    So. Now I now where to come when I need informed comment on the shroud. Salut!

    Peter.

  2. And ruminating further:

    I’m just reading The Archimedes Codex (the story of the reconstruction of the Archimedes Palimpsest) and it occurs to me that there is no longer any real impediment to the Church handing over the Turin Shroud for a comprehensive examination by all available technology, now that they’ve ‘accepted’ that it is not genuine (which I believe is the official line).

    There can be no real issue of conservation any longer- many of the most useful techniques are non-destructive – and some issues (such as the method by which the image is registered on the cloth) could probably be definitively decided.

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