Let’s look a bit more at what Chet Raymo wrote (see Francis Bacon and the Shroud of Turin):
In the meantime, an objective observer should assume that the Shroud is a 14th-century religious icon or outright fraud. That is when the Shroud first appears in the historical record, and that is when carbon-dating assigns its origin. It was a time when religious icons were commonly manufactured or assumed. Why evoke miracles when a perfectly natural explanation is more plausible?
Who is invoking miracles? Among all of the scientists I know who are studying the shroud, I know of no one who is invoking miracles to explain the carbon dated age of the cloth.
We’ve already said why we should not assume a scientific conclusion in the light of reasonable doubt about evidence. Assuming in this context is not scientific. But what about how Raymo tries to tie up his argument. Look at the second sentence: “That is when the Shroud first appears in the historical record, and that is when carbon-dating assigns its origin.”
Scientists rightly decry the use of historical evidence as scientific input. But that is where it should stop. They decry it, too, when history seems to contradict scientific conclusions. If there is disagreement, then science is the arbiter. In its most rigid form it is called scientism. Science is always right, they tell us. Raymo does it one better. He is using history, because it is convenient to do so. “I’m right,” he implies, “history supports what I say about the carbon dating.”
But does it?
First, let’s add a few words (in bold) to make part of his statement more accurate. Then let’s see if it is meaningful:
That is when the Shroud first appears in the existing and known historical record in Western Europe.
Museums are filled with items from antiquity whose earliest known records are much later. It is absurd to try and make a rational correlation between the dates of first written records about an item and its actual provenance. Moreover, there is actually a wealth of information that suggests that earlier records do exist and what we are dealing with is a gap:
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.
Now, given Raymo’s invocation of Francis Bacon (as I explained in a previous post) and his lack of desire to examine the evidence, we might be suspicious that he is unwilling to believe the evidence or is unaware of it. He tells us that he just isn’t interested in reading it.
For a long time it was the historical evidence that caused many people to doubt the carbon dating — not the miracle straw-man argument Raymo voices. Now it is the overwhelming scientific evidence that what was tested was not part of the shroud, probably because it way a repaired part of the shroud.
If that wasn’t enough, Raymo drops in, “It was a time when religious icons were commonly manufactured or assumed.” That is certainly true. It is irrelevant. It’s an emotional argument full of irrationality. Some relics emerged during this time that were, in fact, real relics. History tells us why and that is why the shroud, if it is real or much older. The marauding, thieving French and Venetians of the Fourth Crusades brought numerous relics and treasures back to Europe. Over the years they began to emerge and for the first time they were documented in Western European records.
It is far better for a scientist to say we don’t know and to advance a hypotheses than to ask people to assume science is right despite evidence to the contrary.