Doctrine of God: God and Foreknowledge

Kyle Deming, the Skeptical Christian, from his latest podcast, October 3, 2008:

The shroud of Turin is back in the news. For those who don’t know, the Shroud of Turin is a cloth that appears to have the image of a man who was buried after crucifixion. The shroud was discovered in the 1300s, and was immediately proclaimed as the burial cloth used by Jesus Christ.

Believers in the authenticity of the shroud point to certain evidences in favor of the artifact’s legitimacy. The method is difficult or impossible to duplicate, especially given the technology that would have been available to forgers in the 14th Century. Moreover, the image seems to be remarkably accurate. For example, wounds in the wrists indicate that nails were driven through the wrist during crucifixion. We now know that this was the custom in the ancient world. However, as a large body of Christian art attests, the belief up until very recently was that nails were driven through the hands. The fact that the shroud got this detail right is very surprising if the artifact is a forgery.

Nevertheless, skeptics of the shroud believe that the cloth does not date back far enough. They cite carbon dating results demonstrating that the material dates back to the 14th Century. These tests were conducted by three separate laboratories and seemed to put the issue to rest.

However, a slew of criticisms have been raised about the legitimacy of the carbon dating used on the shroud. John and Rebecca Jackson are two shroud enthusiasts who are trying to reopen the debate on the issue.  They believe that the region of the cloth tested was contaminated, leading to skewed results. They hope to prove their hypothesis and then gain access to the actual shroud for more accurate dating. Oxford University has agreed to work with the Jackson’s.

Too bad that he has missed the bigger news on the carbon dating: Using some of the most advanced analytical equipment available, a team of nine scientists at the famed Los Alamos National Laboratory confirmed that the material used for radiocarbon dating of the shroud in 1988 was not part of the shroud’s fabric. Previously, micro-chemical tests had demonstrated that the cloth is at least twice as old as the medieval date determined by the now discredited carbon 14 tests. This gives new life to historical and forensic arguments that the shroud might indeed be the burial cloth of Jesus.

This news plays well into his personal story that follows. He is right as he continues:

I actually have a bit of a personal story here about the shroud. In my undergraduate chemistry class the professor gave us an extra credit quiz where we could analyze the argument for the legitimacy of the shroud’s dating. I wrote that the tests done were insufficient to confidently determine a date, since all three laboratories sampled the same area of the shroud. Thus, the possibility of contamination remained too high for us to make a confident assessment. He marked me off one point for my answer, and I listened as he explained to the class that the date should be considered authentic since it was confirmed by three separate scientific laboratories. He tried to turn the example into some sort of point about the difference between science and faith, and that they are compatible but deal with different subject matter, or whatever. I didn’t care about his philosophical musings, however, I wanted full credit for my answer! So I raised my hand to question his point reduction and argue that, since all three labs sampled from the same portion of the cloth, they did not adequately disprove the contamination hypothesis, and, especially given other evidences for an early date for the shroud, we cannot be confident that the results are accurate. In response, he rejected my claim, arguing that these scientists would never do something so silly as all analyze the same piece of cloth! Ironically, he virtually proved my point, since he implicitly admitted that examining one portion of the cloth was a methodological mistake. Yet, convinced that the scientists had wisely sampled different regions of the cloth to get an accurate date, my professor felt confident in his assertion that the shroud was a medieval forgery. I was a little mad that my professor reduced my grade because of his crass ignorance of the actual facts of the case, though I wasn’t motivated to continue the argument for a single point. His position though, seems typical of those who have undue confidence in the legitimacy of the dating.

My position on the shroud of Turin is solidly agnostic. I think that there are some compelling reasons to believe that the shroud is authentic, including the accurate portrayal of the crucifixion body. Nevertheless, the case is far from proved, and I think certain evidence points away from authenticity, such as its late appearance on the scene in the 1340s. To me, it seems rather silly, because the question of its date could probably be solved easily if access to the artifact was granted for sampling from different portions of the cloth. But, with the shroud withheld from scientific scrutiny, it will be difficult to determine the facts of the case. Hopefully Jackson is successful in securing permission for another analysis of the controversial shroud.

Highly recommend Skeptical Christian: Transcript: Podcast 18 – Doctrine of God: God and Foreknowledge

Was Jesus Left-Handed as evidenced by the Shroud of Turin?

RoyalBeatz07 thinks he has it figured out.

So the choices are simple, 1) Jesus Christ is the image on the Shroud of Turin and is left-handed! 2) Jesus Christ is the image on the Shroud and was desecrated by his followers! 3) Left-hander Leonardo Da Vinci is the image on the Shroud and he posed naturally. 4) A left-handed unknown individual is the image on the Shroud. 5) The experts can’t tell which side is the up side of the Shroud. Isn’t it interesting that a left-hander noticed it? When all the experts have looked at it, and run out of ideas, then it’s time for a left-hander to look at it. We see things that right-handers miss.

There is also the possibility that contrary to what RoyalBeatz07 thinks, Jesus’ followers accidentally put his left hand over his right even if (and this is arguable and speculative) it was the wrong thing to do. Filed under something to think about someday.

Religulous: Fishes and Loaves in a Barrel

T. R. Jones in the Chicago Reader offers his views on the Religulous written by Bill Maher and directed by Larry Charles:

Maher’s first film project, Religulous, is a major disappointment because here, unlike on Real Time, he aims for laughs instead of insight—and aims low. The movie opens with Maher in Israel, perched on a hill in what was once the ancient city of Megiddo, which the Book of Revelation prophecies will be the site of Armageddon. As he points out, people are now more capable of destroying the world—through nuclear technology, pollution, and global warming—than they are of understanding it. “If there’s one thing I hate more than prophecy,” he concludes, “it’s self-fulfilling prophecy.” To him, faith is a neurological disease that has to be cured before the human race destroys the planet, and anyone who defends faith is an “enabler” and a “fellow traveler.” As he concludes at the end of the movie, “Faith means making a virtue of not thinking.”

But as Maher and director Larry Charles tour the world, surveying the influence of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, they bypass serious religious scholars and historians—the sort of thinkers who might have moved the discussion into uncharted territory—in favor of fundamentalist goofballs who can be ridiculed with ease. Their first stop is the Truckers Chapel in Raleigh, North Carolina—a trailer at the side of a highway rest stop—where Maher quizzes a half dozen truckers on the more fanciful extrabiblical aspects of Christianity. One volunteers the theory that, because DNA testing on the Shroud of Turin has supposedly revealed the presence of female blood, Jesus must have been born of a virgin.

Actually, no such DNA results exist. All we know is that the bloodstains are human blood. Had DNA revealed female blood, a more disturbing conclusion might have surfaced.   Chicago Reader | Movie Review: Fishes and Loaves in a Barrel