Cross posted form

JMWJim Wharton has written an interesting article entitled, “The Skeleton in Evolution’s Closet.” You will want to read the entire article but let me extract a few pieces. He is writing about a The Wall Street Journal review by Philip Kitcher of Jerry A. Coyne’s new book, “Why Evolution is True.” There is much I agree with and disagree with in Wharton’s piece. He writes:

Unfortunately for Mr. [sic: Dr. or Professor] Coyne, his book follows on the coattails of many other books on the same subject. Consequently . . . such a frequency of books on the subject has forcefully interjected a strong element of suspicion of all evolutionary authors’ motives into the debate. The most conclusive observation on such evolution apologists now becomes “The lady doth protest too much methinks.” (Shakespeare from Hamlet).

The key fallacy in Mr. Coyne’s and other apologists’ approach to evolution is their argument inferentially excludes the existence of God. This exclusion of God causes great annoyance and displeasure for most people living on the planet. The heart of Mr. Coyne’s argument is “Life on earth evolved gradually beginning with one primitive species—perhaps a self-replicating molecule—that lived more than 3.5 billion years ago: it then branched out over time throwing off many and diverse species; and the mechanism for most (but not all) of evolutionary change is natural selection.” This removes God from the equation of life on the planet. Our uncle, the monkey, is really not a monkey at all. He has been replaced by a mere self-replicating molecule. That’s even more distressing.

There is absolutely nothing distressing about that. I know that Professor Wharton was speaking metaphorically, but it needs to be said nonetheless that humans did not evolve from monkeys. We are certainly closely related to modern apes.  Humans, homo sapiens,  share a common ancestor with modern apes, African gorillas and chimpanzees.

As for Wharton’s assertion that “[The] exclusion of God causes great annoyance and displeasure for most people living on the planet,” well maybe or maybe not. We can, for some perspective, consider how Americans might feel from Gallup surveys.  Gallup has developed three categories, given them definition, and polled the public. The three categories, which have stayed pretty much the same for the last 30 years, are:

  • Creationism (Young Earth): God created man pretty much in his present form at one time within the last 10,000 years. 44% of the general population believes this but only 5% of scientists do.
  • Theistic Evolution: Man has developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process, including man’s creation. 39% of the general population believes this, but so do 40% of scientists.
  • Naturalist Evolution: Man has developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life. God had no part in this process. Only 10% of the population believes this but 55% of scientist do.

Wharton continues:

The exclusion of God, as one of the consequential central theses of most evolutionists is defended by their hiding behind a subjective and biased utilization of their cherished scientific method.

No, Jim, it is OUR scientific method. The scientific method, is an ever-evolving product of philosophy, not science: Descartes, Peirce and Popper, for instance. 

Like Mr. Coyne, their fallacy is they universally reject the possibility of God by refusing to take even the first step into a scientific investigation of the possibility of God. That is to say, they never objectively ask the question “is there a god?” This does not mean that no scientist ever asked the question however, the scientific method demands “hard objective evidence” (according to their definition of evidence) to support the conclusion. With this ingrained bias of most evolutionists, if not also most scientists, it is impossible to conduct a scientific investigation of the existence of God because all evidence suggesting a spiritual existence is classified as “not hard and objective.” The rejection by evolutionists and scientists of the entire class of evidence they exclude because it does not conform to “their definition of objective” violates their own scientific methodology.

I simply disagree. But I see where you are going and I’m sympathetic.

The evidence chain Science chooses to ignore contains the observations and experiences of millions of individuals of the human species over time. Mankind, in every culture, has observed the presence of a higher power as long as mankind has existed. Scientists’ explanations of any spiritual experience, however, are always “a mind playing tricks on its owner.”

Which is not scientific. The mind does play tricks but there is no basis for assuming any spiritual experience is “a mind playing tricks on its owner.”  That is a belief.

The rejection by the scientific community of the massive body of evidence under the classification of “spiritual” is, in itself, an unforgivable chasm of ignorance. What science fails to understand about this spiritual class evidence is, like any other evidence, constructive and methodical examination is required to separate the valid from the invalid.

But that doesn’t make it scientific. It isn’t the job of the scientist, as a scientist, to examine “spiritual” data, no matter how substantial or credible it seems. But it is a fair task for philosophers, theologians and historians.

So should a scientist, if he must or should ignore some information, even ask the question: does God exist? If, as I suspect, most monotheists believe God is beyond space and time, we cannot observe him directly (granted, a priori). The best we can do is look for evidence of his work within space and time. Or the lack of any evidence, as the case may be.

Dr. Coyne, Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers and a host of evolutionary biologists find no need for a creator god within and because of the Theory of Evolution. Lacking such evidence they choose not to believe that God exists. That’s fine. I have not problem with that. But they assert that this clearly shows that there is no God and that is problematic for it assumes, without any evidence . . .

  1. that evolution is not God’s way
  2. that we should not believe in anything for which there is insufficient scientific evidence.

Mark Thompson at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen recently wrote:

Religion is not science, and in attempting to gain acceptance as a science, it allows itself to be treated on the same terms as science.  In other words, it begs to be treated as if it were falsifiable, when the entire point in faith is that it is something that is unfalsifiable.  Worse, it forces religion to get tied up in arguments that have precious little to do with the elements of faith that are so very important: things like morality, conscience, meaning, etc.  And so it loses the forest for the trees, to use a cliche.

But similarly, science demeans itself when it used as a proof of the non-existence of god.  Science is not meant to provide unfalsifiable answers, nor is it intended to answer questions that can only admit of unfalsifiable answers.  To do so is to turn the scientific method on its head.  And in so doing, science demeans itself because it loses part of its very essence.

I think he is spot on.

Thus, I am intrigued that Wharton should mention the Shroud of Turin in this context. I disagree with some of what he writes about it but he has raised an interesting issue, one where I think we see a real failing on the part of scientists.

Let’s look at what he wrote:

The Shroud of Turin is another example of the rigor applied by the Catholic Church to the verification of miracles.

Even though I think the Catholic Church has been extraordinarily irresponsible with the care and scientific investigation of this artifact, I agree.

The Shroud of Turin apparently dates from the first century and is considered by many to be the burial shroud of Jesus Christ.

All to easily, I have used the word apparently. May is a better choice. It may date  from the first century. The carbon dating from 1988 (showing 1260 to 1390 CE) has now been sufficiently invalidated. This is widely acknowledged in peer reviewed scientific journals. Christopher Ramsey, the head of the Oxford lab, which participated in the 1988 tests, has called for new studies. Other scientific tests push it back to at least 700 CE. Fairly good historical evidence pushes it back to at least the sixth century. Two observations by textile experts offer some evidence of close proximity to the first century.

The position of the Church is that it neither confirms nor denies the authenticity of the Shroud. While the Shroud has been examined many times by many experts who have offered conflicting opinions on its authenticity, no one has been able to figure out how the full length image of Christ’s body was imprinted on the cloth itself.

To be accurate, it is the image of an apparently crucified man. One may only infer that it is Christ.  The fact that no one has been able to figure out how the image was formed does not mean that someone will not do so. 

Many people, including experts, believe the image, which is an exact photographic negative, . . .

While it is true that the image seems and acts like a photographic negative, this may not be completely so. An exact photographic (monochromatic) negative of a human form would span a significant part of the full grayscale spectrum from white to black. The image on the shroud is highly compressed into less than a fifth of the grayscale towards the white end of spectrum. In photography, this happens from underexposure and results in significant loss of detail. The shroud image contains the detail. It is only with modern day image enhancement techniques that we can force it look like an exact photographic negative.  Moreover, because the image is truly a topograph (an analog 3D dataset, e.g. spatial data), it is not photographic in any sense of the word.

. . . was formed by a radiation like burst of energy.

Most scientist that I know (or have corresponded with) have serious reservations about this idea, not so much because they think the idea of a burst of energy is absurd (and many do) but because there is no evidence to support this idea. The image is superficial (about 200 to 800 nanometers deep at most) and no known type of radiation would act to produce such an image.

They conclude that this is proof of Christ’s Resurrection.

I know of only one scientist, John Jackson of Colorado Springs, who thinks this. Many think, instead, that the image may have been formed by some yet unexplained natural phenomenon, perhaps an amino/carbonyl reaction between natural saccharide compounds on the cloth and amino gases emitted by a body.

While it would be an easy leap to ascribe a miraculous event to the creation of the cloth, the Church stops short of that conclusion. Based on the considerable evidence which I have seen as well as many expert (scientific and not) analyses of the cloth, I personally believe the Shroud of Turin is the authentic burial Shroud of Jesus and is material proof of his Resurrection. However, I would leave open the possibility that a credible, contrary explanation for the creation of the cloth could be provided in the future.

I, too, believe that the shroud is authentic. But proof, so far, is elusive.  Having said that, I also complain because there as a lack if scientifically-minded skeptics to challenge my belief and the belief of many people, some who all too easily accept authenticity.

In 1988, dozens of scientists participated in the carbon dating of the shroud. Three outstanding radiocarbon dating labs at Oxford University, the University of Arizona and the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich participated. The British Museum and the Archdiocese of Turin participated in supervisory roles. The conclusion: the shroud’s cloth was manufactured between 1260 and 1390 CE. The shroud, it seemed, could not be authentic.

What followed next is not well understood: There were a number of people after 1988, including several scientists, who were not convinced that the carbon dating results were right. In part, this was because there was a mountain of other evidence that suggested a much earlier provenance for the shroud and there were some very puzzling mysteries about the nature of the image. Some speculated on why the carbon dating might be wrong but none of the proposals seemed very scientific. It was mostly hypotheses that could not be falsified (ala Popper).

Two researchers, Sue Benford and Joe Marino, who were not scientists, proposed that the cloth had been mended in the seventeenth century in a corner from which the carbon dating samples were taken and thus what had been dated was probably a mixture of original cloth (presumably first century) and newer thread.

Raymond Rogers, a Fellow of the Los Alamos Laboratory was perplexed by this proposal that seemed to him very unscientific. As a chemist, he had personally examined the shroud in 1978, warning church official that he would report whatever he found. As it turns out, he did NOT offer an opinion on the cloth’s authenticity because there were too many unanswered questions. However, in 1988, he accepted the carbon dating results and withdrew from further shroud study. When he read about what Benford and Marino were suggesting, he was certain that they were wrong. They were, as he put it, part of the lunatic fringe of shroud research. He knew that he could prove they were wrong. He had some reserved material from the sample corner and set out to do so.

Much to Rogers’ surprise, Benford and Marino were right. Rogers not only found substantial evidence of mending, he found stark chemical differences between the corner from which the carbon dating sample had been taken and the rest of the cloth. If there were chemical differences then the sample could not be reliably considered to be representative of the whole cloth. This invalidated the carbon dating.

Before publishing his findings in the peer-reviewed journal, Thermochimica Acta (vol 425 [2005] pp 189–194) in 2005, Rogers, with Anna Arnoldi of the University of Milan, published an informal paper in 2002. Though it was widely distributed, it received no comment from those who had been involved in the carbon dating. It wasn’t until 2004 when the Journal of Research of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (U.S. Department of Commerce, NIST, U.S.
Government Printing Office) published an important paper by Lloyd A. Currie. Currie, a highly regarded specialist in the field of radiocarbon dating and an NIST Fellow Emeritus, wrote a seminal retrospective on carbon 14 dating. Because the Shroud of Turin was such a famous test, Currie devoted much of his paper to it.
Like Rogers, Currie dismissed any argument that radiocarbon labs had done anything wrong in dating the Shroud of Turin. Currie also rejected, as Rogers also had done, other very unscientific proposal. But Currie did acknowledge that disguised mending was a viable explanation. He cited the work of Rogers and Arnoldi. He found it credible.

Rogers also asked John Brown, a materials forensic expert from Georgia Tech to confirm his finding using different methods. Brown did so. He also concluded that the shroud had been mended with newer material.

Since then, a team of nine scientists at Los Alamos has also confirmed Rogers work, also with different methods and procedures. Much of this new information has recently been published in Chemistry Today.

Sadly, with the invalidation of the carbon dating, criticism of the shroud, mostly on secular humanist and atheist sites has degenerated into unwarrented ridicule and ad hominem attacks:

A constant refrain is that believers in the shroud think that the image was formed by a burst of radiation from the resurrection. This simply isn’t true (though it is frequently repeated in the press because of constant press releases emanating from John Jackson). Also, we frequently hear that those who think the shroud is real are are religious fanatics or fundamentalists. Again this isn’t true. In fact, many fundamentalists and fanatical biblical literalists reject any possibility that the Shroud of Turin is genuine based on a very narrow interpretation of the Gospel of John.

Professor, Dr. Jerry A. Coyne, who was the topic of discussion at the top of this posting and in Professor Wharton’s posting, stepped in it. Three days after Wharton published his blog posting, on February 4, 2009, Coyne wrote, simply, these words:

Holy relics, such as the Shroud of Turin, have turned out to be clever fakes.

Oh? This scientist who abhors, as he does, non-scientific claims, inaccurate information and inadequate research, has made a claim that would be hard if not impossible to substantiate. There have only been two scientifically-based claims that the shroud is fake: 1) a 1978 claim of finding paint particles that was never peer-reviewed but refuted in several peer-reviewed scientific journals and 2) the carbon dating. However refuting evidence that it is fake does not make it real.

The date Coyne ignored was scientific data. He should stick to explaining why evolution is true and stay away from topics he does not understand – such as God and the Shroud of Turin.

Jim Wharton has helped us all see this.