John Dodge over at smartplanet has written a level-headed article entitled So what if the Shroud of Turin is a fake. I have no problem with his skepticism. I do with perception of facts. I once shared his skepticism about the Shroud. No longer. But I do share the so what: I’ve inserted some comments in bold:
In 2004, a 10-year-old cheese sandwich with a likeness of the Virgin Mary reportedly sold for $28,000 on eBay. And on slow news days, local TV stations report Virgin Mary sightings on fogged windows and in cloud formations.
Many like me discount such fantasies as ridiculous, but what counts is the meaning of the cheese sandwich in the eyes of the beholder. Quite frankly, the site of a freshly grilled cheese sandwich makes me hungry.
That brings us to the Shroud of Turin, which was in the news again last week. I don’t pay a huge amount of attention to such things, but if someone asked me if the shroud was really Christ’s burial garb, I’d say “nonsense.”
Last week, Italian chemist and professor Luigi Garlaschelli also said “nonsense” after he recreated a shroud using the image of one of his students.
The Shroud next to Garlaschelli’s student (r.) credit: publicbroadcasting.net
“Luigi Garlaschelli created a copy of the shroud by wrapping a specially woven cloth over one of his students, painting it with pigment, baking it in an oven (which he called a “shroud machine”) for several hours, then washing it,” according to a CNN story (see pic). “Then for the sake of completeness I have added the bloodstains, the burns, the scorching because there was a fire in 1532,” Garlaschelli said.
He claims his tests prove that some of the unique characteristics of the shroud such as the absence of paint or pigment can be replicated by an artist or his case, a scientist. Shroud defenders have long argued the shroud cannot be recreated.
Two points: 1) Garlaschelli was not able to create an image that has the same chemistry, physical properties and unique so-called 3D (height-field) characteristics of the image. He admits this. It looks something like the Shroud but that is not the point. 2) Only some Shroud defenders have made the claim that the image cannot be recreated. Most are more tempered saying that, so far, no one has been able to reproduce the images. Dodge would have us believe that authenticity proponents are “God-of-the-gaps” sorts. Not so.
Garlaschelli, also a professor at the University of Pavia, is not the first to debunk the shroud. In 1988, three universities conducted carbon dating tests and concluded it was created between 1260 and 1380. That, of course, set off a firestorm. And some like RomanCathlicbog.com have rushed to discredit Garlaschelli’s findings, claiming he was funded by an “Italian association of atheists and agnostics.”
I agree that the funding issue is immaterial. In fact, the fact that he is a member of the funding organization is immaterial.
As for the carbon dating, the statement is true but misleading. In 2005, a peer-reviewed paper published in a scientific journal concluded that the tests were invalid. Now, you don’t have to accept that. But you should not ignore it. Mention it or mention it and explain why you disagree. You might want to note that the work was done by someone who was trying to defend the 1988 dating. You might want to mention that this work was later independently confirmed by a forensic material analyst at Georgia Tech as well as by a team of nine chemists at Los Alamos.
Actually, the official Vatican position on the shroud is quite rationale, focusing more on what the it means to believers rather than defending its authenticity.
“For the believer, what counts above all is that the shroud is a mirror of the Gospel. We cannot escape the idea that the image it presents has such a profound relationship with what the Gospels tell of Jesus’ passion and death, that every sensitive person feels inwardly touched and moved beholding it,” Pope John Paul II wrote of his 1998 visit to the Turin Cathedral where it is housed.
John Paul II also said that proving or disproving its authenticity should be left to scientists. Who can argue with that?
I have no problem with people believing what they want and I know faith has served powerfully in the lives of many. What the shroud represents is more important than whether it’s real on not. Unless someone invents a time machine so we can get a `film at 11′ eyewitness account, it will never be definitively proven one way or the other although the carbon tests seem pretty convincing.
I also think that heathen Garlaschelli who confesses to being a non-believer is onto something. As for the cheese sandwich, I have a hard time swallowing it, but someone willing to pay 28 grand didn’t.