Freethought Should Be Accurate and Factual

imageAustin Cline at the About.com Guide provides a definition of Freethought. You will find other definitions but this is about the best of I seen. Here is the most significant part:

Freethought is defined as the process of making decisions and arriving at beliefs without relying solely upon tradition, dogma, or the opinions of authorities. Freethought thus means using science, logic, empiricism, and reason in belief formation Usually the context of freethought is religion . . .

The definition of freethought means that most freethinkers are also atheists, but atheism is not required. It is possible to be an atheist without also being a freethinker, or to be a freethinker without also being an atheist. This is because the definition of freethought is focused on the means by which a person arrives at conclusion and atheism is the conclusion itself.

I question the statement that most freethinkers are also Atheists. It may be true, but is there any for thinking this is so? For instance, I like to think I use “science, logic, empiricism, and reason.” Nonetheless, I believe in God. Does that make me part of a minority.

Doesn’t this definition presume the use of accurate and complete information. If so, then this entry posted in the Freethought Almanac for August 25 is an awful example. I have added some comments in red:

It was on this date, August 25, 1978, that the famous Shroud of Turin, still venerated as the burial cloth of the crucified Jesus, went on public display for the first time in 45 years. Since 1578 the shroud, or sindon, has been housed at Turin, where it is only displayed publicly at long intervals. Its first mention in history dates from this time.

According to shroud.com’s History page it was August 26. Perhaps that is a minor error. It isn’t important. But the statement that its first mention in history dates from this time is completely wrong. Even the most hardnosed skeptics say that its first mention in history – actually western European history – is in the mid-1350s. Significant documentation proves this.

In the past, there was some competition from other shrouds impressed with the figure of Jesus – at Besançon, Cadouin, Champiègne, Xabregas, and other places – which also claimed to be the authentic linen sindon provided by Joseph of Arimathea, but the Turin shroud is the most famous.

The existence of competing claims does not weigh on the authenticity of any one claim. If this is being implied by the above sentence, then this is a failure of logic.  It is very important to avoid fallacies in freethought. Incidentally, one leading theory is that the original Besançon Shroud is, in fact, the Turin Shroud. This is accepted or seriously entertained by several historians. 

Pope Julius II accepted the Shroud at Turin as genuine in his Bull “Romanus Pontifex” (25 April 1506), as did his predecessor, Sixtus IV. But the Catholic Encyclopedia is parsimonious in its credulity:

…the claim is made that it is the actual “clean linen cloth” in which Joseph of Arimathea wrapped the body of Jesus Christ (Matthew 27:59). This relic, though blackened by age, bears the faint but distinct impress of a human form both back and front. The cloth is about 13 1/2 feet long and 4 1/4 feet wide [4.6 x 1.1 meters]. If the marks we perceive were caused by a human body, it is clear that the body (supine) was laid lengthwise along one half of the shroud while the other half .was doubled back over the head to cover the whole front of the body from the face to the feet.

So what? The quotation is from the 1912 (vol 15) edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia. Much as happened since then. What do newer versions say? What do other authoritative encyclopedias say?

In 1988, a team of experts from three universities – Oxford University, the University of Arizona, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology – each independently tested and dated the cloth to around 1350. Yet numerous books and websites accuse these recognized experts of being fools or biased. They were neither, and their conclusions are solid. Joe Nickell, who collaborated with scientific and technical experts on his Inquest on the Shroud of Turin (2nd Ed., 1992) and Walter McCrone, a microchemist, in his Judgment Day for the Shroud of Turin (1999), both demonstrate that the shroud is a medieval fake. Nickell even duplicated the method he thinks was used to create it.

There is no mention of the significant, peer-reviewed scientific evidence that these claims are incorrect. It seems, here, that freethinking is based on a single source, directly or indirectly: Joe Nickell. The accusation of bias seems unwarranted. 

Shroud supporters say there is type AB blood on the shroud. Yet scientists have found none.

This is far from true. Again, there is no mention of solid, peer reviewed evidence that it is blood and why it is probably type AB.

And even if there were blood on the shroud, that would have no bearing on the age of the shroud or on its authenticity: blood could have contaminated the shroud at any time. Besides, dried real blood is black, but the stains on the shroud are red – we mustn’t credit too many miracles!

There are scientific reasons for old blood to be red.

Shroud supporters say the cloth has some pollen on it of plants found only in the Dead Sea region of Israel. Yet scientists say the samples tested were lifted from the shroud with sticky tape and came to their examiner second-hand: they could have been introduced at any time.

This simply is an empty accusation with no basis. The same thing can be said – in fact was said – of the carbon dating samples. It is all highly speculative, baseless conspiracy theory.

Shroud supporters say they detect impressions of flowers on the shroud that could only have come from Israel. Yet scientists say this is probably a simulacrum – they can’t see the images, as they are hidden within mottled stains.

Simulacrum? No scientists say these are probably pareidolia images, created by the mottled stains and variegated natural color in the cloth. I agree that the impressions of flowers are not there. It is important, in freethought, to use the right explanatory evidence.

As Robert Todd Carroll sums up, in his article on the shroud from the Skeptic’s Dictionary,

Even if it is established beyond any reasonable doubt that the shroud originated in Jerusalem and was used to wrap up the body of Jesus, so what? Would that prove Jesus rose from the dead? I don’t think so. To believe anyone rose from the dead can’t be based on physical evidence, because resurrection is a physical impossibility.

That is a quote from the 2003 edition of the Skeptic’s Dictionary. The website for this book has been updated. It actually acknowledges that there may be problems with the carbon dating. Nonetheless, this is a good summary. I agree with it even as I believe in the Resurrection.

The shroud was displayed again for a time, from 18 April 1998. The image on the cloth shows a man about six feet tall, which would make this “Jesus” a Goliath by first-century standards!

Actually, this is a completely unwarranted and statistically ridiculous claim. How tall were men in this part of the world in the first century? What were typical ranges of height?

 Freethought Definition – Dictionary Definition of Freethought

3 thoughts on “Freethought Should Be Accurate and Factual”

  1. Only a brief note to the claim that the Shroud shows a “man about six feet tall, which would make this “Jesus” a Goliath by first-century standards”. This claim is from Nickell’s books..
    Does the writer know that in Jericho, Israel, there is a famous tomb from Second Temple Period known as “Goliath Tomb” in wich skeletons height 1,8 m. were found (one of them was 1,88)?

    1. It’s irrelevant, the strongest scientific conclusion is that the body which made the image was anywhere from 5 foot 8 inches to 5’11” tall. But as it has been said many many times; The dimensions cannot be calculated accurately as the linen will change in size, simply due to atmospheric conditions.Nickells is just being the asshat that he is, he stretches the results to sound rediculous.Also I would really like to see his reproduction of the Shroud, it’ll probably give me a good neede laugh.

      R

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