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It is enough to make you want to become a skeptic.

I posted this just a little over a year ago on November 7, 2010. I called it, “Thoughts for a Sunday Morning: Tinfoil Hats.” I was reminded of it today by two people: 1) a Jesuit priest friend of mine who is thrilled that ColinB (aka sciencebod), a skeptic who is a real scientist, has joined in the discussions here in this blog and 2) someone who inquired about those crop circles in England that looked something like the face of the man in the Shroud of Turin. So here goes again:

It is enough to make you want to become a skeptic.

In recent years, we have seen a world of craziness when it comes to skepticism about the Shroud of Turin. Perhaps none was as historically dyspeptic as a great conspiracy theory woven by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince: Leonardo da Vinci created the images on the Shroud.

This wasn’t their only conspiracy theory. In The Stargate Conspiracy we learn that the CIA and MI5 are actively manipulating a secret cult of powerful and rich leaders, including leading scientists who believe that they are in direct contact with extraterrestrial intelligent beings from the star Sirius. These extraterrestrial beings are claiming to be the gods of ancient Egypt, the very gods responsible for an image of a face on Mars. Why are secret American and British agents, with help from NASA, doing this? To create a new insidious mind-control religion. As icing on the cake P&P tell us:

We reveal the ground-breaking research that provides a plausible answer to the most enduring questions about the ancient Egyptians’ achievements and beliefs – and, explosively, uncover the true nature of the gods themselves . . .

In How Leonardo da Vinci Fooled History we learn from P&P that the greatest painter and polymath in all of history secretly invented photography and then created a gigantic camera obscura. He discovered how to make film out of linen, how to chemically develop pictures and fix them. He was, after all, they remind us, a genius. He understood the camera obscura. So did many educated people, even for several centuries before Leonardo. He had experimented with chemistry. That, too, was a passion of many educated people in his day. Moreover, the authors tell us, he was, “[a] known joker, conjuror and illusionist, and a Church-hating heretic.” Is all of this not proof enough? Not even if it were true, which it isn’t.

A big problem for Picknett and Prince was the fact that Leonardo was born a century after the shroud was exhibited in Lirey. It was therefore necessary that he have an opportunity to replace one fake shroud with another fake shroud of his own making. He might have been welcome at the Savoy family palace, P&P tell us. After all they may have owned one of his drawings. Not only did he do all these things, say the conspiracy duo, he dabbed on blood in all the right places. He replaced the head of the crucifixion model with a photograph of his own head. P&P figured this out by comparing the head on the Shroud to a drawing of Leonardo and found, generally speaking, that the eyes and the nose and the mouth of both men were all in about the same place on their respective faces.

There were other strange skeptical theories about the image. There was the Shadow Shroud, a dust painting of a corpse lit by candlelight in a tomb, and another photograph theory sans Leonardo. On and on, theory after theory.

But hasn’t that been the problem of the proponents of authenticity, as well? To some extent, yes. You could say ‘yes’ and leave it at that. But there has been a stark difference. Proponents of authenticity always seemed a bit more reserved, somber, tentative. They spoke mostly of hypotheses and philosophical notions like Occam’s Razor. They sought and obtained publication in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

The skeptics, on the other hand, at least some of them, tried not to get too close to science. According to Joe Nickell, not being a scientist is advantageous as researcher or investigator. In an article entitled, “An Interview With Joe Nickell,” Eric Krieg of the Philadelphia Association for Critical Thinking, describes Nickell (using Nickell’s own words) as an “investigator” and formerly an “undercover detective, teacher, draft dodger, river boat manager, carnival promoter, magician and spokesperson.” 

“Joe [Nickell] impressed on me the difference between being a scientist and an investigator,” Kreig continued:

Joe seems to have no significant credentials . . .  Joe remarks that a scientist tends to approach an investigation from the narrow view of his own specialty – where as a ‘jack of all trades’ would come up with more avenues of investigation.

But the skeptics always sounded confident and certain. “It happened this way,” they seemed to say. That sounds admirable, of course, until you realize that that no two skeptics were saying the same thing.

Lest you think that such nuttiness is reserved for skeptics, it ain’t so. The tinfoil hat crowd has arrived from wherever, perhaps from the star Sirius, to tell the world that the Shroud is real. It’s hard to pin down when all this started, but the publication of Frank Tipler’s The Physics of Christianity seems defining. Tipler is a professor of Mathematical Physics at Tulane University, a theoretical physicist, a quantum cosmologist. But . . .! In his newest book, The Physics of Christianity, he suggests that the Shroud of Turin is the key for figuring out how to save the universe from ultimate collapse so that brilliant minds can build and sustain a computer simulation of our past lives, including consciousness and free will, thereby giving us immortality. Heaven is a virtual reality. There is more. Here I must quote from Martin Gardner’s review of Tipler’s book to touch on one other aspect of the Shroud:

All conservative Christians believe Jesus was free of the original sin that resulted from the Fall, which has been passed on to all descendants of Adam and Eve. Catholics think that Mary, too, escaped original sin. (It is a Catholic heresy to reject the Immaculate Conception.) How does Tipler explain the way Jesus and Mary differ in this manner from all other humans?

Tipler’s answer is wonderful. There must be genes that carry original sin! This could be verified some day, he writes, by first identifying the gene. Thus, failing to find evidence of the gene on the Shroud of Turin would explain the sinlessness of both Jesus and his mother.

(I am, dear reader, doing my best to keep a straight face while I summarize Tipler’s convictions.)

There is, of course – I say ‘of course’ because everyone follows crop circle reports – the account, just this year, 2010, of two crop circles in Wickham Green, just South of the M4 highway, near Hungerford, in Buckinghamshire, in England, in the United Kingdom. There are images in each of the crop circles. If you overlay these two images after flipping one of them around left to right, and you squint, it is obviously the face seen on the Shroud of Turin. This discovery left one pundit to suggest that there were only two possible explanations: either extraterrestrial beings – may I suggest Picknett and Prince’s friends from the star Sirius – are trying to tell us something or some very talented pranksters used the image on the Shroud for some chicanery.

More recently we have been entertained by a pseudo-chemistry and pseudo-history that proposes that the shroud was a Jewish tallit. Now there is a soon to be released book that argues that the images are quantum bio-holograms. If that is not enough there is a published report from The Urantia Book crowd:

It [=UB] says that Jesus’ resurrected body was like that of angels and that his physical body still lay in the tomb after the resurrection and that the angels were given permission, upon request of an archangel,  to cause the accelerated dissolution of his physical remains. This permission was requested and granted so that they would not have to witness the decay of his body. The correlations have primarily to do with the superficial nature of the image and current theories about corona discharge and nuclear medicine  imaging.

It helps to understand that the UBers believe that Jesus was the name that the most senior angel, Michael, the ruler of Nebadon, used, temporarily, after the incarnation and before the resurrection. The administrative angel Gabriel, his second in command, ruled the universe while Michael, a.k.a. Jesus, was visiting this planet. He is currently using the name Michael, not Jesus.

And finally – well for now anyways – from a book called Lost at Sea, we have explanations for errors in the carbon dating that defy human comprehension:

They label this skull fell back into dust in the radiocarbon year 5020 bc where this soul ate the fruit of this tree around the calendar ring—that is 6000 years before Christ rose into light: Here this ancient temple wall fell back into dust, around this soul on this raised mound, these doctors call Broca’s area, named after a brain surgeon, where they discover these tongues of many language begin to speak out through these gates and where they look for the Creator of the word— in this wilderness from this historic cross over  point through time—with the AMS. . . . The image locks in the location where this seed buried in the ground rose up into light and left its image to prove that the AMS can’t count the number of times this ancient body rose up into light and it circled these souls —lost at sea—as shown on the stump . . .

(Yes, AMS stands for Accelerator Mass Spectrometry, the method used to date the Shroud of Turin.)

Get out your tinfoil hats. It is only going to continue. It’s enough to want to become a skeptic.

NOTE:  When I originally posted this there was a comment that expanded on and sought to clarify Frank Tipler’s explanations. That comment can be found here.

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