Comment Promoted: Ray Schneider on Charles Freeman & STURP

imageRay Schneider responds very well to Charles Freeman as discussed in Scientific Study of the Shroud of Turin hampered by STURP? (But, of course, and expectedly, Yannick takes issue and Colin Berry has a point of view, all of which you should read at the above link.)

Ray writes what I mostly agree with:

Whatever the defects in Ian Wilson’s speculative account of the pre-history of the Shroud of Turin, it seems to me that Christopher Charles Freeman’s account is simply a tissue of debunking repeating many poorly substantiated claims about relics and then lampooning Wilson’s treatment.

He fails to mention explicitly the Gregory sermon or the chronicler Robert de Clari’s observation of an object that is described and sounds very like the shroud in 1204. He does note the location and claims that the identification of the Image of Edessa with this other relic which certainly sounds like the shroud can’t be. He doesn’t address Wilson’s speculation that on arrival in the city in 944 if was found to be a shroud and not just an image of the head of Jesus. Also it seems to me that the cloth of Oviedo (regardless of its Carbon date) has stains on it that have the same blood type as the blood on the shroud and have configurations that can be matched to the shroud which tends to corroborate Wilson’s conjecture that the shroud is authentic.

It is difficult to be certain of anything from all the fragmentary evidence, but simply pointing out in every case that perhaps there are other interpretations or that Freeman doesn’t see Wilson’s point is not really an argument but a preconceived conviction. If Wilson can be convicted of being prejudiced in favor of shroud authenticity it seems to me that Freeman can be convicted of the opposite prejudice. One agenda driven account is not more convincing than another. Wilson never claims to prove the shroud authentic. He is making a fragmentary case with what evidence there is.

The shroud is a very mysterious object with remarkable and wholly unique properties and unless we can convincingly explain it then the possibility of authenticity cannot be simply ruled out. There are many small things that point to authenticity and there are some that point in the opposite direction.

I do think that Freeman has a point about the handling of shroud research. STURP did what it could but it was a quickly thrown together association of scientists with relatively few resources. If they were not as professional as they might have been it should be remembered that they were the first and only investigation that has taken place and their research was compressed into 120 continuous hours. These are hardly ideal circumstances. Freeman’s criticisms are Monday morning quarterbacking from the armchair position.

Also read Yannick Clement’s and Colin Berry’s comments.

9 thoughts on “Comment Promoted: Ray Schneider on Charles Freeman & STURP”

  1. Precision : I had a phone conversation with Barrie Schwortz yesterday evening and he talked to M. Schneider about his comment and he told him that he made some bad choices of words, especially when he refer to the STURP team as being “quickly thrown together”. What M. Schneider really wanted to say is that, in science, 2 years to plan a big project like that is not very long and Barrie agreed on that. After hearing the precisions from Barrie, I really don’t believe that M. Schneider think that the STURP team work was bad at all. It just that, from his point of view, it should have been planned for a longer period of time prior to do the examination in Turin. If that was done, the work would have been even better and/or more extended. I think that’s really what M. Schneider wanted to express here. Even if I don’t agree completely with this point of view (because we have to put ourselves in the context of the time), I understand better now what M. Schneider really wanted to say…

  2. Provenance or Providence?

    Provenance refers to the origin and/or history of an object. One point that de Wesselow made his book the Sign was that in dealing with ancient works establishing the provenance meaning the origin and history is sometimes difficult, if not impossible. But let me use the Latin phrase “res ipsa loquitur” in context.

    The facts speak for themselves. In this case the facts are the physical existence of the Shroud and their attributes and what those physical attributes demonstrate. When one looks at the sum of those attributes it is pretty hard not to reach the conclusion that it is the burial cloth of a horribly tortured and crucified man. From the circumstances it’s reasonable to conclude that man was Jesus Christ. The only important fact on the other side of the ledger is the carbon dating. Ray Rogers and others showed why that may be wrong and Ray Rogers came up with a “fact” that pseudo-skeptics seem to ignore. The complete absence of vanillin in the larges part of the Shroud indicating that it was at least 1500 years old, not 700 years. However, how many times impeached, the pseudo-skeptics push the carbon dating button. I use the phrase “pseudo”-skeptic, because they are not truly skeptics searching for truth. They are the truest believers, but their belief is atheism. Nothing that contradicts their view can be tolerated.

    So in one context, whatever you might say about the history of the Shroud is almost irrelevant. Who cares? Maybe Caligula used it as a shower curtain? Maybe Simon the Magician stole it because he could sell it for a mint and then somebody else stole it back. Maybe it was abducted by aliens in a UFO and then returned because it wasn’t worth much in the market place of Polaris’third planet. Maybe it was worshipped by the Knights Templar or the Knights of Malta. Maybe the Popes used it as a bed sheet.

    Who cares? The physical facts of what is here and now are what we can rely on. All the rest, to paraphrase Rabbi Hillel, is commentary.

    It’s provenance will always be in dispute for there can never be an conclusive path proven from the Tomb to Turin. But what fascinates me is its providence. The image on the Shroud while interesting and inspiring through medieval time to the present age of science could have taught very little until the advances of science in the past 115 years. And now, in this skeptical era science has caught up with the Shroud. The scientific study of the Shroud has become a revelation, rather a Revelation.

    Is it coincidental? Or was the image left there for discovery now? Is the issue provenance. or providence? Is it an accident, or the product of a consciousness beyond our understanding? Does it matter which is true (or both).

  3. “Ray Rogers and others showed why that may be wrong and Ray Rogers came up with a “fact” that pseudo-skeptics seem to ignore. The complete absence of vanillin in the larges part of the Shroud indicating that it was at least 1500 years old, not 700 years.”

    Ray Rogers is the only scientist I know who has used vanillin content for dating purposes – treating that compound as though it were a decaying radionuclide like C-14. But it’s not. Vanillin is a low molecular weight phenolic aldehyde – prone to oxidation like any other phenol or aldehyde. Given that oxidation is a chemical process, the rate and extent of reaction is influenced by any number of environmental factors – light, oxygen, catalysts, atmospheric pollutants, moisture etc etc. So how can vanillin content tell one whether a fabric is 500 years old or 2000 years old? It cannot. That Rogers should have confidently asserted otherwise is just one more instance of a man who was conjuring up ad hoc so-called science on the hoof without submitting to a proper peer review process.

    Ah, but do I hear you say that his vanillin work was published in Thermochimica Acta (TA), a peer reviewed journal, or so we are told? Indeed it was. But Rogers was one of the founding editors of TA. In fact he supplied its very first published paper (at least according to his wiki entry). How many people think like me that he should have restricted himself at most to submitting non-controversial papers to what was essentially “his” journal?

    Sorry, John, but I have to tell you in all seriousness that Rogers’ vanillin “dating” is simply not proper authenticated science, and never could be. It should not have appeared in a supposedly peer-reviewed journal.

    The best place for Rogers’ vanillin claims (along with his back-of-envelope Maillard hypothesis) would be inside an old-fashioned alchemist’s glass retort. There it would be heated with fuming aqua regia until all that remained was a clear straw-coloured liquid, thus creating a chemical “blank sheet”.

    1. Another case of Rogers bashing from our friend Collinsberry !!! It remind me of myself versus Wilson, except for this very little difference : Rogers was a scientist (real expert in chemistry who was recongnized by his peers) and Wilson is a journalist (who is far from being recongnized by most of the Byzantine scholars)… That’s the only small difference I can see ! ;-)

      1. Rogers could have been the best explosives chemist in the whole wide world (whilst recognizing that he had to specialize the same as everyone else – in his case by developing differential scanning calorimetry for safety screening). But he was no more an expert on the particular problems thrown up by the Shroud than a host of his contemporaries, and it is becoming increasingly clear to this biochemist that several of the analytical techniques he employed (e.g. hydroxyproline for detecting heated blood, and now vanillin for aged linen) were ad hoc procedures that he had hastily devised and pressed into service without proper testing for accuracy, precision, reliability – you know – all those boring old criteria that scientists generally insist upon, regardless of speciality.

        Rogers was operating ‘out of area’ – and if the truth be told was taking huge liberties, especially with his cobbled-together short cut methodology with poorly documented one-off spot tests using non-standard reagents and procedures (e.g. iodine/azide or pyrolytic mass-spectrometry for “starch”). As far as I am aware he never once tested for the presence of those “saponins”, being content to say that Pliny had described their use, and assuming they must be present on the Shroud, conveniently bumping up the content of “reducing sugar” needed for his purely hypothetical Maillard reaction (but not bothering with tedious old numbers)..

        Obviously the scales have still to fall from your eyes, Yannick re Rogers’ less than convincing attempt to maintain a semblance of scientific rigour. As I’ve said before, whilst Rogers was without question a highly resourceful chemist, making the most of what he hoped was transferable know how, he lacked the precision analytical tools needed for the job – if indeed those tools exist even now for such limited quantities of test material given the superficial nature of the image layer.

        I may be mistaken, but I get the impression that Ray Rogers was very much his own man – and not given to consulting with specialists in his own or related areas.

      2. Collins, if you throw down all of Rogers work and conclusions versus the Shroud, then you leave the door wide open for all the religious fanatics out there who just dream of something like that. Do you realize that ? Rogers is one of the few scientist who ever approach the question of the Shroud as it should be : scientifically and nothing else ! From the moment you start to add the concept of resurrection in your science (like many have done over the years), you just step out of the scientific method and, by acting like that, you just take out any sense of credibility versus sindonology. In fact, by acting like that, you prove to the world that you have some religious bias. Why ? Simply because someone needs faith to BELIEVE that the resurrection of Christ had something to do with the Shroud. And for me (and for Rogers), this is simply anti-scientific. That’s why Rogers approach the question with a scientific look and nothing else. And it’s all in his honor and that’s why I respect him so much.

  4. Colin’s comments intrigued me, and so I went searching.

    A precis of Roger’s work on the question of vanillin content can be found at:

    A few brief summaries from this precis: “Building on research by Stanley Kosiewicz, Rogers was able to produce a mathematical model to act as a chemical dating process. Kosiewicz had analysed the rates of vanillin loss from lignin at a variety of temperatures for over 2 years, and shown that loss rates of vanillin was very low.”
    As Colin points out, the rate of loss, being a chemical and not a radionuclide process is dependent on several environment factors. Roger’s math model showed the loss rate for 95% of vanillin in lignin was 1319 year at temp 25C, but increased to 3095 years at 20C, and so it’s apparent that the loss rate is very susceptible to temp variation. Rogers claimed that the fire of 1532 would not have affected the results much “as the cloth would not
    have absorbed much heat”. Rogers also stated that if the Shroud was created in 1260AD then 37% of the vanillin would have remained in the cloth. No samples from any part of the shroud itself gave a positive result for any trace of vanillin.

    Regardless of the detailed figures, I believe that the key finding that there was no trace of vanillin, has surely to be significant. Yet Rogers claimed that vanillin and also significant cotton contamination was found in the sample swatch. If that is so, then that also has to be sgnificant.

    I delved further, and was rewarded with the discovery of a detailed paper, being a debate on this work: “Private Internet Debate Challenges Ray Rogers’ Thermochimica Acta Paper”
    – An exchange of views between Mark Antonacci and Dr. Thibault Heimburger.

    Paper was submitted for publication to Barrie Schworz some six weeks after Roger’s death, and Barrie obviously considered it bad form to allow it. However this is really an excellent detailed paper, and those at all interested in the topic should study it. Antonacci disputes Roger’s findings, and gives several criticisms against it. Interestingly, Antonacci maintains his belief that the Shroud is the authentic burial cloth of Rabbi Yeshua. Antonacci’s paper is then followed by a rebuttal from Thibault Heimburger, who I think does a reasonably competent job of countering many of Antonacci’s arguments.

    The debate is too long and detailed to summarise in brief, but both arguments should certainly be examined closely by anyone at all interested in the issues raised. The paper was ultimately posted on the Yahoo ShroudScience group by Giulio Fanti on May 11, 2005.

    Message to John Klotz, Yannick Clement, and Colin Berry: If you haven’t already done so, you all really need to peruse the Antonacci / Heimburger paper before commenting further on this topic. LOL daveb!

    1. When it takes an attorney-at-law (and Mark Antonacci has a fine legal mind) to unravel the scientific issues, right down to the minutiae of methodological detail, then you know that the processes of science have broken down, in this case through lax or sloppy experimental design and appalling reporting. I could say more, but will wait first to see whether my previous comment to this thread clears “moderation”, knowing from past experience that the latter can mean outright censorship.

      However, I would say In passing that Mark Antonacci was also quite correct in observing that science can be no respecter of persons, whether living, dead, or even recently deceased. If there are grounds for doubting the methodological rigour and/or reliability of an individual’s approach or findings, then some might think that the sooner those doubts are out in the open and thrown open to free debate, the better.

      PS: Vanillin, a relatively small molecule, melts at 82 degrees C and boils at 285 C. Even without thermal decomposition, much could have been lost in the 1532 inferno simply by evaporation of the liquid above 82 degrees, the vapour escaping with the heat-expanded air from that partially molten reliquary. What price “vanillin-dating” without a good sprinkler system?

  5. CB: “I may be mistaken, but I get the impression that Ray Rogers was very much his own man – and not given to consulting with specialists in his own or related areas.”

    It has been a common enough complaint, even among the very best scientists: Isaac Newton, Pierre de Fermat, Carl Friedrich Gauss. All of them were secretive in much of their work, and often reluctant to publish. Newton completed his best work during his house confinement during the Black Plague in Oxford, withholding his discovery of the calculus until after Leibniz had already published; Fermat was prone to announcing his discoveries without proof nor documentation, challenging others to replicate them, Gauss was aloof and reclusive, often not publishing his best work e.g. writing to Bolyai, that he had already made those geometrical discoveries and Bolyai still had two-thirds of the work required to complete – this was typical of Gauss; Many of Gauss’s discoveries were only revealed in note form after his death.

    Establishment of the Royal Society in England and the Academy of Science in France, both in the latter 17th century, was a watershed in scientific development. However science in general remained the poor relation of academia until the middle of the 19th century with the first developments in heavy industry and technology. As Corporates and Nationals became more involved during the 20th century, the scope for individual pioneering work seems to have become more constrained with increasing demands for rigour and peer review. Research was directed at those areas where a profit might be made, or where national interests might best be served.

    There is little monetary gain to be obtained in researching the sindon, and much of the work seems to have been carried out on a volunteer basis by passionate individuals who were drawn into its mysteries. Hence the work is vulnerable to criticism by those whose vocations and career experience have allowed them to draw on more generous funding and resources where high standards of scientific achievement have been demanded.

    I get the impression that Ray Rogers very likely carried out much of his work alone, and this was probably the result of his choice of subject. In any pioneering work, there has to be trade-offs between quantity and quality – and in the area of undiscovered country, quantity has to be a strong temptation. I understand there remain as yet some eight or so unopened crates held by STURP, containing as yet unknown further results of Roger’s work on the Shroud.

    Whereas Antonacci has made severe, possibly valid, criticisms of Roger’s claims on inferences from the vanillin content or its absence, Heimburger’s response to those criticisms also needs to be acknowledged. The vanillin content and cotton contamination of the C14 sample swatch is surely significant, in relation to the absence of both in the main cloth. Heimburger’s comments on Mme Flury-Lemburg’s limited understanding of the Shroud and its complexity as at 1988 has also to be noted, as also his comments on the capabilities of medieval “invisible repair” work.

    It is evident that there is yet a long way to go in Shroud research, but this will require a level of funding that may be difficult to access, and also a change in the understandably protective attitude of their artifact by the relevant church authorities. I wonder indeed if it’s ever likely to happen!

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