Wilson the Exoheretic. What? Yes, Exoheretic.

imagePut on your waders. The water isn’t deep here but you will need to do some sloshing through a bit of Isaac Asimov to see the point. So, according to Davor Aslanovski in his blog Deum Videre, Ian Wilson is an exoheretic. The list of scholars who are taken in, says Davor, is extensive:

‘Of all the exoheretics, Velikovsky has come closest to discomfiting the science he has attacked, and has most successfully forced science to take him seriously. (Wilson has not exactly discomfited the world of Late Antique and Byzantine studies, but his heresy has been accepted by a number of scholars – Pierluigi Baima Bollone, Daniel Raffard de Brienne, Werner Bulst, Massimo Centini, Linda Cooper, Karlheimer Dietz, Maurus Green, Mark Guscin, Robert Drews, Andre-Marie Dubarle, Barbara Frale, Emanuela Marinelli, Heinrich Pfeiffer, Ilaria Ramelli, Daniel Scavone, Maria Grazia Siliato, Eugene Csocsan de Várallja, Gino Zaninotto, Thomas de Wesselow. And, as opposed to the largely forgotten Velikovskianism, this is still alive and kicking.) Why is that? Well –


Heresy?   “ . . . it is a heresy nevertheless. . . . “

Wilson is one of those who choose to believe that the undeniably enigmatic Turin Shroud bears a miraculously created image of Jesus Christ. And this may very well be right. But there is no evidence for it. To begin with, the relic has no known history prior to the 14th century. And there is no mention of an image-bearing cloth anywhere in the New Testament, the Early Christian (whether orthodox or heretical) writings, or any other source before the appearance of the highly unreliable Abgar legends. And even in the latter the cloth is not a 14-foot burial shroud, bearing an image with the marks of the Passion. But what if…? What if this is the image of Our Lord Jesus Christ? How can one not wonder? Herein lies the major difference between every other scientific heresy and what we have here. We are not dealing with just a scientific heresy – a veritable pseudoscience has been created. Sindonology. The study of one single relic, isolated from everything else, conducted outside the world of orthodox academia, and often with deep disrespect and distrust for what the orthodox scientists have to say. And when any orthodox scientist reads the endless on-line discussions of these ‘sindonologists’, the papers presented at their conferences, and the occasional publications that they produce, he will invariably notice one thing: these people veritably despise the academic world. And this warrants some attention and an attempt to understand why this is so. I propose this answer: The average ‘sindonologist’ has come to the (accurate) conclusion that the image in the Shroud is like no other in the history of human art, and that it, at least for the time being, escapes scientific explanation; he has, through various experiences in his life, become fed up (and rightly so) with the skepticism, rationalism, agnosticism, and the general disbelief that permeate the academic world today; he has done some research and has found a number of things in various scientific disciplines (in at least some of which he has no expertise of his own) that could conceivably be used to prove that the relic is authentic; he has most probably always had a healthy passion for mysteries; and he is, more often than not, passionate about his religion as well. Through a combination of these factors, he continues to been drawn to this enigmatic object. He is often aware that experts have refuted some of his claims, but refuses to change his mind – because these experts are generally not very inspiring to him. Their skepticism, rationalism, and agnosticism, mentioned above, is in fact repulsive to him, and, to a great degree in deliberate opposition to them, he chooses to believe. He chooses a wonderfully mysterious fantasy over the dreary, cheerless reality. And who can possibly blame him? I certainly don’t. But it is a heresy nevertheless. And, as such, it can teach us a lot.)

Rude Comment of the Day

imageWhat is the point of writing something like this, Colin Berry? To be nasty?

Why do you ignore the new science, Mr.Rolfe?  Does it not fit with your preconceptions, the ones you were so keen to have carved on tablets of zone (sic maybe) when you pestered the  conference participants at Valencia to subscribe to your list of largely dud or redundant “consensus” points.

Science by consensus? No thanks. I prefer science by free unfettered enquiry, science by thinking out of the box. That’s why I am a published scientist and why you are a film producer, Mr. Rolfe,  the difference being  that I  have no desire to wear a second hat as a film producer, while you …   oh never mind.

This follows your sometimes flippant remarks on the seven image characteristics in the Dawkins Challenge. Look, I have taken issue with these and with the challenge. We should do so when merited. But why the flippancy like, “I thought real bodies, living or dead, had sides.”

I know, David has banned some of your comments on his site. Can you blame him?

Let’s look at your responses (in italics):

1. The body image is created by molecular change of linen fibres. There are also bloodstains. There is no body image beneath the bloodstains. (For the avoidance of doubt, this characteristic does not exclude the possibility that the molecular change may have taken place in an impurity layer at the linen surface).

Yes, there is probably molecular change of linen fibres.  That’s if one excludes Rogers’ Occam’s Razor blunting  hypothesis, the one  that posits a chemical reaction between putrefaction vapours and surface impurities.  It was the initial omission of that and the criticism that followed  that occasioned Rolfe’s later addition in italics. Shame it makes the opening statement self-contradictory.

There’s a simpler name for the molecular change in the linen fibres. It is called a scorch. It is not necessarily in the cellulose. It is more likely to be in the hemicelluloses of the primary cell wall.

There are no proven bloodstains, or at any rate ORIGINAL bloodstains. There may be pigmented stains that look like blood (strange that they are eternally red, differ from the spectrum of known porphyrins, lack potassium etc but never mind, let’s not get hung up on the geekish detail).

The original real or look-alike “bloodstains” may have later been  touched up with  blood, blood serum or fake blood.  That’s a bit more complicated than saying “bloodstains”.  But then science, real science, does tend be more complicated than the made- for-TV variety.

2  The body image does not penetrate below the surface fibres. The body image is not visible when illuminated by transmitted light. The bloodstains are.

Yes, the body image is superficial, It is called a scorch. Scorches tend to be superficial  What bloodstains? Proof positive please.

3  The body image varies in intensity that correlates to expected cloth-body distances had the cloth covered a body.

Where is the proof that the cloth was ever draped over a real body? Ever heard the expression “begging the question”? (Original meaning, that is, not to be confused with “inviting the question”)

4  The sides of the body are not represented even where blood has transferred to the cloth and between the head images.

Yes, we have no side image. That means there was no imaging of the sides. That’s because only the frontal and dorsal sides were imaged. Does that sound like a real body was imaged? I thought real bodies, living or dead, had sides.

5 The resolution of the image is sufficient to resolve body features of a few millimetres.


6  There are no outlines or directionality to the body image within the plane of the cloth.

Sounds like a thermal imprint if you ask me, produced by pressing cloth against a heated template. It’s what cattle ranchers call a brand (produced by pressing a heated template, aka branding iron, against cattle hide). Ever heard of transferable skills?

7 The body image has the visual characteristics of a photographic negative. That is, normal light and dark areas are reversed.

Again, it’s what cattle ranchers call a brand.

Fancy? Is rudeness a substitute for substance?

Three Months Today: The Dawkins Challenge

imageHas there been any news?  Here is the challenge letter dated March 29, 2012:

An open letter to Richard Dawkins

29th March 2012

Dear Richard Dawkins

It is really not sufficient to dismiss the Shroud, as you do, on the basis of a C14 test from a single and badly selected sample area. Are you really saying that C14 has never made a mistake? Archaeologists frequently go back to retest something when other data conflicts. That has been impossible with the Shroud.

In your Shroud blog you argue, rightly in my view, that it is not enough for Christian apologists to weigh faith heavier than facts. After all, Christianity is based on a historical figure. The Shroud of Turin is a much-studied tangible object and it is a very significant fact that its unique image – so far – remains unfathomable. But that could be about to change if you, with the weight of your formidable foundation behind you, choose to accept this challenge.

When Professor Hall, Head of the Oxford Radio Carbon Unit announced the C14 result he was asked for his explanation for the Shroud. He said: “Someone just got a bit of linen, faked it up and flogged it”. This sounded a bit glib at the time and now, over twenty years on, it is beginning to sound a little hollow. No one has yet been able to show how it might have been “faked up”.

Accepting this challenge would appear to be consistent with your foundation’s mission. Does it not represent a wonderful educational opportunity to investigate what some have suggested could only have been the work of a Leonardo Da Vinci? To make the decision easier for you we will donate the £20,000 to your foundation if you simply accept the challenge and follow it through to some kind of conclusion. The public can make up their own minds about the result.*

The challenge then, if you choose to accept it, is to explain how the Shroud and its image might have come into existence. You will find a list of the most significant image characteristics here. If you cannot pin it down then, in all conscience, you should, at least, give it the appropriate respect as an enigma. If you can explain it then this site’s title becomes a misnomer and you will have solved a great mystery. Everyone would like to see this matter resolved. Could you be the one to do it?

With all good wishes

David Rolfe

* This £20,000 donation is not made possible because championing the possible authenticity of the Shroud is well funded or lucrative operation – far from it – but because your acceptance would trigger a commission for a documentary along the lines of our 2008 BBC2 film with Rageh Omaar. If you wish, you could nominate an executive producer.

Questions concerning the Mandylion hypothesis proposed by Ian Wilson

imageAs readers of this blog know, Yannick Clément disputes many of Ian Wilson’s historical conclusions. Yannick has written an article and asked me to post it here (in PDF form). Enjoy, think about it and offer your comments. I know: much as been said about this already. But Yannick has pulled it together into this one article with some newly organized material. It warrants our attention,

Article link: Many questions concerning the Mandylion hypothesis proposed by Ian Wilson !!!

Almost a Third of Adults Under 30 Doubt Existence of God

imageYou surely remember Fr. Jonathan Morris from his role in the History Channel’s “The Real Face of Jesus?”. Here he appears on Fox News and is mentioned in a Huffington Post article:

A recent poll showed that almost one in three young Americans doubt God exists.

The poll, conducted in April by the Pew Research Center, showed that 31 percent of respondents under the age of 30 have doubts about the existence of God, compared to 9 percent of those polled who were 65 or older.

When asked to evaluate the statement, "I never doubted the existence of god," 18 percent of all respondents said that they mostly or completely disagreed.

But Fox News religion contributor Fr. Jonathan Morris had a different take on the numbers. Morris, a Catholic priest from the Archdiocese of New York, said that having doubt doesn’t necessarily mean that young people don’t believe in God.

He included himself and Mother Teresa among the ranks of people who have had doubt about their faith, recalling that the famous nun’s diaries were "full of spiritual conflict." Morris also said that questioning one’s faith could be a positive thing leading to a mature acceptance of their beliefs.

However, as CNN pointed out, the new numbers constitute a 15 percent drop in certainty over the past 5 years. A 2007 Pew poll found 83 percent of those in the "Millennial" generation never doubted the existence of God.

This means young people are expressing doubts about God more now than at any time since Pew started asking the question on its American Values Survey a decade ago.

Additionally, 25 percent of Millennials identified as "religiously unaffiliated."

Worldwide, the Catholic Church is facing a shortage of priests, which the Vatican recently blamed on secularism, sexual abuse scandals and parents’ ambition for their children.

Noah’s Ark, the Shroud of Turin and the Grand Canyon

imageJerry Coyne, one of America’s leading Atheists, ponders the question, Can science test the supernatural? in his blog named after his best selling book, Why Evolution Is True::

In other words, we can provisionally accept that there is no god because we don’t see the kind of evidence that we should see if god were present (answered prayers, confirmable miracles at Lourdes, and so on), and we see things that we don’t expect if there were a loving, omnipotent, and omniscient God (the most obvious, of course, is the presence of undeserved evil).

  • Indeed, if miracles, answered prayers, and regrown limbs were seen, the faithful would trumpet this as evidence for God, and of course many believers are always looking (in vain) for such evidence, viz. the search for the remnants of Noah’s Ark, the supposed authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, the ludicrous attempts of creationists to verify that the Grand Canyon was caused by the flood.  In truth, believers want, need, and look for for evidence for their faith. But in the end, that evidence always comes down to a kind of “knowledge” that is neither confirmable nor convincing: revelation.
  • This all means that, contrary to the National Academies of Science, Judge Jones, the National Center for Science Education, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the idea of God and the supernatural are scientific (i.e., empirically testable) hypotheses, at least in principle.  Science can—and repeatedly has—tested the supernatural.  Sure, one-off miracles in the past, like the resurrection of Jesus, can’t be tested directly, but we can assess them as more or less credible by applying Bayes’s theorem (indeed, that’s what Hume was really doing when he asked whether it is more likely that a miracle happened or that the person reporting one was mistaken, deluded, or lying).

There is much that I agree with even if I disagree with his overall premise: the “Yes !!” he adds to the title of his posting. I hate seeing the Shroud mixed up with remnants of Noah’s Ark and many other biblical literalisms. But then again that is half of America’s Christianity, so I understand why Coyne mistakes subjects he is not familiar with, perhaps. 

Can we similarly also provisionally accept that there is a god? I think so.

The Poetic Skepticism of Russell Blackford

imageJust for fun. This has been making the rounds on several websites. Why do I think of Colin Berry on Giulio Fanti, Fanti on Ray Rogers, and Yannick Clément on Ian Wilson?

The Skepticism of Russell Blackford

In situations safe or septic,
It’s always best to be a skeptic.
Confronted by a mugger’s gun,
I query, “Is that loaded, son?”
I note, when opening ticking mail
that such devices often fail.
Tornado warning? Oh, no fear –
Statistically, it won’t hit here.

Threatened by some shady guys?
Don’t take precautions, analyze.
Being careful compromises
Skeptical hypothesise-es
When climbing on the mountain slopes,
I’m much too skeptical for ropes.
Some say this logic’s inside-out;
I don’t know what they’re on about.

Experience that millions share?
I don’t see it; it’s not there.
Your citations on this matter
sound to me like anecdata.
I write fiction; I’m a pro
and used to be a lawyer so
always be sure you wait for me
to tell you what it is you see.

Skeptical study is my trump;
I, to conclusions, never jump.
Let’s get some data on that humming –
Bus? I never saw it coming.