Strong ignorance is not strong evidence

BT from the Coast Guard Academy in New London writes:

imageMany of your blog readers all [too] casually say that no one has figured out how the image was formed and that in this day and age with all of our modern scientific knowledge and technology this is a powerful if not convincing argument for authenticity. Strong ignorance is not strong evidence, however. No one in this age has figured out if there is but one universe or if certain biological mechanisms are too complex to have evolved naturally. What is thought about these possibilities by even the best and most brilliant scientists is subject to revision. What we may learn may delight or dismay. 

Religion on the Internet

imageInteresting, in light of our many discussions about the Shroud of Turin. The Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, the Senior Religion Editor at The Huffington Post writes in an article, Ask Not What Religion on the Internet Can Do for You…:

As the Religion Editor at The Huffington Post, I often ask audiences: "How many of you use the Internet in your religious practice?" Often people keep their hand down, surprised anyone would sully their religious practice with the web. Then I ask how many of them have ever looked up a Bible passage, a prayer, researched a religious figure or watched a guided meditation or prayer — all of the hands go up.

Religion is one of the hottest areas of the Internet because religion is one of the most intense and contested arenas of human relations and ideas. There are many people who are taking information from the Internet that is shaping their religious thought and perception. But all that glitters on the Internet is not gold. The web has only the ethics that people bring to it and provides the perfect vehicle for those who wish to spread misinformation, ridicule, provoke or incite people of a different culture or belief. Take one example: Right now if you type in Jew into the Google search, an Aryan nation site comes up on the first page.

Do Nobody Knows Nothing?

imageYesterday, John Crace in the Guardian describes a BBC4 documentary:

The first episode explored the development of Christian iconography in religious art between the fourth and the 11th century, from the absence of any depictions of Jesus because no one had a clue what he looked like, to the hijacking of the fresh-faced, sunny look from Roman statues of Apollo, through to the tortured look of suffering that has been with us ever since pain and guilt became the Christian artistic orthodoxy. Watching long lines of the devoted file past the Turin shroud, [art historian Waldemar] Januszczak observed that he was certain it was not really the cloth in which Jesus’s body was wrapped after the crucifixion, because the bearded outline could be artistically dated to the medieval period. Personally, I would have thought that carbon dating was a rather more reliable method of establishing its authenticity; I suppose that proper art historians must have their own, more rigorous standards of proof. Watch and learn.

Of course, art historian Thomas de Wesselow will disagree. Or David Freeman. Or

David Roemer will maybe present the Shroud of Turin at the Princeton Club in New York

Google led me to a blog posting two days ago:


imageWhen I went there the posting was gone. Why? However, WordPress, the host for David Roemer’s blog recommended another posting from October that had been updated with an additional blurb at about the same time this month. Here is that blurb:

Email sent to Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States on Nov. 13, 2012
Your Excellency,

Cardinal Dolan is suppressing my slideshow/lecture on the history, theology, and science of the Shroud of Turin (, and I am hoping you can help us resolve this conflict. My correspondence with the Archdiocese of New York is on my blog at

Cardinal Dolan did not answer my rebuttal to his letter of September 5, 2012.

I’v attached a transcript of the slideshow. Feel free to call me at xxx-xxx-xxxx.

Yours respectfully in Christ, David Roemer (phone number removed by me.)

I read the entire posting, The Truth About the Shroud of Turin from Roemer’s blog, New Evangelist. It is not about the shroud. It is about a personal, long-running, escalating and seemingly pointless disagreement with just about everyone in authority in the Catholic Church over his cancelled presentation (and just for good measure evolution and the Big Bang, as well). How about this:

The Catholic Church grants indulgences to people who pray before the Shroud itself or an image of the Shroud. I feel my slides of the Holy Shroud are just as deserving of veneration as the cloth itself. I feel that the pastor desecrated the Holy Shroud by depriving his parishioners of the experience of seeing a miraculous artifact.

Here is a small sample about evolution. Yes, evolution!

Stephen Barr is a prominent physicist who writes about evolution on the pages of First Things. He is also a member of the Academy of Catholic Theology. He told me in an email that I was wrong and the AJP article was right, and that I was harming the Catholic Church. In my opinion, Barr is harming the Catholic Church. Barr does not go so far as to advocate ID, but he doesn’t say there is no evidence for ID. His argument is that ID is not science. In my opinion, Barr is helping atheists propagate misinformation about evolutionary biology. Barr should be expelled from the Academy of Catholic Theology because he is lying about science (

Or this to Cardinal Dolan (not on evolution):

Your Eminence:

I developed a slideshow/lecture about the Shroud of Turin (, attached transcript) and think you should know about the negative reaction of Catholics to my analysis of the science, history, and theology of the Holy Shroud. After sending emails to Newman clubs, Catholic colleges, and Catholic churches in Brooklyn and Manhattan, I got only one invitation to speak. To my chagrin, the pastor cancelled the talk at the last minute on the grounds that I was not promoting the authenticity of the relic. I am the only one on the Shroud Speakers Directory of The Shroud of Turin Website ( who does not think the Holy Shroud is authentic.

You wonder? I’m all for discussing and airing all arguments about the shroud. Maybe, in a realistic sense, it is his choice of venues. There is, in this posting, this implied threat. Read into it: If I can’t do my presentation in our/your churches, know that . . .

I am a member of the Princeton Club at 15 West 43rd St., and can get a meeting room in the morning with breakfast cheap. Without breakfast it is more expensive.

Separately, I received an email from David asking me if I would attend such a presentation at the Princeton Club on a yet unspecified date. I would love to. Of course! I’ve never had  breakfast there but lunch is particularly good. Unfortunately I now live in South Carolina but if I am in New York when you have the presentation, I’ll try to be there.

Any New Yorkers?

It is sad that Googlers will read this as The Truth About the Shroud of Turin. It has nothing to do with the shroud. Hopefully David will get some New Yorkers for his Princeton Club talk.

MUST READ: Cloning the man on the Shroud of Turin


Cloning the man on the Shroud of Turin:

The Media’s Hyperbole with the Double Helix

by Kelly P. Kearseimage

The subject of a recent blog post about a comic book series that is now into its fifth issue, Punk Rock Jesus, involves a rather popular storyline regarding the Shroud: using DNA extracted from bloodstained threads to clone Jesus. Search on and you will find over twenty fiction novels based on this premise; include those available exclusively as e-books and you can add about ten more. There has also been an Outer Limits television series episode, and a feature film released in 2010, “I’m not Jesus, Mommy”, centered on this idea.

Just how realistic is this scenario? What would be required to accomplish the cloning of a person under such circumstances? Would a clone be an exact duplicate of the Turin Shroud man? These and related issues are discussed below.

What exactly is cloning?

Cloning is the creation of an identical genetic copy of a living organism. Several types of cloning exist, but the most germane to the discussion of the Shroud is reproductive cloning using a method known as somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). Somatic cells are cells other than sex cells (sperm or egg), which under normal circumstances do not provide DNA in the generation of an organism. Development of the SCNT technique began in the early 1950s using frogs, and was further refined and eventually popularized in the mainstream media years later with the success of Dolly, a cloned sheep, in 1996. The basics of this method are shown in the figure below. The nucleus of adult cell (a skin cell, for example) is isolated and transplanted into an egg cell (oocyte), which has had its own nucleus removed. The egg cell is then implanted into a surrogate mother, who also receives various hormones to simulate the normal course of pregnancy. Since the only source of nuclear DNA in the developing embryo is from the adult cell, the resulting offspring will be genetically identical to the organism from which it was taken.


In the creation of Dolly, the scientists used a very clever strategy to monitor their success: the skin cell containing the DNA to be transferred was taken from a type of sheep that was purely white-faced; the host egg cell into which this nucleus was transplanted was from a black-faced animal. If truly a clone, the offspring would have to be purely white-faced (which was also verified by DNA analysis). Cloning Dolly required significant effort; success was achieved only after 276 previous attempts by the same group resulted in failure.

Send in the clones

Since the creation of Dolly, other types of animals have been cloned using this method, including mice, rats, cats, dogs, goats, deer, cows, mules, and horses. To date, however, reproductive cloning has not been successful in primates. Although cloning of a Rhesus monkey was reported in 2007 (by embryo splitting), this is not equivalent to reproductive cloning by SCNT using DNA from adult cells in the creation of an exact genetic copy. Refinement of this method for use in primate cells has been especially hampered by the fact that removal of the nucleus from the egg cell disrupts important host proteins that are essential for subsequent division and development. It is certainly possible that current limitations to reproductive cloning in primates will be overcome in the future as techniques continue to be developed and refined. Reports of cloned human embryos have periodically surfaced in the media, but all have been subsequently found to be bogus.

Cloning and the Shroud

Apart from the existing technical roadblocks in the reproductive cloning of primates, if such a system were currently in place, cloning the man on the Shroud using DNA isolated from bloodstains still lies well within the realm of science fiction. Multiple problems exist with this scenario. First and foremost, to clone an organism, you need a full complement of nuclear DNA. The DNA on the Shroud is badly fragmented; while certain regions on particular chromosomes may be intact (for example, portions of the betaglobin and amelogenin X and Y genes sequenced by Garza-Valdes and coworkers), it is extremely unlikely that sufficient DNA is present to represent the entire genome. As mentioned above, even with technically pristine DNA present in a freshly isolated nucleus, successful transfer and development often requires numerous attempts together with a generous amount of luck.

Additionally, because numerous individuals are known to have handled the cloth, it is unclear that any DNA isolated would belong exclusively to the man on the Shroud. The average human being sheds approximately 400,000 skin cells per day, a portion of which contains DNA that may be transferred by contact, referred to as touch DNA; how long touch DNA may survive is unclear and unique to each object. The extent of contamination of the Shroud by exogenous DNA is unknown, but given the communal nature of the cloth in both its past and even more recent history, it is reasonable to speculate that DNA from numerous individuals may be present on the Shroud. If it were possible to obtain a full nuclear complement of DNA from a sample taken from the Shroud, it is likely to be a mosaic, resulting from the contribution of multiple persons. In the previously mentioned 2010 film “I’m not Jesus, Mommy”, the scientist responsible for the breakthrough, Dr. Gabriel, announces “What you are holding in your hands is the first human embryo cloned from red blood cells.” This is a miraculous feat indeed, as red blood cells in humans (and all mammals) are devoid of DNA because they lack a nucleus. In the non-Hollywood version, DNA from the Shroud would have to originate from white blood cells in the bloodstains.

A True Duplicate Copy: Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Di or Ob-La-Da?

Ethical and moral issues aside, which are without question, hugely significant and relevant; and strictly speaking from a scientific viewpoint: if a full complement of intact, unfragmented nuclear DNA were available, and if it were purely from the bloodstains on the Shroud, and if current methods were in place for reproductive cloning in primates, would a clone be identical to the man on the Shroud? Genetically speaking, the answer is yes and no. Although a clone contains exactly the same nuclear DNA as the organism from which it originated, it is not entirely identical. There is no such thing as an exact clone. In addition to nuclear DNA, cells also contain mitochondrial DNA, which encode genes necessary for cellular function. In reproductive cloning, only the nuclear DNA is transferred to the donor egg cell. All mitochondrial DNA originates from the host egg cell, which will be expressed in the resulting organism (clone) throughout its lifetime. In normal organisms (non-clones), while nuclear DNA is inherited from both parents, mitochondrial DNA is transmitted solely from the mother.

Genes are only part of the story in the development of an organism. Environmental factors may influence which genes are turned on and which genes are switched off. Even monozygotic twins, which are truly genetically identical, do not have the same fingerprints. Twins that are raised together may appear at times indistinguishable, but each possesses unique personality traits and even physical features that are distinct characteristics. Unlike cinematic portrayals of cloning, which at times border on the irrational (e.g. Multiplicity, 1996), clones are not born as adults, equivalent in age to the individual from which they were propagated. A clone would be born as an infant and subject to unique experiences and environmental influences, which would impact the genetic blueprint. A clone would be expected, of course, to be very similar to the organism from which it came, but an identical carbon copy is not likely.

What the future holds in terms of cloning, particularly in relation to higher organisms, remains to be determined. Technology has advanced relatively rapidly compared to the full consideration of moral and ethical issues that accompany such scientific progress. Concerning the Shroud, such cloning scenarios are best categorized as science fiction rather than science fact.

Blinding ignorance does mislead us

clip_image001In today’s Huffington Post book section, Ross King, the author of Leonardo and the Last Supper [Walker & Company, $28.00] writes an article, 10 Myths About Leonardo da Vinci:

Leonardo da Vinci bears the burden of great expectations. The undeniable breadth and depth of his genius means there was, it seems, no intellectual feat of which this original Renaissance Man was incapable. Almost five centuries after his death, his legacy thrives not merely in his paintings, two of which, The Last Supper and Mona Lisa, are arguably the world’s most famous and celebrated works of art. It also throbs in the chests of those whose damaged hearts have been repaired by the British surgeon inspired by Leonardo’s writings on the mitral valve. It takes to the air on the tiny wings of a bluebottle-sized robot designed by aerospace engineers captivated by Leonardo’s studies on flight. It even lingers, courtesy of the entrepreneur Alessandro Passi, in a range of pasta shapes, perfume bottles, and pepper grinders – all based on Leonardo’s drawings.

Leonardo was certainly wide-ranging and eerily modern in his interests. With his dreams of manned flight, submarines, and weapons of mass destruction such as giant crossbows and doomsday cannons, he almost seems more a prophet of our age than a product of his own. His known accomplishments – in anatomy, engineering, hydraulics, optics and painting – are undeniably astounding. But often he is given a little too much credit. He tends to get abstracted from his own time and fast-forwarded into ours, and in doing so he slips out of documented history and soars into the giddy realms of myth. So it is that he gets credited with tasks as varied as forging the Shroud of Turin by taking the world’s first photograph, or serving as the Grand Poobah of an arcane lodge charged with keeping ancient secrets about the bloodline of Christ.

Just how much do these and other claims stand up to scrutiny? "Blinding ignorance does mislead us," Leonardo himself said. "Oh, wretched mortals, open your eyes!" So let’s open our eyes and look at some of these claims about Leonardo in the light of documented fact, not hero worship or wishful thinking. (bolding mine)

And then he tells is as it is:

The history of the Shroud of Turin is complex and controversial enough without having Leonardo thrown into the mix, but he has been pushed forward as its creator. In 1993 Nicholas Allen proposed that the image on the linen shroud could have been produced in the Middle Ages via a photographic process that involved suspending a cadaver in the air for three or four days while its image slowly blossomed on the chemical-soaked cloth. Others were quick to give Leonardo the credit, even though he was born a century after the first documented reference to the Shroud. But who else could have pipped Daguerre – by some three and a half centuries – to the world’s first photo?

Like others before him, Leonardo did experiment with a camera obscura. But there is zero evidence that he had any knowledge of – let alone used – photo-sensitive chemicals. Even if he did invent something as earth-shattering as photography – and it’s a truly massive if – why should he have kept quiet about it? Why not take more pictures? The fact is that not a single shred of evidence links Leonardo to either photographic technology or the Shroud of Turin. As one critic has written: “The premise is more demanding of faith than is the authenticity of the Shroud.”

Yep! But blinding ignorance will persist.

Christopher Howse: For important read stupid

clip_image001Many contributors help shape The Spectator’s ‘Books of the Year’ edition. One of them is The Telegraph’s Christopher Howse  who writes for that paper about Christianity and other faiths. It helps to read up to his comments about de Wesselow’s The Sign just to get a sense of his curmudgeonity:

. . . The most helpful piece of scholarship was Noel Malcolm’s translating the Latin version and appendix of Hobbes’s Leviathan in his monumental three-volume edition (Oxford, £195). I still haven’t got over the old devil insisting that God is corporeal. What could he have meant?

The best cover — to which the book lived up — this year used a wood engraving (reproduced below) of a shire horse by C.F. Tunnicliffe for the New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, edited by Steve Roud and Julia Bishop (£25). Yet the same publisher also sent out a note this year saying that their volume on the Shroud of
Turin, Thomas de Wesselow’s The Sign (£20), was ‘one of the most important books we have published’. For important read stupid.

I’d like to know why Howse thinks it is stupid. Contrast this with what Barrie wrote on his site just a couple of days ago:

Speaking of the British Society for the Turin Shroud, the organization held its first public meeting in many years in Beaconsfield, England on Sunday, October 21, 2012. The highlight of the meeting was the presentation titled, "Why the Shroud of Turin Is Not a Medieval Hoax," made by featured speaker Dr. Thomas De Wesselow, acknowledged expert in medieval art and author of the recent book, "The Sign." Fortunately, the presentation was recorded on video by BSTS member David Rolfe and posted on his Shroud Enigma web page so you can watch it yourself. Of course, many readers already accept the scientific evidence that clearly demonstrates the Shroud is not any type of artwork, medieval or otherwise, but it is refreshing to hear it so clearly presented by a true expert in Medieval art history. This video is worth watching by every student of the Shroud and a "must see" for anyone who still believes the Shroud is a medieval hoax. I urge you to watch it and share it with your friends and family.