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How Knowledge is Created: The Shroud of Turin

In part, we can enjoy the human spectacle of varying views and hot reactions.

From the OSC IB Blogs for Students and Teachers (Oxford Study Courses International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme) we get some opinion on examining the Shroud of Turin in TOK classes (Theory of Knowledge). Eileen Dombrowski has written a long, interesting blog posting, The Shroud of Turin: perspectives, faith, and evidence:

. . . Earlier this month (Oct 9-12), a conference in St. Louis, Missouri brought together international presenters and participants on the topic “Shroud of Turin: The Controversial Intersection of Faith and Science”. However, it is an article by historian Charles Freeman that may at last give some definitive answers. In an article published this week in History Today, he argues that the cloth is neither a miraculous burial shroud nor a deliberate hoax, but a 14th century cloth used in church Easter rituals with significance attributed later. His research is riveting for those of us interested in how knowledge is created.

As a starter for Theory of Knowledge teachers potentially interested in using the Turin Shroud in class, I’ll offer some ideas on whether and how to use it in class. . . .

It’s important to realize:

Certainly, the overall controversy over the Turin Shroud raises knowledge questions about the role of faith in interpretation of evidence – or more broadly about the role of perspectives in what is even considered to be “evidence”.Indeed, the basic beliefs or assumptions of perspectives are a good starting point for questions:

  • if people do not accept the possibility of divine miracles and/or the divinity of Jesus Christ, they are likely to reject knowledge claims that the Turin cloth is His burial shroud;
  • if they do accept this possibility, or if they are uncertain, they may or may not be persuaded by “evidence” the first group is likely to discount.

Relevant here are a coherence check for truth (Does this knowledge claim fit with what I already know?) and confirmation bias.

From a short list of potential course resources (do read Eileen Dombrowski’s posting):

  • Some videos A short video linked from the website of the recent conference in Missouri provides a lively introduction to the controversy. It refers to investigations done by the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP) and stresses the “fabulous mystery”: “Shroud Encounter: Experience the Mystery”.  The conclusions reached by Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP) are available.
  • [ . . . ]
  • The article by Charles Freeman is essential as one of the sources for a TOK critical treatment of the topic, and for a demonstration of the methods of the historian: “The Origins of the Shroud of Turin”, History Today. His article summarizes evidence such as carbon dating previously done and adds new research findings.
  • It would be sad not to introduce students to a sense of the continuing controversy – not just its content but its tone. Refer students to the blog by Stephen Jones  in which he rages at Charles Freeman – for his credentials as an historian (which, I must interject, are excellent!), the religious beliefs Jones infers that he must have, and his treatment of evidence. Stephen Jones’s own assertions are in turn dismissed with cutting brevity by another blogger, who accepts that the shroud may be authentic but ridicules Jones’ treatment.  If you want to demonstrate how controversial knowledge claims can lead to emotional ranting and silliness, try clicking into some of the reader comments added to articles on the shroud.

Emotional ranting and silliness?  At least . . .  oh, well.

Theory of Knowledge and the Shroud:

Discussion of the Shroud can lead to appreciation of how very much people really care about particular knowledge claims and what justifications they accept and pass on. In part, we can enjoy the human spectacle of varying views and hot reactions. Most important, though, we can hone our own critical thinking skills by seeing knowledge claims in context and evaluating the justifications offered.

BTW Book Mention:  IB Theory of Knowledge Course Book: Oxford IB Diploma Program Course Book (Oxford IB Diploma Programme) – May 19, 2013  by Eileen Dombrowski (Author), Lena Rotenberg (Author), Mimi Bick (Author)

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