Jerry Coyne: Pope Francis endorses the fake Shroud of Turin

The shroud is covered with gesso, which was used as a ground for painting.
If it was the miraculous imprint of Jesus on a burial shroud,
there would be no reason for the gesso.

imageRenowned evolutionary biologist, Jerry Coyne, is well known for his best selling book Why Evolution Is True and his famous New Republic book review of, Of Pandas and People. Every now and then, mostly in his blog, also called Why Evolution Is True, he jumps onto the skeptical Shroud of Turin bandwagon.  I’ve mentioned him at times:

Now he has climbed aboard with our friend Charles Freeman and posted Pope Francis endorses the fake Shroud of Turin in his blog. Get this:

The image has degenerated substantially over the centuries. We know this because there are a fair number of paintings from centuries ago showing what it looked like. The degradation is due to its repeated unfurling and exhibition, which would crack and flake the paint, in addition to the fact (revealed in the article I’ll cite in a second) that in past times it was customary for supplicants to hurl their rosaries at the shroud and then recover them.

But we know the Shroud is a fake for several reasons. Carbon dating of the linen cloth (in three separate labs) has placed its manufacture between 1260 and 1390, which (if you know dating) is the time at which the flax plants furnishing the cloth would have been harvested, no longer absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. Further, an Italian scientist managed to reproduce the Shroud by using materials that would have been available during the Middle Ages.

The other reasons for fakery (not fraudulence, as it apparently wasn’t designed to deceive people) are given in a very nice article by the historian Charles Freeman that just appeared in History Today, “The origins of the shroud of Turin.” (It’s free online.) I recommend that you read it, as it’s a fascinating summary of what we know about the shroud.

The other reasons for fakery are these:

  • The shroud is covered with gesso (calcium carbonate; ground-up chalk), which was used as a ground for painting. If it was the miraculous imprint of Jesus on a burial shroud, there would be no reason for the gesso.
  • [ . . . ]
  • Finally, the image changed over the year. In 1355 to at least 1559, Jesus was naked, with his hands covering his genitals. But in 1578, as Freeman notes, reproductions show it with a loincloth over Jesus’s groin and butt. Clearly there were some prudes, possibly the Bishop of Milan, who were distressed at the exposure of the Saviour’s bum.  The loincloth later disappeared, though there’s still a white patch on the Shroud showing where it was.
      Coyne summarizes the criticism of the carbon dating based on a single article,

 a recent news article by Inés San Martin on the Catholic Crux website


Other scientists, however, believe those results could be off by centuries, pointing to the possibility of bacterial contamination of the cloth. They note, for instance, that burial shrouds for Egyptian pharaohs sometimes test to centuries later than their known age for precisely that reason

Then Coyne lets loose:

In view of the multifarious evidence, the Church really should say that it was a medieval painting that could not have been Jesus’s burial shroud. But they won’t do that; it would turn off the supplicants who think it’s real . . . .

[ . . . ]

Now why would the Popes keep making pilgrimages to something that’s just a painting?

Catholics must have their miracles, even in the face of counterevidence. Just once I’d like to hear the Church declare unequivocally that the Shroud is simply a painting from the 14th century or so. And I’d also like to hear them say that Adam and Eve weren’t the historical ancestors of all humanity. (Genetic studies have disproven a two-person ancestry.) But it will be a cold day in July (in Chicago) when that happens!

I don’t have a problem with Coyne when it comes to evolutionary biology or his criticism of ID. Coyne and I don’t share the same beliefs about the existence of God, but that’s okay. He is one of the New Atheism crowd like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris and I can accept that and disagree amicably. But, Coyle as a scientist – come on now, Jerry, are you sure that the shroud is a painting?  You know this how?

Gesso?  Are you sure?  Who said so?

11 thoughts on “Jerry Coyne: Pope Francis endorses the fake Shroud of Turin”

  1. Just another illustration why New Atheism is just ideology thinly veiled behind this pseudo-rationalism façade.

    1. There is no worse thing than an intelligent(-sounding) religious zealot so far up his own ass he gives the priests he seeks for guidance, when they’re not busy molesting children, a run for his money. Makes of discerning beings with a speck of brain from clothed monkeys for a tougher, and far more vexing, exercise. Drop the thesaurus and pick up an encyclopaedia.

    1. Coyne’s article is illustrated by a high contrast photo image, which shows a whitish area between the two crossed arms, a whitish area around the fingers of the left hand, and a thinner, slightly lighter band from one side of the body to the other at the level of the bloodflow from the wrist wound. On Shroud Scope, these areas are also wholly lacking in scourge wounds. I can’t see that this is necessarily evidence for a loin cloth – presumably a loincloth required as much paint as anywhere else, and should have left as prominent a stain, or, if the shroud was a painting, was the loin-cloth area simply left blank? – but the “white spot” is certainly there.

      1. There are lighter areas all over the image!

        Yet another theory, the “patchwork theory”, the shades of whites resulting from different patches of cloth applied all over the body…

        Absurd, you can’t explain the image without being systematic.

  2. The problem with Coyne is that he makes atheism look bad. This is not the first time that he has grasped at straws without really digging into the sudject just for the sake of antagonizing the religious crowds. I for one am surprised that he cites the 2009 copy at all, since we know that one failed to live up to the expectations, it only *looked* the same. Now he sticks to Charles’ hypothesis without even bothering to search for the concerns expressed by his fellow skeptics.

    Simply put, Coyne is not a scientist. He is only peddling his own beliefs. And the irony is that he is doing exactly the same thing that is ever so often critisized of the shroudies, indulging in fields that are far from his expertise.

    1. Coyne does not stick to my hypothesis. He continues to refer to the Shroud is a fake while my argument has always been that it was never intended to deceive anyone but was used in the Easter ceremonies and, as such, would have been treated with great reverence. No forger would ever have produced a cloth with images on it when there was no reference to such images being on the grave clothes in the tomb.
      What other people later made of the Shroud is and continues to be another story.

      1. Coyne is, at the very least, exploiting your ideas to push his agenda. Misquoted or not, they are the core of this article. Omitting the “ceremonial” aspect is his way of keeping it sensacionalistic and delectable to those that follow his blog.

        With that said, I am not blaming you for all of Coyne’s ramblings.

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