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?

Wikified: Word of the Day

To Colin Berry goes the honor of having coined the Word of the Day. “PS,” he writes to a previous comment:

. . . While the main title is “Descent from the Cross” there’s an alternative one given: “Deposition of Christ”. Deposition into what? Into Joseph’s linen, obviously as shown in most of the accompanying images, yet curiously the text fails to make a single reference to the linen. I confess to finding myself totally wikified

And Colin found this wonderful gallery of 30 pictures of the Descent from the Cross in Wikipedia. And no, the word linen or a suitable synonym is not to be found. I, too, am wikified.


Paper Chase: A critical (Re)evaluation of the Shroud of Turin blood data by Kelly Kearse

There are only 109 charts in the PowerPoint

Barrie Schwortz also wrote in A Personal Report on the 2014 St. Louis Conference:

imageOne of my favorite conference papers was the special presentation by Kelly Kearse see photo at right) titled, “A Critical (Re)evaluation of the Shroud of Turin Blood Data.” After the death of Al Adler in 2000, and for more than a decade, no credible credible blood or DNA experts remained actively actively involved in Shroud research. Then, in 2012, Kelly Kearse came on the scene and published the first of his blood blood papers that year (we have published four more since). Not only has he brought us his expertise in this critical area of Shroud research, but equally as important is the amazing ability he brings to make these complex issues understandable to everyone. Perhaps it is because he now uses his Ph.D. to teach high school science and has to make the materials interesting and understandable to younger folks. In the end, I guess I liked his paper because I actually understood it! I also overheard Mark Borkan tell Kelly at the end of his talk that he had “…learned more about the blood in that 30 minute presentation than in all the personal conversations he had had directly with Al Adler.” Now that is a compliment!

Read A critical (Re)evaluation of the Shroud of Turin blood data: strength of evidence in the characterization of the bloodstains (Paper) and the PowerPoint Presentation. I didn’t recall that there were 109 charts. It was just too interesting to notice. Maybe he skipped a couple charts.

And what a pleasure it was to meet Kelly.

The Neutron Conference

imageBarrie Schwortz writes in A Personal Report on the 2014 St. Louis Conference:

So was it a great conference or only a good one? We do have the 2008 Columbus Conference (the last one held in America) to compare to, and there were some problems with this conference that did not occur in 2008. Probably the single biggest complaint by the attendees was the extremely full schedule each day, with 20 papers delivered on Friday and 17 on Saturday. This left virtually no time between presentations for any discussions or questions from the other attendees. In Ohio in 2008, fewer papers were presented and consequently, a Q & A session was scheduled once or twice during each day of the conference. In St. Louis, only one such session was scheduled for the entire event, on Saturday evening, and it did not begin until about 9:00 p.m. Considering that the presentations started that morning at 8:00 a.m. and only one hour each was allocated for lunch and dinner, the audience had already spent about 10 hours in the room that day before the Discussion Session even began! In spite of all that, thanks to the true dedication of the attendees, it was still one of the highlights of the entire conference.

In all fairness, I was not on the organizing committee that reviewed and selected the papers and not party to their decisions, but I am sure they simply wanted to include as many of the papers submitted to them as possible. Unfortunately, that made for some frustrating moments and a rather tiring event, but one that was certainly well worth the effort. To help mitigate the lack of discussion issue and address some of the criticisms that came afterwards, the organizers promptly added an interactive Discussion Forum page to their website where questions or comments could be posted and discussed with conference authors. Under the circumstances, I believe that was an excellent solution.

Neutron conference? Yep!

I was trying to wake up during breakfast on Sunday morning after only five hours of sleep, when I overheard the following remark from a nearby table: “I am suffering from an overdose of neutron radiation!” I actually laughed out loud and immediately wrote it down so I could remember it and share it here with you! This was obviously a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the large number of radiation related papers that had been presented at the conference over the previous two days. I thought it was a brilliant remark (or at least it seemed brilliant at 7:30 a.m.)!

Neutron conference?  Yep, squared!

[There was] a presentation on another radiation theory of image formation from Robert Rucker, in this case, claiming neutron radiation released from Jesus’ body during the Resurrection created the image. Naturally, this was well received by some in the audience, but not by everyone.

It was a bit too neutrony for my taste. But do read Barrie’s Personal Report on the Conference. There was much more to the conference.

Paper Chase: New paper by Jos Verhulst on Rubens’ Descent from the Cross

imageThe paper, The esoteric content of The Descent from the Cross (P.P.Rubens 1612; Our Lady’s Cathedral, Antwerp) – Part I has just been uploaded to The 22 page paper is interesting and richly illustrated:

Rubens depicts the retrievement of Christ’s body from the cross upon a white shroud. A shroud is mentioned in the gospels, but only in connection with Christ’s tomb (John 19:40; 20:5-8). The scene of the descent of the cross is not described in the New Testament. Rubens was a devote christian. He knew his bible. The question arises why he so conspicuously placed a shroud at the core of his Descent from the Cross.

Contemplating the overall stage set on the painting, we notice that the outline of the shroud with the lifeless Christ seems to extend along the second diagonal of the painting (from top right to bottom left). The eight characters surrounding the shroud appear to be disposed along some oval or ellipse-like loop. The ellipse that seems to waver within the scene can indeed be drawn (figure 4) and it possesses some surprising properties.

Click on the above image to see an enlarged version.

This is interesting:

Horoscopes are embedded in many of Rubens’ religious paintings. He was acquainted with a rather elaborated Christian chronology that, apparently, was transmitted throughout the ages and that goes back to the gospels (especially the gospel of John). As infuriating as the idea might seem, a current of underground teaching did indeed exist in Christianity from its very beginning and it played a major role in the history of Christianity and in Christian art. Chronological data are encoded in the gospels, especially in John. According to esoteric tradition, Christ’s death and resurrection happened on Friday, April 3, 33 AD, and Sunday, April 5, 33 AD (Julian calendar), respectively.

FYI:  The Descent from the Cross (Rubens) in Wikipedia

Paper Chase: The origin of Rogers’ Raes and C14 samples by Thibault Heimburger

In view of the suggestion yesterday in a paper by Giorgio Bracaglia that The Raes samples that Rogers used had been switched it seems like a good time to examine the St. Louis presentation by Thibault Heimburger, The origin of Rogers’ Raes and C14 samples along with his PowerPoint Presentation.

Here is a chart that addresses that very point:


Here is the concluding PP chart from Thibault’s talk:


*The paper at HSG has been locked up with a password. Apparently and unfortunately, it was not supposed to have been released.

New December 2014 update to Many St. Louis papers

imageThis latest update to is a big one, particularly because of the the new St. Louis Conference page which already includes 36 papers and presentations.

Let’s do the ten-thousand view first. Later, we can pick and pull on some specifics and maybe examine each and every paper one at a time.

The easiest thing for you to do is to access the Late Breaking Website News: Updated December 1, 2014. Then from the top read down the page until you arrive at the a headline dated November 6.  That’s it; everything below that is old news.

I noticed some things, in particular:

1) First of all there is the new St. Louis Conference page. I imagine this will be the focus for most of us.

2) There is the wonderful news about SEAM’s new home. See Status Update on the New Mexico Shroud of Turin Museum in this blog.

3) I noticed Barrie mentioning “a growing trend by some Shroud researchers to post their papers and articles on, a website that provides a forum for researchers to publish their own work online.”

There was this warning from Barrie: “Just remember that many of these have not withstood the scrutiny of peer review so any claims they make or conclusions they draw have probably not been verified scientifically.”

Fair enough. That is true. But given the state of what sometimes passes for peer review these days with the many new and sometimes predatory open access and vanity journals, I’m not sure it is a big deal.  See:

It also raises a big question; is a conference paper a peer reviewed paper? I think many people think so. I don’t.