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Art Scholars on Scientific Evidence

imageArt critic Jonathan Jones weighs in over at The Guardian:

If only the great arguments between religion and doubt could be settled by scientific evidence. A story this week has it that solid evidence has emerged about the historical Jesus: the “tomb of Jesus” reportedly contains proof that Jesus was married, had a son – and was never resurrected.

So that’s settled then. Or at least it would be if the scholarly world unanimously accepted these claims (which seems unlikely) or if religious belief were grounded in evidence. If that were the case, all religious belief would have disappeared when Charles Lyell uncovered the nature of geological processes and intimated the true age of Earth in the 1830s – the first clear evidence of a godless natural world.

Religion sees only the evidence it wishes to see. This is very apparent in western art. Christian paintings are full of supposed evidence for the divinity of Christ. His real face is purportedly recorded in paintings that faithfully copy his uncannily preserved image.


Few relics have withstood scientific scrutiny, but the modern age produced its own peculiar piece of Christian “evidence”. The ghostly face revealed by a photographic negative of the Turin shroud in 1898 made this relic suddenly convincing to many eyes – a genuinely inexplicable image. Radiocarbon dating has revealed that it is in fact a medieval fake (as relics tend to be) but the “photographic” quality of the shroud still seduces some.

Christianity, then, does care about evidence – as long as it suits pre-existing beliefs. The mountains of evidence for a universe that works just fine without any divine intervention are easily ignored by anyone who wants to believe in God. Lots of people would rather believe in the veil of Saint Veronica than in a historical Jesus who got married and had a kid.

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