David Hume and the Image on the Shroud

Someone in the Shroud Science Group forwarded this to me knowing that I would have fun with it. I normally don’t report on discussions in SSG, respecting the fact that this is a semi-private discussion list.  The topic is generic enough and not so shrouded in shroud stuff that I need to worry. Here goes:

For example, we might see an atheist like David Hume arguing:

1) Premise: Miracles, by definition, are a violation of natural law;

2) Premise: Natural laws are unalterably uniform;

3) Conclusion: Therefore, miracles cannot occur.

Here we see that, by unjustifiably defining miracles in premise #1 he cannot help but conclude that miracles cannot occur. This, of course, IS begging the question.

We can say that David Hume was unjustifiably defining miracles and we could be right. But we could be wrong, too.  Actually, I tend to agree with Hume on both premises. It’s the unmentioned assumed premise that is the problem.


This is Hawk, a horse my wife and I volunteer to help take care of at the Coastal Discovery Museum on Hilton Head Island.  Shown this photograph, my wife exclaimed, “What a beautiful horse.”

I said, “What a great photograph.”

What was the subject? Horses or photography?


“David,” (I’m speaking to David Hume across the ages.) “This morning, I awoke to find a great Southern Live Oak (Quercus Virginiana), draped in Spanish Moss, growing on my front lawn where last evening there had  been nothing but grass.”

“There must have been a great upheaval of the earth to accommodate the root ball,” said David with a sardonic smile.

“No, the lawn is undisturbed.”

“That Spanish Moss is impossible. It takes months and months to grow. And it doesn’t transplant well from one tree to another.”

“But it’s there. Spanish Moss, tree and beautiful lawn. It is there. It happened.”

“It can’t be, it violates the inviolable, the unalterable. It didn’t happen.”

“I agree,” I said. “It didn’t happen. It happened.”

Is the subject natural laws or is it miracles?  The unmentioned assumed premise is that one has something to do with the other. Photographers don’t make great horses great and horses don’t make great photographers great. And miracles and nature don’t play together in the same pasture.  (That was a terrible metaphor but you get the idea).

I suggest that miracles have nothing to do with natural laws at all. They are, I imagine (and to imagine is as far as I can philosophize) instantaneous and not disruptive to the environment.  So what happened to the dirt where the tree ball is now? In that same instant, it was no more. It is part-and-parcel of the miracle of the tree.  So, too, the Spanish Moss.

I imagine the stone before Jesus’ tomb was found in a new place but it got there without being rolled or slid or carried.  No motion!  No motion!  No motion!  And Jesus did not walk out of the tomb. The stone was not in a new place — one cannot say moved — so that Jesus might exit but so that his followers might see that he was gone.  Jesus the Risen Christ just appeared where he willed when he willed. He did not remove his shroud or pass through it. Nor did the burial cloths pass through him.

Jesus did not travel to meet up on the Road to Emmaus. He was just there. He was just there in the room that had locked doors.  He was just there on the Road to Damascus at the proper time and place.

Miracles, as I imagine them, just don’t mess with the environment. They don’t mess with nature. They don’t happen. They happened. They go from before to after, from not having happened to happened, without happening in-between.

And this is why I say that if the image on the Shroud is not fake and not a natural formation (I have not ruled out either as possibilities though I find them unlikely) then I imagine that the image was miraculous but not produced as a consequence of the Resurrection. The Resurrection didn’t happen. It happened. The image on the Shroud didn’t happen. It happened.  No, it wasn’t produced by radiation or any kind of energetic anything. Not scientific. Not pseudo-scientific.

Miracles, I don’t believe, can ever be proven by science or denied by science. Or by philosophy. Unless I’m wrong of course. Prove it.

But then again, my wife insists the subject was horses, not photography.




24 thoughts on “David Hume and the Image on the Shroud”

  1. Dear Dan
    I must tell you how I enjoyed reading this post.
    I may agree with much of your point of view on miracles but not completely.

    First it is my opinion that most of so called miracles don’t violate the laws of nature but are rather very unprobable happenings in a particular context- the effects are always good and most of them are preceded by prayer and it is believed they are performed by God (with or without interceding of saints or Mary the Mother of Jesus)
    Let me explain with a recent example in my field of expertise:
    The miracle performed by Saint John Paul II on the Costa Rica lady and that was one of the reasons for him to be canonized.
    That l50 year old lady suffered an hemorragic cerebrovascular stroke caused by a right middle cerebral artery voluminous aneurism causing left hemiparesis and impaired walking.
    The FACT was that she was a devotee of the late Pope John Paul II and she and her family prayed to him and one morning she woke up regaining walking ability and her neurologic impairments improved and returned to normal- this was astonishing because the aneurism was in a very risky and very difficult location to be operated and her Neurosurgeon was amazed with the outcome and a new cerebral angiography was performed revealing that the aneurism that was about to rupture and kill the patient simply disappeared.

    This is an outcome completely out of the prognosis of the clinical pathology in a particular context- an effective MIRACLE
    In an anatomopathological point of view I can SPECULATE that although such an arterial wall alteration has never been described to recover this particular aneurism had healed by natural tissue repair mechanisms and the patient recovered from her neurological motor impairment status by the activation of neighbor not damaged neurons and neuronal brain circuits (although this does not usually happen).

    When it comes to the Image on the Shroud perhaps as you say IT HAPPENED, but perhaps it can be explained by a naturalistic way not yet discovered or described (wich I doubt will ever happen despite scientists efforts…) nevertheless if this is the case it’s hard for me to accept that nature laws were violated.
    Remember that the image has been chemically explained at fiber level, and fabric level.
    The big question is and will be WHAT CAUSED THOSE CARBONYLS WITH DOUBLE CARBON BONDS that produce color and the Image as a whole.
    In either case the Image on the Shroud is a Miracle granted by God to Mankind

    Antero de Frias Moreira
    (Centro Português de Sindonologia)

    1. Correction:

      «That l50 year old lady» should read That 50 year old lady I apologize

    1. Glad to see you again David. At least two ex-posters have sadly passed away , Yannick Clement and John Klotz.

  2. I’m sorry if some of my comments are repeated. I’m having trouble puting them. Is there waiting time to be published?

    1. David, I don’t know what is happening. For those who are pre-approved, and you are, there should be no delay. This problem was occurring with one other person. There are three or four people who must be approved every time. It has nothing to do with their views on the shroud or anything else and everything to do with how they have treated other people. I’ll send it along to WordPress who hosts this blog. Maybe I’m doing something wrong. Keep posting. please.

  3. Surely it’s not your fault, it’s mine. It seems to me that it has something to do with pasting texts that I have previously written in LibreOffice Writer.
    Don’t worry, Dan. I’ll find the solution.

  4. “Miracles don’t happen; they don’t interfere with the laws of nature.”
    I’m sorry, but here I see a game of language and an abusive use of “to happen”.

    A thing “happens” when it interacts with nature. Joshua stops the sun and the day lasts more than 24 hours and therefore the Hebrews can continue fighting. Jesus’ body goes through the wall and is seen and heard in the closed room like he would comes from nowhere. There are events that happen in an altered world and it is why the miracle happens: sun, weapons, blood, ears and eyes that behave against natural laws. The miracle happens. The altered stated of things lasts meanwhile the miracle happens.

  5. So I don’t see why science can’t certify a miracle. In some extraordinary hypothetical conditions, science can attest that the laws of nature have been so massively altered that only a miracle can explain it. Imagine a scientific team with appropriate means to record the battle between Hebrews and Amorites. Perhaps they would not use the word “miracle,” but everyone would understand.

    Unfortunately God does not like this kind of miracles. God’s will is inextricable and His miracles occur in hidden places, among believers or in remote times. Therefore, here we are endlessly discussing the miracle of the Holy Shroud of Turin. It is lucky this is so because if we are all converted, we would believe in the Holy Sheet and we couldnt dispute in this splendid website happily recovered now.

    (This works! Given my ability with Internet this is a true miracle!)

  6. I had a somewhat depressing exchange of views with David Mo, some two years ago on the internationalskepics forum site (my commenting under the username “meccanoman” due to login difficulties following a prolonged absence from the site).


    There I was told by David Mo that my Model 10 was not sufficiently “elegant”.

    I responded by saying that medieval simulation of J of A’s linen did not need to be scientifically elegant. It merely needed to be technically simple (i.e. Stage 1 flour imprinting, Stage 2 colour development by roasting of imprinted line. In other words: treating it as if a 14th century, low-technology domestic bread-baking exercise in order to generate a yellow or brown coloration, simulating an aged body SWEAT imprint onto J of A’s ‘fine linen’ deployed for transport, NOT final burial).

    That remains my position, after some 3 years and more of model refinement.

    I say Model 10 does the business!

    I’ve yet to hear a cogent argument that says I’m wrong!

    But then, cogent, detailed arguments are not sindonology’s forte ! Think
    imaginative resurrectional selfie! Think desperate attempt to underpin the central mind-blowing claim of Christianity (whether right or wrong). Think clutching at straws!

  7. I’m sorry I didn’t agree with Colin on this point. On many others, I agreed with him.
    On this subject, the alternative seems simple to me: either the shroud is miraculous or it is an artifact. The alternative of a natural product seems impossible to me. In almost all cases, sindonoligist scientific explanations refer to a miracle performed by scientific means. I don’t think it’s serious that God works miracles using lasers or low-intensity nuclear discharges.

    Another thing is why God would perform a miracle so convoluted that twenty centuries later it is more than confusing. If you want to accept that God is inexplicable, fine. But to make God a laboratory technician with a twisted mind seems to me to be even blasphemous. Of course, I’m not an expert in theology.

    1. Did you see the comment I placed on Dan’s site yesterday, David? In it, I mentioned what must surely be seen as a major point in favour of my Model 10 flour imprinting, namely the ability to account for the so-called “half-tone” effect.

      How? Because one can have two adjacent linen fibres, only one of which has acquired a particle of wheat flour via preliminary dusting. When roasted, it’s only the fibre with the attached particle of flour that generates those Maillard reaction products, and the resultant yellow chromophore (high molecular weight melanoidins).

      I have yet to see any attempt on the part of those promoting rival models to account for the half-tone effect. I’d certainly not envy the promoters of laser beam and other radiation models their task of explaining how one fibre can acquire colour, and not the one that is immediately adjacent and indeed in physical contact!

  8. As flagged up in an earlier comment, this long-in-the-tooth, dare I say somewhat jaded critic of the supposed supernatural Linen, is currently planning as we speak a new (and possibly final) posting on his own site.

    Reminder: it’s to be entitled “Sindonology’s 10 Biggest Mistakes”.

    Here’s a summary list of what’s on the drawing board:

    1. Mistaken assumption that Secondo Pia’s discovery of the negative image via photography implies that ‘photography’ was required for initial image capture.

    2. Mistaken assumption that the response of the body image to 3D-rendering software implies pre-existing “unique encoded 3D infomation”.

    3. Mistaken conclusion that the faint body image is confined to the primary cell wall of the linen, with that supposed ‘ultra-superficiality’ needing some kind of subtle radiation-derived process.

    4. Mistaken assumption that the Turin “Shroud” should be viewed as a “burial shroud”, whether real of simulated. The biblical account from first three Gospels suggests otherwise (J of A’s linen being intended merely for dignified transport from cross to tomb).

    5. Mistaken assumption that the lack of lateral (“wrap around”) distortion of the body image rules out an imprinting mechanism dependent on physical contact (no air gaps).

    6. Mistaken assumption in the 1981 STURP Summary that the image chromophore was due to chemical modification of the linen cellulose, with no mention of extraneous additions (whether Rogers’ ‘starch impurity’ or more recent proposals involving use of white flour as imprinting medium (my own Model 10)..

    7. Premature radiocarbon dating, needing disfiguring removal of single chunky fabric rectangle. C-14 dating should have been postponed till the procedure worked with single excised threads, taken from multiple sites to exclude charges of “repair patches”.

    8. Failure to identify the chemical nature of the image chromophore, especially to discriminate between chemically-modified cellulose and a chemical modification of extraneous coating (notably a Maillard-reaction involving starch or flour coating to generate high molecular weight melanoidins).

    9. Pseudo-pathology based on assumption that bloodstains can be equated with body wounds, despite absence of any evidence for there being tears, punctures etc in the imprinted body image per se .

    10. Failure to give proper recognition to the key role in French medieval society of the first documented owner of the Linen, namely Geoffroy de Charny, close confidante of his monarch, King Jean II (“The Good”). G. de Charny was prime mover in creating the “Order of the Star”. Possibility that the Linen was intended initially as a centrepiece for Star ceremonial, rudely interrupted by death of G.de Charny at the Battle of Poitiers, 1356. bearer of the Oriflamme,to say nothing of the capture/ransom of his monarch.

    1. Oops. Not a single comment to this site following the one above, which I posted some 40 hours ago (yes, 40 hours, no less!)

      The two may be completely unrelated (it not being the first time that Dan’s revived site has slipped into a state of hibernation). Or there again, my listing 10 of sindonology’s flawed arguments as a single leaden package may have put some of this site’s visitors into a state of mild catatonic trance leaving them at least temporarily speechless (?).

      Don’t take it too hard, folks. One or other sindonological spokesmen/leading lights will shortly come galloping to the rescue, like, er John Jackson, or if unavailable, Giulio Fanti, or if unavailable, Barrie Schwortz, or, if unavailable, Thibault Heimburger, or if unavailable, David Rolfe, or, if unavailable, er, er …

    2. I agree with most of them. I can qualify a few points. I don’t have competence in two or three of them. Are we a little far from the subject?

  9. Are we a little far from the subject?

    Pray tell us what subject it was you had in mind, David! ;-)

    Are you referring to the subject of the forum website (“Shroud of Turin”)?

    Or are you referring to the subject of Dan’s current posting (David Hume, meaning of miracles, Resurrection, distinction between “happens” and “happened” (??) with that S word only making an appearance towards the end?

    I know which of the two (forum v posting title) that brought me back to Dan’s site after his 3 year absence and which in my view overrides all other considerations.

    But I don’t pretend to speak for everyone who calls by from time to time…

      1. I raise my hat to you, David. Why? For your summing up in a single word our return-to-the-fray Dan’s continuing priorities.

        (Oh, and that of 90-95% of what calls itself “sindonology” , attempting as ever to posture as if an academic, nay, SCIENTIFIC discipline). :- (

        Here’s what I’ve just added to the tail end of my current and indeed FINAL posting (own site).


        Take care, one and all. The human mind can play tricks – especially where visual inputs are concerned… ;-)

        Shame how human originality and inventiveness (medieval era) at the highest level of French society (King, knightly courtiers and team of clerics) has become so overshadowed, nay appropriated, by 20th/21st century wishful thinking and fantasizing…


        Or as we Brits say: “Right, time to be orf. See you when I see you.”

        1. I just wanted to say that the subject of the shroud is the miracle. Science is the mantle of the emperor.

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