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The Shroud’s 3D Problem Gets in the Way of the Truth

Recently, I wrote down some thoughts in the form of an essay: Slouching Towards Emmaus and Some Nonsense Along the Way. It’s more like a book. I had planned to write a few pages and ended up with 106. There is a lot of good material in that essay about the Shroud and the reasons for some evolving doubts about it. 

Doing some serious writing makes you think. For many years, I’ve believed many things about the Shroud that seemed wonderful and true. Sadly, much of what I had learned was incorrect or without solid foundations. And because I have written more than 4,046 postings in seven years by blogging almost every day, and because I gave talks at churches, I realize now, how I had misled many people. 

I’m not saying the Shroud is a fake, not at all. I want to be clear about that. What I do say, in my essay and on this blog page, is that based on the facts, as I see them, I don’t see enough reliable information to be convinced that the Shroud is the genuine burial shroud of Christ. I’ve read and studied almost everything I could get my hands on during the past decade, and the best I can do is to say it is possibly real.

“If you feel that way,” wrote Toad, “why not reactivate your blog and try to set the record straight.”  Toad, had reached out to share some thoughts on my essay.

Who is Toad, you might wonder?  When you write blogs you attract some readers who write to you directly, preferring this to comments. That’s fine.  Some write frequently. With some, it is almost impossible to answer all of their emails. Toad is one such person. Toad is an acronym I gave him. It stands for Ten Opinions A Day.  He knows I call him that, finds it amusing, and In fact, now signs his emails with Toad. 

Toad and I were discussing the following statement from the National Catholic Register, an EWTN publication with a print circulation of 40,000 households and an online presence of 1 million reader visitors every month. This is what they wrote about the Shroud in 2015.

This spatial data encoded into the image actually eliminates photography and painting as the possible mechanism for its creation and allows us to conclude that the image was formed while the cloth was draped over an actual human body.

If you did not notice it in the Register, then perhaps you read or heard something similar — something that conveyed the same powerful message. It is an assertion that in recent years, has become a cornerstone of Shroud science and a keystone of much advocacy. You will encounter it while looking at authoritative websites. You will read it in books by well-respected authors and while you pore over peer-reviewed papers. You will hear it during a lecture in a church hall. You will see it while browsing through an exhibition or museum display. Wherever and whenever, and in whatsoever wording you encounter it, take it with a grain of salt.  The assertion is simply not true.

Toad wrote to say he agreed with me. “The image data is 3D. So what?  It only means that it is possibly spatial, not that it is. The 3D does not rule out P&P [=paintings and photographs]. You can not conclude the image was formed when the shroud covered a human body . . . It does seem truthy,” he went on to say, “and that may be why so many people put so much stock in it.”

“Truthy as in truthiness? I wrote back.

“Yes!”

I looked it up. Truthiness is a word the comedian Steven Colbert resurrected from the archives of Olde English, in order to mock politicians on his show. 

Merriam Webster  defines it as: 

a truthful or seemingly truthful quality that is claimed for something not because of supporting facts or evidence but because of a feeling that it is true or a desire for it to be true

The Oxford English Dictionary gives Colbert credit for this:

the quality of seeming to be true according to one’s intuition, opinion, or perception without regard to logic, factual evidence, or the like

Toad reminded me that we live in a country where only 60% of the adult population believes in human evolution, where only 58% of voters believe that Joe Biden was legitimately elected president, and where only two-thirds of both Catholics and Mainline Protestants believe in the foundational miracle of their faith, namely the bodily resurrection of Christ. People believe what people want to believe. If you could prove beyond a doubt that the Shroud is real, if you could even scientifically prove the Resurrection, not much would happen. And if you could prove that the Shroud was fake, not much would happen, either. 

(What follows is adapted from my essay, abridged in some places, and expanded in others.)

Once upon a time, it was said, all swans are white.  This was so because no one, at least no one in the defining swirl of Renaissance Europe, had ever seen swans of another color. It was as good as a fact. It was so until 1697. That’s when Dutch explorers discovered black swans in Australia.  And thus, obviousness, the simplest of all logical fallacies, got a name. 

A black swan moment in Sindonology happened in 2014 at an international Shroud of Turin conference in St. Louis. Dr. Joseph Accetta, while Principal Scientist and Instructor at Georgia Tech’s Research Institute, wrote a significant paper, simply entitled Origins of a 14th Century Turin Shroud Image

Dr. Accetta, who had been one of the original STURP team members, a group of mostly scientists who examined the Shroud in Turin in 1978. He wrote: 

In summary, we have presented a reasonable plausibility argument that the Shroud image must result from a contact process. Woodblock or intaglio techniques known to be in use in the 14th  century in Europe and in France account for all of the visible attributes of theShroud image including the 3-d effect, reversed contrast, the resolution, uniformity between the frontal and dorsal images and the extensive detail observed.

His paper explained, among other things,  how a normal photograph could contain all the same type of three-dimensional information found on the Shroud,  Accetta proposed that a certain death mask photograph might contain the same kind of 3D information found in the Shroud’s image. 

Dr. Berry, who had not come to St. Louis, nonetheless heard about and read Accetta’s paper. Dr. Berry was working with a software package, ImageJ, which was to the VP-8 Image Analyser what a modern digital camera today is to an old Kodak box camera from the last century. Dr. Berry, with a few clicks of a mouse, showed us that Accetta was right. 

Spectacularly right. 

And that wasn’t all. Two decades before St. Louis, in 1994, Dr. Emily A. Craig and Dr. Randall R. Bresee, a couple of University of Tennessee forensic researchers, published a paper, “Image Formation and the Shroud of Turin” in the prestigious Journal of Imaging Science and Technology (Volume 34, Number 1, 1994). Quoting from the abstract:

Both the first written historical record and modern radiocarbon analysis date the cloth known as the shroud of Turin to the 13th or 14th century. Interestingly, many people have remained convinced that the cloth was used as the burial shroud of Jesus and thus must be approximately 2000 years old. The primary reason usually cited for this belief is the inability of scientists to explain how a 13th or 14th century artist could have created the image on the cloth that is continuous tone, exhibits fine detail without brush strokes, is a negative image, and accurately represents an abundance of three-dimensional information. In this paper, we will show how the carbon dust drawing technique used by medical illustrators can be modified to produce images exhibiting numerous features of the Turin cloth.

And they did.  As Dr. Al Adler, a chemist and member of STURP stated:

Craig and Bresee have described a dry powder transfer technique that appears to give acceptable VP-8 characteristics. This sounds satisfactory until one discovers they are actually making the copy from an image of the Shroud face itself. The question then becomes where did the artist get the original from which to make the copy.

Chemically, and in many other ways, Craig and Bresee did not succeed in replicating the Shroud’s image. But the point that must be made here is that once again, the notion that the Shroud’s 3D characteristics are unique is demonstrably false.  It doesn’t matter if they were copying the Shroud’s image. They weren’t trying to make an exact copy. They were doing what forensic scientists do, looking for a way that might work. With dust and daubing brushes and quite a bit of stylistic freedom, they created a picture with 3D characteristics. 

Lee Jones, who was paying attention to social media commentaries on the Shroud, decided to confirm this by plotting Craig and Bressee’s image. Craig and Bressee called their proposed method a carbon dust drawing. Adler had referred to it as dry powder transfer. Artists sometimes call the process daubing. Take a daubing brush and apply some dry pigment. It is the primary method for applying cosmetic powder to one’s face. I can fully imagine creating an image like Craig and Bressee’s by copying a real person’s face.  Lee Jones, with a few clicks of a mouse, showed us that Craig and Bressee – and Accetta – were right. 

Again, spectacularly right. 

Ray Rogers, also a member of the STURP team who went to Turin, used to speak about the diffusion of ink on an absorbent surface.  He would tell us to put a single drop of black ink on filter paper and let it diffuse. The result from VP-8-like plotting is a three-dimensional picture of a mountain. Plot a photograph of a smoke ring and it looks like a crater on the moon. Plot a picture of a chessboard without the pieces and it looks like a modern city of skyscrapers. All of these examples are illusions of spatiality, not spatiality. 

Dr. Berry also demonstrated the encoding of three-dimensional information in an image with thermal imprinting. It seems that different amounts of pressure between a piece of linen and a hot statue can create a 3D effect. Hugh Farey, the then editor of the British Society for the Turin Shroud Newsletter writing in June of 2015 said of Dr. Colin Berry and his experiments:

He demonstrated that almost any scorch will produce both an effective ‘negative’ image, and can be converted into a ‘3D image’ using similar software to that of the famous VP-8 Image Analyser, demolishing any miraculist claim that only the Shroud was capable of such effects.

Dr. Berry created an illusion of spatiality with a contact method,  


That one sentence in the
National Catholic Register, “This spatial data . . . eliminates photography and painting . . . allows us to conclude that the image was formed while the cloth [covered a] body,” has become a catechistic shibboleth of Sindonology. Toad feels that to continue to repeat it and not face up to the truth leads to a lot of pseudo-scientific malarky that hurts the cause of promoting authenticity. I must say I agree if that is your goal. More importantly, it gets in the way of figuring out the truth about the Shroud. 

⇓ For a different well-thought-out perspective I recommend Email From O.K.

 

 

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