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?

Jerry Coyne Once Again

imageJerry Coyne, this past Saturday in Why Evolution is True, asks, Once again: Was there a historical Jesus?

Again, the question is not whether Jesus was the son of God/part of God as Christianity alleges, but whether there was even a historical person around whom the Jesus myth accreted. While people like Bart Ehrman give an adamant “yes,” others, like Richard Carrier (and our own Ben Goren) are “mythicists,” claiming that there’s no convincing of any real person who could have been the model of the Jesus figure.

I have to say that I’m coming down on the “mythicist” side, simply because I don’t see any convincing historical records for a Jesus person. Everything written about him was decades after his death, and, as far as I can see, there is no contemporaneous record of a Jesus-person’s existence (what “records” exist have been debunked as forgeries). Yet there should have been some evidence, especially if Jesus had done what the Bible said. But even if he was simply an apocalyptic preacher, as Ehrman insists, there should have been at least a few contemporaneous records. Based on their complete absence, I am for the time being simply a Jesus agnostic. But I don’t pretend to be a scholar in this area, or even to have read a lot of the relevant literature. I haven’t even read Richard Carrier’s new book promoting the mythicist interpretation, though I will.

The next day, yesterday, Vincent Torley, over at Uncommon Descent (Serving the Intelligent Design Community), responded:

Jerry Coyne has written a post in which he states that he is inclined to believe that Jesus never existed, although he hasn’t made up his mind yet. And on what does Coyne base his tentative opinion? An article in the Huffington Post by a biopsychologist named Nigel Barber, a self-published book by a systems engineer, Michael Paulkovich, which Coyne admits he hasn’t read, and finally, another book which he hasn’t read, written by atheist activist Richard Carrier, who has a Ph.D. in ancient history, but who (judging from his Wikipedia biography) has no teaching or research position at any accredited institution. [Update: according to his C.V., Carrier teaches classes at the Center for Inquiry Institute Online (a think tank founded in 1987) using a Moodle interface, and is also an online instructor with Partners for Secular Activism. As far as I can tell, the only accredited program offered by CFI is an Ed.M. program in Science and the Public, in partnership with the Graduate School of Education of the University at Buffalo. However, Carrier does not teach this course.]

I wonder what Coyne would think of a critique of Darwin’s theory of evolution, written by a biopsychologist, a systems engineer and finally, a prominent evolution critic with a Ph.D. in biology, who had never taught the subject at any university. Not much, I think. I find it odd, then, that he is prepared to set aside the opinions of all reputable historians with relevant expertise in the field, on the question of whether Jesus existed.

Coyne seems to be click baiting. Torley takes the bait and resorts to expertise bashing. Hoping for sanity in the comments and not finding it, we do find bornagain77 using the Shroud of Turin to settle the argument (here on October 5, 2014 at 9:13 am, October 5, 2014 at 9:14 am and October 5, 2014 at 9:15 am)

That the image was formed by a quantum process, and not by a classical process, also adds significant weight to the fact that the Shroud is not a medieval forgery.

If the shroud is not a medieval forgery then of course Jesus existed and Coyne is wrong. That means, also that dogs are better than cats since Coyne is a cat lover. Never mind that the above, based on a brief paper by Fazio and Mandaglio is far far away from being theory. It sounds good, we can want to believe it, and we don’t need to stop with the Jesus of history. Move over Einstein:

Moreover, I personally hold that since the image was formed by a quantum process, and not by a classical process, then the shroud provides empirical evidence that General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics/Special Relativity (QED) were unified by the resurrection of Christ from death into the much sought after ‘theory of everything’.

Ain’t blogging wonderful.