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Shroud of Turin Redux

by Daniel Loxton, Dec 23 2011

Skeptics sometimes express impatience with discussion of seemingly quaint paranormal claims. (“What, Bigfoot—again?”) But the great lesson of paranormal history is that it is a wheel: no matter how passé or fringe a claim may sound, it is almost guaranteed to come ’round again, in the same form or in some novel mutation.

In the last few days, global headlines have resurrected a nostalgic case from my childhood, just in time for Christmas: “The Shroud of Turin Wasn’t Faked, Italian Experts Say.” The cutting edge of yesterday—today! Even in my youth, this mystery was centuries old.

The Shroud of Turin is a 14-foot length of linen cloth that bears a stylized picture of a bearded man. Legend holds the Shroud to be a burial cloth wrapped around the Biblical Jesus following his execution. This linen was allegedly flash-imprinted with an image of Jesus during his miraculous resurrection, presumably by an intense burst of energy released under such circumstances.

The case for fraud has been strong since the 14th century, but enthusiasts insist on rolling that wheel ’round again. According to news reports this week, Italian scientists used an infrared CO2 laser to scorch images onto cloth and ”conducted dozens of hours of tests with X-rays and ultraviolet lights” in an effort to prove that the image could be created by a burst of electromagnetic energy. (Here’s a PDF of their Italian-language report.) What is the wavelength of a resurrection miracle? If there is one, the scientists were unable to discover what it might be. They learned (in ABC News’s paraphrase) that “no laser existed to date that could replicate the singular nature of markings on the shroud.”

Full-length photograph of the Shroud of Turin

Full-length photograph of the Shroud of Turin which is said to have been the cloth placed on Jesus at the time of his burial. Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.

All this business with lasers is neither here nor there. I’m reminded of magician James Randi’s line from Flim-Flam! about the pseudoscience technique of the Provocative Fact.

The same technique was used by the Gellerites when they assured us that at no time did Uri Geller use laser beams, magnets, or chemicals to bend spoons. This was quite true. It is also quite true that he had no eggbeaters, asbestos insulation, or powdered aspirin in his pockets either. So what?1

Turns out it’s hard to make a Shroud copy using lasers. That’s hardly surprising, but neither is it relevant. There was never a good reason to think the Shroud was created by anything but the tools and artistry of a painter. Failed attempts to replicate the Shroud image using lasers only underline the argument skeptics have made for decades: the object is a medieval fake.

The bottom line on the Shroud remains the same: the Shroud continues to fail several key practical tests, as discussed by skeptical investigator Joe Nickell in his classic work on the subject, Looking for a Miracle:2

  • Provenance: there is no sign that this object existed before the 14th century;
  • Art history: the Shroud fits into art history as part of a genre of artistic depictions and recreations of burial cloths of Christ;
  • Style: the image upon the shroud looks like a manufactured illustration consistent with 14th century religious iconography, not like a real human being;
  • Circumstance: a 14th century Catholic bishop determined that the Shroud was a “cunningly painted” fraud—and discovered the artist who confessed to creating it;
  • Chemistry: the Shroud contains red ochre and other paint pigments;
  • Radiometric dating: carbon-14 dating tests showed in 1988 that the Shroud was likely created between 1260 and 1390 CE. In 2008, the hypothesis that this date was distorted by carbon monoxide contamination was tested—and results of the original tests confirmed.

Overturning the robustly supported conclusion that the Shroud was manufactured by a medieval artist would take extraordinary levels of evidence in favor of some alternate explanation. The current media hype carries no such breakthrough news. The opposite is true, in fact: the Italian researchers concede (as quoted by Vatican Insider) that their “inability to repeat (and therefore falsify) the image on the Shroud makes it impossible to formulate a reliable hypothesis on how the impression was made.”

After decades of controversy, the real shame is not merely the miasma of pseudoscience surrounding the relic (that’s a fog skeptics are happy enough to cut through) but the blurring of the lines between science and metaphysics—or if you like, between science and faith. The Shroud’s popularity seems to stem from the hope that it could deliver tangible evidence for the divine, but that hope is misplaced. Even if Shroud researchers were to prove their (exceptionally unlikely) speculation that the Shroud image was imprinted by “a short and intense burst of VUV directional radiation,” this would in no way confirm the existence of God, only of a unique printing process—a process enthusiasts have thus far been unable to demonstrate. The truth is that the tools and methods of empirical science would remain powerless to confirm the existence of a transcendent metaphysical God even in the event that such a being existed. It’s just not the sort of question science can answer.

Pressing science into the service of metaphysics may do harm to religion—I’ll leave it to the religious to say if that is so—but it cuts out the heart of the scientific enterprise. And that is a Christmas present that none of us should want.

References:

  1. Randi, James. Flim-Flam! (Prometheus Books: Amherst, New York, 1982.) p. 129
  2. Nickell, Joe. Looking for a Miracle. (Prometheus Books: Amherst, New York, 1998.) pp. 22–29
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Shroud of Turin Redux, 4.7 out of 5 based on 42 ratings

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101 Responses to “Shroud of Turin Redux”

  1. Somite says:

    “The truth is that the tools and methods of empirical science would remain powerless to confirm the existence of a transcendent metaphysical God even in the event that such a being existed. It’s just not the sort of question science can answer.”

    Says who? Science can tell there is no evidence for a god of any kind and that the god hypothesis is unnecessary to understand the natural world.

    The role of the skeptic should be to point out to the religious that there is no evidence for their beliefs and are thus imaginary. Lack of evidence does not mean that you get to believe what you want.

    Skepticism+religion=atheism this is simply the most logical conclusion

    • Here’s bad journalism right here in the ABC piece: “Such technology did not exist in the time the skeptics claim the shroud could have been forged.”

      No “, the Italian group alleged” or anything similar?

      As a journalist myself, even without also being a skeptic, I can tell you, that’s bad journalism.

    • Gary Whittenberger says:

      On this point I generally disagree with Loxton and agree with Somite.

      Most people who believe in God do not view him as a “transcendent metaphysical God;” instead, they view him as real omnipresent but invisible super person who sometimes intervenes in earthly affairs. Science attempts to determine what is real (and/or regular or ordered) by hypothesis generation, systematic objective observations of the world, and rational inference. So, if the alleged God is real and intervenes in our world, science is relevant to investigating whether or not he exists and how he intervenes. Based on our investigations so far, the best conclusion is that he probably does not exist.

      Loxton’s God is a straw man god and not the one which most ordinary people assume to exist.

      For more on how science investigates issues about God, I recommend Victor Stenger’s book: God: The Failed Hypothesis.

  2. Dan Porter says:

    This is a good article by Daniel Loxton. As someone who believes the shroud is genuine, I only take serious exception to parts of this posting and agree with much of it, particularly the reference to Randi and the quote: “The truth is that the tools and methods of empirical science would remain powerless to confirm the existence of a transcendent metaphysical God even in the event that such a being existed. It’s just not the sort of question science can answer.”

    I have provided more details at shroudblog.com.

    • Thanks for the gracious response. I appreciate the feedback.

      • erikthebassist says:

        So this guy celebrates the one stupid thing you say in this post, and you want to thank him for being gracious? How about challenging him on the fact that he still thinks the shroud is genuine after reading your post?

      • A Shroud enthusiast has a few kind words for a critical post by a skeptic, recommends it to his audience of fellow Shroud enthusiasts, and leaves a nice note here to say he’s done that? That’s pretty much the optimal outcome for a skeptical blogger, so again—”Thanks for the gracious response.”

      • erikthebassist says:

        That’s the “optimal” outcome for a skeptical blogger? To have a believer say something nice about your post? Really? No wonder I don’t usually read your posts.

        The optimal outcome should be for someone who previously believed or wasn’t sure to read your post and say “Hey that makes a lot of sense, I’m going to have to reconsider my position”, not “Thank you for admitting you can never prove my fantasy false.”

      • God could well be fantasy—I even share the philosophical position that it is. But science can’t demonstrate the idea to be false, and I can’t accurately describe the nature and limits of science without saying so. This is a consistent theme of my work, so please do expect it to continue.

      • Somite says:

        Daniel; you need to understand that that philosophical position is incorrect. Lack of evidence means just that. Lack of evidence doesn’t increase the probability that something exists it actually means it doesn’t.

      • Wrong says:

        Somite: No, it’s not the wrong position. He already stated he holds the philosophical position of a god not existing. Which is the only way you can operate.

        Atheism is a philosophical response to a factual claim. If it were a factual claim in itself, it would be religious in nature. And as bad as the religions it supplants.

        Now, it may be a logical claim, but the only factual claim we can make to a god existing, as to any mythical creature is: I don’t know. Philosophically, Null Hypothesis, Absence of Evidence etc etc we may take the god to be non-existant. But factually, the best we can do is remain agnostic.

        erik: He’s being polite. That’s what the Shroud guy did. Considering the usual response to this sort of post, and the ridiculous nature of them, this has to be the best outcome I’ve seen on this site.

        Now, if Loxton decided to shove his beliefs down the opposition’s throat, would they listen? Probably not.

        But instead, he wrote a clever, intelligent take down of a poorly concieved experiment, which also took the fancy of a Shroud enthusiast. Now, if that person spreads the article, then it gets out to more people, some of them might even come around to a different point of view. But none of that happens if you start a crusade.

      • PhillyJimi says:

        At the heart of the post is that Dan Porter is quoting this (below) as a point of victory for his position:

        Randi and the quote: “The truth is that the tools and methods of empirical science would remain powerless to confirm the existence of a transcendent metaphysical God even in the event that such a being existed. It’s just not the sort of question science can answer.”

        Well I would bet good money that the context for why Randi is saying this, is because if you want to “define” something outside of the physical Universe or science then “well of course” it can’t be addressed by science.

        It isn’t a “concession” by science that isn’t is helpless to explain something. I can say claim I can see a perfect “square circle” in my mind (even though I can’t) but if I politely claim I can it doesn’t mean I don’t deserve ridicule because I was polite.

      • Gary Whittenberger says:

        Daniel, you think that science cannot disprove the God hypothesis false, and that is probably correct for some God hypotheses, but I doubt that it is true for others. It depends on how the hypothesis is formulated. For example, consider this scenario: 1) If God exists, because of his nature, there will be a 50% higher rate of cure in cancer for a prayed-for group than for a not-prayed-for group of patients. 2) There wasn’t the predicted higher rate of cure. 3) Therefore, God does not exist. Has not God, by one definition, been disproved here by logic and science together? I think so.

        In another respect it may be good enough that science can UNDERMINE, rather than disprove, certain god hypotheses. If science “merely” undermines a god hypothesis, then people really shouldn’t believe the hypothesis.

      • Beelzebud says:

        It’s called “civility”. I know that is an arcane concept in today’s world, but it is what it is.

      • erikthebassist says:

        No it’s called accomodationism and equates to ceding the argument for the sake of politics.

      • Hacksaw Duck says:

        Erikthebassist is obviously a ticked-off, take-no-prisoners crusader who equates etiquette with compromise. I find his breed personally draining, regardless of side. In many cases, the zealot battling religious folk so fiercely is simply a guy who once screamed the Christian gospel in equally angry tones — he didn’t change a bit, he just switched sides. Don’t know if Erick fits this profile, but if I were a betting man …

      • Wrong says:

        Duck, that’s a bit harsh. He may be rude, and wrong, but we don’t have to speculate. Attack what he did, not who you guess he is.

        He’s an arrogant, entitled, impolite crusader-type, an evangelical fighting fool who takes his position in such a way that it’s hard to be his ally, as bad as a religious zealot or cultist, simply because he brooks no argument. He doesn’t allow negotiation with those he would change, and he looks down on them for holding a view he disagrees with, rather than trying to enlighten them.

        Also, what argument did he cede, erik? There was no argument. There was a compliment, and a thankyou. That’s not an argument. There was no claim, no counter, no discourse. It wasn’t as if he surrendered the point. He accepted a compliment graciously. It’s manners, and it will likely get him heard.

    • MadScientist says:

      The shroud is genuine – that is, no one disputes it exists. However, there is nothing supernatural about it; it is a late 13th or a 14th century work of art.

  3. MikeB says:

    …which leads to the perennial conclusion: the only thing capable of resurrection in this world is Bullshit.

  4. Trimegistus says:

    I’ve never understood the desire of religious people to find “scientific” confirmation of sacred writings. Isn’t the whole point of sacred texts the fact that they’re inspired (or even dictated) by God? That should be a higher authority, at least if you’re a believer. Invoking science to “prove” religion is simply an admission that science has pretty much assumed religion’s role as the arbiter of truth.

    • MadScientist says:

      I think it is a case that religious people get a sense that something is wrong with their beliefs, but instead of conducting an honest investigation they go about looking for reasons not to abandon their belief. They then cloak more nonsense in a veneer of pseudoscience and comfort themselves that they are not a fool and that what they believe is true despite that nagging doubt.

  5. Insightful Ape says:

    What this makes me think is that theists claims about accepting their doctrine on “faith” is totally bogus. As evidenced by this case, they never hesitate to use evidence when they think they have any. As Richard Dawkins says, suppose you could find some tissue attributed to jesus, authenticated by radioisotope dating, and shown by DNA analysis not to have come from two human parents somehow. Do you think they would keep claiming science cannot be used to confirm faith? They would be trumpeting it to the skies.

    • Wrong says:

      That’s the part where you point out the bit about doubting Thomas to them.

    • Gary Whittenberger says:

      They might start by saying that your hypothetical tissue sample could not have come from Jesus since he ascended from the Earth and nothing of his body remained behind.

      We should not ignore the evidence when it doesn’t suit our preconceived notions, no matter if we are religious or not. Our conclusions or beliefs should follow the evidence.

      • A. Anderson says:

        If Jesus was human, he had to take a dump like anybody else. He sweated and urinated and cried and smelled bad and shed countless billions of skin cells over his lifetime.

  6. Kenn says:

    • It’s a perennial headline grabber.

    • One can find a cadre of ‘scientists’ to support anything, including creationism.

    • Verification of the image’s supernatural origin would require previously confirmed evidence with which to compare it.

    • The Gospel records indicate the burial clothes were folded in the empty tomb. This suggests to some that Jesus was a tidy neatnic. It implies to me that the tomb was never occupied and the burial clothing was never used.

    • There is no mention of a shroud in the New Testament. It’s made out of whole cloth. And, yes, that is a joke.

    • Gary Whittenberger says:

      You make an excellent point about the neatly folded cloth left in the tomb. Most readers skip over that point. It implies to me that Jesus was removed, dead or alive, from the tomb before it would have been necessary to use this cloth.

  7. Kenn says:

    Just wondering . . .

    What is the plural of Bigfoot?

    :-)

  8. erikthebassist says:

    This idea that “God”, in particular the Christian one, is not a scientifically testable idea is BS. We can test whether this being plays any role in physics, and so far the answer is no. So what kind of superior being hides it’s self from it’s own creation so well, yet manipulates people in to accepting it’s existence on faith?

    We can test whether this being plays any role in biology, and so far the answer is no. The theory of evolution makes testable predictions that hold up under scrutiny, and at it’s core it’s unguided. It can be simulated mathematically. It’s been observed. None of the observations so far hint at an external influence.

    So we have the non existent god, that can’t be detected in the universe through observation, but in yet whom we are supposed to trust in and have faith that he will make our lives better. What makes my life better is the multitudes of people who DO get the idea that if there is a God, he has abandoned this universe, and left it to die a long, cold death. The depth of that cold reaches absolute zero where time stops.

    These people understand what Sagan meant to convey when he convinced NASA to turn voyager around and take a snap shot of Earth; the resulting photo, the Pale Blue Dot, and icon of western scientific thought.

    The universe is only 13 years old in a lifespan of 120 (really it’s 13 Billion years old and will probably cease to exist in about 120 billion years.) We are infants, and any one who claims to know the mind of the creator of this place is a fraud. We probably need about another billion years of evolution to develop the minds that will grasp the true nature of the universe.

    In the mean time, we can look for the tell tale signs of an involved omnipresence and we don’t see them.

    Science is speaking loudly about the probability of a god or gods existing and the more we learn, the lower that probability gets, if history is any guide.

    Stop agreeing that science is silent on the subject of God.

    • This idea that “God”, in particular the Christian one, is not a scientifically testable idea is BS. … what kind of superior being hides it’s self from it’s own creation so well, yet manipulates people in to accepting it’s existence on faith?

      An untestable one.

      • erikthebassist says:

        An untestable non-existant one.

        fify

      • MadScientist says:

        The “it’s not testable, therefore science has nothing to say” is absolute nonsense. Decades ago both philosophers and mathematicians consigned such situations to the nonsense heap. It is Bertrand Russel’s celestial teapot all over again. It is silly to believe in the teapot unless there is evidence of it. Not everything which can be imagined must necessarily exist. In the case of god there is not only not a single shred of evidence for its existence, but every single claim supposedly in favor of such a creature has been shown
        to be nonsense.

      • It is Bertrand Russel’s celestial teapot all over again.

        Sure. No one denies that “it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatsoever for supposing it is true” is a perfectly respectable philosophical position.

      • erikthebassist says:

        The problem Daniel is that you reduce the impact of bad ideas to the status of “Undesirable” when in reality they are Toxic.

      • Wrong says:

        The facts of religion, and your militant pseudoscientific branch of atheism, are toxic- to intellectualism, to scientific dicourse, and rational discussion. Religion is also toxic to society. But believing in something without evidence on its own is only undesirable.

      • Gary Whittenberger says:

        Both Daniel in his article and erikthebassist in his post here are just not talking about the god which most Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe in. Their god is a “straw-man” god. But the Abrahamic god is hypothesized to intervene in our world in beneficial ways under certain circumstances. This god hypothesis can be tested by science.

      • Gary Whittenberger says:

        My post was a little unclear. By “their god” I meant the god talked about by Daniel in his article and erikthebassist in his post, in contrast with the Abrahamic god.

    • Wrong says:

      If a claim is not testable, it’s not scientific. Now, to those who subscribe to a certain worldview, that means it doesn’t exist, or isn’t explained. It doesn’t mean a definite no. You don’t need a definite no. A definite no, like a definite yes, on an untestable and untested claim, makes you a person who is believing based on a guess, on faith. A faithful atheist is a horrible contradiction.

      “tell tale signs of an involved omnipresence” Rubbish. That’s nonsense. Do you have another example of an involved omnipresence? One to compare to? No? Then you’re using pseudoscience. You’re as bad as they are (Harsh, but you set the tone). What if a god (And no, I don’t believe in one) set things in motion, set up the laws, knowing the outcome? What if he interfered previously, but doesn’t now? How could you prove me wrong. You could not. That doesn’t make me right. It makes my claim untestable, and therefore, unscientific, and not worthy of belief. If someone wants to make that factual claim, you can tell them it’s not fact. You can tell them it’s a poor philosphy, and in the case of specific religions, even point out the flaws in each of them, and prove them individually wrong.

      But I digress. The onus is not, and never has been, on science to attack god. God has never been properly tested by science, and he can’t be, so he’s considered not to exist. If you decide that you can prove him wrong (You can’t), then you’ll be obliged to prove him wrong. That would be a never ending pseudoscientific battle, and more importantly, you’d be forgetting that the burden of proof is on the person making the hetero-orthodox claim.

  9. peter says:

    I wonder if the groin hurts riding the fence like Loxton does.

    • MadScientist says:

      I hurts until you develop the callouses.

    • Wrong says:

      How’s he riding the fence? Unless of course, you’re a hardliner of erik’s sort. I’m vehemently atheist, and a prosletyzing atheist. That doesn’t mean I can’t respect the position Daniel takes. In fact, having seen what simply bashing “There is no God” does (Exactly the same as “There is a God”), I respect him more for being willing to talk to the other side, which, you know, should actually be the point?

  10. erikthebassist says:

    qft = quoted for truth to make this comment long enough

  11. gdave says:

    Mr. Loxton,

    I appreciate and admire the work that you do. With the passing of Martin Gardner, you’ve become my favorite skeptical writer. I enjoy reading your style of skeptical argument, which is clear, logical, informative, and thoroughly evidence-based, while still being respectful of those with whom you disagree and those who have beliefs that you do not share. You display what my parents raised me to think of as common courtesy, but which is often dismissed as “accommodationism”, “fence sitting”, or “political correctness”. So, I just wanted to say thanks.

    And Happy Holidays!

  12. d brown says:

    Anybody here who has not read CARL SAGAN’S book THE DEMON-HAUNTED WORLD-SCIENCE AS A CANDLE IN THE DARK? You should, you really should. I wonder if it’s still in print.

  13. Gavin says:

    As an artist, I’ve always rolled my eyes at the shroud, even as a child desperate to believe in the fantastic. The face is all out of proportion, displaying the common error of placing the eyes far too close to the top of the head. The limbs, and especially the digits, are stretched-out and disjointed, like a Giacometti sculpture. I know some distortion has to occur in any 2-dimensional representation of a 3-dimensional body, but such distortions would not conform to such common misperceptions of proportion.

    I’d guess the artist covered an assistant or cadaver with that red ocher and wrapped him to produce a rough impression for a general guide, then worked up the image by passing a hot iron over the surface of the cloth – just scorching the topmost fibers with radiant heat to avoid obvious burn marks (for the most part). And no, the artist was not Leonardo – he knew how to draw faces.

  14. Chris Howard says:

    Delusion is as delusion does. As the man says “Men go crazy in congregations, they only get better one by one.” delusional thinking is powerful, and no amount of arguing to the delusional can change their condition. They either decide to become healthy, or find reasons to maintain their delusions. I worked in mental health for over six years, and the best you can hope for is for the client to listen, and realize, and make the changes necessary to become “sane.”
    As to accommodation, well it’s fine up until the point that it causes more harm than good. Unfortunately there is no standard equation. Daniel and I have gone round, and round on this. (I suspect we’ve been talking past each other, at times) but I still respect his POV.
    Belief in the shroud will continue as long as faith is seen as a virtue, and skepticism as cynicism.

    • Kenn says:

      “Belief in the shroud will continue as long as faith is seen as a virtue”

      Great statement.

      I would paraphrase:

      “Belief in nonsense will continue as long as faith is seen as a virtue.”

  15. Martin G says:

    Gavin (#13) “stole my thunder” on this one but he’s spot on.

    I’ve never been anywhere near the Shroud but it’s clearly a fake. Gavin explains the proportion of the body and the popular primary school artist’s error of putting the eyes too close to the top of the head.

    There’s also the 2D representation of a 3D figure – had the Shroud represented someone who had been wrapped inside, the 2D picture would be like a flattened body, showing ears, back of the head, etc.

    And that’s before carbon dating has proved that it’s a least a thousdan years older that previously thought.

    A medieval con-trick? A religious banner? A facsimile relic?….

    No idea, but it ain’t what it supposed to be, that’s for sure.

    • MadScientist says:

      You mean the shroud is over 1000 years younger than (gullible) people believe it to be.

      • Martin G says:

        True, Mad S. I got that one wrong….. Cut me some slack, though – It’s been a heavy holiday season!

  16. Ken says:

    Circumstance: a 14th century Catholic bishop determined that the Shroud was a “cunningly painted” fraud—and discovered the artist who confessed to creating it;

    Yeah, that’s always been the clincher for me. IIRC, the Church takes no official position, though they allow that it is suitable as an object of veneration.

    • tmac57 says:

      It’s like maintaining the nice warm fuzzy myth of Santa. The church is just waiting for their followers to grow up,before they tell them that it’s a fake.

      • timmy kaye says:

        the church has never, ever claimed it to the shroud of jesus of nazareth. ever. in fact, a bishop of when science believe it was produced not only called it a clear fake, he also named and met the artist who made it. not a fan of religion, but lets keep the facts straight.

  17. Mary says:

    I am definately a skeptic and most likely the shroud is a fraud, but there are also things that science can’t explain (at least not yet). To claim that science knows everything is just as arrogant as claiming religon knows everything.

    Here is a quote by someone who perhaps was the most brilliant scientist of all time:

    “There are only two ways to live your life: either nothing is a miracle or everything is.”

    Albert Enstein

    I think a little humility on both sides is needed.

    • tmac57 says:

      If Einstein actually said that (many attributions to him are apocryphal), I bet that he meant it in the ‘wonder or marvel’ sense,rather than anything relating to god or the supernatural.

  18. Nyar says:

    What? No Bigfoot?

    Whoa, I just had an idea man, what if the shroud of Turin is the burial shroud of Bigfoot?

    • MadScientist says:

      Bah, everyone knows Bigfoot’s from the Rockies and Jesus is from New Jersey – of course the shroud isn’t Bigfoots!

      • Nyar says:

        Joisey? No way! Jesus was born in Palestine. C,mon, even if you can’t remember which city, you have to know that Jesus was from somewhere in east Texas.

      • MadScientist says:

        Dang, I looked it up and you’re right! He even reappeared in Palestine Tx back in the 40s or 50s but the feds kept it all secret and claimed people were seeing giant weather balloons rather than spaceships. Oh well, at least we’ve established that Jesus spoke English. Some people say he spoke Mexican, but it’s obvious he didn’t because we say “Gee-zus” and not “Hey-soos”.

      • timmy kaye says:

        there was no “palestine.” at the time the region was largely called “syria” or “palestinian syria.” where jesus of nazereth lived was called “judea” by roman officials. it is also my understanding the jesus is originally from kingston, jamaica.

  19. Kenn says:

    Help yourself!

    :-)

    or,

    “Belief in nonsense will continue as long as faith in nonsense is seen as a virtue.”

  20. Rich in Washington says:

    My favorite crazy pseudo-scientific explanation in the whole Shroud controversy was the one a few years back where Jesus had Marfan Syndrome, to account for the apparently dismorphic image on the shroud.

  21. surveyork says:

    Italian scientist reproduces Shroud of Turin
    Mon Oct 5, 2009

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2009/10/05/us-italy-shroud-idUSTRE5943HL20091005

    “Garlaschelli reproduced the full-sized shroud using materials and techniques that were available in the middle ages.

    They placed a linen sheet flat over a volunteer and then rubbed it with a pigment containing traces of acid. A mask was used for the face.

    PIGMENT, BLOODSTAINS AND SCORCHES

    The pigment was then artificially aged by heating the cloth in an oven and washing it, a process which removed it from the surface but left a fuzzy, half-tone image similar to that on the Shroud. He believes the pigment on the original Shroud faded naturally over the centuries.

    They then added blood stains, burn holes, scorches and water stains to achieve the final effect.”

    What is more probable, that the shroud was created with high-power UV lasers, by some kind of miracle or with common pigments and blood?

  22. surveyork says:

    http://www.physorg.com/news4652.html
    June 21, 2005

    “PARIS, June 21 (AFP) – A French magazine said on Tuesday it had carried out experiments that proved the Shroud of Turin, believed by some Christians to be their religion’s holiest relic, was a fake.

    “A mediaeval technique helped us to make a Shroud,” Science & Vie (Science and Life) said in its July issue.”

    Joe Nickel also created a “holy sheet” in 1988.

    Add to that all the work done by Walter McCrone who found vermillion instead of blood before being kicked out of STURP.

    Add also the anatomical impossibilities: Lay on the floor and try to cover your nether regions with your hands without lifting your elbows. Jesus’ arms in the shroud are too long for a human.

    Add also that the front and back miraculous impressions of Jesus’ body don’t match.

    Add also that the “blood” in the shroud doesn’t behave like real blood. e.g. The blood on the figure’s hair should stick to it, not make a blob like blood on the skin.

    We can go on, but I think there’s no need. However, believer’s gonna believe anyways. They are not easily swayed by facts and reason.

  23. Chris R says:

    The problem with the shroud comes down to two key elements and the author hit both very well:

    1. When it was created. A date helps rule out it being the impression of JC if its nowhere near 2000yrs old. But the shroud being 2000yrs old does NOT prove its the impression of JC. It just means the shroud would be 2000yrs old. So age by itself can shatter the Shroud’s authenticity, but age by itself CANNOT prove authenticity.

    2. How it was created. This is a misnomer. How it was created is not what’s really important. If it was some divine force, that force cannot be proven. If it was some radioactive heat-transfer of high physics, all that proves is the impression was high physics. It doesn’t in any way prove it was JC.

    So the shroud could be 2000 years old and created by some rare radioactive heat transfer and having once been wrapped around the body of a dead man with a beard, but that dead man with a beard was just one of countless men with a beard during that time. All it proves is the impression on the shroud was an accurate reflection of the bearded man wrapped inside it.

    Not every bearded man of 2,000 years ago was a God however. Making that leap from a garden variety bearded man to a God is something neither the science nor the sensible can accurately say by simply looking at that shroud.

    Thats like saying Mickey Mouse created Disneyworld. No. Walt Disney did.

  24. Modestly Engaged says:

    Nice article Daniel… you’ve inspired some anger (passion perhaps), some relevance and a little more faith for either side of your issue. Whether ‘Science’ or ‘Religion’, faith is faith.

  25. Sea Jay says:

    Toxic arguments are the reason I quit the Skeptics Society.

    I see no evidence here to change that opinion.

  26. powercosmic says:

    This is part of the clever drip-drip strategy of disinformation that Religionists have perfected over the centuries.

    The human mind is capable of escaping confusion but only when a conscious effort is made to understand the nature of evidence, this must be combined with self-awareness, as in we must “know ourselves” so we can suppress those bias that prevent us from understanding the truth that we so desire to have.

  27. reversefiction says:

    Reading all these responses make me think of Kierkegaard, “It’s a leap of faith.” I believe science can explain many things. Perhaps with enough time it can explain everything. It’s not about the existence of God, or the prevalence of science. Were far too young as a species to be so presumptuous about show the universe works. There are still so many things that exist out there, and within us that we cannot explain. Look at the great scientific argument. String Theory v.s. The Standard Model. We aren’t entirely sure how our brains and nervous systems work. We haven’t even discovered every critter, and plant life on our own planet. Remember, Socrates was the wisest man in all of Greece; because he was the only one who knew he didn’t know.

  28. RBHorton says:

    Regardless of what you believe, whether it’s a God or not a God. Big Bang, evolution, einstien, beethoven, or your dog spot. We could argue over every aspect of it all. But we really won’t know beyond a shadow of a doubt, unequivocally or for sure, until that moment when breathe your last breath and you either wake up in a heaven, hell or don’t wake up at all. I guess it’s how you want to view your life. Me personally, I think the shroud is a fake. Based on the scientific evidence that they have now. Carbon Dating and all the other tests they have done. How do you account for a 1000 year difference in the dates of the cloth versus when it was supposed to have laid on the body of Jesus. Just my .02.

  29. Marc-Julien Objois says:

    The position that science cannot disprove something that is not disprovable is often mistaken for a position of weakness.

    Let us assume a hypothetical all-powerful god who chooses to leave no detectable evidence whatsoever of its own existence. This case is indistinguishable from the case where no gods exist.

    While it is valid to say, “No evidence exists to support X, therefore I see no reason to believe X,” it is not valid to say, “No evidence exists to support X, therefore X must consequently be false.” Making the latter claim draws focus away from the more worthwhile exercise of discussing whether there can be any value in believing something that is unsupported by empirical facts.

    Past that point, we can talk about accommodationism. It seems to me that, “Well, maybe believing something without good reason can be better, on balance,” is accommodationist, but I haven’t given it much thought. Better to ask Sam Harris than me…

  30. mjsmcd says:

    2 statements each side can use: Just because you dont know something exists doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist

    Just because you believe something exists doesn’t mean it exists.

    And there you are.

  31. Ebou Sohna says:

    It is great that there are real people talking so greatly against pseudo science and paranormal claims keep it up.

  32. Dale says:

    so, why can we not be skeptic of the skeptics? I’m skeptic of religious, I’m skeptic of the atheist, I’m skeptical of my parents, and teachers, I’m skeptic of “scientist”…and it goes on. EVERYONE has an agenda with what they say, so why do I believe any of them. The religious want me to believe in their god, the atheist want me to turn away from any religious belief i may hold, my parents want me to think they are better than i and teachers smarter than i, scientist want me to give my money to their special project, politicians want my vote so they will tell me anything to get it…and it goes on.

    A real skeptic will take everything lightly, and examine ALL the aspects: science, history, and cultural; to come to a conclusion and take NO ONES WORD for anything. I’ve seen scientist come to different conclusions when examining the same question. We are all skewed by our past, our beliefs, our cultural traditions, our education, personal desires, and even ingestions.

    So i remain a skeptic of everyone’s words and conclusions, in general of everything.

    • tmac57 says:

      Don’t forget to be skeptical of your own thought processes.

      The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.

      Richard Feynman

  33. John Viggiano says:

    messias secret , great – pearls , one”s way – will ,com – par = ables equal W I T H LORD GOD by SON of MANKIND ! MASTER WORD PLAY , PLAINLY SPEAKING , BLOOD – FLESH , MIND – HEART , SPIRIT – SOUL ! “TOUCH ” TO ME ENERGY FELT LIKE ELECTROMAGNETIC ABOUT HOUSE CURRENT ! SEE http://WWW.JOHNTHERELATER.COM . or you tube more info ! HOW ELSE COULD CHRIST KNOW ALL THESE FACTS OF NATURE – PATH IN HIS COM – PAR = ABLES ? ALSO WHY SOUL – REMAIN IN ” DARKNESS ” ?” LIGHT ” OF GOD = SPIRIT ! state of mind how one thinks !

  34. David Roemer says:

    The most likely explanation for the Holy Shroud is that Gnostics created it in the 1st or 2nd century using a crucified victim. The technique and skills used have been lost to history.

    The mysteriousness of the image is still a reason to believe in revelation. It is a sign, like the Resurrection of Jesus and the Big Bang.

    • Syd Foster says:

      HAha! Nice one, you actually had me thinking you believed that for a second… But “The mysteriousness of the image is still a reason to believe in revelation” is just so absurd that I clicked you were satirising the mentality of “believers”…. haha, very good, sophisticated satire… well done!

  35. JuppaZero says:

    Assuming that the person that was wrapped into the shroud had any thickness of his body (head), this can’t be correct. Look at the head, there is no distance between the front and the back of the head. A “normal person” would have some thickness of his/her head which would be shown as a cylinder on the shroud, but that is missing.

    • JuppaZero says:

      I should have been written rectangle instead of cylinder.

    • kingston says:

      supposedly because of a cloth wrapped round the top of head down under the chin. Actually the absence of a rectangular section of hair and blood there is strange thing for an artist to leave out but if the ‘model’ had a cloth band circling the head and the initial process involved wrapping the model in the shroud, that would explain it. I don’t think the eyes are too high on the face either, I think people are mistaking the bottom of his beard for his chin. Move the line of where his chin would be up below his bottom lip and the features are more in proportion. Not saying its miraculous, just that I don’t think the artist was as bad as some guys here are making out

  36. Paul Jaekel says:

    People, stop arguing in circles, when you are basically agreed that “miracles”(groundstone of all religious belief) have never really happened, because by definiton they would have to put physics and chemistry etc. out of service, thereby destroying the whole fabric of the universe.
    Better think about the fact that America is about to put a MORMON in the white house. Compared with those beliefs, the toothfairie and Harry Potter are skeptics!
    Doomsday we don’t know, but the elections are certainly upon us!
    Paul

    • timmy kaye says:

      a mormon, a follower of rev. wright united church of christ…what the difference really?

  37. Kris says:

    Its a friggin piece of cloth, can we move on, please? Even, even if it were to be proven “real”, it doesn’t prove anything else. It doesn’t prove that Christ’s body did in fact disappear when they reopened his grave, it doesn’t prove that he was anybody special’s son, doesn’t prove that he could heal anyone et caetera, et caetera. Even if it was an actual burial cloth (as opposed to something manufactured to appear as such), it doesn’t prove it was Christ’s own cloth, it could just as well have been someone else’s. And even if it was Jesus’s burial cloth, how does that prove he was anything else than a human issued from two other humans? Could just have been someone who wanted to share his own philosophy.
    There are many manufacturing secrets which have been lost through the ages, mostly because they had been kept secret. Why do most people always choose to see the cloth as divine intervention instead of some very creative process?
    Isn’t it enough for you people to just choose what you want to believe in? Do you really need the extra proof? Kind of sad to see it all possibly discredited by a single tissue..

  38. Mickey Ridings says:

    1. Provenance: there is no sign that this object existed before the 14th century; Absolutely False;
    2. Art history: the Shroud fits into art history as part of a genre of artistic depictions and recreations of burial cloths of Christ;
    Style: the image upon the shroud looks like a manufactured illustration consistent with 14th century religious iconography, not like a real human being; This supports that it is not a painting, also it is a photo negative, Also it is the only burial Shroud that has an image on it;
    3. Circumstance: a 14th century Catholic bishop determined that the Shroud was a “cunningly painted” fraud—and discovered the artist who confessed to creating it; Oh!! let’s believe this 14th century Catholic bishop, but not the Bible;
    4. Chemistry: the Shroud contains red ochre and other paint pigments; yes it does small amounts dropped on the cloth when artist were painting impressions on canvas. However, it is completely covered in blood;
    5. Radiometric dating: carbon-14 dating tests showed in 1988 that the Shroud was likely created between 1260 and 1390 CE. In 2008, the hypothesis that this date was distorted by carbon monoxide contamination was tested—and results of the original tests confirmed.
    The cloth was contaminated, but there is other overwhelming evidence that the cloth is 2000 years old.

    To believe that a scientist can take a tooth that was found and from that tooth draw a monkey and claim it to be our ancestor requires faith. I however do not believe nor have faith that we came from monkeys. For one reason the absence of a speaking gene. However, I do have faith in Jesus that His righteous covers me a sinner. I have faith that He arose from death and the Shroud is tangible evidence of that event. If you wish to prove it to be a fake, then duplicate it to the very last detail. Do not come up with the week reasons expressed in this article.

  39. mickey mouse says:

    mickey no that we are related has nothing to do with faith it is provable, testable and fact.where as your belief in fictional characters like jesus with no evidence. proof or testability requires faith because it is based on nothing at all not evidence…

  40. dcmortimer says:

    Skeptics ,Atheists are far more vociferous in their views these days than Christians are, yes the wheel has fully turned on that front .

  41. skeptonomist says:

    “the tools and methods of empirical science would remain powerless to confirm the existence of a transcendent metaphysical God”

    What? Why couldn’t God manifest himself in a convincing way if he chose? According to the Bible he did so frequently thousands of years ago (and other gods also did so according to other religious myths). A supernatural god would presumably have the power to make nonsense of science, violating natural law at will. Physicists could confirm that physical laws have been violated, or are subject to modification when a god announces in advance that they will be – or when religious prophets do for that matter.

  42. Peter van Kampen says:

    I came here specifically to see what you had to say on this matter, because I heard about you on the thinking atheist podcast. Frankly, I am disappointed. The carbon dating info is strong- the rest very weak. It reminds me of how a creationist would ‘debunk’ evolution. The idea that it is faked presupposes a means. But no one can explain how it was made, or duplicate it. And your info that there is no evidence previous to the 14th century is blatantly false. It was not only documented in Constantinople and Edessa, it was even portrayed in art! Similarities between the shroud and 14th century art could be explained by the fact that for centuries people considered it authentic and actually copied it to create icons.

  43. Ray says:

    Much testosterone in these threads! Much heat and so little light

    “Authenticity of the shroud” is a proposition devoid of content.

    Establishing the age of the shroud cannot possibly determine whose shroud it was! Unless, that is, you have independent DNA evidence.

    End of discussion.

  44. john viggiano says:

    GREAT – PEARLS , MASTER WORD PLAY ONE”S NATURE – PATH , DOES DRINK MY BLOOD EAT MY FLESH CAUSE YOU TO STUMBLE , PLAINLY SPEAKING , DON”T YOU KNOW I “AM TALKING ABOUT MY SPIRIT – SOUL , MIND – HEART ! see http://www.johntherelater.com more info