Thursday, March 05, 2015

Problems With CNN's Turin Shroud Program

I recently watched CNN's Finding Jesus program on the Shroud of Turin, which originally aired March 1. It seems to have had a relatively high viewership. Though the program made some good points, it mostly addressed the subject in an introductory and sometimes misleading way. Dan Porter's blog has had some good coverage of the show, and you can read a review by Barrie Schwortz here. Schwortz's expertise in photography and the Shroud are relevant, since CNN's program gave so much attention to Nicholas Allen's hypothesis that the Shroud image was created through a form of medieval photography.

Remarkably, CNN said nothing about Ray Rogers' work that undermined the findings of the 1988 carbon dating. The 1982 dating of the Shroud wasn't mentioned either, nor were the dating tests conducted by Giulio Fanti and his colleagues. Carbon dating is generally reliable, and the 1988 test was in some ways superior to other tests that have been conducted in an attempt to date the Shroud. But the other dating efforts have some significance, especially cumulatively. To not mention any of them is highly misleading. It's also misleading to not explain how easily the 1988 test could have been wrong. See, for example, William Meacham's comments quoted near the beginning of the post here. The same post goes on to discuss a lot of other evidence for the Shroud's authenticity that CNN didn't mention.

In a question and answer segment after the program, one of the scholars who participated in the show, Mark Goodacre, commented that "the figure appears to be nailed through the wrists", but he goes on to mention that "some" dispute it. The images he links from Antonio Lombatti are unconvincing. Lombatti's drawing that's supposed to correspond to the Shroud seems to place the blood significantly closer to the knuckles than the Shroud does. The drawing doesn't actually correspond to the Shroud. A better argument for the wound's location on the hand rather than the wrist has been made by Hugh Farey, in the comments sections of the threads here and here. It looks to me like the two most plausible locations for the wound on the Shroud are the bottom of the hand and the wrist. Either location would be different than the typical medieval portrayal of the wound. A medieval artwork or forgery probably would place the wound in the middle of the palm. Jesus could have been nailed at multiple locations on or around the hand, for reasons like the ones Goodacre mentions on the page linked above. But if the Shroud differs from most medieval portrayals of the nail wound, then that provides some evidence of authenticity.

The Shroud doesn't fit well with the interests and capabilities of a medieval artist or forger, nor does it make much sense as a medieval accident. But the 1988 carbon dating places the Shroud within several decades of its first explicit appearance in the historical record. That's a strong convergence of evidence against the Shroud's authenticity. However, I still think the evidence for authenticity weighs more overall. I've summarized some of that evidence here.



    According to the above article (rightly or wrongly) there's evidence that the man on the shroud was hung on a cross that was more Y shaped than T shaped. If so, that TOO would go contrary to medieval tradition and expectation.

    I wonder if there's any truth to the rumor that the shroud has elements similar to an X-ray in that you can see bones through skin and teeth through the lips. It's been suggested that the resurrection may have produced a special kind of radiation that caused the image on the shroud.

    If it's a forgery, it's a PRETTY BAD FORGERY in that most of the details (which are intricate) can't be seen without the future technology of being able to create photographic negatives (and so reveal the shroud's positive). The forgers, if they existed, should have perfected their method in a way that showed much more detail. If they needed a corpse, they could have practiced on multiple animals before they tortured and murdered some Semite male (I doubt the man died voluntarily).

    It has to be remembered that God was supposed to have created the image. In his omnipotence He could have made the image much clearer. That's what medieval relic venerators would have wanted. So it would have been in the best interest of the forgers (in terms of money and/or power) to make the image near photographic. But not so perfect that it makes it look suspiciously like a forgery. Ironically, the invention of photography reveals photographic detail on the shroud.

    Which reminds me of an anecdote by Barrie Schwortz. According to Schwortz, in a debate he had with Joe Nickell, Nickell said, "You know Barrie the Shroud is just too perfect it can't be real." To which Barrie said, "Oh, well then if it were less perfect, Joe, then you'd accept it's authentic?" To which Nickell responded by saying "Of course not!" Barrie commented that that response told him something. "That once people have made up their minds it doesn't matter what evidence you present. It doesn't matter [because] they've already decided."

    It's as if the forgers didn't care about providing revealing details to their contemporaries, but rather to a distant future generation that'll be technologically and scientifically advanced. And in a way that still puzzles that (our) generation. Since, we still can't reproduce all the mysterious qualities and features of the shroud. On the other hand, this ironic situation makes sense if, instead of forgers, God had a hand in producing the shroud as scientific evidence for the resurrection of Christ. That alternative is in keeping with the general trend of how more scientific evidence for the existence of God seems to be piling up since the 2nd half of the 20th and continuing into the beginning of the 21st century.

    1. I suppose a T shaped cross that's high enough off the ground can have a man hang on it in a Y shaped position. If the Shroud is a forgery, then they would have likely crucified the man with his arms closer to a T shaped position rather than the more painful Y position. So, it's possible that Jesus was crucified on a T shaped cross but in a Y shaped position.

  2. correction: But not so perfect that it makes it look suspiciously like a forgery. Ironically, the invention of photography reveals photographic detail on the shroud.

    should be: But not so perfect that it makes it look suspiciously like a forgery. Ironically, the invention of photography actually would LATER reveal photographic detail on the shroud.

    Regarding the CNN program:
    1. I expected better research from a news channel. Come on, there are books and websites on this subject. I mean, there are better free YouTube videos on the topic than what CNN produced.

    2. The version of the photographic medieval forgery presented in the program was hilarious. They used a kind of mannequin to make the image. But the image on the shroud has to be that of a real dead human being. The wounds are too perfect and the types of stains are in the right place. For example, you have cardiac fluid where the heart is, not near the feet. Also, are we really to believe that they left a corpse out in the hot sun for hours and hours without the image getting fuzzy? The movement of the sun through the sky would not have produced the detail we find in the negative of the shroud. Also, speaking of details, if they knew they wouldn't get much detail in their final product, why bother with inflicting the living person or the cadaver the kinds of wounds that exactly match the Biblical detail? It's overkill (literally speaking).

    Since, there were and still are many other forged relics that are being venerated that required much less effort to produce. And they were longer and more fervently venerated than the shroud of Turin precisely because the image on the shroud isn't very impressive to the naked eye (though it is to the camera). It's anticlimactic. You don't expect much from a bone from Saint Peter. But an image of Christ should be spectacular. It was only after the invention of photography that the Turin shroud became globally known (due to the discovery that it's a negative and that a photographic negative reveals the positive).

    What the forgers did, if they existed, would be like cooking the perfect Thanksgiving turkey (stuffing and all) that was properly basted at the right intervals only for it to be photographed and it's image placed on the cover of a magazine. It only needs to look good, not also taste good. Modern science has shown that the Shroud also "tastes" good.

    There's 3D information encoded in the shroud. The Roman "flagrum" or "flagellum" is right. The number of scourging seems to be right. There might be a coin on the eyes of the man on the Shroud that dates to the 1st century. The nails through the wrists is historically accurate etc. etc. etc.

    1. I'm not saying the Shroud is authentic, but it's interesting that the Shroud is like the Bible, in that at first glance it's not very impressive. But the deeper you investigate, the more surprising discoveries, mysteries and coincidences you encounter.