Getting back to my main focus of defeating pseudoscience, I am painfully aware that even many years after something is debunked, it is still touted as proof of some kind.
This leads us to the infamous Shroud of Turin. The shroud’s website claims that it is the most studied human artifact in history, and although this seems pretty steep, I do not doubt it. The reason is it so studied, and the reason that debunking fails to silence shroud proponents, is because the image on the shroud is supposed to be that of Jesus of Nazareth.
But, as we will see below, the shroud is far from the genuine article. In fact, it is only about 700 years old.
One Shred of Evidence?
The reason why the shroud remains relevant is because of its significant religious importance. In debate, this is seemingly the only physical evidence that can be produced to prove some aspect of Christianity true. Of course the religious will say otherwise, like we have found pieces of the Ark [not true], or there is geologic evidence of a global flood [not true], or that we have Jesus’ DNA on a spear somewhere [not true]. Like all of these claims, the shroud is powerful enough in religious circles to create faith and support, and maybe this is good enough for them, but shouldn’t we try to at least confirm it?
Science and Religion
It always amazes me how scientific evidence is always on the defensive with religion. Religious claims have not one single piece of evidence that can be pointed to. Not one thing that stands up to scrutiny at least. Why should the burden of proof be upon science to prove religious claims wrong? Since science is the most useful, fruitful, and successful human endeavor ever undertaken (all based upon evidence and reason) shouldn’t the burden be upon those who wish to show that their claims, so far independent of science, hold water?
It’s not like science tries to disprove religion either. Science has a rigorous set of standards that it applies to all claims, no exceptions. Any bias against religion is misinterpreted, as science would be wary of any belief system that makes grand claims about the universe with no proof, no logic, no evidence. Additionally, lack of evidence does not make a claim stronger!
“You have to have faith” is not an argument. Imagine that argument in a non-religious context:
Me: Listen up folks, I’ve gathered you here to test out my experimental new jet pack flying machine.
Guinea Pigs: Awesome! How did you make it?
Me: Late one night I was inspired to create it, crazy right? And I’m not even an engineer!
Guinea Pigs: OK…Does it even fly aerodynamically? Does it follow the laws of physics? Have you tested it?
Me: Don’t worry about it, I have faith that it will work. Now who’s first?
This is plainly a ridiculous way to support an argument, so why isn’t it considered just as ridiculous in a religious context?
So, when the shroud was discovered, it became the one piece of evidence that could give legitimacy to religious claims. For years it remained untested, merely assumed to be the unmistakable mark of Christ himself. It remained mysterious and shrouded in secrecy [ha]. It undoubtedly gave many believers more reasons to remain faithful, but wouldn’t it be even more significant if it could be deemed legitimate by the great explainer science? Science would gladly accept any evidence that passed skeptical scrutiny. It would even have to possibly change some views if the shroud proved to be authentic. So what did science discover?
So Jesus Was Buried 1200 Years after His Death?
The most recent study of the shroud, published in the journal Nature (completed 21 years ago and still the shroud is considered proof!) summarizes its results:
The results of radiocarbon measurements at Arizona, Oxford and Zurich yield a calibrated calendar age range with at least 95% confidence for the linen of the Shroud of Turin of AD 1260 – 1390 (rounded down/up to nearest 10 yr). These results therefore provide conclusive evidence that the linen of the Shroud of Turin is medieval. This 13th to 14th century dating matches the first appearance of the shroud in church history.
The results of radiocarbon measurements from the three laboratories on four textile samples, a total of twelve data sets, show that none of the measurements differs from its appropriate mean value by more than two standard deviations. The results for the three control samples agree well with previous radiocarbon measurements and/or historical dates.
There you have it. What we have in reality is an elaborate forgery, perpetuated by non-critical acceptance of the religious value of the shroud. It is no doubt a great piece of art, and at first glance very enticing to the believer. But as science has proved, the shroud is no more than a fairly recent depiction of a Jesus-like figure, perhaps created to keep the faith, as it were.