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As I continue my efforts to promote skepticism, I was bound to run into some opposition eventually. On my earlier post on the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, I have been taken to task by a Christian blog (Shroud of Turin Blog) that promotes the idea that because there is not enough evidence to conclusively prove the shroud is not authentic, that it probably is.

Retracing My Steps

First and foremost, I must admit a lack of scholarship on my part. Apparently there are many additional studies, along with the one that I have referenced, that render the scientific consensus somewhat murky. When I was confronted with these details, like any good skeptic evaluating evidence, I have changed my position on the Shroud. I can not definitely say that the shroud is a fake.

However, I do have issues with this rebuttal, and I will address the author, Dan Porter, directly.

Let me first thank you for your kind words about my writing, I take this as seriously as I can, and the encouragement and criticism is welcome. I sincerely appreciate the feedback, as I am sure it will help me grow as a writer and as an intellectual. But what I want to deal with are your specific rebuttals to my post, so let’s begin…

The Rebuttal

Thank you for pointing out there are many sites that are based upon study/promotion of the shroud. In my post I gave merely a representative one, and was not meaning to present the be-all end-all source for information, and I do not think I had stated it in this way either.

I said in my post concerning the shroud:

In debate, this is seemingly the only physical evidence that can be produced to prove some aspect of Christianity true.

And you responded:

Oh, I don’t think that is important. Christianity is nearly 2000 years old and has existed quite nicely without a physical evidence foundation. It has done very well with it historical, biblical and theological foundations. It will continue to do so.

Yes, I agree that Christianity has subsisted on theology for thousands of years without any physical evidence. But what I specifically said was that the shroud was physical evidence that could prove some aspects of Christianity true. If we are to begin a scientific discussion at all, we have to value evidence and its weight. What I meant was that the shroud could physically prove a claim of Christianity to be scientifically accurate. You say that this does not matter, but for this discussion, I think that it does. If we are to remove ourselves from the burden of proof about claims, our discussion about the authenticity of the shroud is meaningless. But again, at the moment the evidence seems rather inconclusive.

You also point out:

You should not think that all Christians or religious people are alike, however. Why even the great St. Augustine (354 to 430 CE) was closer to modern science than modern-day Creationism.

You are also right to point out that my generalization about religious folks is unfair. Although I thought it was implied, I was referring to fundamentalist creationists who take “flood geology” and the like seriously. But I don’t think that I am casting too wide a net when I say that religious people have a tendency to believe, or affirm, that certain “miraculous” events occur without evidence or explanation.

You then ask:

Are you aware of the fact that many fundamentalist Christians don’t believe and won’t believe that the Shroud is real, not because of science, but because they think it contradicts Biblical accounts in the Gospel of John?

Although I was a “Christian” myself, if you can call a child a Christian, for several years, I was not aware of this contradiction. But I feel like you are misinterpreting my focus, and perhaps I should be more specific. It is certainly my fault that I did not make the necessary digressions to make clear specifically who I was addressing, with which mindset, of which denomination etc. Although some fundamentalists may not agree with the authenticity of the shroud in principle, the mere fact that the shroud can stand alone as some type of evidence for the likelihood of Jesus’ divinity or existence is reason enough to try to deal with it. Even if some disagree with the argument, it can still serve to support religious claims made in biblical accounts, which I stated in my post.

True Skepticism

An institution of great minds, a tool in the search for truth.

If you are so freely willing to admit that you believe that something occurred which is “scientifically impossible”, I guess that it is no surprise that in the face of no evidence for the authenticity of the shroud either way, that you conclude with the idea that the shroud is “probably” real. And this is not truly being skeptical. I am willing to admit that my lack of scholarship has rendered my previous conclusion incomplete, but this still does not mean that the shroud is “probably” real. This implies some sort of statistical assurance that your position is more likely than fraud, and I do not think the available information allows this statement. Let us not fall into a fallacy of a false dilemma. The two choices here aren’t either the shroud is a fake or the shroud is proof of Jesus, there are many other possible answers to the shroud riddle. If we can not prove that the shroud is a fake, it does not make your position necessarily true. Of course, this sounds like a skeptical atheist just being skeptical, so let me explain myself further…

I think that your Christian ideology has introduced some bias into this discussion. In light of the evidence that you have shown me, your position should change from “Is it real? Probably”, to “Is it real? We don’t know”, this would be a more bias-free position, given that there is no scientific consensus. But this is where true skepticism comes in. You are undoubtedly very intelligent and well-read. You agree with cosmological assertions, evolution, etc., but I don’t think that you are taking these positions to their logical conclusions. You believe in the natural intelligibility of the world, which is what science has elucidated. All of this comes from the epistemological assertion that everything can have a natural explanation. In the case of the shroud, the most logical and reasonable belief, without being backed up by evidence, is that the shroud is of completely natural origin, with absolutely no supernatural implications, as we know that the world does not work in the supernatural. Miracles do not happen, most are illusions of a neural network that allows us to think we have a better grasp on reality than we really do, and often we are duped and deceived by a wholly explainable nature.

If you can accept almost every other important scientific principle and discovery, why limit yourself to science that does not happen to contradict something that you presumably only believe because you happened to be raised in a Christian household?

Additionally, the more reasonable position to take on the shroud, without rigorous evidence either way, is to involve the explanation that requires the least amount of additional principles and stipulations to be true (Occam’s Razor), which would be that the shroud is not a ghostly apparition of a man who was a god and died and was resurrected. The number of physical laws and principles that would have to be violated to make this reasonable is certainly exceedingly unlikely, or at least less likely than my assertions.

I guess the question that I am asking you is this: what would be most likely explanation, given your understanding of the natural world, authenticity or fraud? Further, would you still believe the shroud is authentic if you were not a Christian?

Belief in the authenticity of anything requires positive, confirmatory, evidence. I think that instead of relying on evidence to make your case, you are trying to make something of the fact that science has not yet come to a conclusion. This means nothing. Holding this theologically charged position in favor of the authenticity of the shroud is then essentially a case of “God of the gaps.” I will gladly change my position when the evidence appears, but it has not. Skepticism is the true default mode of the scientific mind, especially when dealing with a topic so controversial. You said that you too were once a skeptic of the shroud, and I don’t think that I truly believe you, otherwise you still would be.