Have you ever gone to the kitchen to get a banana or some other healthy snack and found yourself staring smack dab at a big chocolate chip cookie? It is a decadent pleasure -- one that we ought to feel guilty about enjoying, but one that we can't help but sample because it is simply so enjoyable.
That's the way I feel about the Shroud of Turin.
We are, after all, a serious blog for Christian apologists. We discuss the veracity of scriptures and the meaning of rather in-depth phrases in response to the challenges that we encounter on our trip around the Internet.
But then, I see the Shroud. The Shroud of Turin - it is like the chocolate chip cookie. It isn't something that should side-track our effort to establish the truth of the Gospels and the Lordship of Jesus Christ, but it is a fun little side attraction on the way.
Over the past few years, I have blogged on several occasions about the Shroud. Let me make this clear: I don't know if the Shroud is the actual burial cloth of Jesus Christ -- in fact, I tend to doubt it. But what if it is? I mean, as I said previously, " There are good reasons to think that it is real, but there are also good reasons to think that it is an extremely good fake. I personally haven't made up my mind one way or another about the Shroud, for while it is truly a fascinating artifact, if it is ever demonstrated conclusively not to be the actual burial cloth of Jesus it will have absolutely no impact on my faith. Still, the possibility that it is genuine is one of the things that make the Shroud so fascinating."
The thing that makes the Shroud such a mystery is that it is an incredible piece of work -- it seems that no one has an explanation as to how the shroud could have been produced -- at least, not until now. According to an article from Reuters entitled Italian scientist reproduces Shroud of Turin, Luigi Garlaschelli, a professor of organic chemistry at the University of Pavia, has managed to reproduce the Shroud using materials that were avaiable in the Middle Ages -- the time period in which detractors of the Shroud claim that the Shroud was produced. According to the article:
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.
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.
Professor Garlaschelli, who received funding from atheist and agnostic groups, did not produce his duplicate for examination by the press or other scientists (yet), but has merely produced photos and his paper purporting to demonstrate that his work has disproved the genuiness of the Shroud.
Excuse me if I am not yet impressed.
I believe that (as skeptics would certainly agree) it is best to allow Professor Garlaschelli's shroud to be examined by people who have spent their life examining the Shroud and the intricacy of the design. I believe that several other people have attempted to make replicas in the past, and all of the others have failed to produce a copy that compares to the original upon closer examination.
Also, while Professor Garlaschelli says that his funding made no difference in his result, I am not quite ready to accept him at his word. This is especially true when the article reveals a certain cockiness on his part that is inconsistent with what I believe a non-partisan scientists might say. Specifically, the professor comments:
"If they don't want to believe carbon dating done by some of the world's best laboratories they certainly won't believe me," he said.
Yeah. Never mind that there is some question about the accuracy of radio carbon dating of recent objects. Consider, just as an example, the following from essortment (in a short essay that makes no reference at all to the Shroud or other problems that pop up in the Skeptic/Christian debate):
Although the theory of radiocarbon dating is interesting, there are several inherent problems with the process. The first of these problems is the fact that the original ratio of carbon and radioactive carbon is unknown. The second problem is that the possibility of contamination of the sample over time is quite high. The older the sample the higher the probability of contamination, in fact! What this means is that using carbon dating to date very old samples is really quite impractical given our current level of knowledge and technological capabilities.
While carbon dating continues to be considered by many as a viable way of obtaining authoritative dates for a wide range of artifacts and remains, there is much room for error in the process. Even the use of accelerator mass spectrometry to analyze the relative levels of carbon and radioactive carbon has resulted in flawed determinations. It is not uncommon for different laboratories to determine quite different ages for the same artifact! While some of this deviation could possibly be explained by contamination or erred methodology in the labs themselves, it is apparent that the problems with carbon dating are much more complex than that.
Very simply put, too many things are unknown to allow the carbon dating process to be as accurate as many proclaim it to be. Factors as diverse as changes in the earth’s magnetic field and changes in the amount of carbon available to organisms in times past could translate into perceivable differences in the carbon ratios in artifacts and remains from ancient times. Even changes in the atmosphere itself could impact this carbon ratio. We know that changes such as these have occurred over time. They are still occurring today in fact.
It is the hutzpa of his response that makes me wonder about his work. Why not simply say something like, "I believe that my method has produced an exact replica of the Shroud, but I will anxiously await further examination to confirm my preliminary observations"? That would make me believe that he was less of a shill for his funders.
Let me repeat what I have said before: faith doesn't hinge on the authenticity of the Shroud as the actual burial cloth of Jesus. The New Testament doesn't say, "believe in Jesus because we have his burial shroud." It contends that we should believe in Jesus because of the testimony of the witnesses to the fact that he has risen. The Shroud, if it is the burial cloth of Jesus, adds weight to those claims because the image implanted in the Shroud has yet to be explained.
However, if Professor Garlaschelli has, in fact, produced a replica of the Shroud which passes examination, then it will have no more impact on my faith than if he had proven that cats can't eat grapes -- it is irrelevant.