Turin “Shroud” Called “Supernatural”

December 22, 2011

As reported in the UK Independent of December 21, 2011, scientists working for the Italian government have claimed to find evidence that the image of Jesus crucified appearing on the notorious Shroud of Turin was not produced by a medieval artist but instead was likely caused by a supernatural event.

Unfortunately, their work violates so many principles of science and logic as to raise serious questions about their motivation. It recalled to mind a cartoon that circulated many years ago, depicting a shroudologist at a blackboard on which were chalked several lines of mathematical calculations, followed by the phrase, "and then a miracle occurs!" Now Professor Paolo Di Lazzaro—lead researcher for the team from the National Agency for New Technologies, Energy, and Sustainable Economic Development (ENEA)—embodies that cartoon image.

What the researchers did is astonishing. First, according to their paper (Di Lazzaro et al., 2011, online at www.enea.it), they disregarded the overwhelming historical and scientific evidence that the "shroud" was a medieval forgery. (For example, microscopical evidence had revealed that the image was rendered in red ocher and vermilion paint, consistent with the reported confession of a mid-fourteenth-century artist, and the time frame was corroborated by a radiocarbon date of 1260-1390 C.E. obtained by three laboratories using accelerator mass spectrometry. [See my Inquest on the Shroud of Turin, 1998, and Relics of the Christ, 2007.])

Then the ENEA researchers employed the faulty logic of argumentum ad ignorantiam (an argument from ignorance): we don't know how the image was formed, so it could be explained by "the Jackson theory of image formation"—that "theory" suggesting a miraculous burst of radiant energy at the moment of Christ's resurrection. This illogic was followed by circular reasoning: Because the image was not produced by artistry, it could have been done by a high-intensity ultraviolet laser as a simulation of a miraculous energy blast, and since "This degree of power cannot be reproduced by any normal UV source built to date" (the ENEA researchers report states), it therefore implies the image was not produced by artistry.

Next, the ENEA scientists would attempt to shift the burden of proof by employing a double standard: Those persons invoking "traditional science" would be required to exactly duplicate the "shroud" (a virtual impossibility due to the countless variables involved), but they would not feel constrained to produce their own shroudlike image by means of a miracle-like burst of radiant energy from a corpse. What they have done is produce a similar color, but no actual body image, whereas skeptics have created convincing images with the shroud's quasi-negative properties, its revealingly false anatomical features, delicate coloring, and so on and on. (See for example, Massimo Polidoro, "The Shroud of Turin Duplicated," Skeptical Inquirer Jan./Feb. 2010, 18.)

Finally, the Italian researchers made a mockery of the principle of Occam's razor. Instead of understanding its simple dictum that the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions is most likely correct, they take a different tack: As one shroudologist stated (at a 1986 conference I was invited to participate in), since it would have supposedly been too hard for an artist to have painted the image (for example, the scientist imagined an artist would have had to use a several-foot-long brush to paint with, because the image is so faint it can only be resolved at a distance), it would be more in accord with Occam's razor, he stated, to accept that it was a miraculous occurrence. (Actually, early painted copies show the shroud image was once much bolder; it has faded over time.)

These scientists—who so cavalierly betray science—are even mockingly disingenuous about doing so. Lazzaro told The Independent that he would leave concepts such as miracles and resurrection to others, insisting, "as scientists, we were concerned only with verifiable scientific processes." No doubt he will fool those who wish to be fooled, starting with himself.