Shrouded in pseudoscience

Via Skeptophilia

The Shroud of Turin

The Shroud of Turin

I hate to break it to you, LiveScience, but in the interest of accuracy, it’s probably time to take the word “Science” out of the name of your website.

What you’re promoting isn’t really science, any more than The History Channel has anything even remotely to do with history.  You’re passing along to the public the idea that science is this mushy, hand-waving pursuit, where you can do an “experiment” to support an idea you’d already decided was true, generate essentially nothing in the way of data, and then claim that your results support whatever your original contention was.

I say this in light of a recent story called “Shroud of Turin: Could Ancient Earthquake Explain Face of Jesus?”  If the very title makes you suspicious, then good; you’re starting out from the right vantage point.

Let’s begin with the facts.  The Shroud of Turin is a piece of linen cloth that has been preserved for centuries as a holy relic — supposedly the sheet that covered Jesus’ body after the crucifixion.  It shows the image of a naked man, with wounds similar to those described in the bible.

The problem is, the linen cloth was carbon-14 dated — a step that the religious powers-that-be resisted for decades — and it was conclusively shown to date to around 1350 C.E.  It is, put simply, a fake.  So you’d think that would be that.

As we’ve seen before, that is never that when religion enters the picture.

b_shroud JesusThe article in LiveScience tells about a study headed by Alberto Carpinteri of the Politecnico di Torino, in Turin, Italy, which discovered that when you crush rocks using a mechanical press, it can cause a brief emission of neutrons.  From that single piece of information, he concludes the following:

  • Earthquakes can therefore be associated with neutron emissions.
  • The neutrons could interact with nitrogen atoms in the linen cloth (or in anything else, presumably), and mess up the carbon-14 dating protocol, causing it to give a wrong answer.
  • The neutrons could also have burned a pattern into the cloth as they passed through it.  Because the cloth was wrapped around a human body, it would have caused an image to appear on it, much like an x-ray.
  • The bible says that there was an earthquake around the time of Jesus’ resurrection, and the “stone rolled back from the tomb.”  [Matthew 28:1-2]
  • So: the Shroud of Turin is actually the burial cloth of Jesus.  Therefore god and the Catholic Church and all of the rest of it.  q.e.d.

Oh, come on, now.  This qualifies as science?  It’s about as bad an example of assuming your conclusion as I’ve ever seen.  And if earthquakes interfered with carbon-14 and nitrogen-14 levels, then radiocarbon dating would never work, since earthquakes happen basically all the time, all over the Earth.  And yet carbon-14 dating has been shown to be extremely accurate, over and over again.

Funny thing, that.

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No responses

  1. On this case, I would like to leave it Open. The anatomical knowledge if a forgery is excellent. The trauma printing of sweat and heat goes a bit beyond known forensics of the time. The additional length involved of a cranial brain box would require post mortem pathology knowledge.
    Every time that I have seen anything on this subject, from my experience, it remains a big question mark and it cannot be closed out until conclusive evidence one way or the other either proves or disproves it.
    Personally, it is a male, possibly, of Middle eastern decent. Wounds recorded on the instrument reflect accurately terrible wounding.
    File this one under, Who Knows/Mystery/Unsolved/Open Case.
    I spent enough time with dead bodies in my lifetime.

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