Aug 17, 2008

Shroud of Turin in the News

This is a Computer-Enhanced Image of the Face on the Shroud of Turin

Computer-Enhanced Image of the
Face on the Shroud of Turin

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Researchers are chipping away the mystery of the Shroud of Turin, and reexamining radiocarbon tests that undermine the case for its being the burial cloth of Jesus.

In 1988, science seemed to put that question to rest.

Radiocarbon dating by three separate laboratories showed that the shroud originated in the Middle Ages, leaving the "shroud crowd" reeling. Shroud skeptics responded, "We told you so." The Catholic Church admitted that it could not be authentic. Many scientists backed away.

John Jackson, who has devoted much of his life to the study of the shroud, has proposed an alternate explanation to those test results, insisting that too much of the other physical evidence points to much earlier date.

Twenty years later, Jackson, 62, is getting his chance to challenge the radiocarbon dating. Oxford University, which participated in the original radiocarbon testing, has agreed to work with him in reconsidering the age of the shroud.

If the challenge is successful, Jackson hopes to be allowed to reexamine the shroud, which is owned by the Vatican and stored in a protective chamber in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Turin, Italy.

Jackson, a physicist who teaches at the University of Colorado, hypothesizes that contamination of the cloth by elevated levels of carbon monoxide skewed the 1988 carbon-14 dating by 1,300 years.

What I found fascinating reading the LA Times piece, is how highly charged the debate is over this, and how much bias there seems to be on both sides of the divide. Both Jackson and his wife are Catholics, Rebecca having converted from Judaism, because of the shroud. Their passion on the issue is intense, and would, one hopes, not skew their research. But, the bias on the con side seems more religious, to me, than on the shroud enthusiast side, at least in this telling.

Steven Schafersman, a geologist who maintains a website skeptical about the shroud, dismisses the effort as one that's bound to fail.

"He's had other ideas, but they've all been shot down, and this one will be shot down too," he said of Jackson. "Ordinary people know this is just a relic."

I'm somewhat sensitized to this issue, of late, as I described here. For a rationalist, he seems awfully predisposed to a particular conclusion. I say, where there are questions, do the research and let the chips fall where they may.

The Sacre Sindone (Shroud of Turin) is Publicly Displayed at Torino

The Sacre Sindone (Shroud of Turin)
is Publicly Displayed at Torino

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