Saturday 10 December 2016

Tom Chivers: Intelligent believers do not need fake Shroud of Turin trinkets to nurture their beliefs

Published 20/12/2011 | 14:39

The Shroud of Turin
The Shroud of Turin

FIRST things first. The "authenticity" or otherwise of the Shroud of Turin does not have any implications for whether or not Christ was real, or whether He was divine. If it was a medieval forgery, it doesn't mean the stories aren't true; if it really was made in the first century AD, it doesn't mean they were. Until we find a reliable method of linking the shroud with Christ Himself – a nametag stitched in it by His mum, perhaps – the existence of a 2,000-year-old cloth does not imply that a particular person who died around the time it was made was the Son of God.

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I mention this because today, we report that a group of scientists – working, unexpectedly, for the Italian sustainable energy agency ENEA – claim that the marks on the cloth could only have been made by ultraviolet radiation. They say that "When one talks about a flash of light being able to colour a piece of linen in the same way as the shroud, discussion inevitably touches on things like miracles and resurrection," and that they "hope our results can open up a philosophical and theological debate". They do, however, say "as scientists, we were concerned only with verifiable scientific processes."

The implication, of course, is that a divine light shone when Jesus's body was resurrected, and that this emitted a burst of high-frequency photons which burned an image on the cloth around him. This possibility has been discounted in the past by Raymond Rogers, a member of the Shroud of Turin Research Project (Sturp) which examined the fabric in the 1970s, who said: "If any form of radiation degraded the cellulose of the linen fibers to produce the image color, it would have had to penetrate the entire diameter of a fiber in order to color its back surface", but that the centres of the fibres are unmarked. There are many hypotheses about how the images could have been made, and they have each come in and out of favour. Without wanting to be too cocky, when the ENEA scientists say that radiation is the "only" way the image could have been made, I imagine that many of their fellow researchers will say it's the only way that they managed it.

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