Wednesday, June 29, 2016
John Heller's Catechism-22 (Book review of Walter McCrone's Judgment Day for the Shroud of Turin)
Judgment Day for the Shroud of Turin by Walter C. Mccrone (Author)
"In order to get a supernatural explanation out of the "Shroud", one must be Scientist. But if someone gets a supernatural explanation out of the "Shroud", then one is not Scientist. But in order to..."
*Walter, I'm glad to see that my work was not in vain and that the Pursuit of Truth has finally overtaken perceived truth. The title alone, "Judgment Day For The Shroud Of Turin", is worth the price of the book (30 pieces of silver). The fact that Heller's book, arguing for the authenticity of the Shroud has long since fossilized in the Apologist's Hall Of Fame and gone out of print while your book remains popular kind of says it all.*
The beauty of the book is that while McCrone puts the "Shroud" under the microscope, in a typology which ironically is so crucial to many Church doctrines, McCrone at the same time puts the faith of a Church which believes its leader is infallible but couldn't even tell you if it was going to rain tomorrow under the microscope as well. So, in addition to presenting overwhelming and then some evidence that the "Shroud" is really a shroud the book becomes a wonderful illustration of the nature of Apologetics. Ignore/deny superior tests for supporting conclusions and create/cling to inferior tests supporting assumptions thus placing the usual scientific process backwards (isn't this evidence of Satan?).
If McCrone is guilty of anything it was baiting the Church into thinking that he was exactly the type of scientist wanted by the Church, top credentials but sympathetic to the cause of the Church and determined to prove the Shroud authentic. In his initial letters to Father Rinaldi, offering his services to research the Shroud, McCrone titled his letters, "Authentication Of The Turin Shroud" and wrote, "The provenance for the Shroud is known dependably for more than 600 years with considerable evidence extending this date back to the time of Christ...The protection of this information through proper channels must remain uppermost in our minds...I sincerely hope we may be able to work on this most interesting project and hope that we will be able to obtain data supporting the conclusion that this linen was indeed the one used as Christ's Shroud after the cruxifixion."
As a scientist McCrone should have known before he started his testing that the Shroud was 14th century as he was familiar with the extant letters from the Bishops of Lyons (yes, "Lyons") to the then Pope stating that the creator of the Shroud had confessed that it was a painting (this fact more than any other illustrates the absurdness of the necessity to even test the Shroud for authenticity as the situation is that we have second and third hand evidence that the "Shroud" is a fraud while we have no hand or even foot evidence that there even was a burial shroud of Jesus). Even the supporters of the "Shroud" generally agree that these letters are authentic but they claim that they refer to some other burial Shroud of Jesus near Lyons at the same time (ignore/deny). McCrone had also studied the results of testing by the 1973 Italian Commission, the first group of Scientists, hand picked by the Church, to test the Shroud whose results strongly implied that the Shroud was a 14th century painting. Aside from the conclusive evidence that McCrone found indicating the Shroud was a fraud the Church and Christian scientists involved in the study of the Shroud also came to hate McCrone because they felt that his initial portrayal of being sympathetic to the Church was a false appearance to induce the Church to use him and hid his true belief that the Shroud was a fraud and he wanted to prove that it was to feed his ego and build his reputation as a great scientist.
The bulk of the book consists of McCrone explaining the necessity, procedures, analysis and conclusions of scientific testing of the Shroud in terms easily understandable to the non-scientist and this is where McCrone excels as in addition to superior scientific skills he displays supreme communication skills as a teacher as well. McCrone proves through the use of state of the art microscopic technology that the Shroud image consists almost entirely of paint pigments popular in the 14th century. While generally conceding that there is some paint pigment on the Shroud, supporters of the Shroud deny that the image is a painting because there is no evidence of brushstrokes when examined microscopically. To answer this objection McCrone demonstrated that if the paint was sufficiently diluted in a water base there would be no detectable brushstrokes. McCrone recreated shrouds using the same paint materials used on the Shroud and reported that there were no visible brushstrokes on the recreations and that under the microscope the particles were identical between the recreations and the Shroud and challenged any Shroud supporter to try and tell the difference (a challenge which is still untaken). McCrone next demonstrated that there is no actual blood in the "blood" image areas of the Shroud. Dried blood under the microscope is always black but the blood areas of the Shroud were red. Chemical analysis of the blood image areas also indicated that they lacked major chemical components of blood such as potassium. Shroud supporters, such as Heller, conclude that the blood image areas are blood because they contain some chemical components of blood such as calcium and iron but they ignore that paint pigments also contain calcium and iron. When asked to explain why the usual tests for the presence of blood fail here, such as black color and existence of potassium, they explain that the explanation is some unknown process (ignore/deny).
These then were the two significant conclusions of McCrone, the image is a painting and there is no evidence of blood. McCrone wrote up the results of his testing in articles for peer reviewed and accredited scientific journals and his results are largely accepted by the scientific community at large. McCrone also deals with claims of Shroud supporters who are then forced to rely on inferior issues to support their beliefs. Regarding the common supporter claim that the "Shroud" is a perfect negative image McCrone points out that the hair and blood images of the Shroud are positive, not negative images. The other popular supporter claim is that the Shroud contains a collection of pollens which support a journey from the Middle East, to Turkey and then to Europe. McCrone notes that his examination of the Shroud indicated that the majority of these pollens were concentrated in one extremely limited area of the Shroud and recognizing that he is not a pollen expert provides a special section in his book detailing the report of a pollen expert who has serious doubts as to the credibility of the Scientist (Frei) who reported the pollen findings. McCrone builds such a strong case for the Shroud being a 14th century painting that when McCrone reports towards the end of his book the results of carbon dating showing a 14th century date (surprise) it's actually anti-climactic.
McCrone also describes his impressive credentials, tools and talent for such a project and is quite merciful in describing the lack of corresponding qualifications of his Christian "scientist" opponents instead limiting himself to objectively describing their limited qualifications and use of inferior equipment. John Jackson for instance, perhaps McCrone's biggest critic, had the main qualification for studying the Shroud of being a captain in the U.S. Air Force. Generally, the Christian scientists supporting the Shroud have not had peer reviewed articles published in accredited scientific journals.
McCrone's reward for his work was to be ostracized and shunned by the Church and fellow Christian scientists who in addition to obviously not liking his results were incensed that unlike some predecessors who had similar findings McCrone had the courage to make POSITIVE conclusions ("The Shroud is a 14th century painting") rather than play the Church's game and avoid positive conclusions indicating the Shroud was not authentic ("I did not find evidence that the Shroud is from the 1st century").
In the face of this persecution McCrone displays a timely and welcome sense of humor during his book giving appropriate placed applicable quotes such as Ambrose Bierce's "Faith, n. Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel."
*Walter: Did you ever know you are my hero? You are the cleaning solution beneath my microscope slide. By golly, you and your microscope were right all along. You've convinced me and I hope your book will convince others. With best wishes and keep up the good work.*
Sincerely and free at last, Galileo