Sunday, August 7, 2011

Prof. Joel Bernstein's lecture, "The Shroud of Turin: What science can tell us" #1

As I briefly reported on Dan Porter's Shroud of Turin blog, I attended this lecture by Chemistry Professor Joel Bernstein (1941-2019)

[Right (enlarge): Part of the flyer advertising Prof. Joel Bernstein's lecture on the Shroud.]

on 28 July 2011 at Scitech, Perth, Western Australia.

I wrote copious notes in almost total darkness and discovered that I had written it all in green ink using my 4-color ballpoint pen! But I was relieved to find later that it was almost all legible.

It would make this post far too long to report everything Prof. Bernstein said, and then add my critique, so I will only highlight and then comment on what seemed to me to be the most important points. Even then, this post would be too long, so I have split it into two parts: part #1 being a general introduction to Prof. Bernstein's lecture, and part #2, examining Prof. Bernstein's claims about the Shroud based on the anti-authenticity research of former Cornell University chemical microscopist, the late Dr. Walter McCrone (1916-2002).

It was explained by the speaker introducing Prof. Bernstein that 2011 is the International Year of Chemistry which involved promoting understanding of chemistry and the scientific method. Prof. Bernstein (hereafter just Bernstein for brevity) then began his lecture by contrasting "good science" with "pathological science," with the Shroud of Turin pro-authenticity research being his chosen example of the latter. Indeed, it was not even science at all, but just faith as his overheads began and concluded with the "Science vs Faith" false dichotomy.

Bernstein put on the screen the covers of seven books on the Shroud that he got off the Web. He admitted that he had not read any of them except the late McCrone's Judgment Day for the Shroud of Turin which he quoted from extensively. Prof. Bernstein admitted that McCrone was "one of his heroes" having been a revered figure in Chemistry at Cornell University where Bernstein gained his PhD: "When I was at Cornell it was, `McCrone, McCrone, McCrone.'" Significantly Bernstein cited McCrone's establishment of his reputation by his debunking of the Vinland Map, without disclosing to the audience that McCrone was later found to be wrong!

It was clear that Bernstein uncritically (and therefore unscientifically) accepted everything his "hero" McCrone wrote on the Shroud as Gospel Truth and he even during the Q&A at the end of the lecture ignorantly claimed of McCrone's analysis of STURP's 32 sticky tapes pressed onto the Shroud that "no one had ever written a book saying `this guy [McCrone] got it wrong.'" I responded by inviting Bernstein to read John Heller's book, Report on the Shroud of Turin and/or Ian Wilson's, The Blood and the Shroud, where McCrone's claims that the Shroud was a painting and that the blood on it was just iron oxide and vermilion, were comprehensively refuted. But he seemed uninterested.

It is ironic that Bernstein used pro-authenticity Shroud research as a prime example of "pathological science" and McCrone's anti-authenticity research as "good science," when the boot is well and truly on the other foot! And Bernstein himself is hardly engaging in "good science" when he lectures on a subject without bothering to read extensively the other side. But then from my analogous experience in the Creation/Intelligent Design vs Evolution debate, that is the whole point of demonising Shroud pro-authenticity research as "bad science" and even "pathological science" or just "faith." Then, like the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand, one doesn't even have to consider the non-naturalistic other side!

Towards the end of his lecture, Bernstein put up a quote excerpted from Carl Sagan's Demon-Haunted World (1996, pp.197-198):

  • Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the `facts'.
  • Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.
  • Spin more than one hypothesis. If there's something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained.
  • Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it's yours.
  • Quantify. If whatever it is you're explaining has some measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you'll be much letter able to discriminate among competing hypotheses.
  • If there's a chain of argument, every link; in the chain must work (including the premise) - not just most of them.
  • Occam's Razor. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well to choose the simpler.
  • Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle. falsified. Propositions that are untestable, unfalsifiable are not worth much.

Ironically, by these criteria, McCrone's Shroud anti-authenticity research fails! In my next post, part #2, I will examine Bernstein's statements about McCrone and comment on them. Note: I never did post that promised part #2!

Posted: 7 August 2011. Updated: 16 February 2019


Meire Yamaguchi said...

Thanks. I think the same and you have very good arguements.

Stephen E. Jones said...


>Thanks. I think the same and you have very good arguements.

Thank you.

Stephen E. Jones
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