[Right: Allen R., "How To Win Arguments: The Complete Guide To Coming Out On Top," Thorsons: London, 1996]
unpacked this secondhand book, "How To Win Arguments" (1996) by the late Robert Allen, then Director of Mensa Psychometrics, and eventually Editorial Director of Mensa Publications. I bought the book in 2001, to help me in my debates on Creation/Evolution Internet forums. I hasten to add that I did not buy the book to discover tricks to help me win my arguments, but rather to help me recognise such tricks being used against me!
The only `trick' I used, is what I still use, the "powerful winning technique" of "knowing your stuff":
"Thus we come to another powerful winning technique: knowing your stuff. If you listen to many arguments you will quickly notice how many people have very little grasp of the facts. They depend mainly on their own prejudices and inclinations. To these they will add selectively from bits and pieces they have read, or television and radio programmes they have listened to. However, you can safely bet that their knowledge of the facts is sketchy at best, and probably most of their so-called facts are downright wrong. Someone who has the patience to commit facts, figures, names and dates to memory is in a very powerful position to win arguments. ... Nothing, but nothing, is more destructive to your case than to be caught out in an error of fact. If you want to be taken seriously you must have the facts straight. What is more, you must be able to quote the source of your facts." (Allen, 1996, pp.49-50).
The book has a section on the Shroud of Turin (pages 71-72), which presumably I read, but since I did not seriously consider the evidence for the Shroud's authenticity until 2005, I cannot remember it making any impression on me.
Later, after I had become "persuaded by the evidence that the Shroud of Turin is the burial sheet of Jesus Christ and bears His crucified and resurrected image," I realised how fallacious Allen's arguments against the Shroud were, and a good example of how a highly intelligent person, as Allen presumably was, being a Director of Mensa, and an expert in arguments, can nevertheless deceive himself by not wanting the Shroud to be true. Here is that section with Allen's words bold, to distinguish them from my comments.
There are two main ways of dealing with foxes. Ladies and gentlemen dress up smartly, mount fine horses, and have a splendid time chasing them all over the countryside before finally watching them being torn to bits by hounds. Farmers shoot them. It is considered unsporting but is quick and effective. Using Allen's metaphor, it is not enough to merely shoot a fox, one must actually kill it! One might have merely have temporarily stunned the fox, and if one wishes that the fox was dead, then one is more likely to deceive oneself that the fox is dead, when it is not, and will live to fight another day.
For our present purposes to shoot a fox is to bring an argument to a sudden conclusion by cutting through the peripherals and getting to the heart of the matter in one stroke. This might work if "the peripherals" themselves are not soundly based facts in their own right. In that case they are part of "the heart of the matter" and need to be actually refuted, not just ignored, because there happens to be one line of evidence that seemingly contradicts them.
Often people get to love an argument for its own sake. Indeed they can get so wrapped up in it that they lose sight of its original purpose. If you have the wit and presence of mind to grasp what is essential you can score a speedy and decisive victory. This sounds like the sort of "speedy victory" that US Senator George Aitken was supposed to have proposed during the Vietnam war, that "the U.S. should declare victory and bring the troops home." Or, in other words, "Let's declare victory and get the hell out"! The problem again is that it is not enough to wish that one has "score[d] a speedy and decisive victory," one has to actually do it. But for that to have really happened, the enemy has to be defeated and to admit that it has been defeated.
Take as an example the controversy surrounding the Shroud of Turin. This holy relic was traditionally supposed to be the shroud that had covered the body of Christ. In some miraculous way the image of Jesus' body had become printed on the cloth and could, using a photographic negative, be clearly seen. But was it genuine? Allen has mentioned one of "the peripherals" that must be plausibly explained, and not merely an Aitkenesque "speedy and decisive victory" being declared over it. Which is that, as mentioned in my previous post, the Shroud image is
actually a "photographic negative," because when it is photographed, using the now old-fashioned medium of photographic film, the imprint on the film, which is called the negative, in the case of the Shroud's image is uniquely a positive. Which means that the Shroud's image is itself a photographic negative!
It was a truly fascinating argument with endless ramifications. For example, the image was only clearly visible, as mentioned before, if you first photographed the cloth and then viewed the photographic negative. Yet, even if the shroud was, as some suspected, a fake, it certainly predated the invention of photography by many years. How could anyone produce a fake that was only visible using a process that had not yet been invented? Indeed, "How could anyone produce a fake that was only visible using a process that had not yet been invented"? And why would he, even if he could? Allen asks the question but doesn't answer it. And since the very concept of a photographic negative was unknown until the early 19th century:
"In 1839, John Herschel made the first glass negative, but his process was difficult to reproduce. ... the Langenheim brothers of Philadelphia and John Whipple of Boston also invented workable negative-on-glass processes in the mid 1840s." ("History of photography," Wikipedia, 22 June 2012)
the Shroud did not merely "predate... the invention of photography by many years," but by at least six hundred years! Even if the Shroud was a fake (which it isn't), it should then have pride of place in the history of photography and/or art. But it is simply ignored, because it is too uncomfortable for modern, secular man to acknowledge its existence.
The complications were endless. The nail holes in the body were in the correct place. Traditionally painters and sculptors had shown Christ's wounds to be in his hands. Anatomically and historically this was nonsense because the hands would not have borne such a weight. The actual method of crucifixion was to drive the nails through the wrist bones. The shroud showed this quite accurately. On the other hand the image on the shroud showed the hands modestly covering the genitals, but if a body has been `laid out' the hands would not normally reach so far. Also the image showed that blood had run from the wounds. Biblical evidence tells us that the body was washed before burial and, of course, dead bodies do not bleed. Allen is right that the Shroud does have "The nail holes ... in the correct place ... through the wrist bones" yet "Traditionally painters and sculptors had shown Christ's wounds to be in his hands" which "would not have borne such a weight." So even if the Shroud's 14th century or earlier forger knew that (when it seems that no one else did), why, if he wanted his forgery to be accepted, would he not depict the nails in the Shroud man's hands?
But as for Allen's claim that "if a body has been `laid out' the hands would not normally reach so far" as to be "covering the genitals," the fallacy is in his assumption that Jesus' body would have had to
[Above: The most likely position in which Jesus died, based on the flow of blood stains on the shroud: World Mysteries (no longer online)]
be "laid out" flat. But the gospels record that Jesus was left hanging on the Cross for several hours following His death soon after "the ninth hour" (3PM) (Mt 27:46-50; Mk 15:34-37; Lk 23:44-46; Jn 19:28-30). And that Jesus' body was not brought down from the Cross and hastily entombed until just before the Sabbath began at sunset (Mt 27:57-60; Mk 15:42-46; Lk 23:50-54; Jn 19:38-42), which in Jerusalem in late April is about 7:20PM. So Jesus' body would have been set by rigor mortis in a bent-forward position, and it would then have been laid in the tomb in that same position. In which case, as can be seen below, Jesus' crossed hands would have easily covered His genitals. So Allen here didn't follow his own advice to "know your stuff" and has been "caught out in an error of fact"!Above: Artist Isabel Piczek's reconstruction of how if Jesus body was bent forward slightly, as it would have been due to rigor motis having set in while Jesus' dead body was left hanging on the Cross for several hours, His hands could have easily covered His genitals: Isabel Piczek, "Alice In Wonderland and the Shroud of Turin," 1996]
And as for Allen's claim that "dead bodies do not bleed," in fact they do:
"Derek Barrowcliff, who has died aged 92, worked as a pathologist on a number of post-war murder cases ... He was back in the limelight later in the 1970s, when his research on the propensity for corpses to bleed was quoted in the controversy over the authenticity of the so-called Shroud of Turin. Barrowcliff gave an expert opinion in the case of Hans Naber, a German black marketeer and convicted fraudster, who claimed to have had a vision in 1947 in which Jesus told him He had survived the Crucifixion to rise again from the tomb. Naber claimed too much blood was present on the shroud for it to have swathed a dead body. Corpses do not bleed, he asserted - or at least the large quantity of blood on the shroud did not correspond to the blood emissions from a typical corpse. In his eyes, the shroud proved that Christ had only been wounded. But Barrowcliff had shown that bodies do indeed bleed after death for a time, and demonstrated that cuts on the back of the head of a corpse (comparable to the wounds made by the Crown of Thorns) `would bleed freely, continuously'. ... A midlife convert to Roman Catholicism ... When he was invited to be an expert witness in connection with the Shroud of Turin, Barrowcliff was delighted to be able to combine his religious principles with his scientific practice." ("Obituaries: Derek Barrowcliff," The Telegraph, 15 November 2011).
butcher's shop, and included sweeping up the blood-soaked sawdust sprinkled over the floor to absorb any blood which dripped from the meat, so I know from personal experience that dead bodies do bleed! Again Allen has been "caught out in an error of fact" due to him not following his own advice to "know your stuff"!
This argument looked set to go on for ever. It got extremely heated and some of the scholars involved got so emotionally and intellectually bound up in the struggle that religious conversions were reported to have taken place among them. Indeed! While not strictly speaking a "religious conversion" in the sense of becoming a Christian, a noteworthy example of someone who one might not have expected to accept wholeheartedly the authenticity of the Shroud, was the late Bishop John A.T. Robinson, author of the theologically liberal book Honest to God:
"This month, with very deep regret, came the news of the parsing of Dr. John Robinson, Dean of Chapel at Trinity College, Cambridge, and one of the founders of the British Society for the Turin Shroud. Dr. Robinson's active association with the Shroud began with a memorable letter of 30 July 1976, addressed to Father Peter Rinaldi: `You won't know me, though you may know me by name as the notorious bishop who wrote Honest to God and therefore about the last person to be a believer in the Shroud, if that is the right word! But for a long time I have been very much impressed by the evidence ... that there is here something that cannot easily be explained away ... ' Following this letter Dr. Robinson was introduced to those in Britain researching the Shroud at a time the subject was still little known. Via articles supportive of the Shroud's authenticity, and his personal participation in the Silent Witness film, he gave immense encouragement, the impetus from which greatly assisted the formation of the B.S.T.S. The Society's very name, carefully chosen to avoid any foregone conclusions, was John Robinson's personal inspiration. At the time of the exposition of the Shroud in 1978 Dr. Robinson travelled to Turin to view the cloth for himself. He was so moved by the concluding Mass in Turin cathedral that in a true spirit of ecumenism he received Catholic communion." ("Obituary: Dr. John Robinson, of Trinity College, Cambridge, a founder of the B.S.T.S.," British Society for the Turin Shroud Newsletter, No. 6, September/December 1983, pp.4-5).
So the sceptical, theologically liberal, Dr. John A.T. Robinson was not only, by his own admission, "about the last person to be a believer in the Shroud," he was one of the founding members of the British Society for the Turin Shroud!
Then, at long last, permission was given to take a small portion of the shroud and subject it to carbon dating. The results were conclusive. The cloth was of such late manufacture that the image could not be genuine. The fox had been shot. To paraphrase Mark Twain, the report of this `fox's' death have been greatly exaggerated! The Pray Manuscript (1192-9) with its at least 12 unique features it shares with Shroud, is alone proof beyond reasonable doubt that the 1988 radiocarbon dating of the Shroud as "medieval ... AD 1260-1390" (Nature, Vol. 337, 1989, pp.611-615) simply has to be wrong." Even Prof. Christopher Ramsey, current Director of the Oxford Radiocarbon Unit, and a co-signatory of that 1989 Nature paper, has admitted that "There is a lot of other evidence that suggests to many that the Shroud is older than the radiocarbon dates allow":
"There is a lot of other evidence that suggests to many that the Shroud is older than the radiocarbon dates allow and so further research is certainly needed. It is important that we continue to test the accuracy of the original radiocarbon tests as we are already doing. It is equally important that experts assess and reinterpret some of the other evidence. Only by doing this will people be able to arrive at a coherent history of the Shroud which takes into account and explains all of the available scientific and historical information." (Ramsey, C.B., "Shroud of Turin Version 77," Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, 23 March, 2008).
In a way it was a pity that such an entertaining argument should come to such an abrupt end. Many of the issues that had been raised were interesting and worthy of serious consideration but, once the fox was dead, they were quickly disregarded by all but a dedicated few. Allen was deceiving himself if he really thought that one tiny postage stamp sized sample, taken from the worst possible part of the ~4.4 x 1.1 metre Shroud, could overturn all the other evidence for the Shroud's authenticity.
Even on its own published data in Nature there clearly were major problems in the three laboratories' dating of the Shroud.Here we had three specialist radiocarbon dating laboratories, all dating the same tiny 8cm x 1.2cm piece of linen, sub-divided between them into three approximately equal parts, using the same AMS method, who each dated the Shroud significantly differently from each other and even from within each laboratory!
[Left: Extract from the main table of the three laboratories' radiocarbon dates of the Shroud (Sample 1): Damon, P. E., et al., "Radiocarbon Dating of the Shroud of Turin," Nature, Vol. 337, 16 February 1989, p. 612]
As can be seen, Arizona laboratory's ages of the Shroud ranged from a low of 561 (591-30) years to a high of 734 (701+33) years, a span of 173 years or 31%. Oxford's ages were from a low of 685 (730-45) years to a high of 860 (795+65) years, a range of 175 years or 26%. Zurich's ages ranged from a low of 578 (635-57) years to a high of 794 (733+61) years, a span of 216 years or 37%!
Arizona had the lowest age of 561 (591+/-30) years, while Oxford laboratory had the highest age of 860 (795+65) years, a range of ages of the Shroud between the three laboratories of 299 years, or 53%!
This is a shambles of a result, considering that the three laboratories between them were dating by the same AMS method, the same tiny postage stamp sized sample of the Shroud! And yet they had the effrontery (if not the scientific dishonesty) to claim that, "The results provide conclusive evidence that the linen of the Shroud of Turin is mediaeval ... AD 1260-1390":
"Very small samples from the Shroud of Turin have been dated by accelerator mass spectrometry in laboratories at Arizona, Oxford and Zurich. As controls, three samples whose ages had been determined independently were also dated. The results provide conclusive evidence that the linen of the Shroud of Turin is mediaeval ... The age of the shroud is obtained as AD 1260-1390, with at least 95% confidence" (Damon, P.E., et al., "Radiocarbon Dating of the Shroud of Turin," Nature, Vol. 337, 16 February, 1989, pp.611-615, p.612).
Rather, the results provided conclusive evidence of the late physicist Richard Feynman's First Principle - "you must not fool yourself-and you are the easiest person to fool":
"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself-and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you've not fooled yourself, it's easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that. I would like to add something that's not essential to the science, but something I kind of believe, which is that you should not fool the layman when you're talking as a scientist ... I'm talking about a specific, extra type of integrity that is not lying, but bending over backwards to show how you're maybe wrong, that you ought to have when acting as a scientist. And this is our responsibility as scientists, certainly to other scientists, and I think to laymen. ... One example of the principle is this: If you've made up your mind to test a theory, or you want to explain some idea, you should always decide to publish it whichever way it comes out. If we only publish results of a certain kind, we can make the argument look good. We must publish both kinds of results." (Feynman, R.P., "Cargo Cult Science," in "Surely You're Joking, Mr Feynman!," 1990, p.343)
Posted: 22 July 2012. Updated: 18 July 2017.