Saturday, April 17, 2010

`Ian Wilson's Turin Shroud theories are the worst kind of junk history'

Ian Wilson's Turin Shroud theories are the worst kind of junk history,, Guy Walters, April 13th, 2010.

Walters' critique of Wilson and Wilson's response are no longer online, but I had saved each of them as a text file. Because of the continued interest in this 2010 post (according to Google Analytics), I have now (5 August 2016) posted as a comment below Walters' critique of Wilson and Wilson's response to Walters.

This is a good (or bad) example of a modern scoffer's (2 Peter 3:3; Jude 1:18) attack on the

[Right: Ian Wilson. Rear cover of "The Shroud: The 2,000 Year Old Mystery Solved," Bantam Press: London, 2010.]

authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, through a sustained ad hominem personal attack:

"An Ad Hominem is a general category of fallacies in which a claim or argument is rejected on the basis of some irrelevant fact about the author of or the person presenting the claim or argument. Typically, this fallacy involves two steps. First, an attack against the character of person making the claim, her circumstances, or her actions is made (or the character, circumstances, or actions of the person reporting the claim). Second, this attack is taken to be evidence against the claim or argument the person in question is making (or presenting)." ("Fallacy: Ad Hominem," The Nizkor Project, 14 April 2010);

on leading Shroud theorist Ian Wilson. Wilson's attacker is Guy Walters, who "is a British author and journalist." ("Guy Walters," Wikipedia, 23 March 2010).

[Left: Guy Walters:]

Significantly, Walters presents no actual facts or even arguments that the Shroud of Turin is not the burial sheet of Jesus, but instead tries to discredit Wilson personally, presumably so that readers will not bother reading Wilson's new book, "The Shroud: The 2,000 Year Old Mystery Solved" (2010).

While I was putting the finishing touches to this my own response to Walters' attack on Wilson, and through him the Shroud itself, I discovered that in the meantime Ian Wilson had himself responded to Walters' article, so I will also quote Wilson to support my points and to add information that I was not sure of. Walters' words are bold to distinguish them from mine.

If one object encapsulates the practice of junk history more than any other, then it's the Turin Shroud, which is currently on display until May 23.

Because Walters is merely an "author and journalist," he therefore has no standing as a leading professional historian to determine what is, or is not, "junk history." It seems that "junk history" for Walters is what he does not personally like or want to be true.

According to Walters' (presumably) own self-description above this article, he "sees it as his personal mission to wage war on ignorance and misconceptions about the past":

"Guy Walters is the author of nine books, which include four wartime thrillers and the critically acclaimed histories Hunting Evil and Berlin Games. Frustrated at the enormous amount of junk history around, Guy sees it as his personal mission to wage war on ignorance and misconceptions about the past. His website is"

But if the Shroud of Turin is the burial sheet of Jesus (and the evidence is overwhelming that it is - see my "The Shroud of Turin is the Burial Sheet of Jesus!"), then Walters is himself perpetrating "ignorance and misconceptions about the past"!

Now that would not really matter much about most things. But again if the Shroud is the burial sheet of Jesus, and bears the image of His crucified and resurrected body (as again the evidence overwhelmingly indicates it is and does), then to be in "ignorance" and have a "misconceptions about the past," of not believing that in "Jesus Christ ... God really lived on earth as a man and said and did the things that the Gospels report":

"What is the most important event in recorded history? ... Christians should be able to give a confident answer to the ultimate question on the premise that the Gospels, summarized in the introductory verses of the Gospel of John, tell the truth. The incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us, is undoubtedly the most important event in the history of mankind if it actually happened as the Bible says. One may not know all sorts of things and be none the worse for it, but if God really lived on earth as a man and said and did the things that the Gospels report, then not to know these sayings and deeds, or to disregard them, is to be missing the one key that is capable of unlocking everything else. That is why it is of supreme importance that the good news must be made available to everyone, whether or not they choose to believe it. The most devastatingly negative judgment must be made of any educational system which insists, as the schools of most nations do now, that students should not be taught the information they need to give an informed answer to the question posed by Jesus: 'Who do you say that I am? [Mat. 16:15-17]'" (Johnson, P.E. 2002, "The Right Questions: Truth, Meaning & Public Debate, InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove IL, pp.172-173).

is the most important "ignorance and misconceptions about the past" of all!

Those who study this piece of cloth grandly call themselves sindonologists, as if concocting crackpot theories about a 13th or 14th century hoax were a legitimate branch of academia.

Walters continues with his ad hominem fallacy `arguments,' i.e. "crackpot," "hoax" and "high priest" (see below). But irrespective of Walters' disdain for the term, "sindonology," it has entered the dictionary as a legitimate field of study, "the scientific study of the Shroud of Turin":

"sin·do·nol·o·gy ... - noun the scientific study of the Shroud of Turin. ... Origin: 1965-70; < It sindon(e) the shroud in which Christ was interred (< Gk (NT) sindon winding sheet, Gk: muslin sheet; cf. sindon) + o + -logy - Related forms sin·do·nol·o·gist, noun" (" Unabridged," Random House Dictionary: Random House, 14 April 2010).

But in fact Wilson points out that he does not use of himself, or like, the term "sindonologist":

"Nor in four decades of Shroud researches have I ever called myself a `sindonologist', a term I dislike as much as he does." (Ian Wilson, "My response to Guy Walters and his critique,", 15 April 2010).

And no one yet (including Walters) has shown the Shroud to be "a 13th or 14th century hoax." Indeed, the idea that an unknown forger in the "13th or 14th century" perpetrated a "hoax" that the science of the 20th-21st centuries still has not been able to explain how it was done, or who did it, is itself increasingly bordering on a hoax!

Classics scholar Mark Guscin, in his book on the Sudarium of Oviedo, points out (with satirical "embellishments"), what a forger

[Above: Perfect match of bloodstains on the Sudarium of Oviedo (which has been in Spain since at least "AD 840") and the Shroud of Turin, proving that they once covered the head of the same crucifixion victim: Bennett, J., 2001, "Sacred Blood, Sacred Image" Ignatius Press: San Francisco CA, p.122]

would have to do, to fit the known facts about the Shroud and concludes that "Such a story ... is more incredible than the Shroud's authenticity" (my emphasis below):
"However, let us suppose for a while that the results obtained from the carbon dating of both the sudarium and the Shroud are accurate, and neither cloth ever touched the body of Jesus. In that case, the following story would have to be true. Sometime in the seventh century, in Palestine, after reading the gospel of John, a well known forger of religious relics saw the opportunity of putting a new product on the market - a cloth that had been over the face of the dead body of Jesus.

This forger was also an expert in medicine, who knew that a crucified person died from asphyxiation, and that when this happened, special liquids fill the lungs of the dead body, and can come out through the nose if the body is moved.

The only way he could get this effect on the cloth was by re-enacting the process, so this is exactly what he did. He crucified a volunteer, eliminating those candidates who did not fulfil the right conditions - swollen nose and cheeks, forked beard to stain the cloth, etc. When the body was taken down from the cross, he shook it around a bit with the help of a few friends, holding the folded cloth to the dead volunteer's nose so that future generations would be able to see the outline of his fingers.

He even stuck a few thorns in the back of the dead man's neck, knowing that relic hunters would be looking for the bloodstains from the crown of thorns.

Being an eloquent man, he convinced people that this otherwise worthless piece of cloth was stained with nothing less than the blood and pleural liquid of Christ, and so it was guarded in Jerusalem with other relics, and considered so genuine and spiritually valuable that it was worth saving first from the invading Persians and later from the Arabs.

A few hundred years later, some time between 1260 and 1390, another professional forger, a specialist in religious relics too, decided that the time was ripe for something new, something really convincing. There were numerous relics from various saints in circulation all round Europe, bones, skulls, capes, but no, he wanted something really original. Various possibilities ran through his mind, the crown of thorns, the nails from the crucifixion, the table cloth from the last supper, and then suddenly he had it - the funeral shroud of Jesus! And not only that, but he would also put an image on the Shroud, the image of the man whom the Shroud had wrapped!

The first step was difficult. Being an expert in textile weaves, (one of his many specialities, the others being pollen, Middle East blood groups, numismatism of the years of Tiberius, photography, Roman whips, and electronic microscopes) he needed linen of a special kind, typical of the Middle East in the first century.

Once this had been specially ordered and made, he folded it up before starting his work, as a neighbour had suggested that such a cloth would have been folded up and hidden in a wall in Edessa for a few hundred years, so the image would be discontinuous on some of the fold marks.

Leaving the cloth folded up, he travelled to Oviedo in the north of Spain, where he knew that a forerunner in his trade had left a cloth with Jesus' blood stains.

On obtaining permission to analyse the sudarium, he first checked the blood group - AB of course, common in the Middle East and relatively scarce in Europe - then made an exact plan of the blood stains (carefully omitting those which would have already clotted when the sudarium was used) so that his stains would coincide exactly.

After his trip to Oviedo, he went on a tour of what is now Turkey, forming a composite portrait of Jesus from all the icons, coins and images he could find. After all, he needed people to think that his Shroud had been around for over a thousand years, and that artists had used it as their inspiration for painting Christ. He didn't really understand what some of the marks were, the square box between the eyes, the line across the throat, but he thought he'd better put them on anyway. He didn't want to be accused of negligence, because he was an internationally famous forger and had a reputation to maintain.

Once he was back home, he somehow obtained some blood (AB, naturally) and decided to begin his work of art with the blood stains, before even making the body image.

Unfortunately, he miscalculated the proportions, and the nail stains appeared on the wrist instead of on the palms of the hands, where everyone in the fourteenth century knew that they had been. `Well', he thought, `it's just a question of a few inches, nobody will notice.'

Now, even the omniscient author is forbidden to enter in the secret room where the forger `paints' the image of Christ, a perfect three dimensional negative, without paint or direction. His method was so secret that it went to the tomb with him.

After a few hours, he opened the door, and called his wife, who was busy preparing dinner in the kitchen. `What do you think?' `Not bad. But you've forgotten the thumbs' `No, I haven't. Don't you know that if a nail destroys the nerves in the wrist, the thumbs bend in towards the palm of the hand, so you wouldn't be able to see them?'

`But didn't the nails go through the palms?' `Well, yes, but I put the blood on first, and didn't quite get the distance right'

`Oh, in that case ... and what about the pollen?' `What pollen?' `Well, if this Shroud has been in Palestine, Edessa, and let's suppose it's been in Constantinople too, it's going to need pollen from all those places.' Our forger loved the idea, got the pollen from all the places his wife had indicated, and delicately put it all over his Shroud.

And then, the final touch. Two coins from the time of Christ, minted under the emperor Tiberius, to put over the man's eyes. Our man had a sense of humour too - he decided that the coins would be included in the image in such a way that they would only be visible under an electronic microscope.

Such a story, even without the embellishments, is more incredible than the Shroud's authenticity."

(Guscin, M., "The Oviedo Cloth," Lutterworth Press: Cambridge UK, 1998, pp.84-88. My emphasis).

Their high priest is one Ian Wilson, who the BBC flatteringly refers to as a "historian".

Another ad hominem personal attack as a substitute for argument by Walters. Ian Wilson is not the "high priest" of "Those who study this piece of cloth." And Wilson is a historian, in that he "graduated in Modern History from Magdalen College, Oxford":

"Ian Wilson (born 1941) is the prolific author of religious and scientific books. He often mixes the two while examining his various topics, whether it's the Shroud of Turin or life after death. He graduated in Modern History from Magdalen College, Oxford. He has written and presented a three part Channel 4 TV series based on his book Jesus: The Evidence. He converted from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism." ("Ian Wilson (writer)," Wikipedia, 22 March 2010).

and he is writes about "history," the "study of the human past":

"History (from Greek ...historia, meaning "inquiry, knowledge acquired by investigation" is the study of the human past. Scholars who write about history are called historians. It is a field of research which uses a narrative to examine and analyse the sequence of events, and it sometimes attempts to investigate objectively the patterns of cause and effect that determine events." ("History," Wikipedia, 5 April 2010 ).

Wilson himself makes further points in defense of his right to be called "a historian":

"First, Walters questioned my right to be `labelled a historian'. The facts are that I am a history graduate of Magdalen College, Oxford, where I studied under A.J.P.Taylor and others. I graduated with honours in 1963, and was conferred an M.A. in 1977. Walters fails to mention the historical biography of Shakespeare, Shakespeare: The Evidence, which I wrote in 1994. No-nonsense Oxford historian the late Dr. A.L. Rowse, reviewed this in the London Evening Standard as: `Full of good sense. The reader will not go wrong with it Ian Wilson is conscientious, as a good Oxford man should be." (Wilson, Ibid.).

Walters' here attempts to demarcate what is, and is not, "history," and who is, and is not, a "historian," so that one does not then have to listen to the arguments of those whom he decrees are not "historians" and do not write "history." But, apart from Walters being merely an "author and journalist," with no authority to decide what and who is in, and out, of those categories, what Walters and his Shroud anti-authenticity ilk need to do is provide a comprehensive, testable, alternative theory that fully and plausibly explains all the major features of the Shroud and how they were created by the perpetrator of "a 13th or 14th century hoax." That Walters is reduced to ad hominem personal attacks against Ian Wilson only shows the bankruptcy of the anti-authenticity position.

Quite why Wilson deserves this job description is unclear, because his works have little to do with history, and instead are books that hail from a strange sector of publishing nicely captured by Peter Wilson in The Independent in 2001:

Pick an ancient riddle to unravel. Mix together a pinch of history, a splash of archaeology, a soup├žon of theology, lashings of first-person travelogue and a hefty dose of maps. Then flavour it with talk of the pyramids, the Inca sacred sites, the truth behind the Bible and obstructive, conspiratorial clerics. Finally, garnish in a bold cover with gold letters and a sensational title about a lost civilisation, a missing continent or extra-terrestrial life. Watch the copies walk out of the bookshops.

Actually it was "Peter Stanford" (unless he and "Peter Wilson" are one and the same) and he was writing about Wilson's book on Noah's Ark, Before the Flood, not one of his books on the Shroud. But Stanford also concluded in the same review:

"I am inclined to give Ian Wilson the benefit of the doubt. As he points out a little too often, he is a trained historian (though the training turns out to be as a history undergraduate at Oxford). More important, there is his evident sincerity in an area where that quality is at a premium. In the course of writing The Turin Shroud, for instance, he became so close to his subject that he abandoned his lifelong atheism and became a Catholic. It is hard to imagine some of the young pretenders taking what they write that seriously." ("Ian Wilson: When mystery drowns history," The Independent, Peter Stanford, Saturday, 24 November 2001).

Wilson makes a living as a writer on controversial historical topics, for which he clearly takes great pains to research and tries to present the evidence honestly and factually. That he may be wrong on some of those topics, has no bearing on whether he is right (or wrong) about the Shroud.

A look at Wilson's back catalogue sheds little light on why he should be labelled a historian.

It is significant that Walters needs to "label" Wilson as not "a historian." That is another an ad hominem fallacious attempt to prevent readers taking seriously Wilson's arguments in favour of the Shroud's authenticity (see below on the "poisoning the well" fallacy). But as any fair-minded person, who has taken the time and effort to read through Wilson's books on the Shroud (as Walters hasn't-see below), they are models of well-researched works of history.

My favourites are The Turin Shroud: The Burial Cloth of Jesus Christ? (1979); The Evidence of the Shroud (1986); Holy Faces, Secret Places: An Amazing Quest for the Face of Jesus (1991); The Blood and the Shroud: New Evidence That the World's Most Sacred Relic Is Real (1998); The Turin Shroud: Unshrouding the Mystery (2000); and his latest shlockbuster, The Shroud : the 2000-Year-Old Mystery Solved (2010). Are you spotting a pattern here?

Note the derogatory term "shlockbuster" for Wilson's latest book, "The Shroud : the 2000-Year-Old Mystery Solved (2010)." which I am currently reading and finding very well-researched and well-written, with new facts which I was not aware of.

I thought it impressive that Walters had actually read all those books of Wilson's. But later in this same article, Walters lets it slip that: "I don't have time to read Wilson's books ..." So in what sense are they Walters' (sarcastic) "favourites"? It can only be that he is prejudiced against the titles of these books, or rather against the idea that the Shroud of Turin is the burial sheet of Jesus (see below on Walters' presumed Metaphysical Naturalism, the view that "nature is all there is," i.e. there is no supernatural).

Wilson adds, "The first rule of the professional historian is surely to familiarise himself with what he is writing about, thus avoiding the sort of `ignorance and misconceptions' that Walters says he so abhors":

"Surprising as it may seem, I share Guy Walters' frustrations at `the enormous amount of junk history around'. This therefore makes it all the more galling that Walters should have chosen me, Ian Wilson, as his number one target, lumping my books into this category without, on his own admission, having bothered to read a single word of them. The first rule of the professional historian is surely to familiarise himself with what he is writing about, thus avoiding the sort of `ignorance and misconceptions' that Walters says he so abhors. Yet Walters clearly saw no need to follow this rule when he rushed out his blog about me, condemning my standards as a professional author."(Wilson, Ibid.).

The "pattern" that Walters finds so reprehensible in Wilson's books he has listed, seems to be that Wilson is open to evidence of the supernatural, whereas Walters appears to be a Philosophical Naturalist, i.e. a believer that "nature is all there is" (i.e. there is no supernatural, including God):

"Metaphysical naturalism, (or ontological naturalism or philosophical naturalism) which focuses on ontology: This stance is concerned with existence: what does exist and what does not exist? Naturalism is the metaphysical position that "nature is all there is, and all basic truths are truths of nature." ("Naturalism (philosophy)," Wikipedia, 14 April 2010).

and so he has a closed mind on the existence of the supernatural in general and on the supernatural origin of the image on the Shroud, in particular.

Wilson has also written about stigmata, reincarnation, and yep, you guessed it, Nostradamus.

This is a form of ad hominem argument called "poisoning the well," i.e. "a logical fallacy where adverse information about a target is ... presented ... with the intention of discrediting ... everything that the target person is about to say" (my emphasis):

"Poisoning the well (or attempting to poison the well) is a logical fallacy where adverse information about a target is pre-emptively presented to an audience, with the intention of discrediting or ridiculing everything that the target person is about to say. Poisoning the well is a special case of argumentum ad hominem ..." ("Poisoning the well," Wikipedia,19 December 2009).

Walters attempts to discredit Wilson's argument in favour of the Shroud, by telling his readers that Wilson had "written about stigmata, reincarnation, and ... Nostradamus." But Sir Isaac Newton wrote commentaries "on the prophetic Books of Daniel and Revelation" and in fact "wrote more on religion than he did on natural science" (Wikipedia). Does that make his other writings on Gravity and Optics false? Cosmologist Sir Fred Hoyle wrote fictional works like A for Andromeda and The Black Cloud (Wikipedia). Does that make his other writings on Cosmology false?

Apart from it being irrelevant as to the truth or otherwise of the Shroud, Walters does not say what Wilson's conclusions were about those topics. I myself don't know and don't have the time or inclination to find out, but unlike Walters I would not find Wilson guilty by association, just because he had "written about" those topics.

Indeed, as Wilson points out, he is not an "adherent of every topic" that he writes about and in fact does not believe in "stigmata, reincarnation, and ... Nostradamus":

"Second, and compounding his ignorance, Walters has assumed that I must be a card-carrying adherent of every topic that I write about. Had he actually consulted the books he might have found this to be very far from the case. In my book on reincarnation (Mind out of Time? 1981), I debunked the then popular myth that hypnotic regression could lead back to past incarnations. In Stigmata I showed this phenomenon to have a psychological rather than any spiritual origination. In Nostradamus: The Evidence I expressly showed the falsity of Nostradamus' prophetic reputation." (Wilson, Ibid.).

It's clear that Wilson's "historical" enquiries are little more than excuses to peddle the type of bilge that appeals to those who believe in The Da Vinci Code.

This last is a falsehood, by which Walters discredits himself in his attempt to discredit Wilson and his writings, and ultimately the Shroud. There would be little correlation (if any) between "those who believe in The Da Vinci Code" and those who believe in the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin.

I don't have time to read Wilson's books, but it's clear from their reviews that his imagination easily outstrips that of Dan Brown.

This is truly an amazing admission. I had wondered whether Walters had really read all of Wilson's books on the Shroud (not to mention his other non-Shroud books). But here he answers my unspoken question. All he has done is read "reviews" of Wilson's books! Walters should be ashamed of himself, and so should the Daily Telegraph for allowing someone to write an article under their name, condemning Wilson's theories on the Shroud as "junk history," when he has never read first-hand from the original source what those theories actually are and the evidence which supports them.

For example, in Before the Flood (2001), Wilson speculates on the existence of Atlantis.

So what? Whether Atlantis existed or not, and whether Wilson believes it existed or not, is irrelevant as to whether the Shroud of Turin is the burial sheet of Jesus. This is just more "poisoning the well" by Walters.

But in fact, Wilson states that his "Before the Flood" did not speculate "on the existence of Atlantis" and that Wilson himself is not "a believer in Atlantis":

"Third, Walters is completely misinformed in supposing that Before the Flood speculated on the existence of Atlantis. I am no more a believer in Atlantis than Walters is." (Wilson, Ibid.).

But my favourite is The Blood and the Shroud, in which Wilson wonders whether the resurrection of Jesus took the form of a small thermonuclear reaction that corrupted the carbon-dating tests made on the Shroud.

Again, how can this book be Walters' "favourite" (even sarcastically) when by his own admission he has never "read Wilson's books"?

Wilson, in his response wrote:

"Likewise my The Blood and the Shroud did not argue for a `thermonuclear reaction' having corrupted the carbon-dating tests." (Wilson, Ibid. Typo corrected).

This surprised me, because I was aware that in Wilson's The Blood and the Shroud, in the context of "arguments for how the Shroud carbon dating might have been in error" Wilson presented an "argument, by some high-level scientists... that if there were anything thermonuclear to the circumstance by which the crucified body image was created on the Shroud, then this ... could have made the Shroud appear younger than its true age":

"But what if Dr Garza-Valdes is found to be wrong? Would that mean the end of all arguments for how the Shroud carbon dating might have been in error? Another argument, also advanced by some high-level scientists, has been that if there were anything thermonuclear to the circumstance by which the crucified body image was created on the Shroud, then this in itself, by adding to the cloth's low-level radioactivity levels, could have made the Shroud appear younger than its true age. A letter from Dr Thomas J. Phillips of Harvard University's High Energy Physics Laboratory, published in the very same issue of Nature which carried the formal report of the radiocarbon-dating findings, commented: `If the Shroud of Turin is in fact the burial-cloth of Christ ... then according to the Bible it was present at a unique physical event: the resurrection of a dead body. Unfortunately this event is not accessible to direct scientific scrutiny, but ... the body ... may have radiated neutrons, which would have irradiated the Shroud and changed some of the nuclei to different isotopes by neutron capture. In particular some carbon 14 would have been generated from carbon 13. If we assume that the Shroud is 1950 years old and that the neutrons were emitted thermally, then an integrated flux of 2 x 1016 neutron cm-2 would have converted enough carbon 13 to carbon 14 to give an apparent carbon-dated age of 670 years [i.e. fourteenth century].' [Phillips, T.J., "Shroud Irradiated With Neutrons?," Nature, Vol. 337, 16 February, 1989, p.594]" (Wilson, I., 1998, "The Blood and the Shroud: New Evidence that the World's Most Sacred Relic is Real," Simon & Schuster: New York NY, pp.232-233).

But on reading more carefully, I found on the next page that Wilson makes it clear that he is not himself actually arguing for that hypothesis:

"The great difficulty in such a hypothesis, whether it comes from me or from a trained scientist, is that it demands that 2000 years ago something far beyond the normal order happened to the body of Jesus as it lay in apparent death. That something of this kind indeed happened has of course been claimed by Christian believers throughout those 2000 years. But the honest agnostic can understandably only throw up his hands in horror at what he must instinctively reject as scientific heresy, calling, as it does, for the occurrence of a 'miracle'. As Dr Robert Hedges of the Oxford radiocarbon-dating laboratory commented, back in 1989, on Dr Thomas Phillips's arguments: `If a supernatural explanation is to be proposed, it seems pointless to make any scientific measurement on the Shroud at all.' [Robert Hedges, Letter to the Editor, Nature, 16 February 1989.]." (Wilson, 1998, p.234).

This is supported by the fact that in his latest book, "The Shroud : the 2000-Year-Old Mystery Solved" (2010), in his Chapter 7, "What's in a Date?" regarding the 1988 radiocarbon dating of the Shroud as "between 1260 and 1390" (p.84), as far as I can see, Wilson does not even mention the "thermonuclear" argument.

You couldn't make it up. Neither could I. But Mr Wilson can.

If Walters had actually read Wilson's book, he would have realised that Wilson did not "make it up" but in fact a physicist, "Dr Thomas J. Phillips of Harvard University's High Energy Physics Laboratory" in a letter published in Nature, arguably the world's leading scientific journal, made the argument and Wilson was merely reporting what he wrote.

Actually Walters is the one who is making it up. He presents himself as a critic of Ian Wilson's theories on the Shroud of Turin, but on his own admission he has never "read Wilson's books" but only "reviews" of them. So it is Guy Walters who is here writing "junk," not Ian Wilson!

As Wilson concluded his response to Walters' article, "Mr.Walters has acted recklessly and in complete ignorance - thereby abandoning his own professed historical standards" (my emphasis):

"Professing Christianity these days does not court popularity, and some of the subjects that I write about are undeniably controversial. However if Mr. Walters actually deigned to read my latest book The Shroud, published last month by Bantam Press, he would see that, although it is directed to the general reader, I maintain the critical standards appropriate to a trained historian. The extensive historical references that I have cited are not the garbage sources that typify true `junk history'. They are solid academic publications in every instance. Mr.Walters has acted recklessly and in complete ignorance - thereby abandoning his own professed historical standards." (Wilson, Ibid.).

PS: It is significant that the above article by Walters, and Wilson's response to it, are no longer at the end of the above links to them and cannot be found in searches of the site. It therefore appears that the Daily Telegraph has retracted Walters' article as sub-standard and possibly even defamatory of Wilson!

Posted: 17 April 2010. Updated: 5 August 2018.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

New dating technique could establish age of the Turin Shroud

This is an article that I was commenting on at Dan Porter's Shroud of Turin Blog, when I decided to post it with my comments here on my own blog! My comments are bold to distinguish my words from the article's.

[Above (click to enlarge): Diagram including Texas A&M's plasma chamber: Tabacaru, G., et al., "The Light Ion Guide CB-ECRIS Project at the Texas A&M University Cyclotron Institute," Proceedings of ECRIS08, pp.194-197, p.195. Note the plasma chamber's very small size.]

"New dating technique could establish age of the Turin Shroud,", Richard Alleyne, Science Correspondent, 24 Mar 2010 ... The Turin Shroud could finally be dated accurately thanks to new technique that determines the age of ancient artefacts without damaging them, claim scientists. This tacitly admits that the Shroud was not "accurately dated" in 1988 (see further below)!

See also the same story at: "Could new test settle Shroud of Turin debate?," Discovery News, March 24, 2010; "Researchers Introduce `Non-Destructive' Carbon Dating" Scientific Blogging, March 23rd 2010; "New Method Could Revolutionize Dating of Ancient Treasures," ScienceDaily, March 23, 2010 & "Method would `revolutionize' dating of ancient treasures," World Science, March 23, 2010.

The researchers said the new method was so safe it could allow scientific analysis of hundreds of artefacts that until now were off limits because museums and private collectors did not want the objects damaged. For those who are new to the Shroud and/or radiocarbon-dating, a major limiting factor in radiocarbon-dating the Shroud of Turin, or any priceless artifact, is that the sample must be reduced to carbon by burning it, which totally destroys that part of the artifact (see below).

"This technique stands to revolutionise radiocarbon dating," said Dr Marvin Rowe,

[Right: Dr. Marvin Rowe: Professor Emeritus, Texas A&M University.]

who led the research team at the Texas A&M University. It expands the possibility for analysing extensive museum collections that have previously been off limits because of their rarity or intrinsic value and the destructive nature of the current method of radiocarbon dating. "In theory, it could even be used to date the Shroud of Turin." This last is highly significant coming from a senior Professor in the field of radiocarbon-dating archaeological artifacts, as Dr Rowe is. That is because it is a tacit admission by him of what is probably now widely accepted in the radiocarbon-dating community, that the 1988 carbon-14 dating of the Shroud as "AD 1260-1390 ... mediaeval":

"The results of radiocarbon measurements at Arizona, Oxford and Zurich yield a calibrated calendar age range with at least 95% confidence for the linen of the Shroud of Turin of AD 1260 - 1390 (rounded down/up to nearest 10 yr). These results therefore provide conclusive evidence that the linen of the Shroud of Turin is mediaeval." (Damon, P.E., et al., "Radiocarbon Dating of the Shroud of Turin," Nature, Vol. 337, 16 February, 1989, pp.611-615, p.614).

was flawed, otherwise why bother proposing to radiocarbon-date the Shroud again?

Traditional carbon dating involves removing and burning small samples of the object. Scientists remove a small sample from an object, such as a cloth or bone fragment. Then they treat the sample with a strong acid and a strong base and finally burn the sample in a small glass chamber to produce carbon dioxide gas to analyse its C-14 content. Although it sometimes requires taking minute samples of an object, even that damage may be unacceptable for some artefacts. The Shroud could still be radiocarbon-dated conventionally by taking tiny samples of a few threads each from several different inconspicuous areas (e.g. under the side-strip's seam, at the sheet's ends and sides, etc) with no significant visual loss or risk (see next) to the Shroud itself. In fact, even the charred areas from the 1532 fire, that were removed in the 2002 restoration and have been kept, could be carbon-dated, with no loss to the Shroud, whatsoever:

"A significant amount of charred cellulose was removed during a restoration of the shroud in 2002. Material from different scorch locations across the shroud was saved in separate containers. The elemental carbon could be completely cleaned in concentrated nitric acid, thus removing all traces of foreign fibers, sebum from repeated handling, and adsorbed thymol from an unfortunate procedure to sterilize the shroud's reliquary in 1988. In addition, the separate samples would give a `cluster' of dates, always a desirable procedure in archaeology. A new radiocarbon analysis should be done on the charred material retained from the 2002 restoration." (Rogers, R.N., 2005, "Studies on the radiocarbon sample from the shroud of turin," Thermochimica Acta, 425, pp.189–194, pp.193–194).

The new method does not involve removing a sample of the object. Scientists place an entire artefact in a special chamber with a plasma, an electrically charged gas similar to gases used in

[Above (click to enlarge): University of Arizona's similar plasma oxidation chamber for radiocarbon-dating: Jones, K.B., et al., "A new plasma oxidation apparatus for radiocarbon dating," University of Arizona, October 1, 2005]

big-screen plasma television displays. The gas slowly and gently oxidises the surface of the object to produce carbon dioxide for C-14 analysis without damaging the surface, he said. As I commented on Dan Porter's blog (with corrections):

"I cannot imagine that the Roman Catholic Church would ever allow the entire Shroud to be placed in a chamber of gas which is then electrically charged up to a plasma state. Nor should us Shroudies want them to take the risk, if there was even the slightest chance that something could go wrong and the Shroud be destroyed or permanently changed (e.g. the image disappear into the background). I personally do not want to gain a 1st century radiocarbon dating of the Shroud but lose it in the process."


"... there is effectively zero probability that the Pope would allow the whole Shroud to be put in a chamber of gas which was then electrically charged up to a plasma state."

This was confirmed by what I later read, "it would take a significant amount of data to convince museum directors, art conservators and ... the Vatican that the ... method ... causes no damage":

".... Rowe and his colleagues ... conceded, however, that it would take a significant amount of data to convince museum directors, art conservators and possibly the Vatican that the non-invasive method indeed causes no damage." (Lorenzi, R., "Could new test settle Shroud of Turin debate?," Discovery News, March 24, 2010).

The problem is, as I commented above, there would always be a possibility of something going wrong, and the artifact being damaged or destroyed. I predict that few (if any) museum directors (let alone the Vatican) would consider that the risk, no matter how small, of losing one of their priceless artifacts, is worth knowing more precisely how old it is.

Anyway, having now seen how small the plasma chambers are in the above diagram of Texas A&M's and photos of the University of Arizona's, and reading another article on this "small ivory figurine called the `Venus of Brassempouy'" which "is small enough to fit into the chamber used for analysis" and that, "The chamber" would have to "be sized to accommodate large objects, such as ... the Shroud of Turin":

"The chamber could be sized to accommodate large objects, such as works of art and even the Shroud of Turin, which some believe to be the burial cloth of Jesus Christ, Rowe said. He acknowledged, however, that it would take a significant amount of data to convince museum directors, art conservators, and others that the new method causes no damage to such priceless objects The scientists are currently refining the technique. Rowe hopes to use it, for instance, to analyze objects such as a small ivory figurine called the `Venus of Brassempouy,' thought to be about 25,000 years old and one of the earliest known depictions of a human face. The figurine is small enough to fit into the chamber used for analysis." ("New Method Could Revolutionize Dating of Ancient Treasures," ScienceDaily, March 23, 2010)

I realised that it is not currently possible to date the Shroud using this method, and it remains to be seen if it ever will be.

Dr Rowe and his colleagues used the technique to analyse the ages of about 20

[Right: Venus of Brassempouy: Wikipedia, 24 March 2010. Note this figurine's tiny size: "She is 3.65 cm high, 2.2 cm deep and 1.9 cm wide" or 1.44 x 0.87 x 0.75 inches.]

different organic substances, including wood, charcoal, leather, rabbit hair, a bone with mummified flesh attached, and a 1,350-year-old Egyptian weaving. The results match those of conventional carbon dating techniques, they say. The chamber could be sized to accommodate large objects, such as works of art and even the Shroud of Turin, which some believe to be the burial cloth of Jesus Christ, Dr Rowe said. Again, why would Dr Rowe even bother to date "the Shroud of Turin" by this method if the 1988 radiocarbon dating had provided "conclusive evidence that the linen of the Shroud of Turin is mediaeval"? Presumably he knows it didn't.

The origins of the shroud and its image are the subject of intense debate among scientists, theologians, historians and researchers. Some contend that the shroud is the cloth placed on the body of Jesus Christ at the time of his burial, and that the face image is the Holy Face of Jesus. The evidence is overwhelming that the Shroud of Turin is the burial sheet of Jesus!

Others contend that the artefact postdates the Crucifixion of Jesus by more than a millennium. They are simply wrong. The only evidence that the Shroud "postdates the Crucifixion of Jesus by more than a millennium" is the 1988 radiocarbon-dating and that has been found to be wrong because what was dated was a medieval patch, not the Shroud itself:

"Radiocarbon 14 dating of the Shroud of Turin ... Once generally accepted by the scientific community by those who consider the shroud to be inauthentic, and by some members of the Catholic Church, these results have since been questioned in peer-reviewed journals by Raymond Rogers in Thermochimica Acta and by M.Sue Benford and Joseph G. Marino in Chemistry Today. Criticisms have been raised about aspects of the study as doubts were raised regarding the original nature of the sample that was taken for testing, not the quality of the radiocarbon testing itself." ("Shroud of Turin: Radiocarbon dating," Wikipedia, 31 March 2010. Footnotes omitted).

Moreover, a thread from the Shroud itself has been radiocarbon-dated at "about AD 200" (my emphasis)!:

"A very interesting finding is that a single weft thread has been extracted at about the midway level of where the Raes sample was removed, beginning about 1 cm medial to the rolled seam that reattached the Shroud to the backing cloth. The space of the missing thread appears to be about 8 cm in length. We do not know the history of this particular thread, but Dr. Alan Adler had a thread about 8 cm in length that came from the Shroud that he acquired in the early 1980s from an unidentified source. He detected what he referred to as starch on one end of this thread. He then had a very unofficial and admittedly inadequate radiocarbon dating done on each end of this thread in 1983. Reportedly, the starched end tested about AD 1000 and the other end of the same thread tested about AD 200. At a minimum, this would indicate that carbon dating the Shroud might be very technically problematic. Assuming that the thread that Dr. Adler had might have been the one that had been extracted at this site, we may have a highly significant, even if inadequate, finding, since the lateral 1 to 2 cm of this thread would have been in the continuation of the area from which the 1988 specimen was extracted. If this scenario is correct, we may not only have evidence that the 1988 sample-extraction-area is abnormal, but we may also have a much more accurate dating of the body of the Shroud, namely, in the range of AD 200." (Whanger A.D. & Whanger, M., 2005, "Excerpt from Radiological Aspects of the Shroud of Turin," Council for Study of the Shroud of Turin: Durham NC, pp.1-15, p.5).

[Left: Missing 8 cm thread near where the Raes' sample was taken, which is presum- ably the 8 cm thread that the late Dr. Alan Adler had privately carbon-dated in 1983, and which returned a date at one end of AD 1000 and at the other end AD 200: Figure 19 in Whanger & Whanger, 2005, "Excerpt from Radiological Aspects of the Shroud of Turin," p.15.]

And since contamination by newer carbon-14 (e.g. by human handling, microbe and fungal invasion, smoke, etc) makes an artifact's radiocarbon age appear more recent than it actually is, a radiocarbon dating of AD 200 is consistent with the linen of the Shroud dating from the time of Jesus!

Posted 1 April 2010. Updated 19 December 2023