Thursday, February 03, 2005

Ockham's razor

A reader asks by e-mail why I have not taken note here of the new chemical tests that "prove" the Shroud of Turin, the supposed burial cloth of Jesus, is between 1300 and 3000 years old.

The answer is very simple. I prefer to wait until I read the original scientific paper, and analyses of the paper's content by knowledgeable chemists.

It would, of course, be thrilling if the Shroud turned out to be 2000 years old. That any such artifact survived intact so long would be astonishing and wonderful.

In the meantime, an objective observer should assume that the Shroud is a 14th-century religious icon or outright fraud. That is when the Shroud first appears in the historical record, and that is when carbon-dating assigns its origin. It was a time when religious icons were commonly manufactured or assumed. Why evoke miracles when a perfectly natural explanation is more plausible?

Nearly 400 years ago, Francis Bacon wrote: "What a man would like to be true, he preferentially believes." This is the danger that lurks in every search for truth.

Added Note: Tom points out that Rogers' paper is available here. (PDF file) Thanks, Tom.