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Friday, April 12, 2013

Catholics, Atheists, Censorship and the Shroud of Turin: Who Censored Whom?

It's a popular lie:
Christians are stupid people who censor truth;
scientists are all atheists and they all encourage discovery.
Yves Delage, who argued for the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin -- and who was censored by atheist scientists. Source

It always drives me a little crazy when the popular press repeats this old misconception about the Shroud of Turin: "irrational, devout Catholics believe the Shroud was the burial cloth of Jesus, but scientists and other rational people have proven it to be a forgery."

I'm Catholic and I know that most Catholics have either never heard of the Shroud of Turin or are only vaguely aware of its existence and don't think or care about it much.

Scientists are the ones who have obsessed on the Shroud, because its unique features make it a mind boggling puzzle worthy of their obsession.

I'm reading Thomas de Wesselow's "The Sign: The Shroud of Turin and the Secret of the Resurrection." I'm only just beginning the book. I think de Wesselow is an atheist who believes that the Shroud is the genuine burial cloth of Jesus, and I think he plans to use its genuineness to debunk Christianity. But I haven't gotten that far into the book yet.

I just wanted to report on this detail I wasn't aware of till reading this book.

The Shroud was a more or less forgotten, local phenomenon until Italian photographer Secondo Pia photographed the Shroud in 1898. Pia's photographs revealed what most today think of as the Shroud image. Seen with the naked eye, the Shroud is a vaguely smudged piece of linen. It's only the photographic negative that presents the excruciatingly detailed, positive image of a crucified man. Pia's 1898 photographic negative caused a sensation. It is that photograph that has inspired subsequent Shroud scholarship.

Some were ready to declare the Shroud genuine. Contrary to popular stereotypes of stupid, unquestioning Christians who suppress information and brave, questioning scientists, according to de Wesselow, the prominent voice arguing against the Shroud's authenticity was a Catholic cleric. The prominent voice arguing for the Shroud's authenticity was an agnostic scientist. The church published the cleric's protestations, while atheist scientists suppressed the agnostic scientist's work!

De Wesselow writes, "Surprisingly, the chief spokesman for the opposition came from the Catholic Church. Canon Ulysse Chevalier wrote a series of pamphlets on the Shroud …Chevalier concluded that the Shroud could not be a genuine relic and that it must have been 'cunningly painted'…this was the conclusion that the academic establishment desired, and Chevalier was rewarded with a gold medal by the Academie des Inscriptions et Belles-lettres. To this day Chevalier's opinions underpin the presumption that the Shroud is a fake."

Who came to the defense of the Shroud? A scientist and an agnostic.

"One man was not so easily persuaded. Yves Delage was a distinguished scientist at the Sorbonne, a zoologist and a biologist with a particular interest in the topic of evolution. He was an avowed agnostic, both before and after his involvement with the Shroud. Viewing the image as an experienced anatomist, he was impressed by its extraordinarily lifelike quality. In 1900, he showed Pia's photographs to Paul Vignon, who immediately embarked on a scientific investigation of the image…in 1902 the Sorbonne professor presented a paper on the Shroud to the French Academy of Sciences in Paris, in which he argued that its image was medically accurate, and that it could not be a painting. He concluded, on scientific and historical grounds, that the relic was probably authentic, that it was indeed the winding sheet of Jesus.

Although Delage made it clear that he did not regard Jesus as the resurrected Son of God, his paper upset the atheists members of the Academy, who prevented its publication. This act of scientific censorship marks the beginning of the academic refusal even to discuss the origin of the Shroud." Delage wrote a letter protesting the atheists' censorship of his work. "I consider Christ as a historical personage and I do not see why anyone should be scandalized that there exists a material trace of his existence."

1 comment:

  1. Thurston Davis, SJ, and Canon Chevalier were against the authenticity of the Holy Shroud, I suppose, because they saw the idea is farfetched. Unfortunately, they were not honest about the matter. Brother Bruno Bonnet-Eymard called them liars and forgers. I explain why the Holy Shroud is not authentic but is a reason to believe in Jesus at: