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01 Flat Earth Society

Richard Dawkins on the Shroud

In September of 2009, Richard Dawkins, in his new book, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, seemed to trip over many of these points, directly or by implication:

[Carbon dating] has revolutionized archaeological dating. The most celebrated example is the Shroud of Turin. Since this notorious piece of cloth seems mysteriously to have imprinted on it the image of a bearded crucified man, many people hoped it might hail from the time of Jesus. It turns up in the historical record in the mid-fourteenth century in France, and nobody knows where it was before that. It has been housed in Turin since 1578, under the custody of the Vatican since 1983. When mass spectrometry made it possible to date a tine sample of the shroud, rather than the substantial swathes that would have been needed before, the Vatican allowed a small strip to be cut off. The strip was divided in three parts and sent to three leading laboratories specializing in carbon dating, in Oxford, Arizona and Zurich. Working under conditions of scrupulous independence—not comparing notes—the three laboratories reported their verdicts on the date when the flax from which the cloth had been woven died. Oxford said ad 1200, Arizona 1304 and Zurich 1274. These dates are all—within normal margins of error—compatible with each other and with the date in the 1350s at which the shroud is first mentioned in history. The dating of the shroud remains controversial, but not for reasons that cast doubt on the carbon-dating technique itself. For example, the carbon in the shroud might have been contaminated by a fire, which is known to have occurred in 1532. I won’t pursue the matter further, because the shroud is of historical, not evolutionary, interest. It is a nice example, however, to illustrate the method, and the fact that, unlike dendrochronology, it is not accurate to the nearest year, only to the nearest century or so. [Emphasis mine]

Dawkins is either clueless or selective. One wonders if he even checked Wikipedia. On the matter of the historical record he implies that the absence of evidence is itself evidence or as Donald Rumsfeld famously put it, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” He was trying to justify his belief that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

 

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