apologetics

The Shroud of Turin: An Apologetics Sinkhole?

I have noticed an increasing amount of interest in some apologetics circles about the Shroud of Turin. When I was in graduate school, there was a group of people studying apologetics I deemed “The Shroud Crowd” due to their especial interest in the topic. Increasingly, I have seen articles getting shared about the supposed authenticity of the Shroud of Turin. For those unfamiliar, the Shroud of Turin [wiki link] is alleged to be the burial shroud in which Jesus was wrapped or covered after the crucifixion. Yes, the actual thing. One could see why this would be of great apologetic interest if it could be shown to be genuine.

I’ve found is that apologetic arguments in favor of the authenticity of the Shroud often fall victim to some of the issues I’ve found in apologetics more broadly. One of these is the tendency to make major claims instead of modest ones. Apologists tend toward maximal conclusions when minimal ones might be easier to establish based upon argument. But because maximal conclusions are more exciting and easily seen as relevant, apologists tend to focus on those rather than more minimalistic arguments. For the specific scenario of the Shroud, I have seen multiple videos of apologists arguing for its authenticity explicitly stating that “It is the true burial Shroud of Christ” without any kind of hedging or contextualizing of that claim. Such a bold claim needs a massive amount of evidential support to carry the day. A more modest claim regarding the Shroud might be more defensible[1]. By claiming not only that this is a burial shroud of someone in the first century, or someone who was crucified, or some other more modest claim, the apologist is taking on the burden of proof a number of degrees of certainty higher. After all, supposing the Shroud is from the first century and is from Palestine and is an actual burial shroud of someone who was crucified. None of that yet makes it the burial shroud or cloth of Jesus Christ!

Now, the apologists arguing in favor of that latter claim would likely counter by saying the miraculous nature of the image itself and how it was formed point to it being the shroud of Christ, but my point is that that claim itself needs a much more significant defense than a mere claim that it is a burial shroud of a crucified person. But of course that more modest claim doesn’t have the theological and apologetic import that making it the shroud of Christ would provide. It would be much less interesting if it were just an anonymous burial covering of a crucified man from the first century[2]. And for the apologist, the apologetic value of the shroud would be greatly undermined if it weren’t directly pointing at Christ.[3]

Another common mistake apologists make is to throw every possible argument at a question instead of focusing on the best arguments. Videos, lectures, and presentations I’ve watched about the Shroud of Turin are generally excellent examples of this very problem. Rather than focusing upon a select few extremely powerful evidences–or at least developing one or two arguments more fully–the apologist throws every possibly related argument in favor of their position out there. The seeming conclusion is then sometimes that this constitutes a great deal of evidence for the apologist’s claim. But simply making arguments is not the same as finding evidence. Conflating argument and evidence is a major problem in apologetics generally. Additionally, a bunch of speculative phrases or hypothetical scenarios thrown out alongside a few pieces of actually compelling arguments doesn’t bolster the strength of the latter, but can rather distract or even undermine them. Examples of this very situation regarding arguments related to the Shroud of Turin will be a primary focus of my future post(s) on this topic.

Apologists arguing for the authenticity of the Shroud also tend to make a number of seemingly outlandish claims related to it. For example, more than once I’ve seen arguments made that the Shroud’s image could only have been made by radiation coming from a body being miraculously resuscitated. While it is perfectly acceptable to hold such a belief, it is to me apparent that we can’t do much to evaluate such a claim. After all, how are we even supposed to begin testing it? We have no way to resuscitate a dead body, and no way to induce a miracle, so a claim that that is exactly the one and only possible explanation is either unable to be grounded in reality or may only be held as a pillar of faith. That’s fine, but claims like this are being presented at times as if they are themselves evidence!

So, where are we going from here? My plan is to look at a few apologetics videos related to the Shroud of Turin and analyze the arguments therein. I’ll be using the video(s) to show how apologists are arguing in favor of its authenticity and then offering my own counters to and problems found with several of these arguments.

I am by no means an expert in several of the related topics. I take some comfort in the fact that, so far as I have been able to determine, those apologists making arguments in favor of the Shroud are also people without expertise in any related field (eg. radiometric dating). That said, I want to make it clear that I’m not claiming any special authority in this area. I’m just an interested observer who believes there are severe problems in many of the most popular arguments in favor of the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin. I also want to be clear that I am a faithful Christian. It would certainly be wonderful if we could have such a wonderful piece of evidence for the resurrection, but I do not want to have people staking their belief in Christianity on what I believe are poorly constructed arguments.

[1] I say “might be more defensible” because while it would be easier to defend a more modest claim, I’m not convinced the endeavor would be worthwhile, nor am I convinced that a more modest claim could be carried on the evidence.

[2] Though, to be fair, any extant burial shroud from the first century of anyone, let alone someone who was crucified, would be of major archaeological interest, I would assume.

[3] And again, in this case, a more modest claim would still have apologetic value. After all, such an extant shroud could tell us a lot about how crucifixion occurred, the way it impacted the body, etc., etc., all of which would have apologetic import to some degree.

Links

What’s Wrong with Apologetics? – I raise a number of pitfalls apologists ought to avoid.

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.

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