Dawkins fails to respond to £20,000 challenge to explain the Shroud Image – 3 weeks and counting

David Rolfe, founder of the website Shroud enigma, has challenged Prof. Richard Dawkins to scientifically explain the image on the Shroud of Turin, and how it was created. If Prof. Dawkins succeeds in offering a provable scientific explanation for the creation of the image on the Shroud the Shroud enigma site will donate £20,000 to The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.

David Rolfe’s challenge to Prof. Dawkins’ categorical statement:

“The new ‘evidence’ amounts to yet another ‘Argument from Personal Incredulity’: the Italian scientists cannot understand how it could have been faked. By contrast, the carbon-14 evidence that the shroud’s linen is much too young to be the shroud of Jesus is rock solid. Three independent labs, in Arizona, Zurich and Oxford, were each given four samples, making 12 datings in all”.

David Rolfe issued the following challenge in an Open Letter to Richard Dawkins:

’29th March 2012

Dear Richard Dawkins

It is really not sufficient to dismiss the Shroud, as you do, on the basis of a C14 test from a single and badly selected sample area. Are you really saying that C14 has never made a mistake? Archaeologists frequently go back to retest something when other data conflicts. That has been impossible with the Shroud.

In your Shroud blog you argue, rightly in my view, that it is not enough for Christian apologists to weigh faith heavier than facts. After all, Christianity is based on a historical figure. The Shroud of Turin is a much-studied tangible object and it is a very significant fact that its unique image – so far – remains unfathomable. But that could be about to change if you, with the weight of your formidable foundation behind you, choose to accept this challenge.

When Professor Hall, Head of the Oxford Radio Carbon Unit announced the C14 result he was asked for his explanation for the Shroud. He said: “Someone just got a bit of linen, faked it up and flogged it”. This sounded a bit glib at the time and now, over twenty years on, it is beginning to sound a little hollow. No one has yet been able to show how it might have been “faked up”.
Thanks to the work of Professor Fanti it is now possible to take a scientific approach to such a task. He describes the criteria that must be satisfied to recreate it and it is published in a peer reviewed scientific journal.

Accepting this challenge would appear to be consistent with your foundation’s mission. Does it not represent a wonderful educational opportunity to investigate what some have suggested could only have been the work of a Leonardo Da Vinci? To make the decision easier for you we will donate the £20,000 to your foundation if you simply accept the challenge and follow it through to some kind of conclusion. The public can make up their own minds about the result.*

The challenge then, if you choose to accept it, is to explain how the Shroud and its image might have come into existence. If you cannot pin it down then, in all conscience, you should, at least, give it the appropriate respect as an enigma. If you can explain it then this site’s title becomes a misnomer and you will have solved a great mystery.Everyone would like to see this matter resolved. Could you be the one to do it?

With all good wishes

David Rolfe

* This £20,000 donation is not made possible because championing the possible authenticity of the Shroud is well funded or lucrative operation – far from it – but because your acceptance would trigger a commission for a documentary along the lines of our 2008 BBC2 film with Rageh Omaar. If you wish, you could nominate an executive producer.

Protect the Pope comment: To meet this challenge Prof. Dawkins would have to explain a number of characteristics of the image on the Shroud that have so far eluded scientists, such as:

  • The perfect anatomical details as testified by pathologists.
  • The authentic historical details of a 1st century Roman crucifixion as testified by historians.
  • The 3 dimensional information contained in the image as testified by experts in computer image analysis.

Three weeks into the challenge and nothing has been heard from Prof. Richard Dawkins.


12 comments to Dawkins fails to respond to £20,000 challenge to explain the Shroud Image – 3 weeks and counting

  • I am sorry but I think this is a rather rash and even silly challenge. The Holy Shroud of Turin MAY be genuine. It is equally true, however, that its documented history has not yet been securely proved beyond the thirteenth century. Anyone who has heard Mr Dawkins speak will be aware of at least one scientist’s propensity for talking tosh. I would suggest that the same characteristic can be found among some of the Shroud’s advocates. What, for instance, does a statement like “the 3 dimensional information contained in the image” actually mean in the real world?
    Anyone discussing the Holy Shroud of Turin, I would suggest, needs to be aware of certain basic facts. Firstly, while the actual process (in the technical sense) by which the image was produced is unknown the anatomical accuracy would have posed few problems to a competent thirteenth century artist. Sensationalist claims about Leonardo da Vinci merely betray the ignorance of those making them. Secondly claims made about authentic correspondence with 1st century crucifixion are hard to verify owing to both the lack of authentic first century comparative material on the one hand and the “low resolution” quality of the Shroud image on the other.
    The truth of the Catholic Faith is poorly served by those who would make it subject to the presumed authenticity of a relic of incomplete provenance and serious scientific doubt.

    • Damian

      My understanding is that unlike images created through painting or bas relief, the intensity of the color of the image has a length width and height value, hence 3D . Which when quantified and displayed visually creates a coherent 3d image. Other images without this extra information may look good in 2d but fail to maintain the image as a 3d object.
      One explanation is a massive energy release from the body surface, hence the differences in intensity depending on whether the cloth was touching the skin or further away.
      Hard to be created in the 21st C let alone 800 years earlier.

      • Thank you for your attempt to explain but, speaking as a practising artist, it still sounds like so much jargon. To describe as “information” what is in fact the content of an INTERPRETATION seems to me to be a case of computer age scientists falling into a similar error to that of the late 19th and early 20th century (photographic age) viewers of the first photographs of the Shroud. These spoke of the Shroud image as a “photographic negative”. It is no such thing.

        Similarly, explanations involving “a massive energy release from the body surface” are, I suggest, the kind of “planet Zarg speak” scientists working in a bubble are likely to produce. My impression here is that Shroud research is unavoidably remote from the object itself, on the one hand and, unfortunately, apart from the mainstream scientific world, on the other. The cause of truth is poorly served by the promotion of such wild speculations.

        • Damian

          When you can quantify i.e. measure the degree and extent of fibre discolouration this becomes numerical information. Since science is very good at objectively quantifying energy and energetic effects, it is by no means unrealistic to talk of the energy levels required to produce the image on the fibres. If you read the papers you will see that they have very thoroughly explored mechanisms that could be used to obtain a shroud like image. These are scientists specialised in image analysis within the scientific community and by no means working in isolation.

  • He’s a biologist – not his field.
    If you want someone who knows what they’re talking about it to analyse it why dont you try the textiles department of the V&A.
    I’m sure they could do with £20,000

    • Teresa

      In that case he should refrain from commenting!

      • Well, if you want my opinion as a physicist the C14 evidence shows it conclusively to be a fake. Everything about it is fake. It also looks like a fake. One is reminded of Baldrick’s famous quote in “the Black Adder” that he thought fingers of Christ only came in packs of 10. Even if you re-carbon dated another sample I doubt you’d find it was more than 100 years older than originally purported. Why dont you save your £20,000 and carbon date the Sudarium of Oviedo which might actually be genuine. Why do you all need it to be real anyway? So much for happy are those who do not see but believe.

  • Mark Thorne

    If the C14 tests were performed on a peripheral area of the cloth that was “badly selected”, which purportedly may date differently from that portion of the cloth which carries the image of Christ, then the onus is on the Vatican to allow a portion of cloth that bears the image to be disrupted for further C14 testing if any serious progress in this exploration can be made. Of course, it is perfectly understandable why the Vatican would not permit this, and I am sceptical about most TV, but the possibility seems to exist that the cloth bearing the image of Christ is different from that at the outer edges courtesy of the different patterning of the stitch. Prof. Dawkins is right when he says that the results of the radiocarbon dating from the samples, analysed independently by three different laboratories, cannot be held in any serious doubt. I am afraid that I don’t think that any meaningful progress can be made in Shroud research unless the issue of the C14 dating is resolved – in spite of the obviously fascinating microscopic features of the Shroud, which have so far eluded a rational explanation in spite of 21st Century investigative techniques.

  • biology101

    Any sincere scientist will absolutely agree that there are problems with carbon dating. Atheist scientist, Catholic scientists, Hindu scientists; everyone who
    has sincerely and soundly studied carbon dating knows there are problems with the process. That it is used as a “proof” has more to do with people
    worshipping the religion of science, than with using the Scientific Method to come to an agreed upon “fact”. Sadly though, even with all the inconsistencies
    of carbon dating, if the dating somehow matched the shroud, people would take it as “evidence”. Using carbon dating is more of a shot in the dark.
    Either way, it *proves* NOTHING.

  • Jim P

    Rolfe really doesn’t understand the burden of proof does he?

  • Bill McGlynn

    There was complete grief over the shroud of the burial cloth after the fire. The clergy had very much wonder how to make it look better. The shroud must have been with a corner that was not completely not in a square corner. With the severe damage from the fire, there was a very careful operation of making the shroud as best as they could at the corner.

  • Sorry to disillusion you, but the idea that the Shroud image uniquely contains encoded 3D information is complete tosh. Anyone willing to bash off a cartoon-like sketch of a subject that emphasises the prominent features – the nose, chin, brow ridge etc, and willing to spend a little time with ImageJ software, as I have, can easily convert 2D to 3D-like images. What’s more, if done with charcoal shading – or scorching onto paper or linen, the end result can have that soft and spooky luminous character that one associates with the light/dark reversed Shroud image.

    see my most recent posting

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