The Shroud of Turin: a conceptual case study

The negative of the head-image on the Shroud

The negative of the head-image

Like many less fascinating phenomena, the Shroud of Turin has spawned an entire scientific and literary industry. Some believers are convinced it is the burial cloth of Jesus Christ; many books and websites advocate that belief. And of course there are “skeptical” books and websites keenly debunking the Shroud. Despite repeated efforts to expose the Shroud as a clever medieval forgery, the controversy will not go away.

Oxford University has agreed to reopen research after some persuasive arguments that a 1988 radiocarbon dating, supposedly putting the Shroud’s age at somewhere in the 14th century AD, is questionable. The Vatican and the Archdiocese of Turin plan to display the Shroud again publicly in 2010, presumably after more scientific examination. And a few weeks ago, Ohio State University hosted a conference conducted by some of the strongest advocates of the Shroud’s authenticity.

But the question for philosophers to consider here is just what it would mean to call the Shroud “authentic.” I think there’s an interesting answer to that question.

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