The Shroud of Turin will be the centre of attention for a conference in Ancaster, Ont., where speakers will explore the scientific and faith aspects of what many believe is the burial cloth of Jesus, seen here in Turin, Italy. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Conference aims to push the boundaries of faith and science in study of the Shroud of Turin

By 
  • August 6, 2019

In R. Gary Chiang’s mind there is no argument over the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin — science has already proven the existence of the supernatural.

“Science has already solved the mystery, but people will not accept the answer,” said Chiang, a professor at Redeemer College, a Christian university in Ancaster, Ont., where he pursues research and teaching from a Christian perspective as well as insect physiology.

Chiang is a leading expert on faith and science as it applies to the Shroud of Turin and volunteers as director of Redeemer’s Arthur Custance Centre for Science and Christianity. The centre is hosting STaTS, the Science, Theology and the Turin Shroud conference Aug. 14-17. It will bring together dozens of presenters whose work will be summarized and evaluated with an eye to encourage continual studies on the Shroud of Turin.

The Shroud of Turin is believed to be the actual burial cloth of Jesus and has been preserved since the late 16th century at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Turin, Italy. Measuring 4.3 metres long by 1.1 metres wide, it seems to portray faint images of the body of a man with images that correspond to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus, including thorn marks on the head and lacerations on the back. Attempts to carbon date the material in 1988 dated the shroud to between 1260 and 1390, but Chiang said “that evidence has long been discarded as untrustworthy.” A French-Italian study released this year also cast doubt on the 1988 testing.

The Catholic Church has taken no official position on the shoud’s authenticity. 

Chiang doesn’t call the presenters at the conference scholars, saying there really isn’t a large field of study. But the shroud “draws considerable interest” and the conference’s aim is to expand that interest beyond science and the shroud’s physical characteristics and go further into theology and faith.

“If we are successful, and the shroud becomes a legitimate area of academic study, then shroud studies should mushroom,” said Chiang in an e-mail to The Catholic Register.

Chiang believes science is like religion in that it contains a faith component.

“Some think science leads to truth but it has as much of a faith component as does religion and can promote a lie, just like any religion can,” he said. “Our conference hopes to rectify this misunderstanding. It’s not science or faith that wins, it’s the truth that wins.” 

To that end, the conference will bring in not just believers but those who are skeptical about the shroud’s authenticity. Among the presenters are Joe Nickell, a prominent American skeptic and investigator of the paranormal whose work includes exposing the forgery of the diary of Jack the Ripper, and former Benedictine monk and Catholic priest Joe Marino, who along with his partner Sue Benford believes the carbon dating process could very easily have been skewed by repairs done to the shroud at the time it is dated to.

Chiang said there are more believers than skeptics, but the conference deliberately went for an even split in presenters.

“Without skeptics, the believers will not be challenged to improve their work,” said Chiang, who is firmly in the believer category.

In his 2016 book The Holy Shroud: A Genuine Artifact of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Chiang shows how he believes the shroud is Christ’s burial cloth by going beyond the science. 

He relates its reality to the “Christian narrative of Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration,” and describes its scientific history from when the first photograph was obtained in 1898. 

He concludes that “when viewed from both a scientific and biblical perspective, the Holy Shroud offers intriguing new insights into Christianity and the natural world, as well as our relationship to the divine.”   

He said he hopes to “assimilate all the information from both sides to show that science has proven the existence of the supernatural. But I will also show that science cannot force people to believe in the obvious. The Holy Spirit doesn’t work that way.”

Getting physical evidence will be impossible, said Chiang. The shroud was cleaned and preserved in 2002 (at a cost of $2 million) which has effectively ended any chance of further forensic evidence.

For information on the conference, see custance.org.

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