One of the most essential truths we need to note about the Bible relates to its purpose. It isn’t a science manual, and it’s never claimed to be one. It is unmistakably loud in its claim that God created Earth, but it is silent on how our Master Scientist utilized scientific properties and laws to do so.
Despite this, some Young Earthers state with the same straightforward conviction they impose upon their assertion that the Bible says Earth is six thousand years old that “the Bible is actually a textbook of historical science”[i] (a direct quote from an article by a leading Young-Earth teacher). Over and again, it’s repeated through Young Earth literature that the Bible is the place to start when looking for an answer to any question. So, it seems odd that Young Earthers don’t appear to have sought what the Scripture says regarding its purpose in relation to scientific study. After reading a breakdown of this approach, it’s immediately clear that Young Earth adherents aren’t suggesting comparing the Bible with “those [textbooks] used in public schools,”[ii] which is encouraging. However, they have taken a well-known school term (“textbook”) and applied it to a Book that God, Himself, wrote through the power of His Spirit to teach morality—not science—which is undoubtedly confusing to those who are less familiar with what the Bible, itself, says it is. (I have nothing less than the highest respect for my brothers and sisters in the Young Earth groups, and I am proud to stand alongside them in the quest to parse the Word and exegete Scripture for the edification of all mankind. But when unbelievers are watching what we say about God or His Book, we must be careful not to represent the Word as something it doesn’t claim to be. Doing so is more than confusing; it’s misleading. Some might hear “textbook” and, when they discover it is nothing of the sort, develop hostility against and distrust of God. We must be so, so careful as His soldiers on Earth never to misrepresent His self-revelation as something other than what it is just to make the Bible appear more trendy or relevant to skeptical audiences!)
What the Holy Bible does claim to be is the supremely authoritative and “God-breathed” tool to assist us with “doctrine” and to be used “for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness [read: “morality”]: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:15–17; emphasis added). The Scriptures are how we can come to “cleanse” our “way” (living in a way that pleases the Lord) by “taking heed” of their teachings (Psalm 119:9). God’s Word is the testimony that invites us to believe Jesus to be the Son of God, as He claims: “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:30–31); “that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:13). It is the moral instructions Jesus, Himself, read and observed, according to His own testimony during His trial and temptation (“it is written”; Matthew 4:4). In Hebrews we read that the Word is “quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
It is so infinitely important that we allow the Bible to speak for and position itself correctly amidst a lineup of inferior literature. Therefore, although we do plan to consider what scientists say in this chapter, it is imperative that we remember the Bible is the authoritative and written Word of God that never bends under the weight of humankind’s science.
To that, all true Christians agree. Where we sometimes disagree is in whether to allow Scripture to be reevaluated against traditional interpretation when it appears we have it wrong—like we imprudently did in Galileo’s day (discussed in chapter 1 of Before Genesis). Yet, if we agree that Scripture could have been revisited in consideration of Galileo challenging geocentricism, why is there such a resistance to revisiting it in light of what we see in science now?
One of the first moves made by many Young Earthers in seeking evidence or support for their findings of a young planet is to claim that scientific dating methods aren’t trustworthy for to determining the age of a formation or object. A vast library of materials against scientific dating exists—and much of it is written by responsible scientists (such as the book In Six Days: Why Fifty Scientists Choose to Believe in Creation)—to share how and why science really cannot be trusted to have all the answers.
It may surprise some readers to know I actually agree in many cases with this statement. However, it’s not “if” I agree, but “when” I agree. Let me give you a strong illustration of this principle. It may seem that we’re steering off-course for a moment, but bear with me, as this will help explain what “when” means in this application.
Shroud of Turin Dating: A Terrible Fumble for Science!
My initial reaction to hearing about the Shroud of Turin (believed by many to be the authentic burial cloth of Christ) long ago was a grand shout of “Baloney!” and a good belly laugh. Radiocarbon dating tests on the fabric in 1988 asserted that the Shroud was created by a forger or an artist circa AD 1260–1390—more than twelve hundred years after Jesus rose from the dead—so, like many, I thought it was a hoax. I was quickly humbled when I started hearing rumors that science couldn’t explain, or reproduce, this mysterious artifact, even with the most advanced techniques known to man.
Still a skeptic, I silenced my balking for a season of responsible research. My closed mind gradually opened when I discovered these rumors were true. For ten to fifteen straight years, any time new facts surfaced on the topic, I dove in, soaking up every word until I found myself backed into a corner called “belief.” Though I still keep a respectfully open mind about the possibility that this cloth could be something the Antichrist will someday claim as his own (and therefore become a tool of dark worship in the future), I can’t ignore the enormous possibility that it is exactly what it looks like: the legitimate linen placed on Christ at His burial. Present in its herringbone weave is the testimony of the moment He rose again, and as much as I wanted to write it off as an ancient fallacy planted by the Catholic Church, the evidence continued to stack in favor of it being legitimate. (Due to the uncanny association between the Shroud of Turin and Catholic history, it begs to be emphasized that I’m a Protestant.)
Then, one day, when I was talking with Josh Peck of SkyWatch TV and Defender Publishing (who has since become an award-winning documentary filmmaker), we began toying with the idea of writing a book on the transition between this life and the next. Our casual conversation quickly became the outline for our next book, which we cowrote with Allie Anderson: Afterlife: Near Death Experiences, Neuroscience, Quantum Physics, and the Increasing Evidence for Life after Death. Since the Shroud of Turin is possibly an ancient “photo” of the Resurrection, it fit perfectly with the theme of this project, and we agreed I would write that portion of the book since I had long been fascinated with the topic. But believing something and reporting the facts to others are two different animals; and I had to be sure I hadn’t missed any information in years past if I was going to responsibly present the case to our readers, so I started over, repeating what had previously been years of research in a matter of months. On many occasions during that time, I honestly hoped I would find some information I had missed before that proved the Shroud to be a hoax, because the whole subject carries controversy that I didn’t particularly want my name attached to. At the end of the day, however, I determined to simply report the facts from an unbiased position. In doing so, I found a strong case for its authenticity.[iii] However, the many hiccups in the assignment slowed me down…the central issue being the dating of the cloth.
Skeptics (like I used to be) are quick to point to additional “evidence” against the linen unrelated to dating: The anatomy of the body isn’t perfectly oriented to a human figure existing at the time of Christ (consider the unnatural posture of the shoulders); how and where the linen curled around the body showed a discrepancy of leg length between the front and back; and the cloth could have easily been painted by an artist (regardless of motive), which was further supported by such findings as antique pigments present on the fibers. Additionally, skeptics say, the image of the body on the fabric appears to have no thumbs; the number of indications of wounds doesn’t match the thirty-nine lashings Christ would have received as a Jewish victim of flagellation; and so on. These arguments are unfortunately tossed out there with an air of haughtiness—a “gotcha” for the skeptic who intends to make any believer feel foolish. (Powell Doctrine, anyone?)
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Not surprising, hundreds of thousands of attempts between the 1300s and today to reproduce the cloth have failed; not even those with the most advanced sciences available have been able to create a copy that produces features that are the same as (or even similar to) the Shroud’s seemingly supernatural image. Tests applied include, but are not limited to:
…microscopy (light, polarizing, phase, fluorescent, stereo, petrographic, scanning, electron), immunochemical analysis, enzymatic chemical analysis, serological analysis, textile analysis, microchemical tests, laser microprobe Raman spectroscopy, mass spectroscopy, spectroscopy (optical, infrared), energy dispersive X-ray analysis, X-ray diffraction, micro FTIR (Fourier Transform Infrared) spectroscopy, electron microprobe analysis, Fourier analysis, VP-8 computer imaging, computer studies, pyrolysis mass spectrometry, and others.[iv]
These attempts at reproduction summarily dismiss everything on the skeptic’s list I just shared (and oh so many more rebuttals). Expounding only on what I’ve included above:
- The anatomy turned out to be a flawless anatomical match to a Jewish man during Christ’s era, with issues such as the “stiff, unnatural posture of the shoulders” and discrepancy of leg length supporting the rigor mortis of a victim whose arms were outstretched on a cross and whose legs were bent at the time of death. Many other details that no artist or forger of the twelfth or thirteenth century could have been expected to know were also present on the linen, like the discovery of “serum albumin retraction”: blood protein “rings” or “halos” around the wounds where the blood and the serum separated just after the heart stopped beating, invisible to the naked eye and only seen after subjected to ultraviolet light. (What forger could possibly know about ultraviolet light centuries before it existed in labs, and know it well enough to “paint” that invisible effect in blood proteins…just in case someone questioned his art hundreds of years later?)
- All pigments (such as the rod ochre discussed in many online videos and articles that attempt to debunk the Shroud as a hoax) found on the cloth were “trace amounts,” nowhere near the volume needed to “paint” the image as it appears. Additionally, these pigments did not line up with the image of the man’s body; they were lightly scattered all over in no particular pattern, as if they had simply floated onto the fabric from a nearby artist mixing his pigments. This is a detail easily explained by the early Catholic Church practice of painting a reproduction of the Shroud in the same room as the authentic one, and then laying it face to face on the original so it will “absorb the blessing” of the genuine article, which is a well-documented trait of Catholicism’s veneration habits and a documented detail of the Shroud’s history.
- The “missing thumbs” again argue for authenticity, as that is both a) a natural position of thumbs at rest under the hands, as seen in many cases of cloth-wrapped cadavers throughout time, as well as b) a possible clue that the man whose image appears on the cloth was impaled through the wrists, in the precise spot called “Destot’s Space,” which “snaps” the thumbs inward at the time of injury. (Such a conclusion is consistent with the New Testament koine Greek [the Greek language as it had developed at the time of Christ and in which the New Testament was written] word cheir, which refers to both the hand and the wrist. Yet, again, what early forger would know to apply this scientific and medical anomaly centuries before we knew about it, and at the risk of portraying a “Savior with no thumbs”?)
- Nowhere in the Word do we read that Jesus (or any other victim of the Romans) would have only received thirty-nine whip marks. Though that was true for Jewish flagellation practices, Jesus was tried and sentenced as a criminal in Rome. Therefore, He was punished severely by the Romans, subject to whatever whims were birthed from their perverted justice system. Thirty-nine “stripes” thus aren’t relevant to the discussion of the Shroud’s authenticity in any way. What is relevant is that each “stripe” on the image on the Shroud leads to inconspicuous, dumbbell-shaped scourge marks, likely caused by the two or three metal pieces affixed in succession at the end of the leather thong connected to the Roman flagrum used at the time. If the Shroud was, in fact, a hoax staged sometime between AD 1260–1390, the artist/forger would have had to know precisely how a Roman flogging was conducted around a thousand years after that practice had ceased—in an age when, of course, the information couldn’t be found on an Internet, at a local library, or from a neighbor. It was definitely not shown correctly in other religious artwork of that time.
So, over and over again, we can see that the very features skeptics use to tear down the Shroud’s authenticity are ironically the features that build a stronger case for its validity. Other mesmerizing (and equally scientific) trails of research show that the image on the Shroud “behaves” in bizarre ways that are completely unreproducible by any technology we’ve ever produced when it’s subjected to certain forms of testing and lab experiments. (I’m not talking about recent viral claims from a certain Italian researcher that the Shroud man “moves on his own”; that trail of evidence fell flat almost immediately and wasn’t a part of my report.) For instance, under advanced 3D imaging tests that “lift” parts of a picture forward and allow us to see more dimension to study certain features, the impression on the Shroud produces many other oddities unseen by the naked eye, such as indications of swelling, bruising, and additional signs of injury that match the Gospel narratives’ of Jesus’ last hours of torture by the Romans (including inflammation on the shoulder blade that aligns with what would happen when a man carried a cross, as Christ did). But the buck doesn’t stop there. The image also “pops” into three-dimensional contours accurately, which is a feat no other photo or painting has been capable of when subjected to the same experimental methods. In all other cases, something went terribly wrong: noses on faces concaved backwards into the head; mountains appeared in the foreground of a picture that originally stood miles in the background; wedding bands on fingers disappear, resulting in what looks like a severed digit; and so on. No matter how many tests were conducted, each time these methods were used on other images, the 3D features went wonky, while the Shroud showed both perfect alignment to human anatomy as well as features never seen before (like the aforementioned shoulder detail).
And we haven’t even touched on the fifty-seven species of ancient pollen that were identified on the surface of the linen, most of which were from the Jerusalem area, including a group originating from the “Syrian Christ Thorn” plant (probably the one from which Christ’s crown of thorns was crudely fashioned). That botanical finding adds multiple additional layers of credibility to the argument for the authenticity of the Shroud.
On and on the list goes. Hundreds and thousands of facts contributing to the miracle cloth as being genuine have been compiled in recent history…but the radiocarbon dating remains the pesky elephant in the room of faith, much like similar methods have done to Young Earthers’ findings.
Yet, the dating of the Shroud also remains one of the worst mistakes ever made by scientists. We have very many good reasons to believe the dating methods applied to this linen were faulty. Much like the Young-versus-Old Earth debate, the arguments for and against the dating of the Shroud have established a major battleground between people of faith and people of science for centuries, as I noted in the book Afterlife [FREE IN PROMO HERE].The details of the following are specific to the Shroud, while the overall attitude is similar to the poison currently polluting the relationships between Old and Young Earthers, as well as between unbelievers and believers when it comes to the dating of Earth:
…vitriolic comments have been exchanged that amount to little more than immature mud-flinging, which makes each side hard to take seriously: Believers in the authenticity of the cloth make snide remarks about how the scientific community is unintelligent or silly for buying into this whole “radiocarbon dating” idea when it’s clear [in their opinion] that the whole process has been historically unreliable. Too often, these jabs originate from clergy or religious people who don’t have…[adequate] training in these systematic methods, attacking the principles of science and insinuating (or directly declaring) that the dating was born from a conspiracy against faith and religion. Scientists and skeptics (especially those personally involved with the dating of the Shroud) have encouraged believers to let go of their vice grip on faith in the authenticity of the Shroud, since fact and scientific method have irrefutably won the day over fantasy.…
That’s why we chose to start with what the image on the cloth had to say for itself before we addressed the dating debate (backwards in order compared with the approach of many other works like this). On our end, the evidence stacked against a potential forgery—based solely on the unlikeliness of that scenario, as discussed—was so dense that it naturally drew the dating into question, not the other way around. To say this another way: We are open to the idea that the dating process was flawed because the forgery theory appears to be so, not because any of us wanted so much to believe in the artifact’s authenticity that we would trade the integrity of truth for that age-old, blissful feeling that cohabitates with willful ignorance.[v]
The breakdown of who took what samples and when and how those samples were analyzed can be simplified by this short summary (though readers are encouraged to read the in-depth work in Afterlife):
- Radiocarbon dating hasn’t always been accurate, and that’s never been a secret. Frequently, even many within the scientific community (like forensic analyst Frederick T. Zugibe, MD, PhD) admit that this method of identifying the age of an artifact has been off “by hundreds or even thousands of years,”[vi] depending on many factors. But even if that weren’t true:
- Contamination of outside carbon or fibers on the surface of the artifact—such as the countless venerators who handled the Shroud of Turin with bare hands during sacred marches and who laid it down in many places against foreign objects or face to face against man-made artwork—can introduce younger carbon to the object and compromise the reliability of the dating methods.
- Dating included only the less-reliable “accelerator mass spectrometry” method, and it was handled in a rush, due to the sacredness of the Shroud as a religious artifact and Turin authorities being pressed for time to return the Shroud to its resting place.
- Portions cut from the cloth were at the linen’s very edge, where contaminants were most likely to be present.
- The dating was supposed to follow blind-study protocol (meaning samples of other, non-Shroud, linens were to be included so the researchers didn’t know the Shroud from the others to ensure a nonbiased report). However, this, too, was dropped in a rush, and by the time the samples landed at the labs for testing, the scientists knew which labeled cuts were from what cloths, introducing an obvious bias behind the findings. There were also supposed to be seven labs used in the process, and time constraints only allowed for the involvement of three.
- The results of the dating were announced to the public immediately, without allowing time for peer review—one of the most critical steps in the scientific method.
And, most importantly:
- In 2000, at the Sindone Worldwide Congress (Orvieto, Italy), an interesting and vital announcement was released to the public: Sixteenth-century repair patchwork had been applied to the edge of the cloth the dating sample had been taken from! Therefore, the sample cut for the 1988 dating and further divided for the three labs, experts acknowledged, was far more vulnerable to younger dating than just the typical carbon contaminations. Giovanni Riggi—the man responsible for cutting the 1988 sample—openly and transparently acknowledged that younger, foreign fibers had become mixed up in the portion he took. Other analyses by textile experts showed that the 1988 cut was not even linen (!!!), but was a light-yellow cotton used for historical repairs that weighed twice as much as the linen portion the image was imprinted upon.
In other words, it wasn’t even the original Shroud that scientists dated, but a section of cloth that had been sewn onto it to repair damage made in the past. Despite many reports and analyses shared with the public since this major debacle, we still hear that “science dated the Shroud to AD 1260–1390” and many believe it to be true. Anyone who looks into the scientists’ mistakes and chooses to believe the linen is older is branded a conspiracy theorist.
So, yes, there are absolutely times I agree that scientific dating methods for Earth and its artifacts are flawed and unreliable. If a mistake of this magnitude is possible in the research on something as famous as the Shroud, imagine how many errors could have occurred in other matters that affect our concepts of cosmology.
I don’t blame Young Earthers for choosing to believe that science can’t be completely trusted in matters of radiocarbon dating.
Well, to be fair, that was only one example, and it only proved those specific scientists grabbed the wrong portion of the artifact to test. Had they gotten their hands onto the correct area of the cloth, their dating methods may have been accurate, right?
It’s possible (though unlikely, given the bare-hands touching that transmitted younger carbon to the Shroud’s fibers). However, even when the right artifact (or portion of it) is tested, there have been bizarre and inexplicable results proving the methods, themselves, can render inaccurate reports. For instance, consider these paintings:
A contemporary artist by the name of Joan Aherns painted Indian rocks from crushed wheat during an art class sometime in the 1970s. Her paintings were stolen, swept away to South African jungles, and were found eleven years later hidden in the bushes. Oxford University—often considered an authority in scientific affairs—submitted the paintings to their radiocarbon accelerator unit…and confirmed that the paintings were 1,200 years old. For a brief stint, the museum in Natal, South Africa, celebrated these paintings as originating from an African bushman and placed them on display. Later, when the “artifacts” were credited to the original source (artist Joan Aherns in the ’70s), no explanation could be found for why the wheat-based paint would have dated to such antiquity.[vii]
Again, I really don’t blame Young Earthers for their distrust in a system so fallible that it can date 1970s paintings to twelve hundred years ago and offer zero explanations as to how that happened.
Yet—and please get this crucial point—not every carbon dating conclusions can be disregarded as a result of lab mistakes. For every bungled linen cloth or 1970s painting, dozens more relics were handled responsibly. And carbon dating is only one of many methods used to date Earth (or objects upon its surface). It’s not uncommon for a researcher to stumble upon the Young Earther’s arguments against carbon dating. However, only a few Young Earth spokespeople or ministries attempt to take on the bulk of advanced methods (and I commend those who do!).
UP NEXT: It’s Not Just about Radiocarbon Dating
[i] Hamm, Ken, “Is the Bible a Science Textbook?” December 18, 2016, Answers In Genesis, last accessed March 30, 2023, https://answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2016/12/18/is-the-bible-a-science-textbook/.
[iii] In the following pages, portions of the text I wrote for Afterlife may look familiar as I have copied over a few spots verbatim. Note that this was done with permission from both coauthors and the publisher.
[iv] Zugibe, MD, PhD, Frederick T., The Crucifixion of Jesus: A Forensic Inquiry (New York, NY: M. Evans and Company, Inc.; Kindle edition, 2005), location 3779.
[v] Howell, Donna, Allie Anderson-Henson, and Josh Peck, Afterlife: Near Death Experiences, Neuroscience, Quantum Physics, and the Increasing Evidence for Life After Death (Crane, MO: Defender Publishing; 2019), 186, 188.
[vi] Zugibe, MD, PhD, Frederick T., The Crucifixion of Jesus: A Forensic Inquiry, location 2711.
[vii] Howell, Donna, Allie Anderson-Henson, and Josh Peck, Afterlife, 195–196; this example (though reworded by Howell) is originally from: Zugibe, Frederick T., The Crucifixion of Jesus, location 5062–5071.