While we like to consider ourselves to be a intelligent and rational species, the fact remains that many people still cling to superstitions that were alive and well in the days when religious leaders said that the sun revolved the earth and anyone who said otherwise, like Galileo Galilei for example, were guilty of 'heresy'.
The appeal of superstition helps to explain the enduring attraction of the Turin Shroud.
The Shroud has gone on display for the first time in ten years - and only the fifth time in a hundred years - in the Turin Cathedral. People can't touch it though because its contained within a climate-controlled case.
While some people will go and have a look at it out of curiosity I suspect that the majority of people who will be visiting the Turin Cathedral over the next few weeks will be on something of a pilgrimage.They really do believe that this piece of cloth is the burial shroud of Jesus.
They believe this despite all the best scientific evidence that says that the cloth is a forgery and it was made in Lirey, France, in the fourteenth century. Indeed it was actually condemned as a fake by the local bishop in the area at the time because it was being used to deceive pilgrims that it could heal them of illness. It was kind of a medieval forerunner to the 'miracles' of televangelists like Benny Hinn.
It has been shown that the so-called blood in the cloth is actually red ochre and vermilion tempera paint. And it has been demonstrated it is possible to produce a similar image on cloth by a rubbing technique, using the vermilion and ochre pigments that were available at that time in France.
Moreover, portions of the cloth were carbon-14 dated by three independent laboratories, all of whom reported that it was not nineteen hundred years old, but probably fabricated approximately 700 years ago.Shroud 'believers' have long attacked the carbon 14 tests as 'flawed' but have produced no credible evidence to back up these claims.
The Catholic Church, not adverse to promoting other religious myths, has done little to dispel the myths surrounding its medieval piece of cloth . Officially it will neither confirm or deny the authenticity of the Turin Shroud, but the way that the public appearances of the cloth are carefully stage-managed suggest that the Catholic Church is happy to maintain the cloth's religious 'aura'. I guess they view it as a good way to promote the faith in these difficult times.
This is the same Catholic Church that condemned author Dan Brown for popularising the idea that Jesus married Mary Magadalene and bore his children. The idea that the Turin Shroud is the burial cloth of Jesus though is as much fiction as The Da Vinci Code. There's not a lot of intellectual honesty and consistency at work here.
The philosopher David Hume thought it a 'miracle' that people who believe in miracles are willing to subvert all of the evidence of the senses and the processes of rationality in order to accept their beliefs. This certainly is the case with the Turin Shroud.