Egregious Misuse of Archaeology

Yesterday I became aware of an article that illustrates the dubious way Biblical inerrantists use (and that is the appropriate word, rather than something like “engage in”) archaeology. It included this:

Peterson supports conservative Christians getting involved in archaeology in order to use archaeology as a way to prove the Bible historically.

“We interpret the data from the fact that the Bible is inspired, and that it is history. The Bible can be validated based upon archaeology,” Peterson said.

Can you see the issues? The Bible can be “validated” through archaeology, according to Brian Peterson of Lee University. How? By using it to do precisely that.

That isn’t how history is supposed to work, and selecting and manipulating evidence to bolster one’s inflexible stance is not the same thing as what we normally mean by “validation.” While ideology and perspective cannot be eliminated from academic study, the aim is for those who engage in research, by being open to conversation across our competing ideologies and perspectives, to thereby correct for one another’s biases.

The inerrantist, however, doesn’t want their biases corrected. They want evidence to be gathered, selected, and used inasmuch as it can make those biases seem to be supported.

That is exactly what we see in this instance. Because the archaeological evidence at what experts agree is the site of ancient Ai does not support the Bible’s account of things, inerrantists have been trying to find another site where the evidence is compatible with what the Bible says, which they hope to claim is in fact ancient Ai.

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  • histrogeek

    Given how destructive archeology is (once it’s dug up, that’s it), it’s a horrifying thought that loons with an agenda will plunder and discard sites that could otherwise be valuable.

    • Just Sayin’

      The Israelis won’t let them.

    • markmatson

      Modern archaeology at the very least keeps very close track of every item, cataloged carefully by strata. The data is all kept. So future scholars can still re-evaluate if need be. Nothing is really lost (unlike earlier archaeology)

      • histrogeek

        But with these clowns, I’d be less sure they would be careful. Not out of malice necessarily, but clumsiness.

        • The_Physeter

          For most of them it wouldn’t be malice. But are we sure? If you set out to dig into a site to PROVE some fact that you already “know” about it…what happens when you run into something that counters your claim? Do you carefully document it, or do you discard it and tell yourself it wasn’t really supposed to be there? If your number one commitment is doing archeology in order to further some agenda, I wouldn’t trust you to take good care of the evidence.

  • Ken Schenck

    I hope there will be a modernist snap back soon, where the goal again is dispassionate and objective assessment of evidence no matter where it seems to lead…

  • The Fat Lady Sings

    Too often, and not just in history, there are those that only seek to confirm what they already think they know rather than to discover the truth. Funny how often they are “conservatives.”

    • Anthony Rice

      Yeah I guess that’s the real trick: passionate enough to want to learn the truth; objective enough to see it. I think they are usually conservatives because they seem to be the only ones with any money..

      • The Fat Lady Sings

        Spot on, I think

  • markmatson

    I am not convinced this professor actually works from inerrancy to historical data. Like many conservative colleges, the press activity will interpret things to fit a conservative audience. I just don’t think you can trust in-house publication to tell anywhere near the complete story.

    My experience is that Lee Univ. professors are pretty careful scholars — albeit conservative.

    • James F. McGrath

      I know someone at Lee, so I don’t think it reflects the institution as a whole, at all. But the organization Associates for Biblical Research certainly has that approach. It could of course be that they are taking work that was done independently of them and hijacking it. In which case, the misuse I referred to is even more egregious. But Peterson’s words seem to be in keeping with that organization’s outlook.

  • Robert Brumbelow

    Good to see you are still trolling with an obvious bias against particular sources.

    Your presuppositions are still obvious and still as obviously wrong. If a text exists that says X, it is a text that says X. If there are historians who refuse to believe X is true, so be it. Let them keep looking to prove X. There have been several occasions where the Bible has said one thing, archaeologists have said something else, and the archaeologists have had to go back and change things when a ‘new’ discovery shows the Bible was right.

    You on the other hand maintain your hypocrisy, arguing that the Bible must be wrong for the same reasons that you must be right.

    • TrevorN

      There’s no hypocrisy in maintaining that the evidence is right.

      The Bible is not evidence *for* what it says, it is merely evidence *that* it says what it says. If evidence is lacking that what it says is true, then we have NO evidence.

      We don’t pit Bible evidence against other evidence. We evaluate the Bible’s truth by how well it fits all the available evidence. To do otherwise is to leap into a circle of confirmatory bias, where the Bible passes every test we can give it, apart from the tests it doesn’t pass, which we know must be invalid because the Bible passes every valid test, because we know that everything the Bible says is true.

      • Robert Brumbelow

        Trevor, thank you for playing the liberal. Your reply is almost cut and paste exactly what I would expect from a child of Higher Criticism* without any formal training whatsoever. It is also fundamentally flawed in that it presupposes naturalism and places a higher burden on the text than other sources. Thank you for playing though.


        • TrevorN

          And yours is playing confirmation bias for all it is worth.
          The burden you place on your text is extremely low – it simply has to exist in order to win. (This is only true for “your” text, though; we both know that every other so-called sacred writing in the world is held to a higher standard.)

          • Robert Brumbelow

            False, false and false. If we were playing baseball you would be out on strikes. Confirmation bias is the tendency to favour information that proves a hypothesis or belief, which is precisely what McGrath does hence my hypocrisy claim maintains.

            I am aware of my presuppositions and state them. McGarth believes his beyond reproach and innately true and so fails to account for them.

            You automatically assume I read like a fundamentalist/ literalist and so respond with things you have read, but do not understand in order to attempt to prove an errant point. Before you continue attacking a straw man, you might want to determine what position I hold, but given that you do not appear to be capable of independent thought I suspect you cannot and will not do such.

            The simple facts show that 1) The Bible is a collection of literature showing numerous genres. 2) The Bible has been shown repeatedly to have accurate information regarding ancient cultures and locations. 3) Vos already blew Higher Criticism up almost 120 years ago

          • TrevorN

            1, I agree with. 2, the Bible has also been shown repeatedly to have inaccurate information, which is why – when we have access to more accurate information – we treat the Bible as a source with limitations. Your position, so far as I can understand it with my far inferior cognitive ability, is that where the Bible appears to be wrong, we simply haven’t got all the data yet. 3, I couldn’t care less what you think of higher criticism, and higher criticism has nothing to do with the question of the Bible’s accuracy as a repository of all types of truth.

          • Robert Brumbelow

            Re 3): And now we know that you do not even understand the position you espouse since you just said a!=a.

            2) Still false but given your statement 3) above it is understandable why you are so confused.

            Thanks for wasting everyone’s time.

          • TrevorN

            What an unpleasant person you are. C’est tout.

          • Ben George

            U fail to ID what inaccurate info.are those? Point to consider: Scientific theory is bias in itself, God’s words have no room for such. Unless U can correct him?

          • James F. McGrath

            It is interesting to note the correlation between people who dismiss the work of scholars and those who cannot string words together into a coherent sentence.

          • The_Physeter

            It’s hard to see if there’s actually any information in what you said or not, what will all the ad hominems strewn about your reply blocking my view.

          • James F. McGrath

            No one has shown that historical criticism is invalid, although there are some who adhere to the delusion that it has been. I resisted the conclusion that the Bible could ever be wrong about something for as long as I could. It was the clear evidence that changed my mind, after much refusal on my part to accept it. And now, I do not ever claim that the Bible is always wrong, just that the evidence shows that it is not always right. And that evidence is sometimes within the Bible itself, and not merely a reference to external evidence.

        • Sven2547

          Trevor, thank you for playing the liberal. Your reply is almost cut and paste exactly what I would expect from a child of Higher Criticism* without any formal training whatsoever.

          Ad hominem

          It is also fundamentally flawed in that it presupposes naturalism…

          I keep seeing that term thrown around, but with inconsistent meaning. As near as I can tell, “naturalism” means “accepting things that really exist, and not accepting things that do not exist”… which is common sense if you ask me.

          …and places a higher burden on the text than other sources.

          What do you mean by that? Are you suggesting that ‘because-my-book-says-so’ is just as valid as the archaeological record? If that’s the case, what makes one book more valid than any other book?

  • Plutosdad

    I remember reading an article on Ai back in ’91 in an archaeology class, and I did come away with the idea that the accepted location of Ai is pretty poorly supported, and the Christians who wanted to support a different location seemed to have a better argument to me (I remember something about using roman milestones being better than a guy on a horse mentally counting miles). Of course I don’t know what is the accepted location now, or if I, as a student taking 100 level biblical archaeology, really knew enough to make any judgement.

    Though I did see plenty of christian archaeologists who wanted to twist everything around to support the Bible. I also saw some anti-theists who mistook absence of evidence for evidence of absence. But those were usually pretty well known for their attitudes and biases.

    • James F. McGrath

      It is certainly to be pointed out that there are ideologically-driven stances on both sides, one saying that the Bible must always be true, the other than it can never be true. In between, the vast majority, whatever their religious background if any, acknowledge that the evidence sometimes suggests details in the Bible are historical, sometimes suggests they are not, and sometimes does neither.

  • Max T. Furr

    Hmm, a couple of things here. One, it is clear that when trying to prove something you already believe you know, e.g., the Bible says X happened, so it must be true, then this is not science in any sense of the word, because it is not the scientific method–it’s the reverse. Secondly, according to scholars, “Ai,” in Hebrew, actually meant “heap of ruins” Odd name for a city yet to be destroyed.

  • Bob Keeler

    This is exactly what evolutionists do! Read this article….

    • $41348855

      The article is nonsense. If you go back to the middle of the Cretaceous you are in the last fifth of vertebrate history. It is no surprise to find modern groups represented. What you don’t find, of course, is modern species.
      The fossil record has a definite sequence. At one time there were only jawless fish; then there were fish with jaws; then there were land living vertebrates. The first land-living vertebrates were very different from later forms etc.

  • CriticalThinker

    Christians do not support learning, diversity of opinion or positive progress. The falability of Christianity is the infalibility of the Bible.

    • James Walker

      that’s just a touch over-broad, don’t you think? I mean, where’s the diversity of opinion if you don’t even understand there’s diversity among Christians?

    • James F. McGrath

      Is that, in your opinion, why I posted the blog post above? Because I do not support learning, diversity of opinion, or positive progress?

  • bennypowers

    Dude, archaeology was INVENTED to prove the bible. The second wave lashed back, repeat ad nauseum. So don’t call out the other guy for doing the same thing you would do to him.

    “Archaeology isn’t a science, it’s a vendetta” – Sir Mortimer Wheeler

    • James F. McGrath

      Many fields of inquiry originated in a context and for reasons that were not about following evidence where it leads. But in history in general, as well as archaeology in particular, there are those – indeed, the vast majority – who are not seeking to use the data they gather and study for such purely ideological purposes. Many academic fields of inquiry are very different today than when the first steps in their direction were taken.

    • Max T. Furr

      Can you give some objective evidence for your claim? It seems to me that Archaeology evolved out of human curiosity and perhaps some vanity. We’ve always come across ancient ruins and wondered, “why.” We’ve always come across artifacts and wondered, “why.” Looking into the past, I think, has always been a part of our mental matrix since our power of reason evolved. It isn’t a stretch to understand that ancient humans, before agriculture, had to determine if the poo they found on the trail was that of a predator or their prey, and how old might it be. Or, finding an arrowhead not of their design and trying to determine how and when it happened to be there.

      Same sort of thing gave rise to the study of evolution and other fields of science. Darwin didn’t sail on the Beagle because he wanted to prove or disprove Genesis. He wanted to understand more about nature. It was his curiosity that drove him, not some “vendetta.”

      Granted, there are some who do archaeology for the purpose of “proving” the authenticity of biblical stories. It is true, as well, that since these folks have already made up their minds that the stories are all true, at no time and under no circumstances will they question their conclusion, even where there is no evidence. This, of course, may rightfully be called pseudo-archaeology, but it is certainly not science.

      For example, it has been shown that there is a extremely low probability that the story of Joshua’s ethnic cleansing of Canaan is true. Archaeology on the site of Jericho shows no objective evidence of having been destroyed by the Israelites. For such a major battle involving thousands of warriors, one would expect to find many artifacts that suggest the city was destroyed by the Israelites at the time in question (there is even doubt that the timing was correct or that the Hebrews “wandered in the desert” for 40 years. There is no objective evidence that there was a large Israeli settlement in Egypt, or that the story of the Exodus is valid). Same with the “great flood.”

      No, lack of evidence does not prove something did not happen, but it certainly places the occurrence in very serious doubt.

      • bennypowers

        Filnders Petrie, by many regards the father of modern archeology was a Protestant, eugenicist and nutcase. He had close ties to British Fascism and donated his to science as a fine example of the master race. Another example is Charles Warren, the famed explorer, who certainly set out to prove the bible when he excavated Jerusalem in 1867. On the other hand, who could forget how the Dame Kathleen Kenyon (that great friend of the Jews) tore a trench through ancient Jericho with a backhoe just to ‘prove’ that there was no Joshua. Vendetta.

        Let’s not think, though, that the historicity of the Bible is the only realm in which archaeologists exchange reasonability for prestige, rightness and various forms of racial or cultural superiority. The entire history of new world archaeology is riddled with them as well, from Ales Hrdlicka through the Clovis Culture and on to the Jared Diamonds of today, these mostly lie along a spectrum ranging from “The Savages got what they deserved” to “The White man must forever pay.” All of them are nutters!

        Archaeology can teach us many things, but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that any of it is reasonable or dispassionate. It’s not a science, it’s a vendetta.

        • James F. McGrath

          From what I’ve read by Kenyon, that impression you have of her seems to me to be incorrect. Certainly many early archaeologists set out to prove the Bible correct. Others simply assumed that it would be. Many have found that the evidence surprised them by not doing so, and they have been honest about it. Your impression that it is all about vendettas and ideology doesn’t fit the evidence of what many archaeologists have written about their own stories and work.

        • Max T. Furr

          Yes, Petrie is considered ONE of the fathers of modern archaeology, but he did not “invent” archaeology.

          Before Petrie, there was William Cunnington, father of archaeological excavation (1754–1810). His interest was English bronze age sites, as well as others. Stratigraphy was developed and applied to archaeology in the early to mid 19th century (before Petrie was born).

          So, my point is, that archaeology was not developed as a means of proving or disproving the Bible, although it has been used in that very unscientific manner.

          However, the methodology of archaeology IS scientific where it complies with the strictures of the scientific method.