Thursday, July 21, 2011

Materialism vs. science in archaeology, and the difference it makes - Denyse O'Leary

My PhotoIn "First Person: The Bible as a Source of Testable Hypotheses"(Biblical Archaeology Review (Jul/Aug 2011) Hershel Shanks tells a story from Biblical archaeology that explains more than I ever could about how materialism stifles science: In his new book Excavating the City of David, Ronny Reich of Haifa University treats archaeologist Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University "dismissively" and accuses her of acting “unethically.” What did she do? She used the Bible as a guide to where to excavate.

Let me unpack this: As Eilat read the Bible, it seemed to indicate just where King David’s palace might be buried in the City of David—at least, it did to her. On this basis, she decided to dig there.
This was highly improper and unscientific, according to Ronny. When he heard that Eilat was using reasoning like this to find King David’s palace, he knew immediately that, proceeding in this way, “she would certainly find that building” (emphasis in original).
If she found the building, using the Bible, she did wrong. Shanks adds,
I would have thought that Eilat would have been praised for proceeding quite scientifically—according to the vaunted scientific method that has produced so much for our civilization. As I understand it, you formulate a hypothesis and then you proceed to test it, either proving or disproving it. Eilat had a hypothesis and she wanted to test it by digging.

But you can’t do that in the case of the Bible, according to Ronny. The reason appears to be that you can’t trust the archaeologist to test his or her hypothesis in an unbiased way once he or she formulates a hypothesis based on the Bible. If the archaeologist proceeds in this way, he or she will “certainly” find what was hypothesized. Besides, in archaeology you can’t repeat the experiment; once a particular area of a site has been excavated, it cannot be re-excavated.
Will "certainly" find what was hypothesized? People looking for lost wallets should be so lucky. And generally, archaeology is not an experiment. Once you find a tomb or a city, you stop looking for it, same as you would if you find your wallet.

Here, materialism has substituted as a governing criterion that no method can be used that would support the idea that the Bible was written by truthful people. This criterion is irrelevant to whether a method that assumes so produces results. The materialist would as soon not have results as have results that support the Biblical account.

Are we entering a new "dark ages" of materialism where science decays by stages, illuminated by episodes like these?

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Denyse O'Leary is co-author of The Spiritual Brain.

1 comment:

Peter Black said...

An enlightening piece, Denyse. Thanks.
Your statement, "The materialist would as soon not have results as have results that support the Biblical account," fits well the divine verdict on the human condition: "The heart [of man] is deceitful above all things ...(Jer. 17:9a)."

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