from jason boyett – noah’s ark found! robert cargill debunks!

Dr. Robert R. Cargill

Dr. Robert R. Cargill

here’s a piece from a friend and colleague, jason boyett. the picture’s a little older (beard is thicker w/ fewer grays), but the interview is new. he interviewed me about the recent claims of the discovery of noah’s ark and other issues of archaeology and faith. read it.

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on the balancing act between faith and credible archaeology

i recently received a letter via facebook that asked an intriguing question: how does one do archaeology and still retain one’s faith?

the question alone gave me pause because it implied that doing science will ultimately lead one to renounce one’s belief in god, or at the very least shatter one’s theological understanding of the world.

this issue comes up again and again with students. essentially, archaeology students soon learn that while some of the passages and claims made within the bible are consistent with archaeological findings, many others are not. this quickly leads a person of faith to make one of two choices: either to cling to one’s faith and begin to look for alternate ‘methodologies’ that could explain the bible’s claims that are inconsistent with the archaeological evidence, or, to accept the scientific data and re-examine one’s religious preconceptions. afraid to admit that what they were taught or have believed for so long might be wrong, many students opt for clinging to their belief in the inerrancy and infallibility of the bible and seek out new ways to interpret the data so that it is congruent with their preconceived beliefs. yet, this methodology leads only to poor science, even poorer interpretations of the data, and ultimately to misleading claims about the nature of the remains.

sometimes, archaeology is nothing more than boring rocks in the ground. but the true archaeologist does not seek out the big discovery that changes all we know in one amazing find, but rather gives his or her life to seasons of excavation and discovery, letting the evidence speak for itself until the larger picture of the social, economic, and yes, at times, religious makeup of the society is slowly revealed.

so for those seeking to balance faith and archaeology, here are a few tips:

  1. follow the data wherever it leads. sometimes the data doesn’t line up with the text of the bible. this is true about many sites and many verses. in some places, the text just isn’t supported by the evidence. this does not mean that the bible does not contain truth in other places, but it does tell us a lot about the author and the message the author was attempting to convey. remember, even the early church father origen offered a straightforward explanation of the preservation of factual truth within documents edited by human hands. in his commentary on john 10:4, origen says, ‘the spiritual truth was often preserved, as one might say, in material falsehood.’ just because a factual error exists in the text of the bible doesn’t mean that truth cannot still be conveyed.
  2. follow sound scientific methodology. if your methodology is good, your claims will be better received, and you (and/or your organization) will retain credibility. don’t fudge. take good notes, log everything (especially if it is contrary to your hypothesis), and don’t cut corners. methodical monotony is boring, but will be your friend in the long run. baby steps, small turns, an inch at a time. it is by the archaeological method employed that the academy will judge an archaeologist. credibility is earned over a long period of time, not with a single find.
  3. not every ‘biblical archaeology’ object is the same. just because noah’s ark and the holy grail are most likely legendary, doesn’t mean the ancient israelites didn’t carry a gold covered wooden box (the ark of the covenant) around in front of them when they marched into battle (like every other army at the time). each object is unique and should be treated as such. walls and pots are often (read: usually) more important than gold and silver. treat every object with respect, wash every sherd, and always check for writing.
  4. partner up. the best way to earn credibility as an archaeologist is to partner with and work for an established, credible archaeologist or excavation. don’t seek to strike out on your own too quickly. this requires substantial fundraising and once you begin asking for funds more than you dig, scholars begin to question your motives, your credibility drops, and your conclusions will be questioned more often. be humble. pay your dues. earn your stripes. and then, when you have established the credibility and education you need, work with the authorities to secure your own excavation.
  5. never, ever search for the ark of the covenant, noah’s ark, or the holy grail. adventure quests will always bring immediate derision and condemnation from the academy. never claim to be the first to discover anything; someone else has already done something similar. cite them! remember that most scholars rightly reject any primordial notion of god destroying the earth with a flood; they opt instead to see this story as a parallel to the gilgamesh epic or some other early flood narrative. sensational claims are the quickest way to expose oneself as a fundamentalist. know the literature, read, and always see what your opponents have to say before you make a claim.
  6. submit to the peer-review process. the most credible archaeologists submit to the peer-review process and allow their findings to be critiqued by the academy. submit articles for publication in refereed journals and present papers at national conferences. welcome criticism and feedback. this is the only way to ensure your that interpretations will gain the traction they need to become the accepted consensus.

ultimately, it’s not about what you believe, or even what you can prove. rather, a credible archaeologist or archaeology program is judged by the methodology it uses to reach its conclusions. if the science is good, and the results are published in credible journals, the program as well as the scholar will be a success.

notes from ucla lecture by harvard’s harvey cox entitled, ‘the future of faith’

Harvey Cox, Harvard University

Harvey Cox, Harvard University

tuesday evening i attended a lecture by harvard religion professor dr. harvey cox entitled, ‘the future of faith.’ the lecture was sponsored by the ucla center for the study of religion, and introduced dr. ra’anan boustan, who is taking over as director for the outgoing dr. scott bartchy, who has directed the center for 14 years.

professor cox spoke about his new book, ‘the future of faith,’ and made three brief points:

1. religion has not disappeared, it is growing. despite claims in the 60s that religion would disappear with the rise of science, it has not. in fact, religion has grown. pentecostalism is the fastest growing area, probably because of its simplicity and experiential focus. more xns now reside in asia, south america, and africa than in the traditional ‘christian’ areas of europe and north america. religion has not died, but it has transformed.

2. fundamentalism is dying. fundamentalism is not evangelicalism. sectarianism is dying because it requires too much energy in a socially networked world. sectarianism/fundamentalism requires physical and social isolation to thrive, but global communications, travel, and the internet (particularly social networking) puts the thoughts and ideas of all peoples within reach, harming fundamentalism. likewise, sectarianism cannot act politically, only unilaterally, because political success requires working with groups unlike one’s own. evangelicalism is shifting from a movement with a few large litmus issues (like abortion and the role of women or gay rights) to more complex issues of race, poverty, and social justice. evangelicalism is moving away from the ‘infallibility and inerrancy’ of the bible, to a place where the bible plays a role in instruction.

3. there is a change in the nature of religiousness. the change is characterized by a transition from doctrine to experience, from a hierarchical model to a communitarian one. doctrine has given way to issues of social justice. worship is now less geared towards an audience and more towards a participative experience. beliefs have given way to actions and a way of life way. dr. cox pointed out that there was no common creed for the first 300 years of christianity, yet it seemed to thrive. the rise of orthodoxy made christianity into more of an oppressive doctrinal system, one that is only now beginning to reemerge as a force for social justice rather than a political tool.

i agreed with many of the observations that dr. cox made. he noted the perceived rise of fundamentalisms in the muslim world is only the exception to the rule, and that this militancy has more of a nationalistic/tribal basis and less of a religious one (religion being the tool used inappropriately to bring about their desired political order). he was charming, confident, and humble. i enjoyed the lecture.

on the occasion of charles darwin’s 200th birthday

 

Smithsonian)

Charles Darwin (photo: Smithsonian)

today is charles darwin’s 200th birthday. 200 hundred years. it seems like so long ago. and yet, we’re still so far away.

 many people of faith understand the so-called father of human evolution to be some incarnation of satan, sent to earth to tempt the faithful away from the truth of a biblical creation. others, the atheist fundamentalists on the opposite end of the spectrum, worship darwin as he who rang the death knell for a still believed modern myth. and somewhere in between, there are those of us who see darwin for who he was: a deeply moral man who asked a lot of questions.

darwin used his eyes and his brain. he observed and he thought. and he had the courage to ask questions. and once he did, he set in motion a revolution that was nothing less than an alternative way of understanding the world, or at least its origin. until darwin, many people simply believed what they were told despite what they saw, and feared social alienation or physical harm for failing to do so. but darwin took the next logical step and asked whether or not we had to blindly accept how the church understood the origin of the earth. in a sense, darwin is not unlike martin luther, who dared to question the catholic establishment’s authority over the interpretation of the world. thus, darwin was to the church what luther was, well, to the church. they both dared to ask the question of why we must accept what tradition tells us.

200 years later, people of faith are still wrestling with the question of whence we came. those with a fundamentalist understanding of the bible argue that if even a single part of it is not historical truth, none of it can be. they invoke a slippery slope argument in an effort to hold on to what ‘we’ have always believed, instead of asking questions, searching for truth no matter where it lies, and relying on faith to see them through. as an unfortunate result, much of science has been denied, or worse yet, ignored, in an attempt to cling to how a pre-scientific text explains the earth’s origins. and in its place, a pseudo-scientific amalgam of intelligent design and irrational archaeology has been exalted for the full viewing of the faithful.

so while, on lincoln’s 200th birthday, we can celebrate the fact that an african american has been elected president of a nation that once enslaved his like, we cannot yet celebrate a true reconciliation between science and faith. fundamentalists cling to a literal six day creation today like they clung to biblical teachings of ‘slaves obey your masters’ during the civil war. and like slavery, fundamentalist christianity and its black and white understanding of the bible must be overcome.

i am hopeful that just as we overcame a religious opposition to an equality among races, so too will we of faith one day embrace an interpretation of the bible that allows science to explain the ‘how,’ and frees the bible to provide a word as to ‘why.’ until such a time as this, those of us who have dedicated our lives to scientific inquiry, and who happen to live lives of faith, must continue to speak boldly and offer a hermeneutic for both science and the bible that asks the hard questions, follows the data, and lets the truth fall where it may.

so as we celebrate darwin’s birth, let him not be a lightning rod for controversy, but let him be a reminder that we should commit ourselves to observing and thinking about our world and our faith. for like the human species, our understanding of the bible changes over time, and so too must our faith. for both humans and their faith are endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful, which from so simple a beginning have been, and are being, evolved.

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