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Avoiding Crackpot Archaeology


By Krista Bontrager - July 1, 2011
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“Noah’s Ark Discovered!”

“Found! Nails from Jesus’ Cross!”

“Discovery of the Century!”

We live in an exciting time for biblical archeology. It’s also a time riddled with fraud, forgery, and crackpot theories. And the media doesn’t always make it easy to distinguish serious scientists from treasure-seeking amateurs and con-men. 

Here are a few key questions to ask the next time you hear a story about a sensational discovery:

1. Research—How was the excavation performed? Was it done using usual methods? How carefully was the excavation documented?

Not every big discovery is made in a conventional way. Bedouin shepherds found the Dead Sea Scrolls. But this case is the exception rather then the rule.

2. Credentials—Who’s the main scholar behind the discovery? What are his or her credentials?

A credible discovery should be backed by a scholar with relevant expertise. If the main person promoting a discovery is a filmmaker or self-taught amateur, then it’s time for a healthy dose of skepticism.

3. Verification—What scholars have checked the research’s accuracy? Has a reputable lab verified the test results?

While unanimity may be rare among researchers, a legitimate discovery will have a contingent of responsible scholars behind it, regardless of their personal beliefs. If a small cadre of Christians is alone in touting the claim, that’s a pretty good indication the research is unsubstantiated.

4.     Publication—Where was the research related to this discovery published? 

A credible discovery is typically reported in a peer-reviewed journal. When a so-called “discovery” is announced at a press conference and not accompanied by an academic paper, be skeptical. Such announcements are the hallmark of junk science.

5.     Confirmation—What are other scholars saying?

Whenever a potential blockbuster discovery is announced, visit select web sites that carry responsible editorial analysis to see what they have to say. Here are two of my favorites:

◦ Biblical Archaeology Review (bib-arch.org/)

◦ Bible Places (blog.bibleplaces.com/)

6.     Caution—Does the discovery sound too good to be true?

If something seems extraordinarily spectacular, put the brakes on and adopt a “wait-and-see” posture. If the discovery has validity, then more documentation of the research will be forthcoming.

No one should allow an exciting rumor to charm him or her into accepting bad data. A sensational news story supporting the Bible may be enticing, but Christians must prize truth above all else.

Discover the latest research in the Bible’s historical reliability

Come be a part of Reasons Institute’s Biblical Archaeology course. Next offered: October 24, 2011. Visit www.reasonsinstitute.com for details.


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