Monday 9 April 2012

As far as the Bible is confirmed as true, it is mundane

"Archaeology and the Bible — How Archaeological Findings Have Enhanced the Credibility of the Bible" is chapter 45 of Dembski & Licona's Evidence for God. John McRay's claims for such "enhancement", however, put too great a strain on the word's meaning. The archeology he cites in this chapter only enhances the Bible's credibility if cherry-picking and confirmation-bias constitute valid reasoning.
The Bible is a collection of many kinds of documents written over a period of about fifteen hundred years. Beginning with the composition of the first five books (the Pentateuch), the sixty-six total documents were completed by the end of the first century A.D. They were composed in the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek languages in various geographical settings and different historical periods. Archaeological discoveries relating to these settings and periods have enlightened the cultural context in which many of the recorded events occurred and enhanced the credibility of the Biblical record, both the Old and New Testament periods. For example, many events recorded in the last one hundred years of this period of biblical history, during which the New Testament documents were written, have been illuminated through significant archaeological discoveries. Following are some of these impressive finds. Space limitations will not allow discussion of the fourteen hundred years of Old Testament sites.
In this first paragraph we can see McRay already narrowing his focus to exclude inconvenient facts. He's not going to discuss the Old Testament, so the absence of any archeological evidence for the Exodus is conveniently glossed over. And note his wording: discoveries have "enlightened the cultural context" and "enhanced the credibility of the Biblical record." He's clearly admitting that these discoveries are not proof that the Bible is true.

The findings he cites are these (using his headings):

Pool of Siloam
Rolling Stones at Tombs
Tomb of Caiaphas
Capernaum Synagogue
Acts 17:6 and Politarchs in Thessalonica
Erastus in Corinth
Romans 13:3 Inscription in Caesarea Maritima
Paul before Gallio at the Tribunal in Corinth

These appear remarkably mundane — some location mentioned in the Bible actually existed; some official mentioned in the Bible appears on ancient inscriptions; some of the events described in the Bible actually occurred. Note, however, that none of these attests to miracles or supernatural beings. The Bible may well contain some "truth", but as far as that truth is confirmed by archeology that truth is ordinary.

One might be tempted to suggest that though there are events in the Bible that have yet to be confirmed, and places in the Bible whose existence has yet to be confirmed, archeological evidence may arise in the future to confirm them. But one should not report all the so-called confirmations, dismissing items still to be confirmed, while actively ignoring positive evidence that contradicts the Bible — such as the the problems mentioned by Daniel B. Wallace in chapter 43:
Which evangelical would not like a clean harmony between the two records of Judas’ demise, uniform parallel accounts of Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus, or an outright excision of the census by Quirinius? And who would not prefer that in Mark 2.26 Jesus did not speak of David’s violation of the temple as occurring during the days of “Abiathar the high priest”? These are significantly larger problems for inerrancy than the few, isolated textual problems—and they are not in passages that are capable of facile text-critical solutions.
Some scholars, it seems, are prepared to admit there are problems. John McRay's approach, however, appears to be a disingenuous attempt to suggest that there is good evidence for the truth of the whole of the Bible. There isn't.