Archeology, God & Medusa

Two factors have merged to inspire this blog. The first is my seemingly endless debates about God’s existence. The second is the History Channel‘s series Clash of the Gods.

In a recent discussion of God‘s existence, the arguments turned to the matter of whether or not archeological finds can serve as evidence for God’s existence. For example, if a place that is mentioned in the bible is found to be real, does this help support the claim that God exists?

My position on this matter has been and remains that such findings do not provide such support. Naturally, folks have objected that such findings would help show that the bible makes credible claims about historical places and this adds to its credibility. While I am quite willing to agree that such findings would help add to the credibility of the bible as a source for historical information, this is quite a distinct matter from providing evidence that God exists.

My first argument in support of my view is a very simple and perhaps even a silly one. However, I think that it is rather effective in its simplicity. Suppose I give you a call and claim to have seen a ghost in my kitchen. Sensing your doubt, I assure you that I have evidence that supports my claim and I invite you over to see it. Intrigued (and perhaps worried about my sanity), you head on over to see this evidence. I lead you to my kitchen and say “here is my proof. As you can see, my kitchen is quite real!”

Naturally, you would think that I had either gone off my rocker (once again) or that I was pulling some sort of odd prank (once again). After all, showing you that I have a kitchen just proves that my kitchen exists (well, for practical if not philosophical purposes) and does not establish anything about ghosts. What is wanting is a bit of evidence relevant to spirits of the ghostly sort rather than a view of where I keep my mundane spirits.

Likewise, showing that a place where a supernatural biblical supernatural event took place exists merely proves that the place exists. Without further evidence of this alleged event, such a find does nothing to support a claim of divine activity. For example, finding the city of Sodom does not prove that God destroyed the city. What would be needed would be signs that the city was destroyed via means available only to God.

My second argument for my view is more or less an extension of the first one, but it adds in the stuff relating to the Clash of the Gods.

In the episode on Medusa, the program presented both the mythology and discussions about the possible facts behind the myths. Also, the real places where the events where said to have taken place are presented. For example, in the myth Medusa is raped by Poseidon in the temple of Athena. This temple still exists to this day. As another example, the birthplace of the hero Perseus is also quite real.

In various other episodes, the same sort of approach is taken. The possible historical facts that inspired the myths are presented (such as the maze like palace that probably inspired the infamous maze of the minotaur) and the places where the events allegedly took place are often revealed as real places.

While the places mention in the Greek myths are often real, it would not be inferred that finding such places establishes the truth of the supernatural (or extraordinary) aspects of the myths. For example, the fact that the temple of Athena is real does nothing to prove that Medusa was raped there by Poseidon and transformed by Athena into a Gorgon. Likewise, finding places mentioned in the bible are real does nothing to show that any alleged supernatural events really took place.

To use a final example, consider another book about the supernatural and great events: Homer’s Iliad. This book tells tales of the supernatural: the doings of the gods, the existence of demigods and so on.

In a nice parallel, the city of Troy was long believed to be a legend. It was not until Schliemann found Troy did people accept that the story had some basis in historical fact. However, no reasonable person believes that the re-discovery of Troy proves that the Greek gods really exist (or existed).  After all, it is one thing to find evidence of a legendary city and quite another to infer the existence of divine beings.

The same would seem to be true of the bible. Even if every earthly place in the bible is found, this would not provide a single piece of evidence for God’s existence. What would be needed would be evidence of the allegedly supernatural events that took place.

Naturally, some folks might object that certain findings would seem to show that God exists. For example, it might be claimed that finding Noah’s ark would do the trick. However, this is not the case.

Finding the ark would certainly be an amazing discovery, but it would not prove that God exists. After all, men can build huge vessels without any divine intervention (just consider some of the huge vessels built in ancient days). Also, we know that serious flooding occurs naturally. As such, finding such a ship would not show that God destroyed humanity in a vast flood.

Of course, I do accept that finding archeological evidence that the entire earth was flooded and all humans (aside from Noah’s folks) perished would point towards an event that would seem to be beyond natural explanation. After all, a natural event that could flood the entire earth (putting the mountains under water) during the time that humanity has been around does not seem to be geologically possible.  Of course, there seems to be no indication of such a massive event, despite the fact that it should have left a significant amount of evidence.

In light of the above discussion, archeological findings that do not contain actual evidence of divine activity cannot be considered as evidence for God’s existence.

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  1. I suppose, unless archaeology was simply the tool used when one found records which consisted of claims of existence. Such claims, of course, would then have to be evaluated on the same basis as finding, say, a diary of a girl named Anne Frank, and evaluating claims therein. Nonetheless, archaeology would still have had a hand in producing the findings to evaluate the claim.

  2. I’m quite confident that alien life exists, because I saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and been to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.

  3. Mike:
    Biblical and Higher Criticism has been around a long time. Why continue to examine Christianity only from the perspective of its most ignorant adherants? Would you restrict the discussion of metaphysics to the level of the man on the next bar stool? Raise your game a little.

  4. I am not clear what is meant by the word god. How could one define something which has not been shown to exist? The Higgs Boson has yet to be physically demonstrated but there is sufficient mathematical evidence to justify spending a huge amount of money on the expectation that this will be successful; not so the case with god.
    What sort of evidence, justification, or state of affairs would be needed to prove the existence of god, whatever that is. It does not seem, in any case, at all clear, what it is that we might be looking for? What exactly would one be expecting to encounter? If a so called supernatural event occurred, how would this justify the existence of god? The obvious response is to assume our knowledge of the physical world is insufficiently advanced to explain it. To claim it was caused by god would serve only to bring things to an abrupt halt.
    To introduce the term god into any discussion or enquiry serves only to bring proceedings to a point of time whereby we need to seek a thoroughgoing and persuasive argument justifying the existence of god, before continuing. In the light of present knowledge, this seems to be an absolute blind alley down which to proceed.

  5. Don Bird writes:

    I am not clear what is meant by the word god.

    You’ve demonstrated that because you’ve left out of your consideration the inescapable fact that according to perhaps the majority of believers God is not the sort of being that can be shown to exist in the way that the boson might or might not be shown to exist. So in a sense you agree with that majority which was probably not your intention. The only other point that you might be making is that only those things that exist in the way that the boson might or might not be shown to exist, actually exist. This assertion is probably unsafe if not deeply wrong.

  6. “The only other point that you might be making is that only those things that exist in the way that the boson might or might not be shown to exist, actually exist. This assertion is probably unsafe if not deeply wrong.”

    Possibly he might be making that point that anything which cannot be shown to exist in the way that the boson can cannot [i]meaningfully[/i] be said to exist. Presumably one would argue that all our existence claims are based upon some kind of experience or other. While I don’t subscribe to this myself (at least I think we can “create” some things, like the number 2), it is not quite so easily dismissable!
    It then remains for an opponent to try and say what might be meant by “actually exist” other than what has been suggested.

  7. Don: I don’t think that it’s difficult to define something that has not been shown to exist: unicorns, Santa Claus, Donald Duck, etc. I don’t see any point in arguing if God or gods exist or not. I’m an atheist myself, but the terms “God” and “gods” are certainly not meaningless.

  8. I believe that God can be neither proven to not exist or exist.

  9. Michael and Amos both make good points here. My problem is from whichever viewpoint, context, or Universe of Discourse I consider the problem I can personally see see no way of proving the existence of god. I appreciate that those who believe in god may hold that it is not to be demonstrated by means similar to that required for the Higgs Boson. As things stand at the moment I have no idea whatsoever how a proof may be reached by a process differing from the scientific methodology we currently bring to bear on any research. On the other hand it would be unscientific to deny categorically that god does not exist and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that a proof of this could at some time be given. All that I maintain is that in the light of present knowledge this seems highly unlikely. For this reason I remain on the threshold of Atheism, for however little confidence one has in any hypothesis, new data may change the situation. A belief can be true or false and those convinced in the existence of god, would not, so far as my understanding goes, even contemplate this as a falsity. Out of this, what we are really considering is Faith which in the case under consideration just says that it is the case that god exists and that is that, complete certainty. Such a viewpoint I see no way of contesting.
    I agree that it is not difficult to define something that has not been shown to exist and I may have given the wrong impression here. Donald Duck does exist in the context of Disney creations, and the Unicorn exists in context of Mythology. However they do not exist in the context of our everyday experience of what we consider to be the real world. In the real world they are fictional not factual. Such I intended to show was the case with god in the context of religion he may be considered as extant but so far as my experience is concerned he is until I know better fictional, and accordingly beyond a thoroughgoing definition in the real world.

  10. Don:
    My confident assertion that Manchester United can beat Kilmarnock (at home), that Hitler ought not have invaded Russia, that James Joyce is a better writer than David Peace are all sensible statements about the real world. What is the method of their verification? Your criterion of existence does not refer to the common understanding of God but it is also deficient in areas which are regarded as unproblematic. It needs revision not restatement.

  11. Michael,
    Your assertions are expressions of opinion about the real world and as such I have no idea how to verify them or determine the truth or falsity of them. I may of course agree or disagree with you. Had you made the statements Manchester beat Kilmarnock, or Hitler invaded Russia, or James Joyce was a writer. I would know how to verify them determine their truth values. When you say “What is the method of their verification?” I assume if I understand you correctly, that you are making the point that there is no method. Similarly to the above I have no idea how to verify the existence of god. I am acquainted with the common understanding of god in the same way that I am acquainted with the common understanding of fairies. How to prove the existence of these entities I do not know. All I have it seems is on the one hand the Bible, and on the other, books of fairy stories together with highly doubtful anecdotal evidence from those who have been influenced by these books. I am sure you will agree with me that the onus is on believers to prove the existence of god and any attempt to prove a negative (which is not my intention) verges on the impossible.

  12. When you look at Mike Lab.’s OP it seems that it is about the sort of evidence that is sometimes presented for the truth of biblical events e.g. We excavate Jericho and find that the walls show a catastrophic event. However even if believers in the Bible claim that this is evidence for the truth of the claims within, it is clear that it cannot be in the strong sense of evidence in which the equivocal is eliminated and no other explanations are forthcoming. In fact, as I would hold, it is not a question of the Jericho excavations being the wrong sort of evidence but that the concept of evidence as understood in scientific terms does not apply in religious questions.

    So then, belief on the basis of no evidence, if you believe that there is no other sort of evidence short of the scientific, how very mysterious! Yes, quite.

  13. Michael:
    I understand exactly what you mean here. This being a strong viewpoint. It may be that the right kind of evidence justifying religious belief does not find its origin in scientific method, as we currently understand it. For this reason you may recollect I mentioned it is only possible for me to stand on the threshold of atheism rather than embrace it completely. However little confidence one has in any hypothesis new data may change the situation. The new data I seek which would drive me further from atheism does not seem currently forthcoming from scientific endeavour so perhaps as you say, a different kind of evidence may do the trick. From where this may come or what it might be I cannot envisage. However to dismiss this idea out of hand would be in itself unscientific. I still remain a sceptic preferring to consider probabilities rather than belief, or worse still faith. I hasten to add that outside of Philosophy I am fairly resolute.

  14. Don: A different kind of evidence as obtained via scientific methods would indeed be a “trick”.

    I refer you to the humourous “xkcd” site for this very point:

    “Science: We finally figured out that you could separate fact from superstition by a completely radical method: observation. You can try things, measure them, and see how they work! Bitches.”

    How long will humanity remain trapped by the legacies of our less enlightened pasts?

    Thanks for the web site.
    “How long will humanity remain trapped by the legacies of our less enlightened pasts?” Great! I wish I had said that.

  16. Verifying the existence of the Heavenly Father; Producing evidence of one all powerful deity; Identifying a one true religion? And doing this without offending the countless religions, sects, and denominations. Talk about a really a tall order!

    I cannot possibly do all of this but I may be able to suggest an experiment that may produce empirical evidence that may substantiate a case in favor of Christ.

    I’ll have to think about it. In the meantime what do you think of the information at this site?:

  17. religiosity has no philosophical value… and philosophy the greater…
    piety is not reserved for religion…
    without evidence there is no argument… don’t get ahead of science. it is methodry …
    what is the control of god… is that the proof of god… no…
    is it body… no
    is it… myth of… or story… of his i mean history…
    religion is more the evil… philosophy more the light in en-light-end…

  18. Rules of Engagement: The fallen angel who currently holds the title to the earth is the greatest deceiver of all time. In pursuing the discovery of the Father’s existence we must not make this task more difficult than it needs to be. A simple inquiry will be sufficient: “Heavenly Father, please grant this day that I will be given the light of your Truth.” The person asking this has given the Father permission to begin working behind the scene in that person’s life so that they will indeed arrive at or be given the knowledge of the Truth. The best path to discovery is often very simple, indeed.

  19. Constantine,

    That doesn’t seem to be a rule.

  20. Re: Constantine Feb 19th

    I read recently that a vast and overwhelming majority of requests to the Heavenly Father seem to be met with plain NO!
    So best of luck with the search for Truth.

  21. What happened to “I tried it and it doesn’t seem to be a rule?”

  22. What was your request?

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