Indiana Jones Cool Archaeologist Poor Philosopher -- By: Ted W. Wright
Indiana Jones Cool Archaeologist
In the third installment of the Indiana Jones movie series, The Last Crusade, “Indy” goes to the chalkboard in his tweed jacket and writes down the word “FACT” and underlines it. Then he says to his eagerly listening students, “Archaeology is the search for fact, not truth. If it’s truth you’re interested in, Dr. Tyree’s philosophy class is right down the hall.”
Unbeknownst to most people, Indy was summarizing a philosophical outlook, not an archaeological one! That outlook originated with an 18th-century German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, who taught the radical separation of facts from truth (or values).1 The question is, is Indy right? Was Kant right? Should “facts” be divorced from truth? Are the two mutually exclusive? Is truth merely from someone’s perspective? How should truth be defined? Does this even matter? It does matter, because ideas have consequences! Truth, by its very nature, is absolute and unbreakable. Truth is that which corresponds to reality.
If Bible-believing Christians were to adopt the philosophical viewpoint of Kant, it would have devastating consequences on their faith. However, Israeli archaeologist Amnon Ben-Tor articulates a view of facts and values that is in line with Kant (and Dr. Jones):
This intense urge to prove the Bible cannot affect the pious believer. For such a person, the scriptures contain their own truth and need not be criticized or proven. This need is prevalent, in what must be construed as an irrational manner, among large sections of the secular public, which find it important that the archaeologists prove that all the events in the Bible did indeed occur and that all the figures mentioned and the episodes described are entirely consistent with reality. There is in this demand a violation of archaeological integrity and an attempt to impose upon archaeology unattainable objectives—that is the proof of faith.2
Ben-Tor states that the Scriptures “contain their own truth,” as if there were a separation between what the Bible says and the facts of reality. When Ben-Tor and other scholars make such skeptical statements about the Bible, they are voicing conclusions arising not from archaeology, but from an underlying philosophy and worldview to which they adhere.
Not every statement by an archaeologist or historian is a statement of archaeology or history. The judgments made by Ben-Tor are philosophical in nature. The particular philosophical viewpoint he articulates actually has a name, fideism. Fideism is the belief that faith, by...
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