Archaeologists versus believers

A friend of mine pointed out this (Dutch) story to me (an English translation is given here).  In the Netherlands – which many consider a bastion of reason and liberalism – there is a town council objecting to a scientific report because it contradicts their religious beliefs.

Staphorst is a community of very religious people (mostly Calvinists, according to Wikipedia).  Like all Dutch towns, they are required to produce a survey of archaeological sites in their jurisdiction (for a comprehensive nation-wide map of such sites).

Naturally, the survey was conducted by actual archaeologists.  It contained references to settlements 12000 years old.  That’s what the scientific evidence suggests, and I think that’s pretty cool.  Imagine learning that there are twelve thousand years of human heritage in your hometown!

But the council members (and most of the people in the town) are young-earth creationists.  That’s their right, of course.  But they want the report amended to acknowledge their beliefs – that the countryside, the planet, and the whole universe are less than ten thousand years old.

They want a report based on demonstrable, objective, scientific evidence to acknowledge beliefs that are based on religious faith.

This is repugnant to me, but rather than start flinging emotion-laden abuse around, I invite them (and any who sympathize with their actions) to consider this:

How would they feel if someone asked them to post a notice at their church pointing out that the physical evidence for a 4-billion-year-old Earth is far more comprehensive than the physical evidence for any of the amazing claims in the Bible?

I’m guessing they’d say “no”.  And that’s their right – a church is a place for building and maintaining a community  of common belief, and they should not be obliged to confront opposing beliefs within its confines (however well-grounded those opposing beliefs might be).

If they want to reject science and seek truth some other way, that’s their right.  But they have no right to insist that their unscientific beliefs be given voice in a scientific venue.

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4 Responses to “Archaeologists versus believers”

  1. cath Says:

    Since when was archaology science but? 🙂

  2. Timothy Mills Says:

    What do you mean? What else is it?

  3. cath Says:

    Like history?

  4. Timothy Mills Says:

    I’ll grant that archaeology is a very cross-disciplinary endeavour, generally speaking. But twelve thousand years is a long time ago – pre-historic, in my understanding.

    What techniques are likely to have been used to make that determination? Not some esoteric textual analysis of ancient writings, but physical analysis of the materials, probably combined with comparison of structures and artifacts to those from other sites around Netherlands and Europe, for which similarly scientific methods have established the dates of various technological and cultural indicators.

    And what do the council members seem to have offered as justification for amending the report? The popularity of a particular interpretation of a particular religion. Not opposing scientific evidence. Just “we believe this, and so do most of the people around here”.

    I should acknowledge that all of this, as well as my post itself, are extrapolated from a very brief news article, translated from Dutch, so I may be wrong. However, I think the extrapolation is warranted (see here for a description of modern archaeological methods, and here for a brief account of the primacy of religion in Staphorst culture).

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