As a science biblical archaeology is part of the social sciences. It is a specialty in the field of archaeology within the discipline of anthropology (see Scientific Archaeology). In this context it is a secular field. As such, the basis of biblical archaeology lies in the methods of science not in religious faith nor with the humanities.
Scientific knowledge in biblical archaeology progresses based upon hypothesis formation and testing against the archaeological record. A hypothesis is a tentative explanation in response to a specific scientifically posed question. Social scientists test research hypotheses through making observations or conducting experiments. Hence, science does not proceed on the basis of proof but upon the testing of hypotheses. The process is one of falsification.
A "falsified" research hypothesis is the result of the contradiction of the hypothesis by the research data. When the data contradict a research hypothesis then, in the process of explanation, the researcher either rejects or modifies the hypothesis. Sets of tested research hypotheses give rise to general theory.
Verification proceeds by the testing of a research hypothesis by other reputable researchers. A repeatedly tested hypothesis becomes a fact when its continued verification shows that to not consider it so would border on the ridiculous. In science, however, a fact is not an absolute truth, but rather a reasonable certainty, since the scientific method necessitates that all scientific explanation be tentative (see Standards of Proof).
For those people who want to see and understand the world in terms of absolute truth the scientific characterization of the word fact can be troublesome. When a scientist refers to a fact in a scientific context he or she is not using the word in the sense of absolute truth. He or she is employing a technical meaning not the common dictionary meaning of the word. Hence, scientists often hold that evolution is a fact as evolution (meaning a change of allele frequencies in a population over time or microevolution) is a verified scientific explanation for genetic change as the result of mutation, natural selection, gene flow, and genetic drift. This does not make evolution nor the theory of evolution (macroevolution) absolute truth. The theory of evolution, as distinct from the genetic process of change in a species, is simply the scientific explanation for the origin of life based solely on physical observation. The supernatural phenomena of human creation is beyond the limits of the objective reality assumed in science. In post-Christian America we see the general population increasingly assuming that the theory of evolution is absolute truth. Secularized Americans place their faith in a theory and see creationists as uneducated, backward troublemakers. We would suggest that the theory of evolution is a dangerous illusory precept leading to a valueless dead-end. Borrowing a thought from the Apostle Paul "as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting" (Romans 1:28).
Moreover, there are other limits in science as well. Just as absolute certainty is not possible in scientific explanation neither can science determine what is ethical and unethical, moral and immoral, nor beautiful and ugly. Science cannot determine whether or not God exists nor explain God's nature nor the purpose of human life. Science affords prediction but not prophecy, spiritual understanding, nor a way of life leading to human happiness and success. Please understand, science, which cannot provide absolute truth about anything, is not in competition with Christianity and the Bible. Scientists attempt to explain observations. The task of Christianity lies in the meaning of life and humanity's relationship with God.
Viewed from this perspective the Hebrew Scriptures [the Old Testament or Tanach] and the New Testament exist as historical documents with their divinely inspired status a scientific non-issue (see The Bible as History to take into account the vastly different approaches scholars take to the historical content of the Bible).
Divine inspiration does not constitute a matter with which science can deal. This causes apprehensiveness in some Bible students, since the "biblical" modifying archaeology appears theological somehow. Its secular nature explains the manner scientists use to report their findings in biblical archaeology. Read an article or two in Near Eastern Archaeology or the Biblical Archaeology Review to gain a sense of this style of scientific thinking and reporting.
Take note that many nonscientists, e.g., architects, historians, theologians, linguists, and other professionals, are prominent biblical archaeologists. They practice their profession in the archaeology of the Bible lands utilizing scientific methodology when they see it as appropriate. This means that there is considerable interpretation present in biblical archaeology rather than scientific explanation.
Prevailing practice, which still lies in a historical approach, has most biblical archaeologists calling upon scientific methodology as it fits their needs. One must remember, however, that science is a means of knowledge production not the only means. Epigraphs, textual analysis, linguistic study, and architectural investigation also provide significant information about biblical peoples and their cultures. Knowledge also advances through examination of available evidence by methods other than science such as exegesis and hermeneutics. Objectivity, however, always remains an issue.
While an end of science is the production of objective knowledge, in the form of explanation of observable phenomena, science itself has come under attack. It is popular in some circles to argue that science is hopelessly flawed as a method of coming to know the details of the ancient past. The argument is that scientists are not objective, due to their preconceptions, assumptions, techniques, beliefs, and the like, which substantially taints their scientific observations and conclusions. Be aware that certain archaeologists, following a destructivist paradigm, argue that we really cannot know with certainty the details of the ancient past and then choose to provide an interpretation that supports their social and political agendas. This reasoning lies in philosophical hermeneutics and the approach lacks objectivity (see Postmodern Archaeology).
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