Thursday, 3 April 2008

To Doubt Doubts

This is the post I've been wanting to write for a while, and I was finally spurred into action by GH's post on why OJ isn't true. He says there is no evidence to suggest God is there, or that OJ or TMS is true.

But what if some evidence is there?

I don't consider direct evidence as possible to achieve, as direct evidence to me, would be nothing less than seeing God or something similarly divine, like an angel.

But what about indirect evidence? I'm not talking about the sort of arguments which say "oh, look at nature! look how amazing it is! Obviously it didn't happen by chance..." because there are sound alternative explanations for that which don't involve the divine. Let's take some biblical claims one by one and survey the evidence for them, if any. I'm going to attempt to stay away from absolutist statements, as there's probably lots I don't know about this subect. Comments, insights and facts welcome.

The Sea Crossing
There is evidence to suggest that this actually happened. First, a possible route has been mapped out here, and goes through the Red Sea. At the suggested crossing, sonar shows there is quite a large ridge (pictured), which probably would have been able to take the Children of Israel across to the other side of the sea...Egypt is on the left side of the border, Saudi Arabia on the other side. The ridge is somewhat elevated above the rest of the sea floor and this is the only elevation of the sort in the red sea. The sea floor isn't actually flat as portrayed here, but goes down to incredible distances.

Further, stone tools found in southern Arabia have been found to match those in africa (here) suggesting there was certainly migration across the sea at some point, so we know it's possible. Exprets believe that the first crossing took place before boat technology when those crossing either had nothing to cross with, or rafts at best. Further, through using data on sea flows and ebbs, experts suggest that the Red Sea was always covered with water for the past 2 million years, though of course at different amounts at different times. I don't know enough about sonar and underwater geography to know what this article means (it was drudged up in a google search at some point) but from what I can make of it, it doesnt seem to present any contradictions to this. It looks interesting though.

However. I think I've established (a little disjointedly, yes, but still) beyond reasonable doubt that such a crossing is possible, I present material which suggests the Children of Israel actually did it.

Under-water archaeological discoveries made seem to indicate that Egyptian chariots did venture out into the sea at some point. Below, a chariot wheel found in the Red Sea alongside what I assume (and seems reasonable to do so) is an ancient egyptian drawing of a chariot.

Further, this underwater wheel matches Egyptian chariot wheels found in Egyptian tombs. This wheel was found at the crossing site with many more wheels and human remains, which have since mineralised from resting at the bottom of the sea for so long. This seems to indicate Exodus 14 was correct when it documented the chariot wheels fell off and the Egyptians were drowned.

For those interested in the methodologies used to locate the presumed crossing path, it is available online over here.

Though this is not direct evidence of the divine, it does seem to indicate the bible has some historical truth in it. To what extent this was Divine is something an individual would have to decide for themselves, but I think it is safe to assume that the Children of Israel crossed the sea without this necessarily pointing towards the Divine.

Sinai Mountain and Revelation
The first image is found here, together with a nice little excerpt of the bible.
Based on the crossing route established above, the Children of Israel (CoI) would have emerged on the banks of Saudi Arabia - there are actually pillars dating back to the time of King Solomon on either side of the crossing, one in Egypt and one in Saudi Arabia. I have been led to understand that the pillar in Egypt was partially submerged in water, thus much of the inscriptions were eroded (though the part not submerged did survive) and the pillar on the Saudi side - which remained completely intact - was removed by the Saudi authorities and replaced with a flag pole indicating an archaeological discovery.

This article describes and shows in pictures the "real" mount sinai

Is there anything to it?
Of course, the stories of the bible could have been based around these phenomena...or it could confirm some bible stories, without necessarily implicating the divine...or it could be a truthful exposition which has verified various bible claims and is circumstantial evidence of the divine.

Could it be my predisposition to not believe would make excuses and justifications to that disbelief, even when evidence - possible evidence? - is present?

Further, compounding what science doesn't know - yes, a God of the gaps - creates a real worry for me. I was one of those people who believed evolution, the big bang etc. could have been how God created the earth, as it's an established precept of Orthodoxy that God acts within nature, and there's no reason to assume he wouldn't do so in a natural universe before humans were around. And I similarly opined that the first atom which gave rise to the big bang was created ex-nihilo by God and that life on earth was kicked off by God. Two "gaps" in science - more massive ravines than gaps - in which a presupposed belief of God would fit in very nicely.

Any thoughts?


Dave said...

Most of this seems to come from a single source, which is, to be slightly charitable, not even pretending to be unbiased. I would want to see more evidence than their claims for almost anything (see below).

It is entirely possible for people to cross bodies of water (doing so on dry land, somewhat less likely).

And it shouldn't come as any great surprise that there is trash in water (ask any diver).

What there isn't (at least as far as I know) is any evidence of anything on the scale of the biblical claim of Exodus. No evidence in the extensive written records of the major civilizations of the time, no archaeological evidence of a mass migration that spent 40 years wandering about in the desert.

Simple claims require little or no evidence. If I tell you I watched the sun rise in the east this morning, you are unlikely to demand proof. If I tell you that I travelled 30 miles in less than an hour, a modern person in the industrialized world would be unsurprised. Go back 150 years, and there were real arguments about whether that kind of speed would drive someone insane. Go back 1500 years, and extensive proof will absolutely be required. This ArkDiscovery group doesn't seem to be offering a lot of proof.

Part of what it sounds like you're considering is Deism. The belief that there was (or for those of us who are at best hopeful Deists, may have been) a Primal Cause, but not one who hangs about intervening in the Universe.

Deism is effectively non-falsifiable (since it posits no intervention past an initial first push), which means it falls outside of Science. Doesn't mean it is or isn't true, it's just not something that can be disproved. It falls into the same classification as Last Thursdayism (the belief that the Universe was created Last Thursday, and everything before that is just created evidence and implanted memories to give the illusion of history).

Jewish Sceptic said...

Sure. I know all this. Except the last-Thursdayism, which was an interesting argument I'll be sure to use at some point!

I didn't provide my own critique as I'm reserving judgement for the time being.

But a few things which did jump out at me:

False or contestable information:
1) the mountain which they are alleging to be sinai could have been anything. Further, a preliminary use of google earth reveals that there are many dark-looking mountains amidst light ones, so that mountain could have just been anything. Further, other mountains have more evidence pointing towards them as being Sinai than this particular one.

2) Pictures are thin on the ground.

3) Even if it does verify alleged biblical events, it doesn't necessarily point to the divine. As you said, people crossed water lots back then too (notably in south east asia).

Good things:
1) pictures are pictures, and I'm assuming they're not faked (though there is a nagging doubt in the back of my mind). They have good evidence showing the presence of Egyptian chariots in the sea at the alleged crossing point. These wheels match chariots found by others in Egyptian tombs.

2) Actual physical evidence (in the form of the pillars with inscriptions on them testifying to the place of the crossing.

3) Drawings at their alleged Sinai and the fact that the local name translates to "the mountain of the law" though I consider these to be lesser forms of evidence. The drawings because I remain sceptical that they're original, the name because place-names can be fickle things.


I feel that truth is truth no matter who presents it, and I understand why this organisation exists.

That being said, unless it's a flat out lie, the research fabricated and the photos faked, then why shouldn't there be a reason to believe this story despite the lack of records elsewhere? If you uncover a Roman village in Europe, but there were no previous records of it, you've still found a Roman village. And besides, just because there isn't archaeological evidence or other historical records for something now, it doesn't mean we won't find it later, or that it once existed but was destroyed.

I've seen a few debates about these pictures take place, and I've always wondered why it should be that most people try and absolutely disprove this, when at the end of the day it doesn't matter. If it were completely true, the fact is that it still doesn't point towards the divine - the raised crossing ground provides ample explanation as to how the CoI could pass through the water, which may have been at a lower level than it is today. The fact that there was water there created mud and ruined the chariot wheels, which isn't surprising either. The rest? embelishment. The only thing it proves, really, is that the bible can write accurate historical records from time to time.

But then, I wonder how far out on a limb I'm going with these objections and wonder if my preconceived notions that there isn't a God mean I make a desperate attempt to justify this position to myself, in the face of possible evidence.

FedUp said...

Let's play devils advocate and say that there is a sudden outburst in evidence that the Bible's fables are real history. This still doesn't prove that Judaism or any other revelation based religion is true. I think the idea of Divine revalation needs to be proven before that can happen.

In "The Bible Unearthed" and other similar books don't make the Bible to be 100% made up from whole cloth. For example, Noah's ark is merely a fablized history. There was a deluge it just wasn't when and how the Bible says it was. The exodus could be similar. This is still unconvincing that the bible is the inspired word of God and is binding.

abandoning eden said...

Below is info on this claim's inability to be verified.

The original claim is attributed to Ron Wyatt. Below is info about him.

It sounds like a hoax by a crazy crack-pot.

Jewish Sceptic said...

What you say is true, and I mentioned some of what you said myself a few times. However, what this post is really getting at is (1) my capacity to doubt myself and (2) what sort of proof do we require? Are we all rejecting valid proofs on the basis of presupposed ideas (probably not, but if the real thing came along, would we treat it like this)? Can we really just reject everything out of hand?

Regardless, I would concur with your position.

abandoning eden
good to see you commenting again! The truth or fiction website you provided didn't really convince me. I found the revelation that no-one seems to know where the original chariot wheel excavated by wyatt is to be eye opening - maybe the photos were faked afterall!

The wiki entry was fuller and far more interesting. It is apparant that Wyatt and his followers seem to be overclaiming things...

The Candy Man said...

Read Graham Hancock's "The Sign and the Seal." It'll tell you where the Ark of the Covenant is.

Just in time for the new Indiana Jones movie... ;)

Jewish Sceptic said...

I think Indiana Jones! Isn't he that archaeologist who's the greatest authority on where the Ark of the Covenant is? :P

Rabban Gamliel said...

Very interesting. It is certainly not fake. It would be hard to do and it would be self defeating to make forgeries for the argument. Someone would have to be nuts or at least their audience to attempt that. Certainly research is warranted. The data is there. Thank you JewishSkeptic. It is very interesting. For myself I don’t feel the need to make the links between the data and the Bible. If they exist fine but otherwise also fine. I saw a lot of this on TV and also in a book so certainly it is not like it is from one source. Anyway thanks again. As for King Solomon’s Temple thanks to the Palestinians failing to respect archaeology we now have artifacts from the Holy Temple. Happy Rosh Chodesh Nisan.

Rabban Gamliel said...

Much of the Bible would make poor myth as a story has to have the details all add to the myth. Much of the Bible is simply an attempt to record information, sometimes listings. It would be very strange to deny history to a people to the extent that their records of their history are not recorded in other people’s writings. First such an attitude leaves more questions for the history in question than answers as if there can be a people without needing a story to explain their origins and developments. Second a people can be expected to record more about itself than any other people would them. Do we expect to have more information in the Bible on the Egyptians than the Egyptians? Also the Bible has been a key to knowing information. The Hittites were first known from the Bible and the existence of the Hittites was laughed at until discovered. Discoveries like that should add to the Bible’s believability not have it be unaffected. It clearly would be showing a strange bias to claim that the Bible can shed no light on its surroundings but its surroundings can on them and that the Jews have no history that they passed down short of what other nations recorded. Further it is strange for critics to take the Bible as a base of proof for their theories when it suits them but deny believability otherwise.

Rabban Gamliel said...

I was talking at least of the pictures you showed. They don't seem like coral.

Jewish Sceptic said...


Thanks for your posts. I think the main objections to the Wyatt discoveries is that most of what he "discovered" was never actually there. I.e. people would go to the areas of where he said he found (e.g. ark of the covenant) and there were no items.

Further, one has to consider the source of those making the claim, and Wyatt was a bit of a free spirit. Everyone from his church leaders to other archaeologists denounced his archaeological "discoveries" as frauds.

The problem is compounded by the fact that the evidence pictured hasn't actually surfaced. The one chariot wheel (pictured) which Wyatt said he excavated was nowhere to be found after his death. Other people have dived in the same places he has, all around his proposed Children of Israel crossing site, and yet found nothing of interest, besides the lovely coral.

But as I said before, even if the crossing story is true, it doesn't point to the divine.

I think you're right about one thing though: the bible should be treated as being historically accurate - but only in some instances.

The problem with the bible's history is that it's exaggerated a lot. For example, Solomon and his 1,000 wives is likely to not be an exact figure, and is probably an exaggeration. That Solomon is the wisest man to have ever lived? If anything is myth, that is (by the way, as for how myths start - they don't start detailed, they start vague and it gets added to over time).

My position is that generalisations made by the bible are accurate - e.g. the existence of a certain nation - but the details are not - how wise Solomon was. In other words, myths based on true things. it's up to the individual to sort out the truth from the fiction.

The perfect example of this would be the events surrounding Jesus' death. The further away the NT book was written from the event, the more miracles are said to have taken place (read: more embelishment and myth making).

Rabban Gamliel said...

Thank you for your response. I always try to check out both sides so as far as Wyat indeed do so. Avoid Wikipedia and other sites that allow anyone to edit it. Use them for the links they give and as for the rest check up on them. As for e. Use them for the links they give and as for the rest check up on them. As for experts I find the following if they simply say something can’t be they are being human. If they prove it it is another story. As far as King Solomon being the wisest certainly it is a subjective statement that cannot be proven only believed. I could say for instance Bush (hold your laughter for the sake of the argument:-)) is the wisest of the presidents. True it is a subjective statement but it cannot be shown false if someone feels that Bush more than any other president has shown wiseness in policy. As for a thousand wives or hundreds I don’t see perhaps from ignorance on the topic how it would be untrue for anyone who doesn’t buy the revisionism that questioned Israel as being a people that entered into Israel and became the nation it did. A revisionism I must add that has been converted into a god of the gaps as archaeology uncovers the truth and as Palestinian disrespect for our heritage has caused the Temple Mount to unveil its secrets under the Palestinian tractor. Ultimately the Bible can believed even more by admitting the possibility of the Divine even though a miracle needn’t leave any traces. A miracle comes unbidden by science though not forbidden just being outside it and it needn’t oblige itself to provide proof anymore than the laws of nature need bother to prove to us that we can use them to show the past or predict the future. We certainly know Fundamentalists who can get along nicely in the world with just such a skepticism. The point is we all have to pick what we feel is true and it reaches a point where we can’t prove any further. But certainly doing as XGH does and claiming that the arguments of the other side can be left unchallenged no matter how points by lumping bias within a group as being for all is of course not using reason but a faith of different kind one ostensibly skeptic. One can readily see the absurdity of that position by thinking of how the history of our lives could be declared false by relying on consensus as to what happened. We readily see revisionism on points of recent history. There simply is no shortcut to just a good a reasoning to arrive at what we feel is the truth and if we find ourselves staking out positions because of emotions we have to examine if it is because we feel we are sensing truth or our own desires. Judaism I feel holds up well no matter how you look at truth. If truth is absolute then Judaism holds up well and indeed invented absolute truth for all nations as opposed to the previous system of national truths. If however truth is not absolute Judaism holds up good for us anyhow as we are Jewish and Judaism is what molded us very much. I enjoy engaging you in thought.

Ted Goas said...

There is also a chance Moses and his people never crossed the Red Sea, but rather the nearby Reed Sea. The Reed Sea is actually a lake and isn't terribly deep. Since history records from that time were largely transferred through word of mouth and not recorded well, there's a possibility this 'miracle' could have been exaggerated a bit.

Then there's the problem of absolutely no archaeological evidence of the Jews wandering the desert for 40 years after that, but that's another can of worms...

It all makes the story a little hard to take at face value.

mOOm said...

It's all Christian driven pseudoscience...