Thursday, January 18, 2007

Clearing Debris at the Pool of Siloam

While wondering the internet universe this evening I entered the world of self-proclaimed "archaeologist" Willie Dye and caught this picture on his website:

The picture has the following caption: "Dr. Willie Dye and team working at the Pool of Siloam, Jerusalem (The steps are being carefully excavated)".

The caption leads the uninitiated to assume three things: 1) Dr. Willie Dye has a legitimate degree and professional experience in archaeology; 2) it somewhat implies that he is in charge of the excavation and has a "team" (also implying some degree of prefessional expertise in archaeology) working under him; and 3) they are all engaged in careful, methodologically excavation that requires some degree of expertise.

My biggest issue with so-called evangelical/fundamentalist "Biblical Archaeologists" is the relatively large number of them who have no legitimate degree in the discipline, no formal training in its methods or theory, and absolutely no track record of producing viable data in publication. Yet they continue to portray themselves as "archaeologists" to the masses of uninformed waiting breathlessly to hear that the "professionals" have verified their belief system with "science". This picture and its caption reminded me that both Willie Dye and Carl Baugh visited my little corner of the world years ago (invited by two local boys who had joined Baugh and Dye's "team") and hawked their creationist and "bible-verified-by-archaeology" snake oil to our local community. Never ones to miss an opportunity to proselytize, the editorial staff at The Lassen County Times ran a number of articles on the trip and made every effort to imply that these guys were legitimate archaeologists, conducting important archaeology that was proving the bible correct in every way, and that they were leading the excavations because of their expertise in the field.

Willie Dye and Carl Baugh have no legitimate credentials in archaeology. They have no professional experience in archaeology. They have no publications in archaeology. They are not archaeologists. They and their "team" were volunteers (or part of the many "bible" tours offered by vendors looking for a quick buck). The photo shows them clearing debris, not "excavating carefully". They probably helped out quite a bit and enabled the directors of the project (who were not Baugh or Dye) to get some work accomplished, but their "expertise" was nothing you couldn't have taught a bright ten-year-old in an afternoon. This picture further reminded me of a previous post on the subject of archaeology and its abuse by creationists. Here's a short passage on the nature of public archaeology, volunteerism and the potential for non-professional fraud:

Third, archaeology’s greatest public benefit can also be its greatest weakness. Some aspects of archaeology, unlike other disciplines, are quite amenable to non-professional public involvement. Volunteers are not only welcomed, but frequently encouraged to participate in professional excavations. Digging square holes is not quantum physics, and most people with an interest in the past can be taught to dig and screen dirt with the best of us. Don’t get me wrong: there are frequently times when finesse, experience and skill are required for intricate excavation of special features and the skill level of most non-professionals is inadequate to the task – it is here where the professional archaeologist will usually take over. But a significant part of most large scale excavations is removing lots of dirt and not finessing the excavation of intricate features. Volunteers certainly make valuable contributions to archaeology and some gain a measure of expertise (I work with a few) – but they are not professional archaeologists. Excavation is really only a minor part of archaeology: it is the analysis and interpretation that requires significant expertise in the method and theory of archaeology, the ability to adhere to the methods of science, and skill at formulating cohesive arguments. Most non-professionals know the limits of their often significant contributions. Some, however, pick up a piece of pottery and suddenly become self-proclaimed experts in the field…and creationists will rush in and create expansive expertise out of shoveling dirt for a day faster than you can say “Indiana Jones”. We certainly have the usual creationist cast such as Carl Baugh, Willie Dye, Richard Fales and Clifford Wilson claiming to be professional archaeologists when they have no academic training, no professional field experience, and no track record of having produced reviewable contributions to the discipline. But there are also a growing number of Christian volunteers, willing to pay to participate in archaeological fieldwork in the Holy Land, who then return home to go on the “lecture circuit” and recount how their archaeological experiences are “proving the Bible correct”. Many clearly participate in order to gain a measure of professional authenticity that they then parade in front of home audiences. This is bad enough for archaeology, but it also broadly translates into the perception that these people can speak authoritatively on science in general. After all, they’ve participated with professional archaeologists on professional excavations. If they know something about potsherds, they must also know something about the failings of “macroevolution”, right?

As I said, archaeology's greatest benefit, but also its greatest weakness. It is unfortunate that archaeology is not subject to the same strict legal consequences for quackery as medicine. If that were the case I suspect that Baugh, Dye and most other fundamentalists would have lost their licenses or been jailed long ago.


Anonymous said...

I did not see YOU on the History Channel with Dr. Willie Dye.

Christopher O'Brien said...

Nope. But you still didn't see a professional archaeologist, just a charlatan. Willie Dye is not recognized as a legitimate, professional archaeologist by anyone with any credibility. He has published nothing professionally; he would not be granted a research permit to excavate on any public land in the US precisely because he lacks the credible credentials and professional experience necessary to claim the title "archaeologist". The man's a fraud - if he got on the History Channel that tells me more about the inability of the History Channel staff to conduct proper background research than anything else.

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Anonymous said...

it's exceedingly problematic for me, as an african american with multiple advanced degrees in the scholarly study of religion, including a phd from an elite university, for "dr" willie dye to claim such expertise and education, when he, in fact, has no degrees, not even a bachelor's degree from a real college or university. yet, he claims to be the only african american biblical archaeologist as if he has earned some distinction. my degrees required heavy coursework, multiple language exams, 5 comprehensive qualifying exam, research and the production of a book-length dissertation that added something new to the field of knowledge. it is completely disrespectful and dishonest for willie dye to make his claims of education and exceptionalism. he is a disgrace to all educated people, legitimate archaeologists, and all african americans who endeavored to be educated in the face of a history of slavery, lynching, discourses of inferiority and supporting pseudosciences, and exclusion. not sure how the history channel could miss that he is COMPLETELY without creditials. thank you for your essay. said...

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