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Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Frauddunnit: The Argument from Incredulity in Archaeology

I first ran across The Argument from Incredulity in a discussion with a very articulate advocate of Abiogenesis. I'll coin a couple of terms here, to use in reporting on our discussion. These are not the terms he used, of course, but this is my blog and I'm setting the agenda here.

Biogenesite: One who believes that, under any conditions known to science, living matter can only arise from previously existing living matter; a believer in biogenesis.

Abiogenesite: One who believes that living matter can arise from non-living matter, provided the conditions are right; a believer in spontaneous generation or abiogenesis.

These are bare-bones definitions. I could expand them a bit to more closely describe the beliefs of the participants in the discussion I reference, but they should be enough for now.

Jones (this is what he called himself) claimed that biogenesites are guilty of a logical fallacy he referred to as "Goddidit." This is a folk contraction of the phrase "God did it" and represents, in Jones' mind, an argument from incredulity. In other words, when pressed to give an explanation for the origin of something existing in the present, a proponent of Goddidit (also sometimes spelled Goddoneit, Goddunit, or Goddunnit) spurns any scientific explanation of the phenomenon, but instead falls back on the phrase, "God did it," as if that ends the discussion.

An opponent of biogenesis, on the other hand, deriding the biogenesite as a proponent of "pseudoscience," would come up with an elaborate theory to explain the existence of the object, void of biological reality or historical credulity (to use words that Jones would have only applied to biogenesites).

It's not my purpose here to discuss biogenesis or abiogenesis, but to apply this concept of "Goddunnit" to archeology. When an artifact is unearthed that doesn't fit with established archeological theory, the archeologist is faced with only two options: change his theory, or cry "Frauddunnit!" The latter is tyically the case, as anyone who chooses the first option is generally derided as a proponent of "pseudoarchaeology."

A proponent of "Frauddunnit," when pressed to give an explanation for the origin of something existing in the present, spurns any scientific explanation of the phenomenon, falling back on the claim that "A fraud did it," as if that ends the discussion.

Spurning both pseudoscience and pseudoarcheology as not serving the interests of the truth, the White Man has carefully examined two cases in which "Frauddunnit" was the cry of the establishment, and has discovered that in both cases, the opposite was true.

The first case is one that is not well known, The Newark Decalogue.

The second is much more celebrated, that of The Ica Stones.

Note similarities in each case:
- Artifacts were found that seemed out of place in time or space
- These items were uncovered spread over time and space, but ultimately connected with each other through painstaking research
- While the first response of experts was to suspect fraud, rigorous examination of the evidence showed fraud to be the least likely explanation
- In spite of mounting evidence disproving fraud, experts whose world views may have been shaken by the absence of fraud barged right ahead with their eyes wide shut, proclaiming to the end, "Frauddunnit!"

In the case of the Newark Decalogue, a scientist who was truly an expert in the required field was easily able to show that fraud was neither a likely nor a necessary explanation, and that the claims of great antiquity for the artifacts were unfounded. No one's world view need be challenged by her explanation, and it should be widely accepted--except that few have yet heard it, and "Frauddunnit" continues to be the cry of experts blissfully unaware of her conclusions.

In the case of the Ica Stones, experts in the field have established the antiquity of the artifacts beyond question; but the world view of the reigning experts is so threatened by the truth that they have gone to great lengths to conceal or deride it. Despite this, anyone who cares to do so can be satisfied by the evidence for their antiquity, which in turn argues for their authenticity.

As put in the mouth of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle,
"When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever is left - however improbable - must be the truth."

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