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On the Misuse of Archaeology for Evangelistic Purposes

If scholars do not counter sensational claims made by religious groups perverting science for their own evangelistic purposes, archaeologists run the risk of having their own research, their own voices, and potentially their entire discipline diluted by these ideologically inspired, nonscientific claims. And that is precisely the goal of religious organizations posing as scientific endeavors: if they can saturate the media with enough junk science to counter each claim made by legitimate archaeologists, the public will not be able to tell the difference between fact and fiction, will get lost in the exchange, and will see the junk science as a remote possibility and therefore just as worthy of consideration as legitimate science.

By Robert R. Cargill
UCLA Center for Digital Humanities
UCLA Qumran Visualization Project
June 2010

See Also: Scholars, Frauds, the Media and the Public


The April 2010 declaration by the Hong Kong-based group Noah’s Ark Ministries International (NAMI)1 and their partner, The Media Evangelism Limited, claiming to have discovered Noah’s Ark is only the latest episode in a long history of religious organizations misusing archaeology for evangelistic purposes. Scholars at nearly all points on both the scientific and religious spectra immediately and vociferously rejected NAMI’s claims as the sensational drivel of an overtly evangelical organization seeking to kick off an advertising campaign2 with the hopes of converting people to Christianity,3 and selling DVDs,4 tickets to a theme park,5 and tickets to a “museum” exhibition,6 while deliberately circumventing the scholarly circles they knew would expose their balderdash barge before it ever set sail.

Unfortunately, the academic community’s immediate exposure,7 evisceration,8 and outright rejection9 of NAMI’s unsubstantiated claims have not stopped the group from defending their position.10 And regrettably, the academy’s recent efforts will not stop future groups from “publishing by press conference” and making fantastic claims about finding Noah’s Ark, the Ark of the Covenant, fragments of the “true” cross of Christ, and pimping both archaeology and religion in an attempt to make a few bucks and a few more Christians using plainly deceptive means. For this reason, scholars must continue to counter these outrageous claims with sound logic and hard evidence each and every time they are made.

The persistent use of archaeology for evangelical and moneymaking purposes must be consistently and vigorously countered. It is just as important for archaeologists to counter the pseudoscientific, religiously motivated claims of amateur Ark-seekers immediately and publicly as it is for them to do their own original excavations and research. For in today’s modern media, where far more people watch the History Channel and browse the Internet than read professional journals, if scholars do not counter sensational claims made by religious groups perverting science for their own evangelistic purposes, archaeologists run the risk of having their own research, their own voices, and potentially their entire discipline diluted by these ideologically inspired, nonscientific claims. And that is precisely the goal of religious organizations posing as scientific endeavors: if they can saturate the media with enough junk science to counter each claim made by legitimate archaeologists, the public will not be able to tell the difference between fact and fiction, will get lost in the exchange, and will see the junk science as a remote possibility and therefore just as worthy of consideration as legitimate science. While I applaud the democratization of knowledge and learning that the Internet has empowered, credibility and authority still have a role to play. Scholars must not yield the authority of their rigorous, professional training to amateurs, however zealous and ubiquitous these amateurs may be. For, while all have the freedom of speech, not all archaeological claims are created equal.

Evangelists and junk scientists who abuse science for the purpose of advancing religious claims are counting upon the academy’s reluctance to get involved and combat nonsense. As long as legitimate scholars have “more important things to do,” “other, legitimate articles to write,” and are reticent about getting involved with responding directly to the public about archaeological matters, the amateurs, hacks, and religious hucksters win. These frauds are counting on scholars to remain silent, indifferent, and weary of public interaction; it is from the negligence and apathy of the academy that junk science draws its strength.

Unlike public discourse, archaeology is a science that must follow scientific guidelines, principles, and methodologies. The scientific method cannot be sporadically employed when it is convenient; the scientific method is a principle that all scientists must follow at all times. If one is to employ science in support of one’s claims, it must be done consistently and followed completely regardless of where the data lead. Only when one is willing to submit consistently to the scientific method can one’s scientific conclusions be taken seriously and can a scientist be considered credible. One employing science in their research cannot simply suspend the scientific method when science refutes one’s religious claims.

It is amazing how those who abuse archaeology for their own religious purposes are often quick to abandon the laws of physics, exit the realm of science, and synthesize miraculous explanations in order to rationalize and maintain problematic claims like the Flood and Noah’s Ark, while they simultaneously attempt to appeal to science as authoritative when it potentially supports their religious assertions. These organizations conveniently, yet hypocritically, utilize the very science they dispute because they know science is ultimately the coin of the realm. They couch their claims in scientific terms in an attempt to convince others of the very claims real science has refuted. They disguise their pseudoscientific “discoveries” as actual science and pray that the scientific community does not view their charade as worthy of the effort of scholarly rebuttal. Again, scientific impostors prey on the apathy of scholars.

Therefore, in an effort to practice what I preach, allow me to illustrate the egregious nature of NAMI’s blatant and fraudulent abuse of archaeology for evangelistic purposes. I have already noted that the expedition has taken the self-fulfilling name of Noah’s Ark Ministries International. Its partner in scientific crime is The Media Evangelism Limited, a Hong-Kong based Christian organization “committed to building a Christian media presence by using every modern means of communication to promote the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.”11 Thus, from the outset, the group makes no attempt to hide the fact that it is searching for something specific (Noah’s Ark), that it is a Christian “ministry” of some ilk, and that its sole purpose is proselytization – that is, the creation of more likeminded Christians. Their name alone should arouse suspicions among scholars.

In response to various scholarly critiques,12 NAMI put together a series of video rebuttals.13 In their responses to these legitimate criticisms of their methods and conclusions, NAMI and The Media Evangelism Limited have revealed the true motive behind their mission.

In one of the video responses, Man-Fai Yuen, General Secretary of The Media Evangelism Limited, gives an interview in Chinese. The interview was released as a video entitled, Do We Believe in the Noah’s Ark or the God behind It? and is subtitled in English.14 In the video, Yuen openly explains the evangelical motivation behind their expedition and recent claims of discovery. First, Yuen explicitly states that he became a Christian after a previous bogus Ark discovery claim:

Some decades ago, there was a booklet called “The Ark Found by Satellite Photo”. When we look into the booklet, we know that it talked about a piece of news, which was about a place at the foot of Mt. Ararat that looked like Noah’s Ark. In the end, people believed that it was formed by some lava. It was not Noah’s Ark. Yet because of “The Ark Found by Satellite Photo” I was led to believe in Jesus Christ. So were many other people. Today, when I have climbed Mt. Ararat, and found what the booklet described was not Noah’s Ark. Did it make me drop out of my faith in Jesus Christ? Not at all. The content design of this booklet was to arouse people’s curiosity and interests through the news report. People were encouraged when they read it. By talking about the news, it guided people to know more about God. Once a person is led to God, God will keep revealing himself to that person, such revelations are far more beyond Noah’s Ark.15

Therefore, because Yuen came to be a Christian by what can only be described as bogus means (the Ark claim that piqued his interest was, after all, “not Noah’s Ark”), Yuen feels that it is equally acceptable to use similarly deceptive means to attract others to Christianity.

Yuen goes on to discuss whether NAMI’s claim is actually verifiable. Shockingly (but perhaps not surprisingly), Yuen concludes that as long as people come to know Jesus, it was a worthwhile endeavor.16 Yuen startlingly states:

We can only trust in the Lord. Therefore for us, do we need 100 percent solid evidence? On a spiritual journey, so often we do not have 100 percent solid evidence. On the contrary, we should have 100 faith.17

As for us, we believe that God has led us to climb the mountain; we believe that God has led us to discover the structure. In fact, we had believed it before we found anything, when we thought it might be the place; and when later we found some clues and some traces; till [sic] finally we discovered the structure.18 (italics mine)

But scientific methods have no way to prove that it is indeed Noah’s Ark. So you need to have faith in what the Bible says, that Noah’s Ark and the global Great Flood did exist.19 (italics mine)

Yuen ultimately concedes that their claim of “99.9% certainty”20 regarding their discovery of Noah’s Ark was bogus because “scientific methods have no way to prove that it is indeed Noah’s Ark.”

Perhaps the most flagrant statement from Yuen was his unapologetic admission that NAMI was simply using science in an attempt to make more Christians. At the 5:12 mark in the interview, Yuen concedes:

Therefore as mature Christians, we should be accurate in speaking. When we talk about it from news or scientific aspects, we are just making use of it. The thing itself is not the truth. It is prone to change. Even today when I say that this is 90% sure to be the Ark, assume that one day the 10% rest showed that it is not to be the Ark, even then I don’t think it matters. Because what people believe is not only Noah’s Ark itself, they should believe the God who worked behind Noah’s Ark.21 (italics mine)

The speaker goes on to compare his “discovery” of Noah’s Ark to the claims made about the Shroud of Turin, which he says brought many people to believe in Jesus, despite the fact that it has repeatedly been shown to be a fake. The speaker admits that the publicity and evangelical opportunities generated by both false claims outweigh the fact that the claims were indeed false. For the ethically challenged NAMI “explorers,” the ends apparently justify the deceptive means. This is perhaps the most egregious, premeditated, blatant, and irresponsible misuse of archaeology in recent decades. NAMI appears perfectly comfortable with fooling people into believing in Christianity using what they concede may be a hoax.

Perhaps the most incredulous defense of NAMI’s spurious claims came in a video interview between Panda Lee, a NAMI team member, and Ahmet Ertugru, the Turkish official working with NAMI.22 As a part of an ongoing feud23 between Ark hunters, Ertugru states that a former partner in the search for Noah’s Ark, Dr. Randall Price, Executive Director of Liberty University’s Center of Judaic Studies, is not a “good Christian” because Price doubts the unsubstantiated claims of other Christians, namely NAMI:

And if everything is it to be lie also, Dr. Price, they have to think about if he is Christian. So I don’t think he will be the Christian, as good Christian. Because good Christian they cannot tell to his brother that they are liars.24 [sic]

According to NAMI, merely doubting the specious claims of another Christian - even if the claims are admittedly based upon deception and the sole motivation of making more Christians – makes one a bad Christian.

Ironically, Dr. Price is equally guilty of attempting to use archaeology for evangelistic purposes. In a recent video made available on the website,25 Dr. Price concludes a survey of archaeological evidence he believes proves the validity of the Bible with an invitation to follow Jesus:

Friends, Jesus was right because he was a prophet. But he was more than a prophet; he was also the Son of God. One of the last words of Jesus as he entered in the city of Jerusalem was that if these keep silent, the stones will cry out. You’ve seen the witness of the archeological record and we know that not one of these archeological discoveries has ever contradicted a biblical fact. In fact, they have only complemented its witness. The archaeological record has shown us that the Bible can be trusted. If the Bible is a reliable archaeological witness, then the message of the Bible can be trusted, and the message of the Bible concerns Jesus. Will you trust him?26

Thus, despite ending his working and financial relationship with the NAMI expedition and rejecting NAMI’s findings,27 Dr. Price still misuses archaeology as an evangelistic tool by weaving together select pieces of archaeological data into a religious “coat of many colors” and calling on viewers to trust Jesus. Price moved from expounding upon archaeological data to making overt religious claims about the divinity of Jesus. This is simply not the role of archaeology.

In the end, Dr. Price’s misuse of archaeology pales in comparison to NAMI’s recent campaign. It has become quite clear that NAMI’s entire mission was a premeditated campaign of deception intended to use false claims about Noah’s Ark to convert people to Christianity. It is utterly unthinkable that any group of Christians would think that this is an acceptable form of evangelism, much less an acceptable form of science.

A standard line of zealous, evangelistic reasoning is regularly exploited to raise money from Christians for similar religious expeditions. The sales pitch argues: “You want people to believe the Bible, don’t you? Well, if we find Noah’s Ark, the world will have to believe.” As a result, many people give to Noah’s Ark expeditions hoping that a discovery will trigger a sequence of events leading to the world believing the claims made in the Bible. Unfortunately, most of these donors end up doing little more than funding free trips to Turkey for a group of amateur tourists. They fly to exotic places on the donors’ dime, go mountain climbing, and get named as honorable citizens at fancy dinners.28 And after enjoying an exciting trip abroad, any remaining money is used to fund the group’s various ministries.

These groups ultimately reach one of two results: they either find nothing or they make sensational claims directly to the press, only later to have their “findings” refuted by the international scholarly community. However, in both of the above scenarios, the organization returns to its donors to ask for still more funding. The organization uses one of two approaches: they will either claim to be victims of religious persecution by “godless” scientists and insist that their claims were refuted in an effort to “suppress the truth of the faith,” or, the organization will ask for more money in order to “finish the job,” exploiting the familiar line: “But we’re so close.” Of course, every year, they get no closer, and every year donors forget that dozens of previous “expeditions” have claimed to discover Noah’s Ark and yet have produced nothing.

Tips for Doing “Biblical Archaeology”

There is a better way to do archaeology that potentially deals with claims made in the Bible. The true archaeologist does not seek the big discovery that changes all we know in one amazing find, but rather gives his or her life to seasons of excavation and discovery, letting the evidence speak for itself until the larger picture of the social, economic, and yes, at times, religious makeup of the society is slowly revealed. So for those seeking to balance faith and archaeology, here are a few tips:

1. Don’t go “looking for things.” Archaeologists dig. We dig and we find what we find. Wherever the evidence leads us, we go. Whatever the evidence says, we report. Archaeologists don’t go looking to “prove the Bible,” because the early methodology of “a spade in one hand and a Bible in the other” is deeply flawed in that one quickly begins to see what one wants to see or hopes to see, rather than what’s really there.

Scholars must follow the data wherever it leads. Sometimes the archaeological data does not align with the text of the Bible. This is true about many sites and many verses. This does not mean that the Bible contains no truth or verifiable facts in other places. In fact, these refuted claims are often quite important; they tell scholars a lot about the author and the particular message the author was attempting to convey. Why would the author of a particular text in the Bible make a claim that isn’t supported by the evidence and doesn’t appear to be historical? Was the author relying on oral tradition? Did the author intentionally fabricate a story and if so why? These points of contention are crucial for any scholar seeking to examine the political and social history of a particular period, as well as the period the story was committed to writing.

2. Follow sound scientific methodology. Sound methodology produces sound results, and sound results will be better received by both scholars and the public. Likewise, sound results based on accepted methodology, transparent excavation, replicable experimentation, and critical analysis will result in increased credibility for an archaeologist and his or her organization. Do not fudge. Take good notes. Log everything, especially if it is contrary to your working hypothesis. Nothing is more impressive and convincing methodologically than a scholar willing to concede that his or her own working hypothesis has been disproved and needs revision, or that it is fundamentally flawed and must be abandoned.

Methodical monotony may be boring, but it is an archaeologist’s friend in the long run because it allows subsequent excavators to retrace each step the prior archaeologist made, so that each bucket of dirt and each decision can be reviewed and confirmed as verifiable. This keeps the subsequent excavators from having to restart each portion of the excavation from scratch. Credibility is earned over a long period of time and not with a single find. But once earned, credibility carries a lot of weight, and it is by the archaeological method one employs that the academy will ultimately judge an archaeologist’s credibility.

3. Understand that not every archaeological object is the same. Each piece of evidence should be judged on a case-by-case basis. Therefore, just because the evidence for Noah’s Ark or the Holy Grail is lacking and these items are most likely legendary, it does not necessarily follow that the ancient Israelites did not march behind a gold-covered, wooden box (the Ark of the Covenant) when they stormed into battle. In fact, the Ark of the Covenant is most likely historical precisely because it would have been highly problematic for a people who were supposedly forbidden from making idols to revere such a prominent, handcrafted cultic object. Each object is unique and should be treated independently from other objects.

4. Archaeologists shouldn’t seek “treasure.” This may have been the case in archaeology’s distant past when it was little more than a hunt for exotic treasure, but today’s archaeologists are more interested in ethnographic studies and settlement patterns than they are in finding a piece of the “true cross.” Walls, pots, inscriptions, and coins are far more important than gold and silver, as they tell us exponentially more in their proper context than do “treasures.”

5. Partner up. It is common practice for archaeological excavations to have multiple partners that usually include a representative from the host government’s archaeological department, the sponsorship of one or more scholars from reputable academic institutions, and hoards of volunteers. Most proper excavations are far too expensive to carry out privately, so most archaeologists take on scholarly partners that lend the dig credibility and more importantly, accountability. Likewise, most archaeologists work their way up through other excavations. Rare is the occasion that an archaeologist strikes out on his own and has immediate success. Archaeology requires substantial fundraising and institutional support, and once one begins asking for funds, scholars justifiably begin to question the archaeologist’s motives. Credible archaeologists are humble, pay their dues, earn their stripes, and only after they have established their credibility and gathered the formal education needed to practice archaeology properly are they considered legitimate.

6. Submit to the peer-review process. Credible archaeologists submit to some form of a peer-review process and allow their findings to be critiqued by other scholars. Some submit formal articles for publication in refereed journals. Others present papers at national conferences. Still others make their findings available immediately online via blogs and websites and invite comments and feedback. Regardless of what method is adopted, good archaeologists welcome criticism and feedback, even when (and especially when) they know some will disagree with their findings. Peer-review and critique is the only way to ensure that your interpretations will gain the traction they need to become an accepted consensus. Remember that ultimately it is not about what you believe, or even what you can prove. Rather, a credible archaeologist or archaeology program is judged by the critical methodology it uses to reach its conclusions. If the science is good, and the results are reviewed by others and published in credible journals, books, and websites, then the program and the scholar will be considered credible.

7. Finally, real archaeologists never, ever search for the Ark of the Covenant, Noah’s Ark, or the Holy Grail. Adventure quests will always bring immediate and well-deserved derision and condemnation from the academic community.

Archaeology should never be used for evangelistic purposes. It is not the role of science to prove claims of divinity. This is because the very nature of the scientific method operates on a system of disproof. The scientific method never proves anything; it can only disprove a proposed hypothesis. One proposes a hypothesis and the scientific method seeks to disprove it. Those hypotheses that are not disproven remain as viable explanations. This is why both scientists and people of faith rightly argue that while one cannot prove the existence of a god, neither can science disprove the existence of a god.

All of this is to say that science cannot prove anything:, it can only disprove. Evidence is never the last word; it is only the best word thus far. And it is no coincidence that the Bible does not operate on a system of evidence and proof. On the occasion that a piece of “evidence” was demanded prior to belief, John 20:24-29 states that “Doubting” Thomas was not as “blessed” as those who did not ask for evidence. In the end, while faith claims may be informed by archaeological context, archaeology never proves the veracity of the claims made in the Bible. That is a matter of faith – a realm where archaeology should not and must not be exploited to say something that it simply cannot.


1 See the Noah’s Ark Ministries International (NAMI) website at This organization is not to be confused with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) at

2 The Noah’s Ark website states, “March 2010: The ‘We Touched Noah’s Ark: The Search for A Carpenter’s Heart’ Campaign was launched. Worldwide press conferences, exhibitions and sharing are carried out.”

3 According to The Media Evangelism Limited’s website, the group’s mission is to build “a Christian media presence by using every modern means of communication to promote the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

4 The Days Of Noah (2005) directed by Yeung Wing-Cheung.

5 Noah’s Ark theme park on Park Island (Ma Wan Park), Hong Kong, is operated by The Media Evangelism Limited.

6 A poster for the exhibition entitled, “Lost in the Noah’s Ark” sponsored by The Media Evangelism Limitedd. is available at

7 Kurczy, Stephen, “Doubt cast on Noah's ark found in Turkey,” Christian Science Monitor, April 28, 2010.

8 Cargill, Robert R., “No, No You Didn’t Find Noah’s Ark,”, April 28, 2010.

9 Cargill, Robert R., “Forget about Noah’s Ark; There Was No Worldwide Flood” Bible and Interpretation, May 2010.

10 Kurczy, Stephen, “Chinese explorers stand by claim of Noah's Ark find in Turkey,” Christian Science Monitor, April 30, 2010.

11 See “Vision and Mission” on The Media Evangelism Limited’s website

12 Several have made strong rebuttals against NAMI’s claims (chronological order):
Bartholomew, Richard, “Hong Kong Evangelists Claim They ‘Ventured inside Wooden Compartments on Mount Ararat’,”
Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion, April 27, 2010.
Heiser, Michael, “Noah’s Ark PaleoBabble Update,”, April 27, 2010.
Kurczy, Stephen, “Doubt cast on Noah's ark found in Turkey,”
Christian Science Monitor, April 28, 2010.
Cargill, Robert R., “No, No You Didn’t Find Noah’s Ark,”, April 28, 2010.
ABC News Good Morning America, “Was Noah’s Ark Found?” April 28, 2010.
Fox News, “Where’s the Actual Site?” April 28, 2010.
Cargill, Robert R., “Busted! Turkey’s Culture Ministry is Now ‘Investigating’ Noah’s Ark Ministries International”, April 29, 2010.
Tharoor, Ishaan, “Has Noah’s Ark Been Discovered in Turkey?”, April 29, 2010.,8599,1985830,00.html.
Boyett, Jason, “Noah's Ark Found! Robert Cargill Debunks!”, April 29, 2010.
Cargill, Robert R., “Does This Look Like Styrofoam to You?”, May 1, 2010.
Chanan Tigay, “Scholarly Squad Debunks Biblical 'Discoveries’,” AOL News, May 2, 2010.
Cargill, Robert R., “Forget about Noah’s Ark; There Was No Worldwide Flood” Bible and Interpretation, May 2010.



15 3:50-5:01 Subtitled English provided by The Media Evangelism Limited.

16 See the 4:25 mark in

17 2:52-3:08 in (Subtitled English provided by The Media Evangelism Limited.)

18 3:09-3:28 in (Subtitled English provided by The Media Evangelism Limited.)

19 5:52-5:42 in (Subtitled English provided by The Media Evangelism Limited.)

20 Sheridan, Michael, “‘Noah’s Ark’ found atop Mount Ararat in Turkey, evangelical group claims,” New York Daily News, April 27, 2010. NY Daily News, April 27, 2010.

21 5:12-5:42. (Subtitled English provided by The Media Evangelism Limited.)


23 You can read Randall Price’s response to NAMI’s claims at

24 See 1:31- 1:47 in

25 According to its website, is “is a unique interdenominational non-profit Christian organization dedicated to showing the world that the Bible is true and reliable.”

26 See the 11:47-12:28 mark in “Does Archaeology Support the Bible?”

27 See Dr. Price’s April 30, 2010 response to NAMI’s announcement at