Derek B, Australia, wrote in with the question:

Are you aware of any physical evidence for the talking snake of Genesis?

Lita Cosner replied:

Dear Derek,

The short answer to your question—as you may be aware, there is not one shred of physical evidence for the talking snake—we wouldn’t expect there to be, and it’s not a problem in the least to believe that there was a talking snake while acknowledging the complete lack of physical evidence. To explain why, it requires a bit of understanding about the nature and limitations of various forms of evidence.

Physical evidence only exists for a very limited number of things. You see, physical evidence, by definition, is a physical object here in the present. Some claims by nature have no physical evidence because the claims aren’t physical in nature—for instance “We can only have eternal life through Jesus”, “I love you”, and so forth—things that are spiritual, emotional, or cerebral in nature have no physical evidence because they’re not physical claims.

Some things once had physical evidence, but we’ve lost access to that evidence. For instance, a very high proportion of first-century men in Israel were named Yeshua, but we’ve lost all evidence for most of them—if you lived in the first century, the physical evidence would have consisted of going around and seeing them, and inscriptions talking about this one or the other (and all but one would not be the Yeshua that we now know as Jesus in the English-speaking world). The further back one goes, the more likely it is that the vast majority of the physical evidence has been lost through sheer entropy. For instance, we know through documentary evidence that every Roman governor kept detailed records, and each Roman soldier got ‘pay slips’ detailing their wages, yet not one scrap of physical evidence remains for any of this. And the physical evidence for many historical events is ephemeral by nature. Once in a while physical evidence that was lost is recovered—for instance, the pool of Siloam was uncovered in Jerusalem, and its layout nicely matched the documentary evidence in the Gospel of John….

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