I have found Brian's comments most interesting. I have had a similar
discussion with recently with a member of the San Francisco Mime
Troupe surrounding their recent play âGodfellasâ that âexploresâ the
intersection of religions and politics in the US today.
I agree that much of the question of evolution revolves around the
question of class and which spheres of society we occupy â" what
perspectives we have been exposed to. To decry the fact that so many
people do not subscribe to evolutionary theory as opposed to a
creationist perspective as representative of ignorance of some sort,
rather than these beliefs being a reflection of aspects of this
culture does not allow us to understand much about the world we live
in. Nor does it allow us to approach questions from the perspective
that many of the students in our classes hold.
I think the questions Brian raises are fundamental, especially to
those of us who teach in the community colleges. It lies at the heart
of every anthropology class â" that is to understand the complexities
of our species and the cultures we have developed. Most of what we
believe has not been examined, it has been learned. As a consequence
we are capable of holding beliefs that are contradictory. Of course we
believe our âwayâ is best. That is why we are surprised to find that
so many Americans do not subscribe to notions of evolutions but rest
more comfortably in the ideas of creationism.
But the ideas that people hold are not without consequences â"
especially in todayâs world. Today the question of evolution is
fraught with political implications. We have the Pope leading a
discussion about evolution, which will have an impact on the way many
people who identify as Catholic will approach the question. We have
the Federal government removing Evolutionary Biology as an area of
supported study. We have religion being used in many realms as a cover
for other social and political agendas. We have religious gatherings
across the country being used for political purposes â" promoting a
right-wing political agenda. The use of religion or religious
institutions in this way is certainly not a new phenomenon in this
country nor elsewhere.
Perhaps the discussion surrounding âevolutionâ has come to symbolize
this conflict. If so, maybe we might consider tackling other aspects
as well or not restricting our approach to discussions of evolution.
We have wonderful opportunities in our classes and in other forums to
do this. Discussions surrounding evolution can often be the most
eye-opening and challenging for those who have been raised in a
creationist tradition. If they are approached in a manner where we
investigate the basis of what it is we think about this and other
questions, there no telling where it might lead.
I hate to reduce things to sound bites or bumper sticker phrases, but
I canât resist quoting one that puts a smile on my face âDonât
Believe Everything You Thinkâ.
Robert Sapolsky, a neurobiologist at Stanford, weighed in on the
discussion of âintelligent designâ a while ago in the local newspaper
here. I am adding a link, if you would like to take a look.
--- In SACC-L@yahoogroups.com, "Lynch, Brian M" <blynch@...> wrote:
> Out of a very personal interest and history, I pursued my first
round of Masters studies some decades ago in theology-- as much to
understand my own faith at the time (from a social, cultural, and
historical perspective) as to do anything else with such a degree. My
background happens to be from a working class, Irish Catholic
context-- which gave me the experience of much "faith" and "mystery,"
and little encouragement to think critically, culturally, or
historically, about any of this.
> My Dad was a wonderful chemist, amateur electronics buff (in the age
of vacuum tube technology, radio, and B/W TV's), and something of an
ecologist. He was a scientist formed in the context of the "Power
City" (Niagara Falls, which was something of the birthplace of
hydroelectric generation in North America), in the home of Alcoa
Aluminum, Carborundum, Hooker Chemical, and many other scientifically
based industries that grew with the advent and development of
polyphase, alternating-current electrical generation. He and the many
residents of the Niagara region grew in the context of a social order
that increasingly relied on the products of chemistry, biology, and
physics (my dad even worked with radar in the Navy, during Second
World War--a cutting-edge technology at the time).
> At the same time, many of such citizens of the Niagara Frontier were
working class Roman Catholics, Baptists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians,
Jews, Spiritualists-- and more. There were many in our city who were
skilled, technical workers, and many chemists, engineers, and
physicists. Local work eventually contributed even to the building of
technologies for the moon-landing space era, and other pioneering
developments of related aviation. These folks went to the many local
churches, prayed to their God, read their holy readings, communicated
with spirits (did I mention we had our share of Spiritualists in the
Niagara region?), lit candles, carried holy objects for protection and
healing, and so much more.
> The chemistry and physics and engineering didn't wipe out-- or
necessarily undermine-- the belief systems through which people lived
their everyday lives. Certainly there was no uniformity of belief in
the region, but I am sure there were those who understood things, like
evolution, as perfectly acceptable explanations of the world around
them, without any necessary contradiction to their "faith." And then
there were others who saw an absolute conflict! There was even a
strange experience of discontinuity at times between "official"
positions of faith, and what was generally left to its own development
among the "ordinary people": from a Roman Catholic exprerience, it was
officially understood even back in the late 1950's and early 1960's
that there was no necessary conflict, for example, between "faith and
science" when it came to the theory of evolution! Yet most everyday
Catholics would probably have believed that their faith required them
to reject evolution, and take the "Seven Days of Creation" story
literally. But this was the era of the Cold War! And because "The
Russians" were "Godless Communists" there was a perceived risk among
the officials of the Church that the teaching of evolution in place of
a God Centered, Seven Day creation, might undermine people's faith all
together, and open them to the influence of the Athiests/Communists!
> Why don't people (U.S. Americans) "believe in evolution"? It is a
great question. As a cultural anthropologist I think our
investigations will be short circuited on this one if our vocabulary
characterizes what is happening as "invincible ignorance." Imagine if
it were an "other" culture we were talking about (in Papua New Guinea,
or Guatemala) and we were trying to understand something like "how
could they be so practically skillful in some things, and then believe
in underworld spirits?" What would we think of the anthropologist at
the annual meeting who couched her/his research question in terms of
the "ignorance" of the people being studied?
> Certainly, this question of evolution brings our focus right close
to home-- where traditionally Anthropology has often only reluctantly
turned its attention. Can we be as "objective" in such attention, as
we would like to think we are when studying "others"? Is the
"evolution debate" too close to us, for us to practice the cultural
relativism--and concomitant, potentially rich research--we so
carefully cultivate elsewhere?
> From: SACC-L@yahoogroups.com on behalf of Tbbyrnehom@...
> Sent: Fri 9/1/2006 6:59 PM
> To: SACC-L@yahoogroups.com
> Subject: Re: [SACC-L] Survey of national populations--acceptance of
> Jo Brian and all, How about this! Americans like to think of
> practical people. How many times have you heard "Experience is the best
> teacher."? Yet how many Americans will understand that the
> based on Inductive reasoning IS the experience of repeated experiments.
> Evolution is based on the experience of species undergoing
mutations, such as the
> flu virus we see from year to year. However, there is plenty of
> some people have invincible ignorance and we just need to face that
> also. Of course some people don't accept the fact that there are facts.
> Have a good year teaching. From that old retired sad SACC Bill Byrne
> [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]