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RE: [SACC-L] Survey of national populations--acceptance of evolution

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  • Lynch, Brian M
    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
    Message 1 of 34 , Sep 1, 2006
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      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?



      Brian

      ________________________________

      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 evolution


      Jo Brian and all, How about this! Americans like to think of themselves as
      practical people. How many times have you heard "Experience is the best
      teacher."? Yet how many Americans will understand that the scientific method
      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 evidence that
      some people have invincible ignorance and we just need to face that fact
      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




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    • Mark Lewine
      Bill, the story that I was told is that Dubya got his only A in college from Margaret Mead who was replacing a friend at Yale on Sabbatical. She announced
      Message 34 of 34 , Sep 20, 2006
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        Bill, the story that I was told is that 'Dubya' got his only A in college from Margaret Mead who was replacing a friend at Yale on Sabbatical. She announced that she did not believe in grading her students so that everyone in the class received an A.
        ----- Original Message -----
        From: Tbbyrnehom@...
        To: SACC-L@yahoogroups.com
        Sent: Wednesday, September 20, 2006 8:29 AM
        Subject: Re: [SACC-L] Survey of national populations--acceptance of evolution


        Hi a all, Lloyd, I am reminded that W. actually took a course in
        Anthropology as an undergraduate and received a "B". I wonder if we could find out
        who was the professor at that time. Bill Byrne

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