Friday, June 8, 2007

"Fantastic Archaeology" Part 2

Yesterday, I discussed Mormonism from Stephen Williams's Fantastic Archaeology. I'll pass over a number of hoaxes he discusses (mostly involving faked North American artifacts with Hebrew writing) to discuss how he ends his chapter, with a brief mention of creationism.

Regular readers of the blog will no I have no great love for short-Earth creationism (that is, the belief that the Earth is about 6,000 to 10,000 years old). Woodward at Thursday Night Gumbo has an excellent essay on the new Creation Museum, which I also very briefly discussed, so this seems a good time to get into Williams's comments on the matter.

In concurrence with some of Woodward's comments, I have noticed some of the so-called "evolutionists" have in recent years opted for scientific dogmatism rather than persuasion and evidence. As these people present the matter, Creationists are not so much wrong as they are stupid, and as they present it, the science of evolutionary theory really has become what creationists accuse it of being--a religious creed. Personally, I'm a big fan of religious creeds and religious dogmas, but I also realize science is not supposed to have dogmas because it is not supposed to be irreformable. At present, it looks as if nothing will replace Darwin, but before Darwin, it looked as if nothing would replace Aristotle. Scientists should always work with the understanding that their theories might be wrong.

I remember a lecture I went to years and years ago at Oregon State University (I don't remember the name of the lecturer) on the creation vs. evolution debate. I had assumed that the presentation would be fair and genteel, but she mocked creationists and once revealed her own ignorance by misquoting the Bible. She ended the lecture with the statement, "I don't believe in evolution. I accept it." That is not the language of science. Personally, I could say, "I don't believe in the Perpetual Virginity of Mary. I accept it." By that, I mean you can't talk me out of it. But I believe in evolutionary theory because there's a chance it's wrong, and even if it isn't wrong, I expect it to undergo revision and refinement. And it has indeed undergone heavy revision and refinement during its short existence.

I find it curious that Stephen Williams works so hard to give a fair presentation of Mormonism but takes no such pains with creationism. Indeed, he characterizes creationism as "religious conservatism and antiscientific prejudice" (Williams 1991:188). It is an odd paradox this chapter presents. Of course, making fun of creationists is in vogue, whereas making fun of Mormons is mere bigotry.

Williams's history of creationism is too brief. Though he is correct to center it in North America, his statement that "Biblical fundamentalism has strong nineteenth-century roots in America" (Williams 1991:186) is misleading, as The Fundamentals did not come out until 1909, and the term "Fundamentalist" didn't exist until much later.

Williams is probably correct in dating the revival of Creationism to the 1961 publication of The Genesis Flood by John C. Whitcomb and Henry Madison Morris (who Williams misnames Henry B. Morris) and the founding of the Institute for Creation Research sometime later (Williams 1991:187).

The subject seems a little out of place in a book on North American archaeology, since much of what Creationists discuss has little to do with North America per se. Nonetheless, America is a major center for creationism along with Australia, but I know nothing of the history of the movement there.

Williams, Stephen
1991. 8. "Archaeology and Religion: Where Angels Fear to Tread" in Fantastic Archaeology: The Wild Side of North American Prehistory 156-188. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia.
blog comments powered by Disqus