Bogus Gold: Confessions of a Sinner

A blogger named Bogus Gold has recently published a post called Some Thoughts on Evolution, Intelligent Design and Scientific Inquiry. The post didn’t mesh with my experiences as an anthropology major so I thought I would do a post on it. Let me say at the outset that I have no wish deny that Bogus Gold was an anthropology major – but he certainly doesn’t talk like one…

I majored in anthropology in college. It was a field that appealed to me on a lot of levels, allowing me to study all kinds of things – culture, physiology, primatology, archaeology, linguistics, etc. It was a small department, which was also a plus in a big state school where it was easy to get lost in the shuffle. All the department’s professors quickly knew me by name, and enough about my interests to strike up a conversation without having it feel forced. They were an excellent bunch of professors who chose to teach at this particular school because it allowed them to focus on teaching, whereas some of the larger research universities would have required them to spend far more time in research and publication.

A little background. The man largely responsible for the establishment of anthroplogy as an academic discipline in the US was Franz Boas. Boas was a german immigrant to the US – he fled Germany to escape the growing anti-semitism prior to WWI. In etablishing anthropology in US colleges and universities he instituted the four field system. Basically, he felt that anthropology consisted of physical anthropology, cultural anthropology, archaeology and anthropological linguistics. Most colleges and universities, to a greater or lesser extent, follow this model. At the University of Tennesse, where I received my B.A. and did two years of grad school, the department was equally divided between physical anthropologists, cultural anthropologists and archaeologists. Linguistics was represented by one of the cultural anthropologists who had a moderate interest in the subject and taught the odd class on it. Now granted, UT is a anthropological powerhouse and emphasized research and publications, but the teachers were still incredibly concerned with teaching excellence – the two go together. In other universities, however, the mix is different – especially at four year institutions. There you may find one field emphasized at the expense of the others. Some emphasizw archaeology or cultural anthropology or linguistic anthropology. At any rate, whatever department one finds oneself in one will rapidly get to know most of the professors in the department. Getting lost in the shuffle is pretty hard in most anthro departments. Really, this first paragraph is all part of the set up used by most creationist (YEC or ID).

Among the very best of the bunch was the professor in charge of the popular course Introduction to Physical Anthropology. We’ll call him Dr. PA. This was a course students majoring in other areas could take to fulfill some of the general liberal arts requirements necessary for graduation. One of the topics covered in the course was the theory of evolution, including the history of how it developed.

Okay, Time Out! I took Intro to Physical Anthropology at a community college. Class size was about 30 students. The teacher of the class, Dr. Givens, was incredibly concerned with the history of anthropology as well as evolutionary theory. He spent more time on history than any other teacher I had. That said, he spent one lecture on the history of how evolutionary theory. He mentioned Cuvier, Buffon, Lamarck and Darwin – in one lecture – then he moved on to other subjects. At UT the intro classes were large – up to 300-400 people and we had two different classes that would fulfill the liberal arts requirment. In neither class was there much discussion of Darwin or the history of evolutionary theory. There is just too much material to cover (Intro classes, as everyone well knows, are designed to give a broad overview rather than substantive detail) to give much more than a passing mention to Darwin (mainly mentioned for his hypothesis – since confirmed – that humans evolved first in Africa). There is some mention of evolution but “the history of how it developed” is out.

Through experience Dr. PA had learned that students’ religious background played a big role in their handling of this topic. Therefore he included a healthy dose of historical and contemporary religious perspectives on the issue. The theme he tried to get across was that the theory of evolution may or may not be at odds with particular religious beliefs – it simply depends what those religious beliefs are. Many Christian denominations did not see a conflict between evolution and their faith, while others did, and he provided examples of both. You weren’t required to believe one way or another to pass the class, you just needed to learn what was being taught.

I will go for the statement that “You weren’t required to believe one way or another to pass the class, you just needed to learn what was being taught.” because most professors have better things to do than monitor the religious beliefs of a couple of hundred students – students who are there because they have to be if they want a degree. The rest I suspect is made up. I don’t know of any teacher – outside of a religious studies class who would spend any time on historical and contemporary religious perspectives. You will find discussions of religion (mainly how they evolved) but I have never heard a discussion of any of the world’s major religions (historical or contemporary) in a physical anthropology class. This is more of the set up.

My senior year I applied and was accepted for an under graduate teaching assistantship in the department. One of the duties of undergrad TA’s was to assist with a lab section for the Intro to Physical Anthropology class. This allowed students in the larger lecture class to have some one on one interaction with the professor (as well as cool things like getting to play with real fossils). Within the lab, the TA was there to answer questions, assist with assignments, and help the professor grade tests.

Some departments may have undergraduate TA’s (UT didn’t – they gave all the TA’s to MA students to gain teaching experience and had the Ph.D students sub occasionally because teaching experience was part of the requirement for the Ph.D). For the rest all I can say is WTF? Let me see if I understand this. An unnamed professor in a small department (at a unnamed college) actually has money to send people out to do fieldwork and get fossils? And their letting intro students play with them? In a lab section with several hundred students. I’m sorry I don’t buy it. I don’t know of any intro to physical anthropology class that has a lab – I’m not even aware of any intro class of the size we are talking about that would have a lab. The logistics of scheduling lab time and the number of people required to carry something like that off would have to be huge – and in a small department no less. Then there is the whole fossil issue. At UT we did not have a large number of fossils in the anthro department (of course the main focus at UT was in forensic anthropology so we had a lot of human skeletal material – which we did not let intro students play with because of respect for the human life the skletons represented). For paleoanthropology we used casts. We did not let intro students play with those either (they can be quite expensive to replace) although some were brought into intro classes as demonstrations. Now granted I do not have experience with every anthro department in the country, but I highly doubt any department is going to let intro students play with priceless fossils – many of wich are quite fragile.

I knew from Dr. PA that I would encounter students of religious backgrounds who would reject evolution – a major lesson in the class – due to their particular religious beliefs. It was my job to get them to simply learn about it as it was taught without making them feel put upon to alter their personal beliefs. This turned out to be a breeze. (emphasis mine)Dr. PA’s style had almost entirely won those folks over before I ever had any one on one interaction with them. I did encounter a couple of students who told me they didn’t believe in the theory of evolution, but they didn’t seem to have any trouble understanding it well enough to pass the class.

In six years of taking anthropology classes I never once encountered anyone who needed this kind of mollycoddling or who objected due to religious beliefs. Most intro students are just trying to get through with a passing grade – becuase lets face it large intro classes are boaring.

But there was another kind of student I was unprepared for – the dogmatic evolutionist. These students accepted evolution for faith-based reasons, essentially ignoring the science and evidence behind it. This was a surprisingly frustrating kind of student to mentor on the topic. On one level they seemed to be the most enthusiastic about evolution, but they were also completely lacking in curiosity about it. They didn’t care how it worked, or what the evidence might be. They believed it already, so they seemed to take the attitude that there was no point in figuring out the whats and the hows of it.

So now we get to the punch line. The reasonable religious folks who “didn’t believe in the theory of evolution, but they didn’t seem to have any trouble understanding it well enough to pass the class” versus the dogmatic Darwinists who were “completely lacking in curiosity about it. They didn’t care how it worked, or what the evidence might be. They believed it already, so they seemed to take the attitude that there was no point in figuring out the whats and the hows of it.” Of course, in order to accept evolution for “faith-based reasons” one kind of has to be exposed to it in the first place. So where did these “faith-based” “dogmatic evolutionists” come from?

I remember one such encounter, where I had to try to explain to a student that Darwin not only didn’t prove there was no God, but that the “God question” itself had nothing to do with Darwin’s work. We talked past one another for probably about fifteen minutes before I gave up. This wasn’t some abstract argument; he needed to understand the scope of Darwin’s work for some specific test questions. But I couldn’t get him to see that Darwin’s theory for what it actually was. To him it was something grand and mysterious that you simply accepted. And in his mind, part of this belief included the faith that evolution disproved God, and no amount of evidence would budge him from this idea. So much for science.

What specific test question would you ask on a physical anthropology test that would be relevent to Darwin and God? I do not know. As a matter of fact, the only people I know who make the arguement that Darwin proved that God doesn’t exist are creationist (of both the YEC and ID varieties).

So let’s take a step back and look at the post from a broader perspective. First, credentials are established to make the writer (and creationists in general) look all scientific and fair (which gets repeated throughout):

I majored in anthropology in college. It was a field that appealed to me on a lot of levels, allowing me to study all kinds of things – culture, physiology, primatology, archaeology, linguistics, etc.

My senior year I applied and was accepted for an under graduate teaching assistantship in the department. One of the duties of undergrad TA’s was to assist with a lab section for the Intro to Physical Anthropology class. This allowed students in the larger lecture class to have some one on one interaction with the professor (as well as cool things like getting to play with real fossils).

I knew from Dr. PA that I would encounter students of religious backgrounds who would reject evolution – a major lesson in the class – due to their particular religious beliefs.

I did encounter a couple of students who told me they didn’t believe in the theory of evolution, but they didn’t seem to have any trouble understanding it well enough to pass the class.

See how intellectually honest and properly scientific the religious folks are being?

But then the evil, mindless Darwinist show up:

the dogmatic evolutionist. These students accepted evolution for faith-based reasons, essentially ignoring the science and evidence behind it. This was a surprisingly frustrating kind of student to mentor on the topic. On one level they seemed to be the most enthusiastic about evolution, but they were also completely lacking in curiosity about it. They didn’t care how it worked, or what the evidence might be

To him it was something grand and mysterious that you simply accepted. And in his mind, part of this belief included the faith that evolution disproved God, and no amount of evidence would budge him from this idea. So much for science.

From here we get Nelson on Darwinian censorship. It all sounds like a perfect regurgitation of Discovery Institute talking points. You have the rational, truth seeking creationist following the evidence where ever it leads contrasted with the the dogmatic, ideological driven Darwinists who accept evolution for grand and mysterious reasons (apparently, evolution is the mysterium tremendum Otto talked about in “The Idea of the Holy”). Creationists have been claiming evolution was a religion for years and trying to portray themselves as noble scientists bravely following the evidence (straight to God, oops, the designer.

The post really reminded me of the revivalists who used to come to the churches I attended as a kid. You know the type. They would show up during the spring, summer and fall to reinvigorate the congregations faith in God by preaching hellfire and brimstone. They always had a conversion story. Went something like ” I was a miserable sinner – enaged in all kinds of drugs, alcohol and debauchery. I didn’t realize how depraved my life was until I stumbled across a bible in a motel room…”
This is the same kind of conversion story (just substitute evolution for fornication) – reasonable anthro student realizes evolution is a religion that scientists accept without evidence and sees the light. Halleluiah, praise God and pass the irreducible complexity!

I can’t resist one last dig:

There are truly interesting questions being raised, and fascinating research being conducted.

Research? Really? Scientists have been asking for research from the ID crowd ever since Johnson first had his epiphany and foisted ID on us. It’s been 14 years and we are still waiting…

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