Editorial

By Carver, Martin | Antiquity, June 2007 | Go to article overview
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Editorial


Carver, Martin, Antiquity


Is it time we did something about creationism? Is it an archaeological concern? The main contenders are currently locked in a debate for and against Darwinism--the theory that animal species evolved, including humans, is opposed by the theory that they didn't: a presumably intelligent God designed everything, and not very long ago. Thus the defenders of science have been the biologists and the battlefield has been the school curricula in the USA where Christian fundamentalists have championed intelligent design as an alternative to evolution (1). American biblical Protestants, who have long waved the banner, are now to be joined by Catholic Europeans. In 2005, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, a confidant of Pope Benedict, attacked neo-Darwinist theories in what seemed to be a move to ally the Catholic church with 'intelligent design' (2). In England, 59 out of 89 schools accepted as 'a useful classroom resource' creationist teaching packs sent to them by the group Truth in Science (3). And in November 2006 the creationist cause acquired a new ally when the Turkish Muslim intellectual Harun Yahya launched his Atlas de la Creation. This 770 page lavishly illustrated tome (promised as the first of seven) used 'living fossils' to prove that God directly created the world with all its species and blamed Darwin for everything from Nazism to terrorism. In February this year, to the evident irritation of their education ministry and the outrage of the press, copies of the Atlas were mailed to thousands of French schools.

Yahya has a gratifyingly post-modern view of archaeology; it shows that nothing much has changed and life on the Savannah was (depressingly) similar to everywhere else today: "In the supposed period described by evolutionists as the Stone Age, people worshipped, listened to the message preached by the envoys sent to them, constructed buildings, cooked food in their kitchens, chatted with their families, visited their neighbours, had tailors sew clothes for them, were treated by doctors, took an interest in music, painted, made statues and in short lived perfectly normal lives. As the archaeological findings show, there have been changes in technology and accumulated knowledge over the course of history, but human beings have always lived as human beings" (4). In the face of such stuff, most archaeologists would no doubt prefer to maintain a withering silence, but there are reasons why silence might not be sensible for ever. Here is Christopher O'Brien, a Forest Archaeologist in northern California, bravely setting out our stall (5): Just like other disciplines, he says, "archaeology is being used and abused by creationists of all stripes. It's time to start pointing out the falsehoods....". First we must champion our own dating methods: "because many of us deal in time scales measured in millions of years, archaeologists must also fight the same inane arguments against the efficacy of radiometric dating methods as any palaeontologist". Then we must not allow the numerous cohort of amateur archaeologists to try and prove the Bible was right after five minutes working as a volunteer on an excavation. The archaeological reality of Jericho, he reminds us, no more "proves the Bible" than the archaeological reality of Troy "proves the Iliad". "In the context of archaeology, the Bible is simply another historical manuscript (one of thousands throughout the world and across time) that may or may not be useful for aiding interpretation of the archaeological record". Amen to that. And as a final abuse of archaeological reasoning, creationists seem to think there is an analogy to be drawn between an archaeologist's recognition of intelligent design in artefacts, with their own identification of intelligent design in biological systems.

In other words, O'Brien shows that far from countering the benighted influence of creationism, we are providing it with ammunition. For the sake of our children, archaeologists must confront it, but confrontation of the tis-tisn't kind won't be enough on its own.

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