This story sounds so absurd as to be almost unbelievable, nevertheless it really happened. It is a beautiful illustration of the extent to which a preconceived idea can prevent the admission of a truth when that truth is contrary to expectation. In the minds of most anthropologists a preconception about the nature of man when he first appeared on the scene as a creature little removed from the apes has likewise led to their complete repudiation of the early chapters of Genesis as a compass to the past. For Genesis pictures the first man as anything but an animal, and his first efforts to build a civilization as anything but primitive. But this is quite the opposite of what is believed today of the first human beings. With the elderly gentleman of our story, they simply say, with finality, “Der kompass iss wronk.” Yet rightly understood, the record of Genesis accounts for many of the anomalies of prehistory.
It seems to me a matter of very grave concern that not a few Christian anthropologists, when publishing their views, no longer feel it necessary to make any real attempt to square what they say as anthropologists with their theology as Christian believers. In the
desire to be up-to-date, no Christian can afford to embrace the latest orthodoxies merely because they are accepted by the authorities. There is no guarantee that what is latest is necessarily truer than what preceded, and in fact it will be shown subsequently that quite the reverse may be the case, and older beliefs may re-appear in a new light and be accorded greater respect For my part, I believe it is both wiser and safer to make Scripture the touchstone of truth, even in the matter of anthropology — and wait.
During the last hundred years the pendulum of opinion has tended to be carried from one extreme to the other. First of all everyone was convinced that man’s Fall was so complete that no progress whatever was possible and everything must be in a state of decay. When this gloomy picture was rejected, it was replaced by a philosophy of progress which gave birth, towards the end of the last century, to an age of great optimism in which the key was progressive evolution. Degeneration became a naughty word. But two devastating world wars tempered such visionary philosophies and forced us all to take a fresh look at the course of human history. Was it, after all, a record of progress from primitive to civilized, from simple to complex, from superstition to pure worship, from savage to refined? A few who suggested that perhaps we should re-examine primitive cultures with a view to understanding how they came to be what they are, found it unwise to propose forthrightly that they might be degenerate, because the climate of opinion was against any concept which reflected in any way the idea of a Fall of man. As Liberal theology lent its weight to the disposal of this particular aspect of Christian faith, fewer scholarly voices were heard defending the traditional view. At the same time, it became less dangerous for a non-Christian writer to admit the possibility of degeneration, and this they have consequently often tended to do.
When Lyell formulated his principle that in explaining geological phenomena, appeal to forces not known to be operating in the present ought to be avoided, he was attempting to discourage the Catastrophists who frequently introduced forces that were so unusual as to be practically supernatural. The general belief is that the science of geology profited very greatly by following Lyell’s advice.
In dealing with the early human pre-historical period, the time scale and background is geological, and anthropologists were easily persuaded that this same general principle should be applied to their discipline also. However, while they accepted Lyell’s rejection of all appeals to supernatural forces, they did not follow his rule of explaining the past only in terms of the known “present.” If they had done
so, they could never have assumed cultural evolution to have taken place in the way they say it did.
Furthermore, Lyell’s Principle obviously could not apply to the matter of origins — for example, to the origin of the Universe. Nor can it apply to the origin of civilization. At this point we have no such guide to the interpretation of the past. In a sense, therefore, it was not reason but bias which led to the rejection of the biblical record. But the time is perhaps ripe now for a re-examination of the whole issue.
The references at the end of each chapter may seem inordinately numerous. My purpose is to extend the scope of the text somewhat by providing an additional list of bibliographical references where further interesting information will be found.
Such information is sometimes only indirectly related to the subject, but it is worthwhile in any case, and contributes in other ways to some of the wider implications of the Paper.