The rise of large publishing houses which greatly accelerated the dissemination of this kind of literature also helped to bring before the civilized world in Europe and America the unexpected diversity of patterns of living, and the cultural backwardness (viewed materialistically) of a very large part of the world’s population.
It was during the latter half of the nineteenth century that genuinely Christian scholars formed themselves into societies to present papers before the public, which were an attempt to show how the rapid extensions of knowledge in this and other areas were related to Scripture, and particularly to the Old Testament. Always the assumption was that the Bible is true and that when the findings of these young sciences were not in harmony with it, the fault lay not with Scripture but with the sciences. This approach is revealed clearly in the earlier papers of the Transactions of the Victoria Institute in
1. Rosenstiel, Annette, “Anthropology and the Missionary”, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, vol.89, Part 1, Jan.-June, 1959, p.107-115.
London, (2) the Exeter Hall Papers presented before the newly formed YMCA, (3) and the Present Day Tracts contributed by some of the greatest authorities of the times. (4) These papers dealt with geology, astronomy, archaeology, and so forth ï¿½ and not a few with the question of the origin of civilization and how primitive cultures had come into existence.
It is important to an understanding of the events which followed to realize that initially it was not at all thought that such primitive cultures were representative stages through which Western civilization had passed. The biblical record of the childhood of mankind starting with the creation of a completely human and highly intelligent being, Adam, followed by the rapid rise of city life, the almost immediate appearance of trades and skills evidencing a division of labour supportable only by a higher civilization ï¿½ all these were seen by most people as normal to the beginnings of human history. No primitive stages were visualized for man as a whole during this process. When, for the first time, stone arrowheads and associated fossil remains were brought to the attention of the public, they were not taken to be manifestations of man in the making, but as the relics of man under condemnation. (5) The existence of primitive people was unanimously interpreted as proof of the Fall of man. Very few people
2. For example, the very first volume of the Transactions of the Victoria Institute published in 1866 contained papers on the existing relations between Scripture and science, on the difference in scope between Scripture and science, on the various theories of man’s past and present condition, on the origin of speech, on miracles, on the lessons taught us by geology in relation to God, on the mutual helpfulness of theology and natural science, and on the past and present relations of geological science in relation to the Sacred Scriptures. In the succeeding years papers were presented with such titles as, “Some Uses of Sacred Primeval History,” “The Common Origin of the American Races with Those of the Old World,” “On True Anthropology,” and on “Man’s Place in Creation.” These papers were written, in many cases, by men who were prominent figures in England and on the Continent.
3. The Exeter Hall Papers, published in London by Nisbet, were even earlier, running from 1845 to 1865; and being addressed to a more popular audience were not quite as scholarly but dealt with the same basic problems. It is some reflection on the seriousness of the membership of the YMCA in those days that these papers treated such serious subjects as “Patriarchal Civilization,” “Biblical Statements in Harmony with Scientific Discoveries,” “The Natural History of Creation,” “Geological Evidence of the Existence of the Deity,” “The Common Origin of the Human Race,” “God in Science,” and so forth.
4. The Present Day Tracts were a series of learned papers in 13 volumes published by the Religious Tract Society from 1883 on. They, too, dealt with problems such as “The Age and Origin of Man Geologically Considered,” “The Mosaic Authorship and Credibility of the Pentateuch,” “The Philosophy of Mr. Herbert Spencer,” “Points of Contact Between Revelation and Natural Science,” “The Ethics of Evolution Examined,” and so forth.
5. Wendt, Herbert, I Looked For Adam, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1955, p.15 ff.
considered them as evidence of man’s evolution. So firm was the belief in the idea that Adam was a vastly superior being and early civilization reflected some of this superiority, and that the Christian civilizations of the day had somehow preserved this superiority, that all other forms of culture were looked upon as decadent, and primitive people as the most degenerate of all. The idea of any kind of progress apart from Christian influence was simply not countenanced.
But another and entirely different view of history was beginning to find favour in England and elsewhere as a result of the Industrial Revolution and the great advances being made in technology, advances which seemed to be completely independent of any Christian indebtedness. This took the form of a philosophy that was Darwinian in spirit but actually owed nothing to him. Some of the most generative concepts of this particular view of history, such as the survival of the fittest for example, were borrowed from Spencer and others who shared his views. Tennyson’s famous poem, In Memoriam, which pictures Nature as red in tooth and claw was actually published ten years before The Origin of Species. What is even more important in the context of this Doorway Paper is that during the latter half of the nineteenth century the social anthropologists who wrote about primitive people in general had also been strongly influenced by the Spencerian philosophy of progress. And they, entirely independent of Darwinism, were busily engaged in ordering and arranging these primitive cultures in tidy little evolutionary sequences. Thus as Melville Herskovits pointed out: (6)
It is essential for an understanding of cultural evolutionism that it be regarded as more than just a reflex of the biological theory of evolution, where it is customarily held to have been derived. Teggart, the student of intellectual history, has pointed out how Darwin’s work The Origin of Species that appeared in 1859 was “just too late to have an effect upon the remarkable development of ethnological study in the second half of the nineteenth century.” The works which initiated this development, such as the contributions of the Germans, Waitz, Bastian, and Bachhofen, or the English scholars, Maine, McLennan and Tylor, appeared between 1859 and 1865. This means that they were being planned and written about the same time Darwin was carrying out his researches and organizing and writing down his conclusions. Teggart, moreover, shows that cultural and biological evolutionism differed in certain important theoretical respects. He points out that “Tylor, in 1873, and McLennan, in 1876” were “disclaiming dependence upon Darwin, and maintaining their allegiance to an earlier tradition of development or evolution. The concept of evolution, in ethnology is, in fact, distinct from the type of evolutionary study represented in Darwin’s writings.”
When Maine and McLennan began to publish their views, they
6. Herskovits, Melville J., Man and His Works, Knopf, New York. 1950. p.464.
had not the slightest doubt as to the propriety of arranging the cultural materials to demonstrate evolutionary progress. Things had always improved in the past, and they would therefore continue to do so in the future. Science was merely accelerating a natural process, performing more and more miracles as the Church unhappily seemed able to perform fewer and fewer. A very concrete heaven could be built right here on earth, and the appeal to a spiritual heaven to come in another world increasingly lost its force. Morality based on man-to-God relationships was being steadily replaced by ethics based on man-to-man relationships. A person could be good and completely non-Christian. Of this new spirit Melvin Rader wrote: (7)
At the dawn of modern science, men were immensely confident that its uses would be beneficent. The great medieval seer, Roger Bacon (one of the first “moderns”) was fired by the deep enthusiasm for the new world that science could create. It would reveal the past, present and future, and secure the vast improvement and the indefinite prolongation of life. Similarly such Renaissance thinkers as Giordano Bruno, Leonardo da Vinci., and Tomasso Companella, harbingers of the modern scientific and technological revolution, were intoxicate with its infinite promise. Such optimism found ample expression in the work of Francis Bacon who believed that science would enlarge the bounds of human empire to the effecting of all things possible and in writing the New Atlantis, jubilantly imagined the Utopia he believed scientific progress would achieve.
In its initial stages of development such an intellectual climate was completely suited to the launching of a work like The Origin of Species. It was almost inevitable, for as Calverton rightly pointed out: (8)
The very simultaneity with which Darwin and Wallace struck upon the theory of natural selection and the survival of the fittest was magnificent proof of the intense activity of the idea at the time. Every force in the environment, economic, and social, conspired to the success of the doctrine.
As we have already noted, anthropology in its initial stages developed entirely independently of Darwinism. But it was not long before its findings were recognized as providing additional confirmation of Darwin’s views as applied to human origins. The literature of this new discipline quickly gained popular acclaim, because it so completely suited the “zeitgeist” of the time. Yet this popularity was in the end to prove a hindrance. For anthropology began to achieve the status of a science chiefly because of its evolutionary bias in much the same way that geology and zoology were considered sciences
7. Rader, Melvin, “Technology and Community,” Scientific Monthly, June, 1949, p.502.
8. Calverton, V. F., “Modern Anthropology and the Theory of Cultural Compulsives,” in The Making of Man, Modern Library, Neew York, 1931, p.2, and italicized statements on p.27.
because they subscribed to the view that everything must be explained in completely naturalistic terms without any appeal to the supernatural. The hindrance lay in the fact that evolutionary principles were soon uncritically applied where they never should have been and when the mistake became apparent to anthropologists themselves, they did not dare to speak out against the tendency for fear of being termed unscientific.
Lack of courage on the part of those who could see what was happening, led younger students to get an entirely biased view of the evidence. Thus, to use the words of Abram Kardiner. (9)
The study of “primitive man” held out high hopes that it would supply valuable information about man’s cultural evolution. In a measure ï¿½ a small one ï¿½- this hope was satisfied. But when a new area of investigation is the byproduct of a parent hypothesis, it is natural that its first efforts will be directed by sustaining its progenitor.
The study of primitive man was therefore biased at its inception. The great names of Edward B. Tyler, James Frazer, Lucien Levy-Bruhl, and Emile Durkheim were associated with these early efforts. They were determined to show cultural evolution by demonstrating that archaic, simple forms of thought and social organization changed into more complex and integrated forms.
The fallacy of this early approach was not only that it colored the conclusions from observed data, but also that it dictated what data should be considered relevant. This is where the theory of cultural evolution did its greatest damage. For these evolutionists were not studying the adaptation of primitive man to his environment. They hopped, skipped, and jumped from one culture to another, picked what they wanted from each, and fitted it into their master plan.
Meanwhile this humanistic philosophy was reinforced in its popular appeal by the prodigious labours of the Higher Critics who steadily succeeded in providing thoughtful people with more and more excuses for dismissing the authority of Scripture by pronouncing it essentially mythological. There was no doubt that everything tended to evolve, and the Bible was wrong in its emphasis on the natural tendency of man to degenerate. In the opposing camp, a quite formidable array of Christian scholars were insisting with equal assurance that the evidence from archaeology and ethnology were completely against any such universal progress. There was no doubt that everything tended to degenerate, and the Bible pointed to the final and utter corruption of all things pertaining to the cultures of the world. Perhaps both views have been in error by exaggerating one side of the picture only. Not everything degenerates — nor does every thing evolve into something higher.
9. Kardiner, Abram, in a review of “Posthumous Essays by Bronislau Malinowski,” in Scientific American, June, 1918, p.58. An excellent illustration of how this bias operated will be found, with reference to Eoliths, in H. V. Vallois and M. Boule, Fossil Men, Dryden, New York 1957, p.101.
As we shall see, there has been a change of opinion even among non-Christian anthropologists, and the initial artificial evolutionary sequences created by Maine and Tylor, et. al., have been largely repudiated in their original form, though they are still often used for teaching purposes. However, it should be noted that when modern authorities state their disbelief in “Evolution,” they do not mean by this that they doubt man’s animal ancestry, but only that they are rejecting the kind of cultural evolution which, to use Wallis’ words, “dominated the findings” of the earlier social anthropologists. The point is an important one, because Christian writers who are not aware of this background sometimes quote modern authorities as having repudiated the theory of the evolution of man as a whole. This is a mistake. These writers are referring only to cultural evolution and not to biological evolution. But this is a recent change of mind. Such a change has resulted partly from the fact that the vastly prehistoric times could no longer be fitted into the older scheme and partly because of more refined methods of dating. Wilson Wallis a few years ago said in an address before the American Association in 1947, certain basic assumptions are currently made by anthropologists when dealing with prehistoric man. (10) To use his words, “The further we proceed into the gloom of the prehistoric, the clearer our vision. Hence things which could not possibly be inferred if the data were contemporary man, can, thanks to this illumination in the gathering dusk of remote ages, be inferred with confidence.” Of course, the secret is that when there is no possibility of being proved wrong, one can afford to state with complete assurance that one is right. In fact, this tendency to take advantage of the scarcity of the data has been sharply rebuked by such men as Harry L. Shapiro of the American Museum of Natural History, who remarked: (11)
No doubt the competitive struggle for attention for one’s ideas may motivate the form in which they are presented, and unquestionably many of us in our zeal may speak with honest if unwarranted conviction: but this does not excuse anthropology or anthropologists from the consequences of what we permit to stand as anthropological gospel. . . [What is needed is] the development of a rigorously critical attitude towards the speculations and developments embodied in anthropological writings. This is all the more essential since anthropology, as well as the other social sciences, lacks the experimental procedures that exert a profound salutary control on the growth of the experimental sciences. Among them, a claim can be immediately checked
10. Wallis, Wilson, “Pre-Suppositions in Anthropological Interpretations,” American Anthropologist, vol.50, 1948, p.560.
11. Shapiro, Harry L., “The Responsibility of the Anthropologist,” Science, vol.109, l949, p.323, 326.
under similar control in hundreds of laboratories. . . On the contrary our investigations do not lend themselves readily to this kind of testing. . . It is for this reason that I regard it as essential for the continued health of anthropology that we be severely critical in appraising the theories and investigations that are issued as representative of anthropology.
But one also notes an amazing failure to examine the fundamental assumptions and premises of new lines of investigation which, like a new fashion in women’s wear, appear to exercise a kind of tyranny that no one dares to question.
I do suggest that such critiques are desirable, and I do know a number of anthropologists who do not hesitate privately or in their classrooms to offer critical comment ï¿½ yet they are strangely silent in print.
Perhaps he had in mind Wallis, who in the same connection and on another occasion had also written: (12)
Since the day of Darwin, the evolutionary idea has largely dominated the ambitions and determined the findings of physical anthropology, sometimes to the detriment of the truth.
These self-criticisms are comparatively recent. But even when anthropology was a young science divorced from any reference to biblical statements, there were notable exceptions to the general rule that the most prominent authorities were dedicated to the evolutionary idea. In fact, E. B. Tylor himself, who has been quite properly called the Father of anthropology, and who firmly held the progressive view of culture which evolution seemed to demand nevertheless was not unaware of the fact that cultural degeneration was very real. Thus in his classic work he wrote with keen insight: (13)
It does not follow from such arguments as these that civilization is always on the move or that the movement is always progress. On the contrary, history teaches that it remains stationary for long periods and often falls back.
To understand such decline of culture it must be borne in mind that the highest arts and the most elaborate arrangements of society do not always prevail, in fact they may be too perfect to hold their ground for people must have what fits their circumstances.
There is an instructive lesson to be learnt, from an Englishman at Singapore, who noticed with surprise two curious trades flourishing there. One was to buy old English ships, cut them down and rig them as junks. And the other was to buy English percussion muskets and turn them into old fashioned flint locks! At first sight this looks like mere stupidity, but on consideration it is seen to be reasonable enough. It was so difficult to get Eastern sailors to work ships of European rig that it answered better to provide them with the clumsier craft they were used to; and as to the guns, the hunters far away in the hot damp forests were better off with gun-flints than if they had to carry and keep a dry stock of caps. In both cases what they wanted was not
12. Wallis, Wilson, “The Structure of Prehistoric Man,” in The Making of Man, Modern Library, New York, 1931, p.75.
13. Tylor, E. B., Anthropology, Hill and Co., New York, 1904, pp.14, 15.
the highest product of civilization, but something suited to the situation and easier to be had.
Now the same rule applies both to taking in new civilizations, and keeping up old. When the life of the people is altered by a migration into a new country, or by war and distress at home, or mixture with a lower race, the culture of their forefathers may be no longer needed or possible and so dwindles away.
Such degeneration is to be seen among the descendants of Portuguese in the East Indies, who have intermarried with the natives and fallen out of the march of civilization, so that newly-arrived Europeans go to look at them lounging about their mean hovels in the midst of luxuriant tropical fruits and flowers as if they had been set there to teach by example how man falls in cultures where the need of effort is wanting.
Another frequent cause of loss of civilization is when people once more prosperous are ruined or driven from their homes like those Shoshonee Indians who took refuge from their enemies the BlackFoot, in the wilds of the Rocky Mountains where they now roam. They are called “Digger Indians” from the wild roots which they dig for as part of their miserable subsistence. Not only the degraded state of such outcasts, but the loss of particular arts by other peoples, may often be explained by loss of culture under unfavorable conditions. For instance, the South Sea Islanders though not a very rude people when visited by Captain Cook, used only stone hatchets, and knives, being indeed so ignorant of metal that they planted the first iron nails they got from the English sailors in the hope of raising a new crop. Possibly their ancestors were an Asiatic people to whom metal was quite well known, but who through emigration to ocean islands, and separated from their kinsfolk, lost the use of it and fell back into the Stone Age.
Here is a great authority writing at a time when the concept of progress dominated everyone’s thinking and required the interpretation of all history to lend its support, nevertheless drawing attention to the fact that there are circumstances in which devolution and not evolution is almost inevitable. As a matter of fact, one of the great Christian protagonists of that day, Sir William Dawson, enunciated the principle that if mankind enjoyed a high civilization at the very beginning we might often expect to find a very low civilization at the end by reason of its initial brilliance, because the more refined a culture the more sensitive it is to imbalance and decay. When such a culture broke down, it would probably sink as much lower as it had once been higher, the more advanced its earlier stages, the more degraded its later. A gentlewoman becoming a pioneer wife might be found in greater straits for her gentility than her laundry woman, but the subsequent findings of her rude handicrafts would be no indication whatever of whether she were a primitive or a cultured person. Accustomed to silk, she could not weave for herself the coarsest sackcloth, accustomed to silverware she would be able to devise only the crudest of wooden spoons, having no palette or paints she would scarcely exhibit her highly trained artistic talents except
As well might it be affirmed that a delicately nurtured lady is an “utter barbarian” because she cannot now build her house or make her own shoes. No doubt in such work she would be far more helpless than the wife of the rudest savage, yet she is not on that account to be held as an inferior being.
To us now this conclusion seems almost self-evident although; at the time Dawson wrote, scarcely anyone paid any attention to his arguments. But inevitably the artificiality of these reconstructions of cultural history became apparent even to those who had not the slightest doubt that man began his career as little more than an ape. Today the tide of opinion has begun to turn and modern authorities often take pains to show the weaknesses of some of these earlier views. I think one reason for this is that we no longer have any recognized and authoritative Christian school of thought upholding the biblical view of man’s early superiority and subsequent degeneracy. Therefore social anthropologists today are no longer afraid of being accused of a Christian bias when they look with more favour upon the possibility of cultural devolution. Such frank admissions are no longer felt to give any comfort to the enemy.
Let me illustrate this point by a few extracts from recent literature. To quote Herskovits again: (15)
Every exponent of cultural evolution provided an hypothetical blueprint of the progression he conceived as having marked the development of mankind, so that many examples of nonlinear sequences have been recorded. Some of these progressions were restricted to a single aspect of culture, as has been indicated. Not all students, moreover, were equally insistent on the inevitability of the developmental stages they sketched. As we move away from the heyday of the evolutionary hypothesis, we encounter a greater degree of tentativeness and flexibility. Yet some sequence is always described in these latter works, whatever exceptions to them may be noted.
Of the evolutionary sequences that were formulated in the classical works of this school, none is more specific than that given in Morgan’s Ancient Society. Three principal periods in human socio-cultural development were distinguished by Morgan ï¿½ savagery, barbarism, and civilization. The first two of these were each held to have been divided into older, middle, and later periods, marked by conditions of society to which were applied the designations lower, middle and upper status of savagery or barbarism.
Herskovits then goes on to illustrate how Morgan re-arranged history
14. Dawson, Sir J. William, The Story of the Earth and Man, Hodder and Houghton, London, 1903, p.390.
15. Herskovits, Melville, Man and His Works, Knopf, New York, 1950, p.467.
to validate his interpretation. Starting with the very primitive Australians with descent through the female, he then drew a line leading to the American Indians with a change in descent from the females to the males. The sequence then moved to Grecian tribes in the protohistoric period, with descent firmly established in the male line, but no strict monogamy. The last entry in this ascending scale was, of course, represented by modern civilization with descent in the male line and strict adherence to monogamy. This was only one of Morgan’s sequences and was constructed to show how what he considered was a very loose family organization had evolved into a close one. On this sequence Herskovits commented as follows: (16)
But this series, from the point of view of a historical approach, is quite fictitious, since only the last two items in it are historically related. In terms of actual time, the series should be arranged in this way:
Modern Civilization. American Indians. Australian Aborigines.
Placed in this fashion, it is at once seen to be no series at all, but rather a comparison of data existing on a given plane, arranged according to a predetermined scheme of development.
This is an illustration of a principle which was applied right across the board to the development of art, religion, toolmaking, etc. Thus European prehistory was neatly divided into a series of ages, Paleolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic. The fact that the American Indians were still living in the Old Stone Age (Paleolithic) when Europe was passing through an Industrial Revolution did not at the time appear to challenge this neat little scheme of things. Sir William Dawson wrote his Fossil Men and Their Modern Representatives as a protest against such blindness, but in spite of the fact that he wrote with authority and eloquence, and without rancour, it seems that no one paid much attention to his work. (17) However, as we have said, the tide is turning.
A recent symposium in Chicago at which experts from several countries presented papers covering the whole field of anthropology, included a paper by Hallam L. Movius entitled “Old World Prehistory: Paleolithic.” He opened with these words: (18)
16. Ibid., p.476.
17. Dawson, Sir J. William, Fossil Men and Their Modern Representatives, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1883, viii and 354 pp., index and illustrations.
18. Movius, Hallam L. Jr., “Old World Prehistory: Paleolithic,” in Anthropology Today, Chicago, 1953, p.163.
During the last twenty-five years, our knowledge of the Paleolithic period has been greatly extended beyond the confines of Western Europe. This has not resulted in the establishment of as coherent a picture of man’s early attempts to develop a material culture as was originally expected. For, when we examine the bewildering array of primitive Stone Age assemblages that are constantly being augmented by fresh discoveries, we can hardly compose them into anything even remotely approaching the ordered general scheme conceived by the early workers.
It all seems so very obvious now. Ruth Benedict stressed this when she pointed out: (19)
Early anthropologists tried to arrange all traits of different cultures in an evolutionary sequence from the earliest forms to their final development in Western civilization. But there is no reason to suppose that by discussing Australian religion rather than our own we are uncovering primordial religion, or that by discussing Iroquoian social organization we are returning to the mating habits of man’s early ancestors.
Since we are forced to believe that the race of man is one species it follows that man everywhere has an equally long history behind him. Some primitive tribes may have held relatively closer to primordial forms of behavior than civilized man, but this can only be relative and our guesses are as likely to be wrong as right. There is no justification for identifying some one contemporary primitive custom with the original type of human behavior.
But Ruth Benedict herself almost fell into the trap of stating that early man must have been somewhat like modern primitives. Or, to put it slightly differently, that our primitive contemporaries are in effect our contemporary ancestors. However, there must have been a fundamental difference between early man and modern primitives because, in the Middle East at least, culture though beginning in a comparatively simple way, very rapidly advanced into complexity, whereas backward people today no longer seem to have the power to elevate themselves.
Contact with higher civilizations sometimes brings a great advance, but almost as frequently it brings their extinction. In examining the question of how civilization arose in the first place, Lord Raglan had this to say: (20)
The term “backward races,” which is almost universally applied to savages . . . implies that they are now in the stage that we were in a few
19. Benedict, Ruth, Patterns of Culture, Mentor Books, New York, 1951, pp. 6 and 17. See also on this subject Herskovits, ref.6, p. 618; Goldenweiser, Alexander, Anthropology, Crofts, New York, 1945 p.507; Shapiro, H. L., Race Mixture, UNESCO, Paris, 1953, pp.31, 32; also Lowie, R. H. Social Organization, Rinehart, New York, 1948, pp.122 ff.; Evans-Pritchard, Social Anthropology Cohen West, London, 1951, p.24.
20. Raglan, Lord, How Come Civilization? Methuen, London, 1939, pp.28.
thousand years ago, and, if left alone, would in time rise to something similar to the stage in which we are now.
Not a single fact can be adducted to support this theory. All the available evidence suggests that no savage society, if left to itself, has ever made the slightest progress. The only change that takes place in isolated societies is change for the worse.
This lack of evolutionary sequence applies in the realm of man’s religious history also. Thus E. O. James in a paper read before the Royal Anthropological Institute said: (21)
It is impossible to maintain a unilateral evolutionary development in religious thought and practice in the manner suggested by the rationalistic classifications of Tylor and Frazer, following along the lines of the “Law of the Three Stages,” enunciated by Auguste Comte. Neither the Euhemeran speculation that the idea of God arose in ancestor-worship, revived by Herbert Spencer, nor the Frazerian evolution of monotheism from polytheism and animism as a result of a process of the unification of ideas, can be reconciled with the shadowy figure of a tribal Supreme Being now known to have been a recurrent feature of the primitive conception of Deity.
Largely as a result of the persistent researches of Pater Wilhelm Schmidt, following the lead of Andrew Lang who in 1895 first called attention to the High Gods of Low Races in his Making of Religion, it is now fairly established that, independent of influences from missionaries, or any other contacts with higher cultures, the recognition of an All-Father is an integral element in the religion of such simple people as the Pygmies, the Fuegians, the Australian aborigines, the Californians, and the Andamanese. This cannot be described as monotheism in the strict sense of the term, since there is no suggestion of a single omnipotent Deity being the ground and source of all existence; or even as monotheism, inasmuch as the All-Father is not the sole god of his people like Jehovah in pre-exilic Israel. Nevertheless, the belief in Supreme Beings precludes a clear-cut evolutionary interpretation of the idea of God as distinctly stratified as the geological sequence in the rocks.
Similarly, Goldenweiser pointed out how misleading the theory of evolution became when applied to other human institutions and activities. He warned that “having been impregnated almost fatally with the seed of evolutionary thinking, we like to conceive of everything in the history of culture as a series of transformations.” (22) He then went on to show how misleading such thinking can be. For example, he said: (23)
Nor is it true, as some social scientists have once supposed, that the primitives were addicted to communal or group ownership rather than the ownership of things by individuals. The patent facts do not at all support this a priori conception which must be regarded as one of the ad hoc concoctions of the evolutionists who were looking for
21. James, E. O., “Reality and Religion,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, vol.80, 1950, p.28.
22. Goldenweiser, A., Anthropology, Crofts, New York, 1945, p.134.
23. Ibid., p.47.
Even with regard to early art history, evolution proved wanting as a key. It was assumed at first that pictorial representations would naturally precede the use of symbols, since the latter are of a higher conceptual order. But this, too, proved to be unsupported by the evidence from prehistory. (24) As we have shown in another Doorway Paper, (25) evolutionary theory applied to the origin of language proved to be a block to any further understanding of the problem and has since been discarded. At the moment no “satisfactory” alternative has been found. Darwin himself remarked upon the stimulating effect of mistaken theories as compared with the sterilizing effect of mistaken observations. (26) But a false theory can be very useful in spite of its falsity, provided only that it is not erected into a dogma and presented as fact. Theories are essential to the progress of understanding in science because they structure experiment and inspire the asking of pertinent questions. When facts do not support the theory, it may be modified and continue to serve as inspiration for further investigation. But when a theory which is tentative is presented as fact, it no longer serves to inspire questions but rather to predetermine answers. To my mind, this is the present position of evolutionary theory. It has become “fact” and to challenge it is to run the risk of excommunication. In Medieval times, too, excommunication was one of the penalties for challenging the accepted view of things. At that time the test of whether any new theory was true or false was, as John Randall points out, whether it fitted harmoniously into the orthodox systems of belief and not whether it could be verified by experiment. (27) This is exactly the position today; ecclesiastical dogma has been replaced by biological dogma (28) which, as “dogma,” has been detrimental to the truth.
24. Ibid., p.166.
25. Custance, A. C., “Who Taught Adam to Speak?” Part VI in Genesis and Early Man, vol.2 in The Doorway Papers Series.
26. White, Andrew D., A History of the Warfare of Science With Theology, Braziller, New York, 1955, p.43.
27. Randall, John H. Jr., The Making of the Modern Mind, Houghton Mifflin, New York, 1940, p.98. Carl C. Lindegren pointed out that “the chronological sequence in which scientific discoveries are made has a direct bearing upon the way in which they are interpreted.” As a consequence of this he says, “Data that confirm a well established theory are generally accepted without critical evaluation” (Science, July 6, 1956, p.27). See also on this P. G. Fothergill, Historical Aspects of Organic Evolution, Hollis and Carter London, 1952, p.116.
28. During the International Symposium on Anthropology held in New York under the chairmanship of A. L. Kroeber in 1952, there was remarkable freedom of discussion and criticism of the tendency of some authorities to become emotionally dogmatic when orthodox views were challenged in any way. For example, see the remarks made by M. Bates with reference to the domineering attitude of Dobzhansky, as reported in An Appraisal of Anthropology Today, edited by Sol Tax et al, University of Chicago, 1953, pp.271, 272.
One of the unexpected results of archaeological research was the quite frequent validation of classical historians like Herodotus (29) and others, and upon occasion quite remarkable confirmations of specific traditions which had formerly been considered entirely fictitious. A good illustration of this was the rediscovery of Troy. But archaeology in general in the Middle East area tended to strengthen greatly our confidence in much that had been viewed as an illustration of the rather natural desire of any people to glorify their own past history. Melvin Kyle summed up the situation this way: (30)
Archaeology, in both the Biblical and the classical fields, has started without assumptions and has proceeded uniformly towards trustworthiness of ancient documents. The whole underlying Homeric stories, the account of the ruined palace and splendour of King Minos and the story of Menes, the first king in Egypt, all formerly regarded as legendary or mythical, have now taken their place in sober history. Herodotus, and Strabo and Josephus, so often charged with inaccuracies, have again and again been found to be correct. In the biblical field not a single statement of fact has been finally discredited.
Quite remarkable have been some of these findings. No one took the story of the Golden Fleece seriously until it was found that the traditional home of this fabled pelt had in earlier times been the scene of much gold mining activity. The natives apparently panned gold from the local streams and were in the habit of using sheep skins with the wool still intact as sieves. Such skins became heavily gilded, the gold being recovered subsequently by burning them. (31) It seems highly likely that one of these was seized by a traveller who did not understand its purpose or origin and the trophy finally came to Colchis where it easily became the basis of the classical story. From this same heroic age came the stories of Nestor and Telemachus. Nestor has come to life, and with his resurrection much that was mythical has turned out to be history. Even the bath tub in which Telemachus was refreshed by Nestor’s youngest daughter, perhaps
29. The Illustrated London News (Dec. 10, 1927, p.1058) contained an article by Margaret Taylor on the unique rock painting in Southern Rhodesia, which shows a whole orchestra about to begin a performance! The circumstances surrounding this painting are believed to confirm a statement made by Herodotus which was completely discredited because it stated that about 600 B.C. Pharaoh Necho sailed round Africa. This was held to be extremely unlikely. But it appears that it may very well have occurred, this orchestra having belonged to the Egyptian king.
30. Kyle, Melvin G., “The Antiquity of Man According to the Genesis Account,” Transactions of the Victoria Institute, London, vol.57, 1925, p.127.
31. Simpich, Frederick, “Men and Gold,” National Geographic Magazine, Apr., 1933, p.482.
the first “Order of the Bath,” may have been re-discovered. (32) When Layard recovered for us much of Assyria’s past, its fabled kings and conquerors likewise became historic characters.
When early Christian societies, to which reference has already been made, were being formed, a great number of papers appeared dealing with the traditions of ancient people and their relationship to the biblical record. A number of very learned works of a more extended nature appeared dealing with the same subject including those of Lord Arundell of Wardour, (33) Francois Lenormant, (34) and, of course, Alexander Hislop with his famous The Two Babylons. (35) This general interest in Middle East traditions was extended in due time to an interest in the traditions of people from other parts of the world, such as is reflected in the work of Charles F. Keary (36) and, of course, more extensively in the writings of Sir James Frazer (37) whose massive scholarship and extraordinary literary eloquence earned him worldwide recognition. It may be noted in passing that Frazer had no desire to uphold the veracity of Scripture nor do his writings reflect any great spirit of reverence. The revival of interest in tradition which called forth his monumental work was evidently very widespread and extended far beyond the circle of Christian readers. Writing at the time of this surge of fresh interest, the great Orientals scholar, George Rawlinson pointed out the significance of this increasing verification of traditions in so far as they relate to the origin of civilization and the condition of early man. He said: (38)
It will scarcely be denied that the mythical traditions of almost all nations place at the beginning of human history a time of happiness and perfection, a “golden age” which has no features of savagery or barbarism, but many of civilization and refinement. In the Zendavesta, Yima-khshaeta (Jemshid), the first Aryan king, after reigning for a time in the original Aryanem vaejo, removed with his subjects to a secluded spot, where he and they enjoy uninterrupted happiness. In
32. Blegen, Carl W., “King Nestor’s Palace,” Scientific American, May, 1958, p.111 and photo of the bathtub, p.1131.
33. Arundell, Lord, of Wardour, Tradition: Principally with Reference to Mythology and the Law of Nations, Burns, Oates and Co., London, 1872, xxix and 431 pp., index.
34. Lenormant, Francois, The Beginnings of History According to the Bible and the Traditions of Oriental People, Scribners, New York, 1891, xxx and 588 pp., with appendices.
35. Hislop, Alexander, The Two Babylons, Partridge, London, 1903, 3rd edition, xxiv and 320 pp., index and illustrations.
36. Keary, Charles F., Outlines of Primitive Belief Among the Indo-European Races, Scribners, New York, 1882, xxi and 534 p., index.
37. Frazer, Sir James G., The Golden Bough: The Magic Art and the Evolution of Kings, 2 vol. edition, Macmillan, New York, 1935.
38. Rawlinson, George, The Origin of Nations, Scribner, New York, 1878, pp.10-11.
this place was “neither overbearing, nor mean-spiritedness, neither stupidity nor violence, neither poverty nor deceit, neither puniness nor deformity, neither huge teeth nor bodies beyond proper measure.” The inhabitants suffered no defilement from the evil spirit. Their cattle were the largest, best, and most beautiful breed; their food ambrosial, and never failed them. The Chinese speak of a “first heaven” and an age of innocence, when the “whole creation enjoyed everything that was good, all beings were perfect in their kind.” Mexican traditions tell of the “golden age of Tezeuco,” and Peruvian history commences with the “Two Children of the Sun” who established a civilized community on the borders of Lake Titicaca. And of course the Greeks pointed in the same way to a beautiful past. Such is the voice which reaches us on all sides from the dim and twilight land, where the mythical and the historical seem to meet and blend together inseparably.
Of course, Rawlinson is speaking for the most part of people known to us only as civilized. However, primitive people also have many traditions concerning their own origin and past history and almost invariably they look back upon a past very different from their present situation. As we shall see later, some of them have traditions of techniques such as the making of pottery, canoes, woven fabrics, and even the making of fire which they no longer were able to do. In one instance there was a recollection of terms appropriate only for a culture which supported a king and his court, but these terms no longer applied to anything extant in their culture. (39) The conflict of cultures in the Indus Valley when a high initial civilization was virtually wiped out by invading hordes of barbaric Aryans, led to an epic literature, the Rig Veda, written by the latter to commemorate their victory. The care taken subsequently to preserve this record with exactitude illustrates how much importance was attached to traditions related to the earliest steps towards nationhood taken by any people. In this connection Stuart Piggott wrote: (40)
I think we are justified in accepting the Rig Veda, on archaeological grounds, as a genuine document of the period, preserved intact by the constant fear of the consequences if the magic word were altered by a hairsbreadth.
It is a curious thing that tradition, preserved by word of mouth where literature is not in existence, may be even more perfectly preserved, perhaps because the absence of writing makes it more necessary to exercise memory. For example many of the traditions of the Iroquois Indians in North America were recorded by early missionaries
39 The Polynesians in their eastward drift into the Pacific lost textiles, pottery, metalworking, and gave up the use of the bow. See Roland Dixon, Building of Cultures, Scribner, New York, 1928, p.280. For reference to loss of words regarding court life, see Rich Taylor, New Zealand and Its Inhabitants, undated, p.6 as quoted by Lord Arundell, ref.33, p.122.
40. Piggott, Stuart, Prehistoric India, Penguin Books, Eng., 1950, p.256.
in the “Jesuit Relations” during the first half of the 17th century. Franz Boas investigating the same subject about 300 years later found that the descendants of these same Indians had preserved the same traditions word for word in spite of all the cultural changes that had taken place during the interval. The fact is that people in reduced circumstances tend to cling all the more tenaciously to any recollections they may have of a once happier past. As W. J. Perry put it: (41)
In dealing with native tradition it must always be remembered that the accounts of the beginnings of their culture are usually among the most cherished possessions of any community. Often, where youths are initiated into the tribe when they are about to become men, they are taught the traditions, and are enjoined to preserve them as close secrets, to keep them from the knowledge of women, children, and the uninitiated. Among many peoples a knowledge of his family-tree is an essential part of the training of a member of the ruling group. So greatly do peoples the world over value their traditions.
In his History of Science George Sarton remarked upon the fact that some of the Greek philosophers were highly suspicious about the desirability of teaching anyone to write: He said: (42)
This was because mnemonic traditions were so satisfying that many people, including highly educated ones, did not feel the need of writing. For example, such traditions must have been very strong in the Golden Age of Hellenism; otherwise Socrates’ diatribe against the art of writing in Phaidros would hardly be intelligible.
The aid to memory resulting from written records was felt to be detrimental to the powers of memory. We ourselves are so accustomed to keeping records that we never fail to marvel at the feats of memorization found among unlettered people. Where the Bible is scarce it is not unusual to find native Christians who have memorized prodigious sections of it and are word perfect in recitation. It is a curious thing that the Higher Critics argued against the reliability of the early chapters of the Bible on the grounds that since they were not supposed to have been put into writing till the time of Ezra, and since writing had not even been known before Moses, the very detailed nature of these early records told strongly against the possibility of their transmission over so many centuries without error. They were therefore fabrications. Paradoxically, anthropologists and others were at the same time pointing out that the preservation of oral tradition was the more exact as the culture had less means for keeping written records.
41. Perry, W. J., The Growth of Civilization, Penguin Books, Eng., 1937, p.137.
42. Sarton, George, A History of Science, Harvard, 1952. pp.111 and 116.
The so-called myths of Genesis which had been thus dismissed as of no historic importance, are increasingly turning out to be recorded fact. It is true that such validation has not yet applied much beyond Abraham, and the periods prior are still very largely unsupported from archaeology, but the confirmations already available are so remarkable that one’s confidence in the earlier portions of Scripture is greatly strengthened.
While one cannot suppose that Adam had at first the technical skills which would enable him to proceed at once to the creation of a high civilization, there are statements in the Genesis record that we shall subsequently consider, which clearly imply an exceedingly rapid development of culture from simple to complex. The Flood introduced a very serious break into this development. But Noah and his family re-established the process so that once more within a very few centuries a high civilization flourished in a number of centers including Asia Minor, Egypt, Palestine, the Indus Valley, and in Mesopotamia.
Scripture records an event, however, which disrupted this ancient civilization and led to the forced dispersal of man, at the time of the building of the Tower of Babel, in such circumstances that many of those who migrated surrendered one element after another of the basic culture, descending lower and lower in the scale (except in a few notable instances) as they receded further and further from their original home. In the next chapter we shall examine from archaeology some of the evidence which supports the general conclusion that the trend of culture is not normally towards improvement but towards degeneration This does not mean that no culture evolves in the commonly accepted sense of the term, but rather that there is no law of evolution which would guarantee that each succeeding generation will inevitably improve upon the techniques of their forebears in such a way that, for example, a crude toolmaking industry automatically becomes a superior one, that superstition becomes an elevated religious faith, that grunts become speech, that scribbles become fine art, that a promiscuous herd becomes a monogamous family. Then in the chapter following we shall give some examples of the breakdown of whole cultures under conditions which probably paralleled quite closely those prevailing in these earliest times. And finally we shall consider some of the factors which may have accounted for the extraordinarily rapid rise of civilization at the very beginning of human history.