Friday, October 23, 2009

Location, Location, Location

When we compared anatomically modern humans (minimum 2M years ago) to behaviorally modern humans (max 60K years ago), I gave a hint that even stricter definitions of behaviorally modern humans might bring our definition even closer than the important dividing line of the emergence of language. Because Ice Ages forced the widely-spread peoples into now-tropical areas, we seemed to learn to interact more peacefully about 18,000 years ago. That happened in many places, and no one area can claim it.

"Many places" comes up in all discussions of origins of human behaviors, as the East Asian and North American centers developed independently of the Middle-Eastern improvements we are familiar with. Domestication of the dog, for example, happened very gradually across much of Asia. Full domestication of the dog, however, seems to be be found earliest in southern Russia, and in the Natufian culture in what is currently Israel and Syria. Domesticated sheep - earliest in Southwest Asia. Goats - Iran. First permanent dwellings, current Ukraine; actual cities - Mesopotamia. Einkhorn wheat - southeastern Turkey; rye - central and eastern Turkey. Writing - Mesopotamia.

If one looks at a map, one will see that these are nowhere near Olduvai and the other sites in East Africa which National Geographic and others would highlight as the birthplace of mankind. They do seem to cluster around northern Iraq, however, where the Bible locates Eden. The time frame is about 50% greater than a literal reading of Genesis would give us, but still, not too shabby for a people who didn't write things down and didn't do archaeology.

This is in one sense a trivial, circular finding. That the earliest peoples to domesticate animals, settle down, and begin to keep records are also those societies which give the best picture as to how those things happened is hardly surprising. The Jews were one of those related groups, not the only one. Such early pretty-darn-good history does not necessarily argue for the premise that we should accept the religious beliefs of any of those groups.

Yet we are talking about the impressions that those who talk about early man and first humans give us. And the impression that Discover, Into to Anthropology textbooks, and TV specials give us stresses the African, the biological origins. The Man from Mars might not call that the more accurate impression. While he might agree with all the science of the secularists, he might also nominate Genesis as capturing more important history in story form.

This is the spot where a cheerful, kindly Christian might merely remind scientists not to neglect an important feature in the impressions they create. Throw us a bone once in awhile, such a one might say, 'cuz Genesis has some good stuff in it. I am only intermittently cheerful and kindly, however, and my message is a bit harsher. I don't find it entirely accidental that this aspect is neglected. Some science writers openly try to discredit not only the close literality of Genesis, but even its general impression. Many more consider this a secondary but nonetheless important part of their science teaching.

It is only human nature, perhaps, to focus on the point of contention, and for scientists to take special pains to undermine the science of the Genesis account because there are many who still believe that science. But we're not talking human nature here. You're supposed to be scientists, remember? Your whole shtick is that we can rely on you because you are above those petty considerations. You can't have that both ways. Just the facts, ma'am, without trying to include your own sermons in with it. Or if you must have your sermons, then you have no cause to kick when others have theirs.

Some scientists, science writers, and general secularists do throw a bone in the direction of Genesis from time to time. These are not monolithic groups of people who have it in for Christian fundamentalists in particular. But the fundamentalists are not just paranoid, making up an antagonism which others do not feel. They are reading the social cues very nicely, and feel your contempt. Denying it does not give you more credibility, but less. If you don't know yourself, fundamentalists reason, how can you know us? And even, how can you know science?


Retriever said...

Avi, I am enjoying this latest series so much, but feel too brain dead to comment intelligently. So will just play cheerleader instead and say "Keep on writing! Great food for thought!" You have a real gift for pulling a clear thread of argument out from the tangle of books and theories about all this stuff.

Personally, am crankier than usual and am retreating to the cave with a pile of sheepskins and hot tea and the dog and cats to hibernate til to whup the cold that has me in its maw.

karrde said...

There seem to be two things in this post.

I'm interested in the concept of Location, Location, Location.

The three most important things in real estate are as old as humanity, it seems. (Depending on where you draw the line between proto-human and human...)

The other part is the pull and push between literal-minded religious folk and scientists who have an axe to grind. They don't even have to have the outright hostility of Richard Dawkins, but the subtle snobbery which says that the religious tales are unimportant in assessing anything about human history.

Such an attitude seems as short-sighted and dismissive as the attitude that all science that disagrees with Scripture is of the Devil.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Thank you both for the kind words. I admit I am preaching to the choir a bit on this subject.

Keep writing, she says, but I think that is the last post of that series. However, as soon as I collect all the posts in a series into one link and post it, I usually think of something else to include after. I may join this with an older series about Genesis.