Posted By Ned Farley on February 1, 2010
Does a Christian Worldview Conflict with the Founding Principles of Anthropology?
Excavation, the best means of understanding the archaeological record. Though often a tedious process (a student cuts grass roots as she prepares to excavate), this destructive scientific method provides archaeologists (as anthropologists) with their best means of studying cultures of the past.
The School of American Anthropology traces its foundational roots to the work of Franz Boas. In 1883, as a physical geographer studying the natural and cultural landscape of the Baffin Islands, Boas realized that human culture is in a constant state of change. His hope was to preserve not only the language of the scattered foraging groups of the northeastern most territory of Canada but to study their varied physiology, ethnic history, religion, and sense of community. In doing so, Boas formulated a new science–one that attempted to understand the biology and social history of all peoples.
ACTS (1:12) Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey. And when they had entered, they went up into the upper room where they were staying… (2:1) When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place… (3) Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Sprit and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused because everyone heard them speak in his own language.
Christians have always acknowledged the diverse nature of human biology, language, and tradition. In fact, as the early disciples ran into the streets of Jerusalem to share the good news with Jews and Gentiles, witnesses were amazed at their command of the many languages spoken within the city. Centuries later, the records identifying the people and traditions of North and South America were penned by Christian missionaries whose primary focus was the fulfillment of Christ’s final challenge;
MARK (16:15) … go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.
Since the 19th century, anthropologists have attempted to separate their social scientific study from related humanistic disciplines such as psychology and sociology. Though aspects of their academic history and research topics are similar, the focus of these studies differ. In fact, within the four branches of professional anthropology only one research interest is shared by other social sciences — a scientific method in understanding the world and the plants and animals that thrive within its many habitats.
GENESIS (8:13) And it came to pass in the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, that the waters were dried up from the earth; and Noah removed the covering the ark and looked, and indeed the surface of the ground was dry… (15) Then God spoke to Noah, saying, “go out of the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. Bring out with you every living thing of all flesh that is with you: birds and cattle and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, so that they may abound on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.”
When biological remains are lithified they are no longer organic; they are a representation of one-time living material, now trapped within the earth’s lithosphere (i.e. Fossils are casts of organic materials—the organic tissues composing them are replaced by mineral and chemical precipitates carried in solution by groundwater).
Today’s climate was not as warm as in the past. In fact, the degree rise that we have experienced over the last 400 years seems minor when one compares it to the three degree rise that occurred just prior to the flood. Our modern planet is a much cooler and less tropical place than the world geologists and geographers describe when they give an environmental context to the flora and fauna of the fossil record.
The most important human adaptation, culture. Artifacts present archaeologists with their most important (functional) units of scientific analysis.
Beyond the scientific method, anthropologists recognize two research interests that are unique to their understanding of human biology, language, and tradition. The first relates to culture. Anthropologists recognize human culture to be the most significant adaptation that living members of genus Homo have made since their appearance in the archaeological records of eastern and southern Africa. Human culture has allowed its practitioners to thrive in every modern climate and environmental niche. Though impossible to measure directly, the behavioral imprint that human culture has made on its users, their patterns of ritual, residence, and social organization is observable.
A testimonial to the beauty of God’s creation. This Black and White Colobus Monkey lacks an important primate trait; in this case a short or non-existent thumb.
A second principle relates to the biological history of anatomically modern humans. As members of the Order Primates, Homo sapiens sapiens are believed to structurally and genetically share a common ancestry with other living primates. A great deal of anthropological research compares the biology and behaviors of apes such as living chimpanzees (Pan) and gorillas (Gorilla).
DEUTERONOMY (4:15) Take careful heed to yourselves, for you saw no form when the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, lest you act corruptly and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of any figure: the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth or the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground or the likeness of any fish that is in the water beneath the earth.
The principles of the evolutionary sciences have become the cornerstone for modern biology. Children and adults as they navigate their educational careers are exposed to a wide range of research that seems to support the Darwinian notion of “change with modification.” In fact, many people today have replaced their faith traditions and understanding of human origins with ideas that require continued testing before they can be portrayed as “fact.”
Evolutionary theorists recognize the similarity in genome sequencing between humans and non-human primates as evidence of a recent common ancestor. Phylogeny — or the notion that ontological relationships (beyond form) exist between living organisms — requires that the genomes of organisms sharing a common ancestry have identical coding for specific developmental and life sustaining cellular events.
Is a Christian approach toward anthropology possible? In fact, it is. As anthropologists, Christians can celebrate the diverse nature and resiliency of God’s creation. We live in a fallen world yet we can appreciate the strength of God’s breath as it gives life to all creatures. These creatures are not all the same, yet each has been created to survive in a unique way; we represent the antithesis of this truth. Made in His image. Varying in biology, language, and ultimately culture — we celebrate His creativity.