For the last week, I have been thinking a lot about what the process of science actually means to me. I have been going over it in my capstone class, I unleashed all my disdain for someone who didn’t respect it, and to top it all off we had the Ken Ham/ Bill Nye debate, where one of my science role models debated the creation of the world and evolution with one of the most ignorant people I’ve ever heard of. All this made me kind of want to put my thoughts down as well, to puzzle through it. To kind of sort out my religious/spiritual beliefs along with what I think about science.
I’ve already gone through the discussion of my religious/spiritual development, and my Deistic Pantheism on my first post. But I did not go as far into my relationship to science. Since we were allowed to read whatever we wanted, basically, I early on latched onto studying animals, especially dinosaurs. I loved animals of all kinds, and all their behaviors, but dinosaurs were, well, just cool. And they were all lost to an intriguing and misty past, full of questions that I wanted to help answer.
I started looking at humans after we started homeschooling, as I began studying history avidly. It was, for me, one of the easier subjects to read about, and I quickly fell in love with the past, shunning everything past about 1500 or so as gritty, nasty, or, well, it just seemed more confusing. Which may say a lot about what I learned about the religious simplicity of the medieval period I was so enamored with.
Even during my ‘Christian’ phase, I had never felt that there was any conflict with my beliefs and what I knew about science. Like many other Christian academics, I am able to separate my religion from my work. The only conflict I had was when I left the bubble of our family and came to college, with the sociological things my dad had accidentally passed down to me, primarily the homophobia, but also the Christian Right political beliefs that I had helped indoctrinate myself during our stay in Florida. This was roughly when President Obama was getting elected to his first term, and I listened to the radio hosts (Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Michael Savage) pretty religiously. These conservative religious beliefs came into conflict when I took my political science class, where I learned that our government is not as simple as ‘majority rules,’ and to a head in my sociology class, where I refused to write an essay when a guest speaker from Family Planning came and explained about sex education and the sexuality and gender spectrum. It was also around this time when I switched from wanting to study paleontology to studying archaeology, and after I graduated from the community college I went to the state university to study anthropology in preparation for that.
Anthropology helped cure my misconceptions where my sociology class had failed. It was a gentler slope. Where sociology had presented me with all these ‘stereotypical liberal lies’ that I had so proudly stood against, anthropology proved little by little that what we consider normal or set in concrete in American society is very different in other cultures. This allowed me to start thinking critically (for the first time, really, in quite a while since I was homeschooling myself) and question myself and my beliefs in what I thought was how the ‘world’ (read, America) functioned.
This leads me into the topics we were covering in my capstone class. There is some debate in the anthropological community about whether anthropology should be termed a ‘science’, and if so, should the traditional ‘four-field approach’ be discarded, and the ‘more scientific’ fields of biological/physical anthropology and archaeology be weaned from the ‘softer’ fields of sociocultural anthropology and linguistics. The answer isn’t simple, but I will present my other examples before suggesting what I believe.
In my second point, I erupted at someone on Facebook for disregarding and disrespecting his anthropological studies. He had been with me at the field school over the summer in 2013, and what I felt was a gut reaction of disliking him only grew stronger as we continued. It wasn’t easy in the mountains, but it’s trials and tribulation that brings out someone’s true colors, and boy, his shone through bright and clear. Among several other selfish, ignorant, lazy things that made him a pain to work with throughout the field school, to me what made me lose all respect for him whatsoever was his admission that he did not plan to use any of his education in the future. He was not going to go into archaeology. He was paying all this money, and doing dismally, just for the social experience. His dismissal of everything I held so important, anthropology and archaeology, made me glad never to hear from him.
Until this week, when a friend posted a video protesting the use of the use of the name ‘Redskins’ by the Washington DC football team. She and another Native American friend, and I, were talking about how political correctness requires a much more mature perspective than just ‘being polite,’ but understanding that words have very real effects on marginalized people, and that using those words reinforces the already present equality. So when this guy I’ve been writing about comes on and talked about how he thinks he has a moral right to defend the owner of the Redskins to use whatever he wants, I just unzipped and read him the riot act of everything I ever thought of him. He has been studying all the same things I had, and yet he had not learned anything about respect for others. He had ignored everything he had been taught in every anthropology class he had ever been in.
Finally, the Ken Ham/Bill Nye debate. There are much more in-depth analyses of the event elsewhere, and I only need to touch on it for a few things. First, I will acknowledge that Ham used a few tenets of the scientific method, in order to find evidence. The issue with his science (among many, many other things) is how he wields it.
Because this debate tied a lot of things together for me about this week. Ham showed me that science is a tool, independent of perspective- or it should be. The difference between Nye and Ham is that Nye, and other, more religious, scientists, recognize that science can be used by anyone. Whether you’re atheist, or Christian, Muslim, or Hindi, you can use science to learn more about the world without compromising your faith, or getting it twisted up in it. Ham, however, uses science more like a weapon, and it is chained to the gauntlet of his faith. If his beliefs about creationism were taught in school, anyone’s belief would need to be compromised. Even Christians of different sects would need to sacrifice important tenets about what they were taught to accept Young Earth Creationism, to say nothing of Buddhist or Jewish students. Science, regardless of who uses it, is a tool, and it is neutral to your spirituality or beliefs.
This leads back again to the anthropology debate, and whether it should be considered a science. In my mind, yes, it should be. Anthropology, like any academic discipline, is a tool, a way to ask questions and seek answers for them, and a way to examine the world. People of all faiths study anthropology, and people of all faiths can use anthropology without compromising their religion.
To close off, this is why I got angry at the Facebook guy. He had been studying all the same things as my fellow students, and he has this tool lying just at his fingertips. But he is deliberately choosing to set it aside, to not make use of it. To me, refusing to use knowledge you have striven so hard to attain is the greatest sin, and was the final spark that made me finally lose my patience.
It’s said that ‘knowledge is power.’ I’m going to redefine that by saying that, ‘knowledge is science, and science is a crowbar to lift the rock of ignorance in order to reveal the questions that need answering.’