Feedback archiveFeedback 2002

How is cultural information lost?

4 February 2002

From Andrew—Colorado, USA, who is not particularly critical himself, but asks some questions that are common among those critical of CMI’s stand, and the answers could be helpful to some.

His letter is posted below with point-by-point responses by Dr Jonathan Sarfati, interspersed as per normal e-mail fashion.

I enjoyed looking through some of the articles on your website. I became a Christian about three months ago, and enjoy everything about Christianity. It's infinitley better than my previous life.

That’s very good news. But from experience, I must advise you not to to rely on feelings, which are fickle, but to stick with it even if the enjoyment passes temporarily (testing times come — the Bible makes that clear).

My problem is that I’m having trouble accepting some of the explanations given in the Bible about how God created people.

The main thing to remember is that the God who created the universe, became a man and rose from the dead has far more knowledge than any of us. So we should trust His word, even when our finite minds don’t fully understand, because we don’t have all the data. Christianity is never anti-logic, but may sometimes contradict apparent ‘facts’, which turn out to be nothing of the kind.

I’m an Anthropology major at Fort Lewis College, Colorado.

Unfortunately, anthropology at universities tends to be very secular, and rejects a priori the historical record of the Bible. All interpretations of human origins and culture assume the evolutionary story of origins and cultural development. I’m not suggesting that you abandon your major, just to be aware of the bias, and the strong role of presuppositions in the interpretations that often pass as ‘facts’.

This is what I thought of one night after talking with some of my Christian friends: 1. In virtually every case, people will always move up in technology, in every aspect of their lives. People using computers never go back using to slide rulers, people living in houses never go back to living in straw huts, and a group of people with cars or public transportation never go back to walking everywhere they go.

This might seem plausible, but imagine if only your family group suddenly found themselves speaking a language different from anyone else, and every other family group found themselves in the same boat. It may be necessary for everyone to split up. Some groups may have to move right away from civilisation. If your family group did, would there be anyone in it who could find metal ores and smelt it? Or know how to make electricity, or computers, or … etc. I think you’d very quickly find it easiest to make tools out of stone and find caves to live in. And you might not have much need even for the humble slide rule, let alone a computer!

This is exactly what would have happened at the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11, and back then they didn't have electronic equipment (that we know of?!). The miraculous confusion of languages resulting in the separation of small people groups is something completely overlooked, so the anthropological parallels have no validity.

This is especially true with cultures, not individual people. American culture will never give up technology such as the internet, telephones, and airplanes, and revert back to a colonial lifestyle.

But this is not true. There is evidence that the Tasmanian aboriginals abandoned some technology they previously had, possibly because of new religious taboos. There is lots of evidence that the Incas lost a lot of technology in becoming the ‘Indians’ of South America today. And if your family was isolated, could you rebuild modern technologies from scratch?

2. Farming is a cultural advance from a hunter/gatherer culture. No culture that has developed farming has ever gone back to being hunter/gatherers, even though hunting is a more efficiant method of producing food.

Again, they might if some family groups of this culture were suddenly isolated, and there was no-one in the group with the knowledge. However, who decided that hunting is ‘more efficient’ than farming? In what sense? It is not more efficient in terms of the time needed to provide sufficient food, especially as a population grows. It is not more efficient in terms of the labour required, especially in the modern context. Here it is only more ‘efficient’ in terms of fossil fuel use.

3. If all of humanity is descended from Noah, and he was a farmer (Genesis 9:20), then why would some cultures, such as the Native Americans on the Great Plains, be hunter/gatherers if Noah passed on his knowledge of farming to his sons? I use the Plains Indians as an example because the Great Plains are excellent farmland, so domestication of crops and possibly animals would have been possible.

Quite possibly because Noah’s sons didn’t continue passing on this knowledge. Some of Noah’s descendants were too busy rebelling at Babel. Also, some of those descendants had to cope instead with the post-Flood Ice Age and migration across the land bridge now submerged under the Bering Strait. Migratory peoples tend to rely on hunting while in transit. If they are in transit for some years (like a generation), then much of the knowledge about farming will be lost, and the routine of hunting will be firmly established. While in transit the education of the young tends to be disrupted also, so this would impact the future ability to re-establish farming. Furthermore, if they find a land abundant with wildlife (e.g. bison on the Great Plains) and the population is small, why would you bother farming (and the bison would eat the crops they planted anyway!!)? So there are obvious phases through which a migratory group will go and this would explain why so many groups of people far removed from the Middle East live a hunter-gatherer lifestyle (agriculture probably results from population pressure and relatively long-term cultural stability, the combination of which is missing from far-flung groups of people dispersed at Babel).

Hope this helps.

(Dr) Jonathan Sarfati

Published: 4 February 2006