Native Americans

Paradox: Christian Creationism Bad—Native American Creationism Good

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Mauna Kea Telescopes
Ronald Bailey

Over at the New York Times today, science reporter George Johnson has a remarkably frank column about how researchers who would otherwise vociferously fight against Christian creationism back down when it comes to indigenous creationism. Johnson opens by citing protests by Native Hawaiians against the building of the gigantic Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea based on claims that the mountain is sacred. From the article:

For them the mountain is a sacred place where the Sky Father and the Earth Mother coupled and gave birth to the Hawaiian people.

They don't all mean that metaphorically. They consider the telescope — it will be the 14th on Mauna Kea — the latest insult to their gods. Push them too far, the demonstrators warned, and Mauna Kea, a volcano, will erupt in revenge.

It can be difficult to tell how motivated such protests are by spiritual outrage and how much by politics. …

Adding more complications, the indigenous protesters were allied with environmental activists denouncing the encroachment of what they call "the international astronomy industry," as though there were great profits to be made from studying black holes and measuring redshifts.

Of course, since the summit of Mauna Kea is "owned" by the U.S. government, who gets to use it is necessarily adjudicated in the win/lose arena of politics instead of through the win/win dynamics of private property rights and markets.

Johnson then goes on to talk about how the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) affects scientific research. Back in 2004, Reason published a fascinating article that focused on the fight over the remains of Kennewick Man. That article, "Grave Injustice," outlined the uses and abuses of NAGPRA:

Imagine an America where the federal government takes an active role in promoting the spiritual values of a certain cultural group. This group rarely documents its largely unknown religious practices and in fact considers many rituals too secret for public knowledge. Yet should outsiders violate its beliefs, the government can threaten them with lawsuits, fines, or prison sentences….

In practice, NAGPRA's opponents say, the law has done far more for new age sophistry and legal abuse than for science and justice.

Now a decade later, Johnson inquires of Steve Lekson, a professor of anthropology and curator of archaeology at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History, what he thinks of the requirement to turn over skeletal remains and cultural artifacts stored in museums and universities to Native American groups.Lekson replied:

"There's no question we are losing information," he said. But he had become persuaded that complying with the artifacts law was the right thing to do.

"It's bad for science, but good (I suppose) for the Native American groups involved," he wrote in an email. "Given that the U.S.A. was founded on two great sins — genocide of Native Americans and slavery of Africans — I think science can afford this act of contrition and reparation."

But how is letting Indian creationism interfere with scientific research any different from Christian creationism interfering with public education — something that he would surely resist?

Logically they are the same, Dr. Lekson agreed. But we owed the Indians. "I'm given to understand that the double standard rankles," he said.

Johnson ends by citing a letter defending the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope from Native Hawaiian Chad Kalepa Baybayan:

The science of astronomy helps us to advance human knowledge to the benefit of the community. It teaches us where we have come from, and where we are going. Its impact has been positive, introducing the young to the process of modern exploration and discovery, a process consistent with past traditional practices. …

I firmly believe the highest level of desecration rests in actions that remove the opportunity and choices from the kind of future our youth can own.

Sounds right.

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59 responses to “Paradox: Christian Creationism Bad—Native American Creationism Good

  1. Yeah, we covered this in the 90s, but no one listened.

  2. OT: After spending gajillions on trains, bike lanes and street car, Seattle’s Commute Time worsens.

    Solution: do it harder.

    http://seattletimes.com/html/l…..ysxml.html

    1. “Nobody drives here anymore, the roads are too crowded!”

    2. Just think of how much worse it would be if they had done nothing!

    3. That is the point. How can you force people to abandon cars if you improve traffic conditions? The only way to maximize the “investment” in bike-lanes, busses, wasted HOV lanes, etc. is to make traffic so bad that people have no other choice.

      1. I like your name. Because it was about that time when local politicians were openly admitting the the purpose of all these things was to “frustrate people out of their cars and into public transit options” by “increasing commute times”.

    4. Seattle is supposed to be full of so many smart people, but one look at local government disproves that theory immediately.

      Traffic would be a hell of a lot better if they got rid of the HOV lanes, or at least moved them to the RIGHT LANE. As is now, HO vehicles get on the freeway, disrupt everyone as they inch their way leftwards, then disrupt everyone again when they exit the freeway. Utter lunacy.

  3. as though there were great profits to be made from studying black holes and measuring redshifts

    Yeah, I’m sure no one made any money off a massive federal building project in one of the most remote and inaccessible parts of the country.

    1. Well, it is more the case that astronomers want others to pay for their expensive toys.

      Since the Keck Telescopes were built, the cost of a major observatory has gone beyond the budget of almost all private individuals or foundations.

  4. If Obama would just admit that he’s using Mauna Kea to build his secret super-villain volcano lair, I’d be on board with it.

  5. Stop Big Astronomy!

    This sort of thing happens all the time on the left: Sexism in America? Terrible! Sexism in the Muslim world? Well, that’s just their culture. Who are we to impose our values? Etc.

    1. But the semen of astrophysicists and the like is highly coveted among lesbian couples seeking children. That’s just our culture.

      1. Seriously?? Early retirement for me!

      2. OK, but they should work at Mom & Pop astronomy businesses, not any of the big astronomy chains that destroy neighborhoods with their predator pricing.

  6. as though there were great profits to be made from studying black holes and measuring redshifts.

    Uh, Johnson – ‘Big Astronomy’ (ie, the ‘professional’ astronomers and the big scopes) are almost completely government funded. So, yes, there are large profits to be made. So you get the taxpayer to pay for your big ‘scope and pay you a salary to look at the stars and produce knowledge of a mostly academic nature.

    1. But those aren’t the evil kind of profits. Get with it, dude.

    2. I might quible over the definition of large, but the point is valid.

  7. Imagine an America where the federal government takes an active role in promoting the spiritual values of a certain cultural group. This group rarely documents its largely unknown religious practices and in fact considers many rituals too secret for public knowledge. Yet should outsiders violate its beliefs, the government can threaten them with lawsuits, fines, or prison sentences.

    But, enough about the Obama administration.

  8. But how is letting Indian creationism interfere with scientific research any different from Christian creationism interfering with public education ? something that he would surely resist?

    Because one is Christian creationism and is therefore bad. The other is all multicultural and stuff. Principals, not principles.

    1. Because one is Christian creationism and is therefore bad.

      Hey, isn’t it also *Jewi–oh. Never mind.

    2. Ye gods is our culture fucked up.

    3. That, and people seem to think that the very diverse Amerindian spirituality was profoundly environmentally friendly. Ignoring the fact that pretty much every Amerindian group that developed agriculture practiced slash-and-burn, all those large Ice Age mammals mysteriously disappeared after the Clovis showed up, etc.

      1. You can blow the noble savage worshipping progressive person’s minds if you can get them to accept that this country was substantially Deforested by Native Americans prior to our arrival and actually had greater forest coverage long after our arrival than prior

        1. So I knew that forestation levels are higher now than they were pre-industrial revolution (I think that’s the right baseline). I hadn’t heard they are higher than pre-European settlement. Do you have a link, because that is a useful factoid.

        2. The neo-tribalists simply and flatly deny that Native Americans were anything but wise custodians of the environment (with the possible exception of the Maya, who are useful as a ‘bad example’ if you accept the environmentalist’s thesis that the Maya decline was due to environmental collapse).

          No amount of evidence will persuade them otherwise.

          The disappearance of the North and South American large mammals in the post-Clovis period is putatively due to “environmental change” – which we are supposed to assume is the end of the last ice age, despite the fact that the same large mammals had survived at least four previous ice ages in the last million years.

    4. Fairly, I would object to a project to be built on the site of one of the great cathedrals in Europe or at Te?t?huac?n, Angkor Wat, or Chichen Itza.

      But that is primarily because those are the sites of monumental human achievements, albeit in the service of their deities.

      The environmentalist claims on the linked websites are remarkably thin gruel – talking about spoiling “viewscapes” as though they walked up there every day to watch the sunset. (And not by using the roads that were built for the observatories.)

      Tell me again how environmentalism is so ‘scientific.’

  9. Why the paradox? Christian creationism is bad because it’s white. Native American creationism is good because it is not white. What about this don’t you guys understand???

  10. Ganesh will trample you.

    1. It would be an honor to be trampled by Ganesh!

      1. Please do not offer my god a peanut.

        1. Ganesh is alergic to peanuts?

    2. No offence Tim, but when they were handing out religions you must have been out taking a whizz.

  11. It can be difficult to tell how motivated such protests are by spiritual outrage and how much by politics. …

    Really it’s not.

  12. As a former Hawaii resident/cop I totally agree. This analysis is spot on

    People will bend over backwards for Kanaka Maoli fundamentalism, where they would ridicule and or ignore concerns of Christian fundamentalists.

    You will hear scientists, politicians etc speak reverently and with full respect towards religious fundamentalists concerns about Pele etc where they would never give even lip service to concerns of Christian fundamentalists or even relatively liberal Christian concerns

    1. Hey, when Jesus scores 1421 career goals, he’ll get the same respect as Pele.
      Or are you talking about the other one?

      1. Are you implying there is a difference?

        1. Are you implying there is a difference?

          Now i KNOW you’re not the original Dunphy!

      2. Well the Hawaiian one does have this way of repaving subdivisions.

        Although I fail to see how molten lava is superior to asphalt.

      1. reflex, nothing more

    2. Damn, I was hoping you had suck-started a shotgun. Why don’t you get on that.

  13. Um, Mauna Kea thrusts up nearly 14,000 feet into the sky and (in its day) spurted out copious amounts of lava. So why is it the “earth mother“?

    1. Shield volcanoes look more like more like tits while stratovolcanoes look like dicks?

    2. STOP OPPRESSING US WITH YOUR CISNORMATIVE GEOLOGY!!!1!

      1. “Cisnormative Geology” would be a good name for a rock’n’roll band.

    3. The volcano is a big vagina giving birth to the earth, duh.
      Have you ever seen a picture of Hawaii? The volcanos don’t exactly thrust up, they rise pretty gradually. 14000′ sounds like a lot, but is pretty small compared to the island.

  14. The thing that annoys me the most is the claims of ownership of all cultural artifacts by people who may or may not be distant descendants of the people who made the stuff. You don’t own your ancestors or the fruits of their labor. A lot of the artifacts were honestly purchased by non-Indians and even more would have stayed in the ground unknown to anyone if white people hadn’t dug it up and put it in a museum.
    It is kind of tricky figuring out where to draw the line between archaeology and grave desecration, but it ought to be consistent.

    1. I think if you’re a relative of the stiff, or absent that, if he demonstrably belonged to a recognized political unit (whether a country, a U.S. state, or an Indian tribe), then the relative/country/tribe should be able to assert the stiff’s interests, whatever they may be.

      1. Eg, if you find a femur of a Civil War soldier on your Virginia farm, turn it over to the USA – maybe get a reward!

        1. Or put it in your soup!

  15. Is this really a paradox?

    The whole driving force is simply being anti-Christian (and anti-West), not pro-skepticism/pro-science.

    1. I dunno, Christians are about as bad as progressives, so that seems like a pot/kettle/black kind of thing.

      1. Some are. Most who are ought to read a bit more about how believers are supposed to treat unbelievers (hint, not use force against them).

  16. For the love of all things holy, won’t someone say something about gamboling?

  17. Forget the volcano gods.

    Newfoundland should send one of its Beothuk First People to the Big Island to break the news to pious Hawaiians that the universe is a hairball upchucked by Father Beaver as he was being buggered by the Great Wolverine

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