The Daily Bork

August 16, 2005

NZ, genes and religion

Interesting to see NZ picked up for its curious attitudes towards science and religion. Why isn't that great defender of the enlightenment (not) Russell Brown, among others, doing his nana over this when he threw a wobbly about intelligent design in the USA just last week. Maybe he hasn't seen it yet. Comments from Gene Expression...
One of most of the frustrating things about the modern intellectual discourse is that those of us who hew to the Enlightenment tradition, that empirical investigation can shape a rational model of the world as it is, are having to battle two sides. On the one hand, you have traditionalist religious fundamentalists, particularly in the United States, who can mobilize massive ground troops. On the other hand, you have the hyper-Post Modernist project which attempts to deprivilege Western science from its monopoly on descriptions of the physical and biological world around us by periodically blind siding us with massive air raids. This story about Maori objections to the Genographic Project illustrates how the two can work in tandem, in particular when the focus is on non-white peoples who have a history of being at a disadvantage.

For example, see this quote, "For Tongans, we were created in Tonga. We have gods, our own gods, which we created the same as the people of Israel. We have our own stories...." Or, " "We didn't come from anywhere. We know that our Dreamtime stories tell us we were always here, in Australia. Can this be twisted to say we came from Africa...." The analogy with Christian fundamentalists is not too strained here as far as the religion goes, though while the fundamentalists want to preserve a certain model of the world that they think validates their literal faith in the Bible and underpins their morality, the indigenous spokespersons have a different ax to grind: "Maori representatives at a Health Research Council conference in Wellington called for the project's "immediate halt", saying genetic information belonged to hapu, whanau and iwi collectively, not to individuals." Ultimately, this is politics that is at work, as small ethnic groups attempt to maintain their own traditions in the face of the acidifying effects of modern society (the same acid that Christian fundamentalists fear).

The fact is, contra this talk of "gods," almost all the inhabitants of Tonga are Christian. According to The Joshua Project the vast majority of Maori are Christian. So are the majority of Australian Aboriginals. An emphasis on "traditional beliefs" is belied by the reality on the ground (if you read the article one researcher in New Zealand notes that he's had little trouble in convincing individual Maori to give blood). I am not a hard-core believer in either the Dawkinsian or Gouldian position on the Religion-Science relationship, that is, conflict vs. nonoverlapping magisteria. But, when mythology conflicts with science, I think that the universal acid will always win. It doesn't matter if the mythology is Christian or non-Christian, in the face of modern science they are simply presenting unneeded and superseded hypotheses.

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