Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Danger of Reductionism


"Anthropology is the enemy of reductionism, be it naturalistic explanations of human skin color variation, the ascertainment of human presence via exclusive archaeological arguments or the belief that linguistic classifications are only skin deep."-- German Dziebel

German V. Dziebel

Dr. German Dziebel holds a B.A. in History from St. Petersburg State University (Russia), a Ph.D. in Ethnology from the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnology (St. Petersburg, Russia), an M.A. in Sociology from Central European University (Warsaw, Poland), an M.A. in Anthropology and a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Stanford University (Stanford, California). He spent two quarters as an exchange student at the University of Chicago.

I find Dr. Dziebel's work very satisfying. in part, because he is right that anthropology is the enemy of reductionism. That is no less true for Biblical Anthropology. Application of anthropological principles of study to the data found in the oldest layers of material in the Bible has been my focus for over 30 years. This research has rendered significant discoveries and clarified connections between peoples of the archaic world. Indeed, my research, like Dr. Dziebel's, hinges mainly on kinship analysis. His focus has largely been on the peoples of the Americas. Mine on the dispersion of related peoples from the Nile Valley.

I find Dziebel's work fascinating because he is tracing connections from the Americas to the Old World which I believe can be explained by the movement of archaic populations out of the Nile Valley between 20,000 and 10,000 years ago. Dziebel, on the other hand, believes that modern humans originated in the Americas.

Dziebel has stated:

In the study of modern human origins and dispersals, kinship systems and mating patterns play an important strategic role connecting patterns of genetic variation with sociocultural and linguistic systems. While multiple studies have shown that ancient kinship systems and mating patterns likely contributed to the observable regional and global clines of genetic variation, no comprehensive study of worldwide kinship-systemic variation as it relates to genetic variation exists to date. (From here.)

While Dziebel and I might not agree on how to interpret the evidence of connections between people of the New and Old Worlds, we share a conviction that kinship, marriage and ascendancy patterns, molecular genetics, and linguistic studies are essential if we are to develop anything resembling a comprehensive picture of genetic variation worldwide.

We agree also that reductionism always misleads. There are many examples of reductionism among Christians: Luther's interpretation of 1 Peter 2:9 by which he concludes that all baptized people are priests; the Protestant theory of Sola Scriptura, Young Earth Creationism, the belief that all extant human populations are descended from the three sons of Noah, etc.

Secular reductionists attribute religious beliefs to non-religious causes. Some view religious faith as a by-product of human evolution. In this view religion enhances survivability for members of a group and so is reinforced by natural selection. Others reduce the religious impulse to superstition, as a way to explain the inexplicable.

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