Lost Tribes, Sunken Continents and Ancient
'Cult' Archaeology & Creationism
Tools 1: What Science Does
Key Terms and Concepts
Sometimes received knowledge, or ethnoscience, that offers what seems
a logical explanation for some phenomenon, but is often in error in some
detail or entirety.
An example: we have seasons because the earth's orbit gets farther from
the soon in winter. The intuitive part, in one sense right, says that the
farther from a heat source you are, the colder it is. The real science
relates to the tilt of the earth on its axis.
Most are reluctant to give up their intuitive approaches even when confronted
with evidence and may even try to weave the real science into their intuitive
The purposes of science:
- To organize
- To simplify
- To Explain
The process of developing relationships between the known and the unknown.
John Hospers in his Journal of Philosophy (1947) article "On
Explanation" discusses several classes of explantion. One can explain
by reference to what some thinking being had in mind (e.g. God's will),
by noting it as an occurrence of a general class of phenomena (because
everybody does it, or taxonomy in science), general laws (gravity), or
looking at connecting links between co-occurring phenomena. The type of
explanation used often results from the type of explantion that will satisfy
whoever asks the question "why?" He also discusses the idea of
"an ultimate brute question Why?"
Once relationships are clear, then hypotheses can be developed. They
are If:Then statements of conditions yielding certain results.
Once predictions can be made, then control is possible. In magic and
religion this is ritual. In science it is experiment and hypothesis testing.
Science process includes another step, the falsification of hypotheses.
This means that science tries to prove itself false. Contrary to popular
belief, it does not try to prove ideas true. This notion is often misunderstood
- How is science like religion or unlike religion?
- Is there confusion between science and technology?
- Does the American public have a love/hate relationship to science?
- What is the nature of science teaching in the schools? What are or
might be its impacts?
Sometimes You Can Read a Book by its
The old saying goes: "You can't read a book by its cover!"
However, in the realm of pseudoscience and cult archaeology there are usually
clues to the content of the book right on the cover. At the same time,
you do owe it to yourself and the author to stay open minded until you
have ample evidence to label a book as "off base."
Let's take a look at some clues!
Look at the front cover.
- Does it ask "leading" questions? These might be questions
like: "Do you want to know the real truth behind UFOs?" or "Did
the Air Force conspire to hide evidence about Roswell?"
- Does it make amazing claims? Examples might be such things as
"Proof that extraterrestrials visited earth thousands of years ago!"
If it uses either of these tactics, beware! They are attention-getting
- Look at the lettering on the cover. Believe it or not, especially on
paperbacks, the covers often use block lettering with dropped shadows!
Who knows why? Attention getting, perhaps.
- Who is the publisher? Is it a reputable publisher of trade or scholarly
books that might have put the book through outside or peer review? Many
cult books are marketed by publishers of science fiction or are from general
trade publishers that will print almost anything, such as Bantam.
Be careful! These traits don't always mean a book is bad. Two
good books, Robert Silverberg's Mound Builders and Robert Wauchope's
Lost Tribes and Sunken Continents actually use these techniques
for parody and sales. Wauchope's book was actually published by the U.
of Chicago Press.
Look at the back cover.
- Does the cover have "blurbs" from individuals? Who are they?
Are they people who write in the same genre?
- Does the cover give any information about the author? (Look also on
the last pages or on the back jacket flap if hardbound.) What are the author's
credentials? If not on the cover or inside, you owe it to yourself to find
out about the author. Try the web, Who's Who or some biographical
dictionaries. Is the author qualified to write about the subject?
Now look just inside.
- In the back, does the book have a bibliography or endnotes? If so,
what sort of sources are present? How many of them are foreign language
sources? Are any of them the Bible? What are the dates on sources? Are
they up to date? Are any of them really scholarly journals? How many are
"pop" sources like Time or Newsweek? Good books
have good sources!
- Read the author's acknowledgements. Did these people actually comment
or critique the work? Or did they "inspire" the author?
- What organizational scheme is used? Is a logical flow indicated in
the table of contents or introduction?
- Is the book indexed?
All these traits are indicators of the level of scholarship present
in the book. True, mass market or popular books rarely have use for scholarly
indicators, but good ones at least provide some point of reference for
the reader. Be cautious, though, in that some pseudoscience has learned
to mimic good science and scholarship.
Now go deeper inside.
You owe most books a look at the inside, that is, the author's writing.
- Is the writing clear?
- Is the author prone to hyperbole or outrageous claims?
- Does the author use "devices?" If so, what?
- Straw man
- Darwin was and amateur; I'm an amateur; therefore, I'm as good as Darwin?
- Conspiracy and deception on the part of science or government
- Poor use of argument from authority
- ad hominum attack instead of logic
- Does the author use evidence well?
- Does the author mislead regarding factuality, actuality and validity?
If you look for these characteristics, just by a quick glance and a
skim, you can get a pretty good idea of the nature of the book.
A last bit of advice: Be open, but be skeptical!
in the World did that come from?
Culture Change, Diffusion, Independent Invention
How does change happen in a culture? There are many ways. A person investigating
claims of culture traits being found in one place that appear another place
need to be very cautious. Not all such appearances are due to transoceanic
contacts or extraterrestrials! It helps to know something about how cultures
Culture change: Where do new things come from in a
Five major types of culture change
- Discovery is the addition of totally new information into a
culture, found out by the culture itself. It is very rare.
Examples: The "New World," the Copernican "revolution"
- Invention is the recombination of existing elements within a
culture. It is common.
Examples: " a better mousetrap," schools of thought/paradigms
- Alteration is minor change within a culture due to processes
of variation within that culture. It might be equated with "style."
It is extremely common.
Examples: clothing and hair styles, musical styles
- Diffusion is the spread of information from one culture to another.
It is fairly common, but not as common as invention.
Examples: languages, ideas, colonization.
- Extinction is the way traits leave a culture. It happens through
intrasocietal selection and intersocietal selection. It is common,
but rarely drastic.
Examples: the slide rule, buggy whips, religious change under conquest
- Causes the most problems for those dealing with culture change.
- Understanding concepts is useful.
- Barriers to diffusion: societal constraints, geography (mountains,
- Facilitatiors of diffusion: language, proximity
- Heartland/core-the first area where something appears from invention
or discovery, a hypothetically "pure" state
- Periphery -- cultures in areas around the core that receive
the information or trait
- Cline -- a gradual change in characteristics of the trait or
- Form: the physical characteristics of the object
- Function: what the trait or information does for the culture
- Meaning: what the social significance of the object and its
use are for the culture using it
- Example: The electric chair
Types of Diffusion
- Stimulus diffusion: the transmission of ideas or information
only. vastly different form, function and meaning are common
- Single trait diffusion: the transmission of only a single item
or a few items. Identical forms, but very different functions and meanings
- Complex diffusion: the transmission of whole complexes of traits
and ideas to another culture. Relatively rare compared to stimulus and
single trait. Tends to occur in situations of migration, conquest or colonization.
Key questions to ask:
- Could the item considered be independently invented?
- Between the source and recipient cultures, what are the variations
on form, function and meaning?
- Are there major time differences between the two cultures?
- What are the barriers and facilitators of diffusion?
- Is it easier to account for independent of the item than for diffusion?
Consider Occam's Razor!
If there are major problems in answering these questions, then caution
would suggest not claiming diffusion!