Brumble (1998). Vine Deloria, Jr., Creationism, and Ethnic Pseudoscience.

Brumble, H. D. (1998). Vine Deloria, Jr., Creationism, and Ethnic Pseudoscience. American Literary History, 10(2), 335–346.

“Deloria doubts that the earth is many millions of years old; indeed, he writes, ‘Most American Indians, I believe, were here ‘at the beginning’ and have preserved the memory of traumatic continental and planetary catastrophes’ (251). The geologists are simply wrong in their reading of the geological record. For example, ‘vulcanism was a onetime event’ (235).” (p 336)

“Deloria is convinced that increased levels of carbon dioxide lead to gigantism; this explains the size of the mammoths and the giant sloths — just as it explains the increasing size of human beings since the beginnings of the industrial revolution. Indeed, the increase of carbon dioxide (which most of us worry about in connection with global warming) Deloria sees as one reason for the increased size of football and basketball players since he was in high school (172-77).” (p 337)

“Scientists are virtually incapable of independent thinking; they are hobbled by their reverence for orthodoxy (42-44, 50-51, 154-55, 180, 202, 231-32); scientists characteristically persecute those who dare to advance unorthodox views; science is thus essentially a religion (17-18, 41, 87, 178, 251) — and scientists are in the thrall of their scientific myths. In many areas science is nothing more than ‘a hilarious farce’ (202).3” (p 337)

“‘[T]he creationists have learned a lot in their long struggle to unseat evolution. Trial and error has shown them what doesn’t work: Anti-science doesn’t, efforts to ban [the teaching of] evolution don’t, and purely religious invective is also a losing proposition. The idea of being open-minded, religiously neutral, and scientific has gained such wide credence (or at least lip service) that creationists can’t successfully oppose it, no matter how much they might like to. So, their new tactic is to declare creationism scientific, then join in with the majority and espouse the virtues of the times in their own name. In this way they can pose as latter-day Galileos being persecuted by ‘orthodox’ science. (Edwords 4-5)’4” (p 338)

“Deloria has another motive of ethnic self-interest as well. Deloria must be hoping that _Red Earth, White Lies_ will have real legal consequences. For Deloria the lawyer, ‘proof’ of the veracity of Indian oral traditions can be crucial in treaty claims where Indian tribal memory is sometimes importantly in conflict with written treaties (230).” (p 340)

“I would not be misunderstood: I do not mean to deny that oral traditions might be important evidence in a court of law; I certainly do not mean to deny the worth of oral traditions.9 I do want to point out that Deloria, the creationists, and the melanin scholars differ importantly from scientists. Deloria et al. are fundamentally antirational — even as they try to wrap the mantle of science about their beliefs.” (p 341)


Selected References

  • Brumble, H. David. American Indian Autobiography. Los Angeles: U of California P, 1988.
  • Edwords, Frederick. “Why Creationism Should Not Be Taught as Science” Creation/Evolution 1 (1980): 2-23.
  • Gould, Stephen J. The Mismeasure of Man. New York: Norton, 1981
  • Numbers, Ronald L. The Creationists. New York: Knopf, 1992.

Selected Notes

  • 3. There are, of course, many responsible treatments of the sins and mistakes of scientists. See, e.g., the inimitable Stephen J. Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man.
  • 4. For more on Creation Science, see Numbers. See also the journal Creation/Evolution (C/E), which has been publishing scientific responses to creationist claims since 1980. Because so much of Red Earth, White Lies is derivative, several of the articles in C/E refute Deloria’s arguments years before he made them. J. R. Cole’s “It Ain’t Necessarily So: Giants and Biblical Literalism,” for example, refutes in advance Deloria’s repetition of the standard creationist line on giants.
  • 9. Indeed, I have devoted a good deal of attention to certain aspects of American Indian oral traditions; see Brumble. And of course a good deal of scientific attention is being paid to oral traditions having to do with plants, to ethnobotany, then. But Deloria devotes only two pages of Red Earth, White Lies to ethnobotany (58-59). The book has mainly to do with “geomythology” (60).
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