The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Friday, August 27, 2010

Glenn Beck's Pseudo-Archaeology, Part 3

This is a follow-up to the first two entries on Glenn Beck's forays into pseudo-archaeology (the first two can be found here and here). This entry focuses on the likely cause of his current interest in this nonsense- his religious beliefs.

Okay, so before we start - there are many people who are likely to walk away from this entry thinking that I have it out for the Mormon Church. I have no more against them than I have against any other socially conservative religious group, but as the Mormon church makes claims about the prehistory of the Americas, I can dissect their claims with much greater facility than I can dissect the claims of, say, Jains, Hindus, or Shi'ite Muslims.

So, for those who are unaware, Glenn Beck is a Mormon*. The Mormon church holds that a group of ancient Israelites arrived in the Americas some time around the 6th-7th century BC. They established a colony that grew, schismed, and the two factions went to war with each other. The Mormon church also claims that, after the resurrection, Jesus came to the Americas and repeated much of what he had said in the Middle East, while at the same time founding a peaceful society that lasted for some time, before again falling into sin and conflict.

In addition, the Mormon Church holds that, prior to the arrival of the Israelites, an older group had come to the Americas following the construction of the Tower of Babel, who then went on to establish a much larger and more advanced civilization than even the later Israelite colonists would.

The traditional Mormon view of the Native peoples of the Americas is that they are the descendants of either the Israelites or the Israelites and the earlier refugees from Babel. Although the specific views of the church leaders have changed with time (as noted by people at Brigham Young University itself**) they were, through the 19th and first part of the 20th century, highly racist and viewed the native peoples of the Americas as "degenerate savages" who had fallen from grace (though, to be fair, changes in racial thinking have been common in many churches, so the Mormons are not alone). However, they were viewed as degenerates who had an ancestry from Israel, and as such church members have historically jumped on anything that could be seen as evidence of this ancestry.

While the church has, in recent years, been a bit more wary of publicly advocating individual pieces of evidence about the American past (I can't speak to whether or not they have been wary of this in addresses and publications for members), and even more wary of proclaiming the view that Native Americans are degenerates, individual members have had a habit of claiming all manner of dubious or even disproven "evidence" as proof of a connection between the Native Americans and the ancient Middle East. Glenn Beck, being such a member with a nation-wide megaphone, has now put himself in the position of advocating pseudo-archaeology that is consistent with his religious beliefs, even if completely at-odds with reality.

So, basically, while Beck is claiming to be standing up for the rights and nobility of Native Americans, he is actually promoting a view that has historically been very hostile to them. Indeed, the very fact that he wants to brush aside their history (simply saying "who cares? It's in the past") and focus on the prehistory that he believes conveniently proves his religious beliefs is telling. If he really didn't care about what was in the past, why is he going to it at all? When looked at this way, it's pretty obvious why Beck is using the same tactics as young Earth creationists - he's doing the same sort of intellectual exercise.

What's more, by making false claims about the past of the Native Americans, Glenn Beck is essentially spitting in their faces. While he accuses institutional science of "covering up their past" he proceeds to attempt to do that very thing, based on no evidence and for a religious/ideological purpose that is not theirs. So, basically, Beck is a hypocrite.

But Beck isn't getting his misinformation from nowhere. Much of it is classic urban legends and hoaxes that have been floating around for over a century. Another chunk is the "arch site numerology" and accusations of cover-up towards legitimate researchers championed by pseudo-intellectuals such as Graham Hancock as well as young Earth creationists. But some of it seems to come from a branch of Brigham Young University's Maxwell Institute known as the Foundations for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies AKA FARMS*.

I was first made aware of FARMS by a friend of mine who is himself Mormon. He spent several years trying to get me to look into the FARMS literature, convinced that it would A) make me "see the light" and convert to his religion, and B) get FARMS-generated materials into the archaeological mainstream. He was rather disappointed when I finally began looking into the material produced by FARMS and quickly saw that it was A) not actually research into the past in that it ignored actual data in favor of supposition and special pleading, and B) it was really nothing more than an apologetics arm of the Mormon church, and did the same sort of spurious argument and provided the same quality of false evidence that apologetics arms of other churches do. Given the quality of his "evidence", I suspect that Beck is also familiar with FARMS.

Regardless, Beck's claims are completely out-of-whack with reality, and his focus on the ancient past while wanting to ignore the recent past is bizarre unless you consider his religious beliefs. While he has not flat-out said that he is pushing a Mormon agenda with his screeds on prehistory, it's pretty clear that this is precisely what he is doing.

*Some would say that he is also a moron, but as I can not confirm his IQ, I will only comment that he is confirmed as a Mormon, and his status as a moron is open to debate.

**So much for eternal truths.

***I keep meaning to write a post or series of posts on FARMS, but they are so large in terms of their logical fallacies and bizarrely contrived "evidence" that it is something of a daunting task.


Liam said...

First, sorry this is kind of late, but I just started reading your blog a few months ago.

I find it odd that Beck believes that these artifacts written in "block Hebrew/phoenician" are evidence that the books that Joseph Smith claimed were translated from "reformed egyptian" heiroglyphics.

Anthroslug said...

Well, he's ignoring the rather clear distinction between different forms of writing simply because it sounds as if it supports his beliefs if he does so.

It is rather funny, though.