Much About History

Randy Cohen who writes the Ethicist column in New York Times got the following question

I’m a history professor — my period is 1500-1800 — with an M.A. student who wants to pursue a doctorate. While she is smart and capable, she is very religious, subscribing to the “young earth” theory that the world is only 6,000 years old. I am to work with her for a year and then recommend her to Ph.D. programs. Must I do so if I find her views incongruent with those of historians? [Randy Cohen – The Ethicist – New York Times]

It is shocking to see that in the year 2008, there are Ph.D students who believe in fairy tales, then if you have graduated from one of those schools where creationism is taught as science this is not surprising. Mr. Cohen advices the professor to teach her Sumerian history and is confident that the student will have a eureka moment when she discovers that the Sumerians could not have accomplished so much immediately after the earth was formed.

Randy, two words: Max Müller. He had a Ph.D on Spinoza‘s Ethics, was the founder of Indian studies in the western world and the creator of the discipline of comparative religion, but believed that all languages can be traced to the Tower of Babel, Indians were populated by the descendents of Japhet and Christianity was a true historical event. His  biblical beliefs resulted in dating the hymns of Rig-Veda being to 1000 B.C.E., and this 19th century paradigm is still widely held.

If the professor, following Randy’s advice, tried to teach a student who believes that earth was created on the night preceding October 23, 4004 B.C.E, Sumerian history, the most likely outcome is that the student will rewrite history to fit in with the Biblical narrative.

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4 thoughts on “Much About History

  1. interesting… but we have similar stuff happening with Ram Sethu…. i know someone who is a Phd in Indian History with a expertise in iconography – who insists that it was built by Ram’s army….
    Maybe, the professor concerned can recommend her phd to the theology department 🙂

  2. I heard a similar question from one of the well known biology professor at UCSD. I was attending a summer school were he was invited to give a lecture. He posed exactly similar question: There is a PhD student, in biology, who does not believe in evolution but believes in intelligent design! Does the student deserve to get a PhD in Biology ? And the professor said, his opinion is, NO.
    @harini calamur: Rama Sethu question is very different from the history question of the age of earth, or evolution, at this point of time. There is *precise* scientific proof that the earth is much older than 6000 yrs; and same for evolution. On the other hand, at this point of time, no one has *rigorously* proved anything on Rama Sethu.
    Rama’s involvement is neither proved nor disproved.
    And note: *NO* scientific fact prevents me from making the following argument about Rama Sethu:
    There existed Rama, king of Ayodhya, at some point in history(hew hundred yrs BCE?), and he and his army crossed to the present day Srilanka. Now, it is likely that fishermen of Rameswaram, at that time, knew about such a shallow region to cross to Srilanka and advised Ram to make use of it (may be by putting some extra stones(aka “making a bridge” ;-)!) on top of the existing shoal; If one could build Pyramids at that time, no big deal to make a usable path to srianka using the existing shoal, i believe!)

  3. Continuing on what harini said, in fact, if something is similar in India, that would be a physics PhD stdent believing that an astrologer can precisely predict his/her future! But then, nothing is a “must-believe” for Hindus. And many hindu scholars, like Vivekananda,
    have said that astrology does not make sense. Also every astrologer whom i have spoken to have admitted that, astrology can never predict everything precisely. They assign a big role to your own action (which they call “karma adhipan” or something in my mother tounge)

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