Archive for September, 2009

Billy Graham’s anthropology

September 9, 2009

I was recently reading a book of quotations from Christian evangelist Billy Graham called “Ask Billy Graham“. In one passage, Graham relates a conversation he had with an anthropologist from Siberia who told him he was an atheist. As quoted in the New York Times, October 13, 1985, Graham remarked:

“I said to him: ‘Why is it that all over the world, we have never found a tribe, a people that didn’t worship someone? It may be a spirit in a tree. It may be something we call God. But they worship someone.’ The anthropologist agreed that it was a worldwide phenomenon that they hadn’t yet figured out.”

I found this passage interesting for a few reasons:

  1. Graham is interested in using anthropological data to support the existence of God.
  2. Graham thinks that the data he cites, that all cultures worship something, are evidence for his ideas about Christianity and not against them.

The fact that all cultures have religion could be considered evidence to support a few different ideas about God.

1) One is that all humans have a desire to explain the world, and that supernatural explanations are often easier to accept than natural ones, especially in cases where the humans have a limited understanding of science.  Religion is therefore a product of the human mind.  That is basically what every atheist believes to be the source of religion.

 2) The other possibility is that supernaturalism is accepted by all cultures because it’s a part of the real world that they perceive, in the same way that they all see the moon or feel the rain. In short, all supernatural beliefs are based on phenomena which do indeed exist.  I doubt very much that there are many Christians willing to accept that stories of ghosts and witches are every bit as true as their ideas about the divinity of Christ.

Interestingly, what the evidence does not support is the idea that Christianity is correct and the other religions are false. That may be true, but the evidence doesn’t suggest that. If Graham were going to use anthropological data to demonstrate Christianity’s veracity while at the same time demonstrating the other religions’ falsehood, he would show how Christianity differs from the other religions of the world, and not how it is similar to them.   

Of course, this simple piece of data in no way proves atheism is correct nor does it prove Graham’s beliefs about Christianity are wrong.  But it does call into question Graham’s ability to distinguish evidence that supports his beliefs from evidence that contradicts them.

P.S.  Billy Graham obtained a degree in anthropology in 1943 from Wheaten College in Illinois.