Respect and science

  (04 March 11)
  by Greg Spearritt

I was discussing cross-cultural issues recently with a Murri. She was pointing out that Aboriginal people had lived sustainably in Australia before European settlement (let’s not mince words – invasion). I made the point that while that seemed to have been true for many thousands of years, there was some evidence for the idea that when people first came to this land a significant ecological adjustment took place. It’s understood, for example, that the megafauna died out around this time, and a link between the two events is not at all implausible.


My interlocutor’s response was to say that many Murri folk believe they’ve always been here.


Which brings me to the question of respect. It’s a touchy subject. Some of our assumptions regarding the first Australians (and people of other cultures too) are wrong, and sometimes offensively so. We should indeed strive to respect others, and being informed about their customs and beliefs, and about what they find acceptable, is part of that. As an Australian of European descent (a ‘Migaloo’, in Murri terms) it’s an especially tricky business, given the unarguable history of oppression visited by my mob on theirs.


What can I say, then, to claims that Murris have always been here? I want to insist that as much as I wish to respect cultural difference and the beliefs of others, it’s important to consider the evidence in a case like this. But is the scientific method with its reliance on evidence merely another (European) cultural belief, and (to boot) a tool with which the powerful continue to put the powerless in their place?




Some Christians believe that Jesus has always been there,and we have had to give up many of our culture's ancient beliefs.The scientific method has been so successful, giving us such vast technological benefits that the evidence for science is overwhelming and can't be ignored,and even though it often gives us unclear answers these can often be made clearer by continuing to look for more evidence, meanwhile accepting that the answer we have is only provisional or speculative.I think it should be possible to explain what scientific evidence is available and its apparent implications without causing offence by using non-aggressive non-judgmental language.Also, its not what you say but how you say it that matters.Also, what evidence does she have-legendary or otherwise?

Posted by Frank Hepple

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