Can You...Recognize Bias in History Content?
by Mary Stanton, Ed.D.
The Golden Horde swept across hills and valleys from Mongolia like a swarm of locusts attacking fields of ripened grain. Animal skin clothing blended each Tartar into one being with his lightning-swift horse. Strongmen cowered behind barricaded mosques praying to Allah for protection of their women and children. Christians filled churches and prayed to God for deliverance from "The Scourge of Heaven." Surely, Genghis Khan and his Horde were beasts from the underworld, using churches and mosques as stables and prostitute houses. No good thing escaped their touch. Could these Tartars have served any purpose in History?
Yes, indeed they did. While their pagan conduct cannot be condoned, the Khans' Golden Horde stopped the ravaging worldwide thrust of Islam, organized quarreling tribes of India and prepared the foundation for modern Turkey.
In this brief thought out of the book of History, we learn that teleology, is one of the building blocks for reconstructing human conduct in the past. It seems that there are three foundational concepts on which history content has been built: the being of God, the nature of origins, and purposefulness or teleology. By way of these three concepts, bias enters into the content because each one of them has two sides facing each other — but separated by a wide range of differences. The two sides are in contradistinction to each other according to the author's choice of content.
Since historians now have an exhaustless reservoir of material about most people who lived on earth, they must select content information for their books. Who determines the guidelines of choice and on what basis is selection made? Ultimately, the historian's value systems and philosophy of life will determine text book content. Therefore, in spite of objectivity goals, personal belief colors the content.
Consider the two sides of each core concept in History. God is defined within the Judaeo-Christian framework as One who has revealed Himself through nature's orderliness: through prophets and human conscience, through the written Word and Jesus, the Living Word; and through history which lays the foundation for our study of history content. If History and the Bible are two of God's media for revelation, the Bible is to be respected as historical truth.
In contradistinction to this teaching, history content may represent God as a humanistic or man-made concept evolving through time and may insist that every people has the right to conceive of deity (deities) according to their choosing because there are no absolutes. The secular-humanistic concept teaches that the Bible "contains the word of God" but it is man's record of his own times as he understood them.
However, archaeology has never uncovered a civilization which did not believe in deity and life after death. The closer archaeological historians have come to Mt. Ararat, the more they have discovered that man's belief in Jehovah-God concurs with the Biblical record.
Concerning the second concept, that of origins, the Judaeo-Christian records declare that in the beginning God was the Creator of a perfectly designed, completed universe. In contra-distinction to this revelation, secular/humanist history teaches that man is the product of evolution over a period of three to five million years (according to Leakey's latest estimate). Principles of basic evolution appear through history content so that it is essential to define its many-sided teaching.
Evolution ... as found in most history content is a combination of Darwinian and contemporary thought: (1) emergency of Homo sapiens out of a series of lower primate groups; (2) survival of the fittest through natural selection but which is also applied to social life and business; (3) race is a sub-species of man; (4) development of monotheism from nature gods (animism) to polytheism, to one power over others as illustrated by the Hebrew tribal deity, Yahweh. Buettner-Janusch have defined evolution today as: (1) change in genetic composition; (2) change in morphological differentiation; (3) progressive diversification. The changes are through mutation, adaptation and natural selection.
While Biblical historians do not deny that changes are everywhere in progress, they teach that changes are a part of the original, internal, planned structuring by God.
By way of illustration, the first unit in most history textbooks is a study of Archaeology and its contribution to History. But Pre-history also appears in this unit and students see pictures of Australopithecines (southern or African ape-like) as the first men — rather than Adam, Eve and the rest of the original family.
The Ice Ages are usually discussed in the first unit of the secular/humanist history as evidence for uniformitarian basis of man's emergence. The Biblical explanation of ice masses says, "They are the results from the Noahic Flood catastrophe." Nothing is said in Humanist history books about the perfectly human elements found even beneath the Australopithecines.
The Institute for Creation Research in San Diego has provided the reading public with extensive scientific literature on this subject. Qualified men of science have established the error of this philosophy.
A Word of Warning ... to history students and teachers: The content of the first unit in any Humanist oriented history will reveal the philosophy and value systems for the rest of the textbook.
The third concept controlling history content is teleology which says that there is a cause and effect relationship between all events or situations. The changes have been a logical result of law-principles at work throughout every part of the universe where God is in control of His Creation. (Daniel 2:19-22 and/or I Sam. 2:2-9).
In contradiction to God's control with purposefulness, is the secular/humanist position teaching students that man is the consequence of his own doing through man's trial-and-error life style.
Whereas the migration-dispersion of people out of the Mesopotamian Valley can be followed with a high degree of accuracy through pottery types, jewelry, burial customs and language, most textbooks tend to ignore this evidence and start the ape-like man in the first unit and then jump into a well developed civilization arriving out of nowhere — as for example, the Sumerians at the northern end of the Persian Gulf. Students are intrigued by the brilliant sciences, trade, religion and architecture that miraculously appear in Sumer, ancient Egypt and the Indus River Valley.
More bold evolutionists teach parallel cultural evolution in several river valleys. The similarity of culture patterns is explained by teaching that each group looked around themselves for ways to modify nature to satisfy basic needs (such as making pottery out of clay). According to secular/humanists, these culture items were developed independently and any likeness to one another was purely coincidental.
Africa has suffered the most from non-Christian history which has pictured non-human primates evolving into Homo sapiens around the Olduvai Gorge or out of the monkey-dominated jungles. The ancient and brilliant civilizations of Ethiopia and North Africa are usually ignored as are the migrations of their cultures southward.
Western civilizations did not originate with Greece and Rome. In giving credit to whom credit is due, the Greeks adopted the Hebrew/Phoenician language and passed it along to the Romans; they copied the Egyptian architecture with its massive columns and the frieze decor. Greek political scientists quite probably based their ideas for democracy and government organization upon the ancient Sumerian bicameral legislature and Persian division of powers.
Upon all of the previous elements used in government, the Romans fashioned their empire that enclosed the Levant and Mediterranean shores. According to Biblical history, all of these governments were a part of God's design creating "the fullness of times" for the coming of His Christ during the time when the Roman Empire controlled the "Middle of the Earth" — a teaching denied by Humanism.
With increasing clearness, authors of recent history textbooks have been giving Judaism, Jesus Christ and the Church a more Biblical matrix. We commend them for this changed attitude. However, one area of history continues to be treated with a preponderance of humanist bias. That is the Byzantine Era. Most historians continue to make Rome the first center of the Church, to give credit to Rome for establishing the solid foundation of Christianity and for spreading the Gospel during the first centuries after Pentecost.
Much more emphasis needs to be placed on the Biblical-Historical order of the emerging Church. According to the Bible (Dr. Luke's book of Acts), the first Church Council was held in Jerusalem with James as the head; then Antioch became the center for the Church's missionary thrust. Hebrew and Christian History has received more accurate treatment since archaeologists such as William Albright of the School of Antiquities at John Hopkins University declared that no part of the Bible has been disproven by the science of Archaeology.
Out from Church centers in Alexandria, Egypt; in Syria and Palestine; in Asia Minor and Greece, the Coptic and Orthodox Churches established local assemblies and commissioned missionaries to carry the Gospel throughout Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe particularly.
God chose the able Emperor Constantine to provide a degree of security in a world of paganism. Orthodox leaders were directed by Constantine to assemble major world councils at Ephesus, Nicea or Constantinople for the express purpose of confirming Christian faith. By the time of Justinian's reign, Constantinople was the strong voice for Christianity. During this period of history known as the Byzantine Era, distinctive Church architecture was designed, schools and seminaries in universities were established and regular Councils were called to settle doctrinal disputes. Representatives from Church assemblies in and around Rome attended the councils with their interpreters because all business was conducted in the Greek language.
Over the Byzantine Bridge crossed Orientalism to become Occidentalism. The cumbersome cuneiform and Semitic languages were exchanged for phonetic, alphabetic script and speech. History was divided into B.C. and A.C. by Byzantine scholars who also established the Hebrew seven-day week.
Western law, not only in the Church, but also in society, is based on Justinian's Christian code of ethics. Byzantine missionaries carried the schools as well as the Gospel into Eastern Europe thereby instilling Christian value systems in society as well as bringing the message of salvation to the individual. One of their greatest contributions to the people where Christianity went was the two-pronged work of putting languages into writing and then translating the Bible into all of the languages. Missionaries from Orthodox churches established hundreds of literate communities.
While the more glaring biases in history content appear in ancient and medieval times, modern history has not escaped the humanists' pens. The Puritan-Pilgrim ethic and education have been distorted. Fundamental Christians have faced ridicule when actually they were the bulwark against German Criticism (known by many names such as the Graf-Wellhausen School of Theology, the J-E-D-P Analysis) and kept the light of the Gospel of Christ burning brightly. Fundamentalist believers started Christian radio stations and Gospel programs; established Bible schools and strong Biblical seminaries; and they applied archaeology to Biblical studies to confirm the Word of God in the midst of pseudo-scientific attacks. The position and influence of Fundamentalists has finally been acknowledged as a positive force in our society when the Gallup Poll published its results in September, 1976. According to that poll, at least 34% of the United States electorate claim to be "born again" and follow the tenets of evangelical Christianity. But what will historians say about them?
In spite of humanist attacks upon evangelical Christianity around the world, Bible-believers have taken a stand against non-Christian textbooks in West Virginia. Biblically oriented books are being written on a thoroughly academic level to counteract the humanist philosophies in History and other subject areas.
Remember Paul's defense of history as revelation: "God who made the world and all it contains, who is Lord of heaven and earth, ... He has made from one person every nation of men to settle on the entire surface of the earth, definitely appointing the preestablished periods and the boundaries of their settlements, …" (from The Modern Language Bible, Acts 17:22-26).
* Dr. Mary Stanton is an educator, archaeologist and historian. She is co-author of the new ICR-sponsored textbook on world history, Streams of Civilization, which incorporates the recommendations in this article.