Science in Christian Perspective


The Tasaday and the Problem of Social Evolution
Geneva College Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania

The discovery of different cultures characterizing various societies has led anthropologists to theorize as to the origin end development of the different ways of life. The finding of the "stone age" Tasaday in the Philippines further stimulates scholars to explore the problem as to why mankind has progressed through history at unequal rates with some groups showing minimal "advance" while others are quite dynamic, and have incorporated into their patterns of life more complex technological, economic, social, religious and other cultural forms. To the Christian scientist, the problem also involves a reconciliation of ethnological data with the Biblical account of the Fall of man and his subsequent experiences, many of which are not made explicit in Biblical statements.

From: JASA 24 (June 1972): 58-62.

The Discovery of the Tasaday People

The discovery of another "stone age" people in the Philippines has stimulated renewed interest among scholars and scientists in a study of man and his cultures. On June 7, 1971, Manuel Elizalde, head of the Philippine government's Presidential Arm on National Minorities (Panamin), and Dr. Robert B. Fox, head of Panamin's research division and chief anthropologist for the Philippine Natural Museum, visited the Tasaday tribe in the tropical forests of Mindanao. Their visit was to investigate reports of this small group living in a Paleolithic culture. Their visits since the first one have confirmed reports by loggers and neighboring tribesmen that the Tasaday are a people who have lived a primitive life in isolation on this southern Philippine island.

After initial visits, Elixalde and Fox indicate that the Tasaday are a gentle, shy people who base their subsistence on hunting small game and gathering wild fruits' and roots. Shallow, clearflowing streams provide tadpoles and small fish which the people trap with their bands without the use of books or nets. No food is cultivated and the staple of their diet is the pith of the wild palm. Monkey meat is considered a delicacy. The monkey's hair is singed off in a fire (the Tasaday apparently either know how to kindle a fire or how to preserve it) and the meat cut away with bamboo blades sharpened by a small stone. The meat is then roasted over the open fire before it is consumed. Wild pigs and deer are also trapped for their meat but information has not been given as to the nature of the trapping techniques. Another important dietary item is wild yams which they dig up with digging sticks (a dibble); they prefer the deeper yams which are considered most delicious.

The Tasaday group visited thus far represent only six families with a total of thirteen children, nine of which are male. They report that their name, Tasaday, is derived from a mountain but the meaning of the word is yet unknown. Preliminary linguistic analysis by Fox reveals that their language is a variety of the neighboring Manuho tribe, which like all native Filipino languages, is in the Malayo-Polynesian family. Their language emphasizes strong vowel phonemes and incorporates staccato phonemes in a rhythmic linguistic pattern. Initially, conversation was made possible through a native of the Manubo tribe. After preliminary difficulty, the Manuho tribesman rapidly learned the Tasaday language and could serve as an interpreter.

Ethnographic Data

Among ethnographic data procured thus far, the following information is known. The people are gentle and shy. They seem never to have heard of fighting and have had no contact with warlike tribes. In fact they apparently had known only one other group which disappeared some years ago, possibly from some epidemic disease. The Tasaday are thus in character strikingly different from other primitive tribes reported in recent years by explorers, missionaries, and anthropologists in inaccessible areas of New Guinea, the Amazon Basin, and South-West Africa. For example, the hostility of the Auca people in the upper reaches of the Amazon Basin has been widely publicized following their slaying of missionaries in 1957. Attacks, slayings and cannibalism have also been experienced among certain hostile primitives in New Guinea in recent years.
The Tasaday are further characterized by a religion which includes the belief that someday the supernatural being, or god, called Diwata, would personally visit them and bring them help in their struggle for survival
as well as comfort to them in the trials of life. As a matter of fact, they ascribe to Elizalde the title of Diwata, believing that his coming is the fulfillment of the promise made to their ancestors. The people view monogamy as the normal form of marriage between a man and a woman, and this monogamous state is to continue until death. A young man ('who does not know his age but apparently is about twenty years old) served as an informant and expressed concern that he had not yet acquired a wife and seemed to feel that he had limited opportunities to do so since there are more single males than females.

This tiny tribe seems to have no political organization and no one dominates as a formal leader. To settle such issues as moving in their nomadic life, they hold general meetings where discussion is followed by mutual agreement as to the course of action to be followed. It is premature to speculate on how the people handle whatever personal aggression may result from group living and the lack of formal leadership.

The anthropologist, Fox, and other Panamin officials have expressed concern about the Tasaday who are now experiencing contacts with other cultures, especially modern culture so different from their simple form of life. The officials are requesting that the Philippine government make the Tasaday forest a reserve to prevent loggers, bunters, miners, and farmers from exploiting the group. It is common knowledge among anthropologists that much damage can be done to so primitive a people and their culture by recklessly exposing them to advanced technology, society, and culture in general. Of course, evangelical Christians will consider missionary efforts among the Tasaday. It may he well for those who will consider evangelizing the people that they do not allow their zeal to obscure the need for tactfulness and sound perspective in approaching a people who undoubtedly should hear the Gospel, but who must not he subjected to the ravages of thoughtless culture change which on occasion has marked Christian missions among peoples having a different culture.

The Tasaday may he more nearly at a purely primitive stage than other groups reported in recent years, but they are certainly not the only example of extreme cultural retardation. For example, Paul Hoffman, in a report published in the New York Times (June 15, 1971) describes a "South-West Africa Tribe Still in the Stone Age." His reference is to the Tjimba and Himha, two black tribes, which he claims are the shyest and most backward of any contemporary African people. Much more populous than the Tasaday, these people number about 20,000. They, too, are hunters and gatherers for their subsistence. Their principal weapon is a spear made doubly lethal by their knowledge and application of poison. Dr. Johann Guildenhuis, chief physician of the South-West African state, has visited the two tribes to administer antibiotics and other modem drugs. According to him, the people are remarkably healthy. He reports also that they have no money economy. Their spear heads are made from sharpened flints in a bone fide Paleolithic tradition. Their diet includes plants and small animals although the main source of food is the wild zebra. Little other information is available from the Tjimba and Himba at present, but they undoubtedly offer rich sources of ethnographic data for anthropologists in quest of characteristics of primeval 'cultures.

The Tasaday are strikingly different from other primitive tribes reported in recent years.

The Challenge of Social Evolution to Biblical Interpretations

Undoubtedly anthropological theory when applied to Tasaday data, as well as to other primitives already studied or under the process of examination, will present a challenge to orthodox Christian views which postulate a process of degradation by mankind on the basis of Biblical interpretations. A classic Biblical statement frequently cited by orthodox Christians is Romans 1:15-32, This statement and other similar ones are used to support the contention that man, at least religiously, has been marked by deterioration rather than progressive improvement from a pristine state of animism through polytheism to monotheism. The social philosopher, Auguste Comte, reflects evolutionary influences when he proposed a three-stage progression in human history from the religious through the metaphysical to the scientific stage.

An analysis of the differing views of orthodox Christian thinkers and social evolutionists brings to the fore certain basic questions: If we assume a literal Adam and Eve, what was the cultural status of these progenitors of mankind and their immediate descendents? Are we justified in assuming that, following the Fall, Adam and Eve were essentially primitive in their manner of life in certain respects like the Tasaday and other primitive groups which are becoming rarities in this twentieth century? Does not the Biblical record suggest cultural evolution centered in religious thought and practice from the events of Genesis to the New Testament culture characterizing Jesus and His followers? A couple of examples may illustrate this. One may cite the case of marriage in the Old Testament and then in the New. Polygynv was common and accepted in ancient Israel, as well as among their contemporaries, but monogamy seems to have prevailed in the New Testament period when it was considered the ideal form. Or again the notion of  lex talionis (an eye for an eye, etc.) in Old Testament justice among the Hebrews (and other people of antiquity), is replaced by forgiveness and "turning the other cheek" in New Testament teaching and example.

Leaving this line of thought for the moment, e may note that the basic assumption held by most archaeologists is that there has been progression by mankind from the Paleolithic through the Mesolithic and Neolithic into the Chalcolithie, Bronze, and Iron Ages prevailing at the rise of the first civilizations. Thus ,ve may note that the archaelogist, V., Gordon Childe, assumed an evolutionary sequence when he proposed such concepts to divide history as "The Neolithic Revolution, "The Urban Revolution," and "The Industrial Revolution." These "revolutions" represented dramatic transitions in man's progression from early, simpler cultures to complex, modern types.

Recently Peacock and Kirsch treat social evolution in such terminology as the "dimensions of modernization" (1970). In their scheme, the more modern a society, the more specialized are the social, political, and economic units in the cultural organization. In the transition from primitive to modern life, "social relations become to an ever higher degree functionally specific, and to an ever lesser degree functionally diffuse." Also, as societies modernize, "markets and media of exchange become increasingly generalized." Centralization is another dimension of modernization; that is, the more modern a society, the more centralized it is under some central control. Furthermore as a society modernizes it becomes increasingly bureaucratized.

Peacock and Kirsch also assert that social evolution affects the kinship and family structure. In most modern societies, kinship is reckoned bilineally, whereas in many nonmndern societies, especially primitive societies, kinship is reckoned unilineally. In addition, the nuclear-family household, composed of parents and unmarried children, is dominant after social evolution in contrast to the extended family that prevails in earlier and simpler social organizations. To put it in other words, wherever modernization occurs, extended-family households may be seen giving way to nuclear-family households, and with this change the emphasis on kinship bonds diminishes, while the emphasis on conjugal bonds increase.

The process of modernization within the scope of social evolution includes the three factors of social differentiation, social mobility, and social change. Social differentiation (the separation of social units from one another) issues in part from the growing specialization of units which accompanies modernization. Social mobility is the movement of individuals between the strata of society. It seems quite certain that with social evolution both the idealized rate of mobility and the actual rate tend to rise; not only do people think they can rise (or fall) faster in the social milieu but they actually can. In terms of social change, the more modern a society is, the more rapid is its overall rate of change-hi short, it is dominated by social dynamism.

Social evolution also has its impact on religion and ideology. With the changes taking place through time, the trend among dynamic societies is toward a universalistic ethic which decrees that men must he judged on the basis of merit and skill, rather than on the basis of some immutable status assigned to them at birth. Not kinship, race, sex, or caste, but deeds are what count in a universalistic ethic. Where such statuses count more than deeds, the reference is to a particularistic ethic. Today, in many of the developing nations, the act of becoming modern is strongly bound up with the notion of universalism. Undoubtedly the Tasaday people are essentially particularistic while in contemporary Western culture, the ideals are generally universalistic. There is a second broad ideological trend that accompanies social evolution. The more modern a society, the less will its members believe that their society exercises control over their cosmos, or ideal system. The less modern the society, the more they will perceive or believe such control exists. Thus the Tasaday will perceive undoubtedly little separation between the cosmic world, which they most likely express by myth and some ritual, and the actual world, in which they live.

Finally, social evolution has an important relation to technology. A society is technologically advanced to the extent that it employs tools and inanimate power sources. It is unlikely that the primitive technology of the Tasaday includes power resources derived from gravity, wind, and water (to say nothing of electricity,
steam, and nuclear energy). Their source of power is human strength and energy. Again their tools, as yet not inventoried, are extremely simple with perhaps the dibble (digging stick) the major tool. This is a far cry from the jet airplane or the electric computer. Technological modernization accompanies the social evolutionary process.

Does not the Biblical record suggest cultural evolution centered in religious thought and practice from the events of Genesis to the New Testament culture?

Social Evolution and the Direction of World History

A comparison of the Tasaday and similar primitive societies provides a scientific basis upon which to relate social evolution and the direction of world history. The more modern the society, the greater is its capacity to change rapidly in order to exploit a rapidly changing environment. This fact is in the thinking of the anthropologist Fox, who views with concern an unlimited introduction of innovations among the Tasaday who presumably with tradition-bound patterns could not change rapidly without possible cultural chaos and social disorganization. Modern sociocultural patterns-partly because they encourage high technological development, which in turn makes possible a quick, effective response to such upheavals as floods, war, and population explosion, and partly because they encourage a general flexibility and capacity for rapid changemaximize a society's ability to adapt.

Assuming the above argument is true, consider the principle of natural selection that has emerged from studies of biological evolution. This principle maintains that over time a population tends to display more and more the traits of its most adaptive members, since it is these which are most likely to survive and reproduce their traits. Since the less adaptive members tend not to survive and reproduce, their traits disappear over time. An analogous principle may operate for societies. The most hightly adaptive societies at any period of history will be the ones that survive and reproduce by disseminating their patterns. Therefore, these patterns become more and more widespread, while the patterns of the less adaptive societies become less common. In our own time, the modern patterns are increasingly prominent, while during the past six or seven thousand years the trend has been away from the primitive pattern. As in the case of the Tasaday, a primitive pattern persists only when protected by isolation. According to one estimate, only six percent of the worlds people still live in primitive societies. The finding of the most primitive of societies like the Tasaday is decreasing (hence the greater interest in them and others of like cultural level).

Having made the analogy between natural selection in the theory of biological evolution and in sociocultural evolution, we must emphasize that this is only an analogy. Aanalogies are meant to suggest hypotheses, not to prove them (Nagel, 1961:107-117). The applicability of these statements to theoretical biological evolution is no proof that they are equally applicable to sociocultural evolution. Sociocultural statements must be judged on their own terms.

Sociocultural evolution appears to be moving in a different direction from that theorized in biological evolution. Biological evolution is often likened to a branching tree, with more and more branches appearing as evolution proceeds. Thus, insects have branched out (undergone adaptive radiation), it is held, to such a degree that today some 600,000 insect species exist. By contrast, sociocultural evolution appears to he converging into a single "species." The trend seems to be one in which all societies will eventually assume the modern pattern. In the ease of primitives like the Tasaday, the objective is to prevent chaos and decimation under modern impact that would destroy them.

A second difference between biological and sociological evolution is that men's motives and plans play a more important role in the sociocultural process than in the biological scheme of things. Since the principle of natural selection is advanced to explain the evolution of all animals, it does not consider motive and plan as possible causes. The principle of natural selection recognizes only that if by accident, mutation, or other process a more adaptive trait or pattern appears, that trait or pattern will tend to he perpetuated. No assumption is made about how the trait or pattern originated, and the biologist is particularly wary of talking as if the organism in which a given trait or pattern originated had planned it that way. Of course, the teleological problem is unanswered by those who reject divine superintendency of the theoretical process. We cannot engage our attention to this problem in this paper, but rather we must take into account the observation of Redfield and others that the more modern the society, the greater the capacity of its members to control their destinies, to move in the direction of consciously established goals (1953). Hence when an overwhelming number of today's developing societies (and we may predict that the Tasaday will become such) say they yearn to modernize, we cannot ignore this yearning in predicting the direction in which the world's societies are likely to move. Of course, modernizing societies mourn the loss of their traditions, but at the same time many recognize that in the face of population pressures and other environmental threats, modernization is the only way to survive. Not only the objective observer but also the natives of societies involved recognize the adaptive advantage of modern patterns.

Sociocultural evolution appears to be moving in a different direction from that theorized in biological evolution.

Arguments such as this have inspired Marion J. Levy, Jr., in his Modernization and the Structure of
, to brand the modern pattern a "universal solvent." Levy claims that when a nonmodern society comes in contact with a modern society, the non-modern society inevitably modernizes, whereas the modern society never "demodernizes." Levy believes that this occurs because every society, no matter how spiritual its values, contains some individuals who want the material advantages which modern patterns produce. The 
But modernization is like a dye which, upon touching one thread, is slowly absorbed until it changes the color of the whole cloth. Adopting modern technology to gain material advantage soon results in changes in family structure, government, and other institutions. According to Levy, only romanticists (and naive missionaries) could believe that part of a society can modernize while the rest remains entirely intact. Although societies such as Japan apparently do segregate modernizing sectors and traditional sectors for a time, it is doubtless true that such segregation cannot endure forever. The American Indians have been remarkably adamant in resisting certain ideologies of the whites after centuries of contact, but it is doubtful that they will be able to maintain an ethos that fails to mesh with that of the dominating society. It seems quite probable that eventually all societies will thoroughly modernize. There is thus a great challenge to evangelical Christians to maintain their attempts to evangelize and retain an effect in the moderruzed culture of which they are a part, the effect called "salt" and "light" by Jesus to His disciples.

Although this view of world history, according to which all societies will eventually conform to the modern pattern (with its materialistic and secularistic ethos), may be too simplistic, it seems better founded on ethn&ogieal data than the idea that there is no discernible direction to the transformations of today's societies. Modernization theory calls into question the belief that every society is developing along its own unique path according to its own unique genius.

Today's stagnating societies such as the Tasaday might be happily stagnating in 3000 A.D. But with the onrush of modernization fewer and fewer backwaters, or cul de sac locations, in which to hide will remain. Modernization tends to integrate all regions of the world into one system. Older readers may easily recall the "One World" of the late Wendell Wilkie. The few primitive societies found today remain primitive partly because they have been able to retreat into the jungles, deserts, or mountains and avoid the advance of modernity; but as modernity pushes further these havens too will he lost. The Tasaday have in essence lost their haven even if the Philippine government establishes their forest as a reserve. This will merely postpone modernization. Indeed, just as the pace of technological innovation has accelerated steadily since human history began (Blum, 1967: 211, 219), so the process of sneineultural change itself has accelerated. As the world becomes more nearly a single system, changes in one sector instantly excite changes in the other sectors. Exotic societies such as the Tasaday, therefore, seem to be doomed.

Social Evolution and the Idea of Progress

In general, Americans have concluded that modernization, which is dominated by the multiplication of technological devices, means the better life. This opinion prevailed until recently when the view that change can be equated with progress is increasingly challenged. Some scholars have become disillusioned by socincultural conditions attending modern civilizatiois. The enormity of contemporary urbanization, the ruthless exploitation of natural resources, the impersonal character of social relationships, the threatening power and control of gigantic corporations and labor unions, the bureaucratization of complex governmental organiza tion,

We are tempted to say that there is an inverse ratio between technological progress and the spiritual state of man as conceived in Biblical statements.

  the crescendo of crime, the decline in the spiritual ethos, and many other adverse features characterizing modern life cause fear and anxiety to the point of neuroses end even psychoses to growing numbers of people. Much of modern life is marked by socioeultural upheaval that prevents equanimity and inner contentment.

The discovery of a primitive people such as the Tasaday creates a yearning by restless modern man for a less complex and threatening context of circumstances. Such yearning stems from the assumption that the Tasaday life is free from problems and stresses, at least relatively so. That the Tasaday escape certain problems such as environmental pollution, impersonal relationships, rampant crime, insecurity of employment, aimlessness in life stemming from secularism and materialism, along with other factors which plague civilized man, is quite probable. But the preliminary information gained from the Tasaday suggests that their life is not one marked by complete euphoria. For example, it is reported that they anticipated the visit of the god, Diwata, who was to bring aid to relieve them of life's problems which probably loom as large in their thinking as do problems to modern man. It is quite likely that further study of the Tasaday will reveal tensions and stresses not immediately observable, The Pueblo Indians who live in the American Southwest were initially viewed as a people marked by peace, cooperation, and equanimity. Subsequent studies corrected the earlier and idealized characterization by pointing out that aggression, hostility, fear and conflict are present among these desert dwellers. The anthropologist needs to be wary of allowing initial impressions to obscure reality to be obtained by intensive ethnological study.

As a Christian anthropologist, the writer is concerned with the problems attending social evolution and modernization; for, in assuming the responsibility as a student of society and culture, he cannot ignore the spiritual dimension in determining what is to be considered progress. A critical question is this: Has the process of social evolution and modernization contributed to greater satisfaction, or contentment, than earlier and simpler patterns of life? Euphoria is a difficult state to measure since it is highly subjective in nature and it is very elusive when we consider the remarkable adaptability of man who has demonstrated that he can operate in a broad range of socincultural circumstances. We must also ask this question: Can we compare the state of contentment experienced by an affluent suburbanite in the American culture with that of the primitive Tasaday? What criteria are valid and reliable in measuring the differences in culture?

Within the context of Christian convictions and Biblical statements (which are fundamental to the writer's opinion), the answers must revolve about the spiritual dimension. It is, therefore, not a question of whether the Tasadayan dibble can be compared with the suburbanite's computer, but rather whether the two individuals in contrasting sociocultural stations have an appreciation of spiritual truth which the writer claims to be dependent upon Biblical information. The American suburbanite may conclude that he enjoys the fruit of progress in his technological conveniences while his covert personality may be marked with insecurity and anxiety unknown to tlse simple Tasadayan who lacks the conveniences. The only resolution of the problem of progress in social evolution seems to be in terms of a man's ultimate satisfaction or peaceful state of mind. This peace of mind rests upon the Biblical adage that man does not live by bread alone.

Has modernization through social evolution delivered man from his fundamental problem? Has the history of mankind been marked with increasing euphoria? According to the Apostle Paul, the evolution of society and culture has not been marked by progress if we see progress as synonymous with spiritual improvement and equanimity. The fact of the matter is that there seems to be retrogression rather than progress. We are tempted to say that there is an inverse ratio between technological progress and the spiritual state of man as conceived in Biblical statements. Thus we read what the Apostle prognosticates in relation to social evolution and modernization in II Tim. 3:1-9.

Social evolution leading to modernization has not introduced this repertoire of ungodliness listed by Paul. These sins were known and practiced in antiquity as attested to by the Old Testament account. The fact of the matter is that we may infer comparable commissions prevailing in the days of Noah, conditions which climaxed in the judgment upon that civilization by the Flood. Every perceptive student of history knows about the almost endless occurrence of sins depicting the viciousness of man, or as the aphorism has it, man's inhumanity to man. What, then, are we to understand about social evolution, modernization, and the moral state of man in contemporary civilization? We must not conclude naively that the Tasaday and similar groups are completely virtuous and free from sin. Ethnological data sustains the contention of the Apostle Paul in Romans 3:12, "All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one."
The most reasonable conclusion before us is that social evolution has been accompanied by modernization with an intensification and multiplication of what has been characteristic of man since the Fall. The Tasaday, by isolation and retardation, have escaped the ravages of rampant sin characterizing man in contemporary civilization, but they are not to be considered innocent children of nature. The perspectives open to man may either be to attempt to retreat to the sncincultural level of primitive life as exemplified by the Tasaday (actually this is impossible to achieve), or to anticipate a "new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells" (II Peter 3:13).


Beaver Falls, Pa., News-Tribune, July 17, 1971.
Blum, Harold F. On the Origin and Evolution of Human Culture. In Read ings on Social Change edited by Wilbert E. Moore and Robert M. Cook. Englewnnd Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall. 1967.
Lev y, Marion J., Jr. Modernization and the Structures of Societies (2 vols.) Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. 1966.
Nagel, Ernest The Structures of Science: Problems in the Logic of Scientific Explanation. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company. 1961.
The New York Times, June 15, 1971, and July 18, 1971.
Peacock, James L., and A. Thomas Kirsch The Human Direction. New York: Appleton-CenturyCrafts. 1970. 
Redfield, Robert The Primitive World and Its Transformations. Ithaca. N.Y.: Corncll University Press. 1953.