Associate professor Ella Henry’s response to Oxford University’s Richard Dawkins, one the world’s leading public intellectuals, to the teaching of Maori mythology as science in New Zealand.
Dawkin’s view is that if Maori mythology is true science then it should be taught in every country on the grounds that science is global whereas mythologies are culturally specific and should be taught in mythology classes separately where those mythologies have agency but not in science classes.
Henry’s response published by Newshub was, “let’s remember that 3000 years before Dawkins’ ancestors dipped their toes in the North Atlantic, mine were traversing the biggest ocean on the planet using nothing more than Polynesian science.”
3000 years ago Henry’s other ancestors were experiencing the early stages of the Bronze Age. Bronze is made from an amalgamation of tin and copper. The process is scientific and represented a great advancement in western civilisation.
Maori by contrast remained in the Stone Age until they came into contact with Europeans with their metal implements and weapons.
Fast forward to the arrival of Captain Cook to the shores of New Zealand in 1769, about 130 years after Able Tasman, he was greeted by Maori in canoes that had not evolved over the preceding 3000 years as Henry points out.
In addition Cook had navigated half way around the world including visiting Pacific Islands on his voyage.
The Endeavour was 30 metres long, was a fully- rigged ship with 2,777m2 of sails. It had a compliment of 94 men. By the time it reached New Zealand it had been at sea for about one year as part of a two year voyage of exploration.
Its construction was sophisticated beyond compare with the canoes which greeted him in 1769 incorporating all of the scientific developments of over hundreds of years. It was a product of the Bronze Age and the Iron Age.
Captain Cook also had the benefit of state of the art navigational tools not just reliant on observing the stars but including the ability to measure longitude by using a chronometer as well as latitude by using a sextant.
As result he was able to fix coordinates which made navigating very accurate. Which meant he could navigate anywhere in the world.
All of this was made possible by the advances that euro centric science had made over hundreds of years.
Also Captain cook, using the scientific tools he had available to him was able to map New Zealand to a degree of accuracy that still impresses about 250 years later.
Graeme Reeves is a lawyer and former National MP.