Are We Really Smarter?
One day, my oldest son and I were having a conversation about writing. As a freshman in high school he is learning the joy of writing. His first assignment was to write a 500 word short story. He struggled with it; not because of any lack of creative ideas, but due to a problem that he comes by naturally – he wants the words to be perfect when they hit the paper. No rough drafts, that can be handled in his mind. The words of the story must be in perfect order and meaning before they leave his brain. I say he comes about this problem naturally because his father (that would be me) does the same thing. So, when Joe asked me to be a contributor I figured it would help me work through this issue by forcing me to write a post or two every month. Well, close to a year and 2 or 3 posts later, I’m still dealing with the block of perfectionism.
What does this have to do with viewing our life through the Kingdom, you ask. Let’s see where we go. For the last several weeks an idea has been rattling around in my head. Actually, this is a thought that I have had for several years, but up until recently I didn’t have the context to coherently determine why this thought bugged me when I hear it. The thought is this: Primitive man was less intelligent than we are. Of course, this sentence needs some clarification. Contemporary anthropological thought tells us that religion developed because humanity needed a way to explain things that they couldn’t explain. In their evolutionary infantile state they could not comprehend the ‘way things are’ so they developed religion to help them deal with the unexplainable. However, mankind has evolved to the point where we can now understand the unexplainable so we no longer need religion to help us out. We are no longer infantile in our evolutionary state so religion can be put away like a baby releasing its pacifier.
Every time I have heard humanity described in this way it has ruffled my feathers; are we really smarter than Aristotle or Plato or Shakespeare or Newton? I could tell that the tools we use are more advanced than those of ancient man, but are we really smarter or more advanced as collective humanity?
Enter Andrew Kern. Kern’s focus is on education, yet in speaking on education, Kern has focused his talks on the nature – not nature as in the environment but as in the ‘nature of a thing.’ In one of his talks, A Contemplation of Nature, Kern discusses the nature of humans and two opposing views of that nature. One view finds its foundation in Genesis 1, the creation story. Mankind is made in God’s image; this gives man dignity, purpose, and propriety. More importantly, being made in God’s image gives the nature of humanity CONSISTENCY or CONSTANCY; apart from the effects of the fall, human nature is the same today as it was when Adam was created. Humanity is still made in the image of God.
The second view removes the idea of human nature from the equation. In this view, mankind is basically nothing more than an advanced animal. This idea was made highly popular by Darwin and his book, The Origin of the Species, although it was nothing new; Aristotle proposed this very same idea several thousand years ago. Mankind has evolved from the rest of the animal kingdom, and we are no different than any other animal. So, as humanity spends more time on the earth, we are supposedly getting better.
So why does the idea of primitive man’s lack of intelligence bother me? It bothers me because I believe that man was created in God’s image, and that belief has become a presupposition for me. Anything that disagreed with that presupposition created dissonance in my heart even though I might not have been able to explain it. Being created in the image of God, humanity was just as intellectually capable thousands of years ago as we are today. Those who embrace a humanistic evolutionary view of humanity have to deny that we stand on the shoulders of giants; we simply stand on our own because those who came before us were less capable than us intellectually.
This realization, facilitated by Kern, was like a light bulb going off in my head. It was nice to have an answer to the dissonance. Mankind is made in God’s image, and that fact gives us a nature which is complete. Mankind 3,000 years ago is fundamentally the same as we are today; we have just advanced the tools which we use in this world.
I will admit that technology is far more advanced than it was for those generations that preceded us; they didn’t have computers or mp3 players or cars or steel. Technological advances do not prove increased intelligence or evolved humanity; these advances only prove that we have learned to apply that intelligence in an increasingly efficient or technological way.
So, my son and I suffer from the same affliction when it comes to writing: perfectionism. What hope does my son have to overcome this problem? He has the same hope that I do; he does not have to hope to rely on some chance evolutionary change in his intelligence or that of his children in order for this problem to leave our family. He has to learn that he is made in the image of God and that the thoughts that he has image God’s thoughts. But the thoughts and the expression of those thoughts have been marred by the Fall. His hope is in the Holy Spirit sanctifying him (and me) through discipline and growth in Christ.