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The Human Race: Success Or Failure?

Paul Johnson

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There have been times recently when I have scarcely dared to open the newspaper for fear of discovering the latest enormity committed by our fellow human beings. You all know the feeling. At this rate, will the human race survive? Does it deserve to survive? Significantly, the first to express this feeling of disgust at humanity was God himself. The Book of Genesis (6:5--8) records: "When the Lord saw that man had done much evil on earth and that his thoughts and inclinations were always evil, he was sorry that he had made man on earth, and he was grieved at heart. He said: 'This race of man whom I have created, I will wipe them off the face of the earth--man and beasts, reptiles and birds. I am sorry that I ever made them.'"

There seems to be a fatal flaw in the human personality which has always been there, and which has been designated by the term "original sin." As the philosopher Immanuel Kant put it, "Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing can ever be made." This propensity towards moral frailty contrasts strongly with the extraordinary and continuing physical success of humanity as a species. The universe we know is about 13 billion years old, and there have been success stories before. The dinosaurs thrived and dominated the earth between 230 and 66.4 million years B.C., but during this long period they did not develop mentally and so did not survive when catastrophe struck suddenly at the end of the Cretaceous period.

By contrast, hominoid creatures evolved at some speed, and at an accelerating pace. It was not just the brain which developed. Man contrived to walk erect, leaving hands and arms free to carry and shoot, and his hands became bi-functional, of vital importance not only in survival but later in writing, art, and music. We can trace the creative activities of man back at least 50,000 years and possibly twice that long, and about 10,000 years ago in Africa further changes, amounting to a revolution, occurred in the way we provided for ourselves.

Read the entire article on the New Criterion website (new window will open).

Posted: 16-Nov-06



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