I am a sucker for books such as (in days of yore) ‘A Short History of the World’ by H G Wells and more recently the Bill Bryson update ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’. In this book Bill Bryson covers the whole spectrum of micro to macro existence in his own oh so readable style. I am dragged into black holes, the mysteries of the atom, facts that once seemed so certain but which now are subject to constant revision, above all the amazing complex inter-reaction of physics, chemistry and biology. Jennifer recently lent me a book ‘12 Questions That Science Can’t Answer (Yet)’ which explores further some of these mysteries and right now I am tucking into ’Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind’ for my bedtime light reading.
From this book, so I learn, for millions of years homo sapiens lived as an integral part of nature, co-existing and taking our place somewhere in the middle of the food chain along with other humans such as Neanderthals and Erectus. As hunter gatherers we humans, in our various forms, were lower than most large beasts of prey but higher than antelopes and horses. Then about 70,000 years ago, something changed for Homo Sapiens, described in the book (in the chapter headed ‘The Tree of Knowledge’) as the ‘Cognitive Revolution’.
The ability to transmit and retain information about things that do not exist, such as tribal spirits, nationhood, limited liability companies, human rights and faith, developed and enabled large numbers of strangers to cooperate and innovate. From about 30,000 years ago this ability resulted in an explosion of numbers with Homo Sapiens moving out of Africa to Europe, Asia and eventually the Americas. As this colonisation took effect, competition from predators and large edible animals such as the Woolly Mammoth was eliminated. Though of equal brain power, but lacking the gene that allowed imaginations to take hold, Neanderthal man and other humans were out-classed, out manoeuvred and exterminated. In Europe a small percentage of our DNA is from our Neanderthal past so there was a small amount of inter-breeding between the two human forms but, evidently, only to a very limited extent. Homo Sapiens continue to impact the world in which we live, often with dreadful consequences, sometimes beneficial.
When in Wales last week-end Maggie and I visited Phil Wall’s church and listened to his sermon on the Garden of Eden. This story and the effect of the picking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge are uncannily reflective of human history as outlined in this book.
Where does all this lead? If who we are is due to our ability to think, to dream, to believe, I am glad that I have my Christian faith as a focal point:
There is a mystery behind the majesty of creation
There was a man who supremely showed that love is the extra element we can uniquely contribute to the laws of physics, chemistry and biology
The Spirit which lived in Jesus now lives in us.
Prayer: And so, we dedicate ourselves afresh to living in God’s world. Open to what is good and loving, seeking to change what is bad, proud to be God’s co-workers in the building of his kingdom.