The Foolishness of Man

“The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” —I Corinthians 3:19

PRIOR to the invention of the printing press in the middle of the fifteenth century, the accumulation and dissemination of knowledge was a laborious and time-consuming process. In the beginning, information seems to have been passed from generation to generation by word of mouth. Later, stone or clay tables were employed, and still later papyrus was the medium of recording information. Finally, in about the second century, paper appeared on the scene, and books began slowly to appear. Each of these, however, was the product of long, painstaking labor, individually produced, and greatly sought after and prized by scholars seeking to add to their knowledge and to extend their understanding of the world about them; to enjoy and create literature; to promote education.

In spite of the difficulties of setting down and storing information, so great was the thirst for knowledge on the part of some, and so high was the esteem in which understanding was held that great libraries consisting of tablets or papyri came early into being. One of the most famous of these was that at Alexandria, which before its destruction in 48 B.C. boasted the amazing total of 600,000 volumes. Another was located at Pergamum, containing, according to Plutarch, the Greek biographer, some 200,000 volumes written on parchment.

There were also a small number of private libraries in certain of the larger cities in the Roman Empire, and several religious libraries. A few widely scattered universities also came into being at about the beginning of the 12th century.

But all these, almost exclusively, were available only to the few—to the scholars, the scientists, and the philosophers. General education, to say nothing of formal education for the masses simply did not exist; nor were they interested in it, for they sustained themselves rather simply from day to day by engaging in a little farming, fishing, trading, or in occupational skills taught by father to son, being more-or-less unconcerned with matters about which they knew little.

A woodcutter need never have heard of Plato, nor a harness maker of Aristophanes of Byzantium. Reading and writing could be left to the local ecclesiastic, the lawyer, the doctor. While education was highly esteemed, the lack of it was no dishonor, for the means of adding readily to one’s knowledge was available only to the privileged few. And for most, the pattern of life continued from generation to generation with no discernible change.

The Printing Press Arrives

But the advent of the printing press brought dramatic change. Apart from the teachings of Jesus, one can think of no single factor that has had greater impact on human existence than that occasioned by the advent of the printing press. No longer would knowledge be transmitted merely by word of mouth, or by painfully copying books one by one by hand. The ability to record information and the speed with which it could be disseminated far and wide were suddenly increased a thousandfold.

And whereas in the decades immediately following the appearance of the printing press its impact may have been but little felt in the world at large, yet as the centuries rolled on so also did the flood of printed books, until today the accumulated information on every conceivable subject staggers the imagination and boggles the mind. Now, in large portions of the globe, educational opportunities are more generally open to such as wish to improve themselves thereby, and the colleges and universities in some countries are turning out professional men and women at a rate which is difficult for society to absorb.

In the heyday of the Greek philosophers the greater minds among them could hope to possess, and did possess, at least a working knowledge of then current learning. Later, in the sixteenth century, such intellectual giants as Michelangelo and Benvenuto Cellini were also considered to be “complete” men in the sense of their broad learning for the age in which they lived. And even as late as the 18th century Thomas Jefferson was viewed as possessing a good general grasp of most matters affecting the lives of humankind. He was statesman, historian, architect, inventor, lawyer, musician, farmer and philosopher, and talented in every category.

Today, this is unthinkable. Life has become so complex and the accumulated information on every facet of it so great that we necessarily live in an age of extreme specialization in every area of endeavor. We even have specialists who serve other specialists in the same field—so-called doctors’ doctors; lawyers’ lawyers, and professors’ professors.

If Herr Gutenberg could have looked ahead for the five hundred years that have come and gone since giving the world the art of printing by moveable type, and visualized the flood of knowledge that would consequently engulf the world, he might proudly have supposed within himself that it would surely provide the answer to all the world’s ills; that it would eliminate poverty, superstition, sickness, hunger, wars, and oppression, all of which problems and sorrows flourished ungrandly all about him. But actually, after half a millennium, where has this veritable avalanche of knowledge and its resultant higher education brought the world of mankind? Has it really been an unmixed blessing?

Worldly Wisdom No Solution

The obvious fact is that substantially all the problems that made life difficult in Gutenberg’s day are still with us. True, in some relatively restricted areas of the globe the plumbing is vastly improved; light, heat, refrigeration, and candy bars are available at the press of a button, and supermarkets are located within a few minutes’ easy ride in an automobile. But the basic sorrows that plagued mankind in his day are still present; for poverty and disease and oppression still reign in the earth; hundreds of millions of our fellow beings are forever hungry; wars still rage. On these we need not dwell. But today, in addition to all these ages-old problems, we are faced with a great many more—problems of which Herr Gutenberg not so much as dreamed; but many of which, curiously enough, can be directly or indirectly traced to the very increase of knowledge to which he so uniquely contributed.

Take the matter of the increase in the world’s population—for this problem is closely related to and interwoven with many of the others of our time. Not that there is anything wrong with people, we would hasten to add. For it was God himself who instructed Adam to multiply, and fill the earth. (Gen. 1:28) But the rate at which this process is presently accelerating would surely be frightening did not one account that God is aware of the situation, and fully capable of controlling it in due course and at his pleasure.

As recently as the beginning of the 19th century earth’s population was measured in relatively modest hundreds of millions of people. It was not until 1830 that the figure was estimated at one billion. Thereafter, it took about 100 years for the population to double in 1930 to about two billion. It is now calculated that the next doubling of the population will require only about half that time, and will reach about four billion in 1980. And some demographers are now predicting a count of around eight billion people in the year 2000, a further doubling in a mere 20 years.

A New Start with Noah

This rapid increase in the rate of population growth is of relatively recent occurrence. For long centuries the increase in the number of human inhabitants of this planet was rather slow. Disease and plagues resulting from generally unsanitary conditions were doubtless a factor in this. From Noah’s day, beginning with a small handful that escaped the flood, it took more than four thousand years for earth’s population to grow to one billion souls. By striking contrast, the next billion were added in but one hundred years. And at the present time it is taking only about ten years per billion of increase! How will these vast new numbers be fed, clothed, and sheltered, since millions already living suffer want?

Perhaps it would be inaccurate to charge this situation to Herr Gutenberg, but it is certain that the increase of knowledge made possible along all lines by printing has played an important part in saving the lives of newborn babes; in controlling and eradicating many killing diseases, and in extending the life expectancy of the elderly. It has brought about refrigeration, improved hygiene, and made life in great cities more tolerable through the use of plumbing and sewerage systems. Historians tell us that in the middle ages a traveler in France could tell when he was within fifty miles of Paris by the smell; and it is recorded that the royal families of Great Britain regularly moved from palace to palace with their entire entourage to escape the stench that inevitably developed within.

In an effort to find new ways to feed, clothe, and shelter these increasing numbers of humans, our industrialists and scientists utilize the great and growing reservoir of information on tap in universities and libraries. Insecticides are developed to increase the produce of the land; huge, efficient manufacturing plants are constructed to produce clothing, shelter, foodstuffs, and appliances. Electric generating plants are built to provide power to make the whole complicated apparatus function. Millions of automobiles, trucks, and buses are manufactured so that people may get to work and go to market.

“A Man’s Folly Brings His Way to Ruin.”—Prov. 19:3, RSV

But all this merely raises other problems—new and unique in the history of man. For the insecticides contaminate our food; the manufacturing and sewage disposal plants pollute our rivers; the power plants and automobiles poison the air we breathe. And the persisting dilemma defies all present efforts of man to find a solution.

Along with all this, the world that as recently as Columbus’ day contained vast, unexplored, and sparsely inhabited areas suddenly appears to be getting overcrowded. This circumstance naturally causes friction between nations as each ponders its own swelling needs, and casts envious eyes on the food and material resources and lands of its more affluent neighbors, and suspects that its neighbors entertain the same covetous designs against themselves. And thus, to protect themselves against other powerful nations, or to promote their own aggressive designs, their scientists, again drawing upon the learning that is now so readily available to all, create ever more destructive weapons of war; the most terrifying and awesome of all being, of course, the nuclear bomb.

The infant forerunner of the present day nuclear bomb was the atom bomb, the first of which ever to be used in warfare was dropped on August 6, 1945 by the United States on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, killing about 150,000 of the city’s 340,000 inhabitants. Three days later a second bomb destroyed some 75,000 of a population of 260,000 in the city of Nagasaki. Thousands of others were maimed or disfigured for life. Horrible as this was, one literally shudders to contemplate the destructive power of that awful product of present-day science, the modern nuclear bomb, one of which can easily annihilate literally millions of people in thickly populated areas.

“Hot Line” Cools Off

The United States and the Soviet Union each possesses these bombs in numbers sufficient to completely destroy the other should hostilities occur. Thus both nations live in constant fear that the other might start these missiles on their terrible mission, either by design or by accident. In an effort to prevent any accidental deployment of nuclear-equipped bombers or missiles, a “hot line” has been installed providing instantaneous telephonic communication between the heads of state of the two nations.

By way of observation, it might be noted that one of the hot lines was recently out of commission, while the second (and only remaining one) passes through Arab nations which are hostile to the United States, and is thus presumably subject to tampering. Each nation has also devised so-called “fail-safe” procedures which would hopefully prevent any unintentional or unauthorized use of the weapons.

Meantime, the threat of worldwide destruction and deathly pollution of the atmosphere hangs over the world like the sword of Damocles.

But horrifying as it is to ponder the suffering and devastation that would result from a nuclear holocaust, we are now confronted with a suggestion for eliminating the threat of such a disaster that carries within itself far more hideous implications than the use of the bomb itself. For the bomb, as we have seen, can merely kill or maim the body; while the alternative which is proposed as a safeguard against it is one that would control and imprison the mind. The proposition is advanced that, inasmuch as by means of the nuclear bomb unimaginable power to destroy the race is lodged in fragile human beings whose judgment and prejudices are but those of imperfect men, it is high time that human behavior and actions be controlled by direct biochemical intervention; that by means of “psychotechnological intervention” man’s impulses to do that which is good be strengthened, and his inclinations to do ill be weakened. This proposal is put forward as a sort of mental “fail-safe” plan to protect the world in these trying times.

Old Horror Replaced by New?

Implicit in the plan itself is the admission that men are imperfect, hence the need at this critical stage of human existence for invoking these safeguards to prevent the race from destroying itself. One is impelled to ask, who of these admittedly imperfect men will decide precisely what are right motivations, and what are wrong ones? This is vital, for there is little agreement on moral rightness today, either between men or nations. And who of these imperfect men is to decide which of their fellows possess such wrong motivations, and are therefore to be subjected to mental crippling and imprisonment? And who of these imperfect men will administer the treatment to their supposedly less-rightly-endowed fellows? One is beset with nightmarish visions of a nobly created human race reduced to groveling automatons at the whim of a scientific elite.

The proposal is so utterly horrifying and repulsive that one would be tempted to banish it completely from the mind as altogether unthinkable were it not for the fact that its sponsor is an eminent educator and distinguished Professor of Psychology at a great university, and that research in the possibility of so manipulating the mental processes of individuals is indeed in progress. To his credit, it should be stated that the distinguished gentleman putting forth the notion recognizes the presence of hazards in its implementation. Truly, the world is in a time of trouble “the like of which” was not since there was a nation!—Matt. 24:21, TCNT

How much better is God’s plan for the survival of the masses of mankind! It is a plan with a built-in fail-safe provision supplied by the redemptive blood of our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. How many thousands of millions have gone down into their graves since man’s creation we do not know; but we do know that by God’s grace through Christ every one of them will be brought forth from the grave and given an opportunity under the thousand-year mediatorial reign of Christ and the church to gain everlasting life in an earthly paradise wherein dwelleth righteousness, love, and peace.

Concerning the glory that God proposed for mankind David wrote, “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honor. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet. … O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!” (Ps. 8:4-9) Through the sin of disobedience man lost that dominion, and commenting on David’s words the Apostle Paul said, “But now we see not yet all things put under him [man]: But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, … that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” (Heb. 2:8,9) It was to restore that dominion and that earthly paradise that Christ died, and this will be the work of Christ and his faithful footstep followers of the Gospel Age.

A New Kind of Knowledge

During the kingdom reign mankind will be instructed in the ways of righteousness, under the loving and watchful care of the “princes in all the earth.” Their minds will not be tampered with to force them to do justly, for that is not the Lord’s way. They will be free moral agents, freely directing their own actions; but during the thousand years God will be writing his law in their hearts. At the end of that time all will be tested. The disobedient will be forever destroyed, and the righteous will attain to everlasting life. They will stand upright but humbly in the sight of God, kings on the earth, joyously and freely doing God’s will and praising his name. And a new kind of knowledge will flood the earth—the knowledge of the Lord! “For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”—Hab. 2:14

“After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord; for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”—Jer. 31:33,34

Dawn Bible Students Association
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