I’ve touched on this general theme before, but as I drove
home from work August 11, the issue came flooding back, occasioned by the National Public Radio (NPR) report I was listening to. Under the title “From Grunting to Gabbing: Why Humans Can Talk,” the piece by Kathleen Masterson focused on the phenomenon of human speech (NPR, All Things Considered, Aug. 11, 2010).
Talking, it said, is “a uniquely human ability,” arising from our “evolved brains.” Though they have “the same basic apparatus” as humans—“lungs, throat, voice box, tongue, and lips,” chimps can’t perform operas or talk on the phone. Humans do both, “because over thousands of years . . . , [we] have evolved a longer throat and smaller mouth better suited for shaping sound.”
Listeners didn’t have to take Masterson’s word for it; she had her expert—Philip Lieberman, “professor of cognitive and linguistic science at Brown University who has studied the evolution of speech for more than five decades.” According to Masterson, Lieberman holds “that after humans diverged from an early ape ancestor, the shape of the vocal tract changed. Over 100,000 years ago, the human mouth started getting smaller and protruding less. We developed a more flexible tongue that could be controlled more precisely, and a longer neck.”
What struck me was the matter-of-factness with which Masterson told the story about humanity’s past history—something any thinking person on another planet, one suspects, would have related with at least a measure of tentativeness or caution—even incredulity. But such is the cocksuredness of the prevailing Western scientific culture—a culture in which any talk of God is verboten. A culture in which evening news anchors, robotlike, report the most outlandish “findings” of science without batting an eye.
You want to respond but, if you’re like me, you don’t, reasoning: There’s no one “home,” anyway, to take my call; and what’s a single letter among the thousands they receive? Moreover, with my faith being assaulted at every turn and in a thousand ways, how many letters can I write? And, at any rate, who can stop this determined bandwagon in its track?
It’s a sign of tiredness, of the force of the culture beating us down.
Complicating the whole issue of a liberal culture are the folk on the other end of the spectrum—right-wing Christians (pardon the expression) who’ve become vicious, crude, mean-spirited, incautious. Perhaps the kind of folk who caused legendary writer Anne Rice to snap recently. Here she is in early August on her Facebook page:
“I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group.” “I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.”
It would take an entire article to unpack the contents of that statement—its pain, its truth, its glaring flaws, its confusion. But its overriding effect will be to push sensible, conservative Christians further on the defensive.
As we near the end of this confusing first decade of the twenty-first century, the sheer force of the culture is getting to many of us, leaving us feeling weary, powerless, beaten down, especially with so many of our fellow Christians, even some Adventists, jumping onto the bandwagon. It creates a mood of resignation; a sort of “join-’em-if-you-can’t-beat-’em” mentality.
But truth is both stubborn and resilient. The culture may try to smother it; but, like the Phoenix of ancient legend, it always rises back. We may feel beaten down on every side, but if we hang on to it, we cannot be defeated.
Roy Adams is an associate editor of the Adventist Review. This article was published September 16, 2010.