We like to think of ourselves living in the most advanced civilization that has ever graced this fair planet. Before we make such an assertion, though, it is probably a good idea for us to define "advanced."
It probably goes without saying that we live in the most technologically advanced society in man's history. Some would claim that the pre-Flood world could have been just as advanced as today, but obviously, this is difficult to substantiate. The waters of the Deluge sloshed away just about every trace of pre-Flood civilization, and archeology has dug up only the merest hints that the first few generations of mankind, with their long lives and idyllic environment, may have reached Industrial Age levels.
Certainly, in recorded history, no people have ever lived as well as we have on so many different levels. Our access to the basics—food, clothing, and shelter—is unprecedented, as are our abilities to travel and communicate. As Daniel 12:4 says, our day is one of increased knowledge and movement over the face of the earth. A person's opportunities for gainful employment and advancement have never been so widespread, and the boundaries of investigation into every kind of intellectual pursuit seem limitless.
The question mark in how advanced we are involves social, moral, and ethical areas. The late radio and television evangelist Herbert W. Armstrong often described this time in man's history as one of "astounding progress" yet simultaneously one of "appalling evils." Yes, we have come a long way from open fires and spears, but only a veneer of civilized behavior covers our underlying savagery. Like the modern classic, Lord of the Flies, if we strip away the veneer, the barbarism of self-interest lunges to the fore. To see this, we need only to recognize that, despite its advances, the twentieth century saw more death and destruction than any other hundred-year period in history.
Why do we have this egotistic notion that we are better than those who have gone before? We can lay much of the blame at the feet of Charles Darwin and his disciples. They introduced and advanced the evolutionary notion that man is getting better with each progressive stage of his development, and soon—relatively speaking—he would evolve into something more than man. Science could not contain this philosophy within biology, and before long, it was an essential element of psychology, sociology, and many other branches of learning until it became as accepted and unquestioned "truth."
But it is false—patently so. It, like evolution, is just a theory, and one built on precious little proof. The simple truth is that, though our reservoir of knowledge has expanded significantly, our fundamental nature has remained the same. Just because we know more and have more options does not mean that what we decide to do is any better than what our forefathers would have determined to be the best course of action.
Further, we could argue with some success that their decisions might actually prove superior to ours. Why? Because their social, moral, and ethical foundations were stronger. At least they had a belief system to fall back on. Under them, they had the comforting bedrock of the Scriptures by which to establish proper behavior. What is the prevailing worldview today? Humanism? Relativism? Postmodernism? A faith in "democratic principles" or "reason" or "science"? Do these contain a complete set of values that will improve human behavior?
The psalmist writes, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Psalm 119:105). What God says shows us the way to abundant and godly living. Jesus agrees: "Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!" (Luke 11:28). Only then can we begin to "put on the new man" (Ephesians 4:24) and begin transforming our nature toward God's perfect character (Romans 12:2). When we begin to do that, we can truly say, "We've come a long way."
- Richard T. Ritenbaugh
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