By Mark T. Clark
A young PhD candidate in sociology asked this question of RTB scholars: “When RTB scholars approach their field of truth, are there specific questions any of them have in mind for applying what they are learning to illustrate God’s character and revelation?” She went on to provide her expectation, giving us a little more context to her question:
Given that God created the underlying structures of human interaction and had some sort of society in mind even pre-fall, there should still be evidence of those structures in today’s world. Do they see any such evidence? Where or how might they show up?
The short answer to her question is yes, evidence should be all around us even today. The approach to those answers and the methodologies researchers use will vary from discipline to discipline, and not just in the physical sciences but in the social sciences, arts, and humanities as well. A healthy curiosity and willingness to work hard will help guide the search for evidence.
From my perspective in political science and national security studies, I have often looked for such answers in my field. Because I also enjoy the outdoors, I have frequently observed animal behavior that seems similar to human behavior, but there are also some significant differences as well. There are at least four ways that human behavior and animal behavior bear striking comparisons—territoriality, hierarchies, power plays, and caring for young—and a couple where there are vast differences.
Similar Animal and Human Behaviors
Animals will defend their territory from other animals. The largest trout in a stream will defend its position near the front or back of a boulder (called the “pillow”) from encroaching fish, for the best access to food. Anglers gravitate to these spots to cast for “the big one.”
Many animal groups have hierarchies (despite some egalitarian examples). Wolves are probably best known for having an alpha-pair lead a pack. Chimpanzees and gorillas have dominant members as well. Dogs in the wild love hierarchies, too, which is why humans were able to domesticate them.
Many animals also engage in power plays. Researchers have observed processes for how animals gain dominance in such hierarchical systems. Often, this means they must fight for control, even killing their opponents.
Probably the most endearing comparison is found in the role both animal and human societies devote to nurturing their young. Most offspring are helpless at birth and need protection, care, feeding, and training for life. The length of time devoted to such nurturing is often an indication of how “advanced” or complex such societies are.
So, are any of these shared behaviors between humans and animals evidence of either good or evil that provide clues to pre-fall human society? Or are they merely elements necessary for survival and competition under the second law of thermodynamics? From a Christian perspective, did God subject the natural world to futility with the creation of the universe in anticipation of redeeming human beings (Romans 8:20)?
Humans outpace animal societies in both “good” and “evil.” In the context of human free will, C.S. Lewis hints at the major differences between humans and animals:
The better stuff a creature is made of—the cleverer and stronger and freer it is—then the better it will be if it goes right, but also the worse it will be if it goes wrong. A cow cannot be very good or very bad; a dog can be both better and worse; a child better and worse still; an ordinary man, still more so; a man of genius, still more so; a superhuman spirit best—or worst—of all.1
In my field, for example, nationalism—or pride and effort toward the common good of an affiliated group of people—is a good thing. It can be harnessed to support the survival of the group, tribe, clan, or larger political unit. Sadly, it can also be perverted into xenophobia, racism, and genocide. Beyond nationalism, some leaders have used political ideologies to perpetuate even greater evil. Nothing in the animal kingdom compares to the ideologies of the twentieth century that killed millions of people for no reason necessary for the survival or health of the common good. But where do humans get these ideas of good and evil, if not from our Creator in the first place?
These observations are only tentative, but they do fuel some of my research interests in political science and creation. I have more questions to explore. For example, did God introduce race, nationalism, and the spread of human beings after the fall and the flood to restrain the expression of evil? Do these features still restrain evil today? Where does the idea of restraint in warfare come from? Why do some political entities avoid the targeting of noncombatants, and others deliberately target them? Last, did Jesus’s teaching introduce (or reintroduce) more moderating influences on human society? If so, how? Answers to these questions will come from various fields and will shed light on what kind of society a Creator, if he exists, had in mind.
The student’s questions are brilliant, the kind every scholar of the faith should be considering in their field of research. This young scholar encourages me to pursue truth, and I hope her questions will encourage you as well. All Christian scholars should be encouraged to search for truths in their disciplines, and to find venues for helping the rest of us see those truths. If God is the author of the books of revelation and of creation—which includes social systems as well—he will have left evidence of his handiwork that can be learned through careful study.