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by ProfDave, ©2020
(Oct. 15, 2020) — C.S. Lewis called it “chronological chauvinism.” There is no telling what you’ll see on the History Channel these days. As an historian, I am sometimes appalled. I caught a glimpse some time back of a program – I had to be doing something else, so I can’t review it or even tell you the name.
In it, assorted “scholars” were revisiting alchemy, Stonehenge and other assorted mysteries from pre-history. Don’t get me wrong: a sober examination of the “pseudo-sciences” could certainly shed light on the history of science and a lot of other things. But the speculation reached new levels of never-never land, turning on a mysterious “emerald tablet” referred to in occult texts. It was soberly suggested that it might have come from space aliens! Shades of Chariots of the Gods and “pan-spermia.”
Pan-spermia is the rather desperate theory of the origins of life hatched by certain otherwise brilliant biochemists. Despairing of any alternative to intelligent design under known terrestrial conditions, it proposes that microbes blew in from outer space. This conveniently transfers the difficulty to some hypothetical world where the observable rules of biochemistry do not apply and DNA code writes itself. Chronological chauvinism.
The Chariots of the Gods was a book written by Erich von Daniken in 1968 – and a popular documentary – suggesting that all the great wonders of the deep past (including world religions) were brought to Earth by alien space travelers, whom worshipful primitives called gods. This myth is apparently back. Chronological chauvinism.
In our snobbery, we believe that our age is the only age that thinks or has any good ideas. Our ways of thinking are all there is. Our ancestors were stupid, speaking in grunts, counting on their fingers and measuring with their thumbs. To discover achievements that we do not understand, to excavate evidence of vanished skills and technologies, to think that the ancients had knowledge that we no longer possess – is all profoundly offensive to us. It just cannot be. So we resort to little green men – or is it Klingons – from outer space! Daniken’s gods. Really?
Serious historians are just as amazed as anyone else, but we know better. We need not be prisoners of this post-modern sink-hole. Our ancestors accomplished amazing things with iron and steam, with wood and water and wind, with leather and horsepower – yes, and with stone and bone and muscle-power. Some of the most brilliant men who ever lived lived a long time ago. It is just that relatively few of their thoughts and their inventions survive. We stand on the shoulders of what does. Even on evolutionary terms, 10,000 years would not make that much difference in intelligence. And there isn’t a lot of real, factual evidence to suggest that homo sapiens has evolved at all in brain power.
Awesome brain power was applied to the business of survival – using wits, hands, and feet – honing skills and understanding of the environment as it was. Not much time or thought was left over for the abstract, the new, changing the environment, or developing new technology. Our contemporary dependency on technology is the product of millennia of cumulative liberation from the fundamentals of living. We can no longer survive in the wild without our gadgets or imagine how our ancestors built the Stonehenge. Chronological chauvinism.
The myth of progress – everything is getting bigger and better – is an evolutionary assumption. Rrrright. What is progress, anyway? It needs critical examination. In very few spheres of human life has there been anything like an unbroken advance. Has there been any measurable progress in human relations? We’ve got more stuff, but are we happier? We are better fed, but are we healthier? We have more medicine, but we need more. Are our marriages and our families more stable and better adjusted? Are we producing healthier and more productive children? Are societies and nations more harmonious and cooperative? Does our swollen technology help with any of this?
We need to give credit where credit is due. Whatever progress there is, we owe to those who went before. And above all, our ancestors were not stupid. Seriously, which takes more cleverness and skill, a mechanic diagnosing your transmission with a computer or an Indian bringing down a woolly mammoth with a stick and a stone? Chronological chauvinism.
David W. Heughins (“ProfDave”) is Adjunct Professor of History at Nazarene Bible College. He holds a BA from Eastern Nazarene College and a PhD in history from the University of Minnesota. He is the author of Holiness in 12 Steps (2020). He is a Vietnam veteran and is retired, living with his daughter and three grandchildren in Connecticut.”