Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Tell Them That It’s Human Nature

Written by: on March 2, 2020

Here’s to another week with Steven Pinker. Nonetheless, this is an election to a more academic approach to desperately search the pages of The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature in hopes to discover common ground. With pure amazement on this rare occasion, commonality was found. Let us dive deeper into this concept, the Blank Slate, through the lens of human nature’s proximity to God and justice.

Refuting Blank Slate

Let us then suppose the mind to be, as we say, white paper void of all characters, without any ideas. How comes it to be furnished? Whence comes it by that vast store which the busy and boundless fancy of man has painted on it with an almost endless variety? Whence has it all the materials of reason and knowledge? To this I answer, in one word, from EXPERIENCE.[1]

The above passage from An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by English empiricist John Locke is ascribed to the phenomenon of the Blank Slate theory. Though the origin of this theory is associated with the Latin word Tabula rasa, Locke’s usage of the term contradicts its meaning. Locke proclaims in the passage that the mind is a blank pallet. In contrast, Tabula rasa translated to “scraped tablet” or “clean slate”[2], meaning something was previously written on the tablet and needed revision. Therefore, to agree with Locke’s theory of the Blank Slate, one will have to deny the potency of tabula rasa. Conversely, tabula rasa seems to have a significant place if appropriately used to adjust the fallacies of human nature (this will be discussed further in the blog).

However, numerous behavioralists, empiricist, and educationalist espouse Locke’s concept of the Blank Slate. Behavorialist believes people are born with a mind that is a blank slate, and behavior is learned from the environment in which they live. Educationalists believed that children are born as blank slates beginning their lives as morally neutral and attributed development of nature and personality occur during childhood.[3] Consequently, recent research in genetics, evolutionary biology, and cultural anthropology suggests that there is a complex interaction between genetically inherited factors and developmental and social factors.[4] Thus, to embrace Locke’s Blank Slate is to deny human nature as a whole.

Human Nature and The God Factor

Human nature is a fascinating concept with varying theories. By definition, human nature is the fundamental traits of humans. Pinker describes the concept of human nature as the following:

Everyone has a theory of human nature. Everyone has to anticipate the behavior of others, and that means we all need theories about what makes people tick. A tacit theory of human nature-that behavior is caused by thoughts and feelings-is embedded in the very way we think about people. We fill out this theory by introspecting on our own minds and assuming that our fellows are like ourselves, and by watching people’s behavior and filing away generalizations.[5]

Clearly, the concept of human nature is universal and, according to Pinker, is formed through genetics, cultural influence (though mainly peer-lead; agree to disagree), and chance events (also, agree to disagree). Despite this, he also acknowledges though scientists and evolution psychologists are trying to discover significant theories to support human nature, none have been solidified outside of religion. According to Pinker in the Judeo-Christian tradition, all human are made in the image of God[6]; they have minds that are made up of several components, including a moral sense, an ability to love, a capacity for reason  that recognizes whether an act conforms to ideals of goodness, and a decision faculty that chooses how to behave; and their cognitive and perceptual faculties work accurately because God implanted ideals in them that correspond to reality and because he coordinates their functioning with the outside world. [7]

Justice and God

Many of the pressing social problems of the first decades of the twentieth century concerned the lest fortunate[8], including immigration issues, equality for women, integration of schools, quality education, and child development. It was apparent that these social challenges were not going away, and the most personal assumption was that all human beings had an equal potential to prosper if they were given the right upbringing and opportunities[9]. The right upbringing is questionable and not quantifiable; as for opportunities with the reception of the second decade in the twentieth century, some progress been made; nevertheless, the quest for change and justice remains.

Justice is a fundamental part of God’s character and desires.[10]

Despite the great debate in the evangelical Church between the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, God outlines in His word to do both. The Church is commissioned to go and make disciples, baptizing them in the Trinty and teaching them all in the ways of Jesus. The Church is also commanded to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. God in His character is just and desire for man in His image to seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with Him. Throughout scriptures, He identifies how to live justly, to stand up for the oppressed and care for the orphan, the widow, foreigner, and the least of these.

The relational connection between justice, Great Commission (evangelism), and the Great Commandment (redemption and love) are interchangeable. The Church cannot proclaim a gospel; it does not live, and it cannot carry out a real social ministry without knowing the Lord and hearing His call to justice and shalom.[11]

Perhaps it is time to allow God to scrape clean the tablet of the hearts of the believers to get them back to a place where He can use them to not only save to lost but to help restore them as well.     

[1] Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate: the Modern Denial of Humen Nature (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2003), 5.

[2] The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Tabula Rasa,” Encyclopædia Britannica (Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., November 6, 2016), https://www.britannica.com/topic/tabula-rasa.

[3] University of Michigan, “THE EDUCATIONALISTS,” Educationalist Theory, 2002, http://umich.edu/~ece/student_projects/childrens_lit/Educationalist_Theory.html.

[4] The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Human Nature,” Encyclopædia Britannica (Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., March 7, 2016), https://www.britannica.com/topic/human-nature.

[5] Steven Pinker, “’The Blank Slate’,” The New York Times (The New York Times, October 13, 2002), https://www.nytimes.com/2002/10/13/books/chapters/the-blank-slate.html.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate: the Modern Denial of Humen Nature (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2003),17.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ken Wytsma and D. R. Jacobsen, Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live & Die for Bigger Things (Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2013), 27.

[11] National Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Communities of Salt and Light: Reflections on the Social Mission of the Parish,” in Pastoral Letters and Statements of the United States Catholic Bishops, ed. Patrick W Carey, vol. VI (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 1998), p. 536.


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Shermika Harvey

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