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

Born with It

Written by: on February 29, 2020

From the beginning of time, people have been obsessed with having a variety of traits like other people. We want to be as intelligent, as beautiful, or sophisticated as our neighbors. One of the eye makeup commercials featured a woman with a full, luscious set of black eyelashes, using the tagline: Maybe she’s born with it; maybe it’s Maybelline. The commercial implied by using Maybelline mascara, no one would be able to tell if you were born with thick, long eyelashes or if you used an enhancer, like Maybelline’s mascara.

Behavioral geneticists have long struggled to determine what humankind is born with, in terms of intelligence and the tendency toward certain behaviors. One popular view of how intelligence and behavior are derived is called the “Blank Slate” proposed by Hume and Locke.

Hume and Locke proceeded from the same premise which the phenomenologists advanced, and which remains unrefuted philosophically or psychologically, that all knowledge of external reality is acquired through the senses, and that, insofar as these senses are unreliable, each human being is “impressionable” — like a blank slate. Neither Hume nor Locke, however, ever denies that human beings have innate propensities, or, to pursue the metaphor, they acknowledge that the slate has inherent properties of its own.[1]

Steven Pinker in his book, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, believes “behavior may vary across cultures, but the design of the mental programs that generate it need not vary. Intelligent behavior is learned successfully because we have innate systems that do the learning.”[2] Ultimately, Pinker believes that human nature is predetermined in individuals and “parenting skills have negligible effects on the upbringing of children”.[3] This argument between being born with innate abilities or abilities to learn versus the influence of environmental factors on behavior and abilities to learn is deemed the nature versus nurture argument. Although there are some who believe in a dualism of both nature and nurture, Pinker relates this to the theory called, “The Ghost in the Machine”.

The Ghost in the Machine is a special case. It corresponds roughly to the idea that our behavior is controlled by something other than the activity of our brains. Philosophical dualists believe that we are made of two kinds of stuff: physical stuff–the body—and thinking stuff, identified variously as the mind, conscious will, or the soul.[4]

Pinker dismisses the Ghost in the Machine theory as well as the idea of “the Noble Savage”.

Interestingly, the Ghost in the Machine may correspond more closely to a Biblical understanding of how we were born with an innately sinful human nature but also have the ability, through Jesus Christ, to be free from the law of sin and death as described in the book of Romans, chapter 8.

In reality, we may never be able to know how much intelligence we were born with, but I know that God allows me to grow in understanding and knowledge of Him well beyond what I think I am capable of. If anyone asks, I can honestly say that I was not born with it, but I continue to enhance what God has given me through the power of the (Holy) Ghost in me.


[1].Eoyang, Eugene. “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature.” Comparative Literature Studies 44, no. 3 (2007): 397.

[2]. Pinker, Steven. “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature.” New York: Penguin Books, 2003: 45.

[3]. Eoyang, Eugene. “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature.” Comparative Literature Studies 44, no. 3 (2007): 398.

[4]. Shapiro, Kevin. “Not Silly Putty.” Commentary, December, 114, No. 5, 2002: 78.

About the Author

Mary Mims

I am a licensed and ordained Baptist minister and have worked with the children and youth for the last seven years. I have resided in the Washington, DC area for the last 30 years, but I am originally from Michigan. I am also bi-vocational and work at the US Patent and Trademark Office in the Scientific Library.

4 responses to “Born with It”

  1. Great post Mary, I really like the way you have related “the ghost in the machine” theory to the innate sinful nature that humans are born with but can be set free from the law of sin and death through Jesus Christ. It’s so important that our hope in Christ is sure and does not disappoint.

  2. John Muhanji says:

    Thanks, Mary for your post. It is true people grow up admiring other people who they think either, they look better than them or they have succeeded in life. That imitation sometimes leads to falsehood appearing in character traits. your post has reminded me of growing up and seeing my sisters struggling to do makeup to look beautiful. It is true some traits are learned from others.

  3. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Wonderful post reminding us of the transformative effect of “re” or “new” birth in Christ. While I appreciate the scholarship striving to understand the many complexities of human nature and nurture, I know based on Scripture, we are wonderfully designed and made for His pleasure. When we connect with Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit, we finally discover this. Thanks again, for always reminding and redirecting us back to God’s work in each one of us. Many blessings.

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