DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Empowered Sapiens

Written by: on November 10, 2016

Yuval Noah Harari – Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Early on I developed an aversion for the content in this book due to the following representative statements and more:

P5—“Like it or not, we are members of a large and particularly noisy family called the great apes. Just 6 million years ago, a single female ape had two daughters. One became the ancestor of all chimpanzees, the other is our own grandmother.”

P17—“It is unsettling—and perhaps thrilling—to  think that we Sapiens could at one time have sex with an animal from a different species, and produce children together.”

P19—“Homo sapiens, the last human species.”

P25—“If you spend hours praying to non-existent guardian spirits, aren’t you wasting precious time, time better spent foraging, fighting, and fornicating.”

P25—“But fiction has enabled us not merely to imagine things, but to do so collectively. We can weave common myths such as the biblical creation story.”

P81—“Remember that humans are omnivorous apes who thrive on a wide variety of foods.”

P110—Harari’s biological perspective of the American Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men evolved differently, that they are born with certain mutable characteristics, and that among these are life and the pursuit of pleasure.”

Harari makes categorical statements about human evolutionary processes throughout history as though he is providing proven factual information. In reality, he offers no proofs, empirical or scientific evidence about anything to back up his arguments. Then again how can he when his treatise is based on evolutionary theories. Harari himself sheds some enlightenment in his statement, “The real test of knowledge is not whether it is true, but whether it empowers us. Scientists assume that no theory is 100 per cent correct. A theory that enables us to do new things constitutes knowledge.” [1]

In this work he makes the case for the emergence and history of humankind based on theories in the evolutionary sciences. Harari states, “About 13.5 billion years ago, matter, energy, time, and space came into being in what is known as the Big Bang and about 3.8 billion years ago, on a planet called Earth, certain molecules combined to form particularly large and intricate structures called organisms.”[2] He informs us that the word human denotes “an animal belonging to the genus Homo (man),”[3] and that there were a variety of human species of this genus up until about 10,000 years ago.  He describes in detail three significant stages of evolution that shaped the course of human history: The Cognitive Revolution (about 70,000 years ago); The Agricultural Revolution (about 12,000 years ago); and the Scientific Revolution (about 500 years ago).

According to Harari, humans first evolved in East Africa about 2.5 million years ago from an earlier genus of apes called Australopithecus.  Some of these archaic peoples migrated to North Africa, Europe and Asia, causing human populations to evolve in different tangents and resulting in the formation of several distinct species of humans.  The Cognitive Revolution  gave rise to the species Sapiens (wise) within the genus Homo (man).  The theory is that “accidental genetic mutations changed the inner wiring of the brains of Sapiens, enabling them to think in unprecedented ways and to communicate using an altogether new type of language. Legends, myths, gods, and religion appeared for the first time with the Cognitive Revolution.” [4]

Harari’s most cogent argument pertains to his discussion of imagined communities which is in much the same vein as Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities. Anderson defines “the nation as an imagined political community. It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow members, meet them or ever hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.”[5] Harari says “Any large scale human cooperation . . . is rooted in common myths that exist only in people’s collective imagination. Churches are rooted in common religious myths; states are rooted in common national myths; and judicial systems are rooted in common legal myths.” [6] “An imagined reality is something that everyone believes in, and as long as this communal belief persists, the imagined reality exerts force in the world.”[7]  Harari claims “we believe in a particular order not because it is objectively true, but because believing in it enables us to cooperate effectively and forge a better society. Imagined orders are the only way large numbers of humans can cooperate effectively.”[8]

Along those lines Harari states, “Markets and states foster ‘imagined communities’ that contain millions of strangers, and which are tailored to national and commercial needs. The nation is the imagined community of the state and the consumer tribe is the imagined community of the market.”[9]

Getting beyond the offensive material in the book to Christian sentiment and theology, one can appreciate Harari’s critical analysis of the performance of Homo Sapiens over several millennia. He observes that Sapiens have moved from relatively insignificance “into the master of the entire planet and the terror of the ecosystem.”[10] They are currently in a positon to becoming a god with divine capabilities of creation and destruction, accountable to no one. Sapiens have more power than they know what to do with, and they have failed to alleviate suffering in the world and to improve the well-being of themselves and other animals.  It is obvious to the Christian reader that throughout this book the Supreme Ruler and Creator of all things has been left out of the equation of human origin, intelligence, and destiny.  Devoid of biblical absolutes, moral consciousness, and spiritual principles, Sapiens will always be confused and discontent no matter how much they accumulate or what they accomplish.

My takeaway is that as global leaders we not only need analytical intelligence, cultural intelligence, and emotional intelligence, we also need moral/ethical intelligence. This affords us the ability to utilize power entrusted by God with humility and discretion to His glory and for the spiritual and material well-being of those we serve.


  1. Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2015), 259.
  2. Ibid., 3.
  3. Ibid., 5.
  4. Ibid., 21.
  5. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (London:Verso, 2006), 6.
  6. Harari, Sapiens, 27.
  7. Ibid., 32.
  8. Ibid., 110.
  9. Ibid., 362.
  10. Ibid., 415.




About the Author

Claire Appiah

13 responses to “Empowered Sapiens”

  1. mm Marc Andresen says:


    This is about as fired up as I’ve ever heard/read you in a blog. Based on my read of the book, and having already read Jason’s blog, we seem to be having a similar reaction.

    And I too heard strong echoes of Imagined Communities. I had posted on our facebook page that last week’s book connected to Social Geographies, but I think Imagined Communities is really the tie-in.

    Well said, regarding our need for moral/ethical intelligence.

    Although my response is the same, I did find some very interesting cultural “observations” in this book. To put it another way, I thought the last third of the book was more valid than the first two-thirds. Of course I think the premise for the entire work is flawed because his foundation is flawed.

    How would you respond to the statement, “Bad theology leads to bad anthropology?”

    • Claire Appiah says:

      Thanks for a great topic for discussion. I like it, it’s deep—“Bad Theology Leads to Bad Anthropology”—sounds like the title of a book.
      This is a true statement. If a bad theology is the lens through which one understands human origin, culture, and history, it will necessarily lead to bad anthropology. One can’t possibly get it right in understanding the source of human life, how and when humans came into existence, and to what end. Bad theology could cause one to fail to understand the intrinsic value and purpose of all human life, and more importantly to miss out on a personal relationship with God.

      • mm Marc Andresen says:

        Claire thanks,

        Failing to understand the intrinsic value of human life is an overwhelming tragedy, isn’t it?

        We could write a cohort book – each taking a chapter for “Bad Theology Leads to Bad Anthropology.

  2. Claire,

    Thank you so much for your writing. I agree with you. Breaking away from educated writing to just produce a novel is not what I expected to read. You nailed it down very clearly but your last line is my favorite…..”we also need moral/ethical intelligence.” Did you feel like your moral and ethical intelligence was under attack the whole time you were reading this novel? This is some of your best writing. I like you all fired up.


    • Claire Appiah says:

      I had to chuckle when you said you like me all fired up, because that brought to mind that many moons ago I was actually thinking like Harari. I learned about the theory of evolution about twenty years before I learned about the Christian narrative. One of my favorite classes in my freshmen year of college was physical anthropology/paleontology. I was so intrigued and fascinated with supposedly getting an understanding of the origin and evolution of the earth and the human race.
      I actually did feel like my moral/ethical intelligence was under attack the whole time I was reading Harari’s book. I was filled with righteous indignation. He seemed to take an egotistical delight in profaning the sacred text of the Bible, denying God’s providence concerning the American Declaration of Independence, condoning immoral behavior, and purposely shocking his readers. He’s the one who is believing the biggest myth—that the fate of the world is in the hands of homo sapiens who have sole power to create and destroy.

      • Loren Kerns says:

        Hi Claire,

        You noted that you felt like you were under intellectual and ethical attack by Harari. I think that in fact that was probably true and it creates a sense of disorientation. It comes as a result of a conflict of meta narratives.

        IMost of your cohort has likewise reacted quite negatively to Harari. Yes, he sets forth his own narrative synthesis in a manner that does an exemplary job of outlining in broad strokes the basic myth the contemporary global elite (science, academia, technologists, etc.) believe – rooted above all in contemporary evolutionary biology and big bang cosmology.

        I’m curious, what strategy you might suggest for communicating the Christian story in a way that would make sense as true or even coherent to someone inhabiting Harari’s universe?

        Note: I likewise asked this to Pablo and others in the cohort –

        • Claire Appiah says:

          You ask what strategy I might suggest for communicating the Christian story in a way that would make sense as true or even coherent to someone inhabiting Harari’s universe?
          First of all, I wouldn’t attempt to communicate the Christian story to anyone without the empowerment of prayer and the Holy Spirit, especially someone in Harari’s universe. I definitely would not engage in any form of polemics, or even make a conscious attempt to proselytize those persons. Often they are too puffed up with pride due to their great erudition and would readily dismiss any claims I would make of the legitimacy of the Christian narrative. Their confidence is in their “god of science” as the true means of revelation, truth and exercise of power concerning the whole created order. For this reason, they are not teachable, open and receptive to understanding another point of view.
          The strategy I would employ would be similar to what others worked on me when I embraced Harari’s evolutionary ideologies. The strategy I would use would be to find a common ground for establishing a trustworthy, open, non-judgmental, non-threatening relationship with mutual respect. A relationship that is built on sharing stories and authentic truth-seeking to understand the world we live in and our place in it, who we are and from whence we’ve come, and our purpose for inhabiting the planet. There are no losers, only winners coming to a better understanding of immutable truths, so patience and humility is key in this endeavor. All the while I would be exemplifying the love, concern, character and ways of Christ-like living. I will plant and continually water along with others and allow God to bring the increase. Ultimately, any Christian conversion and transformation will be the work of God’s Spirit drawing those persons to Himself.
          This is not an easy task at all. I have a close relative that is 87 years old and has been an avowed atheist for over 67 years. Thus far, I have not been successful in actualizing this strategy regarding her situation on any level.

  3. Wonderful work Claire. I like your thesis that we need a moral/ethical intelligence. How would you create that? I have a feeling it would involve emotional and spiritual health.

    • Claire Appiah says:

      I don’t think a person creates a moral/ethical intelligence at will. I think it is an endowment initiated by God and preserved through obedience to His dictates. Yes, it would involve emotional and spiritual health. I envision it as being more of an inner spiritual witness whereby one knows that they are united with the heart of God. It’s an awareness of being in alignment with God’s power, purposes and plans, “or not.” It’s more in the vein of Ezekiel 36: 26-28.

  4. Pablo Morales says:

    Claire, I resonate with your analysis. Very well written! The main insight I take home from your blog is the summary of the different books we have been reading so far. You remind me that I need analytical, emotional, cultural and ethical intelligence if I am to be a good leader. Thank you for a great insight.

  5. Claire Appiah says:

    You are welcome Pablo.
    God Bless!

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