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

Life’s Most Important Questions…

Written by: on May 9, 2014

Jared Diamond was awarded the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for Journalism – General Nonfiction for his book, Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies.[1]The award citation chronicles the worthiness of Diamond’s work:

No scientist brings more experience from the laboratory and field, none thinks more deeply about social issues or addresses them with greater clarity, than Jared Diamond … A major advance in our understanding of human societies, Guns, Germs, and Steel chronicles the way that the modern world, and its inequalities, came to be. It is a work rich in dramatic revelations that will fascinate readers even as it challenges conventional wisdom.[2]

Diamond clearly states his purpose: To answer the question, “Why did history unfold differently on different continents?”[3] Diamond proposes a thesis pertaining to the question that springs out of his training in molecular physiology, linguistics, and, perhaps most significantly, his fieldwork as an evolutionary biologists.[4] He notes that although the question is relevant and pertinent, there was no available research that encompassed the academic study necessary to answer the question. The study and research is succinctly stated by Diamond, “History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among peoples’ environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves.”[5]

Diamond is able to synthesize his scientific and social/historical study and research within the chronological context of humanity’s existence. His work is comprehensive; he reviews opposing and conflicting ideas while acknowledging possible alternative answers to the questions advanced through the research. There is a vast contrast in the methodologies of scientific, historical, and social research. Diamond’s academic methodology is creditable, authentic and authoritative. In the intervening nineteen chapters, he is able to restate his thesis in the conclusion, The  advancement of different people groups to higher levels in different time frames is “…due not to innate differences in the peoples themselves but to differences in their environments.”[6]

Although Diamond does not state an antithesis to answering his question, it is clear from the beginning that he is refuting and belief that the differences in people groups is based on genetic (inherent) intellectual superiority. Particularly in addressing Western culture, he states, “Today, segments of Western society publicly repudiate racism. Yet many (perhaps most!) Westerners continue to accept racist explanations privately or subconsciously.”[7]

In an interview with NPR (National Public Radio) Diamond was questioned about how his research impacted the racial aspect, specifically when attempting to “explain why some societies conquered others?”[8] Diamond was asked to respond to the apparent reluctance of historians to address the subject as they “are somewhat embarrassed.” Diamond responded:

I think that’s part of it. To talk about why some societies conquered others, it’s not nice. History is full of lots of horrible stuff. And many people – including historians, not surprisingly – feel uncomfortable about even acknowledging or discussing the subject. But that’s a shame because if you don’t provide what the actual explanation is, people are going to fall back on the transparent racist explanation. Mainly, they’ll say some people have different colored skins and different forms of hair and different eyes.

We can see that, and, therefore, it’s natural to assume that inside those skins, there are different brains. And therefore, people fall back on the transparent racist explanation even though there’s no evidence for it.

Clearly the research refutes any possible racist stance for the differences in achievement by people groups. This remains a socio/political issue in American society today. Unfortunately there remains a vestige (deeply rooted) of a racist idealism that would attribute issues such as test score failure, dropout rates and other achievement criterion to superior ability while ignoring environment, culture and geography that determines what we do and how we achieve.

Additional observations:

  1.  I ought to note that I do not have the same perspective on the creation and creativity of humanity that is espoused by Diamond. He seeks and “ultimate cause” in his research; he acknowledges that scientific methodology, can never achieve or discover “ultimate cause or purpose.” I can accept, without reservation, the thesis that superiority, achievement or value is not a construct of race. I can also allow for the evolutionary perspective that many hold and interpret as the method and means for the “ultimate cause” to create. I can and do, however, take the perspective that YHWH, the God of the Bible, both created and re-creates. Throughout YHWH’s Word there is no reference to race nor is there racist treatment. All creation is good and is a part of YHWH’s redemptive plan. From faith perspective, I can take the same stand that Diamond takes as a biology evolutionist, “the difficulties seem to me not fatal.”[9]
  2. D.W. Bebbington in Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s approaches his writing from a similar perspective as Diamond; to address the lack of historical research and the impact of research on Western society. The historical time frame and the people focus are, of course, different but the approach and objectives are similar.  “The Evangelicals of Britain have been neglected,” as he affirms his intention to “fill a gap by providing an overall survey of the movement.”[10] William Sachs, in reviewing Bebbington’s work, notes the neglect when he states “… evangelicalism has been an elusive obsession for historians.”[11]
  3. In reviewing the differences between historical (social) science and non-historical science, Diamond notes four specific variances in research: “…methodology, causation, prediction, and complexity.”[12]  It seems to me, this provides some insight into research which is particularly applicable for LGP4’s context.  It is an interesting study to correlate the research problem, question, ministry application, theory, and methodology that comprises Guns, Germs and Steel, with the process we are presently undergoing.[13] I feel there is dimensional insight in Diamond’s thoughts on causation, prediction and complexity.

[1] The Pulitzer Prizes – Columbia University, 1998 Winners and Finalists, The Pulitzer Prizes. (accessed May 6, 2014).

[2] W.W. Norton, 1997. The 1998 Pulitzer Prize Winners, The Pulitzer Prizes. (accessed May 5, 2014).

[3] Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel:The Fates of Human Societies (London, UK: Vintage, 2005) Kindle, 71.

[4] Ibid., 374

[5] Ibid., 351-352.

[6] Ibid., 6537-5638

[7] Ibid.,  225.

[8] Diamond, “Understanding History With ‘Guns, Germs, And Steel’,” Talk of the Nation, (NPR), Sept. 3, 2012.

[9] Ibid., Guns…, 6813.

[10] D.W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (New York, NY, Rutledge:1989) Kindle, 68.

[11] William Sachs, “Book review, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s” Journal of Religion, 72, no. 1, (1992), 114-116

[12] Diamond, Guns… 6824.

[13] William R. Myers, Research in Ministry (Chicago, IL: Exploration Press, 1997).

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