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Science agrees with the Bible: To err is human

Tests conducted by scientists show that humans are incapable of walking in a straight line

I recently came across an article entitled Without landmarks, humans can’t walk in a straight line. While the title didn’t specifically say it, the logical conclusion is that even if we’re sober, we can’t walk in a straight line on our own. We need help. The article uses the word “landmarks” to describe that help.

What are landmarks? They’re not just the Statue of Liberty or the Eiffel Tower. When the early settlers headed west across the American prairie, they depended on the sun, moon and stars. When the Rocky Mountains came into view, they could set their sights on a specific peak. Sometimes they followed a river. More to our personal situation, we all depend on landmarks just to get from one room of our house to the other, to walk down a hallway. Our eyes are constantly sending signals to the brain, which in turn is constantly making course corrections so we not only avoid tripping over a coffee table, but we can actually walk straight down a hallway. Try walking across your living room when all the lights are out. If you’ve ever done that barefooted, I feel your pain. There may only be one chair or table in the room, but in the dark your toe or shin is sure to find it.

What scientists have found

Studies conducted by researchers in Germany and other countries have confirmed one undeniable fact: whenever human beings try to walk in a straight line while blindfolded, or when clouds hide the stars and moon at night, or rain and fog hide the sun by day, human beings will invariably walk in circles.

1 - GPS tracking of hikers - Jan Souman/Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics- Source: NPR article

In one study, hikers, apparently unblindfolded, were sent out with instructions to walk in as straight a line as possible. When the weather was cloudy and the visibility was low, the GPS tracking of their hikes is shown in the blue lines. The yellow line tracks a hiker that walked a pretty straight line, after the first 15 minutes when the sun came out from behind clouds. Similar tests were done in the desert, with the same results, depending on whether the moon was hidden by clouds or not. Blindfolded people on a beach cannot walk in a straight line.

The researchers concluded:

Humans, apparently, slip into circles when we can't see an external focal point, like a mountain top, a sun, a moon. Without a corrective, our insides take over and there's something inside us that won't stay straight.  (Emphasis mine)

Personal experience confirms it

Men I worked with in prison ministry were adamant that once they were out, they would “go straight”. More often than not, they did go straight, straight back to what they had been before. “Something inside them wouldn’t stay straight”. Criminals are called crooks for a reason.

Even before I read the article, I was already making spiritual applications of this human tendency to stray from the straight and narrow.

"Be guided by your inner light" -- Bad move

What about the advice we hear so often? “Just follow your heart.” As well-meaning as that may be, it is extremely untrustworthy.

The Bible says,

“The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable—who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17.9

The heart is a deceitful guide, and those who follow it blindly are doomed to wander about in circles. Like many of the subjects in the tests, they often end up right back where they began. Be wary of “following the science”, too. Science can do a tremendous job of gathering data, but it often fails miserably in explaining the how and why of the facts. That’s the case in these studies. A number of hypotheses have been tested to explain why we behave this way, but all of them have proven false. Researchers have yet to find the reason why humans cannot walk in a straight line without an external focal point. “External” is the key word here. That’s why the heart is a poor guide for us.

One of my fellow English teachers in Madeira was an avid proponent of oriental meditation, yoga, Buddhist teachings, and New Age techniques. His advice for dealing with challenges in life was “look within yourself to find the answer.” It’s the “God-is-in-you” approach. The circuitous wanderings of people who have no external point of reference in field tests is indicative of the fallacy of the “inner you” approach in living our lives.

Look out, if you don't look up

There is a passage in the NT that I believe illustrates this point:

26“Just as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be in the days of the Son of Man: 27People went on eating, drinking, marrying and giving in marriage until the day Noah boarded the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. 28It will be the same as it was in the days of Lot: People went on eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building. 29But on the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all. 30It will be like that on the day the Son of Man is revealed." Luke 17.26-30

As Jesus foretells His return and the destruction that will come upon the world, He refers to the days of Noah and Lot, when God’s wrath was poured out on the human race. In Noah’s day, man’s thoughts were only evil continually; the conditions in Sodom in Lot’s day are memorialized in the very name that describes a certain lifestyle condemned by God. But when Jesus describes those days, what are the sins He lists? “Eating, drinking, marrying and giving in marriage” in Noah’s day; “eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building” in Lot’s day. Sins?! Wait a minute, we say. Those are the things that life is all about. Exactly. They are the normal things that make up our lives, and they are not sinful, but if we make them the essence of our lives, we will fall into a bog of immorality, just as those generations did.

Let’s update the language to something more in line with our everyday experience. I challenge you to concentrate on the screen of your cell phone and walk even one minute in a straight line without looking up. Even if what you’re looking at on your phone is not evil in itself, if it commands all your attention, you are doomed to bump into the lady coming down the same aisle at Walmart with a shopping cart. Voice of experience speaking now. Or try crossing a busy street without looking away from your cellphone. I won’t dare you, because someone might be foolish enough to try it.

Why were the generations of Noah’s and Lot’s days so evil? They were engrossed in the lives they were living, their eyes fixed on the horizontal view of an ever-changing scenario, like the culture we live in. They lost their moral compass as they failed to look up to the unchanging landmarks of the heavenly setting. Sailors of old looked up to the stars for direction on seas that were featureless and moved by currents that were always changing. When humans stop focusing on the moral absolutes of the Word of God, they wander aimlessly and there are no boundaries for the depths of immorality and uncertainty they will fall victim to.

Because we are prone to wander, we need a goal post to aim for

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but you can’t do it if you don’t know where the end point is. That is what the Word of God is for. It establishes the endpoint for us. “I press towards the mark,” said the apostle Paul. “26Therefore I do not run like one who runs aimlessly or box like one beating the air.” 1 Corinthians 9.26

The old hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”, is probably not sung much anymore, and when it is, the “Ebenezer” of its second stanza has most likely been surgically removed and replaced with an updated wording. After all, no one nowadays knows how to raise their “Ebenezer”, because they don’t know whether they even have one. But there’s a line in the third stanza that summarizes my point here: “Let thy grace, Lord, like a fetter, Bind my wand’ring heart to Thee: Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love.”

That’s it in a nutshell. We are prone to wander. So easily we leave the God we love. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53.6 KJV

History does not repeat itself

Many years ago, I read the 6-book series The Hinges of History by Thomas Cahill. After reading Book 1 How the Irish Saved Civilization, I was hooked and had to read the other 5 books. But of all of them, it was perhaps Book 2, The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels, that made the greatest impact on me. The main point I took away from the book was that up until the Jews came along with their holy writings, human history was always interpreted as being an endless cycle of events. In some cultures, history was visualized as a wheel, the “history repeats itself” view of human events; Eastern religions teach the endless cycle of reincarnation. It was the Biblical revelation that in the beginning not only did God create the world and all that is in it, but He also has a purpose that leads to a definite consummation. There is a final judgment, and even though there is an endless eternity beyond, for those who align themselves with that purpose, eternity will be an ongoing revelation of God’s grace, as opposed to a continuing cycle of boring reruns on celestial television.

The Word of God is the only place we will find the landmarks we need to walk straight before God and straight towards God in this crooked world. As Paul wrote to the Colossians, “1If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” Col. 3.1-2

It's the only way we can live with peace of mind and a calm assurance In Times Like These.

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