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Letter to the Editor: I Disagree With Ware Lecturer’s ‘Reptilian Brain’ Contention

I was in attendance at the 2018 Ware Lecture on Peacemaking, hosted by The Center for Global Understanding and Peacemaking at Elizabethtown College, to hear Karen Armstrong speak. After the lecture I purchased a copy of her book “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life,” which she autographed. I have since read the book and the article by Diane M. Bitting published in The Elizabethtown Advocate entitled “Speaker at College Promotes Compassion as Global Imperative.”

In the interview with Karen Armstrong under the heading “On Human Nature” she was asked: While compassion is part of human nature, why are people so awful to each other? In her book she writes the following, “There is no doubt that in the deepest recess of their minds, men and women are indeed ruthlessly selfish. This egotism is rooted in the ‘old brain,’ which was bequeathed to us by the reptiles that struggled out of the primal slime some 500 million years ago. These creatures were motivated by mechanisms that neuroscientists have called the “Four Fs”; feeding, fighting, fleeing, and – for want of a more basic word – reproduction.” This quote was taken from page 13 in her preface entitled “Wish for a Better World” where she also states that reptiles are our ancestors. This view seems to be more consistent with Charles Darwin’s (180982) theory of evolution then with the biblical account contained in the book of Genesis 1:26-27 “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness… So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

She writes on page 22 in a “Wish for a Better World” and I quote, “Do we want to succumb to our reptilian brain, when we have seen for ourselves what can happen when hatred, disgust, greed, or desire for vengeance consume entire groups?” I do not have a reptilian brain but I do have a sinful nature. It is true that in Genesis 3:1-24 that temptation came by way of a serpent, “any of numerous limbless scaled reptiles (sub-order Serpentes synonym Ophidia) with a long tapering body and with salivary glands often modified to produce venom which is injected through grooved or tubular fangs.”

So yes I believe that humanity has been influence by a reptilian creature as recorded in the Bible, but I charitably disagree with Karen Armstrong’s progressive evolutionary point of view. I am thankful for the Ware Lecture on Peacemaking and the discussion it has engendered on the topic of compassion and the Golden Rule as taught by Jesus Christ in “The Beatitudes,” Matthew 7:12.



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