Review of National Geographic’s Origins: Money, Communication, and War

Episodes 3–5 of Origins: The Journey of Humankind

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As mentioned in our coverage of Episode 2, we are going to look at the next three episodes of National Geographic’s Origins: The Journey of Humankind. These episodes focused on money, communication, and war.

Episode 3—“Power of Money”

Jason Silva’s opening monologue for this episode really hits the mark when he describes money as “a symbol of what we have valued and served.” The episode goes on to highlight some of the positive things that money has contributed to society, like open markets, the spread of trade between various cultures, the ability for people to escape serfdom, and to establish manufacturing and job markets. But it also highlighted the dark side of money—greed, gambling, theft, and slavery.

Exercising Power over Money or Controlled by Money?

Surprisingly, this is exactly what Scripture states, both in a positive light and a negative light. Jesus commended the widow who gave all she had, even though it was only two mites (Luke 21:1–4), for she valued the things of God above all else. Barnabas and other early Christians are mentioned as selling their possessions and laying them at the Apostles’ feet (Acts 4:34–37) so that no one in the Jerusalem church would be without the necessities of life. And Paul thanked the Philippians for their selfless giving to him, even when he was in other cities on his missionary journey (Philippians 4:10–19). These people valued money primarily as a means of offering their substance to God.

But we see the negative side of this in the Bible as well. It was the love of money that motivated the Temple moneychangers, whom Christ twice confronted (John 2:13–16 and Matthew 21:12–13). It was one of the characteristics of the Pharisees (Luke 16:14), and it was a defining characteristic of Judas Iscariot, a thief (John 12:6) who betrayed Christ for 30 pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14–16). Scripture teaches that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10), and that love of money will be a sign of apostasy (2 Timothy 3:1–5).

Most of this episode focused on historical events, such as the establishment of the Greek agoras; the silk route trade, which opened up the East; and the inventions of coinage and later paper money. Of course there had to be some evolutionary content at the beginning, when we are introduced to two tribes in Kenya in 15,000 BC. (AiG would state that these are post-Babel peoples, living sometime around 2,000 BC). These tribes are shown bartering meat for flint knives, thus avoiding warfare and establishing trade. Indeed, with the adjusted biblical timeframe, these types of trades probably developed wherever people had a resource that another lacked but could barter for. Overall, this episode shows that mankind’s history and his attitude toward money are consistent with what the Bible states.

Episode 4—“The Writing on The Wall”

Despite its biblically based title, taken from events described in Daniel 5, this episode on communication contained the most evolutionary content of the three reviewed here. Jason Silva’s opening monologue is laced with evolutionary dogma. He claims it was our mastery of communication that made “humans stand alone in the animal kingdom . . . driving our ascent from hunter-gatherers to a global civilization.”

We are then whisked away to (allegedly) 26,500 BC France to a scene of storytelling and cave painting, memorializing the tribe’s hunt. Then we’re taken to the El Castillo caves in 23,000 BC Spain where some symmetrical cave graffiti is hypothesized to be proto-hieroglyphics. Both of these locations are merely Ice Age era caves, c. 2100–1900 BC, where people were forced to live due to harsh climatic conditions.

Mankind Was Created with the Ability to Communicate

But this depiction of people starting as hunter-gatherers, living in caves, and communicating their life stories through cave paintings is not a story of human progression. It is a brief period of human retrogression. Because of sin, God judged mankind with a global Flood, and then roughly 100 years later judged them again by confusing their language and scattering them across the globe; all the while the climate was reeling from the Ice Age (itself an aftereffect of the Flood). Those who had moved to more northerly areas of Europe and Asia while the climate was warmer became “snowed in” when the Ice Age came; increased and prolonged snow fell, and summers were too cool to melt the snow and ice.

But the Bible is clear, mankind could speak and communicate right from the start (Genesis 1:27–31, 2:20–25), and writing could not have been far behind (Genesis 5:1). Mankind didn’t start out as a hunter-gatherer. Long before he ever hunted, he was a farmer (Genesis 2:15, 3:17–19) and a herder, keeping animals for sacrificial purposes and probably for clothing (Genesis 4:2-4).

The Power of the Written Word and the Spoken Word

Abruptly we move from the Ice Age to 1526 London where Tyndale’s copies of the New Testament in English are banned and being burned. Then there is a lengthy segment on the Reformation and Tyndale’s execution in 1536. It is interesting that during this segment, there is tacit admission that the Bible inspired men to put their lives at risk in order to have it printed in their native language.

From there we leap forward to the American Civil War and the role that the telegraph had in informing generals of troop and supply movements. Then we bounce to VE (Victory in Europe) Day (May 8, 1945) when, not long after, Arthur C. Clarke sketches out a diagram for orbital communication satellites. Then on to the SETI (Search for Extra Intelligence) program and a quick whisk through history to smartphones and the current instant communication digital age. All of this being done to show the power of communication for either destroying lives or bringing people together across various cultures and continents.

Keep Your Tongue from Evil, and Your Lips from Speaking Deceit (Psalm 34:13)

In fact, portions of Jason Silva’s closing dialogue echo the theme of the whole episode, and in some areas, conforms exactly to what Scripture states and warns against.

Communication gives us incredible power, the power to control reality. This was a singularity in human evolution—there was no going back. With it we can alter the perceptions of masses of people for good or for evil.

Through language, art, and music, we dream new realities and share them with the world, powering the upward spiral of civilization with new ideas. The real power of communication is not the ability to control reality; it is the ability to find eternal life.

As I heard the first part of the above quote by Jason Silva (ignoring the human evolution falsehood), I couldn’t help but think of James 3:5–10, which shows the destructive power of the tongue, or of 1 Peter 3:8–11, which calls Christians to edify and bless others with our speech. How true are the words of Proverbs 18:21: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it will eat its fruit.”

But the second part of Jason’s quote showcases human pride and an unrealistic belief in the goodness of man. We are not in an upward spiral; we are in the downward spiral mentioned in 2 Timothy 3:1–5. And it is not communication that gives us eternal life; only the gospel of Jesus Christ can do that.

Episode 5—“Progress of War”

In this episode we delve a little bit into the human psyche, and confront our heroic and our dark sides. Other than a few hyperboles tossed around by narrator Jason Silva (more on that later), this episode sticks strictly to the events of history with only one supposed evolutionary date.

Jason starts and ends with a monologue on warfare and what it does to and means for humanity. In the opening he mentions that “war pushes the envelope of technology, granting us godlike powers.” He also states that “war has made us who we are. It shapes not just our world but our destiny as a species.”

While in technological terms there is some truth to this; in many other ways, however, Jason is wrong. In many cases war has revealed how barbaric and sinful we are. And comparing the real powers of God to mankind’s warring nature and innovations is lamentable and laughable. But we also are quick to recognize that there are true war heroes, men and women who put their lives on the line for the sake of their country. Interestingly, we see this same “war hero” recognition in 2 Samuel 23, where David’s soldiers are praised and memorialized for their military accomplishments. It is proper and fitting to give honor to whom honor is due (Romans 13:7).

From Tribal Massacres to Global Empires

The episode starts off in 5000 BC (we would say c. 2000 BC) Talheim, Germany, the site of what appears to be a massacre from one tribe raiding another. Then we move to 1300 BC Tollense, Germany, to an archaeological site, which appears to be one of two armies deliberately pitting themselves against each other in pitched battle. From there we move swiftly through other notable wars, and we also pause in a few places to see how those wars shaped history.

We are taken to 1218 and the Mongol Hordes of Genghis Khan. His attack on and destruction of the Khwarazmian Empire (modern-day Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and parts of Afghanistan) opened up the Silk Road caravan route and started communication between China and the West. From there we are whisked forward 700 years to the end of WWI in 1918 and the innovations that war brought to mankind. Then we are taken to the War on Terrorism, with a reenactment of the 1993 WTC bombing and video footage of 9/11. The last segment highlights cyber warfare in the 21st century, and how potentially dangerous it can be to a nation’s infrastructure.

Can We Stop Our Warring Ways?

In his closing monologue, Jason hits on several points that Christians would agree on, and a few assumptions, which are unfortunately overly optimistic and based on a faulty evolutionary worldview.

Aggression is part of what it means to be human. Our history of violence stretches back to the dawn of humanity. War and violence still plague humanity. Can we escape their deadly attraction? If war is a human invention, can we find the will to destroy it? Ending war will depend on our ability to understand we are one species.

Yes, we are one species; we are one race and one blood descended from Adam and Eve. And we would agree that violence has plagued humanity since early on. We see this in Cain’s murder of Abel in Genesis 4:8. But it’s not just aggression that is part of humanity; sin is the root cause. Unfortunately, ending war is not dependent on our understanding that we are one species. Brother has killed brother since Genesis 4, and continues to this day. Mankind is not an evolved animal on an upward spiral to enlightenment and harmony. Man is a unique creation, made in the image of God, but fallen from perfection, marred by sin, and in rebellion against God. Mankind cannot manufacture true peace—that can only be found in Jesus Christ (Psalm 85:10; Ephesians 2:14–18; 2 Thessalonians 3:16; James 3:17–18).


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