Standing in a checkout line at the supermarket, I saw a special edition of Time magazine titled “100 Ideas That Changed the World: History’s Greatest Breakthroughs, Inventions and Theories.” Because I’m in the idea business, I was curious, so I picked it up.
Many subjects and great people didn’t make the list – those subjects are important and the great people no doubt had significant influence in world history, but this particular magazine is about ideas. Photography made the list, as did the computer. The free market, electricity, television and geometry made the list. Every major religion is on the list, including every major proponent of those religions, and, of course, every major political philosophy and central advocate showed up. I was gratified to see that Edmund Burke’s conservatism made the list and was not surprised to find opponents of conservatism, such as utilitarianism, Marxism and atheism on the list.
But I got thinking: If I had to pick just three ideas that changed the world, which three ideas would I choose? I immediately set aside technology. For me the winner is clearly electricity and all of the science that preceded its unveiling. Electricity is the single technological difference between the modern world and the developing world (with clean water a close second).
No, I stuck with what I knew best: ideas about politics, religion and culture.
So here are my choices for the three ideas that changed the world – and, not surprisingly, all three are related.
First, Aristotelian logic. Aristotle, perhaps the first conservative mind, stated that there are reasons the world works as it does and human beings exist as they do. He taught that truth exists and that it’s discoverable objectively through logical and reasonable examples and experiences from human reason. He was the first person to discuss self-evident truths. Those truths didn’t need scientific evaluation, just human reason.
My second choice is Christianity. The life, times and example of Jesus Christ turned the ancient world on its head and has given the modern world fits. Aristotle predated the central message of Christianity: the self-evident truth that all people are children of God and that every human being is endowed with dignity for that very reason. Nature’s God, the ultimate scientist, is held in contempt by progressive disciples of the scientific method. The Supreme Power who commanded everyone to love others as we love ourselves, in ultimate equality, is derided by modern advocates of equality as antiquated and bigoted.
Christianity told the world that all people are equal because all people are made in His image. It set the context for life. It held that there is one way, one truth and one reality for human existence. Indeed, it defined human happiness.
My third choice is the Declaration of Independence that became the political expression of my first two choices. Our Declaration of Independence affirms truths espoused by Aristotelian logic and Christianity – answers to what it means to be a human being and learning how to conform our behaviors to our divine identity in the context of freedom.
Those are my choices for the three ideas that changed the world. What are yours?
For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.
The above post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.
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