Ya Ain’t So Smart…

It is sometimes useful to be reminded that we aren’t as smart as we sometimes delude ourselves into thinking. And this has considerable bearing on ministry and on theology. What reminded me of this was two-fold. Yesterday, I was teaching Cultural Anthropology, and my students kept asking questions that I could not answer. Truthfully, most of the questions were ones that no one could answer— or at least answer with justified confidence.

Today, as I was throwing away papers in preparation of our house move, and I found an old test from my days in the Nuclear Navy. The test claimed to be the “Naval Reactors Aptitude Test.” Even though I was given the test approximately three decades ago, I was never actually required to do the test. That and the fact that it is one of the few documents I have seen come out of US Naval Reactors lacking a classification stamp makes me suspect that maybe— just maybe— the test was not meant to be taken completely seriously. Regardless, it is a good reminder that “ya ain’t so smart.” Here is the test. (Remember that the test is at least 30 years old since a couple of the questions are a wee bit out of date.)


Instructions:  Read each question carefully. Answer all questions. Time limit 4 hours. Begin immediately. Work in numerical order (equipment remaining from question 1 may prove useful with questions 3 and 6).

  1.  Medicine. You have been provided with a razor blade, a piece of gauze and a bottle of Scotch. Remove your appendix. Do not suture until your work has been inspected. You have 15 minutes.

  2. History. Describe the history of the Papacy from its origin to the present day, concentrating especially but not exclusively, on its social, political, economic, religious, and philosophical impact on Europe, Asia, America, and Africa. Be brief, concise, and specific.

  3. Public Speaking. Two thousand drug-crazed aborigines are storming the classroom. Calm them. You may use any ancient language except Latin or Greek.

  4. Biology. Create life. Estimate the difference in subsequent human culture if this lifeform had been created 500 years earlier, with special attention to its probable effect on the English Parliamentary system.

  5. Music. Write a piano concerto. Orchestrate and perform it with flute and drum. You will find a piano under your seat.

  6. Engineering. The disassembled parts of a high-powered rifle have been placed in a box on your desk. You will also find an instruction manual printed in Swahili. In 10 minutes, a hungry Bengal tiger will be admitted to the room. Take whatever action you feel is appropriate. Be prepared to justify your decision.

  7. Sociology. What sociological problems might accompany the end of the world? Construct an experiment to test your theory.

  8. Management Science. Define management. Define science. How do they relate? Create a generalized algorithm to optimize all managerial decisions. Assuming a 7600 CPU supporting 50 terminals, each terminal to activate your algorithm, design the communications interface and all necessary control problems.

  9. Economics. Develop a realistic plan for refinancing the national debt. Trace the possible effects of your plan on these areas: Cubism, the Donatist controversy, and the wave theory of light.

  10. Psychology. Based on your knowledge of their works, evaluate the emotional stability, degree of adjustment and repressed frustrations of each: Alexander of Aphrodinias, Ramses II, Gregory of Nicea, and Hammurabi. Support your evaluation with quotations from each man’s work. It is not necessary to translate.

  11. Epistemology. Take a position for or against truth. Prove the validity of your position.

  12. Classical Physics. Explain the nature of matter. Include in your answer an evaluation of the impact of the development of mathematics on science.

  13. Modern Physics. Produce element 107. Determine its half-life.

  14. Energy Resources. Construct a working fusion reactor.

  15. Philosophy. Sketch the development of human thought. Estimate its significance, and compare with the development of any other kind of thought.

  16. General Knowledge. Describe in detail, briefly.

  17. Extra Credit. Define the universe. Give three examples.

Actually, it is good to remember that one is not that smart. Our identity as humans starts from the recognition that we are not God. We are limited beings— limited in time, space, power, knowledge, and understanding.

This is true in terms of theology as well. Stephen Bevans suggests that in all theological reflection, we must be humble. Millard Erickson describes good theology as tentative. Some might balk at this. Many theologians (arm-chair or otherwise) and ministers seem to be awfully certain that what they believe is true. Their argument for this confidence is often built around the logic that they simply believe what God revealed in His word. That may seem sound. If the Bible is fully reliable, it may seem reasonable to suggest that our own theology should also be fully reliable. The problem is that theology is a contextual interpretation of divine revelation. As such it is a human construct. So a person who is 100% confident in their own theology is 100% confident that they can comprehend and interpret God’s message and intentions as it applies to their own context.

Frankly, none of us are that smart. A bit of humility, recognizing our limitations is a wise start to hermeneutics, theological reflection, and ministry. Our faith should be in God, not in ourselves.

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