Are Savants a Reflection of Earlier Times?
The quest of modern science is to discover the 'missing link' of our beginnings and existence. Their theory is that we have grown or evolved from lesser to greater, from non-intelligent to intelligent life. There is a significant group within our population that may defuse this theory in favour for a creationist worldview. These individuals possess rare intelligence unknown in the rest of the population. Their intelligence is not acquired but 'wired'; it's just there. They could not learn their knowledge even if opportunity existed for they are either autistic or mentally challenged. They are called savants. Some are concluding that their islands of genius are a throwback (known as atavism) to a former time, as when Adam and Eve and descendants walked the earth as mental giants, and that savants represent the abilities God gave humans at creation but ones we have since lost due to man’s fall into sin.
Society holds this unknown treasure within its embrace, not of its choosing or making but that of its Creator. The treasure captured by the most vulnerable of all, our children, and not any child, but a developmentally challenged child is a wonder. We often think of a gifted child as a well balanced person, perfectly coordinated -- someone like Wayne Gretzky, Steve Nash, or Tiger Woods. Gifts do not always come perfectly wrapped. Disappointments are often God's appointments.
Jesus compared entrance into the kingdom of heaven to the simplicity of a child. Likewise He spoke of it as a hidden treasure being discovered, or a pearl of great price being purchased and developed. The Apostle Paul catches this imagery as he describes our earthen bodies as containers of the glory of God. (Matt. 18:1-4; 13:44-46; 2 Cor. 4:7)
In the end we must ask ourselves, do savants in their own way represent the incredible abilities God intended all men to have at creation?
What is Savant Syndrome?
Savants are individuals with astounding abilities usually in one area such as math or music and yet are incredibly challenged in other areas.
Interestingly the word 'savant' means a person of profound or extensive learning; a learned scholar in a particular subject. But when combined to some form of mental disability the word was used describing someone referred historically as idiot savants. At that time, the term idiot was an accepted scientific term for IQ below 25. The term idiot savant has since fallen into disrepute. Almost all reported cases now occur in persons with IQ above 40. The term Savant Syndrome has been substituted and widely accepted.
Savants have been known throughout history, having been reported as early as 1751. The term 'savant' was not applied to these special people until 1887 by Dr. J. Langdon Down, the man known for having named Down's Syndrome.
In recent years savants are looked upon with interest as medical science seeks to understand 'savantism'.
Islands of Genius
Savants, among other special skills, are able to memorize facts, numbers, license plates, maps, sports and weather trivia. They can recall perfectly a very long sequence of music, numbers, or speech. Or, estimate distances and angles by sight and calculate the day of the week for any given date going a long way back. Others tell time without the assistance of a clock.
Prodigious savants are very rare persons whose genius is so high that it would be spectacular to be found in a non-handicapped person. Probably fewer than 50 of these are presently living today.
Savantism is usually recognized during childhood. It has also been discovered in adults whose left side of the brain has been injured or impaired. Some suggest that these highly intelligent abilities can be induced, supporting the view that within everyone are these powers, hidden and undeveloped. By stimulating the cranial neurons, temporarily disrupting the left front part of the brain, researchers are theorizing that savant-like skills can be increased in a healthy individual. While no single theory can explain all savants one consistently rises to the top: left brain injury with right brain compensation. If savantism can be acquired - without the disability - scientific research may be taking us forward in our potentiality and back to what Man originally was.
Savant Syndrome is not normally a disorder or disease. Amazingly, it is having extraordinary skills and memory grafted onto an already existing brain dysfunction or nervous system disorder. Let’s take a look at what some of these savants are capable of doing.
Meet Mr. & Ms. Savant
* Ask KIM PEEK and he will give your day of birth, your present year's birthday, and the year and the day you will turn 65. Ask him for the telephone area codes in Alabama and all major zip codes in Ontario, ask him for all American TV stations and their markets, ask him to identify the classical music compositions and when the music was written and the composer's birth date and place of birth and death, and if you have the time Kim will gladly tell you all that and more.
* Concerning GEORGE WIDENER, John Hendricks, the world's most prolific and published magic squares mathematician, relates this incident on the Wisconsin Medical Society's website, "George Widener sat outside the library in the drizzly afternoon, where a documentary film crew has just finished a calendar calculation contest between him and a former NASA engineer. While the engineer has access to complex algorithms and a laptop, George has only the information found in his head. As dates spanning thousands of years were read aloud, the engineer scribbled fiercely, tapping his computer with increasing frustration. "Looks like a Thursday," George answered within seconds, sometimes almost before the host finished speaking. And, every single time, he was right."
* BRITTANY MAIER is a very accomplished female prodigious musical savant. Beginning at age 5, she played "twinkle, twinkle little star" on a children's toy keyboard. Brittany soon progressed into "Ave Maria", "Phantom of the Opera" and others. Around age ten, she began composing her own music, playing by ear, and performing for audiences. Her genre has grown to over 15,000 songs, most of which she learned after only hearing them a few times.
* DANIEL TAMMET says "numbers are my friends" and has massive memory skills. On international Pi Day he recited, from memory, Pi to 22,514 decimal places, in just over five hours. This set a new European record. His exceptional language skills include French, German, Spanish, Lithuanian, Esperanto and Icelandic. When told to master the difficult Icelandic language he did so in seven days.
* ELLEN is a blind female savant with an astonishing musical ability. Ellen has developed a vast recollection of tunes and styles. In Led Zeppelin's apassionata, 'Whole Lotta Love', Ellen was asked to replicate every voice, instrument and studio sound effect. She flawlessly accomplished the feat.
* BLIND TOM, an internationally recognized musical savant around the time of the civil war, was known as "the eighth wonder of the world" and "the greatest musical prodigy of the age". He became the most celebrated black concert artist of the 19th century. His vocabulary was less than 100 words but his musical ability was over 7000 pieces.
* ALONZO CLEMONS saw a fleeting image of a horse on a television screen and in 20 minutes had created a three-dimensional perfect replica, down to each and every detail. The puzzling thing is, Alonzo can't even feed himself or tie his shoes.
* HENRIETT SETH F, a Hungarian autistic savant, is an accomplished, highly recognized, writer, poet and artist. At age 8 Henriett's 'read' Attila Jozseff's book of poems by memory. Also at that age she played flute and played contrabass at the age of 10-12. Until the age of 13 she played in many concerts. At age 9 she was composing poems.The Image of God Among Us
In the beginning (when) God created the heavens and the earth He called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas. And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. God made the beast of the earth according to its kind, cattle according to its kind, and everything that creeps on the earth according to its kind.
Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth." The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. There (previously) was no man to till the ground. Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field.
- The Creation Story, Genesis 1 & 2
The Creation account demonstrates a simple yet profound truth, that Man - Adam and Eve, the progenitors of the human race - was created whole beings, complete in spirit, soul, and body. This wholeness is God's image and likeness. There was no lack of life or ability. His mental IQ was astonishingly intriguing. Not only was Man sufficient to manage life's directives but God distinctly gave him the responsibility and privilege of naming every animal, bird, and plant species. This is the first indication of man’s savant-like genius.
Sin has blemished our world, blighted our nature, and defected our intelligence. We use only a small percentage of what we are capable. Even through these distortions of sin early mankind showed capabilities of intelligent genius, reflections of God. Lamech married two women, Adah and Zillah. Adah gave birth to a baby named Jabal. He became the first of the herdsmen who live in tents. His brother's name was Jubal, the first musician, the inventor of the harp and flute. To Lamech's other wife, Zillah, was born Tubal-cain. He was the first to work with metal, forging instruments of bronze and iron.
And here we thought we derived from monkeys and cavemen.
It's impossible not to reflect God in some way because we are His image, whether we use our hands, minds, or voices.
The genius and skills of savants are a distinct reminder that intelligence is not man-made but God-bestowed. The prophet Isaiah spoke of a day when the incredible is accomplished with a people created for His glory. (43:7)
It is interesting to note that at Christian conversion and the entrance of the Holy Spirit our spirits are regenerated or reborn, our emotions healed, our bodies often rejuvenated, and our intellects renewed. So much so that we come into a right relationship and understanding of God and the world heretofore unknown. As if we become savants by virtue of the life and gifts of God's Spirit within. (1 Cor. 2:12,14; Rom. 8:6-8)
Our amazing God likes doing amazing things!