Updated: Dec 4, 2022
Do you know the science fiction story by Daniel Keyes, "Flowers for Algernon"? It’s about a mouse, named Algernon that lives in a laboratory. The research scientists give him a shot, and Algernon gets smart, very smart. Then the scientists give a man willing to undergo the experiment a shot as well. He wasn’t very intelligent; in fact, he was literally an idiot. They asked him to keep a journal, a request with which he faithfully complies. His beginning entries are barely legible, because he is barely literate. But as the drug works the same wonders on him it did on Algernon, he becomes very smart, a veritable super-brain. His entries grow into articulate philosophical musings, increasing exponentially in insight until he is barely understood by the scientists who seem like simple children to him. One would think that the story is perfect, until a flaw appears. Then again, perhaps the story is perfect, because it is so true to life, filled with poignancy that moves the reader to tears even as it hardens her to the unjust vicissitudes that constitute life.
What happens? Spoiler alert! Algernon begins to age rapidly, more rapidly than a mouse should. And he loses his nearly human intelligence, lapsing into the ignorance you would expect only from a mouse. Then Algernon dies. But wait! The story is not over. The man journaling his genius thoughts realizes that what happened to the mouse will soon be happening to him. And all too quickly, he loses the Promethean gifts imparted to him. He lapses back into idiocy; his notes revert into scrawls. And along with this mental regression his age accelerates, but without the prescience of his own impending demise (how could he know when he’s become a dunce again?). One of the final entries in his journal records an act of compassion. He brings flowers to the place where Algernon is buried.
Where is the genius? The genius…left. It went the way of many scientific “discoveries,” but not without leaving its imprint of suffering in the heart of humanity. Yes, I am thinking of the scientific "advances" many of us recognize more properly as the horrors of legalized abortion, the scandals of forced vaccinations, the prolific betrayals of politics and science on the people of the world. Whatever gifts of genius we are blessed with—such gifts are at best imperfect, lent us, and then they will be taken back that we may recognize through acts of stupidity and violence our own fallen human nature. I’m sorry that the mouse is gone, that his day is over. This expertly crafted story leaves us with an empty feeling of what we could be—might be once again, with the right mix of creative ingenuity and honest compassion marked, not by science, but by the grace of God. Having fallen greatly with sin, our great hope and promise is that many will once more rise and shine like the stars with the wisdom of old Solomon. Maybe not now, but the promise of immortality makes such dreams possible, even for humbled men and women like us.