Tower of Babel and Human Progress?


Salvete, omnes!

The passage in Genesis which describes the building of the Tower of Babel seems to suggest that man, by this time, had made significant progress in terms of civilization and had thus gotten to the point where they thought themselves capable building a tower to heaven (or “the sky”?, perhaps even suggesting merely a very tall tower?). For instance, men were said to have been using better material to build such things than they had previously used.

If God differentiated the languages of those people for building the Tower, then does God actually frown upon human progress? As I understand it, the Church has interpreted this passage as God punishing men for building it. Was He punishing them for increasing in knowledge to this point? Many have said that the punishment was for their pride, but, did not their pride result from the progress they had already made, making them rely less and less on God?

If human progress (particularly that in terms of knowledge/technology) leads to less and less a reliance on God, again, does God frown on such progress? Even if He doesn’t frown on it per se, does He set any kind of limit on it so that our pride will not increase to such an extent that we either rely to little on Him or not at all? I suppose one could answer this by saying that, if we were to increase to some prohibited limit, God would do the same kind of thing He did at Babel to (as I’ve always seen it) create a “stop-gap” measure so that we would not have the capability to increase to that point? Indeed, I’ve always thought that the language differentiation was perhaps less a punishment and more a preventative for keeping our pride down by decreasing our ability to make progress as a species because of the diversity of the languages and, thus, the lack of every person to communicate with every other. One might also argue that, since the gates of Hell will never prevail against God’s Church, our pride will never increase to such a degree as completely to separate us from a need for God.

I guess, in sum: Is human progress permissible in God’s eyes? If so, why? Is there any limit to this progress? If so, why and what is the limit?


Human progress is fine as long as folks don’t think it puts us up at God’s level: “your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Uh-huh.


I don’t think God frowns upon progress in the literal meaning of the word; however, it is quite obvious God would frown upon current Western progressive values that are nothing more than sin and personal human selfishness.

The problem with the Tower of Babel story is not that man was capable of building a tall building of sorts, it had to do with their intention and arrogance behind it.

Catholic teaching, which is very much in tune with natural law, holds intention in determining sin as very important in most cases.

I cannot see how God would have disapproved of a tower like that if it were meant as a hospital for widows and orphans.


Ive wondered about this before too, if the people at that time were getting to a point where they didnt need God anymore, then either we have been wrong about history or something else is wrong…?? I cant understand why God would not ‘kick modern societies’ down a notch or two!! If ever there was a time when so many people felt they did not need God, it is definitely NOW…yet God does nothing…??

The more I read, the more I see God doing lots of things back then, but not too much in recent times.


One interpretation of Babel is that the sin did not lie in building the tower, but in the failure to spread through the world after the flood, as was the will of God.



Well, there has been PLENTY of corrupt companies that have done horrible things to lots of people, taken advantage of many people, etc yet still they have been able to construct huge skyscrapers with no problems…? where is God?


It has nothing to do with technological progress. It is about where you get your identity and purpose, whom you serve and how you attempt to get to heaven.

Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth." (Genesis 11:4)

All through the Bible, people get their identity and purpose from whomever names them. The master names the servant all through the Bible… God names man. Man names the beasts. God gives Abram his new name Abraham. Pharaoh renames Joseph. Jesus names Peter.

The people of Babel try to make a name for themselves. Instead of getting their identity and purpose from God, they draw their identity and purpose from themselves, serve themselves and answer to themselves.

They try to build a tower to heaven. They think that their own ingenuity and work will get them to heaven. Mankind hasn’t changed - some think that science or technology or politics is the answer to our problems instead of turning to God for the answer.



The reason God confounded and mixed up the language of man at babel was not because He frowns upon human progress! To the contraire, God wishes for man to move forward and better be able to help our fellow brothers in Christ through human achievement ! God doesn’t wish for us to be stuck in the Dark Ages and suffer! He confused mans language at babel because man began to gain pride. Mankind thought that they didn’t need God, that their greatness came from themselves and not Him. They didn’t realize that they are nothing without God! It was a sin of pride that lead to their demise, not a selfish and jealous God


God is everywhere!

We live in a world where free will operates. We are in a time of fierce spiritual warfare.

We, as believers, can evangelize by allowing our Lord Jesus Christ to sanctify us!

His grace is available, we have the means.

Mary, Seat of Wisdom…Pray for us!


Would God, then, in principle, have been against the creation of great empires such as that of Rome or Greece, which shared, by in large, a common language (at least in terms of culture and conducting official business). As states, they also shared politically common purposes. The men of these empires indeed built large cities and great works in them. (Let’s leave aside for a moment the brutality involved in these and other empires. I’m just speaking of the ancient imperial model as it expresses what I just pointed out.) Indeed, does not Sacred Scripture say that God Himself(?) raised these empires (“kingdoms”) up? Or, is this to be interpreted merely as God in His providential rather than direct action, so that He could allow something which HE considered sinful to rise for some greater good?

Still further, what are we to say of our own times, when English is quickly becoming the universal language throughout much of the world. Culturally, we are also becoming quite similar. In many ways, we are becoming one people. If God wished for man to be scattered as this interpretation says, does He really approve of this modern state of affairs?

If God wished people to be scattered across the world (and, thus, separated from one another), does He either approve of the vastness of ancient empires/kingdoms with similar culture/aims/languages, and does He approve of the current state of affairs where the world, by in large, shares in a common language and culture?


As far as God not wishing to hinder human progress, we must consider the following verse:

"And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.” (Genesis 11:6, RSVCE)

Here, it does seem to be that God has some problem with human progress.

So, to those of you who say that God is fine with human progress, how do you answer this verse?


The people living at the time God did what he did with the tower of Babel had free will too…so whats the difference in todays world? Even without the technological progress part, modern man is STILL trying to make a name for themselves without God, in the same way those people back then did…only difference, God intervened back then…he just will not do this today. Obviously he saw the need to intervene in the manner he did…so something has changed between then and now…??


Good points.

My thought on this has been that God limited our potential for “too much” progress at the time when He confused our languages so that, no matter how far we progress, we will still be within the “limits” of progress that He sovereignly and providentally set for us when He confsued our languages. In other words, He knows that, by confusing our languages, no matter how far we progress, no matter how many people learn the same language, no matter how much we cooperate with each other across national boundaries, we will never advance to a degree beyond which He does not wish us to advance, so that we are not in danger of entirely ceasing to rely on God. Indeed, if you look at the explicit reason given in the verse I cited above which seems to be one of limiting our progress, this could support this argument. In this way, He balances our free will with any potential within it for us to advance to such a degree as, collectively, to lose proper reliance on God, whatever He ordains that to be. So, therefore, the passage is less prescriptive than descriptive, at least in the sense that it is not directly prohibiting, say, learning other languages or even expanding kingdoms/cultural influence. The only way I would say that this is prescriptive is to teach us that God considers human pride so dangerous that He would limit us in this way.

(Indeed, as a languageand classics enthusiast myself, I have struggled with this passage in the past in light of my learning various languages and taking an interest in great empires such as Greece and Rome. The above is how I ahve attempted to understand this passage for these my purposes.)

Hope that makes sense.

In this interpretation, both the state of things in vast empires of yore and the state of things today would be permissible, since they, according to God’s Sovereign determination, will not take us beyond the bounds of what He deems acceptable for our progress as determined by the confusion of our languages at Babel.

What do others think about tis argument? Strengths of it? Weaknesses? Does it sound like a proper understanding? Do you think there is a better one?

Indeed, is there any support, explicit or implicit, in Scripture, church teaching, etc. for vast kingdoms/empires (save for statements of God raising them up, which could have, as I have previously pointed out, other meanings)? What about the state of things today to which I have previously alluded?

Of cvourse this whole argument rests on us having “faith” that someone won’t eventually develop a “universal translator” and we’re rather right back to where we’ve started…! Though, I guess, even in this case, perhaps not every single human would have access to such and therefroe not every person could understand every other. There is still the possibility that everyone might eventually have the ability to understand each other…? Of course, even then, God may find some other way of limiting us. What do you think?


I believe He intervenes in different ways today. He loves us perfectly and always knows what is best for us. We have everything we need to change, His grace, Sacred Scripture, Blessed Mother, saints interceding, and our guardian angels inspiring us.

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