Night Of The Living Dead

Night of the Living Dead--the title alone sends chills up one's back. In the classic horror film, the "living dead" were zombies--corpses come to life. What made them so repulsive was that their bodies worked like clockwork, but they had no minds, no consciousness. They were living machines. The notion of zombies is fiction, of course, but it illustrates a fact that has puzzled scientists for centuries: namely, why aren't human beings like zombies? Why aren't we merely living machines? Why do we have minds and consciousness? The question of consciousness was explored during a recent conference at the University of Arizona. And it became obvious that for scientists who accept evolution, attempts to explain human consciousness have reached a dead end. The problem with consciousness is that we don't seem to need it. For the success of Darwinian evolution, all essential biological functions could be entirely automatic. Think of it this way: If you put your hand on a hot stove, sheer reflex pulls it away--before you feel any pain. And biologically speaking, that's all that matters. Conscious awareness of pain--thinking, Ouch, I burned myself--is completely unnecessary. So why are humans conscious of things like pain and flavors, smells and colors? Why would evolution select for something that is biologically useless? The puzzle is put well by David Chalmers of the University of California in his book The Conscious Mind. The only thing natural selection requires is that every creature reproduce, Chalmers writes. Evolutionary success is defined as leaving the most offspring. And leaving offspring doesn't take mental awareness. Even tiny bacteria reproduce quite effectively, without a hint of conscious awareness. The upshot is that we could all just as well be zombies--creatures that act and respond to stimuli, without any subjective awareness of what we're doing. As Chalmers writes, "evolution alone cannot explain why conscious creatures rather than zombies evolved." In a similar vein, biologist John Maynard Smith admits that the problem of consciousness has him "stumped." A confirmed atheist, Smith is quoted in the London Times, saying that on this issue he's almost tempted to believe in God. As he puts it, "I've never had a particular wish to find a refuge in God, but if I did it would be because of the philosophical issue of consciousness." My advice to people like Smith is simple: Give in to the temptation. Where evolutionary biology fails to explain consciousness, Christian faith gives a clear and reasonable answer. The Bible begins with a personal God, who thinks, feels, and responds--a God who created human beings in his image, which means we are also personal beings, who think, feel, and respond. As the Westminster Confession puts it, we were created to glorify God and enjoy him forever. If you have friends or family who are atheists, press them to reconsider. Evolution might be adequate to produce zombies, but it cannot explain the most basic facts of human experience--why we feel joy and sorrow, appreciate a sunset, or enjoy the pungent taste of an orange. Those are things no zombie will ever be able to do.


Chuck Colson



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