‘Yes, that’s all we are’, said a 14-year-old girl during a science lesson. ‘Just atoms and molecules that are recycled through nature and reused, time and time again. Some of what I’m made of may once have been part of an Egyptian pharaoh. And when I die I will rot or burn and some of me may find its way into a cow or a tree, or even another human being.’
‘But what about your spirit?’ asked the teacher. ‘There’s more to you than your body.’
‘No’, replied the girl. ‘There’s nothing more.’
The teacher had no answer. She could not logically add anything spiritual to an explanation which said everything had a natural explanation. She had taught faithfully within a system which relied on human ability and kept out the spiritual from its very beginning. Starting with energy and matter it assumed that life evolved from lifeless material through chance and natural selection, and this young girl had drawn a logical conclusion. In this way of thinking she was no more than the lifeless elements of her body.
There were other implications too, the teacher found as she gave the matter more thought. If everything you do can be explained by natural hormones, electric circuits and such like, it is nonsense to talk about a ‘mind of your own’.
Your mind is no more than the workings of your brain, controlled by its physics and chemistry. There is no real ‘person’ who is ‘you’ directing ‘your’ thoughts and actions, only a collection of materials which must act in a certain way given certain conditions. There is no ‘you’ to be responsible for your actions. ‘You’ are only a tiny speck in an uncaring, boundless universe, insignificant and of no importance. There is no reason for you to be treated with respect, to be cared for in sickness, old age or adversity. Nor is there a need to be considerate of others.
Yet everything people feel and experience causes them to insist, ‘This is not so! We are real people! What we do and say is important!’
Furthermore, the teacher began to realize, in this system, where cruelty, disease and death have played a major part in the evolution of living things, nature has always been ‘cruel’. So, logically speaking, nothing can or should be done to change it.
Why then do human beings develop laws to prevent one person harming another? Why do they care for the sick and comfort the dying? Natural explanations can give no answer.
The Judeo-Christian revelation has always told us we are real persons of infinite value. Certainly we have a body, made from the dust of the earth, and that body returns to the earth when we die. But this is not all we are, for we have been made in the image of a personal God who is spirit. We are body and spirit. Though this image has been spoiled by disobedience, it has not been destroyed. What we do and say does make a difference, and we are responsible for our actions. But we are also told that God has made a way for us to become the people we were intended to be through His Son, Jesus Christ.
God has told us that cruelty, disease and death have no part in Himself. Nor were they part of His original creation. They are the consequences of a moral decision made by human beings, and will have an end. We are to fight them in every way possible.
Such a revelation leads to a logical system of thinking and agrees with human experience. It seems strange that it should be rejected for faith in a system developed by human ability which contradicts that experience, one in which life is meaningless, humanity of no importance, and cruelty, disease and death the norm.
Rather than accept the Christian answer, some have turned to the religions of the East which accept the hopelessness inherent in the evolutionary way of thinking. In their view, it is wrong to think of ourselves as real persons, separate and distinct from everything else. They seek to lose their individuality and become one with nature and the universe, to be recycled (reincarnated) until ultimately they are absorbed into the nothingness they say is behind everything.
There are those who say, ‘Why bother being logical? Let’s keep our theory of evolution up to the point it tells us we are non-persons and valueless. Let’s take a leap of faith and declare ourselves to be real persons of great value.’
Some bring in God and the human spirit at this point, as the teacher tried to do. But, as the student pointed out, you can’t bring in the spiritual when you’ve insisted on natural explanations. Those who do so are no longer being rational.
Others say, ‘Let’s suppose the atoms and molecules which everything is made from are alive—that they have feelings and emotions and a will of their own. As things evolve and get more complicated they become more alive, more able to choose what to do. This explains life, and freedom to choose, and is a natural explanation.’ It also means that all those things we think of as having no life, like rocks and water, are actually alive, and must be treated as such. In this case, human beings are on an equal footing with the animals, the plants and the environment. They have no intrinsic value. Everything and everyone is recycled, including life. All is reabsorbed into the eternal ‘wheel’.
Some say this ‘life’ is God, woven into the very fabric of things, a part of nature (pantheism). Others declare nature (including humans) to be only part of this god (panentheism). Both are similar to the Eastern religions.
The ultimate questions are these: ‘Are we meaningless specks of dust in an uncaring universe as the evolutionary theories tell us? Or are we of infinite value, making choices which matter? How do we know which way of thinking is correct?’
All thinking begins with faith and is influenced by that faith.
Faith in human ability alone has no way of knowing. As Marjorie Grene says:
‘Our most luminous certainties are grounded in the certainty that they are guesswork.’1
Such are the evolutionary theories and their implications.
But faith in the one true God who is there and has told us the truth about ourselves and our world, beginning in Genesis, leads to an understanding which agrees with our experience. We do not guess when we say that behind everything is a personal, loving God, that we are more than the materials of which our bodies are made, and that what we are and do is important.
Elizabeth East, B.Sc., Dip.Ed., taught science and biology in high schools in Australia, and is now retired. Her book, Which Way?
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