Are We More Than Protoplasm?

Author Becky Manley was in a college biology class where the professor repeatedly insisted that human beings are nothing more than “fortuitous construct of meaningless protoplasm.” Becky tried to object to that perspective, but her statements were ridiculed as reflecting a “naïve, Christian viewpoint.” One day the professor came to the classroom obviously upset. He began his biology lecture, but after a few minutes stopped. “I am sorry,” he said, “I can’t continue. I am very troubled. Last night my 16-year-old daughter left town with a 32-year-old man. It hurts so much.” At that point, Becky raised her hand and quietly asked, “Sir, I am sorry, but I don’t understand. If your daughter is nothing more than ‘fortuitous construct of meaningless protoplasm,’ why does is matter where she is?"

After a moment, the professor responded, “Ms. Manley, you are correct. I may tell you that human beings, including my daughter, are a ‘fortuitous construct of meaningless protoplasm,’ but as a father, I don’t really believe that.”

An important test of truth is whether people can live out a particular belief and its implications. A man may claim to be able to walk through closed doors, but if he always opens doors before he walks into a room, it gives reason to believe his claim is probably not true. Princeton professor Peter Singer, an atheist, once asked, “The request to ‘feed the hungry’ seems to have the most compelling claim on us, but how rational is it?” He noted that science seems to be against feeding the hungry, because that is defeating the purpose of natural selection. Professor Singer’s full support of efforts to feed the hungry at least raises questions about whether he honestly believes human beings are merely a product of an evolutionary process of random mutation and natural selection.

Mortimer Adler, the prominent 20th century philosopher, realized that as an atheist, “there was no logical reason to treat human beings differently from any other animal. Therefore, to exploit minorities or to exterminate the homeless could not be condemned any more than the killing of steers in a slaughterhouse.” An unwillingness to embrace that naturalistic perspective is part of the reason Adler converted to Christianity.

Some folks like to say, “The universe doesn’t care about us, that is why we need to care about each other.” Yet that is really begging the question: “If human life is merely a “cosmic accident,” if, as scientific naturalism insists, it is devoid of purpose, significance, and morality, why should we devote even a moment to caring about others?” It is easy for atheists to claim that “the cosmos is all that is, was, or ever will be,” but it is much harder for them to live as if that is the reality. Most atheists care about human dignity and feeding the hungry. They love and care about their daughters and many other people. These attitudes do not, however, flow from the atheism or naturalism they claim explains the world in which we live.

What is the basis for human significance and dignity? Mortimer Adler said that one reason he abandoned atheism was Mother Teresa’s explanation of why she dedicated her life to caring for the sick and poor of Calcutta, India: “They are created by God; they deserve to die with dignity.” I would argue that the Bible’s claim that human beings they are made in the image of God, the Creator (Genesis 1:26,27) is the most rational and secure foundation for human dignity and significance, and for believing that we are much more than “a fortuitous construct of meaningless protoplasm.”
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Dan Erickson