I just finished an excellent book by James Le Fanu entitled Why Us? How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves. Le Fanu, winner of the Los Angeles Times prize for scientific writing in 2000, gives a readable survey of modern evolutionary theory, genetic research, and scientific explorations of the brain. He demonstrates that Darwinism fails as an explanatory theory and operates more like a religious creed. He points out that, for all we have learned through the explorations of the genetic code and the human brain, the human being is as much a mystery to us as ever (and in some ways even more so).
The Human Genome Project and brains scans have not explained why humans are, well, human. Indeed, these endeavors demonstrate that we will never fully be able to understand or explain ourselves. Le Fanu says that, after all our research, we still are left with five fundamental mysteries, which I’ll list as brief bullet points.
- The Mystery of Subjective Awareness. The brain receives a “barrage of colorless photons and soundless pressure waves” that it is able to organize into a coherent “world” that we perceive. We don’t understand how it is that we can understand.
- The Mystery of Free Will. How do non-material thoughts activate the synapses of the motor cortex of the brain, causing a person to act and do in a certain way? There’s much more going on than mere chemistry.
- The Mystery of the Richness and Accessibility of Memory. How does the brain capture and store experiences, available (more or less) for recall many years later? Le Fanu quotes neurobiologist Robert Doty: “The seemingly limitless and enduring capacity of human memory is a deep mystery in itself. It is this facility to sort with such alacrity and choice among the items of a lifetime, pursue in milliseconds obscure, half forgotten episodes and their cascading associations that presently defies credible clarification.”
- The Mystery of Human Reason and Imagination. How does our brain create “reasoned thoughts, infused by a powerful moral sensibility?” What exactly is imagination, and how are we able to use it to create mental images that our senses have never perceived?
- The Mystery of the Self. What exactly is “that non-material being that seems so convincingly to be located just between and above the eyes, that both looks outwards to the external world yet presides over that inner life of subjective impressions and actions”?
We change through the years, and in some ways dramatically, yet it is the same “self” that continues through the changes. For science, these remain as mysteries. Le Fanu shows that the materialist worldview cannot be true. For all the amazing capabilities of the brain, it does not explain the mind. Each person really is more than the sum of his or her parts. In short, humanity is the exquisite creation of God, and the reflector of His image (Gen 1:26).