HUMAN BEINGS have been given the wonderful gift of consciousness. We are aware of ourselves and our environment. We are able to appreciate the aesthetic beauties of the earth. We can readily perceive the past — or think we can — and the present and the future. We have the ability to perceive good and evil.
But what are the origins of human consciousness? How and when did we come to have this marvelous gift?
Man Looks at the Problem Evolutionists have proposed to explain the origin of the physical being called man. But evolution offers no viable explanation for the existence of consciousness — not even the vastly inferior animal consciousness that was before man's. Eminent scientist and Nobel prize winner, Sir John Eccles, has said:
"The genetic code and natural selection explains quite a lot. But not how I came to exist. It doesn't explain even the origin of consciousness, even animal consciousness. If you look at the most modern texts on evolution you find nothing about mind and consciousness. They assume that it just comes automatically with the development of the brain. But that's not an answer" (International Herald Tribune, March 31, 1981).
But if evolutionists cannot really explain the existence of consciousness, the Holy Scriptures do.
God Gives the Answer The biblical book of Job contains some of the most beautiful poetic language in English literature. But the intrinsic worth of this ancient work goes far beyond mere beauty of language. It records a conversation that the man Job had with the Creator God.
The Almighty had asked the patriarch Job: "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements — surely you know!" (Job 38:4-5, RSV).
These verses reveal that intelligence vastly superior to man's was present at the time of creation. Further, the same verses show that God possessed by his very nature the marvelous attribute of consciousness. Man was nowhere around at the time. He took no part in the creation work.
Centuries after Job died the prophet Isaiah was privileged to record God's Word to the children of Israel in a similar vein. "Thus saith the Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: I am the Lord, who made all things, who stretched out the heavens alone, who spread out the earth — Who was with me?" (Isaiah 44:24).
God needed no help from any man to make the heavens and the earth. For the duration of this present age man must content himself as an intelligent observer of an already accomplished fact — the creation. However, this need not detract man from fulfilling his incredible human potential. In truth, the entire earth, as we now see it, was itself prepared for the advent of man.
Origin of Human Consciousness But how did man come to be conscious of himself and of his surroundings? The biblical book of Genesis records the simple answer: "Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being" (or a "living soul" — KJV) (Genesis 2:7).
Man is made of dust. He is earthy. And with the breath of life — the oxygen we breathe — man became a living soul. He did not have a soul inside him. He became a living soul — made of dust and breathing air with its physical life-giving oxygen.
This living, breathing man is a phenomenal creature. And it is the attribute of human consciousness that results from his breathing into his physical being oxygen that accounts for the presence of this phenomenon of man. Man is able to comprehend the complex interrelationships of space, time, mass and energy.
But of all the earth's conscious creatures that breathe, man is truly unique. He is self-aware, self-conscious — able to bring his mind to bear on the transcendent questions of life, death and his own ultimate fate. An extremely wise man once wrote: "The living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing" (Ecclesiastes 9:5). The inferior animal world has no inkling of approaching death. This knowledge is uniquely man's.
A Vast Difference There is a vast difference between human self-awareness or consciousness and animal consciousness. It has been said many times before in the pages of this magazine that comparative brain size simply does not account for the great gap in mental powers. The physical human brain is only slightly superior to the brain of a dolphin or a chimpanzee.
Recall that we quoted the words of Sir John Eccles earlier in this article. He also stated: "Chimpanzees succeed, of course, quite well, at the lower levels of language expression. They can ask for things and get them... but they don't describe.... They don't argue... They have no value system. They don't make moral decisions.... They don't worry about tomorrow. They don't know they're going to die.
"The human," Sir John argues, "is distinct from animals in possession of that elusive element of self-awareness..." (International Herald Tribune).
What then accounts for the existence of man's much greater mental powers? Again biblical revelation gives us a simple answer. The young man, Elihu, made this observation in the book of Job:
"But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand" (Job 32:8). Physical human brain alone simply does not explain mankind's enormous powers of intellect.
The spirit in man, which enters a human being with its first breath, imparts human mind power to the physical brain. It is that spirit that gives man the capacity to understand. The spirit in man, however, is not the commonly believed "immortal soul."
The spirit in man has no consciousness apart from the human brain. The spirit in man cannot perform any mental functions such as thinking or reasoning or knowing, apart from the human brain.
The Spirit in Man Vital! Human self-awareness is only possible through this nonphysical component the Bible calls "the spirit in man." It is as Sir John Eccles has written: "If my uniqueness of self is tied to the genetic uniqueness that built my brain, the odds against myself existing are 10 to the ten-thousandth against." In other words the presence of organic brain tissue alone simply cannot and does not account for the existence of human consciousness.
Consider the multiple gifts associated with human consciousness. Laughter, for instance, is uniquely human. There is no real counterpart in the animal kingdom. Only man is able to appreciate the unexpected or incongruous circumstances that bring about laughter.
Man is also able to admire beauty or to scorn the lack of it. To appreciate beauty requires meditation and contemplation — qualities not normally ascribed to animals.
Take family life. Animals simply do not marry. They raise their offspring according to preset patterns. But human beings rear their children according to certain standards of behavior that are capable of being deviated from. The marriage ceremony and the state of marriage belong exclusively to the human family. Our free article Marriage Soon Obsolete? explains the institution of human marriage in great detail.
Now we come down to the most vital attributes of human consciousness. Man has moral sense; man can perceive good and evil; man is the only creature on earth truly capable of free will. He can make a decision for good or ill. He has the capacity to build character — or to destroy it! These unique attributes bring us closer to the real reasons for human existence.
Meaning to This Life? Sir John Eccles' observations about human consciousness automatically led him to ponder the most basic and important of all questions. "What does this life mean? We find ourselves here in this wonderfully rich and vivid conscious experience and it goes on through life; but is that the end?..."
And Sir John later added: "This whole cosmos is not just running on and running down for no meaning." All of his life this eminent scientist has struggled to understand the mystery and meaning of life and labels his quest for understanding as "essentially religious."
And indeed it is! Human consciousness is not the product of a lucky accident. It is fraught with a great purpose and enormous meaning. And understand this — man's mind is a great paradox. With all of its innate complexity and intricacy, it has not solved its own problems here on earth. If the human mind took man to the moon, it also created the means for his total destruction.
You see, man's mind was made incomplete. The human spirit lacks an essential ingredient. It was made to be joined to another spirit — God's Spirit!
How the human being can receive the Spirit of God is revealed only in the Bible. No other source devised by man's thinking, reasoning or speculation can answer this greatest of all human needs — to be in contact with the eternal Life-giving Spirit of God.
Isn't it time you asked yourself why evil exists? Why is God concerned about human beings? Why were you born?
We publish an attractively printed booklet titled Why Were You Born? answering just these questions. Why not read it? It will open your mind to an understanding you never had before. The booklet is gratis!