The Corner

Doomwatch

Doomwise, I’m just a warm-up act. Here’s the main feature.

Other animals are born, seek mates, forage for food and die. That is all. But we humans — we think — are different. We are persons, whose actions are the results of their choices. Other animals pass their lives unawares, but we are conscious. Our image of ourselves is formed from our ingrained belief that consciousness, selfhood and free will are what define us as human beings, and raise us above all other creatures.

In our more detached moments, we admit that this view of ourselves is flawed. Our lives are more like fragmentary dreams than the enactments of conscious selves. We control very little of what we most care about; many of our most fateful decisions are made unbeknownst to ourselves. Yet we insist that mankind can achieve what we cannot: conscious mastery of its existence. This is the creed of those who have given up an irrational belief in God for an irrational faith in mankind.

But what if we give up the empty hopes of Christianity and humanism? Once we switch off the soundtrack — the babble of God and immortality, progress and humanity — what sense can we make of our lives?

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

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