Dunblane and Deep Blue

or, Missing the Obvious

April, 1994

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Sometimes reality hits us right in the face.  The March 25th issue of Time is a case in point. 

The cover story is about the February 10 contest of chess champion Garry Kasparov with Deep Blue, the IBM super computer.  Nine valuable pages discuss the question, "Can machines think?"  Discussing the pro's and con's the writers do not appear to be certain of the answer, but seem to be certain that whatever machines do, people have "mind" and "consciousness," but probably not "souls," at least not in the sense "of a distinct, immaterial soul that governs the body for a lifetime and then drifts off to its reward."  That idea belongs to "theologians," not philosophers, and, by implication, is somewhat irrelevant.

Then, on the last page of the issue, Lance Morrow pontificates on the horror of Dunblane, where Thomas Hamilton murdered 15 children and their teacher, an insanity that has shocked the whole world.

But Morrow's analysis is significant:  "The 20th century has also learned to recognize evil in the violent eruptions of nonentities: an absolutely insignificant man bursts out of the rented room into sudden, violent, gaudy, world prominence.... 'Destroy! Destroy! Destroy! hums the unconscious.' "

That nails it: The tragedy and wickedness of the modern age.  Machines have personality and consciousness; but man is a nonentity.

If the world is a machine, then man is a machine.   The result of glorifying the Cosmos and denying the Spirit does not elevate the machine; it simply debases the spirit.   Only a personal, responsible, thinking person could have been responsible for the horror of Dunblane; and only a personal, responsible, thinking person can have fellowship with God.   The folly of thinking of man as a machine within the machine is exposed by the actions of Thomas Hamilton.  A poor, desperate, lost, and wicked human being cries out, "I am relevant.  I am not a nonentity.  I matter!"

Jesus said it, "What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and lose his soul."   We cannot give the world personhood without losing our own.  But we do not lose it absolutely.  Whatever we are, our relationship to God is always personal, for He has created us in His image.  We may deny it, but our denial will ultimately take personal form.  If we deny God, He will deny us.  His denial is awful to contemplate: He gives us over to unimaginable evil, personal, responsible, and terrible, as the Apostle warns in Romans 1.   The mind darkened from God's light is very dark indeed.  A fire, a plane crash, a bus crash--none is so terrible to us as a man shooting the tiny children--again and again and again.  The evil is too, too personal.  

What will it take for us to get it?  Not even the awful bombing in Oklahoma City had the same air of horror.  The bombers could drive away--there was an air of impersonality about it.   We still didn't get it and pontificated about militia groups and weapons.  We have such a hard time with personal, deliberate, and conscious acts of evil.  That scares us and points away from the comfort of materialism and reliable machinery.

Have we forgotten the personal horrors of Hitler's death camps; the Gulag; Cambodia?  The greatest horrors of this century were personal: perpetuated by men who thought they were machines.

This is the tragedy and wickedness of the modern man:  We pretend that man is a machine, and that machines can think.   But from time to time events occur that show how different man is from the machine:  poor, lost, desperate people cry out for significance, and their acts become more and more desperate.  If significance can only be gained by acts of horror, then those acts of horror must become more and more terrible, to compete with the increasing horror around us.  But what does it matter, if everything is machine?

The faces of the children of Dunblane look out to us hauntingly from the photograph.  But they are not the faces of machines: the light in their eyes is not a LED.   And the destruction of no machine will tear at the heart of an engineer as the sorrow that tears at the hearts of the Dunblane mothers.

No machine would have wept over Jerusalem, and no machine ever seeks the kingdom of God.  Only persons do.

Why cannot we see the obvious?

The silliness is all around us.  My wife took her first grade class to the nature center.  Seeing ants on the sidewalk the guide said, "Be careful you don't step on them.  They have as much right to live as we do."  Really?  then the deaths at Dunblane mean nothing more than stepping on ants.  By debasing men to the level of ants, we do not raise our respect for the ants.  Instead, we trivialize our own lives.

Someone writes in the paper today:  the mothers of Dunblane should sue gun manufacturers.  If there were no guns then the murders would not have happened.   In other words, the gun is just an appliance added to the machine.  Remove the appliance and the machine will do no harm.

But the problem is not in our tools: the problem is in our hearts.  Behavior is not the result of impersonal, blind, mechanical impulses, but the result of personal choice, whether it be sodomy, adultery, political corruption, or abortion.  Where is the responsibility of the father who abandoned Hamilton at 18 months, never to be bothered again?  What of the society that permits easy divorce and fleeing from responsibility?  What of a people that refuses to hold the individual accountable?  But in spite of all the other factors, Hamilton made personal choices to do evil, and those choices did not begin with the slaughter of the innocents.

Until we once again think of man with the dignity the image of God demands, and hold him responsible for his behavior, the horrors will continue to grow.  When this century is over, let the curtain also be rung down on materialistic determinism of all forms.  Let the cruelty cease, and a new age of Christian charity begin: holding men and women responsible to their marriage vows and to the rights of all children, even the unborn, none of which are machines.

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Pastor C. W. Powell

Trinity Covenant RCUS

Colorado Springs, Co.