Friday, October 2, 2015

Can Zombies Exist?

This question comes from a mother of teenage children, whose friends tend to wonder about these things. I am going to split it up, making this the first entry in a mini-series of posts on the existence of supernatural or paranormal creatures. Even though I will be covering quite a bit of ground, this cannot be comprehensive. But feel free to keep the conversation going here, on Facebook, or on Twitter. That is why I set them up.

So, here was the first part of her question. Can zombies exist?


Simply put, the answer is “No.” But human beings have asked this question for a long time. Countless animistic religions have feared the idea, and accused witches and warlocks of reanimating the dead. The word “zombie” is actually taken from the practitioners of voodoo, and they are the ones with whom it has most often been associated.

Such stories occasionally capture the popular imagination, but they are not the type most young people think of. Voodoo zombies are caused by magic, and most Millennials are acculturated not to believe deeply in anything science cannot explain. You may know someone who believes in a coming zombie apocalypse. What you may not know is that they are not thinking of something supernatural. As they have crafted the idea in their minds, it takes on a very scientific, common-sense gloss.

I mentioned science twice in that last paragraph, and for good reason. Many people view it as the source of absolute truth. Tell them all the world’s religions are equally good paths, and they will nod knowingly. Tell them scientists are wrong about something, and they will look at you like you have a second head. They have a conception of absolute truth, but only as it effects physically observable things.

Therefore, when they want to scare themselves silly, they need something “scientific” in order to do the trick of adding credibility to their fears. This is nothing new. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is an early example of such a zombie story. Actually, new tellings of that story are being told now. But Frankenstein misses a few desired elements. For one thing, the monster is intelligent, and therefore too human. For another, there is only one of him. He is not an existential threat, which is where the real thrill is.

And which is where infection comes in. The most popular zombie stories today, whether Resident Evil, The Walking Dead, I Am Legend, The Last Among Us, and even one Pokémon (oddly enough), all center around similar themes. Zombification is the result, not of magic, but of disease. Some form of virus, bacteria, or fungus enters dead bodies or kills living ones, takes them over, and drives them to move around looking for others to infect. Most often, the parasite is the result of scientific hubris. Researchers will have created it in a lab, but then lost containment. From there, death spreads to the entire world.

I am not a scientist, so I will not attempt to explain why this cannot happen. There are plenty of other sites for that, if you are interested. But it is really just common sense. What kind of disease could know how to move a corpse? Know how to seek out prey? And know how to use rotting flesh to conquer intelligent, running, armed humans? It is obviously not something we need to be afraid of. It is beyond our ability to create such a thing, yet alone be destroyed by it.

Understanding the Zombie Phenomenon

As I said earlier, and have just now shown, it is easy to answer the question, “Can zombies exist?” No, they can’t. But it raises a better question. Why do so many people want them to? Why are so many people preparing for an event that will never come?

For all my contemporaries’ faith in empirical science, this is where it cannot help them. The fixation with zombies has to do with what it means to be human. It has to do with despair. And it also has to do with the simultaneous desire for and fear of life after death.

Think about what a zombie is supposed to be. It is an unthinking lump, a body with no mind or will of its own. To a large number of people, though, that is all a human being is (just ask a supporter of Planned Parenthood). This is where sole dependence on our senses, often erroneously referred to as “science,” leads us astray. Real science is a form of knowledge, not its limit. It cannot tell us how the mind is different from the brain. Therefore, it cannot tell us why the human is different from the zombie. Living or dead, they are just bodies.

Common sense rejects this. A human being is not just a body, but also a soul and a spirit. It is more than chemical and biological processes, but also thinking and feeling. Life is more than physical. We all know this. People who are afraid of zombies know it intuitively, even though “science” has beaten it out of them. Part of the reason they are fixated on the undead is because they need to know there is a difference between what they are made of and who they are.

Zombies highlight this difference and display the problems with a purely materialistic outlook on life. Unfortunately, they do not do enough on their own to help people escape that outlook. Rather than confronting their worldview and its flaws, the young people who believe in zombies are succumbing to despair.

That is why the epidemic angle is so popular, in spite of its outlandishness. It is the belief that life is hopeless. Eventually, we will lose what makes us unique. The mind will amount to nothing, and we will return to the materials from which we are made. People preparing for the zombie hordes are both terrified of this result and submitting to its inescapability. Humanity, in the end, is worthless.

And yet. And yet, humanity asserts itself. The stories usually go the same way, and “preppers” are preparing for a reason. In spite of what materialism tells them, they still have hope. Somehow, survivors survive and human beings do not lose the battle. Materialism cannot explain this hope, why life should be desired over non-life. Not only desired, but assumed. It is simply taken for granted. But it is always there. Despair ends somewhere.

Which leads to the final point in the popularity of zombie fears. The question really is, what is life? Somehow, it is not enough to say that it is physical existence. A thing can have that, and yet not be alive. Even knowing what we do of biology, things like metabolism and reproduction, does not give us all the information we need. We know that life is more. Zombies are an appeal to the more. They are a search for a form of life after death, though it is a life robbed of all meaningful vitality.

The Answer to the Zombie Question

Human beings always return to hope for the species, but as individuals we know the truth. We might not like to think of it much, but we know it. My life on this earth will end. Someday, my body will give up on me and my time here will be over.

To a materialist, this is a nightmare because our time here is all we get. Zombies are an extended run. They are a form of resurrection acceptable to the secularist paradigm. But of course, they still miss the mark of what we really want, which is why we call them the undead. Much better to be a mind without a body than a body without a mind. We want to go on thinking and feeling, not just existing. But if thinking and feeling are just physical processes, it seems a number of people will take what they can get. The idea of zombies is preferable to just being laid in a grave and turning to dust.

What I have attempted to show, however, is that a blind faith in nothing more than the physical is misguided. There is more to us, more to life and the universe than the stuff of which we are made. There are answers the physical sciences cannot give us. And there is hope for real life after death.

Amazing, isn’t it, how many people there are who willingly believe in a zombie apocalypse, but consider the Resurrection of Jesus Christ to be hogwash. It is simple to explain, though. Zombies let them go on thinking as they do now, convinced there is no meaning to life other than what you can give it. The Resurrection forces a change of perspective. If God became a man, died for our sins, and rose to eternal and true life (Philippians 2:5-11), it means the universe is not so empty as we pretend. And it means we have to respond to what has been offered.

In many ways, that is a discussion for another time. But the main point is always appropriate. You don’t have to be afraid of zombies, or anything else. This world is not all there is. Jesus proved that, and He did so because He loves you. He wants you to be with Him. He wants you to have life: abundant, joyous, unending. You can have that, if you come to Him in surrender.

Zombies aren’t real. They can’t exist. But Jesus does, and He wants to give you more than you have ever thought possible. I hope you will hear Him calling. If you do, and you want to know what to do next, ask away. That’s what I’m here for. Don’t settle for faith in the material. It leads to nowhere.

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