What Michael Crichton’s False ‘Lost World’ Gospel Tells Us About Ourselves

COMMENTARY: How many people who claim they think for themselves think any differently from the people around them?

Book cover of ‘The Lost World’ by Michael Crichton
Book cover of ‘The Lost World’ by Michael Crichton (photo: Arrow)

One of the “deep thoughts” Facebook pages recently posted a comment of Dr. Ian Malcolm’s from Michael Crichton’s book The Lost World. It’s the sequel to Jurassic Park, a secular book with the Christian message that things go wrong because mankind can’t be trusted with power, in this case the power genetic engineering gives us. Malcolm, the book’s wise man, keeps saying, “Life will find a way,” and it does, and that’s why things go so wrong.

Near the beginning of The Lost World, Malcolm answers a question that assumes what he believes an entirely too high view of humanity. Understandably, given his experience with the dinosaur disaster on the island. “What makes you think human beings are sentient and aware?” he asks.

“There's no evidence for it. Human beings never think for themselves, they find it too uncomfortable. For the most part, members of our species simply repeat what they are told — and become upset if they are exposed to any different view. The characteristic human trait is not awareness but conformity, and the characteristic result is religious warfare.”

Other animals, he continues, fight for things they need, like food. Human beings fight for what he calls their beliefs, putting the word in ironic quotes. They hold these beliefs only because they have “evolutionary importance.” He finishes his answer: “I see no reason to assume we have any awareness at all. We are stubborn, self-destructive conformists. Any other view of our species is just a self-congratulatory delusion. Next question.”


He Means ‘They’

That’s not entirely wrong, of course. Christianity knows how great are fallen man’s limits and failings. From Scripture onward, the entire Catholic tradition speaks of our blindness, stubbornness and conceit. As the Catholic historian Lord Acton said, “power tends to corrupt” us. We human beings are, individually and as a whole, mostly the kind of people Dr. Malcolm describes.

But there’s a difference. Context means everything. It’s one thing to have so low a view of man when you believe he’s made in the image of God and his creator wants to change him. The negative judgment isn’t the final judgment. We’re better than we look.

It’s another thing entirely when you don’t. Malcolm doesn’t. All he can say is, “People are horrible. Some of us are better.” In other words, Christians enjoy a gospel that makes a difference in our lives and in the world. Malcolm’s gospel doesn’t.

Judging from the 706 comments on the Facebook post I saw, the Malcolmite gospel mainly tells the readers how great they are. When Malcolm says “we,” he means “they.” He expects his hearers, and I assume Crichton expects his readers, to know who we-by-which-I-mean-they are: the religious, the culturally and politically conservative and moderate, and everyday normal people getting through life as best they can.

His readers know what he means. Here are four comments taken just from the ones Facebook showed me. “There are still a few of us who are quietly and proudly nonconformists,” said one.

Another explained: “Some of us just don't buy into believing everything we're told by people who were told, and it passes down through generations. It's important to keep an open mind.”

The third said: “Some of us are quite different from what is described, but usually, we are the ones who are attacked either verbally or sometimes physically for our beliefs. We don't go along with the pack.”

And finally, a fourth: “He is pointing to a phenomenon that is generally true but, every so often, a human being comes along who thinks outside the box and demonstrates true awareness. These people are quite rare. It would be more accurate to say that human beings have the capacity for sentience and awareness but only a few of us choose to do enough inner work to enable that capacity to be exercised. The future of humanity depends on such people.”


Malcolm’s Gospel

Malcolm offers a kind of gospel, a good news, but one limited only to the virtuous. Really, to those who claim virtue, merely because they believe they think for themselves when everyone else doesn’t. This gospel makes them feel good about themselves, but doesn’t seem to do them or the world any actual good. As a rule, nothing is really a gospel that tells you that you’re good as you are, and that you’re even better than most other people.

Where does it get them? Nowhere. Nowhere beyond feeling special, elite, better than all those dumb people who believe what they’re told — one of the rare truly aware people who choose to work to be enlightened and have made themselves the hope of humanity. You may enjoy the feeling, but it doesn’t do anything for anyone else. It doesn’t make you a better person.

It doesn’t even make you any different from your peers, who feel the same way about themselves as you do. How many people who claim they think for themselves think any differently from the people around them? In my experience, when you’ve met one enlightened person, you’ve pretty much met them all. 

You may have the highest IQ and the clearest vision of reality on the island as the dinosaurs rampage, but you might as well have the lowest for all the good it will do you. You may even be a prophet like Malcolm, and things still end in disaster because no one listens to you. For that matter, looking at Malcolm’s story: Even you really didn’t listen to you, because if you had, you wouldn’t have been on that island at all.