Signpost – Consciousness vs Materialism

Along our road from atheism to Christian discipleship, the first stop is Theism, but before we even get that far, we must get to the point where even the possibility of a God is seriously considered.

We explored the road of absolute moral truth, and have seen that the existence of God is necessary for there to even be moral absolutes. But what if our atheist friend declares this road a dead end? What now?

Well, we back up and follow the sign reading “consciousness”.  Keep in mind that, I’m using the term ‘consciousness’ to describe the state of being self-aware.

Our naturalist friend, denying the existence of moral truth (even in the face of clear evidence to the contrary), will say that, according to his world view nothing exists but that which is material. The super (or extra) natural is simply a figment of imagination.

Darwinian evolutionary naturalism, as currently taught, says that all life evolved from undirected, random, natural processes and that everything that exists is a product and part of the natural, material world.

If this is true, then our consciousness (our minds) are nothing more than an electrochemical effect of the evolutionary development of our brains. Our minds are, in fact, just a beneficial mechanism that developed to enhance survivability.

But the naturalistic evolutionist has no explanation for the fact that our consciousness, or mind state is different from our brain. This can be illustrated by the following:

=) While the activity and physical state of the brain can be measured, the mind cannot. For example, if you wire up sensors to my brain, you could measure the electrochemical signals produced when I look at my wife. You may even be able to locate those areas of the brain that have activity and infer that I am observing someone (or something) that know. But you cannot measure the fact that I am aware that that person is my wife, or that I recognize that the color of her hair is dark brown. There is there no way to measure the experience of ‘brownness’ or the state of being married by purely physical and natural means. Both states are immaterial. If evolutionary naturalism is true, then either the conscious mind state must be measurable, or it cannot exist.

=) Many natural evolutionists argue that the mind is nothing more than a complex brain state, and if the brain is nonfunctional, the mind ceases to operate. However, this study confirms that the mind can function in the absence of brain activity. For those who don’t want to wade through all of the technical jargon, there’s a summary in the popular press here.

A further unanswered problems for the natural evolutionist is the following question: “By what mechanism can consciousness arise from non-conscious organisms?” Natural evolution offers no coherent explanation, no observation that this is at all probable (or even possible), and no reason why it should be beneficial to survival given the alternative, which is no consciousness.

Ray Tallis, a highly respected atheist philosopher and scientist, has written an article for the Philosophers’ Magazine that explores these issues, and you can read it here.  I’ll give you a short quote that will hopefully entice you to read the entire article:

“Even if consciousness conferred advantage, how it could become available to genes via the organisms that are the vehicles ensuring their replication? This question arises whether we are considering a single photosensitive cell, or a human eye, or the human being aware of other human beings in a shared world built up out of pooled experience. The explanatory gap – the jump from energy exchanges to awareness – just happens to be more evident in the case of single energy-senstive cells, which lie at the putative beginning of consciousness, though it is concealed by the assumption that the single cell has only a “teeny weenie” bit of consciousness that can be smuggled into the material world without its laws being bent or broken. But the question remains: How is it that certain configurations of matter should be aware, should suffer, enjoy, fear etc? What is there in matter, such that eventually certain configurations of it (human beings) pool that experience and live in a public world? No answer is forthcoming… “

I’ll come to the first rest stop on this road toward Theism with one more quote from Professor Tallis:

“Those who are currently advocating evolutionary or neuro-evolutionary explanations of the most complex manifestations of consciousness in human life, preaching neuro-evolutionary aesthetics, law, ethics, economics, history, theology etc, should consider whether the failure to explain any form of consciousness, never mind human consciousness, in evolutionary terms, might not pull the rug from under their fashionable feet.”
So, the question for our atheist friend is simple. If natural evolution cannot explain the existence of the mind, is it not reasonable that the mind was created by another, greater mind?”

Next week, we’ll look at the argument from design.

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