The complex science that explains consciousness: Faith

by / September 28, 2016

Consciousness poses a serious, and in fact insurmountable problem for materialist scientists – which includes of course materialist evolutionists.[1] Brain researcher Robert Lawrence Kuhn captures the problem succinctly: “Try as I have for decades, I cannot remotely imagine how physical matter can become mentally aware.”[2] By “mentally aware” he is referring to consciousness, which he defines as:

“Consciousness is what mental activity feels like inside. The private inner experience of sensation, emotion and thought.”[3]

Which is probably the easiest way to view consciousness.[4] But this easy to understand concept of consciousness masks a fundamental conundrum: matter is not conscious. If matter is all that exists, and thus people are no more than intricately structured matter, why are we conscious?

The problem is akin to the origin of life for such materialists. The origin of life problem, briefly stated, is how did non-living matter – an arrangement of molecules – become a living creature? The problem of consciousness is very similar: How does an arrangement of non-consciousness matter become conscious? For the record, materialists have no answer to either question.

Before looking further into the problem, we need to be clear on how insurmountable a problem consciousness is for those who believe there is nothing beyond the material world. Famed former atheist turned theist Anthony Flew highlighted the problem through the means of a thought experiment:

In considering our immediate experience, let us perform a thought experiment. Think for a minute of a marble table in front of you. Do you think that, given a trillion years or infinite time, this table could suddenly or gradually become conscious, aware of its surroundings, aware of its identity the way you are? It is simply inconceivable that this would or could happen. And the same goes for any kind of matter. Once you understand the nature of matter, or mass-energy, you realize that, by its very nature, it could never become “aware,” never “think,” never say “I.” But the atheist position is that, at some point in the history of the universe, the impossible and the inconceivable took place. Undifferentiated matter (here we include energy), at some point, became “alive,” then conscious, then conceptually proficient, then “I.” But returning to our table, we see why this is simply laughable. The table has none of the properties of being conscious and, given infinite time, it cannot “acquire” such properties.[5]

Which leads him to concur with physicist Gerald Schroeder that:

Only blind and baseless faith in matter lies behind the claim that certain bits of matter can suddenly ‘create’ a new reality that bears no resemblance to matter.[6]

Materialist Faith
Consciousness of course in no way bears any resemblance to matter. And thus both Flew and Schroeder concur with my contention that the science behind the science of consciousness is faith. Faith that science (that would be materialistic, observational science) will one day be able to explain consciousness by reducing brain physiology and processes to a system within materialistic bounds that is completely and minutely understood. And of course, once one completely understands brain physiology and dynamics such that one can accurately recreate such a system in every detail, scientists like John Searle believe man will be able to create consciousness in non-living material objects. In other words, when it comes to consciousness, materialist scientists are guilty of the very thing they often accuse Christians of: believing with blind faith in an unproven concept in spite of the common place evidence to the contrary. That evidence is everywhere: non-living matter is not conscious. Once again we see that materialism and the evolutionary theories that spring from it are necessarily faith based positions. They cannot be proved by any science.

Philosophical Objections to a Materialist only view
Though the facts are against them, materialists will not be deterred. Objective realities like the facts that neither life nor consciousness have ever been observed springing from non-living, non-conscious matter does not phase them. They believe in their scientific theories and processes and are thus hopeful that one day, when the science of the mind is perfected – they’ll arrive at an explanation. In the meantime they maintain faith and hope. Faith and hope – where have we heard that before?

John Searle, Professor emeritus of the philosophy of mind and language, University of California, Berkeley is a standard bearer for the materialist position. Though he doesn’t know how, he’s confident materialistic science will come up with a way to reduce consciousness to processes that occur in the brain:

“But I also think consciousness exists, and it has an irreducible subjective ontology, it only exists when it’s experienced by a human or animal subject. By a conscious agent.”

“… my task is to make the existence of consciousness in my sense – the real thing, not some ersatz or simulation -the real thing consistent with what we know about how the world works. I claim that can be done. So consciousness does not refute my version of materialism, but it does refute certain traditional versions.”[7]

In addition to the fact that Searle’s argument is invalid because he is begging the question[8] there’s a growing chorus of brain researchers and philosophers who oppose the materialist position saying that our current materialist science is incomplete and insufficient to account for it. Something must be added at a fundamental level in order to explain consciousness. Some adding their voice to the chorus include:

Philosopher David Chalmers:

You can know about all the physical processes in the world in the brain and not know about consciousness. Somebody could know about every last neuron in the brain involved in say – color processing. That wouldn’t tell them about the experience of  seeing red. …

My own view is there’s a principled gap here. Neuroscience gives us structure of the brain and dynamics of what we do. And that’s all it’s ever going to give us. More and more structure, more and more dynamics. More and more behavior. And that’s always going to leave – in principle – a gap to consciousness.[9]

Biologist Christof Koch, when asked if science could reduce consciousness to the known laws of physics:

“I don’t think of it in that way because we might have to enhance those laws of physics. There might be something new that we need  to introduce in order to have a fully formulated view that includes consciousness.[10]

In other words there’s something fundamental to the nature of reality that our current laws of physics cannot account for.

The Evidence from Quantum Mechanics
And then there’s the evidence of quantum mechanics. It turns out in the quantum world, the mere act of becoming conscious of the position of a particle changes its behavior. This has become apparent in experiments like the double slit experiment discussed in the previous article on the multiverse. (See here for the setup.) When no one looks at particles as they go through the double slits – they appear to act like a wave going through both slits at the same time, creating the familiar diffraction pattern on the screen in back. But with the high tech equipment now available, scientists can elect to look at the particles after they’ve gone through the slit, but before they hit the back screen to form the pattern. At the moment you look at them, they look like particles instead of waves (as the pattern on the screen they make indicates) and seemingly were always particles. Physicist Alex Filippinko explains further:

“So it’s as though they went back in time to before they went through the holes and decided to go through one or the other, not through both as they would have, had they been behaving like waves. That’s really crazy.”[11]

This has led to a quantum view of consciousness where the human brain is viewed as a quantum computer, and the information state of quantum bits (qubits) stored in the brain is influenced by consciousness – or the soul. Clearly in that theory there exists something beyond the physical that is influencing the physical.

Thus there are both scientists and philosophers who in addition to evidence from quantum mechanics – are pointing to the inadequate nature of the materialist position that consciousness can be reduced to physical phenomenon.

The simple concept that explains consciousness: The Word

What should Christians believe about consciousness? We’re told from early on (the days of Moses) that we are to:
Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
Deut 6.5

So at least from the days of the law – the Torah – God’s people understood man to be composed of body (heart) and soul. But we get an even clearer picture of the nature of conscious as the we see the revelation of Jesus in the gospel of John:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John 1:1

In this revelation of God, before any physical thing existed, we learn there existed the Logos (Λογος), aptly translated as the “Word” of God. What is a “word” if not an expression of consciousness? Is there any word that can exist without it first existing in the consciousness of a mind? So in the revelation of Jesus as the Word of God, the perfect and exact representation of God (Heb 1.3) we see that before anything existed, before the beginning when “God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1.1), was the Logos; the perfect, exact expression of God who was with God and is in fact God. It is this Word, this perfect representation of God that expresses to us the consciousness of God. It is because we humans are made in the image of God (Gen 1.26-27) that we can understand and appreciate the revelation of God through the Word, Jesus.

What did the Logos, the expression of God who became flesh as Jesus (John 1.14) teach about the make up of man in terms of whether there is a non-physical component?

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Matt 10.28

Jesus taught humans are composed of a body and a soul. And the soul, the seat of consciousness, continues to exist even after the body is destroyed.[12] This truth – that consciousness exists apart from the body is a truth science – in particular holders of the quantum theory of consciousness – is just beginning to realize and understand.[13] Once again we see the truth of God – expressed years before science even began to examine such concepts – just being discovered by science. Such discoveries falsify the tenacious, but erroneous view that the physical world is all there is; and exposes that what passes for science in some scientific disciplines, is really faith in a faulty world view called materialism.


Notes

1. “Materialist” evolutionists should be the only type there is but unfortunately, some Christians and theists have been deceived into believing God used evolution to create humans (“Theistic Evolution”). Since they are ultimately theists – they are not in view here. Those who believe that all that exists is matter and energy (“Materialists”) are in view here.

2. Robert Lawrence Kuhn, (host) Closer to Truth episode: “Confronting Consciousness”, Documentary, 2013

3. Kuhn, “Confronting Consciousness”

4. Other views offered in that same episode (“Confronting Consciousness”), of consciousness:
“Consciousness the thing that flickers to life when you wake up in the morning…[it is]…successive levels of abstraction of all that machinery running underneath…Consciousness is like the CEO of a company.”
David Eagleman
Director, Laboratory for Perception and Action, Baylor College of Medicine

“… consciousness is a term we use to identify a sort of emergent conglomeration of all kinds of things that are particularly apparent and useful at the moment, and engage us.”
Warren Brown
Professor of Psychology, Fuller Theological Seminary

“Consciousness is the immediate awareness of objects. And those objects could be physical objects. If you’re looking at things they could be thoughts. Thoughts are objects of consciousness. And there is someone who is conscious of those objects – so you seem to have a subject being aware of various different objects. And I don’t think you can get any simpler than that.”
Keith Ward
Oxford – former Regius professor of Divinity and Canon of Christ Church

5. Anthony Flew, There Is A God, New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2007 p. 163

6. Flew, There Is A God, p. 174

7. John Searle, ref from Closer to Truth, episode “Can Brain alone explain consciousness?”, Documentary, 2016

8. Searle seems unaware he is begging the question – which is a form of the circular argument.
The hallmark of the circular argument is that the premise and conclusion are essentially the same. You haven’t proved anything, you’ve just re-asserted your initial supposition.
Here is a valid form of an argument about consciousness that demonstrates materialism alone cannot account for consciousness:

Consciousness is only found in living beings with a non-material component
Living humans have consciousness
Therefore living humans have a non-material component

However, this is the argument that Searle tries to float:

Consciousness can exist without a living subject and without a non-material component
One day science will be advanced enough to make a conscious machine
Such a machine would  be neither alive, nor have a non-material component, but still conscious;
Therefore consciousness can exist without a non-material component

Notice how the conclusion is essentially the same as the premise. The fallacy is further aggravated by the fact that the argument depends on science arriving at the ability to do something it cannot now do, and which it is unknown whether science will ever achieve it. (Essentially an argument from ignorance)
In passing some might think the first argument – disproving materialism – is itself invalid because it cannot prove humans have a non-material component. But that is an objection not with the argument itself (which is valid) but with one its a-priori assumptions. The item in question is the belief that the Bible is true, and correct in all it asserts. The Bible asserts humans have a non-material component, so the premise is true given that a priori assumption. So essentially those objecting to the first premise are objecting to the source of truth – Biblical revelation.

9. David Chalmers (Professor of Philosophy, Australian National University;
Professor and Co-director, Center for Mind, Brain, And Consciousness, NY University)
ref from Closer to Truth, episode “Can the Brain Alone Explain Consciousness?”, Documentary, 2016

10. Christof Koch (Professor of Biology and Engineering, California Institute of Technology;
Chief Scientific Officer, Allen Institute for Science)
ref from Closer to Truth, episode “Can the Brain Alone Explain Consciousness?”

11. Alex Filippenko, ref from The Universe episode “Microscopic Universe”, documentary, 2012

12. The “destruction” of the soul in view here is not a destruction where the object in view ceases to exist. The earth was “destroyed” when the flood was sent (Gen 6.13); yet the earth did not cease to exist. Likewise those who suffer the wrath of God do not cease to exist; rather they exist separated from the presence of God and in conscious torment. (2 Thess 1.9; Rev 14.10-11)

13. Regarding the quantum theory of consciousness and consciousness existing apart from the body, see:
Patrick  Frye, Human Soul Found? Quantum Theory of Consciousness ‘Orch OR’ claims both science and religion are true, 2/4/2015, Inquisitr,
http://www.inquisitr.com/1812664/human-soul-found-quantum-theory-consciousness-science-religion-true/

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Duane Caldwell
Duane holds a B.Sc. in Aeronautics and a M.Div. from Trinity International University. A former pastor, one of his favorite Bible verses is Isaiah 11.9: "...for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." Until that day arrives Duane is distressed to see the glory due God given to false ideas like Evolution and the Big Bang. He is likewise distressed to see those deceived into believing that science contradicts the Bible or has solved all problems apart from God. He considers his current ministry to be demonstrating why the Christian worldview is the only true worldview, and why science does not contradict it or the Bible. He blogs on numerous topics touching the faith at Rationalfaith.com.

2 Comment

  1. Excellent article! Thank you for explaining it so well. Blessings.

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