The Argument from Consciousness for the Existence of GodThis argument is J.P. Moreland’s, and is found:
· jpmoreland.com. Go to “Resources.” Scroll down to: "Argument from Consciousness for God's Existence." ($1.95 for the mp3)
· Moreland’s hyper-academic Consciousness and the Existence of God:A Theistic Argument.
J.P. is one of the best teachers I have ever encountered. His writing is crisp-clear. He's a brilliant thinker. He understands the relevant issues. Ultimately this argument succeeds as an example of abductive reasoning:
1) irreducible consciousness exists
2) the best explanation for irreducible consciousness is either theism or naturalism
3) it's not naturalism
4) therefore, theism is the most probable explanation for the existence of irreducible consciousness.
Here is a synopsis, notes I use when I teach students this argument.
1. A “Recalcitrant Fact” – a fact that resists explanation by a theory.
a. Imagine, e.g., that you are a prosecuting attorney has strong evidence that John committed a murder. HOWEVER… there are 10 credible people who say they were watching a ball game with John at the time the crime was committed.
b. That is a “recalcitrant fact.” It does not fit your theory.
c. You could try to explain it away. How?
d. But every attempt to explain away the recalcitrant fact fails. The fact remains “recalcitrant” (unyielding; won't go away).
e. At this point the recalcitrant fact provides evidence for an alternative theory.
2. The existence of consciousness is a recalcitrant fact for atheists.
a. If atheism is true, then all that exists is matter and its various arrangements.
b. This is called “naturalism,” or “scientific naturalism,” or “philosophical naturalism.” Or “materialism.”
c. If all that exists is matter, then how can you get “mind” from “matter?”
d. But “mind” does exist.
e. Therefore the existence of “mind” (consciousness) is a recalcitrant fact for atheism-as- philosophical naturalism.
f. Antony Flew, in There is a God, points to the existence of consciousness as a problem for atheists.
g. Also presenting a problem for atheists is free will, and a “unified I.”
h. But what if Christianity is true? If it is, then it follows that we are made in the image of God. There’s something about us that is like God.
3. Consciousness – what is it?
a. Think about water. Water can exist in three states: liquid, solid, and gas. Each of these three states is a different state of water.
b. In the same way there are at least 5 states of consciousness.
i. A Sensation.
ii. A Thought
iii. A Belief
iv. A Desire
v. A Volition, or an Act of Free Will
4. #1 – A Sensation (Mental State #1)
a. Two levels of sensations.
i. Those that come through a sense organ.
1. An awareness of “yellow”
2. An awareness of “sweetness”
3. An awareness of the smell of a rose
4. Note: If I see a red object in lighting that makes it look orange to me, I experience it as orange, even though it is red.
ii. Those that do not come through a sense organ
1. Pains, itches, emotions, etc…
2. The difference between a pain and an itch is that they are different forms of sensory awareness.
3. The difference between anger and the taste of a banana is that they are different forms of sensation.
b. A sensation cannot be true or false.
i. It can be accurate or inaccurate.
ii. E.g. – Upon seeing a banana I say, “I have a sensation of ‘yellow’.”
iii. This sensation is not “true” or “false,” but accurate or inaccurate.
c. You can have sensations without being able to think.
i. E.g. – I am sure that frogs have sensations. But it’s not clear to me that frogs can think.
ii. Frogs can feel pain, they can see flies. But they can’t have thoughts about flies.
d. A sensation is just “a state of sentience.”
5. A Thought (Mental State #2)
a. A “thought” is the mental content that can be expressed in a sentence.
b. For example:
i. Schnee ist Weiss.
ii. Nieve es blanca.
iii. Snow is white.
c. All three of these sentences have the same content.
d. The content is in my mind; the sentence is on the board, or on the sheet of paper.
e. The sentence isn’t the same thing as the thought.
i. You can see the sentence.
ii. You can’t see the thought.
f. A thought is a state of consciousness.
g. Thoughts are different than sensations.
i. A thought can be true or false.
ii. A sensation cannot be true or false.
h. Thoughts are different states of consciousness than sensations are.
6. A Belief (Mental State #3)
a. A belief is something you take to be true, between 51% and 100%.
i. For example, I am 80% certain that the Lions will make the playoffs this year. I’m “80-20” on this.
ii. For example, I am 100% certain that I exist. I’m 100-0 on this.
b. A belief is your view of how things are; of what you take to be true, or to be the case.
c. Beliefs are like thoughts – both can be true or false.
d. But beliefs aren’t the same things as thoughts.
i. E.g. – thoughts only exist while you are having them.
ii. But you have many beliefs that you are not now aware of or thinking of.
iii. E.g., as I now speak to you I have thousands of beliefs about…
2. The multiplication table
3. The New Testament
4. Frogs in my backyard
iv. I have many beliefs I am not now paying attention to (not now thinking of).
v. But it wouldn’t make any sense to say, “I now have a thought that I’m not thinking about.”
1. Thoughts only exist when you are having them.
2. Beliefs exist whether you are aware of them or not.
vi. Another example: I have thoughts that I don’t believe.
1. E.g. – I am now doing a great job teaching.
2. You can have a thought that you don’t believe; you can have a belief that you are not thinking.
e. Thoughts and beliefs are like liquid and solid. They are different states of consciousness.
7. A Desire (Mental State #4)
a. A “desire” is a felt inclination toward or away from something.
i. E.g. – a desire for a cupcake.
ii. E.g. – a desire not to have a root canal.
iii. E.g. – a desire to be a good friend.
b. Desires are not thoughts or beliefs.
i. A thought doesn’t have a felt inclination for or against something.
c. Desires aren’t the same things as sensations.
i. Many people confuse a desire for God with a sensation of God’s presence, or an experience of God.
ii. People can have a desire for something that is a long-term desire…
1. Like a desire to be a good teacher, or a good friend, or a godly parent.
iii. You can tell a long-term desire by the behavior that comes from it.
iv. E.g., the desire to be a good guitar player.
8. A Volition; an Act of Free Will (Mental State #5)
a. A mental action
b. An exertion of effort
c. This is a state of consciousness, of free will.
d. Libertarian free will – a conscious choice that cannot be fully reduced to prior (antecedent) causal conditions.
9. All 5 of these are states of consciousness. Not one of them is physical.
a. But how do we know that?
b. How do we know that these 5 states of consciousness are not physical?
c. You don’t need a brain to think.
d. E.g. – God doesn’t have a brain, and God can think.
e. God doesn’t miss not having a brain.
10. Three Reasons Why Consciousness Is Not Physical
a. There are things that are true of consciousness that are not true of the physical brain.
i. If this is true, then consciousness and the brain cannot be the same thing.
ii. Like what?
1. A thought can be true or false. But no physical state of your brain can be true or false.
2. E.g. – when you think, “That cupcake was good,” there is brain activity going on. Something may be happening, in your physical brain, that is closer to your left ear than your right ear, and it may be 10 cm long.
3. But the thought “That cupcake was good” is not nearer your left ear than your right, and it is not 10 cm long.
4. Thoughts don’t have geometrical size or shape. But the states of your brain do have geometrical sizes and shapes.
iii. Another example: Think of a pink elephant. Some of you may be able to think of putting a blue blanket on it.
1. The thought is of “pink” and “blue.”
2. But there is nothing physically pink and blue in your brain. Right now, if we could examine your brain, we would find nothing that is pink and blue.
iv. Therefore there are things that are true of consciousness that are not true of the physical brain. If this is true, then consciousness and the brain cannot be the same thing.
b. There is a “what it is like to feel consciousness…”
i. E.g. – What it is like to feel pain…
1. … to feel anger…
2. … to be thinking about lunch…
ii. This is available from a first-person perspective.
iii. BUT NOTE: There is no first-person perspective on “what it is like to be physical…” Everything that is physical is only available from a 3rd-person perspective.
iv. See here Thomas Nagel’s famous essay “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?”
1. Here Nagel suggests that the subjective aspect of the mind may not ever be sufficiently accounted for by the objective methods of objective science.
v. E.g., suppose a physicist knew all the physical facts about the universe.
1. Suppose she was blind from birth.
a. Then, all of a sudden, she gained the ability to see.
b. This person would learn some brand new facts. There would be facts about “What it is like to see the color yellow.” Etc.
c. She already knew all the physical facts. But now she gained a bunch of new facts.
d. From this it follows that the new facts she has come to know are not physical. They are, instead, mental facts.
e. Thus, there is knowledge that is not available from a 3rd-person perspective.
2. A scientist can know more about your brain than you do.
a. But he cannot know anything about your mind, about what it is like to be you, unless you tell him.
b. You alone have 1st-person knowledge of your mind, but not your brain.
c. If your mind was your brain, you should be able to have a scientist tell you what is going on in your mind by reading it off what’s going on in your physical brain.
i. This is “of-ness”; “about-ness.”
1. Your thoughts/beliefs/sensations are “of” or “about” things.
2. My sensation is a sensation of a tree.
3. My desire is a desire about a cupcake.
4. My fear is a fear of tornados.
ii. Our thoughts/beliefs/sensations are said to have “intentionality.” Which means they are “of” things or “about” things.
iii. Pure physical states don’t have intentionality.
1. It doesn’t make any sense to point to an an area of the physical brain and say, “That brain state is about the Second World War.”
iv. States of consciousness do have intentionality.
1. Therefore, the states of consciousness are not states of the brain.
v. For these three reasons (and others) the 5 conscious states are not physical.
11. What About the Brain?
a. Science can establish correlations between the brain and the mind.
i. This doesn’t prove that they are the same thing.
ii. E.g. – just because fire causes smoke, it does not follow that fire is the same as smoke.
iii. Just because I poke you and it causes pain, this does not mean that the thing going on in your physical brain is pain.
b. It’s possible that consciousness uses the brain to work, like a driver uses a car to move.
c. Moreland uses out-of-body experiences to validate this. Therefore, people don’t need brains or eyes to see.
d. So, establishing correlations doesn’t prove they are the same thing.
12. The Problem for Atheistic Naturalism
a. The problem is… if you begin with matter… and start with matter as it is described in physics and chemistry…
i. …then the history of the universe will be a history of the rearrangement of matter into ore and more complicated arrangements of matter.
b. The problem is… before sentient (conscious) life existed, there was no consciousness, on naturalism.
i. If this is true, then how can you get something from nothing?
ii. How do you get consciousness coming into existence from matter by merely rearranging brute, inert matter according to the laws of chemistry and physics?
iii. Moreland says: “There is no explanation for the origin of consciousness if you start from matter. Period.” Moreland says he has read every attempt, on naturalism, to explain this.
iv. Moreland says: “This is why the majority of philosophers working in philosophy of mind today deny the reality of consciousness.
13. Consciousness is explained if Christian Theism is true.
a. If you begin the universe with mind (logos) rather than with matter (b-bs), then you already start the universe with conscious self, and the existence of subsequent selves is no problem.
b. This is because the universe at its core is a Conscious Being, not brute matter.