Friday, December 20, 2019

One of Atheism's Irresolvable Problems

Trees in my back yard

Every worldview comes up against irresolvable problems. One problem for the worldview of atheism is self-consciousness. Theistic philosopher Paul Copan writes:

"Moral beings have the capacity of self-awareness, rising above genetics and environment to consider intentions, varying motivations, and prospective choices . Yet naturalistic philosophers of mind acknowledge that the emergence of (self-) consciousness from nonconscious matter is a huge problem." (Copan, "Ethics Needs God," in Debating Christian Theism, p. 90)

For example, atheist philosopher Colin McGinn writes: 

“We know that brains are the de facto causal basis of consciousness, but we have, it seems, no understanding of how this can be so. It strikes us as miraculous, eerie, even faintly comic.” (In Ib.)

Atheist Geoffrey Madell writes:

“The emergence of consciousness, then is a mystery, and one to which materialism signally fails to provide an answer.” (Ib.)

And atheist David Papineau writes:

As to why consciousness emerges in certain cases, “to this question physicalists' theories of consciousness’ seem to provide no answer.” (Ib.) 

Atheist Crispin Wright writes:

"A central dilemma in contemporary metaphysics is to find a place for certain anthropocentric subject-matters—for instance, semantic, moral, and psychological—in a world as conceived by modern naturalism: a stance which inflates the concepts and categories deployed by (finished) physical science into a metaphysics of the kind of thing the real world essentially and exhaustively is. 
On one horn, if we embrace this naturalism, it seems we are committed either to reductionism: that is, to a construal of the reference of, for example, semantic, moral and psychological vocabulary as somehow being within the physical domain—or to disputing that the discourses in question involve reference to what is real at all. 
On the other horn, if we reject this naturalism, then we accept that there is more to the world than can be embraced within a physicalist ontology—and so take on a commitment, it can seem, to a kind of eerie supernaturalism." (In Moreland, J. P.. Scientism and Secularism . Crossway. Kindle Edition.) 

This irresolvable problem within the noetic framework of atheism presents no problem for theism, which affirms a supremely self-aware being. Moreland writes:

"If consciousness were to arise in this naturalistic creation account, it would be a case of getting something from nothing. But if you start with God (the Logos), your fundamental being is conscious and there is no difficulty in seeing how God could bestow consciousness on various creatures at his choosing. And this is what Crispin Wright correctly understands." (Ib.) 

To go deeper, see J. P. Moreland, Consciousness and the Existence of God; Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology (esp. ch. 7); and The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism