The Clues of God 7: The Mystery of Human Consciousness

THE MYSTERY OF HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS AND COGNITION

An extremely problematic issue for scientists who are seeking to explain life apart from any sort of transcendent Creator, is the mystery of human consciousness and cognition. These two facets of the human mind continue to defy explanation in any deterministic way and cannot be accounted for by the laws of chemistry or physics. In this post I will deal with the first of these aspects, consciousness.

Consciousness

How can a bunch of living cells, when clumped together to form a brain, give rise to consciousness – to our ability to think and reason and be self-aware? How can the chemical reactions and electrical impulses inside the brain result in consciousness? How can molecules be capable of thought? Once again, atheists and evolutionists have no viable explanation for this. The origin and source of consciousness is arguably even more problematic than the origin of the single cell.

Evolutionist philosopher, Dr Michael Ruse, FRSC, puzzles over this very problem:

“Why should a bunch of atoms have thinking ability? Why should I, even as I write now, be able to reflect on what I am doing? And why should you, even as you read now, be able to ponder my points? … No one, certainly not the Darwinianist [evolutionist], seems to have an answer to this. The point is that there is no scientific answer.”[1]

Ruse is entirely correct. Science simply cannot explain human consciousness. Dr Michael Polanyi, arguably the foremost philosopher of science in the 20th century, wrote:

“Mental processes cannot be explained by physics and chemistry. The laws of physics and chemistry do not ascribe consciousness to any process controlled by them: the presence of consciousness proves, therefore, that other principles than those of inanimate matter participate in the conscious operations of living things.”[2]

Evolutionist scientists, in an attempt to explain how consciousness can arise from the human brain, have recently begun using several nebulous phrases:

Non-local consciousness: The idea that our brains are merely the conduit for the mind, not the source of its origin.[3] Scientists who are exploring this concept are investigating what they refer to as “fringe phenomena”,such as near-death experiences and precognition, in the hope of gaining an insight into consciousness.

Integrated Information Theory: The idea that every molecule of biological life has a tiny amount of consciousness which, when combined together produces a higher level of combined consciousness. Some proponents of this theory even suggest that all matter, even non-living matter, has a tiny spark of consciousness.

 Emergent Property theory: This follows on from the previous idea. It proposes that the latent consciousness within all matter is activated by the particular complex arrangements of the human brain, which is able to activate and focus this consciousness more effectively than other animals or organisms.

What is striking about all of these theories is their frank admission that consciousness cannot be explained by mere physical chemicals and atoms. Each of these theories rests on the premise that consciousness has a non-physical source. Where these theories all fall down, however, is their inability to explain how a purely physical, mechanistic universe could have created a universal consciousness that somehow pervades each molecule of matter. Where did this consciousness come from? Evolutionists have absolutely no reasonable answer.

Human consciousness indicates that we are more than mere physical machines. We are more than flesh and blood. There is an essence within each person that transcends the merely physical. Our consciousness, our ability to think, and feel, and reason, is extremely convincing evidence for the existence of an Intelligent Designer who has implanted a mind within each of us.

Theologian and philosopher, Dr J. P. Moreland, states:

“You can’t get something from nothing. If the universe began with dead matter having no consciousness, how, then, do you get something totally different – conscious, living, thinking, feeling, believing creatures – from materials that don’t have that? But if everything started with the mind of God, we don’t have a problem with explaining the origin of our mind.”[4]

In 1637, French philosopher Rene Descartes pondered whether anything that he perceived with his senses was real or simply a dream. He further pondered whether, in fact, he himself was real at all. Is there any way of proving that he actually exists and that the world as he perceived it was real? He proposed a simple argument that has become one of the most quoted statements in philosophy: “I think, therefore I am” (“cogito ergo sum”). [5]

But I want to suggest that there is a deeper statement that needs to be made: “I think, therefore God is”. The mystery of human consciousness cries out that we are more than mere physical bodies. We are the special creation of an all-powerful God who placed within us an immaterial component – a spirit – which transcends physical explanation. The book of Genesis, in the beginning of the Bible, describes our investiture with this immaterial component:

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground [ie. from physical, chemical components] and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living ‘nep̄eš’ [soul, life force, spirit, spiritual being].” (Genesis 2:7)

(For more information, see my book, “7 Reasons to Believe”).

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[1] Miachel Ruse, in Lee Strobel, “The Case for a Creator”, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2004, p.307

[2] Michael Polanyi, “The Anatomy of Knowledge”, Rutledge Press, London, 1966  p.323

[3] https://www.gaia.com/article/consciousness-is-a-big-problem-for-science

[4] J. P. Moreland, in Lee Strobel, “The Case for a Creator”, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 2004, p.307 f.

[5] Descartes, Rene. 1637. Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason, and Seeking Truth in the Sciences. pp. 19–20.

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