Spiritual Science: Anything But God
Materialists would rather escape into mysticism than consider a personal Creator.
If you watch a TED Talk by David Chalmers embedded in an article at The Conversation by psychologist Steve Taylor, you will probably be impressed and perplexed: impressed by Chalmers’ exceptional talent at public speaking, but perplexed at his conclusions. A philosopher of mind who specializes in the subject of consciousness, Chalmers knows a lot about the “hard problem” of consciousness. That problem asks why physical matter would ever give rise to our sense of self-awareness, which is the very thing we know most intimately about reality. (In an earlier video posted by Evolution News, Chalmers had described how a philosophical “zombie” could perform all the behaviors of an individual without being conscious.)
Chalmers prefers to be known as a scientific materialist, he admits. He would prefer to discover fundamental principles that could explain consciousness with equations and laws. But the Hard Problem defies such formulations. He says that physics can explain behaviors, but not consciousness itself. As tentative answers, he suggests two possibilities to the audience: (1) the idea that consciousness is a fundamental property of the universe, like mass and gravity. (2) The other possibility is panpsychism: the belief that everything in the universe is conscious at some level. The more complex the organism, the more its consciousness becomes capable of thought and communication. Each of these solutions, however, Chalmers admits has its own difficulties and ramifications. He admits in this conclusion that psychologists and philosophers are nowhere near solutions to the problem of consciousness.
The Elephant in the Room
Nowhere in his otherwise informative talk does Chalmers even look at the elephant in the room: that consciousness was created by a personal God. The avoidance of any consideration of a Creator could be dubbed the ABG response: “anything but God.” Presumably, science must be secularized, even if it entails mysticism. At Mind Matters, a website from the Discovery Institute dealing with psychology, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor gives a pointed but respectful refutation of panpsychism. Electrons cannot be conscious without sense organs, he argues.
Steve Taylor, author of the article that includes the TED video, prefers Chalmers’ first solution, that consciousness is a fundamental property of reality:
If you held a human brain in your hand, you would find it to be a soggy clump of grey matter, a bit like putty, weighing about 1.3kg. How is it possible that this grey soggy stuff can give rise to the richness and depth of your conscious experience? This is is known as the “hard problem” of consciousness.
As a result, many eminent philosophers (such as David Chalmers and Thomas Nagel) and scientists like Christof Koch and Tononi have rejected the idea that consciousness is directly produced by brain processes. They have turned to the alternative view that it is actually a fundamental quality of the universe.
Those who have read Thomas Nagel’s book God and Cosmos will recognize similarities to David Chalmers’ frustration: the desire to abide within scientific materialism, but the difficulty of accounting for consciousness and other non-physical realities. Nagel actually states that intelligent design arguments are compelling, but his ABG preferences prevent him from getting too close to it.
How does Taylor, author of Spiritual Science, defend consciousness as fundamental? His defense is primarily hypothetical. He believes it would explain altruism and intentionality, without invalidating well-known observations that brain damage impacts consciousness. Like Chalmers, though, he too completely avoids looking at the elephant in the room: creation by a personal God.
All of the ABG solutions, whether those of Chalmers, Nagel or Taylor, suffer a common flaw: they are self-refuting. If our consciousness derives from some elementary properties that could add up to full human consciousness when instantiated in a sufficiently complex organism, then we could never know that to be true. Consciousness itself is insufficient for confidence; it could be like a dream. Consciousness must be connected to external reality via truth, morality and logic: truth, because anything that evolves is inherently subjective; morality, because one has to believe that the pursuit of truth is good and right; logic, because irrational ideas are useless for confirming anything to be true. Truth, morality and logic must all be anchored in realities that are timeless and universal. Only a personal God can account for these things.
Why, then, is not William Dembski’s view also self-refuting? In his book Being as Communion, Dembski defends the proposition that information is not just a fundamental property of the universe, but the most fundamental property. The difference is that Dembski keeps God transcendent. God is not a part of the universe of matter, energy and information, but the Creator of it. The other views, which entail self-emergence out of fundamental properties, collapse into occultism, which is idolatry.
Recommended Resource: The Discovery Institute launched a series of videos collectively called “Science Uprising” to challenge materialism. As an adjunct to the first video, Jay Richards answers questions about whether materialism is a satisfactory (and satisfying) worldview, and why it fails because of its own inner contradictions and insufficiencies. Hear also Ann Gauger on ID the Future explain why “Scientific materialism is no match for truth, beauty and goodness.”