Is there an argument for the existence of God through human consciousness?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

(Click here to read Monday Musings ... the place where I discuss the thinking that went into this article.)

Question: Is there an argument for the existence of God from consciousness? For example, we are all made of atoms, including our brains. But atoms can’t think because they do not have consciousness. If thinking were just chemical reactions in our brains, we wouldn’t be able to think logically. All out thoughts would be random and spontaneous. Doesn’t this argue for God?

Answer: Greetings friend. Thank you for touching down with us at Mainsail Ministries — and thank you for asking that important question. It touches on the very essence of humanity... our self-awareness and human agency. Life certainly “feels” meaningful. But how can we be certain that mere chemistry is not behind it all... and that our self-awareness is not a self-delusion?

People who believe that mere chemistry is the cause of all things are called physicalists. To them, humans are sophisticated biological units... arguably “higher” than all the others... but with no metaphysical components like feelings, personality, a conscience or a soul.

Now, Christians believe that these entities exist in a way that although they are currently conjoined with our bodies, they can exist without them. They are discrete entities ontologically. Physicalists do not believe that they exist at all. Now, they affirm their apparentness. How could they not! But they believe things like feelings are chemically-driven illusions, not metaphysical realities.

I don’t think I am misrepresenting the data when I say that most human beings are self-aware. Christians understand this natively, so physicalists must explain this phenomenon. Here, it is tempting to talk about how God created us as living souls (Genesis 2:7). But we do not have to appeal to special revelation. We can appeal to philosophy. With or without the Bible, self-awareness has gravitas… and that’s our way in.

You see, our self-awareness is self-evident — and so much so that we consider it to be a “properly basic” assumption about reality. This means that we do not consider any of the illusion hypotheses to be plausible. They are possible... but that’s not how properly basic assumptions work. We hold properly basic assumptions about things that are so evidentially true that we give no weight to alternative scenarios. We just get on with our lives... and we are justified in doing so. Here’s why.

The term “possibility” means different things in common usage than it does in mathematics or philosophy. In common usage, things that are “possible” are also “plausible.” Regular people who are living regular lives think things that are possible have a reasonable chance of occurring. But that is not what the term means technically. Technically, anything that is not logically impossible is possible. For instance, "A cannot equal non-A at the same place and at the same time." The point is that everything is possible… unless it is specifically contradicted. Here is a more down-to-earth example.

I live in Massachusetts in the USA. My state has many lotteries. It’s within the range of possibility for me to purchase tickets for every lottery until the day I die — and win every one of them! But is this going to happen? No. The odds are so long against my winning them all that practicably speaking, it is impossible. It might sound like I’m playing with words, but to understand the concepts around possibility, we should be able to distinguish between three distinct concepts.

First, it is possible that I could win every lottery. Second, it is not probable that I will win. Third, since no reasonable person thinks that I could win all those lotteries, it is not plausible to think I will become a rich man by those means. Can you see how it would be irresponsible for me to make decisions based on the “possibility” that I would become a lottery millionaire?

Yet that is exactly the type of risk that physicalists take... only the (virtually guaranteed) losses are much more grave. But not only are they irresponsible, they are incongruent.

The angst that occurs in the gap between knowledge and behavior is sometimes called cognitive dissonance, and a congruent physicalist must experience this. The vast majority of people who claim to follow physicalism go to work every day. They sacrifice to earn money they had planned on earning so that they may provide for their families. If they were congruent physicalists, they would not participate in such an altruistic enterprise. But the majority of them do.

I think a lot of the motivation behind claiming physicalism is that they assume it will get them off the hook morally. If we are just a function of our bodies’ chemicals, then there is no morality because there is no “soul” to be at fault. But humanity confounds that assertion.

The majority of people who have ever lived have acted more morally than they did immorally in the main. Both society and the kingdom of God have advanced through this agency (Matthew 13:33). You see, just because people “state for the record” that they don’t believe in things like the human conscience doesn’t mean there is not one still singing to them... and that they do not dance to its tune. They do indeed.

This is not to say that the reality-versus-illusion has not had legitimate — that is, well-thought-out theories — by professional philosophers over the years. Rene Descartes offered his famous Evil Genius Theory.

Many philosophers have asked the more general question: How do we know that we are not brains in a vat being stimulated so that we perceive that we are living a full life in real-time? (https://iep.utm.edu/brainvat/). The answer is, we don’t… because we don’t have to. It’s a properly basic assumption about how reality relates to our feelings.

The thing is, we will never be able to disprove the Brain-in-the-Vat or the Evil-Demon-Theories. The movie The Matrix capitalized on this uncertainty. But think about that movie for a minute. Do you think it’s plausible (but not in a sci-fi way they use for congruency in literature) that we are plugged into a matrix and not experiencing life in real-time?

Do you think the odds of even one of these alternate reality scenarios being true are good enough to risk going to hell... even though — although they are not logically impossible — they are not remotely plausible? I don’t. I didn’t. I’m a Christian.

Dr. William Lane Craig of Reasonable Faith Ministries specializes in these kinds of ideas in his ministry. He is a dedicated Christian man who holds two European doctorates — one in philosophy and one in theology. He is eminently qualified to explore these ideas. His ministry has a series of five-minute videos that lay out many rarefied truths optimized for the earnest, yet time-conscious seeker. I have one in mind for you — the Leibniz Contingency Argument.

Leibniz asked (among other things), why does anything exist rather than nothing at all. I assume that because you used the word “conscience” in your question you are looking more for ideas about the brain or the mind than matter in general. But Leibniz covers all physical reality in his argument... and human beings are part of the physical creation. Click here to view that video.

I pray all this helped you more than it confused you. God bless you.

 

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20220307 Is human consciousness enough to prove that God exists? ).

(For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, contact us at mainsailep@gmail.com. To submit a question about God, the Bible or the Christian culture, click here.)