Argument from consciousness

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The argument from consciousness is based on the alleged need to explain the existence of consciousness. It is a form of argument from design.

"many believe that finite minds provide evidence of a Divine Mind as their creator. If we limit our options to theism and naturalism, it is hard to see how finite consciousness could result from the rearrangement of brute matter; it is easier to see how a Conscious Being could produce finite consciousness since, according to theism, the Basic Being is Himself conscious. Thus, the theist has no need to explain how consciousness can come from materials bereft of it. Consciousness is there from the beginning.[1]"
"The challenge for those who hold to physicalism is to offer a coherent explanation detailing how mind and consciousness can arise from the rearrangement of carbon atoms.[2]"
"Science cannot tell us why [...] human beings are persons rather than what someone called 'computers made of meat' [...] why the mind exists, or why we have a spiritual dimension.[3]"

Background information[edit]

The most prominent contemporary defenders of non-physical consciousness are actually atheists rather than apologists, e.g. David Chalmers. Chalmers postulates something apart something from the physical world connected to it by laws broadly similar to the laws of physics. The concept of "laws of mental states" that Chalmers defends does not require the presence of a God any more than the presence of any physical laws. Moreover, Chalmers assertion that there is a necessary relationship between the physical and the mental eliminates, according to Chalmers, the possibility of consciousness persisting after death, the possession of a soul. Other examples of non-theistic philosophers who reject the physicalist view of consciousness are Ned Block, Thomas Nagel and Paul Draper. At the popular level this view has been promoted by Sam Harris.

Apologists seem to be stuck in the same confusions as other theists. For example, they talk about "restrict[ing] ourselves... to the explanatory framework of an ideal physics with mass and energy," [4] which misses the point, because this is not the approach taken by philosophers such as David Chalmers.

Hard problem of consciousness[edit]

"So what is the "hard" problem? The hard problem has to do with the "Why?" of sensation. Not why we sense generally. That seems obvious: We see, for instance, because it helps us navigate. No, the issue is more like "Why is red the color/sensation it is?" All neural activity is basically the same. The question is why does some neural activity elicit the sensation of purple and other neural activity elicit the color red? When you examine nerve cells or patterns of nerve cells there doesn't seem to be anything going on that could provide an explanation for color sensation (or other senses).[5]"

Counter arguments[edit]

Mental world completely separate?[edit]

The argument might imply Cartesian dualism. An issue with this is by what mechanism does the mental world interact with the physical world? One historically unpopular solution is constant divine intervention. It seems theists and atheists are in the same situation with respect to explaining consciousness. What's needed is an account of how consciousness works, and it doesn't matter if the system was set up by God or is a brute fact about the universe. Assertions that the "brute fact" response is unacceptable will ultimately fall back on the reasoning behind the cosmological and design arguments. In the event that these arguments fail, there is no reason to believe that arguments from consciousness would do any better. In the context of these arguments, the presence of consciousness is really just an example to try to assert a theological explanation for something that has not yet been philosophically explained.

Variant: Argument from quantum mechanics[edit]

For more information, see the Wikipedia article:
"So, any physical event in this world of ours is the product of observation. [...] So, consciousness is a prerequisite of observing reality. However, this entails that to verify our own existence there needs to be an observer. Thus an infinite chain of observers begins that terminates into the ethereal observance of God. That is, someone had to be there for the universe to manifest itself.[6]"

To put it bluntly, quantum mechanics ignores thought and consciousness completely. There's no spot in any equation or algorithm to plug in any information about what people are thinking. The measurement effect relates rather to the interaction between particles and the information they carry about the state of other particles.

"Isn't [the double slit experiment] proof that particle is exhibiting a sort of consciousness?[7]"

There is no reason to think that is the case.

Variant: Counter argument from quantum mechanics[edit]

"In the double slit experiment, the act of observing seems to influence the results. So we can say that in this experiment the process was 'observed' and in that experiment it was not. The traditional view of a god is that he sees everything. Given that we can say an experiment was not observed, does this disprove this aspect of a god?[8]"

Again, quantum mechanics has little to do with consciousness.


  1. [1]
  2. [2]
  3. John Blanchard, Why believe the Bible?, 2004
  4. [3]
  5. [4]
  6. [5]
  7. Atheist Experience, 14 Jul 2013
  8. [6]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

v · d Arguments for the existence of god
Anthropic arguments   Anthropic principle · Natural-law argument
Arguments for belief   Pascal's Wager · Argument from faith · Just hit your knees
Christological arguments   Argument from scriptural miracles · Would someone die for a lie? · Liar, Lunatic or Lord
Cosmological arguments   Argument from aesthetic experience · Argument from contingency · Cosmological argument · Fine-tuning argument · Kalam · Leibniz cosmological argument · Principle of sufficient reason · Unmoved mover · Why is there something rather than nothing?
Majority arguments   Argument from admired religious scientists
Moral arguments   Argument from justice · Divine command theory
Ontological argument   Argument from degree · Argument from desire · Origin of the idea of God
Dogmatic arguments   Argument from divine sense · Argument from uniqueness
Teleological arguments   Argument from design · Banana argument · 747 Junkyard argument · Laminin argument · Argument from natural disasters
Testimonial arguments   Argument from observed miracles · Personal experience · Argument from consciousness · Emotional pleas · Efficacy of prayer
Transcendental arguments   God created numbers · Argument from the meaning of life
Scriptural arguments   Scriptural inerrancy · Scriptural scientific foreknowledge · Scriptural codes