EN5: Human Consciousness — Mind and/or Brain

Monism, dualism, the “ghost in the machine” . . . wow, what a huge topic! Not to worry – we’ll cover the vital essence of the topic in just a few paragraphs. Molecules in motion . . . matter and forces . . . physics and chemistry and gravity and electromagnetism . . . is that all there is? Is that all there is to YOU? When you “think” is that just brain chemistry? The next thing you say – is there any meaning behind it? Is there a mind operating your brain? Is there a YOU with a purpose in life, who can make decisions, who can decide between a good idea and a bad idea? And make the “right” decision? What does “right” mean? What’s an “idea” anyway? Where in the laws of physics or the chemistry of proteins and DNA do we find explanations for truth, beauty, logic, self, honesty, and love?

The very phrase “ghost in the machine” was invented by atheist / materialist / philosopher Gilbert Ryle to mock those who believe in a separate mental or spiritual realm. Marvin Minsky asserts, “Minds are simply what brains do.” As Blackmore reports (see references below), “There are very few dualists today. . . . dualism, in its many forms, always arrives in the end at magic, or mystery, or something that science can never approach. As Dennett puts it, ‘accepting dualism is giving up.’ But avoiding it is not easy.”

“Giving up” and admitting that there is more than quarks and electrons and forces in the universe . . . or that there was a Creator responsible for the emergence of the cosmos out of nothing (both creationists and evolutionists start with literally nothing) . . . is something that evolutionists will never do. They will never stop searching for materialistic / naturalistic explanations for everything, even when it is impossible. Note that if an archeologist took the same approach, he could never understand that the pottery or building structures he unearths were made by an intelligent designer. Such an archeologist would always be spinning unbelievable naturalistic tales in vain attempts to describe such finds.

Other scientists recognize that experimental / observational science does not encompass all truth. This applies especially to the most basic fact of our human existence – our self-awareness!

Philosopher of science Michael Polyanyi distinguished consciousness / sentience / awareness / thoughtfulness from the physics of the brain with this statement:

“The most striking feature of our own existence is our sentience. The laws of physics and chemistry include no conception of sentience, and any system wholly determined by these laws must be insentient. It may be to the interests of science to turn a blind eye on this central fact of the universe, but it certainly is not in the interest of truth.”

An atheistic / humanist, Carl Ludwig, summarized the materialist view:

“All the activities of living material, including consciousness, are ultimately to be explained in terms of physics and chemistry.”

In opposition, C. S. Lewis noted that science itself could not exist within a materialistic worldview. Referring to naturalistic cosmologies and the overall story of evolution:

“If . . . I swallow the scientific cosmology as a whole, then not only can I not fit in Christianity, but I cannot even fit in science. If minds are wholly dependent on brains, and brains on biochemistry, and biochemistry (in the long run) on the meaningless flux of the atoms, I cannot understand how the thought of those minds should have any more significance than the sound of the wind in the trees.

And this is the final test. The scientific point of view cannot fit . . . even science itself. I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.”

Addressing the “shoulds” and “oughts” of human existence, namely, the very basis of morality and decision making and rational thought itself, physicist A. S. Eddington pointed out the impossibility of the materialist worldview:

“ . . . the word law . . . in science means a rule which is never broken. . . . Thus in the physical world what a body does and what a body ought to do are equivalent; but we are well aware of another domain where they are anything but equivalent. We cannot get away from this distinction. Even if religion and morality are dismissed as illusion, the word ‘Ought’ still has sway. The laws of logic do not prescribe the way our minds think; they prescribe the way our minds ought to think. . . . However closely we may associate thought with the physical brain, the connection is dropped as irrelevant as soon as we consider the fundamental property of thought – that it may be correct or incorrect.”

Sir John Eccles, who devoted his life to neurological research, winning the Nobel Prize for his work on the mechanisms of synaptic transmission, challenged materialists:

“Clearly we are in deep trouble. . . . It will be realized that the modern Darwinian theory of evolution is defective in that it does not even recognize the extraordinary problem presented by living organisms’ acquiring mental experiences of a nonmaterial kind that are in another world from the world of matter-energy, which heretofore was globally comprehensive. . . . We believe that the emergence of consciousness is a skeleton in the closet of the orthodox evolutionist. . . . It remains just as enigmatic as it is to an orthodox evolutionist as long as it is regarded as an exclusively natural process in an exclusively materialist world.”

Richard Gregory wrote:

“But there is a seemingly unbridgeable conceptual gap between the brain as a physical object and mental consciousness.”

Russell Stannard:

“The so-called mind/brain problem has proved so elusive, many have come to regard it as a mystery of ultimate significance.”

Canadian neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield (see Harrub below) conducted several breakthrough experiments that led him to conclude that the mind acts independently of the brain. He wrote:

“In the end I conclude that there is no good evidence, in spite of new methods, such as the employment of stimulating electrodes, the study of conscious patients, and the analysis of epileptic attacks, that the brain alone can carry out the work that the mind does. I conclude that it is easier to rationalize man’s being on the basis of two elements than on the basis of one.”

Eccles again, based on his extensive research:

“There must be a partial independence of the self-conscious mind from the brain events with which it interacts. For example, if a decision is to be freely made it must be initiated in the self-conscious mind and then communicated to the brain for executive action. This sequence is even more necessary in the exercise of creative imagination, where flashes of insight become expressions by triggering appropriate brain reactions.”

So where do you stand? If you’re an atheist / evolutionist / materialist, is that because your brain chemistry determines what you are? Then clearly you did not come to your conclusions based on evidence, logic, and reason. Those concepts are not material. Like the information in a piece of computer software, or the text of an article like this, or the incredible design in your DNA, your philosophy cannot be determined by matter and the laws of physics.

Face it: You live as if there is purpose in your life. You want to experience love, success, and meaning in your life. You believe that you can discern between truth and lies, and that such discernment is actually important. Your only hope is to find the Source of the information that underlies the design of the universe, to find the Architect of life, to find the Inventor of love and hope and meaning. The end of your search will be the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ – your Creator, your Judge, and your God. He also wants to be your Savior. That can only happen if you acknowledge your willful arrogance and rebellion, repent from the sins in your life – recognizing that you have been WRONG all along – and trust the Savior to obtain forgiveness, hope, meaning, eternal life, and a future as an heir of God’s universe that is beyond your comprehension.

Dave Hunt, Cosmos, Creator, and Human Destiny – Answering Darwin, Dawkins, and the New Atheists, The Berean Call, 2010. A Christian apologetics work that cuts to the quick of the spiritual and life-purpose implications of a Biblical vs. a materialist worldview.

Brad Harrub and Bert Thompson, The Truth about Human Origins – An Investigation of the Creation / Evolution Controversy as it Relates to the Origin of Mankind, Apologetics Press, 2003. See especially their two extensive chapters on consciousness, which amplify on the results of the neurological research of Eccles, Penfield, and others.

Susan Blackmore, Consciousness – An Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2004. This is a completely materialist approach to the problem, is written at a popular level, yet is loaded with information that effectively refutes the materialist bias of the author.

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