Can atheistic naturalism explain the existence of consciousness? I don’t think so, and in my book, God’s Crime Scene: A Cold Case Detective Examines the Evidence for A Divinely Created Universe, I illustrate the problem naturalism has trying to account for the mind from “inside the room” of the natural universe. There’s a reason why atheist philosophers have labeled the topic, “The Problem of Mind” or “The Mind / Body Problem”. Atheistic materialism simply cannot offer an adequate explanation for the existence of consciousness, even though this single feature of our existence is perhaps the most obvious and commonly experienced. How does immaterial consciousness emerge in an entirely material universe governed by nothing more than space, time, matter and the laws of physics and chemistry?
Many who give an explanation for consciousness from “inside the room” deny the existence of the non-material and conclude our minds are identical to our physical brains. A material universe could, according to this explanation, provide a physical brain through some long unguided process of evolutionary events and forces. If this is the case, our perception of consciousness might simply be the result of physical events in our material brains. Non-material consciousness would be nothing more than the result of physical events caused by our material brains. But if our mental is really just our brain activity, the following equation must also be true:
Illustrations from God’s Crime Scene
If the brain is identical to the mind, all the properties and qualities on one side of the equation should be identical to all the properties on the other side of the equation, and if this is the case, our non-material perception of mind is illusory; we are, in fact, nothing more than physical beings. If the mind is identical to the brain, what we commonly perceive as non-material consciousness is simply the activity of our physical brains. In order to see if this is the case (if the physical ingredients “in the room” of the universe could produce our non-material minds), we’ll have to investigate the evidence related to the properties and characteristics of our minds and our brains.
In God’s Crime Scene I provide five separate ways in which minds are different than brains. These distinctions demonstrate that physical properties and states of the brain are not identical to the mental properties and states of the mind. One aspect of mental states stands above others in distinguishing them from physical states. Philosophers refer to this as intentionality. Most mental states are directed; they are about something other than themselves. We often experience thoughts or concerns about the world around us. We worry about our jobs or our families.
When we possess a mental state (a worry, concern, fear, or hope), we are typically thinking about something. These mental states are not self-existent. They depend on the existence of something else. Let’s say, for example, I hear a noise outside my home and I am worried there might be a burglar. My thoughts are about the burglar and whether or not my door is locked. My mental state is dependent on the physical state of the burglar and the door.
This directedness and dependency is not true of physical entities. A door is not about anything else; it simply is (a door). Yet our non-material concerns about the door (the “about-ness” of our mental states) rely on the door’s material self-existence (its “is-ness”). Physical objects (like brains) can be in relationship with other physical objects (your brain can be in your skull or next to the person sitting on your right) but they are never about another physical object. Physical entities are undirected and self-existent. This property of your mind (the dependent, “about-ness” of your thoughts) is different than the self-existent “is-ness” of your brain.
In God’s Crime Scene I provide four more differences between brain and mind to illustrate the problem naturalistic atheism has accounting for consciousness. This blog post is a small excerpt from that work. In the book, I also explore every effort to explain our experience of consciousness from “inside the room” of the natural universe: Are mental states merely brain states? Are mental states nothing more than behavior? Are mental states only functional states? Are mental states non-existent? Every attempt to explain consciousness from “inside the room” fails. If, however, there is a non-material mind “outside the room” of the universe who has created us in His image, our experience of consciousness would make sense and could be explained from more than the inadequate resources of our limited physical universe. This short blog post is a excerpt from God’s Crime Scene. For more information, please refer to Chapter Five – Our Experience of Consciousness: Are We More Than Matter?
For more information about the scientific and philosophical evidence pointing to a Divine Creator, please read God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe. This book employs a simple crime scene strategy to investigate eight pieces of evidence in the universe to determine the most reasonable explanation. The book is accompanied by an eight-session God’s Crime Scene DVD Set (and Participant’s Guide) to help individuals or small groups examine the evidence and make the case.
J. Warner Wallace is a Dateline featured Cold-Case Detective, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Adj. Professor of Christian Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, author of Cold-Case Christianity, God’s Crime Scene, and Forensic Faith, and creator of the Case Makers Academy for kids.
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