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Does the Existence of the Mind Provide Evidence for God?

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by J.P. Moreland


Many believe that finite (limited) 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.


This argument assumes a commonsense understanding of conscious states such as sensations, thoughts, beliefs, desires, and volitions. So understood, mental states are in no sense physical since they possess four features not owned by physical states:


1: There is a raw qualitative feel, or a “what it is like,” to have a mental state such as a pain.

2: Many mental states have intentionality-- being or aboutness-- directed toward an object (for example, a thought about the moon).

3: Mental states are inner, private, and immediate to the subject having them.

4: Mental states fail to have crucial features (for instance, spatial extension and location) that characterize physical states and, in general, cannot be described using physical language.


Given that conscious states are immaterial and not physical, at least two reasons have been offered for why there can be no natural scientific explanation for the existence of conscious states:


Something from nothing. Before consciousness appeared, the universe contained nothing but aggregates of particles/waves standing in fields of forces. The naturalistic story of the cosmos’s evolution involves the rearrangement of atomic parts into increasingly more complex structures according to natural law. Matter is brute, mechanical, physical stuff. The emergence of consciousness seems to be a case of getting something from nothing. In general, physico-chemical reactions do not generate consciousness. Some say they do in the brain, yet brains seem similar to other parts of organisms’ bodies (e.g., both are collections of cells totally describable in physical terms). How can like causes produce radically different effects? The appearance of mind is utterly unpredictable and inexplicable. This radical discontinuity seems like rupture in the natural world.


The inadequacy of evolutionary explanations. Naturalists claim that evolutionary explanations can be provided for the appearance of all organisms and their parts. In principle, an evolutionary account could be given for increasingly complex physical structures that constitute different organisms. It is clear that as long as an organism, when receiving certain inputs, generates the correct behavioral outputs under the demands of reproductive advantage, the organism will survive. What goes on inside the organism is irrelevant and becomes significant for the processes of evolution only when an output is produced. Strictly speaking, it is the output, not what caused it, that impacts the struggle for reproductive advantage. Moreover, the functions organisms carry out consciously could just as well have been done unconsciously. Thus both the sheer existence of conscious states and the precise mental content that constitutes them is outside the pale of evolutionary explanation.


It will not do to claim that consciousness simply emerged from matter when it reached a certain level of complexity, because “emergence” is merely a label for, and not an explanation of, the phenomena to be explained.

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