Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Why Materialism Can't Explain Consciousness

Last month, at the Science and Faith conference at Franciscan University, I gave a short response to Alvin Plantinga arguing that if materialism and Darwinism were both true, we ought not to have minds, that is, sentience or consciousness.  In other words, materialist Darwinism cannot account for the mind. I got some blow back from folks who thought I hadn't considered the issue deeply enough.  I wish I had remembered to use this quote (which I filed some time ago) from atheist philosopher Raymond Tallis, in an edition of The Philosophers Magazine, who really makes my case for me:

    Consciousness makes evolutionary sense only if one does not start far enough back; if, that is to say, one fails to assume a consistent and sincere materialist position, beginning with a world without consciousness, and then considers whether there could be putative biological drivers for organisms to become conscious. This is the only valid starting point for those who look to evolution to explain consciousness, given that the history of matter has overwhelmingly been without conscious life, indeed without history. Once the viewpoint of consistent materialism is assumed, it ceases to be self-evident that it is a good thing to experience what is there, that it will make an organism better able so to position itself in the causal net as to increase the probability of replication of its genomic material. On the contrary, even setting aside the confusional states it is prone to, and the sleep it requires, consciousness seems like the worst possible evolutionary move.

    If there isn’t an evolutionary explanation of consciousness, then the world is more interesting than biologists would allow. And it gets even more interesting if we unbundle different modes of consciousness. There are clearly separate problems in trying to explain on the one hand the transition to sentience and on the other the transition from sentience to the propositional awareness of human beings that underpins the public sphere in which they live and have their being, where they consciously utilise the laws of nature, transform their environment into an artefactscape, appeal to norms in a collective that is sustained by deliberate intentions rather than being a lattice of dovetailing automaticities, and write books such as The Origin of Species. Those who are currently advocating evolutionary or neuro-evolutionary explanations of the most complex manifestations of consciousness in human life, preaching neuro-evolutionary aesthetics, law, ethics, economics, history, theology etc, should consider whether the failure to explain any form of consciousness, never mind human consciousness, in evolutionary terms, might not pull the rug from under their fashionable feet.
Thank you, Raymond Tallis, for clearly stating the obvious truth when few are willing to!

By the way, the presentations from the Franciscan Science and Faith conference are now up, including those by Michael Behe, Jay Richards, Stephen Barr, Ed Feser, Ben Wiker, and Al Plantinga.  My response to Plantinga is at the end of his video above.

What does this have to do with Biblical studies?  Actually, quite a bit, because the major challenge to the biblical world view in contemporary culture is the atheist-evolutionist-materialist metanarrative that everything is the accidental byproduct of material processes.


Thomas Mary James Gette said...

This is one of the major things that has always baffled me about the theory of evolution, from a purely materialist/atheistic stand-point. It seems that science attempts to account for things that it is not equipped to wrestle with, this being one of them.

From a purely rudimentary look at the theory, it seems illogical to propose that material objects and molecules can exist together long enough to eventually evolve to become something that is either autonomous and/or conscious. Is that not a leap of faith to make such a claim? Besides, what does "survival of the fittest" even mean for random molecules and matter?

Nick said...


Pseudoscience isn't science. Darwinism is pseudoscience, but evolution is science.

I recommend you read Fides et Ratio:


The Sacred Page,

Another argument against materialism, which I use, is this:

Materialism believes only what is material is real
Logic is immaterial
Logic is real
What is material is not only what is real
Hence, materialism is false

You can also replace logic with morals, knowledge, or any other philosophical truth and it would be able to refute materialism.

And beware of the pseudoscientific claim that logic (or morals, knowledge, etc.) is material due to our perception of them (two apples plus two apples equals four, human brains are hardwired to think morally, humans have the "knowledge gene", etc.).

This claim is pseudoscientific because science cannot make declarations on things it cannot experiment on and because the claim is based on circular reasoning.

This claim is based on circular reasoning, because it presupposes materialism is real and it uses materialism to prove that what is immaterial is material.

ZildjianAvedis said...

Right on, to the author and the comments above. Darwin (and the scientific community of the time) simply didn't understand the incredible complexity of a single cell, much less various tissues or organs. Evolutionists' answer to this question, increasing complexity by small steps over time, is just laughable when scrutinized. Michael Behe's book "Darwin's Black Box", as far as I'm concerned, proves through biology and chemistry alone that the theory of evolution is incorrect.