The Argument from Consciousness in Eight Quick Points

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1) We cannot directly observe another creature’s consciousness, and we cannot measure or quantify conscious experiences. If we could describe every physical fact about a bat’s brain in every detail, we would still not have a description of what the bat experiences. There are facts about animals that are not physical facts – facts about “what it is like”. It does not matter how much data we gather, what we imagine or what new concepts we learn. We are forever barred from another animal’s rich world of experience.

2) Neuroscience can describe animals as a system of causal inputs, or representations, that produce certain casual outputs. But this description of the physical system with its inputs and outputs does not describe intrinsic, subjective feelings. We can only describe and understand emotions like fear and anger when we experience them ourselves in the first person – “from the inside”, as it were.

3) Subjects have privileged access to conscious events.  Observers could infer that I was in pain from my behaviour. However, I don’t need to infer that I am in pain by observing my behaviour or brain states; I feel it directly. There is nothing more to this mental event than the way it “appears” to me in subjective experience.  I am not picking out a physical event which causes or accompanies that experience.

4) Brain states and events have a complex physical structure that phenomenal awareness lacks. Conscious experience does not have a complex spatial structure; it cannot be broken down into various parts. We do not have privileged access to physical states and events; physical states and events can have a complex physical structure. So consciousness cannot be identical to anything in the physical world.

5) If there is more to the world than the physical, scientific materialism is false.

6) In every worldview some phenomena are foundational: they are not explained in terms of any more basic phenomena. On scientific materialism elementary physical entities and the laws which govern them are foundational. But conscious events are nothing like physical parts; there is nothing about the interaction of physical parts that  would lead us to predict  or enable us to understand  the existence of consciousness. Consciousness arrives very late in the history of the universe and late in the history of life as an inexplicable accident. Consciousness does not “fit naturally” into the materialist’s worldview.

7) However, consciousness is foundational on theism, because conscious agency characterises God as understood within theism. Theism has the explanatory resources to account for the existence of finite conscious beings in terms of God’s omniscience and omnipotence.

8)There is a correlation between physical events and mental events; certain events always produce some kind of pain, others always produce pleasure. There is a connection between the physical world and the world of consciousness. But what could connect the two? We must look to some underlying reality which could bring this connection about. The order present suggests that a mind is involved; and so God emerges as a good explanation, both for human consciousness, and for its connection with the physical world.


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