Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Regaining Consciousness

Steven asks,
So how does an unconcious human being regain consciousness? Does God work a miracle every time somebody comes out of the operating room? Does God have to remember not to restore consciousness until the anaesthetic wears off, or else people will be able to see a miracle?
I suspect that Steven thinks he's either being clever here, or else coming up with penetrating and difficult questions that somehow jeopardize Moreland's conclusion (see preceding posts) that the origin of consciousness is better explained by Christian theism than by naturalism.

As an aside, it continues to amaze me how often it is the defender of theism who wants to deal with reason and evidence and the person taking the side of materialistic science who tries to bring in theological considerations. The answers to Steven's questions here depend upon one's definition of miracle as well as one's understanding of the degree of God's sovereignty. And these are issues upon which even Christians come to different conclusions.

But none of these questions address the real issue (yes, these too are red herrings), which was the origin of consciousness. In fact, the subject of regaining consciousness further highlights the problems with a materialist view of personhood (and the superiority of the Christian view). Let me offer (in support of this claim) three lines of argument, two evidential and one logical.

There is a vast and growing body of data that clearly demonstrates that the person/mind exists independent of the human body. That is, in cases of lost consciousness or (especially) near-death experiences, the human mind can relate verifiable events from elsewhere that occurred while the unconscious or lifeless body remained in one place. (The best source I know for this sort of evidence is Beyond Death by Gary Habermas and J.P. Moreland.)

Another field of research that leads to the same conclusion (that mind/consciousness is independent of or separate from brain) is neurosurgery, specifically brain probing done with a conscious patient. In such cases, the surgeon can cause the patient's toe (say) to move by innervating a particular portion of the brain. The patient will frequently say (in effect), "You did that--it wasn't me." These sorts of results have led many of the leading neurophysiologists to abandon the naturalistic views with which they began and to accept that we are more than just physical beings, that we have a mind/soul/spirit.

Of course, philosophers have been skeptical of the materialist view since long before that skepticism was verified by empirical proofs. Simply put, consciousness and related things (thoughts, memories, desires, emotions) are categorically different than physical things like gray matter, neurons, brain cells. That is, we can--in discussing the latter--refer to their mass, or color, or electrical charge. But such physical characteristics are absurd for describing memories or consciousness.

This is not to say, of course, that our brains (and eyes and ears) have no role to play (at least at present) in our ability to access memories or to articulate sights and sounds. But the fact is (as science is increasingly demonstrating), persons (that is, conscious minds) can see real events while those persons are no longer associated with their bodies. The strangest examples include blind people, some of whose 'minds' acurately desribe events that their sightless eyes would have prevented them from accessing had they still been in their bodies.

The point is, human consciousness exists apart from the human body, a scientific finding that is fatal to a materialist understanding of the world. Steven's facetious attempt at raising the issue of 'lost consciousness' strengthens the theistic view espoused by Moreland in his new book (and weakens the materialist view Steven seems to want to defend).


Ariel said...

Could you explain more about the blind people who could see things that they "shouldn't" have been able to?

Rick Gerhardt said...

Hi Ariel:

The study of near-death experiences (NDEs) has become in recent years a robust scientific discipline. Many are the cases where people with no brain activity and declared clinically dead have subsequently recovered (come back to life) and related things they couldn't have seen from where their body lay. These have included an accident down the street, a tennis shoe on the roof of the hospital, and such, and researchers now are ready to take the steps necessary to immediately verify each such case.

Regarding such cases regarding blind people, here's a quote from Beyond Death... "One congenitally blind woman reported an NDE that apparently included color images, in which she correctly reported several items that she claimed to have seen. Even more evidentially, she described a rendezvous with two of her close friends, both also blind, and was able to accurately describe each one in physical terms, even though she had never seen either before! Even further, both of these friends were dead at the time of the NDE!"

Such cases verify that we are more than just our physical bodies, that our minds are separate from our brains, and that who we are is separate from the body in which we reside. Yes, the blind person will one day see, when eventually freed from this body. Likewise, the person debilitated by stroke will one day think and speak clearly again, and that for all eternity.

Thanks for reading.