Monday, June 30, 2008


In the last post, I highlighted a new book by J.P. Moreland, Consciousness and the Existence of God. I shared a quote that identifies the main thesis of the book, to wit that the existence of consciousness (in human beings and other living things) is better explained by Christian theism than by naturalism. A reader, Steven, skeptical of Moreland's thesis, offered some comments that I'd like to address. If nothing else, it might help us all--if we sincerely seek truth--to think more clearly about such issues.

I'll take Steven's last comment first, since it is so obviously an attempt to sidestep the argument.* In response to Moreland's claim, "If you start with particles and just rearrange them according to physical law, you won't get mind," Steven writes,
Gosh! This guy Moreland can tell us everything that can ever happen in a universe of amazing size and complexity. What a genius!
I suspect that Moreland legitimately qualifies as a genius (though I am not privy to his scores on an I.Q. test), but that is irrelevant to the issue. So, too, is the notion that accurately assessing that physical law is inadequate for explaining the origin of consciousness is equivalent to knowing all things about the universe. Steven's comment here is both a straw-man and an ad hominem (abusive), and does not in any way provide us with reason to think that Moreland's conclusion is a false one.

Regarding the question 'How does consciousness exist?', Steven also mischaracterizes both the naturalist position ("That is a difficult question.") and Moreland's ("It just does.") Moreland's view is not that consciousness 'just exists,' but rather that consciousness (that of a self-existent, eternal, transcendent, personal Being) precedes all of the material of this universe (including the physical aspects of living things). While Steven may not like this view, it is a perfectly reasonable one. Indeed, it has been the default view for the vast majority of the history of Western civilization, and is being continually supported by the latest scientific discoveries.

There was only a brief window of time (from Kant until Einstein), in fact, when the alternate view--that the universe itself was eternal--seemed at all likely. But with general relativity now the most rigorously tested--and validated--concept in all of physics, we know that the universe had a beginning, and the only real objection that has ever been made to the cosmological argument for the existence of God has been soundly refuted.

In short, Moreland's claim that consciousness precedes the material aspects of this universe is on firmer evidential footing than ever, and on far firmer footing than the materialist alternative.

Moreover, the idea that the origin of consciousness is merely a difficult question (for the naturalist) is greatly understated. The origin of consciousness (and other immaterial things, like mind, soul, or spirit, thoughts, memories, emotions) is so problematic for the materialist view that naturalists have spent much of the last several decades trying to deny the existence of such things. Unfortunately, the evidence (and reason) are all against such a denial. And that is why materialists have had to offer up hand-waving 'emergent law' ideas.

(More in the next post.)

* It should be clear to anyone following these posts that the brief quote I shared does not contain Moreland's argument. Rather, it identifies the conclusion of that argument. The argument itself, and refutations of each of the extant rebuttals to it, are found in the full-length version (the book, not the sound bite from the Amazon interview). If Steven or any other skeptic truly believes that Moreland's position is flawed, they would do well to read the book and interact with the argument as there presented. Alternatively, those in Central Oregon in early November may have opportunity at the Conference to dialogue with J.P. about the supposed inadequacies of his view.

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