The Ultimate Cart-Before-the-Horse (Why Atheism is Illogical).
“There is a wide measure of agreement which, on the physical side of science approaches almost unanimity, that the stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality; the universe begins to look more like a great thought than a great machine. Mind no longer appears as an accidental intruder into the realm of matter. We are beginning to suspect that we ought rather to hail mind as the creator and governor of the realm of matter.” (italics added)
–The knighted mathematician, physicist and astronomer Sir James Jeans, as quoted in his book The Mysterious Universe.
“I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.”
–Nobel Prize winning physicist Max Planck, who founded quantum theory, and who is therefore one of the most important physicists of all time.
Atheism relies on logic and science, and accepts nothing on faith. Belief in God is a primitive superstition that can only be adopted by weak minded people who ignore cold, hard logic in favor of logically unsupported, faith-based beliefs. Adopting atheism entails turning away from faith in favor of logic and reason….
…or so goes the atheist credo. And this self-flattering atheist narrative has become so prevalent in the media and popular culture that, sadly, many people have begun to believe it largely as a result of hearing it repeated so often. But the atheist credo suffers from one fatal flaw: It is completely backwards. Atheism relies much more on faith than does theism, and it is atheism that is utterly illogical.
To show where I am going with this, it is appropriate to start with a little review. As I described in my essay titled God Is Real…Why Modern Physics Has Discredited Atheism, atheists and theists tend to agree that there is an ultimate reality, or a “something-that-has-always-existed.” Physicist George Stanciu and philosopher Robert Augros, in their book The New Story of Science (as I cite in that essay), put it succinctly: “…something must have always existed; for if ever absolutely nothing existed, then nothing would exist now, since nothing comes from nothing.” Somewhat reworded, Stanciu’s and Aurgros’ point could be stated as follows: “There must be an ultimate reality (or a “something-that-has-always-existed”) of some sort, because, if at any point there was nothing, there would still be nothing because nothingness can’t cause anything to exist or to happen.” Atheists and theists just differ on what this ultimate reality is.
In the above mentioned essay, I describe how atheism is rooted in the naturalist (or materialist) view which says that the physical universe or nature is the ultimate reality and that mind or consciousness eventually emerges (in human brains) from mindless matter as a result of natural processes. Theism, conversely, holds that a pre-existing mind (God) is the ultimate reality and that matter (as well as everything else, including human minds) are the product of this pre-existent mind. So, perhaps it could be said that the theism/atheism debate can be distilled to the question of, “Did mind (or ‘consciousness’) come from matter, or did matter come from mind?”
Because of the undercurrent of deeply entrenched materialist assumptions that prevail in modern secular culture, the idea of a pre-existent mind without a body may seem foreign, even alien, to many people initially. And to atheists, the idea is downright superstitious and naively make-believe. But common sense impressions cannot be relied upon because they are formed, in part, by one’s cultural environment and psychological makeup. Therefore, it is a failure of logic to not expose one’s common sense impressions to the same level of scrutiny as anything else.
To determine if consciousness came first, or if it emerged from mindless matter, it is first necessary to do a little homework on consciousness. Jeffrey M. Schwartz is a Professor of Research Psychiatry at UCLA. He comments on the difficulty of explaining how the brain can produce consciousness in his book The Mind and the Brain:
“How does a mental reality, a world of consciousness, intentionality and other mental phenomena, fit into a world consisting entirely of physical particles in fields of force? If the answer is that it doesn’t—that mental phenomena are different in kind from the material world of particles—then what we have here is an explanatory gap, a term first used in this context by the philosopher Joseph Levine in his 1983 paper Materialism and Qualia: The Explanatory Gap. And so, although correlating physical brain activity with mental events is an unquestionable scientific triumph, it has left many students of the brain unsatisfied. For neither neuroscientist nor philosopher has adequately explained how the behavior of neurons can give rise to subjectively felt mental states.”
“…It seems ridiculous even to consider why a handful of wires and transistors fails to generate subjective perceptions, then ask the same question about neurons outside the brain. Why is it that no neurons other than those in a brain are capable of giving the owner of that brain a qualitative, subjective sensation—an inner awareness? The activity of neurons in our fingertips that distinguish hot from cold, for example, is not associated in and of itself with conscious perception. But the activity of neurons in the brain, upstream of the fingertips’ sensory neurons, is. If the connection linking the fingers to the brain through the spinal cord is severed, all sensation in those fingers is lost. What is it about the brain that has granted to its own neurons the almost magical power to create a felt, subjective experience from bursts of electrochemical activity little different from that transpiring downstream, back in the fingertips? This represents one of the central mysteries of how matter (meat?) generates mind.”
“…As the evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin puts it, ‘One restricts one’s questions to the domain where materialism is unchallenged.’”
Consciousness cannot be simply the result of meat (the brain) because consciousness is a property entirely separate from matter. Consciousness has an irreducible existence. Regardless of how complex a material thing such as a brain gets through evolution, it remains just that…a highly complex material thing, and not a conscious or personal thing.
Moreover, the inescapable problem with materialistic explanations for consciousness is that they ignore the need for a subject in subjective experiences, or in other words, the need for an experiencer of experiences.
Moreover, the inescapable problem with materialistic explanations for consciousness is that they ignore the need for a subject in subjective experiences, or in other words, the need for an experiencer of experiences. A person is a subject that can experience subjective experiences. Brain chemicals and electrical signals in the brain cannot be subjects. Just think about it…the last time that you were enjoying a piece of music, was it the chemicals and electricity in your brain enjoying the music, or was it you enjoying the music?
Keith Ward is a retired Professor of Philosophy from Kings College (in London) and a member of the Royal Institute of Philosophy. He writes in his book Doubting Dawkins: Why There Almost Certainly is a God:
“…It is only fair to point out that there are things he [the atheist author and biologist Richard Dawkins] systematically neglects to mention, but that a great many philosophers, both dead and alive, accept. Two big ones are: the irreducible existence of consciousness, and the irreducible nature of personal explanation.”
“It is very unsatisfactory to have two different sorts of explanation, with no obvious way of connecting them in one coherent scheme of thought. The materialist hypothesis tries to connect them either by reducing the personal to the physical (reductive materialism), or by supposing that the personal just emerges out of the physical for no particular reason (emergent or non-reductive materialism). The former theory conflicts with our everyday experience of conscious life. The latter gives up on explanation.”
Simply put, the materialist/naturalist (matter comes first) view struggles mightily to explain such things as the existence of consciousness and personhood because consciousness and personhood are entirely different phenomena than matter. Because consciousness and personhood are not just highly complicated matter, the increasing complexity of material things through evolution cannot be cited as the cause of conscious, personal beings such as ourselves.
Materialists/naturalists try to get around this problem by using some highly contorted mental gymnastics. As Ward notes, the two main methods for getting around this problem that materialism/naturalism utilizes are reductive materialism and emergent or non-reductive materialism.
Reductive materialism tries to reduce the personal (as well as consciousness) to the material. So, put another way, reductive materialism says, “There really is no personal, just the material.” In effect, you as a person don’t really exist. I hate to be the one to deliver the bad news, but your existence as a person is really nothing but an illusion produced by a complex arrangement of matter. What you refer to as “me” is really nothing but “a survival machine….a robot vehicle blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes,” to quote the atheist biologist Richard Dawkins from The Selfish Gene. If learning that you are a mindless robot instead of a person has ruined your day, I ask that you please forgive me. (And please forgive the preceding brief interlude into sarcasm, but I am intending to show, as Ward points out, that this explanation “conflicts with our everyday experience of conscious life.”)
Emergent or non-reductive materialism attempts to get around the problem by basically “giving up on explanation,” as Ward puts it. No offense to Ward, but I think a better explanation of the problem with emergent or non-reductive materialism is that it confuses an observation of the emergence of such properties as consciousness, intelligence, and personhood with an explanation for the emergence of such properties. As an example, to the question of how consciousness emerges from non-conscious matter, emergent or non-reductive materialism basically answers that once the complexity level of the brain evolves to a certain level, PRESTO, you have consciousness. Consciousness “emerges” once the complexity level of the human brain reaches a certain degree. The “emergence” of consciousness in complex brains is an observation that materialists/naturalists confuse with an explanation for the phenomenon of consciousness. Yes, consciousness “emerges” in highly complex brains…good job. Now please explain why this is so. Emergent or non-reductive materialism provides no such explanation, but rather, “gives up on explanation,” because to observe something is not equivalent to explaining it.
And, as an example of the “irreducible nature of personal explanation,” consider a work of art such as a painting. Since materialism declares that there is no reality other than the material, the painting, according to materialism, is really nothing but a complex collection of paint molecules arranged in a particular way. The painting IS the paint and the canvas…nothing else. Materialism leaves no room whatsoever for the personal expression the artist intended to convey.
But everyday experience declares that this is absurd. What the artist intended to convey is personal, not material. The paint and canvas are just tools to express the personal.
Some atheists may at this point be objecting, “You are using God-of-the-gaps reasoning. Just because science doesn’t yet know how brains can produce consciousness and the personal, doesn’t mean that it never will. We can’t just give up and say, ‘God did it.’” But this is circular reasoning because if consciousness (God’s mind) is the ultimate reality, then THERE ARE NO GAPS TO BRIDGE. God’s mind as the ultimate reality would be a case of “the God of the whole show,” not a case of God filling in explanatory gaps. It is only if matter is the ultimate reality that there are explanatory gaps to bridge. So an atheist making the accusation that “God of the gaps” reasoning is being committed is starting with the assumption that matter is the ultimate reality as a means of reasoning back to the pre-determined conclusion that matter is the ultimate reality.
And a philosophical system that insists that matter is the ultimate reality (materialism/naturalism) can only continue running into a brick wall when it comes to explaining the existence of properties that are clearly not material…properties such as consciousness and personhood. Watching materialists/naturalists try to explain consciousness and personhood reminds one of watching someone feverishly trying to hammer square pegs into round holes…it just doesn’t fit. As the philosopher John Locke, who was one of the most important Enlightenment thinkers, put it:
“It is as impossible to conceive that ever pure incogitative matter should produce a thinking intelligent being, as that nothing should of itself produce matter.”
Believing atheism requires an enormous amount of faith that material explanations can account for the existence of consciousness and personhood (or intelligence, or life, for that matter). The assumption that science will eventually provide satisfactory material explanations for everything was mockingly referred to as “promissory materialism” by the eminent philosopher of science Karl Popper. Is it not ironic that the atheist credo (stated at the beginning of this essay) declares that atheism does not rely on faith, and yet, atheism places faith in the notion that science can provide material explanations for properties which are clearly not material?
Keith Ward continues with regards to the difficulty of citing a mindless cause for mind, and an impersonal cause for the personal, etc.:
“…there is force in the classical philosophical axiom that, for a truly explanatory cause to be intelligible, it must contain its effects potentially in itself. As the classical philosophers put it, the cause must contain more reality than its effects.”
When Ward cites the axiom that a cause “must contain its effects potentially in itself,” he is simply stating (in philosophical language) that the cause of conscious, personal, intelligent beings must itself be conscious, intelligent, and personal. Mindless matter cannot eventually cause conscious, personal, intelligent beings because it does not contain the potential to do so. In order to have the potential to do so, mindless matter must have some sort of mechanism to bring about this gradual evolution. What is this mechanism? Was it the laws of physics? Ok, fine. Why is it that matter so consistently follows such laws? What causes it to do so? The theistic explanation for why matter follows physical laws (such as the laws of physics, thermodynamics, etc.) is simple…the same mind that creates matter also directs it. As Robert Boyle, the founder of modern chemistry, put it: “The nature of this or that body is but the law of God prescribed to it [and] to speak properly, a law [is] but a notional rule of acting according to the declared will of a superior.” [italics added]
When atheism is asked the question of how it is that matter can be compelled to follow such physical laws, it is stuck with an it just does answer. But “it just does” is not an answer. Rather, it is an avoidance of a question that atheism cannot answer. Atheism is a faith constructed of it just does and just so assumptions. Norman Geisler coins the term “just-so storytelling” in his book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. I highly recommend it.
I conclude by calling attention to the principle known as Ockham’s Razor, which states that, other things being equal, a simpler explanation is better than a more complex one. In order to do away with a number of facts which are inconvenient to the atheist ideology, atheism must resort to a large amount of elaborate explaining away. This makes atheism much less simple than theism. Below I cite several examples of this elaborate (and often ridiculous) explaining away.
1) In Why Life Could Not Have Emerged Without God, I describe how prominent atheist biologists have resorted to citing intervention from space aliens (as well as a couple of other real humdinger explanations) to explain the origin of life.
2) In God Is Real…Why Modern Physics Has Discredited Atheism, I describe how modern physics strongly supports the mind-as-ultimate-reality model, which contradicts atheistic materialism/naturalism. Does this mean that all physicists believe in God? Of course not. But what it does mean is that physicists who cling tenaciously to atheism must make absolutely embarrassing philosophical errors in doing so, as describe in Who Is Playing Make-Believe? (Atheists or Theists). In this essay, I also describe how atheist physicists must resort to extremely elaborate explanations for the origin of the universe (such as the existence of 10 to the 500th power universes) in order to do away with God.
3) I detail how many thousands of people have claimed to have met God in what is known as a Near-Death Experience, in Has Anyone Met God and Returned to Tell About It? The NDE phenomenon has become so convincing and so difficult to ignore that atheists have had to resort to explaining the phenomenon away as a result of hallucination…even though this explanation clearly does not fit since hallucinations are too unique to the individual to share such consistent similarity.
4) Doesn’t Evolution Prove the Biblical Account of Creation to Be False? illustrates how remarkably similar the biblical and scientific accounts of creation are. The essay includes a video featuring the MIT physicist and biblical scholar Gerald Schroeder (which is very highly recommended). As far as I can tell, the only atheist replies to Schroeder’s arguments are that the similarities are a coincidence.