There’s nothing buttery about the truth.

Posted on October 1, 2020 By

nothing buttery

Imagine if, one evening, you were enjoying dinner at a restaurant until a person at the next table lit up a cigarette and clouded your face with smoke. You politely point out the no smoking sign on the wall, but the person smoking the cigarette defends himself by insisting that the sign is “nothing but” ink and paper. He defies you to prove otherwise. Such arguments (which C.S. Lewis referred to as “nothing buttery”) are known as reductionism, since they try to unjustifiably reduce things to their physical/material manifestations. 

Or, imagine if you decided to tell your spouse that your wedding vows were “nothing but” vibrations of air molecules known as sound waves. (Please do not try this at home). Would this characterization be logically defensible? Certainly not. 

Genuine truth seekers must therefore be equipped to identify the nothing buttery fallacy (reductionism) when it appears in atheist arguments. For example, atheism desperately needs consciousness to be “nothing but” the chemical and electrical activity in the human brain. If consciousness were a phenomenon which could exist independent of the matter which makes up a human brain, this would open wide the door for the immaterial conscious entity which atheism exists to deny (God). But a little logical examination reveals why the suggestion that consciousness is nothing but brain activity is really nothing but nonsense. 

Many people have felt the presence of God while experiencing a scene of natural beauty, such as a rainbow or a sunset. From the theistic perspective, the existence of beauty is best interpreted as a divine expression of love. But how does one interpret the existence of beauty from the vantage point of atheism? The atheist is stuck with an “it just is” explanation for beauty. However, “it just is” does not constitute an explanation. Rather, it constitutes a fatal explanatory failure.

Color does not exist in the physical/material world.

Further, the colors in scenes of beauty are an enormous problem for atheist attempts to reduce consciousness to chemical and electrical activity in the brain. Independent of human experience, there is no such thing as color. In the physical world, colors exist only as different wavelengths of light, not as experiences of red, green, orange, blue, etc. Various wavelengths of light cause humans to experience various colors, but wavelengths themselves contain no color. Keith Ward, retired Professor of Philosophy at Kings College in London, and a member of the Council of the Royal Institute of Philosophy writes in More than Matter?:

One of the most important features of objects in our experience is color. When we admire a beautiful view, we usually admire the colors objects have. But physicists tell us that color is a product of the brain. External objects emit electromagnetic waves. Some of these impinge on the cones in human eyes, and cause electrochemical impulses that land up in the visual cortex. Only after that long causal journey do colors appear to us. The original wavelengths have no color. They cause sensations of color when they affect human sense-organs and the human brain.

But where are the colors themselves? They are not literally in the brain, as physical objects. The brain does not change color when we see colored objects. They are not on the objects we see, which have no color. Colors are, as John Locke said, following Galileo, secondary qualities. They do not belong to external objects. They are contents of the mind, when stimulated by the brain, which in turn has been stimulated by wavelengths of light. Colors are caused by physical events, but they are not themselves physical events. They are how consciousness perceives physical events. There is a causal basis of conscious events, but it does not exist as we see it.

But one may ask:  Since consciousness has been traced to the human brain, doesn’t this imply that consciousness is a material phenomenon of brain activity? The answer to this question lies in the crucial distinction between mental states and their brain correlates. UCLA Professor of Research Psychiatry Dr. Jeffrey Schwarz explains this crucial difference in his book titled The Mind and the Brain:

Consider this thought experiment, based on one first advanced by the Australian philosopher Frank Jackson. Imagine a color-blind neuroscientist who has chosen to study color vision. (Jackson called her Mary.) She maps, with great precision, exactly what happens when light of a wavelength of 650 nanometers falls on the eyes of a volunteer. She laboriously traces the pathway that analyzes color through the lateral geniculate body of the thalamus, along the sweeping fibers of the optic radiation, into the primary visual cortex. Then she carefully notes the activation of the relevant areas of the visual association cortex in the temporal lobe. The volunteer reports the outcome: he sees red! So far, so good. The neuroscientist has precisely described the stimulus—light of a precise wavelength. She has meticulously traced the brain circuits that are activated by this stimulus. And she has been told, by her volunteer, that the whole sequence adds up to a perception of red.

Can we now say that our neuroscientist knows, truly and deeply knows, the feeling of seeing red? She certainly knows the input, and she knows its neural correlates. But if she got out of bed the next morning to find that her color blindness had miraculously remitted, and her gaze fell on a field of crimson poppies, the experience of “red” at that instant would be dramatically and qualitatively different from the knowledge she had gained in the lab about how the brain registers the color red. Mary would now have the conscious, subjective, felt experience of color.

We needn’t belabor the point that there is a very real difference between understanding the physiological mechanisms of perception and having a conscious perceptual experience. For now, let’s say the latter has something to do with awareness of, and attention to, what is delivered for inspection by the perceptual machinery of the central nervous system. This conscious experience, this mental state called a sense of red, is not coherently described, much less entirely explained, by mapping corresponding neural activity. Neuroscientists have successfully identified the neural correlates of pain, of depression, of anxiety. None of those achievements, either, amounts to a full explanation of the mental experience that neural activity underlies. The explanatory gap has never been bridged. And the inescapable reason is this: a neural state is not a mental state. The mind is not the brain, though it depends on the material brain for its existence (as far as we know). As the philosopher Colin McGinn says, “The problem with materialism is that it tries to construct the mind out of properties that refuse to add up to mentality.”

The brain is better described as a receiver of consciousness (like a TV set) than a producer of consciousness (like a computer).

Much of modern academia regards the brain to be akin to a computer which produces consciousness. But, in a BBC documentary titled The Day I Died, Dutch consciousness researcher Dr. Pim Van Lommel argues that the brain is best described as a receiver of consciousness, rather than a producer of consciousness. Much as a TV set receives TV shows, but does not actually produce them, the brain serves as a receiver of consciousness. (Van Lommel makes this point in the first few minutes of this documentary, featured below):

The TV set model of the brain is consistent with the philosophical stance known as idealism (in which theism is rooted) which says that consciousness comes first and produces matter. As I note in God is Real, Why Modern Physics Has Discredited Atheism, the idealist model is strongly supported by modern physics.

Conversely, the materialist philosophical stance (in which atheism is almost always rooted) says that matter comes first and consciousness eventually emerges from matter. Materialists usually compare the brain to a computer, since they regard the brain as the producer of consciousness.

Materialism (in which atheism is rooted) is impossible to rectify with modern science.

But, unbeknownst to our culture, modern science left materialism behind in the dust a long time ago. Regarding materialism, Werner Heisenberg, the physicist who won the Nobel Prize for creating quantum mechanics, wrote:

“[This] frame was so narrow and rigid that it was difficult to find a place in it for many concepts of our language that had always belonged to its very substance, for instance, the concept of mind, of the human soul or of life. Mind could be introduced into the general picture only as a kind of mirror of the material world.”

As Heisenberg alludes to above, mind (consciousness) is impossible rectify with the materialist worldview. Quantum theory describes the motion of objects at the atomic and subatomic level. One of several quantum phenomena which confound materialism is known as  nonlocality. According to nonlocality, it is impossible to isolate an unobserved quantum object, such as an electron, into a bounded region of space. Science writer George Musser discusses nonlocality in an article for Scientific American:

In everyday speech, “locality” is a slightly pretentious word for a neighborhood, town or other place. But its original meaning, dating to the 17th century, is about the very concept of “place.” It means that everything has a place. You can always point to an object and say, “Here it is.” If you can’t, that thing must not really exist. If your teacher asks where your homework is, and you say it isn’t anywhere, you have some explaining to do.

The world we experience possesses all the qualities of locality. We have a strong sense of place and of the relations among places. We feel the pain of separation from those we love and the impotence of being too far away from something we want to affect. And yet multiple branches of physics now suggest that, at a deeper level, there may be no such thing as place and no such thing as distance. Physics experiments can bind the fate of two particles together so that they behave like a pair of magic coins. If you flip them, each will land on heads or tails—but always on the same side as its partner. They act in a coordinated way even though no force passes through the space between them. Those particles might zip off to opposite sides of the universe, and still they act in unison. The particles violate locality—they transcend space.

The impossibility of rectifying the materialist worldview with nonlocality is easy to recognize: How can one suggest that nothing exists except for material things when the entire concept of location or place is an illusion? Location is crucial aspect of material objects. As Musser notes above, if you cannot point to an object and say “here it is,” then in what sense can that object be said to exist as a material thing? But subatomic particles do not really have a location, as nonlocality illustrates. 

God is the ground of all being, not matter.

Atheists argue in favor of what physicist Amit Goswami terms the upward causation model, in which elementary particles make atoms, which make molecules, which make living cells, which make the brain, which produces consciousness. According to the upward causation model, then, everything begins with elementary particles, and winds up with consciousness (in human brains) as the result of mindless and random processes working over millions of years. This is the matter-first view known as materialism which declares matter to be prime reality, or the something-from-which-everything-else-comes. But, as Goswami points out in Creative Evolution, downward causation (in which a conscious mind comes first) is the actual state of affairs, despite being an utterly alien concept to modern western culture. Indeed, the founder of quantum physics himself, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Max Plank was referring the downward causation model (in which everything begins with, and is grounded in a consciousness) when he wrote:

“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.”

Yale University biophysicist Harold J. Morowitz reflects Goswami’s inverted concept of reality (downward causation) in his article Rediscovering the Mind:

Something peculiar has been going on in science for the past 100 years or so. Many researchers are unaware of it, and others won’t admit it even to their own colleagues. What has happened is that biologists, who once postulated a privileged role for the human mind in nature’s hierarchy, have been moving relentlessly toward the hard-core materialism that characterized nineteenth-century physics. At the same time, physicists, faced with compelling experimental evidence, have been moving away from strictly mechanical models of the universe to a view that sees the mind as playing an integral role in all physical events. It is as if the two disciplines were on fast-moving trains, going in opposite directions and not noticing what is happening across the tracks.”

As difficult as it may be for our materialist culture to comprehend, an immaterial consciousness or mind (read: God) is a much better candidate for the ground of all being (prime reality, or the “something from which everything else comes”) than matter or stuff. Nobel Prize-winning physicist Anthony Hewish comments in the foreword to Questions of Truth:  Fifty-one Responses to Questions about God, Science, and Belief :

“The ghostly presence of virtual particles defies rational common sense and is non-intuitive for those unacquainted with physics. Religious belief in God, and Christian belief that God became Man around two thousand years ago, may seem strange to common-sense thinking. But when the most elementary physical things behave in this way, we should be prepared to accept that the deepest aspects of our existence go beyond our common-sense intuitions.”

Similarly, the knighted mathematician, physicist and astronomer Sir James Jeans comments in his book The Mysterious Universe:

“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 are mine)

Goswami further explains that the insights of modern physics reveal God to be the ground of all being or prime reality (the something-from-which-everything-else-comes) because an immaterial conscious mind is required to explain the famous observer effect in physics. The observer effect refers to the conclusion of modern physics that, prior to observation by a conscious observer, particles exist only in an immaterial form known as a possibility wave (or probability wave). It is only after an observation is made by a conscious observer that these possibilities “collapse into actuality,” thereby taking on material form. Readers who find this bizarre or difficult to understand are in good company. Even the world’s most elite physicists (who are often as entrenched in modern western culture as the average layperson) are amazed and puzzled by the observer effect. However, it has been repeatedly scientifically verified. [Please click here to watch a video explaining the observer effect.]

Physicist Richard Conn Henry from Johns Hopkins University agrees with Goswami that downward causation by God (theism) is the only reasonable conclusion one can draw from modern physics:

“Why do people cling with such ferocity to belief in a mind-independent reality? It is surely because if there is no such reality, then ultimately (as far as we can know) mind alone exists. And if mind is not a product of real matter, but rather is the creator of the illusion of material reality (which has, in fact, despite the materialists, been known to be the case since the discovery of quantum mechanics in 1925), then a theistic view of our existence becomes the only rational alternative to solipsism.” [“Solipsism” is defined as “the view or theory that the self is all that can be known to exist.”

…so put that on your popcorn.

  1. Jeff Mwangi says:

    Dear Scott,

    Your essay was similar to the argument from beauty. Dr. Alexander Pruss is the one who popularized the argument from beauty. Are you familiar with Dr. Pruss? He did a lecture on Capturing Christianity’s channel YT channel.

    Yours Sincerely,

    • Glenn Dudley says:

      Hi Scott, I clicked the italicize button and my comment disappeared. I had essentially said that your essay was a good read, well-written as usual. And that you might enjoy my recently published book: God and the Anatomy of the Brain: Explaining Mind in a Universe of Matter (Amazon). And my other book as well: Mind, Matter and God: Exploding the Myth of Evolution–which deals largely with why atheism is flawed.
      Thanks for your excellent contributions. – Glenn

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