Consciousness; As Big An Enigma For Evolutionary Science As Ever

The Limits of Reductionism Are Becoming Increasingly Plain...

Apparently momentarily forgetting his Darwinistic Materialism, my acquaitance said, 'there is no (materialist) explanation and I doubt if there ever will be. Consciousness cannot be explained in such a way. I am inclined to think it can only be explained spiritually.'

W hen studying at Cardiff University back in the 1990s, I met an expert on the brain, oh yes, a real 'expert' and a published man at that. I met him because I occasionally liked to leave my 'humanities' section and mix with those involved in other fields. This was somewhat frowned upon (mainly for security reasons, I guess), but not impossible.

Upon meeting this man and discovering his field, I did not reveal my own background (theology) and have no idea whether he guessed it. One day, after learning of his seniority in his field, I asked him a major question. My question was framed something like this, "can you state a materialist and reductionist explanation of consciousness?" I still recall his startled look upon hearing my question. Since I wasn't one of his own students he could have simply refused my question but - to his credit - he did not. He said, "there is no explanation and I doubt if there ever will be. Consciousness cannot be explained in such a way. I am inclined to think it can only be explained spiritually." Since - in a sense - I got this response in a somewhat crafty manner, I have never quoted this man's name but I do know he was not a believer and was fully supportive of materialistic Darwinist modern 'science.' I believe (though cannot be sure) that such remains the case. Yet here he suddenly let his guard down and gave an honest opinion, apparently momentarily forgetting his Darwinistic Materialism.

Consciousness and information probably remain the two biggest problems for evolutionary science. Neither can ever be adequately explained within the parameters of evolutionary and mechanistic science. Evolutionists know this, of course, and these are areas they much prefer to avoid. In this article we look at the 'problem' (for evolutionary thinking, that is) of consciousness. As Physicist Nick Herbert has written,

Science's biggest mystery is the nature of consciousness. It is not that we possess bad or imperfect theories of human awareness; we simply have no such theories at all. About all we know about consciousness is that it has something to do with the head, rather than the foot. (Quoted in Dean Radin, The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena. San Francisco: Harper, 1997., p265).

Raymond Tallis, the distinguished philosopher.

Atheist or not, Raymond Tallis has ridiculed some of the behaviour of his fellow-evolutionists, especially some trendy newer writers and admits evolution cannot provide an explanation for human consciousness; he even appears to ponder whether the failure over consciousness could lead to the eventual demise of evolutionary theory (further details in main article).

Philosopher of the mind Alan Wallace has stated the problem like this:

Despite centuries of modern philosophical and scientific research into the nature of the mind, at present there is no technology that can detect the presence or absence of any kind of consciousness, for scientists do not even know what exactly is to be measured... (Alan Wallace, The Taboo of Subjectivity; Towards a New Science of Consciousness, Oxford, Oxford Press. 2000; p3).

So here we have a real enigma and a massive problem for naturalistic, supernaturalist-denying modern science. Even while the loud, atheistic propagandists such as Richard Dawkins swagger and strut, offering intimidating invective to the effect that science now has all the answers, leaving no room for God, just a little basic research reveals that any such claims are pure propaganda and that there are in fact large areas - I repeat, large areas - where science is left speechless in its inability to understand life on this earth. Not that rather weak 'reasons' are not sometimes offered, even if they are sometimes ludicrous in the extreme. For example, in A Universe of Consciousness, Edelman and Tononi, as ardent materialists, make some amazing comments including the following,

Whatever the specialness of the human brain, there is no need to invoke spiritual forces to account for its functions. Darwinian principles of variation in populations and natural selection are sufficient, and the elements invoked by spiritualism are not required for our being conscious....the anthropological evidence emerging for the evolutionary origin of consciousness in humans further substantiates the notion that Darwin's is the most ideologically significant of all grand scientific theories. (A Universe of Consciousness, p71).

It is encouraging that those ill-founded and inaccurate comments have been so widely condemned (including by Mario Beauregard and Denyse O'Leary in their excellent The Spiritual Brain, p121). The truth, of course, is that there is absolutely no explanation nor theory anywhere in evolution to explain consciousness (as most writers will admit, including my university acquaitance). Edelman and Tononi here use a multitude of empty and meaningless words - empty propaganda no less - to cover up the fact that a purely materialistic form of science can never explain consciousness. One (reluctantly) really has to charge the writers with being highly dishonest in the above excerpt from their book. Disappointing.

Truthfully, whether or not "...Darwin's is the most ideologically significant of all grand scientific theories," is an utter irrelevance in the matter. Darwin never even posited any theory of consciousness, nor attempted to describe what consciousness is, nor how it may be defined/ measured/evaluated. The theory of evolution is completely bankrupt on the matter of consciousness.

Neurobiologist Mario Beauregard puts it like this,

Materialism has no workable science model for consciousness and no idea how to acquire one. Labelling consciousness as "folk psychology" is simply a dodge, as are efforts to rid the language of words that advertise the problem. (Beauregard and O'Leary, The Spiritual Brain, p120).

Atheist philosopher and neurologist Raymond Tallis has rejected the view that consciousness exists within the brain. In a 2009 article in The Philosopher's Magazine he made some quite startling admissions (for an atheist). He wrote,

If there isn't an evolutionary theory of consciousness, then the world is more interesting than biologists would allow...Those who are currently advocating evolutionary or neuro-evolutionary aesthetics, law, ethics, economics, history, theology etc., should consider whether the failure to explain any form of consciousness, never mind human consciousness, in evolutionary terms, might not pull the rug from under their fashionable feet. (Source: TPM Online)

This is quite an amazing comment in which this atheistic philosopher not only chides those new 'ever-so-clever' writers who want to apply evolution to almost everything under the sun, but also appears to be seriously wondering whether too much research might simply demolish evolutionary theory once and for all! But Tallis is pretty clear that consciousness is not explainable from within Neo-Darwinism. Atheist or not, at least Tallis should be applauded for his honesty in this particular area.

As conscious beings, we do not simply undergo experiences; we create them. A worm, bothered by light shining on its photosensitive spots, immediately seeks darkness. A human, faced with a similar unwelcome experience, may ask, "But must I flee? What if I don't? Can I learn from this?" No useful account of human nature ignores the significance of the fact that we humans ask such questions.

Mario Beauregard, 'The Spiritual Brain,' p113.

So What and Why is Consciousness?

In conclusion, as several have suggested - yes, even a few non-believers - consciousness is indeed a spiritual matter. We - as Theists and Christian believers - hold that consciousness is what it means to be either an animal or a human creation of Almighty God. Consciousness is an imparted divine gift (Genesis 1:26; Genesis 2:7). Animals have a lower form of it, but for their part, men and women, being created in God's express image, experience a fullness of consciousness and understanding. Being constructed in God's image means we become thinking, reasoning beings with the ability to philosophize, dream, design, plan and even bring such plans to fruition, perhaps many years later. We can design great cities, design and construct grand cathedrals, write symphonies of utter musical beauty. Why such a mental capacity? Certain animals have brains which are larger than homo sapiens but without a divinely-imparted soul with a capacity for spiritual understanding (which men and women have been granted) they remain greatly restricted. It should not be any surprise, therefore, that a reductionist form of 'science' ('scientism' is a better word) which insists on reducing everything to purely physical, yet otherwise pointless, processes has no explanation for what is an entirely spiritual phenomenon.

It is encouraging indeed that more and more writers from the various disciplines of science are coming to the conclusion that consciousness - especially human consciousness - can only be understood to be a spiritual matter which is not subject to physicalist reductionism. This is but one of several signs that the anti-supernaturalist movement within Neo-Darwinism ('the physical is all there is and all there ever can be'), is a false intellectual edifice constructed on sand. It is an edifice which, we must believe, will eventually fall.

Robin A. Brace. May 3rd, 2015.