Arguments for Atheism - Living without religion, with a clear conscience


The Argument | The Refutation

The Argument Back to Top

The Argument from Consciousness contends that neither naturalism nor materialism can give an adequate explanation of mental phenomena like consciousness. Consequently, divine and supernatural explanations are needed to explain why we are conscious and how our brains work.

An alternative statement of the argument, put forward by Richard Swinburne, is that, because it is impossible to reduce mental events or properties to physical events or properties, and because some psycho-physical correlations are just too odd to be accounted for by scientific laws, then the only explanation is that certain psychological and physical events correlate with each other solely because God chose for them to correlate. Thus, God simply chose to have brain states of a certain kind correlated with mental states of a certain kind.

The Refutation Back to Top

As has been pointed out in the section on the Argument from Ignorance (with which this argument is closely related), the mere fact that we do not know how something works does not mean that we never will. Neither does it necessarily mean that there IS no natural explanation.
Religion is an illusion and it derives its strength from the fact that it falls in with our instinctual desires.
- Sigmund Freud (1932)

But even if that part of the argument is overlooked, it is by no means certain that bringing God into the equation helps explain consciousness any better. The lack of a satisfactory scientific theory for consciousness does not automatically prove any other random theory which is proposed in its place.

It is difficult enough to understand how God, as a transcendent being existing outside of space and time, is able to do any thinking or acting at all. But exactly what the mechanism or modus operandi might be for his intervention is even less clear. It seems unlikely that he is making minute adjustments to the minds of all humans on a microsecond-by-microsecond basis, but the argument does not give us any other indication of how he achieves individual consciousness in humans.

Although consciousness still presents some mysteries to science, the data we do currently have from neurology indicate that all the diverse experiences which we associate with consciousness correlate with particular patterns of activity in the physical brain. Through modern medical technology, the body can be mechanically made to function to some limited extent without a mind (brain-dead). However, there is no evidence to show that the mind can function without the body and, when the physical brain ceases to function, so do all signs of natural conscious life. Thus, the phenomenon of consciousness appears to depend entirely on bodily (material) functions, without which it cannot exist.

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