How Consciousness And Morality Point To God

by Apologetics, Faith & Science, Morals & Values

There are many problems that an atheistic naturalistic worldview faces, and here I should like to highlight two. One problem is the realm of consciousness, and the other problem is the realm of morality. According to most mainstream versions of naturalism (naturalism is just the philosophically developed form of atheism), fundamental reality is comprised of entirely mindless physical stuff. After all, naturalism is the hypothesis of indifference, where whatever else fundamental reality is, it is not some entity that is either benevolent or malevolent; it is not an entity intending anything at all because it is not capable of doing so. What’s more, naturalism is committed to source physicalism where the physical realm precedes and causes the mental realm. Consciousness or mind for the naturalist is something “late and local”, not something found at the bottom of reality or suffused throughout. 

These commitments present what philosophers have called a construction problem – that is, how can one generate sense to arise from non-sense; likewise, how can moral obligation to arise from (to borrow a phrase from Richard Dawkins) “pitiless indifference?” If fundamental reality is categorically lacking certain aspects or qualities, there appears to be a chasm that cannot be coherently traversed merely by rearranging atoms according to physical laws. Think of it this way: Just as you could never build a purple tower just from a collection of white blocks – no matter how much time or how many blocks you have – you are never going construct a being that feels things from entities entirely lacking any experiential dimension altogether. The naturalistic proposal of the sudden qualitative inversion of stuff that is unfeeling and disparate into a unified center of self-reflective awareness through mere increases in quantitative complexity is, to put the matter frankly, worse than appeals to magic. It doesn’t explain anything (at most it just describes that a conscious form can emerge once a certain complex state is reached, but what we are looking for is not a description, but an explanation of how such emergence is possible). 

Theism doesn’t have this issue. For theism is the hypothesis of perfection, where fundamental reality is the greatest conceivable being – omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good. God can bring about consciousness entities because God can bring about any reality that is logically possible to produce (definition of omnipotence), and we know conscious beings are possible, because they are actual. The God hypothesis has resources that the naturalistic hypothesis does not – the qualitative dimension is not something late and local, but something that goes “all the way down”, as it were – because theism is not physically reductionist. Moreover, God has reason to bring about consciousness entities, particularly ones like us, because they are good, which God would understand and be motivated by. So not only could God bring about beings like us, but God probably would. Naturalism fails on both accounts: not only does it seem like conscious beings could not occur if naturalism is true, but there is also no reason to think that even if they could occur, they actually would. That theism far better predicts the occurrence beings like us makes the fact that there are beings like us strong evidence for the existence of God. 

So, consciousness is one problem for the naturalistic. As I said, morality is another. 


The simplest naturalistic explanation of our moral beliefs – for example, that rape is always wrong, never to be committed no matter who desires it – is that evolutionary forces simply installed a pattern of belief into us that was useful for “having sex and avoiding bears.” These beliefs, according to the naturalist, however, are not linking up to any objective moral domain, to deep truths about human nature and our inherent flourishing; really, these moral beliefs are either all false or merely reporting our emotional states. But that is not really explaining morality, is it? That is explaining away morality. That is nihilism. 

But nihilism is repugnant, particularly to common sense. None of us, in our sober moments, anyway, ever actually thinks rape or genocide is just a matter of preference or “mere sentiment.” No, we think morality is universal and binding upon all of us, and that the moral realm maps out how people ought to be behave if the objectively good life is to be attained. What grounds this? Naturalism says nothing grounds this because our impressions of morality are seriously misleading – delusory, really.  

Again, theism has explanatory resources here. On the theistic picture, there is a determinate human nature, oriented toward the end of acquiring virtue, and ultimately union with God as the highest point of flourishing. Morality is thus a rational enterprise, one applying to beings like us that can self-consciously choose, or contingently self-determine, our direction in life, either in pursuit of what is really good for us (according to human nature) or not. None of this, for what it’s worth, is in tension with evolutionary theory, per se; it is only in tension with evolutionary theory embedded in the reductionist naturalistic worldview, which itself either cannot accommodate or actively rejects notions like human nature and teleology (that is, natural directedness toward some end), which are necessary conditions for objective morality and themselves only possibly explained by the existence of God, as the one that creates, sustains, and directs human nature. After all, the idea of some natural end for things, an objective point of flourishing, in some sense demands that the end was “there” before any nature was, as that for the sake of which that nature exists. This applies not just to humans, but everything, including acorns being directed toward the end of becoming an oak tree. But how is that possible – how can the natural end (or final cause, to use traditional Aristotelian terminology), which orients the activity of some nature, in some sense “be there” to orient activity before that nature exists or has reached that end stage? The answer is this is not conceptually possible apart from the fact of some Supreme Organizing Intellect behind all reality, that can ultimately relate an immense network of ideas (natures and ends), and that ultimately creates and organizes the universe as a dynamic interlocking system of diverse entities, each striving in their own way toward their respective perfection or telos. In other words, God is the best, if not only possible, explanation for the immense network of natures and final causes requires to ground objective human morality, just as God is the best explanation of the emergence of consciousness. 

More Evidence For The Existence Of God

The occurrence of the two phenomena considered in this article, the conscious realm, on the one hand, and the moral realm, on the other, amount to considerable evidence for the existence of God. Those seeking further evidence are encouraged – by me, of course – to consult my forthcoming book The Best Argument for God, which develops these arguments at greater length, while considering as well the evidence for God provided by physical fine-tuning, rationality, contingency, and (however paradoxically this may seem) suffering and evil. 

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