FAQ articles on this site are collections of questions or arguments that I have seen various people use in regard to scrutiny of religious beliefs. The purpose of these lists is to present my response to these arguments that don’t require full articles to address so I can refer people to them any time, or so that anyone interested in these arguments can see another perspective.
Please note that of course not all Theists or people sympathetic to religion share all the same views. My responses here are simply in regard to these arguments themselves. Also, since my purpose is to address people’s actual concerns and arguments, I have no intention to misrepresent any arguments. If you think I have misrepresented or misunderstood a particular arguments, or perhaps think it requires a note about context, then please make a note in the comments, contact us on our Facebook page, or email us using the contact form on this website.
This FAQ looks at some questions and arguments people use regarding consciousness and how it relates to their religious claims. I will be adding to it periodically.
“Consciousness is evidence for God! How else could consciousness (as in self awareness) exist?”
The problem with this argument is very similar to the problem with the “order and complexity” argument. Nothing is explained by assuming the existence of a “god”. The inclusion of such a thing is logically useless.
By suggesting that a god exists, you have merely claimed that some consciousness existed from the start. But that is not an explanation of how it works or how it came to be. And it doesn’t even explain how a “god” would have the power to create other consciousness entities in any way other than biological reproduction.
So to say a god exists just adds an unnecessary assumption. And to make such an assumption amounts to nothing but an argument from ignorance fallacy. Consciousness is an extremely interesting phenomenon in its own right, but it isn’t evidence for any god.
“Doesn’t a soul explain consciousness?”
I do not believe that souls exist for these reasons:
1) The first thing that should be acknowledged is that the concept of a soul doesn’t explain consciousness. Many people think consciousness is reason to believe in a soul, and they stop thinking about the issue any further after that.
But there is no logical basis for such reasoning because suggesting the existence of a soul still does not explain how consciousness occurs, and the idea of a soul is not even well-defined. No person has yet to explain how a soul yields consciousness, nor why the concept of a “soul” is uniquely or most likely capable of doing so. Since the idea of a “soul” does not answer these questions, this means that a soul is an unnecessary assumption and is therefore not likely to be true.
The term “soul” is just a nebulous idea, like god, where people can divert all the unexplained and possibly unanswerable questions they have about the universe to pretend they have the answers.
2) The structure and condition of our brains impact our conscious feelings and thoughts. Obvious examples of factors that impact our thoughts include medication, lack of food and water, autism, chemical imbalances, synesthesia, brain damage, etc.
If we had souls as the source of our consciousness then we would not expect the structure and condition of our brain to have any impact on our thoughts, feelings, and personality. One could argue that the outward appearance of our personality and behaviors would be affected regardless, but our own thoughts and feelings should not be impacted at all. But the reality is that we can also experience the effects of these influences in our own consciousness.
“Do you ever wonder how we obtain this animation, what animates us and gives us ability to think and act the way we do and when we die, where does our animation go?”
Asking “where does our animation go” is like asking “where does a car’s speed go”. Speed, and animation, are not objects. They are descriptions of behaviors.
As for how we are animated, we know exactly how we are animated. Human anatomy, nerves, muscles, signals from the brain etc (and interaction of molecules at a microscopic level) provide the complete picture. At that point a soul is completely irrelevant and unnecessary to explain animation of the body. If you know how all the parts work to provide motion then what is the logic of thinking that any other part must exist? There is no place for it to fit into the system.
I assume that you do not assume that a clock has a soul because its hands are animated.
Now regarding how we think, if you mean how we experience consciousness, then please see my answer to the question “Doesn’t a soul explain consciousness?” in Consciousness FAQ.
“The double-slit experiment shows that the act of observation alters reality! This means that our consciousness creates/determines what we perceive as reality!”
No, that belief is based on a misunderstanding of what occurs in the double slit experiment and an emotional desire to think there is proof of your preferred religious belief.
Electrons don’t emit light (photons) or anything we can watch, without interfering, while it passes through the slits. So when scientists put in a measuring device to observe the electron at that point, they are not putting something like a simple camera there. They are adding a device that physically interferes with the experiment. They know this but it is the only option so far.
The problem is that the measuring device physically impacts the electron, thus causing it to act like a particle instead of a wave (collapsing the wave function). We do not yet know why this happens when the electron is struck. So the problem is that it’s impossible to observe what actually happens without interfering with the experiment and altering the outcome.
We probably won’t be able to understand Quantum Mechanics until we can discover another way of detecting the behavior/movement of electrons.
“Do you think nature is possibly sentient? If so, would that be God?”
Some aspect of the universe is possibly sentient, yes, perhaps in the way that part of the human body is sentient (ie. the brain). Or perhaps everything in nature has some aspect of awareness, although limited, or non-functional unless part of a larger system. For example it may be akin to the electric charge of a single particle as opposed to “electricity”. A single charged particle is not electricity, and possibly likewise, a single particle is not ‘aware’ or “conscious’ by itself.
Anyway, I’ve thought about this before but what I figured was if nature is indeed sentient as a whole, then no, it would not be a “god”. Because the term “god” carries a lot of baggage which amounts to something fundamentally different from mere sentience. They usually mean a creator of nature, with infinite powers, infinite knowledge – and unless one is a deist or pantheist, a god is a being with powers over nature, but is not nature itself.
If science discovered that nature had a collective consciousness I think you would see atheists and scientists calling it something like a super-consciousness or super-organism, while religious people would just say “that’s not God, that’s something God created” and they would search their holy books for ways to “prove” their god created it, while still saying God was still a mysterious, mystical, immaterial, powerful creator beyond all of it, etc.
“Why do you think consciousness won’t continue after death?”
The first indicator is that we have no indication that our particular consciousness/self/awareness prior to the conception and birth of our biological form (ie. our body). So there is no reason to expect that our consciousness would continue to maintain after the breakdown of that biological body. You could make an analogy to a computer which is a pretty incredible machine while assembled, but when broken down into dispersed atoms there is no more computer.
The second indicator is related to the first. Scientific experimentation – and everyday experience too – appears to demonstrate that all our mental functions are the product of the physical brain. So we have no reason to think that without the brain in tact that we sustain our stream of consciousness.