Prior to the Pascal interlude of the previous two articles, this segment of the Hard Questions series has been a summary of classical proofs of the existence of God. We had two articles each on the teleological argument (design) and two more on the cosmological argument (first cause). We will skip a third traditional argument1, and move on to two somewhat less forceful but still useful considerations. They are the nöological argument, or argument from the presence of mental events, and the axiological argument, which has its basis in the fact that human societies have a general form of moral awareness. The essential issue in both is that we are now considering non-physical aspects of the universe.
The teleological argument and cosmological arguments derive from scientific evidence. The former relies on the specific and complex nature of the universe that indicates the necessity of an intelligent force, or designer/creator, and the latter goes a much simpler route by showing that the existence of any matter or energy whatsoever still requires an ultimate explanation and source of origin outside the physical realm. Both of these arguments are quite sound and have withstood the flow of changing scientific paradigms over many centuries. In fact, they are stronger than ever, given our current understanding of the universe, with a known point of origin, law of entropy, and startlingly precise “adjustment” of dozens of physical parameters necessary for life. Never has the evidence for God enjoyed such ease of access for any honest and willing soul. While we can never, as limited humans, prove such matters with absolute certainty, we can say that the evidence we do have points very strongly to the existence of God; therefore, the position of theism is far more tenable than atheism.
I will not develop the arguments from consciousness and morality as forms of proof or evidence in the same manner as the previous two arguments. Instead, I will describe what they’re about and how they add to a conviction that we already have about the reality of God. They do add further weight to the basic principles already invoked by the other two, but their main use is to advance our thinking from the somewhat sterile and deistic notion of God as “first force, creator/designer” to a personal God with whom our lives engage. They advance our overall apologetic by helping to clarify the nature of the God whose existence we are demonstrating. In other words, if the teleological and cosmological arguments at least brought us to a deist conception of God, do we now have further arguments to advance us to evidence for a personal God of traditional theism?
Our Concept of God, from Force to Person
Shortly I will define three levels of the concept of consciousness. For now, we need only the basic idea of consciousness: it refers to mind and thought. We are now dealing with non-physical evidences for God, and that leads us to a fuller concept of God than the God manifested by an ordered, physical universe.
By entering mind and morality into the picture, we are developing the notion that the God of the physical creation is not a “force that” but a “God who,” a God who has the aspect of personhood. We are now demonstrating a God who not only creates, but also interacts with beings of that creation in a personal way. Such a God, having the quality of personhood, has also a specific character and interacts with humans according to that character. Hence, we ask the next question, “What is the nature of our interaction with the personal creator God?” This question in turn leads us into the category of Hard Questions that follows next in our overall plan, that is, “Why do we have a restricted community that denies association with others who recognize a personal creator God, but see the nature of that interaction differently?”
The complete line of thought runs like this:
- The physical universe requires a transcendent, personal Creator.
- We recognize the reality of non-physical entities such as purpose, thought, and abstract ideas (e.g., love, mercy) in our otherwise physical universe.2
- If God is not bound by the order of the physical universe, then God is on the order of a realized entity, that is, mind.
- If a mind, then God has the quality of personhood.
- Personhood implies and necessitates a specific nature and character of that person.
- Any interaction with a specific character is therefore also specified.
- Although the being of God is singular and specified, people have vastly varying conceptions about the nature and identity of God.
- People worship and follow religious practices in accord with their view of the nature and identity of God, forming groups to collectively embrace their religious values.
Thus, the axiological and nöological arguments bring us to the cusp of the issue of exclusivity, a stumbling block to many believers. Another writer has recently addressed this issue in the Tidings, and we will also pursue this area more fully later this year, God willing. The outline above will obviously require additional documentation and argumentation before it will suffice as the basis of forming an exclusive community. At this point, I am only showing the inherent connection between proofs of the existence of God in general and arguments for a specific relationship to that God.
The essential feature of the above is that God is more than a creative force that explains the existence and order of the universe, but God is a personal being who explains the presence of human persons who have a consciousness sufficient to interact with God in a way no other created entity can. Animals, though living creatures, are not persons, and abstract ideas such as love or beauty, although godly, are not persons. Only humans have the unique combination of possessing both a living, physical being and also a level of consciousness sufficient to manipulate abstract ideas such as faith, love, forgiveness, humility, and the other values prerequisite for a relationship with a personal God. The nature of this relationship depends on the conception of the personal aspects of God.
How do we know if the particular interaction that we pursue with God is in accord with the character of God? This is the ultimate quest of religion, and future articles propose to discuss various dimensions of this question.
Three Levels of Consciousness
Consciousness can refer to various levels, or aspects, of mental process. We will consider three of these.
. They are movements of molecules and electrons.
How is it that such physical arrangements somehow transcend the physical realm and produce thought, or store memory? How is it that we can think, we can evaluate, analyze, hate, and love? How do these processes arise from electrical impulses and chemical messengers? We could liken the electrochemical function of nerve cells to other aspects of human physiology. Heartbeat regulation, digestion, respiration, filtration in the kidneys, and so on, all rely on the same sort of chemical and electrochemical processes at their most basic level, yet they produce no associated mental state. The human body has no other process that compares with this marvelous facility of thought, and we do have some remarkably complex and sophisticated physiological equipment. The brain stands alone in producing something of a different realm; it produces non-physical entities that interact with the physical parts of the body just as if they were real physical switches or controls.
This is a great mystery. But how does it lead to a belief in God?
Why is it Evidence of God?
The solution to the dilemma of how physical processes can beget non-physical phenomena is more than just an intriguing question; it is one of those questions, like the question of the origin of life, that invites response from both scientific and theological quarters. But what’s the theological connection? Actually, there are two links to the theological world. One is that the possibility of a purely natural explanation of how physical matter can cause non-physical phenomena is extremely unlikely, perhaps, by definition, impossible. If so, then that demands a non-naturalistic explanation, and that most likely involves God.
Theists contend that no physical arrangement by itself, no matter how complex, will ever produce consciousness. Naturalistic scientists, of course, are content to keep looking for the solution, as it surely constitutes one of the great questions of science. However, if consciousness is simply not a physical property; it can only come from a non-physical source, which would seem to be God.
The second point of contact is that God is a mental being. God has all the capacities, in infinite amount, of every aspect of consciousness. God is the infinite conscious being; therefore, if humans are also conscious beings, it seems likely that God has something to do with their having such consciousness. The entity “person” exists because persons are made in the image of God, who is the perfect instantiation of personhood. Persons, real conscious entities, can only occur if made by God.6
The form of the argument is not, “we are conscious beings, therefore it is perfectly obvious that God must have made us.” However, we can consider which of two competing worldviews, naturalistic (atheistic) and theistic, offers the more likely explanation for the presence of conscious beings on earth. We will ask the question this way: “Given that we do have conscious entities in the universe, are these better explained by a theistic or an atheistic worldview?”
Given atheism, the universe can’t even get started. Even allowing the existence of matter as a given, but still with no direction whatsoever, is it likely to develop thinking life? Is it admissible to allow physical constituents, with no guiding or empowering force, to end up with mind, when even the physical basis of mind, brain, seems complex beyond naturalistic explanation? We can see the hurdles are many, the alleged result improbable to the nth degree, and the decision to adopt naturalism as an explanation of our universe exceptionally unreasonable.
Next: Axiological and nöological arguments, concluded.
1 We will omit discussion of a third classical proof known as the ontological argument, and those who are familiar with it will know why: it is simply too cumbersome, even if it does have some force to it, which it might. Those who want to learn about this very old form of argument can find abundant reviews available. Theism doesn’t hang on the success of this argument anyway.
2 I have made a huge simplification here by ignoring the vast disagreement between those who accept the existence of non-physical realities, in general known as dualists, and those who deny the reality of anything but the physical world, known as physicalists or materialists. The latter would say that what appears to be “thought” really isn’t; it’s just a manifestation of some physical neurological state. However, “thought” requires an explanation of another order than, say the electro-chemical control of heart contractions, which all agree is a purely physical phenomenon, so the physicalists are running on empty here. The very fact that the argument exists at all tells us that “thought” belongs in another category of existence than its underlying neuronal activity, and that status alone is sufficient to move forward with the use we make of consciousness in these articles. For a very detailed discussion of this issue, try reading Charles Taliaferro’s Consciousness and the mind of God. (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1994, 349pp.)
3 The moral argument is a subset of the consciousness argument, and both, in my view, are specialized forms of the teleological argument, for they ultimately rely on a level of organization and complexity (within the brain) that allows their existence. All the arguments used in these articles come in many forms and should not be considered single entities that can be erected or refuted by a single line of reasoning.
4 The more conventional use of the axiological argument is that there is basic universal ethos.
5 Hence axiological, from the Greek, axios, “something of worth, value.” Nöological stems from the Greek nous, “mind.”
6 An argument developed nicely by J.P. Moreland in “The Argument from Consciousness,” in Paul Copan and Paul K. Moser The Rationality of Theism, New York: Routledge, 2003, p.204-220.