“I shall hide my face from them. I shall see what their end will be.”
God, Deuteronomy 32:20
Hi, and welcome to my God page. Here, I try and figure out if there is a God or not. My arguments involve the beginning of the Universe, and the nature of consciousness. You can e-mail me with your ideas if you like, unless you know the answers.
Where Do I Stand on the God Question?
Well, as far as I’m concerned, it’s all a big don’t know. In a way, I’m with those such as John and Lyn St Clair Thomas, who in Eyes of the Beholder said: “For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don’t believe, no proof is possible.” My position is nearer that of the non-believers. I want proof!
Now, classically, it is accepted that proof, in the sense of an incontrovertible argument, or actual scientifically verifiable evidence, is simply not possible. Nevertheless, that is really what I want. In other words, I would like to believe, mainly because I want to be immortal, but in all honesty I cannot bring myself to countenance such nonsense without something to back it up.
The philosopher Kierkegaard said that since one cannot know for sure, one must simply guess. Take the Kierkegaardian leap and choose: God, or no God? Well, I tried that: I thought “Well, I’d better believe, since if there is a God and I’m wrong, I’m in trouble!” Not the best of reasons to believe, perhaps, but I suspect that an awful lot of people professing to be believers come from that direction.
So: what’s it like to believe? Well, it’s OK, I suppose. I used to read the bible, and various fundamentalist works about the prophesied fate of the world, and so on. I’m pretty sure that God, or some God-archetype within my psyche ‘spoke’ to me, or took on the role of God in my life. But . . . in the end, I thought as follows: God gave me a logical mind. I am being asked to believe some pretty illogical things here in the bible. It requires some tortuous logic to accept that everything in the bible is true, as the fundamentalists would have it. Since God gave me a logical mind, it would be an insult for me not to use it. Therefore, I stopped believing. In a sense, God and my God-given conscience told me not to believe. That’s where I am.
Let’s face it: there is nothing to prove that there is a God. Nothing. Isn’t the world wonderfully complex and intricately made? Doesn’t that imply a designer? Well, no. The natural selection argument is perfectly adequate, thank you. Boring, perhaps, but adequate, it would seem, to explain the observed facts. Furthermore, I don’t think the design is so great anyway. The vast majority of creatures die in pain and fear through being eaten alive. What sort of God would make such a despicable system? Why couldn’t the Universe be symbiotic instead of viciously competitive? I’m not sure I fancy the idea of such a God, after all.
There are one or two areas that science hasn’t been able to penetrate, however: the beginning of the Universe, and consciousness. Maybe, just maybe, there’s room for God there somewhere, after the concept has been squeezed out of everywhere else.
The Beginning of the Universe
The Big Bang theory suggests that the Universe, or at least, our observable bubble within it, began a finite time ago, for no particular reason. Before that, there was no space, and most importantly, no time. This is difficult to understand, but the God explanation is no better: God made everything, and God made God too. Sigh. Plus, God has always existed. Groan.
Even though I have a physics degree, I find it hard to see how the Universe could have just sprung into existence – a random quantum fluctuation in no-space and no-time. Surely time is required for fluctuations to occur? Well, maybe the quantum fluctuation of nothing created a small amount of time too.
Quantum fluctuations as such – within space and time – are well-established and scientifically verifiable – i.e., they can be observed in the lab. Get a piece of what should be vacuum, and you find that it isn’t actually completely empty. Instead, what we think of as empty space is a seething cauldron of particles being created and destroyed, constantly. On balance, they usually almost completely cancel themselves out, and the net effect is just a small amount of observable energy. But the point is, that energy is there. So: particles are created out of nothing as a matter of course. So, the theory as I follow it at present is that in the beginning, a random particle was created in this way; it had properties of space, time, other dimensions too, and energy, mainly in the form of these other dimensions. Lots of energy. Furthermore, it expanded and cooled (as the heat got spread out), and it developed a brief period of anti-gravity which caused the expansion to be explosively fast – its expansion accelerated, and because of the way anti-gravity works under those conditions, energy was created out of nothing too. So the Universe expanded rapidly and filled up with loads of energy which became stable particles and eventually the Universe became the place we know and grumble about today.
But: how come this quantum fluctuation was possible? Why are the rules so? It’s not much of an answer to say that if they weren’t so, we wouldn’t be here to think about it. Aren’t there an infinite number of possible sets of rules? Or just one? Perhaps this is the only inhabited Universe out of billions that have created and destroyed themselves using alternative sets of rules. I don’t know. Theorists reading this please feel free to e-mail me an answer! It seems to me that the best argument for the existence of God is that the Universe is here at all. I haven’t thought of any good reasons why anything should exist at all, or even meta-things like the laws of nature, logic and so on. The best argument against that seems to be: why should we puny humans be able to figure everything out anyway?
The other space for God is in the area of paranormal phenomena – most of which is apparently bunk and self-deception at best, except for one which we all experience. Experiences themselves! I have read attempts to explain consciousness, and they leave me unsatisfied.
No matter what you say, (although I’m listening . . .) it seems to me that consciousness is entirely unexplained and unexplainable by current science. No matter how complex a set of molecules you have in your brain – and I accept for the sake of argument that the brain is essential for consciousness – and no matter how complex the electrical circuitry of the brain or robot or whatever, how does that lead to consciousness?
What I am saying is this: how can a bunch of molecules moving about and bumping into one another result in something else called awareness? Molecules and awareness are two entirely different types of thing. Effectively, as far as current science is concerned, consciousness is a paranormal phenomenon, entirely without adequate explanation.
Either there are phenomena yet to be discovered and brought within the orbit of the known, or there is room for God here. If consciousness can be shown to be non-material by nature, then God, who is supposed to be non-material at least in part, could well be real.
This is the so-called mind-body problem of philosophy. Dualists say that consciousness cannot be made from matter and energy as we know them, and materialists say that it must be!
Philosophers talk about entities called qualia – the elements of experience, much as atoms are the elements of matter, and try to figure out how qualia could come about, or even if they are necessary. For instance, could a zombie exist that is just like a human being, but without qualia – without having experiences? Would such an unconscious creature be able to get along much as we do, or would it be outclassed by we conscious beings? This boils down to asking “What use is consciousness anyway?”
I don’t personally rate the zombie argument very highly. To my mind it suffers from a contradiction. If it is just like a human being, and if consciousness is supposed to arise out of ordinary matter in a perfectly materialistic and ordinary way (albeit not understood at present), then the zombie would necessarily be conscious too – otherwise it wouldn’t be just like a human being. Or, if the qualia could be selectively turned off, then that really presupposes that they are not related to the way the zombie is made – i.e., qualia are dualistic in nature. In other words, the zombie argument doesn’t solve the problem.
Having said that, the question of what use is consciousness anyway is worth asking, as problems are often solved simply by asking the right question. Perhaps we can weaken the zombie argument enough for it to survive: suppose that there is a zombie sufficiently similar to a human being for it to be taken for one in everyday life, but that does not have qualia. How would it get by without consciousness?
Well, maybe that will help you to think about it, but I prefer another formulation of the question. What can a conscious being do that an unconscious one cannot? Answer: it can be aware. OK, but so what? Well, in particular, it can be aware of its own mental states. This, I suggest, confers some advantages to the creature. Firstly, it is now able to model its own behaviour and make predictions about how it might behave and feel under various postulated future conditions. Secondly, and very importantly, it can model the behaviour of other creatures by presuming that they feel much as it does itself.
In my view, that’s what consciousness is for – from a Darwinistic perspective, anyway: it is for getting along with one’s fellow creatures, and indeed it ought to be useful even for modelling the behaviour of unconscious entities such as machines, as one can observe one’s own mental models in a semi-objective manner: a definite advantage over not being able to do so at all.
But: can an unconscious being have mental models? I don’t think so: how could it be aware of them to extract useful results from analysing them? On the other hand, any old computer can contain a mathematical model of something – unfortunately, it requires a conscious being such as a computer operator to make use of the results of the computer’s analysis. Or perhaps it just requires a very very complex computer program.
It may be possible to argue that an unconscious creature could make use of mental models, and I would be interested in hearing such an argument, if it’s a good one, but then the question would become: is consciousness a more efficient method? I suspect the answer would be yes.
Nevertheless, this still leaves the problem of finding a mechanism for consciousness: this is all-important to approaching the God question. If consciousness is non-material in its formation, then the Universe is fundamentally compatible with the possibility that there is a God, and, God forbid, other magical beings. Because that’s what it would mean, ultimately. Our nice rules of nature may well turn out to be just a little subset of a monstrous magical disorder, if consciousness is dualistic by nature. In a way, I almost hope there isn’t a God, except that that means that death is probably final. Or perhaps you disagree.
There is, however, another side to all this: intuition and synchronicity. For more about this, check out my Intuition page.
There is a lot of material about the origin of the Universe and about consciousness at the following web site. The best way to find things is to choose their ‘site search’ option and enter ‘consciousness’, for example.
One of the main philosophers of consciousness is David Chalmers, who uses the zombie argument and appears to lean a little in the direction of the dualists, although he does believe that consciousness is dependent on physical phenomena such as how the brain is organised (rather than what it is made of). His home page is at:
Daniel C Dennett is something of a materialist, refuting the significance of qualia and arguing that awareness arises from computation in much the same way as life arises from chemical reactions.
The Journal of Consciousness Studies is worth looking at:
The Human Brain Project – although once you run a good enough human brain model on a computer, wouldn’t turning it off be murder?
John Searle, who I think of as “Mister Qualia”, invented the ‘Chinese Room’ argument that a machine executing a program, say to respond correctly to statements in chinese, need not actually understand chinese to do the job correctly. He contrasts this with humans, who, it seems, do understand chinese – they have qualia. The argument against this is that we don’t understand either: we just do the chinese room thing very quickly.
Marvin Minsky believes consciousness arises from an ensemble of programs running within the brain’s hardware.