Consciousness as evidence for and against the existence of God

The existence of consciousness has been argued to be evidence for God. That’s because on classical theism we already start with a mind, which is the mind of God.

But would God create minds? Would God create finite minds? Would God create human minds? These are good questions.

However, even if we grant that theism predicts human minds, that argument commits the fallacy of understated evidence. The more specific data we are aware of overwhelmingly indicates that the mind is highly (physically) dependent on the brain. The fact that the mind is dependent on the brain is not at all expected on theism. It’s not expected because God is said to be a disembodied mind.

When I say the mind is (physically) dependent on the brain, I’m not even saying that the mind is identical to the brain (although, dependence might be what you would expect on the identity thesis). In addition, while correlations of mental states with physical states don’t entail causation, correlations obviously are evidence of causation. And, antecedently, one wouldn’t predict correlations on dualism. Instead, what we get is ad hoc excuses like “the soul is using the body”, which is an assumption that naturalism doesn’t need.

The evidence that the mind is dependent on the brain is overwhelming. If the mind weren’t dependent, then it would be utterly surprising that caffeine works at all, that lack of sleep causes moodiness, etc. [1]

Therefore, not only is the dependency of mind surprising on dualism, it is also surprising on theism. For on theism, God is a disembodied mind who is capable of making only souls, and we would expect that precisely because God is a disembodied mind. However, on naturalism, there are no souls. Thus, naturalism entails that there will at least be some type of physical dependency of the mind on the brain (e.g. causal dependency). Theism doesn’t entail this and actually predicts the opposite.


[1] As a side note, I once had a psychiatrist tell me that he was a substance dualist. This struck me as odd. If dualism were true, we wouldn’t predict that psychiatric medications would work at all. The fact that they stop working in some people is due to tolerance, not some mysterious soul!


9 thoughts on “Consciousness as evidence for and against the existence of God

  1. An ever-fascinating argument. Cogito, ergo sum is pretty conclusive. If one accepts the evidence of others, one also exists when asleep or even in a coma. Now, is the essence of self something more than those electrical impulses chasing around the brain? Is there really another component comprising the life force, and popularly known as the id, the soul, or the spirit? If so, can it have existence when the body does not? Not only theism and deism postulate that. However, the loads of ‘evidence’ for such separation is anecdotal rather than scientific.

  2. As for me, the Polytheist in the room, the Gods exist whether humans do or not.

    Dualism and nondualism seem to be jargon words that I heard only people who practice the New Age religions use. I didn’t know it was an actual term in philosophy. Thanks for the link.

  3. At some point, the mind moves an electron, no matter how complex the mechanism (and how do you even talk about doing without using “mechanism” or its synonyms). At that point substance dualism is done, metaphysically.
    For the same reasons, a truly disembodied mind – one not just without a brain, but without the trappings of physicality, like a localizing identity – is a non-starter.

  4. Obviously we were able to ask questions that we were not prepared to answer … and answered them anyway. We continue in this vein.

    With regard to “The fact that the mind is dependent on the brain is not at all expected on theism. It’s not expected because God is said to be a disembodied mind.” Are we not made in His image? How then can God be a disembodied mind? People keep making shit up that flat out contradicts what their scripture says. This is why we can look around and see than no humans look like whirlwinds, pillars of fire, or burning bushes, all things that look like God.

    Also, nobody acquaints the brain and the mind. Minds seem to be (a definition we are not yet ready to make) emergent sets of mental properties resident in the brain. That is a working definition. So the thing itself and the properties of it are not to be confused … unless you are an unrepentant Platonist.

    1. Philosophy of Religion blog (Does God Exist?)

      Actual the mind-brain identity thesis was popular (at one point) in the 20th century. I’m pretty much in agreement with you about emergence.

      With respect to Yahweh and being made in his image, Christians and Jews can’t even agree what it even means to be made in Yahweh’s image. If Yahweh is human-like, I hardly see such an entity as worthy of being labeled God (or being worthy of worship).

      Interestingly enough, Mormons (in general) seem to think of Yahweh as a physical entity.

  5. RW

    ” However, on naturalism, there are no souls. ”

    Is it, really? It would largely depend on your definition of “souls”, as dualism is not especially forbidden in naturalism (as I’m understanding it).

    1. Philosophy of Religion blog (Does God Exist?)

      If we are talking about souls that can exist apart from the body (and “go” to Heaven), naturalism does not allow this.

  6. I am a psychiatrist and the more I read about consciousness and in particular about conscientiousness the more I get driven into exploration of how the entire machinery works with frankly no final conclusions that I can draw at least with my limited set of knowledge and facts.

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