2 Jan 2018

Two miracles

There are two miracles which are routinely denied by thinkers whom I otherwise admire and respect who can be termed materialists (or atheists or physicalists). The first miracle is the creation of the universe. The second is human consciousness. I don’t understand how materialists can bring these two phenomena coherently into their system.

The creation of the universe

The creation of the universe counts as a miracle because it contradicts the basic laws of physics about conservation of matter and energy. It relies on something ‘supernatural’, that is, beyond nature – something which is generally termed ‘God’. Here is Bertrand Russell explaining Aquinas’s proofs of God in A History of Western Philosophy (1945) at page 477:
The existence of God is proved, as in Aristotle, by the argument of the unmoved mover… Whatever is moved is moved by something, and, since an endless regress is impossible, we must arrive somewhere at something which moves other things without being moved. This unmoved mover is God…
In the Summa Theologiae, five proofs of God’s existence are given. First, the argument of the unmoved mover, as above. Second, the argument of the First Cause, which again depends upon the impossibility of an infinite regress. Third, that there must be an ultimate source of all necessity; this is much the same as the second argument.
Here is Richard Dawkins referring in The God Delusion at page 101-2 to these first three of Aquinas’s five proofs of God:
All three of these arguments rely upon the idea of a regress and invoke God to terminate it. … it is more parsimonious to conjure up, say, a ‘big bang singularity’, or some other physical concept as yet unknown. Calling it God is at best unhelpful and at worst perniciously misleading. 
Two major commentators, then, are agreed that the universe must have a beginning. Dawkins does not like to invoke God as the first cause but his “‘big bang singularity’, or some other physical concept as yet unknown” sounds to me like it must be something supernatural.

That is the point made by Rupert Sheldrake in The Science Delusion: Freeing the Spirit of Enquiry, when he says:
It’s almost as if science said, “Give me one free miracle, and from there the entire thing will proceed with a seamless, causal explanation.” The one free miracle was the sudden appearance of all the matter and energy in the universe, with all the laws that govern it.
The likelihood of the universe springing from nothing in a single instant for no reason seems to me about the same as of God saying, ‘Let there be light!’

God is Being

My own view is that God is not a being in or of itself. It is not in a separate spacetime of its own, poised to create the universe with the big bang and then left on the sideline to watch space expand until the end of time. Rather God is Being itself.

The miracle of human consciousness

I have tried to outline why I hold that human consciousness is a miracle in my recent blog at Cartesian-Dualism-Mysterians-miracles. So this is something of a P.S. based on watching the 2013 TEDx talk on Consciousness and the Brain by John Searle, a philosopher of mind and language.

It is brilliant in summarising the issues around human consciousness. It is tantalising in how it tries to answer the question as to how the mind and body interact (see descartes-meditation-6). But ultimately it fails to answer that central question in my view. At 10.45 minutes Searle says:
One and the same event [raising my arm] has a level of description where it is neurobiological and another level of description where it is mental.
That seems such a cop-out to me. It fails to answer how the neurobiological hardware is motivated to raise the arm. It is like a murder mystery with a method but no motive. Or, to use the now commonplace analogy that the mind-brain is like a personal computer, it is like saying that the hardware and the software are the same thing. On reflection I prefer the analogy that mind and matter are like the user and their computer. Searle’s answer is like saying that the computer and the user are the same thing.

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