The Very Silly Problem of Consciousness: The Many Things We Cannot Know

It is remarkable how many scientists, philosophers, and other intellectuals have wasted so much of their and their readers’ time in speculating about and trying to explain what they call the profound mystery of human consciousness. Because this phenomenon cannot be explained by, or made to accord with, their rational, mechanistic, materialistic, and scientific theories about the world, they continue to seek some sort of natural, meaning non-religious, explanation for its existence.

Those who lived in an earlier religious age would have had no difficulty accounting for the mystery of consciousness, for it is simply one of the many facets of the much greater, inexplicable Mysteries of Life and the Universe. Because many of us have observed the magnified image of a sperm cell fertilizing an ovum, and then observed the fertilized egg dividing repeatedly, hundreds or thousands of times, in a precise and orderly manner, until it becomes a fully-developed adult organism, we think that we have penetrated and understood the Mystery of Life. Moreover, this conceit is further encouraged by the fact that we now know that genes are what determine the physical and behavioural characteristics of all organisms, and, moreover, in some cases, which genes determine precisely which characteristics.

But what exactly have we observed in these instances, and what exactly is it that we know? For this is sometimes very different from what we think we know. If we consider the matter a little more carefully, we will see that all we have observed is the fact of fertilization and cellular division taking place, and the fact that certain genes, or certain combinations of genes, produce certain characteristics or features of a living organism. Beyond these things, we are still no closer to explaining the Mystery of Life: the simple fact that Life exists on the Earth, and that there is such a great variety of different kinds of Life.

Why does Life exist at all? Despite science’s numerous advances in unravelling Life’s many different processes, it is no closer to providing a satisfactory answer to this question, for the very simple reason that science cannot provide an answer to this fundamental question. And it cannot do so because scientists have categorically rejected God as a possible answer for anything. In wanting to find only material and mechanistic explanations for everything that happens in the Universe, scientists fail to see that they have backed themselves into an intellectual dead end. By doing so, they are like a person who willfully puts on blinders that block a part of one’s field of vision, or a painter who deliberately refuses to use certain colours, preferring instead to paint starkly in different shades of black and white.

For here we arrive at the limits of science. Despite science’s many and varied achievements, there are limits to what it can accomplish. Moreover, regardless of what some people may believe, science cannot provide answers to certain simple questions like “Why does Life exist?” And it is not, as some would argue, that it is because these kinds of questions are philosophical or theological in nature, but for the simple reason that there are many things, such as the existence of Life, that science simply cannot account for or explain. We should not be misled by our familiarity with Life, due to its omnipresence all around us, into believing that its existence was inevitable, as some scientists and others brazenly claim, for by doing so we would completely fail to recognize its miraculous nature.

There are in fact numerous things about the Universe that we humans cannot understand. In recent decades, as science has made greater and greater progress in our species’ quest to understand the workings of the Universe, we are coming up against these limits in some areas of knowledge. The so-called Problem of Consciousness – how matter is able to become aware of itself, as well as of its surroundings – is merely one facet of the greater Mystery of Life. Another example of this mystery is the philosophical problem of mind-body duality, which is subsumed under the broader question of what it is that differentiates all living things from non-living things. Because some scientifically-confused fools believe that we have succeeded in explaining the Mystery of Life, they have focused their attention on other less important problems such as these.

In physics, the physicists’ attempt to understand the nature of space and time, or to understand the nature of the fundamental forces of nature, are examples of the many things that we cannot understand. What is it that keeps the planets orbiting, endlessly, around the Sun? What holds subatomic particles together? How does a moving electric charge create a magnetic field? In my opinion, the attempt to go beyond the mathematical equations that describe these things, and the manner in which they behave, leads one very quickly into the realm of unknowable things. That we have been able to discover the mathematical equations that describe the intimate workings of the Universe is truly an extraordinary concession – a supreme intellectual gift – that was made by God to our kind. But human beings, being the restless, arrogant creatures that they are, are not satisfied with this knowledge, and thus seek to know things that are known only by God.

As I have argued in the preceding essays, the answer to the question of whether Life exists elsewhere in the Universe is also something that we humans cannot know because the answer depends entirely on God – and not, as many people mistakenly believe, on the god of chance, to which false idol countless people attribute the many marvelous things that their ancestors formerly attributed to God. Whether or not Life exists depends on whether or not God has made the effort and taken the time to nourish it; for, in a Universe that was not designed to support its existence, Life simply cannot exist without God’s protective ministrations. Coupled with this question are those that concern the ultimate fate of the Universe and the reason or reasons for its existence. Again, we can only know these things if God chooses to reveal them to us, and no amount of human speculation, analysis, or intricate reasoning will help us to resolve them. Indeed, such vain human efforts are more likely to confuse than to enlighten their many practitioners and followers.

This brings us to questions concerning the nature of God and what sort of Being God is. These and related topics have been among the favourite topics of inquiry of philosophers and theologians. For instance, Thomas Aquinas is revered by Christians as being the greatest of Christian theologians. However, he, like many other medieval Scholastics, made the mistake of believing that you could reason your way to the truth about God, a belief that is utterly false. A perusal of the contents of his major works, the Summa Theologica and the Summa Contra Gentiles, shows just how far astray this mistaken belief led him in his quest to understand God’s nature.

Another common error that is made about God is to judge God according to human concepts and standards, whether of justice, goodness, fairness, reliability, or some other concept or standard. Such a wholly inappropriate evaluation of God will only lead to confusion, frustration, anger, and misunderstanding because it overlooks the rather obvious fact that God, not being human, cannot be held accountable to human values or beliefs. It is the height of human arrogance to judge God, the Creator of the Universe and the Sustainer of all Life on Earth, according to our petty, species-selfish, human values.

The refusal on the part of many scientists, philosophers, and other intellectuals to admit that there is a God, the Creator that has fashioned the Universe, by setting forth the regularities according to which it has developed, and has enabled Life to develop on a tiny part of it, is the sole reason for their perplexity at what they call the Problem of Consciousness. For those who believe in God know that such a mysterious and inexplicable outcome is not impossible for the Creator of the Universe, and therefore it is not at all surprising that there exist features of the world we live in for which we can find no scientific or other explanation.[1] If these intellectuals only possessed the humility to accept this fact, they would no longer be perplexed by this silly problem, along with other inexplicable mysteries, and they would cease wasting their time trying to find a purely mechanistic explanation for them, since this approach will lead only to confusion or a false sense of certainty.

[1] There are, in fact, many such inexplicable features of the world and Universe we live in, some of which can be found on the planet we live on, which has been purposely designed and protected so that it, unlike all the other planets in the solar system, can support life, as it has done continuously for billions of years. As we saw in “The Evolutionary Conundrum of Human Behaviour,” there are features of human behaviour that are inconsistent with, and therefore cannot be explained by, the theory of evolution by natural selection. To give another example, geologists have discovered that the Earth’s electromagnetic field, which protects living creatures from the harmful radiation, including from the Sun, that would otherwise constantly bombard it, changes polarity at irregular intervals of thousands or millions of years. Neither the mechanism that produces this change, nor why it happens when it does, is understood by scientists. However, scientists and their devout followers simply ignore or overlook these inexplicable features, or confidently assume that, at some time in the future, they will be made to fit into the rational, scientific framework in which they assume that everything in the Universe fits.