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By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

12/16/2012 (2 years ago)

Catholic Online (

Can matter alone explain human consciousness?  Or is matter alone unable to explain consciousness, requiring that we look outside of matter to a transcendent Cause, that is, God, to explain it?


By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.

Catholic Online (

12/16/2012 (2 years ago)

Published in Year of Faith

Keywords: proofs of God, existence of God, consciousness, Andrew M. Greenwell

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - How do we think?  How we know ourselves?  In short, where does human consciousness come from?  How do I explain "my selfbeing, my consciousness and feeling of myself, that taste of myself, of 'I' and 'me' above and in all things"?  Where does that something that "is more distinctive than the taste of ale or alum, more distinctive than the smell of walnutleaf or camphor, and is incommunicable by any means to another man," as Gerard Manley Hopkins unforgettably put it, come from?

Can matter alone explain human consciousness?  Or is matter alone unable to explain consciousness, requiring that we look outside of matter to a transcendent Cause, that is, God, to explain it?

Is consciousness, in the words of Emily Dickinson's poem "This Consciousness that is Aware," self-contained, adequate unto itself, explained by matter alone?

How adequate unto itself
Its properties shall be
Itself unto itself and none
Shall make discovery.

Is Mind equivalent to Brain?  Are our thoughts--even those of God--transcendental seeming, but actually nothing but epiphenomena stemming from matter alone?  Is Dickinson correct when she wrote in her poem "The Brain-is wider than the Sky"?

The Brain is just the weight of God--
For--Heft them--Pound for Pound--
And they will differ--if they do--
As Syllable from Sound-

Or, rather, is self-consciousness and mind something more along the lines of that which Gerard Manley Hopkins says it is, in his poem "As Kinfishers Catch Fire," something that relates to "God's eye"?

Selves-goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.   

Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is-

Despite the many efforts of empirical scientists wed, in a sort of unholy marriage, to a physicalist or materialist view of the world to try to explain it, human consciousness has refused to be put in a materialistic box.  

Human consciousness remains intransigent, despite all efforts of the empiricist's greedy grasps to grab it and reduce it to a slave of his one-dimensional science.  It remains a wild and untameable "mystery," to the chagrin of materialists, "and one to which materialism signally fails to provide an answer" as Geoffrey Madell put it in his book Mind and Materialism.

While scientists can explain the human brain, they have had fits explaining the human mind.  In the words of J. P. Moreland, materialistic theories of mind "have multiplied like rabbits," to the point where we may be reaching a "Kuhnian paradigm crisis," which could spell a sort of revolution in thought. 

In his book, The Existence of God, Father John J. Pasquini sets forth a short list of these prolific (if sterile) efforts at explaining consciousness: "patterns of electromagnetic activation, brain wave sequences, brain wave collapses, synaptic tunnels, synaptic passages, neural networks, neural excitations, neurotransmittters, quantum waves, quantum discontinuities, and quantum cytoskeletal states, . . . the interaction of bosons and fermions, biological oscillators, and plasma charged particles . . . . trajectory or particles, 'subtle energies,' the excitation of condensates, and the working in unison of molecules, [and] [a]ll forms of electro-chemical processes . . . ."

The sheer number of materialist theories bespeak of failure.  The Grand Narrative of Evolution is faltering, stuttering, even babbling before the mystery of human consciousness, which is nothing but a witness, a whisper, nay, even the image of God.  In the words of Scripture, we might say that that Darwin's more zealous disciples are stumbling upon the truth that the name of the naturalistic explanation of consciousness is "Legion, for we are many."  (Mark 5:9) 

The fact is that you can pile matter, upon matter, upon matter, and time, upon time, upon time, and you still do not get mind, you still do not get consciousness.  Mind, consciousness, the human soul, spirit do not emerge--cannot emerge--from matter.  Even the atheist philosopher Colin McGinn recognizes the problem when he wrote in his book The Mysterious Flame: "How can mere matter originate consciousness?  How did evolution convert the water of biological tissue into the wine of consciousness?  Consciousness seems like a radical novelty in the universe."

If--per impossibile--consciousness could be explained by empirical science, then the "I" of consciousness disappears because it has lost all first person significance.  If a scientist can perfectly describe my consciousness without me, then it follows there is no me, since "me" can be fully explained by matters outside of me.  No longer is consciousness "more distinctive than the taste of ale or alum, more distinctive than the smell of walnutleaf or camphor."  No longer is it "incommunicable by any means to another man."  In short, it is not consciousness.

Also, if consciousness could be explained as purely physical phenomena, then we would have to face the fact that we are not free.  Everything we think, desire, or feel would of necessity follow physical laws.  All of a sudden, our consciousness has become a matter of necessity, of determinism, and moral responsibility disappears, as does the importance of anything we do, and indeed the importance of who I am and of who you are. 

Additionally, if consciousness were a product of matter alone, then what is thought?  Thought would be but a dream, a nightmare perhaps, caused by "an undigested bit of beef, a blot of muster, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato."  It would seem our scientists who disdain the human spirit are philosophical Scrooges in serious need of some ghostly visitations. 

The argument of God's existence from the experience of human consciousness is a rather simple series of steps.  Not all of them are without controversy, and, unfortunately, we are not able to expand on them in this article.  For one effort, we might borrow from J. P. Moreland's article "The Argument from Consciousness":

  1. Mental events (such as human consciousness or thought) are genuine nonphysical mental entities that exist.
  2. Specific mental and physical even types are regularly correlated,
  3. There is an explanation for these correlations.
  4. Personal explanation is different from natural scientific explanation.
  5. The explanation for these correlations is either a personal or a natural scientific explanation.
  6. The explanation is not a natural scientific one.
  7. Therefore, the explanation is a personal one.
  8. If the explanation is personal, then it is theistic.
  9. Therefore, the explanation is theistic.
If the explanation for consciousness or mind is theistic, then the existence of consciousness is witness to a transcendental Cause, and the existence of God.

In his book The Right Questions: Truth, Meaning & Public Debate,  Phillip Johnson has mocked the holy writ of the materialists:

In the beginning were the particles and the impersonal laws of physics.
And the particles somehow became complex living stuff;
And the stuff imagined God;
But then discovered evolution.

Well . . .  doubtfully.  For there is the irreducible fact of consciousness, and, as, in a saying Descartes stated in his Regulae XII: sum ergo Deus est.  I am conscious, therefore, God exists.  If "God is dead," as Nietzsche famously said, then man is dead.  Conversely, if man is alive, then God is alive.  God and God's image go together for the very simple reason that God's image comes from God.

No.  The materialists are wrong.  The theists are right.  I am too sure of "my selfbeing, my consciousness and feeling of myself, that taste of myself, of 'I' and 'me' above and in all things."  And no materialist can presume to tell me otherwise. 

In light of this mystery of human consciousness and the inability of a pure materialistic philosophy adequately to answer it, it seems that we are at the threshold of Faith.

It would be unseeming at the threshold of Faith to turn away, and refuse to hear the words of the child: Tolle lege.  Tolle lege.  Take and read.  Take and read.  It is befitting--more responsible and sensible--to take leave from science and turn to the words of the Gospel of John:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God
He was in the beginning with God
All things came to be through him, and without whim nothing came to be.
. . . .
And the word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.
  (John 1:1-3, 14)

Yes.  This Word, this Logos become man--Christ--makes eminently more sense than particles and their swerve.  Turn not to particles, but to

Chríst--for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces.

Aye.  And in men's consciousness, men's internal faces. 

In Christ, I may hope some day to see God face to face, "my selfbeing, my consciousness and feeling of myself, that taste of myself, of 'I' and 'me' above and in all things" will see God's self-being, God's consciousness and feeling of Himself, that taste of God Himself, of God's I am Who am, of God eminently above and in all things.  (Cf. 1 Cor. 13:12)


Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas.  He is married with three children.  He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum.  You can contact Andrew at


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