Are Particles Really Conscious? The No God view of Consciousness 


This is a guest post from Joshua R. Farris. Here is a bit about Dr. Farris.

Bio: Joshua R. Farris is Humboldt Experienced Researcher Fellow and Visiting Fellow at the Ruhr Universität Bochum. Previously, he was the Chester and Margaret Paluch Professor at Mundelein Seminary, University of Saint Mary of the Lake and The Creation Project and Fellow at Heythrop College. He has taught at several universities in philosophy, theology, and Great Books. He has recently completed The Creation of Self (The Creation of Self, https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/iff-books/our-books/creation-self-case-for-soul).

There’s a new movement afoot and as so many like it in history, the origins of the universe are self explainable, or explained without God. As a minister this is something that has and should concern me. But, here’s the good news: the fact of particle consciousness is not only weird, its unlikely.

As with other views on the origins of the universe, where nature explains itself, this new movement works from something of a similar starting point. But with the former, there has been a growing confrontation with the nature of consciousness, and I’d suggest to you, this remains an ongoing concern for both. 

The no God view is often called secularism. Secularists have long claimed that they can explain the world without recourse to a Creator, a God, or something of the sort. They believed that we could explain everything by physical quantitive analysis. Now that consciousness continues to render materialism (i.e., the view that consciousness along with everything else is physically explained) problematic, there’s a new secularism promising a solution. 

In his recent work, Galileo’s Error, Philip Goff claims that Galileo led science down a misguided path of explaining everything through mathematical analysis. But, here’s the problem: Galileo’s science systematically leaves qualities out of the picture of the world. You know the stuff that makes life really interesting (e.g., the taste of chocolate, the smell of your wife’s perfume, the beauty of the sun rise, and the experience of your favorite musician). If successful, then Goff’s no God view is a significant improvement on it’s secular competitors. But, here’s the problem: its not clear Goff and his colleagues can simply add qualities to a system of quantities. And, yet, thats the historical story. Those are the origins of this new view.

Goff’s view is that qualities and experience exist at the lowest levels, particles is the view without God that dresses itself as the via media between the idea that we are wholly physical through and through and theism the idea that our world is one where God is central. It advances two important claims beyond its competitors. First, it rejects the thesis that fundamental physical particles are merely physical, but, instead, particles are experiential and qualitative (the features of properties which philosophers call qualia). Second, that the world we live in really is fine-tuned, though not designed by God, gods, or even aliens. In this way, the view takes seriously the mind (as a first-person experiential reality). In other words, the sense is that it really can have its cake and eat it without recourse to God’s action in the world.

One of the older views that still has much going for it and is, arguably, a serious competitor to other theories of consciousness and the world, is the view that consciousness depends on something altogether distinct from the material physical objects of the world—namely souls. Qualities, experiences, rational intentions, and the fact that I have access to my own thoughts in a way that you do not are, arguably, characteristic of these soul like things. But, the implication is that souls are explained by a being, which some call God. In other words, there’s a good reason to take souls and God as a package deal without which the theory of conscious beings wouldn’t make sense without God or some ultimate Mind behind the universe rather than a mindless universe.

Three points are worthy of our reflection before you replace the view in God and souls to a no God view. The first is that it’s historical origins come out of a natural physical frame (the frame that tries to explain everything in terms of natural events, and physical mechanisms). The notion that everything can be explained through the study of physics. Such a view finds its origins in the atomists (the notion that our biological makeup is explicable in terms of these underlying atoms). Something Renes Descartes was keen to demonstrate was utterly foolish.

In the early 1900’s, we were given the naturalistic theories of logical positivism and behaviorism. Logical positivism was the view that no statement could be true unless it can be empirically verified, but the problem is that that statement can’t be verified empirically. Behaviorism is the view that all conscious states can be explained by public, quantifiable, and empirical mechanisms. But, here’s the problem: consciousness by its very nature is something private in some sense (e.g., I can think about my own thoughts and experiences). This is why doctors, detectives, and counselors depend on testimonial reports from their subjects. As these theories became unfashionable, there were of course other physical theories attempting to explain consciousness (e.g., the view that consciousness is identical to neural bits in the brain or the view that consciousness is just a set of causal triggers in neurology). Even these have fallen out of favor with a growing number of philosophers once they began to take seriously the nature of consciousness and minds.

As wholly physical theories are on the decline, there is a new regrouping of a no God view attempting to salvage a naturalism of consciousness. Harkening back to the atheistic philosopher Bertrand Russel, there’s a new theory positing that qualities, experience, and conscious-like properties exist in physical particles. This is where we find new expressions of secularism represented in the new secularists of David Chalmers, Thomas Nagel, and Philip Goff. But, if the history of panpsychism isn’t problem enough, there’s more.

You can’t just add qualities to Nature. Qualities are dependent features. This is why so many philosophers posit the notion of substances—harkening back to Plato, Aristotle and Descartes. Substances are the bearers, owners, and unifiers of qualities. They are independent. Qualities are dependent. And, like the material substance having properties of a certain sort, so do properties of thought and subject-experience need something entirely different. We need both, arguably. And, it seems that the types of things (i.e., souls or minds) are utterly unique from physical objects and needed to make sense of these non-quantitative features of our world.

But, even more than that, there’s an even potentially greater problem for panpsychism of the sort advocated by those like Philip Goff. Ultimate explanations of the origins of the universe and consciousness confront these new theories. If consciousness’s are contingent, then they are either inexplicable (or brute as philosophers call them) or they find a sufficient explanation in a non-natural theory—something like theism (the view that God underwrites consciousness and supplies a value-full universe).

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