Does science support materialism?

The dominant narrative in academia, the mass media, the entertainment industry, and “sophisticated” opinion everywhere can be summarized by the phrase “nothing but”. The mind (consciousness) is nothing but an epiphenomenon (manifestation) of the physical workings of the brain; humans are nothing but purely material, extremely complex biological organisms that once dead, stay dead; religion is nothing but superstition that only the fearful and unenlightened cling to. You get the idea. The “nothing but” crowd tells us that science, established, unassailable science, is the basis for the authority with which it pronounces that God is dead, a discredited myth, and science has established beyond dispute that, as the Encyclopaedia Britannica puts it, “All facts, including facts about the human mind and will and the course of human history are causally dependent on physical processes, even reducible to them.”

Does science conclusively support the narrative of the “nothing but” crowd? Actually, no. At the frontier of every field of inquiry pertaining to the nature of the universe and the nature of man, there is irreducible, recondite mystery. And, as we shall see, what we do know is literally stunning. To preview, I think the late, distinguished cosmologist and astronomer, Fred Hoyle, had it right when he said, “The universe is a put up job”.

Materialism (physicalism) posits a “production” model of the brain/mind. Its central premises are:

  1. All facts are determined by physical facts alone.
  2. All aspects of mind and consciousness arise from processes occurring in the brain.

As David Bentley Hart shows in his The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Blissthe experience of consciousness creates insuperable problems for materialist models of the mind. The human brain is a means by which we humans can access consciousness, but it cannot produce consciousness. Here I quote at length Dr. Hart’s enumeration of what the materialist view of brain as the source of consciousness utterly fails to explain:

(1) “The qualitative dimension of experience: what it is like to experience something.

There is no conceivable causal model, credible to the modern scientific method that could explain how the electrochemistry of the brain could create the unique varied, and incommunicable experience of a particular person’s inner phenomenal world. The real enigma of consciousness is subjectivity as such.

The problem of subjectivity requires some account of how it is that the alleged aimlessness and mechanistic nature of matter can produce the directedness, self-presence and introspective depth of the personal vantage, the pure perspective of the I.

(2) “Abstract concepts:

It is excruciatingly hard to see how any mechanical material system could produce an abstract concept. No sequence of steps, physiological or evolutionary, could by itself overcome the qualitative abyss between sense experience and mental abstractions.

Before any recognition of even an elementary likeness between different things is possible, certain abstract concepts must already be in operation.

(3) “Reason

The brain’s neurons cannot produce the actual contents of reasoning; the connections among the brain’s neurons cannot generate the symbolic and conceptual connections that compose the act of consecutive logic because the brain’s neurons are related to one another organically and therefore interact physically not conceptually.

(4) “the transcendental conditions of experience

The mind interprets reality so as to have a reality to interpret, and the order of priority is irreversible.

(5) “Intentionality

Intentionality is the fundamental power of mind to direct itself toward something. It is the mind’s capacity for “aboutness”.

Physical events cannot produce our representations of them because it is we who supply whatever meanings those representations possess.

There is absolutely no intentional reciprocity between the mind and and the objects of its intentions.

(6) “the unity of consciousness

In order for there to be such a thing as representation or reason or conceptual connections or coherent experience or subjectivity or even the experience of confusion, there must be a single unified presence of consciousness to itself, a single point of perspective.

A living embodied mind is neither an incorporeal intellect nor a mechanical function; it is a power that exceeds material causality without being free of the conditions of corporeal life.

Any physical thing that might be able to integrate experience into a conscious unity would already have to be informed by a unity of experience logically prior to its own physiological complexity. It Would have to be dependent on and hence could not be the source of the principle of unity.

At what point does the chaos of sensory processes somehow acquire a singular point of view of itself?

The spatially extended and mechanically plural operations of the brain as a physical structure clearly cannot account for the existence of the unity of consciousness.

The illusion of consciousness would have to be consciousness of an illusion so any denial of the reality of consciousness is essentially gibberish.

No physical stimulus amounts to a perception of anything unless there is already consciousness there to interpret its disclosures intentionally.”

If the brain does not and cannot generate consciousness, what are the implications for what we human beings are? The most exhaustive survey and synthesis of scientific, empirical investigation into the nature of consciousness of which I am aware is Irreducible Mind, which is a survey and synthesis of the literature documenting evidence that the mind is not merely the result of neural activity. The evidence supporting the concept that the brain is the physical means by which humans access consciousness, not the source of consciousness is overwhelming and compelling. I believe the great body of empirical support for this view has not received widespread attention because it directly contradicts and falsifies the views of the science establishment. Irreducible Mind presents a massive amount of data in the form of rigorously documented cases of conscious experiences under conditions that preclude brain activity. These include near death experiences [NDEs], out-of-body experiences [OBEs], precognition, evidence of survival after death, mystical experiences (temporal cessation, intuitive knowing, a shift from the centrality of self to what appears to be a higher self, intimate association of light and consciousness,love). We have only a vague idea of what we humans are, but I am confident about what we are not. We are much, much more than carbon-based processing units.

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Ground rules for comments 

I strongly welcome comments, but  ask you to abide by the principle, “Always respect the person, never respect the idea.”  A thoughtful analysis of why the views  I present are wrong helps all of us get closer to discerning what is true, but civility must rule.



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