Deepak Chopra’s challenge to skeptics
This morning I heard about Deepak Chopra’s challenge to skeptics to provide a scientific justification for ‘the problem of consciousness’.
Whilst I found Chopra’s sarcastic tone a little off-putting, his challenge is a very important one. I do hope skeptics take his challenge seriously, because the problem Chopra identifies is very significant.
The ‘consciousness problem’ (which I’ve outlined some of this before where Sam Harris made an unwitting case for the existence of God) is more significant than many skeptics give credit. Chopra states it clearly,
‘how does electricity going into the brain become the experience of a 3D world of space and time?’
‘everything we experience is a perception and that perception is the result of the experience of consciousness … and we have no idea how that happens’
Chopra is right. We do not have a coherent theory of consciousness. This problem is recognised by many leading atheists. For example:
Jerry Fodor, ‘Nobody has the slightest idea how anything material could be conscious’
Francis Crick, ‘There’s no easy way of explaining consciousness in terms of known science … how can you explain the redness of red in terms of physics and chemistry’
Steven Pinker, ‘The Hard Problem is explaining how subjective experience arises from neural computation. The problem is hard because no one knows what a solution might look like or even whether it is a genuine scientific problem in the first place … No one knows what to do with the Hard Problem’
Chopra is effectively issuing a challenge to solve this ‘Hard Problem’.
There are a few implications of this challenge and the ‘Hard Problem’:
1. A simple materialist view of the universe is inadequate. Chopra rightly identifies Dawkins etc as ‘naive realists’. The problem of consciousness creates enormous challenges to the proposal that that humans are simply matter and DNA.
2. The ‘Hard Problem’ creates problems for how and why consciousness could emerge in a purely naturalistic world. Related to point 1 is the challenge as to how or why consciousness emerged at all. How could the immaterial i.e. consciousness, ideas, etc emerge from the material?
3. Theists need to be careful before applying a ‘god of the gaps’ argument here. Theists may seize on this gap in our knowledge and propose, ‘we don’t have a theory of consciousness, therefore God’. Yet this rationale opens up a gap so that if a comprehensive theory of consciousness were developed, then suddenly god disappears. Hence I don’t think it’s a helpful argument to argue from ‘how’ we have consciousness i,.e. we can’t work out consciousness, therefore God gave it to us supernaturally.
4. Instead, theism best explains ‘why’ we have consciousness. Theism is the best explanation for why there is consciousness at all. It is completely reasonable to suggest that if the universe is the product of an intelligent conscious mind, then we should expect intelligent conscious minds made ‘in his image’. This line of reasoning is similar to that of C.S. Lewis, who once reasoned, ‘I have consciousness: but it is impossible that consciousness could emerge from the action of the unconscious. Therefore the original Being was conscious’.
It is certainly reasonable to propose God in this scenario. As Peter Williams wrote, ‘When we ask which worldview makes the best sense out of the irreducible nature of rationality, the matter-first view of naturalism is revealed as a complete non-starter, whereas the mind-first view of theism provides a coherent explanatory context for our rational capacities.’
So I suggest that skeptics take Chopra’s challenge seriously, and not just with the science question, but the potential theistic implications of consciousness.