Thursday, January 2, 2014

Emergence of Consciousness

To those who have a sense of wonder about works of the Creator, one may look no further than the birth of a human child. Contemplating the scientific concept of emergence, we cite an astonishing example of emergence: the emergence of consciousness. This term is defined as the state of being aware of something within oneself or of an external object, state, or fact. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary additionally lists many related and advanced concepts of consciousness.

The Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM) entry includes emergence in their “Dictionary of Philosophy.” They state, “Emergentism is the philosophical position which states that the mind emerges out of the complexity of the physical brain. The emergent property of the mind is the result of the combination of properties of the components of the physical brain. More complex physical arrangements can result in different forms/levels of consciousness.”

Note CARM’s interesting assignment of “emergentism” to a philosophical category. Naturalistic scientists have become enamored of emergentism as a scientific concept. Bio-scientists, with a heavy naturalistic slant, embrace the difficult subject of human consciousness as though the term emergentism explains it. What have they discovered, we ask? Consciousness occurs in components within the physical brain, they say. This revelation is accurate and descriptive, but as an explanation, it fails significantly. Fundamentally, emergent consciousness is a mystery unless we include the possibility of a supernatural creative entity acting on the physical body.

In the past few weeks our family has been impacted by the arrival of a manifestly healthy, vigorous consciousness in our newest grandson, not quite three months old. With simple mathematical reckoning we discover that our grandson did not exist in the world of reality one year ago except in the hopeful anticipation of his parents. Less than one year from parental anticipation, he is a living, conscious human being. At Thanksgiving he tentatively smiled at his grandparents. Now at 2½ months of age, his Christmas smiles are broad and expressive as are his creative speech vocalizations. The Merriam-Webster definition of “the state of being aware of something within oneself or of an external object, state, or fact” seems inadequate to describe this child’s newly arrived, joyful, conscious interactions.

Encyclopedic entries claiming “…emergent entities (properties or substances) ‘arise’ out of more fundamental entities and yet are ‘novel’ or ‘irreducible’ with respect to them” have an intellectual ring and a philosophical appeal. Moreover, they satisfy the dictates of the science profession that science must not invoke a theistic explanation for any phenomena occurring in the physical world. When we observe the startling onset of human consciousness in our family newborn, we grasp the inadequacy of a physicalist explanation for consciousness. Does a “multiplicity of relatively simple interactions” satisfy our desire to discover and explain the origin of consciousness? When a naturalistic scientist offers a vague philosophical explanation for consciousness, shall we elevate his explanation over that of a theistic scientist proposing a miraculous, God-sustained, supernatural action to explain the occurrence of human consciousness?

In the history of science, theistic scientists have wrestled with questions concerning the nature of consciousness. Early in the Scientific Revolution mechanistic explanations were proposed for many phenomena of the world of nature. Robert Boyle (1627-1691) was an eminent Christian and empirical scientist. He was a proponent of the mechanical philosophy, but was hostile to views of nature he saw detracting from the power of God in the created world. Mechanistic views failed to account for many phenomena in our physical sphere. We wonder how Boyle would have treated the subject of human consciousness.

What about the onset of human consciousness developing in our children a few weeks after birth? How do we understand our personal consciousness as an adult? What is the nature of our ability to observe, perceive, reason, express ourselves, love others, and worship the Creator? We propose human consciousness is a divine, miraculous gift of God on the spectrum of miracles--sustaining, transformational, and transcendent. We do not insist on explaining how God creates human consciousness. Our inability to explain how God accomplishes this miracle fails to prevent us from recognizing consciousness as the supernatural work of God.

The development of a mature human consciousness is only one of the miracles of human development in the first year of life from conception to infancy. Our family has witnessed this miracle in twelve months. The physical development of the many functioning body systems contained in a fully human physical body is a miracle of awe-inspiring proportions. Superimposed upon this miracle is the creation of a full blown human consciousness. The multidimensional miracle evidenced in creation of one new human life is a breathtaking cause for conscious worship of our omnipotent Creator.