Here’s a challenge to Atheism – an argument as to why it's not rational. And why 50-50 Agnosticism is rational.
Tell me where the holes in the argument are.
There’s a laptop sitting on your desk, playing a video. An alien pops in – I’ll call her Sarah. You give Sarah the task of determining whether the video file is sitting on the hard drive, or whether it’s ‘beamed’ over wifi to the laptop.
Sarah doesn’t know what to twiddle on the laptop to figure this out. She’s left to her thought process only.
…oh, and Sarah is rational…
What’s her verdict?
I think Sarah’s verdict is “I don’t know. It’s as good as 50:50.”
The video represents the stuff going on in your mind. The question of where the video file is, is a question on the source of your consciousness.
Is your consciousness produced by your brain? (The video is on the hard drive.)
Or is it elsewhere, and enabled by your brain? (The video is on a server somewhere – piped over wifi.)
If your answer is “I don’t know. It’s as good as 50:50,” then you are Agnostic on this question.
Not “Agnostic — but really I know the file is on the hard drive / consciousness is produced by the brain.”
Not “Agnostic. But 6 on a scale of 7 towards the Hard-drive.” (See Dawkins’ scale.)
You are Agnostic. As good as 50:50.
You don’t know.
If I batter your laptop with a hammer, the video might stop playing. Clearly the video-play is enabled by the laptop. And clearly that’s not the same as ‘the video file is on the hard drive’.
Clearly brain damage impacts consciousness or its expression at the location of the brain. Clearly this does not indicate that consciousness is produced by the brain.
If it's a possibility that consciousness may not be produced by the brain, it seems sensible to hypothesise that consciousness can exist without being attached to a brain.
A lot of people assume that scientists have figured out how the brain produces consciousness.
A good number of pretty accomplished scientists say things like “We’re trying to figure out how the brain produces consciousness.”
You can see right there in that statement the assumption that the brain produces consciousness. There’s a culture in science and academia of belief in materialism (materialism in this case being the idea that physical matter is the fundamental ‘thing’). And there’s a culture towards Atheism.
That’s all it is – a culture.
And a belief – without rational basis; or lacking relevant knowledge.
That same scientist, faced with the question ‘how do you know the brain produces consciousness’ will – I’ll bet you (ask one) – cite observations in the physicality of the brain, and how those things impact consciousness.
I could make similar observations about the electronics in a laptop – look, if I bash this bit, all the red disappears from the video, so there’s no way that video could be on wifi. The file is on the hard drive.
So from here, how do I get to say Atheism (And Agnostic-nearly-Atheist) is not rational.
The question 'Is there a God?’ doesn’t get us very far. Somebody who has that belief has a different concept of God to someone who doesn’t.
It makes more sense to ask something like ‘What is the nature of reality?’
Then – if we find evidence of something – we can either give a name to that something or not.
‘Is consciousness produced by the brain?’ is a meaningful and significant question within this. We can attempt to test it.
But we don't need the answer to advance this thesis.
If it’s a real possibility via rational analysis (see previous words!) that our consciousness is elsewhere (or non local) and enabled by the brain – based on what we (don’t) know so far – we’d be skating on pretty thin ice to be closed to looking at many other ideas that are bobbing about.
It is rational to say ‘the burden of proof is on you if you’re claiming something’.
If you tell me there is no data, I tell you you don’t know about the data.
Have you looked at the studies of NDEs?
There are tons.
If you’re rational, you won’t be looking at the crap reports and drawing conclusions from those. You’ll be looking at the most rigorous studies.
You won’t be saying ‘There are other explanations for the reported phenomena,’ and ruling out the best-fit explanation. You’ll be asking ‘What is the best explanation of the evidence?’
And on the question about Atheism in relation to that, there’s enough relevant data to say something substantial.
That’s what science is. It’s not a conclusive statement. It’s a statement that ‘Based on what we know right now, it’s looking like xyz is the case’.
Have you looked at the reports of young kids who talk about past lives – some of whom make verifiable statements about things they couldn’t otherwise know about.
If consciousness can exist without a brain, where does our consciousness go when our bodies drop dead?
A department at the University of Virginia takes the reincarnation hypothesis seriously – they have 1000s of cases on the books.
There are explanations other than reincarnation for these things – everything from attention-getting, to misremembering what kids said, to adults influencing kids – all sorts of things.
That means nothing without analysis of those explanations. The question is how well do the researchers account for these possibilities in their assessments? And what is the best-fit explanation?
For a quick insight into one case, look up the documentary ‘The Boy Who Lived Before’ on YouTube.
You'll get to see on camera what the kid says before he goes back to the place he says he lived in a previous life; then you'll get to see what's there – so you don't need to rely on the researcher's report. It's not a perfect case – none of them are. And neither are your memories within this life.
My thesis can go two ways from here. Either: ‘Some of the kids with verifiable memories also tell us about life between lives — maybe what they say about that is worth listening to’.
Or, given that evidence, I simply hypothesise about what consciousness might do without brains – e.g. globulate itself together and make itself into a super-consciousness / many other hypotheses that are reasonable based on the above statements, and I revert to my statement about Atheists skidding about on thin ice in not reverting to 50:50 Agnosticism.
And if consciousness floating about without brains is a real possibility, it seems reasonable to hypothesise that consciousness that is attached to a brain may be able to communicate with the non-attached stuff. This opens up an absolute ton of stuff that relates to every wisdom tradition since the year dot, as well as evidence that isn't usually labelled 'from a wisdom tradition'.
Some of those wisdom traditions say that consciousness produces our material world. Not vice-versa. And some stuff in quantum physics I think seems to be pointing in a similar direction.
That evidence from 'wisdom traditions' is not garnered from rational analysis – but neither is it irrational – it's a different mode of exploration. It can be based on the the idea that intuition has huge potential. The hypothesis ‘Let’s see if there are useful methods outside rational thought’ is rational.
Then we have Psychedelic trips. You can argue till you’re navy in the face that it doesn’t give you access into anything that’s real. But most people who have done psychedelics will say “Yeh – maybe – but try it then see if you want to say that with the same degree of certainty.”
I started out saying I don't know anything. And I don't. But I do think there is evidence for some things that’s pretty compelling, and that deserves rational discussion and more exploration.
And I claim that the question ‘Can consciousness exist independent of a brain?’ is a better question to set out with than is the other question.
I’ll stop here.
Richard Dawkins has, I’m sure you know, a thoroughgoing knowledge of the mechanics of evolution, and seems like an entirely congenial fella with a very worthwhile cause – to encourage rational thinking.
I’m mentioning Dawkins because his is a name we both know.
And I’m mentioning him to preface this statement: I haven’t heard any argument for Atheism from anyone that trumps what I’m saying in this ‘product description’.
But as the late great Christopher Hitchens said, everybody gives themselves permission to act absurdly when religion is mentioned.