The origin, nature or essence of consciousness – commonly associated with thought, mind, cognition, feeling, perception, volition, awareness, or experience – has always baffled humans since time immemorial.
There are at least three predominating questions surrounding consciousness. One, is consciousness real or does it exist? If so, is it fundamental or can it exist by itself?
Two, is consciousness dependent or independent of the brain? Three, if it is independent of the brain, what can it be attributed to? To cosmic consciousness (as proffered by mainstream Hinduism)? To everything (as advocated by “panpsychism”)? Or is it attributed to a supreme being or God?
From a philosophic-theological perspective, the God-argument (that consciousness verily points to God) can be stated thus: Since consciousness was created by God, we can use consciousness to reason back to God. In other words, because we know consciousness exists, we can conclude that God exists.
The plausibility of the God-argument is based on the assertion that “the manifestation of consciousness would be more likely, more expected, and more probable if there were a God, compared with if there were no God.”
Now, there are three leading contemporary thinkers who believe that consciousness leads to God.
First is Keith Ward, a theologian trained as a philosopher and former Regis professor of Divinity at Oxford University. Ward claims that consciousness is fundamental and it points to God.
“To begin with, by introspection, you’re conscious of some reality. Now, how does consciousness originate? Does it just suddenly spring into being for no reason? Why does it spring into being when the brain says that we’re ready for it? Perhaps then, consciousness is not only fundamental in the human case, but it is also fundamental in the cosmic case,” Ward explained.
“I do think consciousness emerges by normal evolutionary processes. But if it’s intended by God, then God is actually having a causal input into how events in the universe are developing,” Ward added.
Then, there’s J. P. Moreland, a Christian philosopher at Talbert School of Theology in Los Angeles, who argues that consciousness leads to God as there is no case of consciousness without a subject or self.
“Consciousness is the realm of feelings and sensations, thoughts, beliefs, desires. But you cannot describe conscious states using the language of physical science. Because if you start with matter without mind, you’re going to end up with more complicated chunks of matter, and you won’t get mind coming into existence. So, you have to start with consciousness itself being fundamental,” Moreland agues.
Being fundamental, does consciousness belong to fundamental matter (panpsychism) or to a conscious being? Moreland answers: “You never find a case of consciousness existing without it belonging to a subject. If the universe begins with consciousness, therefore, that consciousness must belong to a unified I, or a subject, a supreme being of pure consciousness called God.”
Finally, there’s Richard Swinburn, Oxford University professor emeritus, who believes that consciousness, being immaterial, is a property or attribute of the soul, and that the soul is evidence for God because souls would be expected if there were a God – and would not be expected if there were no God.
“Are thoughts and feelings and purposes and desires and beliefs – which encompass the world of consciousness – just sort of properties of my brain, or is there something more to be said about them? I think there is something more to be said about them. I think they are properties of me, an immaterial being – the essential me is a soul, to whom the purposes, thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and so on, belong,” Swinburn points out.
“The phenomena are good evidence of the existence of God, if it’s such as you would expect if there is a God, and you wouldn’t if there isn’t a God. If there is a God, his reason for creating us is going to be connected with our mental life. He’s interested in creating beings who have purposes, thoughts, intentions, and can interact with each other and with God himself,” Swinburn added.
In sum, affirming that consciousness indeed emanates from a supreme person or being called God (as differentiated from Hinduism’s universal cosmic consciousness and panpsychism’s “consciousness in all things”), I’m inclined to ascribe consciousness to God’s central attribute of omniscience or being “all-knowing” (along with omnipotence or “all-powerful” and omnibenevolence or “all-good”) encompassing the theological doctrine of “divine providence,” which holds that God has a plan for the world according to which all things are in his care and work out according to his good will.
In closing, philosophy professor (University of Notre Dame) Thomas Flint’s observation is truly spot on:
“To see God as provident is to see him as knowingly and lovingly directing each and every event involving each and every creature towards the ends He has ordained for them”
Ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus! That in all things God may be glorified.