Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Dennett on consciousness

Just a wee quick post on some old news that has just come to my attention.

It involves the statement by atheist philosopher, Daniel Dennett, that consciousness is an illusion of the brain. This is one of those occasions that confirms the fact that really smart people can say really silly things.

What is consciousness? It is "the state or quality of awareness".

What is an illusion? It is "something that deceives the mind or senses by creating a false impression of reality."

Now put these things together, how could I be deceived that I am aware? I could be deceived about what I am aware of, but I can't be deceived that I am aware. It's like saying that your thoughts are an illusion - well, I could be wrong in what I am thinking, but I can't be wrong that I am thinking! It seems one would have to be conscious in order to know / think / believe that consciousness is an illusion! It is a statement that commits suicide.

Ironically, consciousness is one of the few things that cannot be an illusion! It is at least in principle possible that the whole of physical reality is an illusion, but it is not possible that my awareness is an illusion.

Why then would Dennett make such a statement? Perhaps it is because he realises that consciousness doesn't fit into a materialistic / atheistic worldview. If atheism were true then there would be no immaterial reality, matter would be the only thing that exists, and matter isn't conscious. Once you acknowledge that we are conscious beings, you admit that materialism cannot be true.

This is akin to the point Paul made in Athens when he challenged his audience to examine if their worldview was adequate to explain the way the world really is:
...for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. (Acts 17:28-29)
He says that since we are personal beings, whatever produced us can't be merely material - there must be a personal, conscious cause of the universe.