God And The Argument From The Mind: Part III

Prerequsite reading for this post: here.

Epiphenomalism asserts that mental events are just epiphenomena - side-effects, or by-products - of physical processes in the nervous system. This view, like physicalism, refutes itself.

A.C. Ewing, in Value and Reality, p. 77 takes care of the smack down.

"If epiphenomalism is true, it follows that nobody can be justified in believing it. On the epiphenomalist's view, what causes belief is always a change in the brain and never the apprehension of any reason for holding it. So if epiphenomalism is true, neither it nor anything else can ever be believed for any good reason whatever."

Without physicalism or epiphenomalism to explain consciousness, we are left with few choices. One is left to choose between property dualism and forms of substance dualism. A commenter on my first post pointed out the epiphenomalism and property dualism are not equivalent ... even though Moreland seems to suggest they are. Perhaps so. Rather than splitting hairs over which form of dualism is correct, I want to make an observation. Whatever form of dualism we choose, the odd man out is materialism. Materialism makes no room for dualistic thought and its implication for non-material entities.

Time for a different question. Where does this thing we call the mind come from?

I broached this topic with an atheist friend of mine.


I said:

"Actually, you just made my point against atheism perfectly. What is consciousness in a world of matter and motion? A true atheist cannot grant that it is an immaterial thing, or he would not be a true atheist. It must be matter. It must be molecules. Brain states. This may be a greater argument against atheism than the one you cited earlier (which was the problem of origins and the validity of human experience)."

To which he replied:

"No, I don't think aetheism requires the acceptance of a completely material outlook, nor do I think that materialism discounts the effects of material processes. Emergent behavior perfectly accounts for consciousness wthout the presence of a diety."

...and I asked:

"Emergent behavior perfectly accounts for consciousness wthout the presence of a diety. How so? "

...and he said:

"The sum is greater than the parts. The chemical/electrical reaction in brain chemistry combine to create a sort of super state that is aware. It is perfectly consistent with the notion of emergent properties -- simple things combining their effects to create something much more complex and completely alien to the abilities of the simple things individually. No divine intervention required -- just chemistry and electricity.

Memories and decisions are mapped in the brain with chemicals and electrical stimulation. We can see this on brain scans -- when you smell something, certain parts of the bain activate, when you hear something, when you see a face, when you try to recall details of something, when you have an angry reaction, other parts of the brain activate.

So, consciousness is created by the combination of several simple activities in the brain and the enormous processing power of our brains. For example, when you wash your hands, your brain sends a command to the hands to run themselves udnerwater, the hands feel the rubbing and the water and convey that info to the brain, stores the memory of the processes in the brain that led to the command and the sensory input, etc. Since the brain is a really effective processing machine, it has the horsepower to make the connections between the sensation and the commands (connections, after all, is what the brain does) and thus a YOU to wash hands is created. No divinty needed - - just chemicals, electricity, and the well known math of chaotic or emergent properties math."


This was my first encounter with the emergent property value (EPV) argument. In nature, wholes are often greater than the sum of their parts. Each level has properties of the wholes at that level which are not properties of their constituent parts. For example, water has the property of being wet, but this property is not true of either hydrogen or oxygen. Similarly, the mind is just a property of assembled electrical/chemical/neural processes (according to EPV).

Is my friend right? Can EPV sufficiently explain the origin of consciousness?
I will drill down into Moreland's rejoinder to the challenge of EPV in the next post. I would like hear some Cadre readers shout out in the comments below. How would you respond my friend's challenge? Can atheism really reject materialism? What "Columbo" question would you ask?


biblemike said…
So, when I wash my hands that creates a “you” for hand washing. Then when I scratch my…uh…nose, I create a “me” for nose scratching. At this point the theory has possibilities for explaining multiple personalites perhaps. What is the connective device that causes all these “you”s to incorporate into one single self-awareness concept? The theory merely results in a biomechanical factory for performing limited physical functions. There is no explanation of the multiple steps necessary to reach a state of constant,consistant, self-aware, rational, creative, critical thinking. Perhaps this is where the atheist wishes to take his leap of faith. Because that seems to be a common characteristic of most of these theories, a leap of faith becomes a necessity at some point. In most cases it is a leap of blind faith. In the case of Christianity, our vision is intact. Our leap of faith begins with historical events mixed with emperical experience mixed with rational thought leaping joyously into the eternal satisfaction of the living Creator God.

Using the base assumptions that such a thing is possible, i.e. the act of washing the hands leads to the creation of a “you” for washing hands, does not lead to an understanding of the next step or likely steps that will transition into sentience. There is also a problem with the intial assumptions. What caused the washing of the hands? Was it the “you” that recognizes dirt and has now “evolved” an aversion to it? No, an aversion implies a mental reaction that cannot precede the development of sufficient “you’s” to initiate the overall “YOU” that is rational self-awareness. To do anything with purpose pre-supposes reasoning does it not? I am not a wiz here, but it doesn’t make sense.

Yours in Christ,


You sound like a wiz to me. You recognize the incoherence of the physicalist's argument.

So ... if our minds cause our bodies to do things ... what exactly is the mind made of? It cannot be physical. It is not matter. What then is it?

My friend picked a term out of left field ... it is a "super state".

Ok, what is a super state? Is it a thing? Is it a property or a substance? If a substance, can it be measured empirically? If not a substance, then how can natural selection operate on it?

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