3 Failed Naturalistic Attempts at Explaining Consciousness
by Sean McDowell
The existence and reality of consciousness present one of the most pressing challenges to metaphysical naturalism (the view that only physical things exist). On naturalism, everything that exists should be describable in physical terminology, including properties such as weight, size, and location.
But we all experience certain subjective aspects of the world that resist such explanation. In his book Mind & Cosmos, Atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel explains why consciousness poses such an intractable problem for naturalism:
Consciousness is the most conspicuous obstacle to a comprehensive naturalism that relies only on the resources of physical science. The existence of consciousness seems to imply that the physical description of the universe, in spite of its richness and explanatory power, is only part of the truth, and that the natural order is far less austere than it would be if physics and chemistry accounted for everything. If we take this problem seriously, and follow out its implications, it threatens to unravel the entire naturalistic world picture. Yet it is very difficult to imagine a viable alternative (p. 35).
Naturalists have offered a variety of explanations for consciousness. In the introduction to the updated Evidence that Demands a Verdict, my father and I offer responses to three of the most common ones…
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