In Exodus 3:14 God identifies himself to Moses as “I am what I am”. It is one of the most explicitly metaphysical verses in the Bible with God explaining His nature to Moses as a being who is, a being whose nature it is to exist. Gods nature is “I AM” because God simply exists as a fact of being God. John takes this and makes it part of his gospel narrative with the “I am” statements of Jesus. The most important of which is “Truly I tell you, before Abraham was I AM” which was Jesus way of connecting his identity with who Moses spoke to in Exodus and asserting His divinity.
1600 years later Rene Descartes used “I am” in a different way. Descartes struggled to find something concrete, something we know for a fact exists to form the basis of our knowledge and understanding of the world. He found his answer in the phrase “I think, therefore I am”. In the formation of any epistemology you need to start with a foundation that is self evidently true and existent, and what else could serve this purpose than your mind? The one thing every individual can be absolutely sure exists since all your experiences are filtered through it. We may be living in the matrix, hooked up to vats siphoning off our body heat while our minds exist in a virtual world but at least we know our mind is real even if the sensory information fed to it is not.
It is interesting then in the modern world how so many people are willing to reject that idea and claim that consciousness itself is non-existent. Dan Dennett, one of the “four horsemen” of atheism is a notable proponent of this in his attempts to debunk the hard problem of consciousness he denies there exists any such thing in the first place. His 1991 book “Consciousness Explained” was called by some of his peers “Consciousness Explained Away”.
The terrible metaphysics of naturalism has seemingly led us inextricably to a point where material reductionists have to admit that the thing that Descartes said must exist as a predicate for any knowledge to be gained at all, is now something we need to say doesn’t exist, at least in any meaningful capacity as the internal mental life of a person is solely dictated by neural processes as the human being is a biological automaton. Since naturalists by definition must deny any supernatural or transcendental aspects of reality they’re stuck with a conclusion that undermines everything they purport to know as fact. It seems as though the consequence rejecting the great “I AM” is rejecting the smaller “I am”. Denying the existence of God leads us to denying the existence of self, at least as traditionally understood as free agents with phenomenal experiences that transcend their biological underpinnings in the physical brain.
Naturalists in a sense have inverted Descartes statement on the existence of the mind being the basis on which we know other things to be true, instead now asserting that the existence of the material world which we know solely through empiricism proves that our mind is “illusory” and a result of evolutionary pressures. The fact we have an internal monologue is simply a result of the brains need to interpret the data it is collecting. It’s not “our” monologue, the thoughts of a mentally independent being, but a side effect of the physical brain processing data. We know empiricism is true therefore the mind is false. Very questionable since it then begs the question of how you know the conclusions you’re reaching are valid since they’re being reached by filtering information through that thing you claim has no real existence of its own beyond the brains physical processing? Some try to point to computers as the answer but that doesn’t seem to work since the logic a computer reaches is ultimately verified as either true or false by a human mind. You could program a computer to output 4 when you enter 1 + 2 and the computer would do it, the computer is a slave to its programming and the way its logic gates are set up. The computer cannot know whether the answer it is giving is correct because it can’t make those judgments, it simply processes the inputs according to a predetermined set of instructions and provides the output. Ultimately whether that output is correct rests on the mind of a human who views it. But this relies on the idea that the human is any different to the machine and actually can know the truth because we utilize logic free from the constraints of the rigid processes of electronic logic gates. Are we free under a naturalistic worldview? The answer seems to be no, and if that’s the case then you can’t really trust that you’re coming to correct conclusions given certain information any more than the computer can.
Naturalists have spent so long chopping away any branches of the tree of knowledge that are annoying to deal with from a materialistic perspective that the tree has toppled down on them entirely. Their epistemology withers because it ends with the vaunted empirical methods of science being filtered through a mind that is every bit a slave to its physical logic gates as a computer.
The reactions to this conundrum are interesting to say the least. Apart from some interesting thoughts on how accepting a deterministic worldview is detremental:
Further studies by Baumeister and colleagues have linked a diminished belief in free will to stress, unhappiness, and a lesser commitment to relationships. They found that when subjects were induced to believe that “all human actions follow from prior events and ultimately can be understood in terms of the movement of molecules,” those subjects came away with a lower sense of life’s meaningfulness. Early this year, other researchers published a study showing that a weaker belief in free will correlates with poor academic performance.
The list goes on: Believing that free will is an illusion has been shown to make people less creative, more likely to conform, less willing to learn from their mistakes, and less grateful toward one another. In every regard, it seems, when we embrace determinism, we indulge our dark side.There’s no such Thing as Free Will – Stephen Cave
It’s the fact that some of these philosophers believe it is irresponsible and even dangerous for these things they believe are truth to be spread among people. The conclusion of the article highlights the absurdity of the naturalistic position. Free will doesn’t exist but we should act like it does. What? So you come to a position you acknowledge is absurd, detrimental and eats away at the basis of knowledge and humans as independent moral agents but rather than ditching the idea you choose to try and have your cake and eat it too by claiming it is the objective truth but we should live as though it isn’t. Ok then. That doesn’t work for me and I doubt it works for most people who believe the search for truth should impact our lives, we should live in conformity to how we understand reality because its fact. To claim that you understand the truth of the human condition and then turn around and say “Ignore it and live as though it wasn’t true” because the implications make you uncomfortable is cowardice. The truth is the truth follow it to its logical conclusion.
Given this a rational person has two options. The first is to cling to naturalism like a warm blanket, to claim that there exist no other paths to true knowledge beyond the quantitative inquiries of modern science and that if we can’t find any non-physical aspects of reality through their methodology entirely geared toward cataloging and predicting physical phenomena then we must accept we’re just meat robots. The second is to stay true to Descartes, to assert that the existence of the mind as a real thing that can interpret the world yet is apart from it, forms the basis of our knowledge and that if any knowledge we gain runs counter to that we must accept we’re missing part of the picture, that there exist some facets of reality we haven’t discovered or cannot discover through purely empirical methodologies.
It turns out that God has the last laugh in this philosophical trend. In denying God we deny ourselves, and we cannot escape that except to choose to live a lie we “know” to be false. It is in times like this that I feel most comfortable with theism because I know that I’m not required to perform these mental gymnastics. The truth I know and believe to be the objective truth of reality doesn’t require any such concessions from me, rather I embrace it and base my entire life around it. It certainly is a comfortable position, and I pity those who feel like they need to cling to a truth that involves rejecting that truth to go on living.