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Clueless about consciousness


The following feedback is from CMI supporter Josh K. from the United Kingdom:

This video is trending on Youtube and I wanted to hear your thoughts. It is clearly another just so story but they try and explain that it (consciousness) arose from feelings of hunger.

[link removed according to feedback rules]

Is this an acceptable evolutionary example? How can I refute this because this will certainly be used against me at some point?

CMI-UK/Europe CEO Philip Bell responded to Josh as follows.

Dear Josh,

Thank you for your question about the trending YouTube video, “The Origin of Consciousness—How unaware things became aware”.1

The short answer to your question is, no, this is not a persuasive case for evolution. The origin of human consciousness remains a profound mystery to secular thinkers, hence this admission at the start of the video: “No one has come close to figuring it out.” That is a crucially important point and it is to the credit of the video producers that they confess this fact at the outset. However, it means that everything that follows in the remaining nine minutes of the video is sheer speculation.

They quickly reveal why it is that they are clueless: “Like much of what makes us human, our consciousness is likely to have evolved from less complex forms as a product of evolution by natural selection.” In other words, they disregard the account of mankind’s beginnings that is clearly taught in such passages as Genesis 1:26–29 and 2:15–25. God has not left us without a witness. He Himself, the Eyewitness to the events of His Creation, has transmitted to us a factual, easy-to-understand record in the Bible’s early chapters. Human beings were supernaturally and perfectly formed by God, complete with minds, consciousness and language. Adam and Eve were able to think, understand and reason, and were free moral agents. Their minds were not subject to the vagaries of our present fallen, sin-cursed world—there was no mental instability, confusion, or weakness because mutations and disease were as yet alien to that pristine world (Genesis 1:31). Our first parents had the free choice to obey or disobey their Maker (compare Genesis 2:16–17 with 3:1–7). Importantly, while it is true that Eve was deceived by Satan’s subtlety, Adam’s disobedience was wilful (1 Timothy 2:14). They were both culpable for their actions, as can be seen in God’s judgment of Eve (Genesis 3:16) and of Adam (Genesis 3:17–19). The Bible’s testimony is plain: human beings were supernaturally created with self-awareness, moral consciousness and ‘God-consciousness’ from the start.

When people reject the Creator’s revelation to humanity regarding their origin all that is left to them is to speculate. No amount of brain research—e.g. comparing the cognitive abilities of different animals with that of humans, various neurophysiological studies using electroencephalogram (EEG), pharmacogenomic investigations (studying the effects of genes on drug responses), brain chemistry and synaptic transmission, etc.—can hope to resolve this question. Learning more about the brain will bring people no closer to answering the question of the ultimate origin of the brain’s cognition, consciousness and so on. It is for this reason that we hear such comments as these on the video (my bold for emphasis):

  • “It has probably emerged … ”
  • “The original function of consciousness was probably … ”
  • “The first major step towards consciousness was probably taken … ”

Note that I have deliberately truncated each of the above statements (hence the ellipses). I have not even stated what they go on to say, let alone discuss their ideas.2 Why not? Because, wild speculations about origins (and especially about something as complex and mysterious as consciousness) are utterly without value. There is no “probably” about it. Their ideas are simply the product of imaginative minds—this in spite of the fact that they have been published in learned journals. There is no more likelihood of the correctness of these ‘scholarly’ ideas, than the fanciful ideas of any layperson.

It is noteworthy that the video is part of a series of videos entitled “Big Questions of Life and the Universe”. The credits show that this video and others like it were made possible by a grant from the Templeton World Charity Foundation, assumed by many to be Christian because of its ostensibly humble approach to the study of theology and science. However, the reality is that Templeton Prize money is being used to promote the ancient, devilish question, “Did God actually say … ?” (Genesis 3:1).

True Christianity unashamedly stands upon the authority of Holy Scripture. Christians must be sure of the ground upon which they are standing. Then, they will be able to refute ideas of this sort, by knowing and believing what God has said and written. His Word is unbreakable (John 10:35), pure (Psalm 12:6), trustworthy (Psalm 111:7) and true (Psalm 119:160, John 17:17). This attitude does not kill scientific enquiry into the fascinating world of the human mind and consciousness. On the contrary, it provides a fruitful platform upon which to explore the many marvels of our created world:

Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them. Full of splendor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever (Psalm 111:2–3).3

Yours sincerely,
Philip Bell

References and notes

  1. See youtube.com/watch?v=H6u0VBqNBQ8. Published on 17 March 2019, it was already trending at more than 3.7 million views just two days later. Return to text.
  2. So, for instance, I have not bothered to interact with their imaginative ideas about hunger leading to consciousness. Return to text.
  3. Indeed, this is what Adam and Eve were mandated to do (see Genesis 1:28; 2:15, 2:19). Return to text.

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Readers’ comments

Keith T.
Trillions of dollars spent, hundreds of millions of scholarly hours across thousands of universities and laboratories and they propose an idea as fact "Conscious came from being hungry". lol. This is nothing less than insulting.
Howard C.
As humans we are totally at the mercy of what we actually are. We do not know all things, and we can't even agree on what we perhaps could understand. Acts 17:28 is speaking of God when it says "in him we live, move, and have our being." That God is best described when one is speaking of the laws of physics. The universal laws of physics are the only thing we can point to when we wish to describe something like that. I truly believe that the laws of physics are the God of the bible, which are obviously the only thing that has always been around. They have been all knowing forever, and all powerful forever, and everywhere forever.

As for the consciousness of any human being, we simply can't explain our presence in any other way. As humans, we try to claim that we are the only creature that has a relationship with a God on a personal level, but there is no way to prove that high claim outside of being created in some fashion by someone with the attributes mentioned at the close of the above chapter. Even then, we really have no idea just how much animals understand of their position in nature.

Genesis really does have some large problems to contend with that won't be answered to my standards on this site. As a matter of fact, it seems to be just another book that doesn't sound like an all powerful God has written.
Philip Bell
I would caution that physical laws define interactions of matter and energy, the fundamental forces operating in our universe of matter/energy/time/space. Genesis 1:1, 2:1 teaches that creation, from start to finish was God's work. Furthermore, Hebrews 11:3 famously teaches ex nihilo creation: "what is seen was not made out of things that are visible." Thus, the laws of physics did not exist until the 'stuff' constituting the universe (all that exists) had been brought into being. The laws and the 'stuff' they describe/govern are therefore separate from (not synonymous with) the One who brought everything into being at the beginning.

We might add that Hebrews 1:3 teaches that the Son (Christ, the Creator) "upholds the universe by the word of his power" which presumably includes the very laws of physics that were established by the Creator, another indication that the laws of physics must be separate from God. Nevertheless, the latter verse certainly adds strong support to the notion that these physical laws would have no existence but for the upholding power of their Creator.

Certainly, there is much about animal perception is not understood. They can't tell us what they're feeling after all, so ethologists can only infer such things from animals' reactions to various stimuli or to deprivation of something they want/need. But is there really no evidence for the proposition that humans as conscious beings are unique among biological creatures, that we alone are aware of our Creator and capable of relationship with Him? Biblically, one could make a detailed case for humans (who alone are God's 'image bearers') being unique in these respects but I'll offer just one verse fragment as food for thought: "you are of more value than many sparrows" (Matthew 10:31, Luke 12:7).
But aside from the theological case for human uniqueness, consider the multitude of ways in which humans differ from animals, which intuitively leads most people to conclude that a vast gulf separates humans from animals (mentally and linguistically). This gulf is reflected in the stark differences between our competence (and that of animals) in the realms of: intellect, behaviour, education, aesthetics, artistic output, science and technology, architecture, exploration... and so on, ad nauseum.

However, the real rub is that you're happy to appropriate a New Testament passage to support a contention, while also stating later on that Genesis "seems to be just another book that doesn't sound like an all powerful God has written." In answer to this, "Why bother with the Bible at all if we have the ability to pick and choose from it, what is right and what is wrong?" No, those are not my words, but I heard them from the mouth of Prof Richard Dawkins in one of his attacks on Christianity (a TV programme entitled The root of all evil? (broadcast on Channel 4, 16 January 2006).
Richard G.
Good word from Philip. What I find most frustrating is the way people of the church (many backgrounds) will argue, sometimes almost with credibility, for theistic evolution, [but] considering the [insistence on the] historicity of the bible, Genesis in particular, as almost heresy. Asking them to engage with Creation science (CMI for instance) meets with a blank wall. Does not Satan work harder in the church than outside?
David M.
Discussions of any scientific topic must include possibilities, which in turn lead to hypotheses. As far I can see, this video is perfectly honest about it's views on the evolution of consciousness, and speculations are perfectly fine so long as they are not stated as fact. Unless believers on this thread have scientific evidence for the existence of the supernatural and the immaterial, we must assume - quite reasonably - that the brain is made of atoms and molecules just like every other organ of the body. We do not subscribe to anything supernatural or immaterial for the functioning of the kidneys or the liver, for example, so why is felt necessary to apply a different set of criteria to the brain? Yes, the brain IS hugely complex, and it will take more research to find out how it functions, but in the meantime I see no need for inserting elements into the discussion which themselves have no evidence for their actual existence! I do recommend two excellent books, both by the same author, American neuroscientist David Eagleman. They are respectively: 'Incognito' and 'The Brain.' Enjoy.
Philip Bell
Hmm. Now let's imagine how that would fly with the scientific community if a biblical creationist operated in this way; were s/he to discuss "possibilities" and base "hypotheses" on those possibilities. Respect? I think not! And why? Because it ain't nothing to do with science!
Neville J.
'How come Evolution of consciousness?' is something I always talked about when confronting evolutionists. Many of them have not even begun to think about it. They just follow and accept all the imaginations and lies of their teachers. I am so glad that you have a great article on this subject. Consciousness is definite proof that we are not mere products of our environment by means of natural selection. Thank you so much.
Paul R.
It's a source of wonder to me , how clueless the speculation of the "building blocks" of our consciousness is. Reading Phillip Bells' highlights in his synopsis , he does well to praise the makers of the video for their up front honesty as to why they're clueless ; the fact , then, that they launch into their speculative diatribe is breathtaking ..!! It seems , to me, to be a waste of time to throw good money after bad for the purposes of uninformed speculation ; those trying to get traction for evolution have been doing this in the times since Darwin wrote his rather haphazard treatise which was the death knell of true scientific process. The Creation journals not only give the glory to our Creator , but explain the finer intricacies of His creation.
Jordan C.
The mind’s ability to determine truth and to apply sound logic and reason is irreducible and undeniable. If a person attempts to use his mind to reduce truth, the claimant must make a “truth claim” in order to attempt to deny that truth exists. Materialistic truth claim = “There is no truth.” Is that true? They sure would want us all to believe that it is true, but how can it be if there is no truth? It is self-refuting, thus it can’t be true that “there is no truth.” Any person that attempts to reduce the mind’s ability to determine truth, or to apply sound logic and reason, has forfeit from his OWN mind that ability to make a truthful, logical and reasonable claim. Therefore, anything that a person says who is attempting to reduce and deny the mind’s ability to use truth, logic and reason must be taken as untrue, illogical and unreasonable… so then we can deny his claim. However, “there is no truth” is false, so its opposite that “there is truth” must be true. The mind’s ability to determine truth, must come from a trustworthy source, otherwise how could we trust it? If a materialist cannot trust his own mind, the best he can do is remain utterly silent, in order to be consistent anything a materialist says, he cannot himself trust. How can we trust the product of blind, unguided, random, chaotic mechanisms of evolution? Simple, we can't. We trust, in a trustworthy Source. If God could lie, cannot be God. God is the Truth. Trust it!
Gary L.
Some passages from Scripture come to mind as edification for the believer and a stern message to the unbeliever - Heb11:1-3 NOW FAITH is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report. Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. Two segments that stand out (to me) concerning the topic in discussion: ..the worlds were framed by the word of God.. All things being in submission to The God of All (from what we understand between subatomic particles, to our knowledge of consciousness), were made His spoken word. Col1:16 For by Him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in the earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him. Rom1:16-21 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them. For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were they thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Regards, upholding the love of Christ in our hearts.
Joshua W.
I would agree that the video’s claims are largely speculative, but I would find it hard to stand on that argument if someone were to present the data of the video to me. I would acknowledge and state that the argument of the video is not factual, however I would not end the argument there. I would also agree with you that the true Christian world view actually spurs on scientific discovery. But, I don’t think that such an argument from Scripture would mean much to an atheist or even a Christian who staunchly believes against the historicity of Scripture, especially Genesis. I am not saying that such an argument shouldn’t be stated, but I think it needs to be followed with or backed up with an argument against the video’s argeuments. For example, the original question dealt with the video’s points about consciousness originated from the feeling of hunger. How would one argue against such a point? Or, is this purely a hypothesis and a speculative hope of naturalistic thinkers? If so, how does one point that out?
Thank you,
Philip Bell
You say these claims about a naturalistic explanation of consciousness are "largely speculative". But recall the statement very early in the video: " “No one has come close to figuring it out.” You are right, for people committed to atheism (an intellectually foolish position; Psalm 19:1, Romans 1:20), godless speculation will always take precedence over God's Word. No amount of argumentation, however logical, will thus convince those who "deliberately overlook" what is clear from "the word of God" (2 Peter 3:5).
But since you insist, just what godless speculation featured in this video?

  • "Mobile selves started to move themselves directionally", e.g. using chemoreceptors

  • Vision was "a huge step towards more familiar consciousness"

  • 'Mobile selves' evolved that continued looking for food even when it was out of sight

  • "the ability to remember things ... emerged ... a big step on the ladder of consciousness"

  • the ability to anticipate and visualise a future reward evolved, "delayed gratification".

  • language evolved, taking things to "a whole new level".

What scientific evidence was offered to explain each of these evolutionary advances (chemoreception, directional movement towards food, vision, search for food even when out of sight, 'delayed gratification', language)? None whatsoever. Yet any one of these stages would have necessitated numerous changes to the genetic code, all of them without goal, forethought, or direction - and all entirely randomly generated. Such speculation is not merely non-science, it is nonsense - and nonsense of a high order. But that's where godless musings take otherwise intelligent people.

Lowell G.
Very much appreciate CMI standing solid on the inerrancy, sufficiency and clarity of Scripture as our authority. This article well illustrates that.
Bill P.
For myself I have no doubt that at the moment the Lord God created and breathed life into Adam, Adam was conscious of the fact that he was looking at "The Face of God" his Creator. I also have no doubt that at the moment Adam willfully disobeyed the Lord, he was conscious of the fact that he had just sinned against "The Creator of heaven and earth".
Just like today man KNOWS deep inside that ALL that he sees was created, and man knows (again) deep inside when he has sinned against God. The only men who might not know this "Truth" are those who willingly continue to deny "The Truth", and eventually cross "that line" w/the result being that their conscience has been seared. Now where "that line" is for each person only The True and Living God knows.
The Lord God has been more than fair. He shed His own blood on that cross. So far He has shown mercy to ALL for 2,000 yrs. and He has left evidence ALL OVER the face of the earth and in the heavens of His Power and Glory.
The only way a man will see this evidence for what it is, and accepts it as truth is if a man makes a "conscious" effort to humble himself before God which in turn the Lord Himself will create a new heart in that man to then seek "The Truth of God".
As long as men make a conscious effort to use the insane wisdom of this world, the truth will elude them until it is to late and they find themselves standing before The Lord God facing judgement.
"Those who trusted The Lord shall not be ashamed".
Bruce B.
Great reply, Philip. The moment the authors of these kinds of publications begin to equivocate (likely, possibly, probably, maybe etc) we might as well just put the book down - or even use it for fire lighters! Nothing comes near the inerrant word of our Lord.
Many blessings
Dean R.
What came first? The chemical or the consciousness. Both come from God. The orchard explanation as opposed to the tree of life. A complexity that was there in the beginning when the world began by divine providence and not a materialistic miracle where nature is given super powers beyond the discipline & limits of science.

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