Consciousness: I Think, Therefore God Exists

I have been struck recently by the phenomenon that we all experience called consciousness. It really is quite a remarkable thing. If all we are is matter and chemical reactions, then where does consciousness come from? Why should individual elements which have no consciousness combine in just such a way that consciousness emerges? This is a very curious thing which gets into the philosophy of the mind, and I feel it must stay in the realm of philosophy, since there is little if anything that any science can say about it. In the 1989 International Dictionary of Psychology Stuart Sutherland wrote “Consciousness is a fascinating but elusive phenomenon; it is impossible to specify what it is, what it does, or why it evolved. Nothing worth reading has been written on it.”

I have felt that consciousness could be used as an argument for the existence of God. Perhaps instead of ‘I think therefore I am’ one might also say, ‘I think therefore God exists’. After doing a quick search I come to find out that there is an Argument From Consciousness. From the Wikipedia entry:

Genuinely nonphysical mental states exist.
There is an explanation for the existence of mental states.
Personal explanation (PE) is different from natural scientific explanation (NSE).
The explanation for the existence of mental states is either a PE or a NSE.
The explanation is not an NSE.
Therefore the explanation is a PE.
If the explanation is PE, it is theistic.
Therefore, the explanation is theistic.

This basic argument is that a theistic explanation is a better explanation for consciousness than a naturalistic one. This seems quite compelling to me, and it surprises me that I have not heard more of this argument. What do you think about the strength of this argument?

15 Responses to “Consciousness: I Think, Therefore God Exists”

  1. 1 Jack March 19, 2016 at 2:33 am

    If the universe is infinite and my consciousness is finite then my theoretical point of existence would never register on an infinite screen of nonexistence. I should never know that I ever existed. If, however, my consciousness is infinite then my existence would register as infinitely trackable, thereby illuminating all theoretical points on an infinite line of existence. I, therefore, become aware of my existence at this juncture on the infinite line of consciousness.

    For lack of a better way of putting it: I think, therefore, I’m eternal.

    Now, if the universe is finite…

  2. 2 Jeff G March 19, 2016 at 10:03 pm

    Funny, that this is almost exactly what Descartes’ argument actually was. He first proved that he existed as an essentially thinking (non-physical) thing, and then argued from this for God’s existence (it was not his only argument for God).

    That said, there are a lot of assumptions built into Descartes and everybody else’s arguments along these lines.

  3. 3 Eric Nielson March 20, 2016 at 8:20 am

    Yes, I believe there are, yet do these assumptions not continue to remain viable? And do not criticisms of the argument contain a similar level of assumption?

  4. 4 Steve March 20, 2016 at 9:56 am

    Here are the assumptions I think are unwarranted:
    -Genuinely nonphysical mental states exist – where did such an idea come from?
    -Personal explanation (PE) is different from natural scientific explanation (NSE) – this seems arbitrary based on whatever you feel like defining a PE as
    -The explanation is not an NSE – Does this only hold true until it does have a NSE? Only useful if somehow you could prove that there never could be a NSE
    -The final three points therefore seem arbitrary to me based on personal definition (for example, why would a PE have to be theistic?), and thus not very useful

    Final conclusion – while I do believe in the reality of God, to me this seems like circular logic that is not useful

  5. 5 Jeff G March 21, 2016 at 2:31 pm

    Let me address your assumptions one at a time, Steve:

    1) The existence of non-physical, mental states was the conclusion, not the premise of Descartes’ argument.
    2) Since PE existed WAY before NSE, it seems strange to dismiss the former as “arbitrary” as if both types of explanation were not socially regulated in different ways. I think your objection assumes more than the point you are attacking.
    3) I think you’re a bit closer here. That assumption is a bit of a “god of the gaps” kind of thinking. There are people who have argued that “qualia” as it is called cannot ever fall under NSE. Of course, such arguments are well beyond this post.
    4) I agree that smuggling theism in this way needs more support. Descartes’ argument is based in the infallibility that he has with regard to his mind which stands in contrast to the fallibility that he has with regards to the physical world. This is supposed to be what 1) makes mental substance totally irreducible to material substance – because it is known and thus explained differently – and 2) makes makes God the ultimate cause of (at least some of) my infallible thoughts.

    In summary, I don’t think your first and second objections gain much traction with the argument. Your third and four ones, however, do.

  6. 6 Jeff G March 21, 2016 at 2:40 pm

    I think Hobbes’ contemporaneous objection was probably the most incisive when he said “I think, therefore matter can think.” Disentangling the supporting assumptions that lead to Descartes’ rather than Hobbes’ conclusion is quite illuminating.

    Personally, I think all Descartes can really establish is “I think, therefore thinking happens.” After all, he smuggles the existence of the “I” into the very premise. How does he know that it is some “I” that is doing the thinking rather than some socialized spirit, or mere matter, or some other such thing?

    • 7 Steve March 21, 2016 at 9:00 pm

      Jeff G,

      Haha, I love that from Hobbes! I think that gets to the heart of what I was thinking as well. You clearly have a better understanding of what each of these philosophers have said on the matter. I almost wish I could find something to argue against so I could hear more from you, but I don’t really have anything.

      Actually, I’ll take a shot. I don’t really understand what about PE predated NSE? Maybe it wasn’t called “science”, but surely explanations came from observation of nature, otherwise our brains wouldn’t have developed “explanation”, it had to be a evolutionary natural advantage.

    • 8 Flo December 25, 2016 at 9:37 am

      I don’t think Desacrtes should be unterstood as proving his (or anyone else’s) existance (or thinking). I understand him to say that “I exist” is a logically valid conclusion of “I think”.
      I think he was well aware that (Boolean) logic is a model, not some factual statement about “reality”.

      So I always understood Descartes that there are two sentences:
      1) I think
      2) I exist

      Both sentences are understood Boolean, i.e. they are either true or false but neither both nor anything else.
      To logically prove that (2) follows from (1), one can use proof by contradiction, by showing that there is no valid model where (1) is true and (2) is false.
      But actually Descartes did not go that far – he argued that he saw no conceivable way for that, i.e. that he could think without existing.

      So if you say “I do not believe in proof by contradiction” or “I do not believe in Boolean logic”, that’s perfectly legal from your part, and there is no way that Descartes could prove anything to you, or convince you of anything.

      All models where (1) is false are irrelevant for the given proof – that is, if Decartes did not exist, “I exist” would still be a logically valid conclusion of “I think”, if uttered by Descartes, which might appear unnatural, and that’s why I think “I think therefore I exist” is rendered too much in natural language to capture the core of what Descartes said – or, to be fair, to capture how I understand him 😉

      Concerning the truth of “I think”, I think he said something like if he did not think, all his “thoughts” about whether he existed would be in vain anyway, beyond true and false.

  7. 9 Eric Nielson March 23, 2016 at 8:25 pm


    Jeff Likely gave better answers than I could, but I would like to take my own stab at your list.

    1) Descartes aside, this argument does seem to use non physical mental states as a premise. One may reject this, but this rejection seems just as much of an assumption if not more. Consciousness is quite a phenomenon, that both demands and defies explanation. The argument is useful in that it lays out the key points.

    2) I think the point that PE is different from NSE is not as arbitrary as you think. NSE is restrictive I think in that it does not allow for anything other than nature/science as an explanation. PE could be considered anything additional to this. This may make it vague, but not arbitrary.

    3) I think this is similar to 1. This is a necessary premise, that has not been proved. This is speculative either way.

    4) Again, I think this is just the nature of the argument. I think the argument is a good one.

  8. 10 Jeff G March 28, 2016 at 3:33 pm

    “Descartes aside, this argument does seem to use non physical mental states as a premise. One may reject this, but this rejection seems just as much of an assumption if not more.”

    I think that pretty much sums it up. Indeed, it is this point that I think throws an awful lot of philosophy (for or against religion) in the trash. Some ways of thinking simply work better for our various purposes than others, and syllogistic exercises rarely, if ever persuade us to think differently outside of those purposes which are themselves taken to be external or “peripheral” to the syllogisms in question.

  9. 11 Eric Nielson March 28, 2016 at 9:30 pm

    I think I agree. The logical argument often is not so much to persuade as to document. And at least then we can know the nature of the disagreement.

  10. 12 Steve March 28, 2016 at 10:01 pm

    @Jeff & Eric,

    I guess what’s most surprising to me is that all of us coming from a common Mormon background, that non-physical mental states is being entertained as a premise (or conclusion). Maybe you guys are interpreting that differently than I am. If consciousness is rooted in spirit, it is still matter, but only more refined. Isn’t that our shared understanding?

  11. 13 Eric Nielson March 30, 2016 at 7:26 am

    Yes, that can seem ironic. I wonder if a Mormon tweek would be in order regarding these mental states. Something like supernatural mental states, or unexplained phenomenological mental states.

  12. 14 Heber May 8, 2016 at 2:09 pm

    You guys are over my head when it comes to philosophy. But I have this thought. As noted here, no one understands even close what has to be in place for “consciousness” to occur. Thus to accept that consciousness is the result of godless evolution one has to accept it on faith. Because how can one be sure consciousness could come about by evolution if it is not even known what would have to happen for it to occur? Atheism is just as much based on accepting things that cannot be proven as theism ever was.

  13. 15 Eric Nielson May 8, 2016 at 7:54 pm

    I agree Heber. Thanks for your comment.

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