Saturday, June 09, 2007

Are we "just atoms"?

I think Elton will be speaking on this topic next week in (soon-to-be ex-)Growing Families, but I recently saw the Lucas essay on Minds, Machines and Gödel and wanted to mention that.

Here is what I think. There are some pretty good reasons to reject what I'll call the mechanistic hypothesis (Is that a real phrase? Did I just make it up, or did I remember it from something...?) of the mind. The Lucas paper basically says that a human being can see certain things are true, but that a purely mathematical system must miss certain true but unprovable statements. Or something like that; the Wikipedia article has a better summary than I could give you. The argument is not without its detractors, but it is suggestive of something.

Another argument was in a recent sermon at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church. Pastor John pointed out that we sometimes get thirsty, and it would be odd if there were no such thing as water (the transcript says "it would be off," but that's a typo). Similarly, given the human desire for sexual intimacy, it would be odd if there were no such thing as sex. And the same for meaning. This appears on page 9; as I write this, the transcript is available for free download at .

Now 30 years ago, I might have said, "Well, that doesn't prove anything," and, well, it doesn't. But it is suggestive.

I think the best reason to reject the mechanistic hypothesis was the one given by Lewis: " If thought is the undesigned and irrelevant product of cerebral motions, what reason have we to trust it?" I wrote about this the other day at
but essentially if we're saying that mind is "only" atoms in the brain, that it's just a computer, then how can it be trusted? I'd like to consider two cases.

First, if it's undesigned, as the atheistic evolutionists would have us believe, then you can't trust it. Indeed, this whole conversation is nonsense.

The other case, that is, that it was designed by someone, or rather by Someone, then, well, I suppose that's believable. I mean, that God could have designed living beings, with the unique ability to think (unique among collections of atoms I mean).

In other words, if the answer to "Are we just atoms?" is supposed to be "Yes," then the fact that we can even have a coherent conversation on the topic (or any topic!) points very strongly to a Creator. Otherwise, all we have is a "baloney generator" and none of what you or I say is actually sensible. What is sense, if all we have to perceive it is a baloney generator?

I do not think that one can consistently (Gödel again!) hold the two positions that
  1. the mind is only the brain (which in turn is only atoms); and that
  2. God (or someone just like him) did not design us
and still say that anything one believes can actually be trusted to resemble the truth.

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