The claim of philosophical naturalism is that life – and everything pertaining to life – is the result of the blind workings of the laws of nature alone. This viewpoint excludes any concept of intelligent design or external intervention in the operation of these laws. As nature – working without direction and control – can produce many different effects, both constructive and destructive, there is a sense in which material cause and effect can be described by the language of randomness (I am using ‘random’ in the sense of laws operating on matter blindly, and thus any possible effect within a given set of conditions could occur and such an occurrence could not be predicted).
An identical sequence
Let us consider the following analogy. I have two packs of playing cards, which I thoroughly shuffle. I have no skills in sleight of hand, and therefore no ability to influence the position of individual cards within each pack. I then lay out in a row all 52 cards of the first pack, and a particular sequence is displayed. Let us say that the row begins with two of clubs, followed by king of spades, then four of clubs and the row ends with ace of hearts.
Now could we say that there is a rule that somehow influences the packs of cards, which states that all subsequent sequences of a shuffled pack should never exactly match the first one? Well, of course not. It is possible that when I lay out the second pack of cards under the first one, all the cards may exactly match in both rows: two of clubs, king of spades, four of clubs and so on right up to ace of hearts. The probability of this occurring is extremely remote, but nevertheless if this event is not allowed as a possibility then we cannot say that we are dealing with a random (that is, unguided) process. Randomness implies that, in principle, an identical event can occur.
To use another example: I throw two dice and two sixes appear. If I throw them a second time, are two sixes now forbidden from appearing? Obviously not. The dice do not somehow ‘remember’ that that particular combination of numbers has been ‘taken’ and thus removed from all future possibilities. There is no memory in such random events. Therefore the same event can occur. The Gambler’s Fallacy is indeed a fallacy!
A necessary condition
This truth has implications for the idea of the natural origin and development of life. Assuming the universe is large enough and the laws of nature operate consistently and uniformly throughout, then whatever those laws can effect in one part of the universe, it can, in principle, produce exactly the same effect in another part. Assuming life can be formed naturally, then, of course, this is a highly improbable scenario, but nevertheless the possibility exists. In fact, we could say that the existence of this possibility is a necessary condition for the undirected and uncontrolled operation of the laws of nature. If it can be shown that this possibility cannot exist, then the laws of nature cannot be said to be undirected and uncontrolled, and in that case, we would have to posit the existence and operation of some kind of external agent intelligently guiding the process to create life. Such an agent’s work would include preventing the causation of effects identical to what had already occurred. Furthermore, if life can be formed by nature alone, and the universe is infinite in size containing infinite matter, then this possibility becomes an inevitability.
Now to return to the playing card analogy. Let us say that the sequence of playing cards laid on the table represents the entire history of life on earth leading up to the present moment which includes the life and consciousness of the writer of this article. Now it follows that the entire process is natural, according to the tenets of philosophical naturalism – there is no supernatural intervention or reality involved. This would mean that human consciousness, which appears late in the sequence, is a wholly natural phenomenon.
Now, as I have argued, this exact sequence can, in principle, be duplicated (within the same time frame) somewhere else in the universe. The possibility of this is a necessary condition for the laws effecting this sequence operating in a random – that is, undirected – fashion. It follows therefore that all the steps in this sequence can be duplicated (and in a universe of infinite size they will be duplicated). If it can be shown that any one of the steps in the sequence cannot, in principle, be duplicated, then the entire theory of the naturalistic origin and development of life collapses – just in the same way that if it could be shown that the second sequence of playing cards could never, in principle, correspond exactly to the first sequence, then we could prove that the cards had been tampered with!
Consciousness is a fundamental aspect of human life. If it is the result of natural laws alone then it can, in principle, be duplicated. Therefore within the paradigm of philosophical naturalism there could be two or more versions of my and your consciousness.
Let us consider this idea.
A divergent history
The history of our planet, and life on our planet, has taken a particular course. Within this sweep of history I was born at a particular time, in a particular place, with a particular parentage and with a specific genetic code. Throughout my life I have had certain experiences. So according to naturalism, all these influences formed my consciousness. Also within the history of our planet a particular event occurred: on 23rd June 2016, the electorate in my country voted to leave the European Union. This is an event of which I am conscious and I am conscious of the repercussions of this event.
Now let us imagine that all these above events have been exactly duplicated in another part of our vast universe. A person was born at the exact time I was born with exactly the same looking parents, with the same genetic code, and this person grew up with precisely the same experiences. However, when June 23rd 2016 occurred on this second “planet earth”, the people of that duplicate United Kingdom voted to remain in the European Union (or, for American readers, we can say that a few months later the duplicate “Hillary Clinton” was elected President of the USA).
Up until 23rd June 2016 the duplicate person on the duplicate earth is exactly the same as the person on this earth – the writer of this article. His entire experience of life is the same down to the last detail. Therefore it follows, that if his consciousness was produced by material events alone, then his consciousness is the same as the consciousness of me – the person here on this planet earth. If the person on the second earth is merely to be regarded as my identical twin, then that person is a different person to me. And a different person to me means a different consciousness. From the 23rd June 2016 our respective lives would diverge. He would experience the consequences of non-Brexit, while I experience Brexit. Or he would experience Hillary Clinton being President of the USA, while I would experience Donald Trump holding that office. Clearly we would be two different people with a different awareness of self and external reality, but for the first five decades of our respective lives every material thing would be the same. But our respective ‘consciousnesses’ would not be the same!
My consciousness is not only my awareness of the external world, but my unique awareness of being me. Since I cannot live divergent lives simultaneously, then it follows that my consciousness cannot be duplicated. A particular consciousness is, by its very nature, a singularity. But if a particular consciousness is the result of particular material events, then it is possible to duplicate that consciousness if those same particular events are duplicated, which they can be, if unguided material events formed them.
The right kind of atoms
A possible objection to this argument could be stated as follows: material events cannot be duplicated, because different atoms and molecules are used to construct the apparently duplicate body and environment. This is irrelevant, because it is the genetic information – and environmental information – which determines what we are physically. The particular molecules in our bodies can be replaced without any effect on our bodies or consciousness. To use an analogy: when I see something by the light of the sun, it doesn’t matter which particular photons are hitting my retina. What is important is that they are photons. Likewise, when my genes issue instructions, what is important is that my DNA is made up of the right kind of bases, and that these are made of the right kind of atoms. The actual atoms are irrelevant, as long as they are of the right kind.
It is often claimed that we live in a multiverse of infinitely many parallel universes. Each of us exists in these universes living slightly different lives. In one such universe everything has been the same for me up to this point, except that today I am here writing this sitting up at a table, whereas there ‘I’ am sitting in bed writing it. Clearly if it is ‘me’ in both universes, then I would directly experience both different scenarios simultaneously. But I do not and I know that I do not! My consciousness is unique – a singularity in this universe and indeed in the multiverse (if such a multiverse exists).
Unguided material events can, in principle, be duplicated. The possibility of duplication is a necessary condition for such events being truly random. Consciousness is a singularity. It is unique to each person. It cannot therefore be duplicated. Thus it follows logically that consciousness cannot be the product of the operation of natural laws alone. The fact of consciousness therefore refutes philosophical naturalism.
1. Material events within philosophical naturalism are unguided by an external agent, and are therefore random (i.e. not the result of conscious decision and control).
2. The possibility of duplication is a necessary condition for random causation, because there is no control mechanism to screen out the production of copies of any material effect.
3. Philosophical naturalism asserts that all that pertains to life – including human life – is caused by unguided – therefore random – natural laws alone.
4. Consciousness is an intrinsic part of human life.
5. Consciousness is unique: a singularity which cannot, by definition, be duplicated.
6. Consciousness therefore cannot be formed by unguided natural laws alone.