Some people try to prove the existence of the supernatural by talking about our minds. The claim is basically that, unless there is some supernatural involvement, we could not trust our own reasoning processes. If our minds work by electrical and chemical processes, why should we trust their results?
I'm posting both as a Christian and as a computer scientist. Computer science is my profession and has been for many years. I can tell you confidently that computers work by purely natural means, and we trust the results we get from them every day. If I asked you to multiply 327 x 418, how many of you would trust your own minds, and how many of you would use a calculator?
Here is why I think it matters: if you visit the atheist forums on the internet, you will meet so many ex-Christians who were (once, long ago) totally sold on the idea that
either the Bible was infallible or the earth was 10,000 years old (or
both). My argument here is not meant for those Christians who believe that the Bible is infallible or the earth is 10,000 years old. It is meant for those Christians who engage in and largely accept scientific findings as honestly derived and trustworthy. Young earthers are at risk of being picked off by atheist snipers because they believe things that are increasingly difficult to defend. In the same way I believe that insisting on a supernatural explanation for consciousness will become increasingly difficult to defend. And it's probably a peripheral issue, hardly worth risking your faith for it. I expect that all Christians -- and all people of good conscience -- want the truth of a matter. And so I'd like you to hear out my reasons why I believe that rational thought is a natural phenomenon.
There is an argument that our minds cannot be based on electrical and chemical processes. And when I have heard that argument, there is usually some reference to the mindlessness and randomness of the particles or chemicals involved. I will grant you that an electrical impulse in itself is not intelligent. But that's not the question. There's a context to those electrical impulses and those chemical signals, and it's a living organism.
Let's define an organism as a biological entity where the electrical and chemical processes are directed towards the well-being of the system that contains them. That's a working definition; it might stand refining but let's start there.
Let's also start with a process that most people would agree is natural: digestion. Why exactly should the food we place in our stomach be put to use in strengthening our bones and other tissues? How does a totally irrational system like our digestive system manage the that? Consider our food going through the refining processes and the distribution system to get to the point where it strengthens other parts of us. A totally random chemical process could never manage it. But our stomachs are not totally random. There are biological processes that govern that. The chemistry in our stomachs is part of an engineered system that works toward a specific purpose and goal.
Let's move towards the topic of how our minds work. Why exactly should our minds conclude that 2 + 2 = 4? Let's set aside the background questions about what words mean and what numbers mean, and let's look at the question in the same way that a calculator would. Once the mind has been trained in the basic knowledge of what numbers are and how to add them, we get the right answer: 2 + 2 = 4. We get the right answer reliably ... unless we're sleepy or distracted or there are other perfectly naturalistic things going on with our minds. (The problems -- once we trace their causes -- tend to support the idea that there are biological causes behind how our mind works.) The reason our minds work is not because there are random electrical impulses in our brain. Instead, the electricity and chemistry in our brains is an engineered system that works toward specific purposes and goals.
This is not said to diminish the amazing quality of our minds and of consciousness. It is not said to argue against knowing God with our minds. It is said in a quest for truth, and because I believe that the day will come - and sooner rather than later - that those who hold out for a supernatural component in consciousness will become a target for atheist snipers.