The Primacy of Consciousness – A Straw Man

Straw-man

The Straw-Man series is meant to concisely and clearly present common straw-men used in arguments against a true Christian worldview and to properly dismantle them. A straw-man may be concocted purposefully for the purposes of deception, or assumed accidentally by virtue of a genuine misunderstanding, but the result is always the same: a distorted argument which overwhelmingly misses the point and therefore requires correction.

Primacy of Consciousness

The Straw-Man:  "God is pure consciousness – a consciousness which is conscious of nothing but its own consciousness."

The Real- Man: "God is an existent who is conscious of Himself – of His own existence."

For whatever reason, Objectivists have become convinced that the existence of God necessarily entails the fallacy which they refer to as “The Primacy of Consciousness”, wherein consciousness exists apart from existence. Because God is conscious, and because He created all other existents, they conclude that before His creation, there was consciousness (God) without existence. This, indeed, would be a very irrational position for theists to hold – fortunately, they don’t.

Did you catch the card-trick in there? There’s just a tiny little difference between God being consciousness (the straw man) and God being an existent who is conscious (what theists actually believe). Rand holds that consciousness is conscious of something (or something which exists). “So,” the Objectivist may demand, “what was God conscious of?” Answer: Himself. Not ‘His own consciousness’ (another aspect to the Objectivist straw man), but His own existence. Surely, Objectivists would not deny that a conscious being is capable of being conscious of itself- of its own existence.

And that is all that theism teaches on the matter - that God exists and that before He created anything else, He was conscious of Himself. So, if Objectivists want to deny theism, they will have to do it on some other grounds than the straw man described above.

Related Posts

Omnipotence - A Straw Man

Super-Naturalism - A Straw Man

Responses to Objectivism

 

9 thoughts on “The Primacy of Consciousness – A Straw Man

  1. I understand the differences you've pointed out between the straw-man and your particular argument, but I have one question regarding your original argument:

    Consciousness, being aware of something actually has a fundamental requirement: being aware of something other than oneself. How do you reconcile that with your belief?

    Reply
  2. Do you mean that consciousness is necessarily conscious of something other than *it's own consciousness* (which is Ayn Rand's position, which I agree with) -- OR do you mean that consciousness is necessarily conscious of something other than *the being which is conscious*?
    I'm assuming that you mean the latter, but I'm not sure where you get that position or what you would ground it upon.
    In fact, some difficulties concerning a type of altruism would seem to be implied if that were the case... I cannot be conscious of myself alone - which means that I can only be conscious of myself *through* being conscious of that which is not me - which means that my knowledge of myself is always *through* the knowledge of that which is not myself.... a sort of psychological second-handedness. I don't think the wise Objectivist would want to go in that direction and take the implications seriously.

    Reply
  3. A thing's existence is not something apart from the thing itself -- "existence" is simply the word denoting the fact that the thing exists. It wouldn't make sense to say there are two people in a room, one of which exists and one of which doesn't. If you enter a room and become aware of a person in it, you are aware of exactly that -- the person's existence. Similarly, for a consciousness to be aware of nothing but its own existence is for it to be aware of itself, not of something other than itself...and a consciousness aware of nothing but itself is impossible.

    Or are you saying that God is NOT pure consciousness? If so, what's the physical structure in which you say God's consciousness exists?

    Reply
    1. Yes, I am saying that God is NOT pure consciousness. He is an existent who is conscious.

      "what’s the physical structure in which you say God’s consciousness exists?"

      I don't say that His conscious exists 'within a physical structure'. Why do you assume that it must? Are you perhaps operating off of the assumption that only "physical structures" exist; that there is no such thing as non-physical existence? Where do you get that assumption?

      Reply
      1. OK, if God is an existent that is not pure consciousness, what is the part of God that is not consciousness?

        And secondarily, no, I'm not assuming that only physical structures exist; consciousness exists and isn't a physical structure. However, it can't exist *without* or outside of a physical structure.

        Reply
  4. God does not have parts, i.e. He does not have a body or "physical structure".

    "However, it can't exist *without* or outside of a physical structure."

    And where do you get that assumption?

    Reply
    1. "God does not have parts"

      You said he/she/it's not pure consciousness. Yet he/she/it, according to you, is conscious. So what is he/she/it? Logically, the only possibility (according to you) is some homogeneous indivisible entity that is conscious, yet not pure consciousness. Therefore there must be something more to God than consciousness, and I'd like to know what you think that is.

      I get the knowledge (not assumption) that consciousness can't exist outside a physical structure from looking around at reality. Anything/everything that I see, hear, sense, have seen, have heard about, or have sensed -- in short, all the evidence I've ever accumulated -- shows that anything that is conscious, from fleas to humans, is a physical being, with some kind of nerve center (brain in sufficiently evolved animals) that houses the consciousness. Countering this I have nothing but your unsubstantiated fantasy.

      Reply
  5. So, your argument is essentially "I've never experienced it, therefore it can't be true". i.e. empiricism.

    It'd be different if you were to say "I've never seen it, therefore I doubt that it is true -- or I have no reason, thus far, to believe that it is true". As it is, you seem to equate your experience with logical possibility, as such.

    I have not submitted an "unsubstantiated fantasy". In fact, I have criticized other Christians for their fantasies: http://thechristianegoist.wordpress.com/2013/06/16/the-christian-fairytale/

    Additionally, I have posted a rather substantive argument for the existence of this God, here: http://thechristianegoist.wordpress.com/2012/12/12/godthe-immovable-mover/ with some detailed comments in the thread below.

    You're absolutely correct that God is a homogeneous indivisible entity who is conscious. What more is there to God than consciousness, you ask? Existence. Omnipotence. Pride. Joy. Creativity. Justice. Quite a bit actually.

    Reply
    1. > So, your argument is essentially “I’ve never experienced it, therefore it can’t be true”. i.e. empiricism.

      No. You’re taking a conceptual, principled proposition and trying to reduce it to the sense perceptions that it’s based on. At that rate, *all* concepts and higher-level generalizations could be discredited as empiricism. My statement is NOT the equivalent of saying, “I’ve never seen a green stop sign, therefore a green stop sign is impossible.” Anyone who understands the concepts of stop signs, paint, and color would easily see that there’s no reason a green stop sign couldn’t exist, even if I’ve never seen one, and even if none actually exist in the world at the moment.

      On the other hand, when I say I’ve never seen any evidence for any consciousness existing outside a physical structure, that’s based on all observations I’ve ever made in my life concerning conscious and non-conscious beings, including observations by hundreds of other people whom I have reason to trust. But it's more than just a statistical compilation of those observations. Generalizations based on those observations lead me to the concepts of consciousness and physicality, and to conclusions about the very nature of each, and to say that the one requires the other. If I were to say, “I’ve never seen a stop sign made of anger.”, then again, anyone familiar with the concepts of physical objects and emotions would immediately agree that by the very nature of these things it is in fact logically impossible for an emotional state to be used to make a physical object. They would see my statement as a non-controversial statement of a particular example of a larger principle.

      > It’d be different if you were to say “I’ve never seen it, therefore I doubt that it is true — or I have no reason, thus far, to believe that it is true”. As it is, you seem to equate your experience with logical possibility, as such.

      As before, my statement about the natures of consciousness and physicality is a statement produced by induction from a huge number of observations. It’s not my experience that is equated with logical possibility, it’s the experiences *combined with* a process of thinking based on those experiences that produce knowledge of an impossibility.

      A side point here is that it’s possible to be certain without being omniscient — one of Rand’s great contributions to epistemology was to point out that knowledge is contextual. Since man isn’t omniscient, we can’t require him to be unfailingly correct in his statements; otherwise, any statement at all could be called into question, and we’d end up afraid to get out of bed. When ALL available evidence points to a particular conclusion, and NO evidence points to the contrary, then one is justified in saying, “Given the context of my knowledge, I am certain that...”

      And in relation to that, I’d say concerning your proposition of God that “You cannot challenge a claim to certainty by means of an arbitrary declaration of a counter-possibility, . . . you cannot manufacture possibilities without evidence . . .” — Leonard Peikoff
      More information available at http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/certainty.html

      > I have not submitted an “unsubstantiated fantasy”. In fact, I have criticized other Christians for their fantasies: http://thechristianegoist.wordpress.com/2013/06/16/the-christian-fairytale/
      > Additionally, I have posted a rather substantive argument for the existence of this God, here: http://thechristianegoist.wordpress.com/2012/12/12/godthe-immovable-mover/ with some detailed comments in the thread below.
      > You’re absolutely correct that God is a homogeneous indivisible entity who is conscious. What more is there to God than consciousness, you ask? Existence. Omnipotence. Pride. Joy. Creativity. Justice. Quite a bit actually.

      As I’ve said before, existence is not an attribute or part of anything. I don’t know whether you’re just ignoring my points, or don’t believe them, but at this point we seem to be talking past each other. Your assertions that omnipotence, pride, etc. are parts of God are simply that: assertions, with no evidence of their truth, and much evidence to the contrary — again, primarily the requirement of a physical being. To say that a non-physical being is part joy, pride, etc. is as meaningless as to say “There’s a lot of jumping going on in that room.” when the room is empty. If, after all, you insist that your vision of God is a conglomeration of emotional states, with no physical being involved to experience those emotions, my response is that that is an arbitrary assertion, made with no evidence and in fact in the face of much contrary evidence. It consists of nothing more than your opinion or mental creation of what you would like your preferred divine being to be.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *