Zombies: A Case for God

Zombies are logically possible. That is, we can conceive of them. They aren’t like square circles. Philosophical zombies are human bodies that look and act just like we do, but have no experiences, no inner world. They aren’t conscious in this sense. They will tell you they are conscious if asked, by the way.  For their brain circuits are sufficient for this and any other human behavior.

A world that has complex organisms that do what we do yet lack consciousness is possible. If so, then consciousness is an added feature to a material world.  All of our survival can be explained purely in terms the evolution of mechanisms, without mentioning inner experience even once. Consciousness, defined strictly as inner experience, doesn’t have a real explanatory role.

Thus the philosopher David Chalmers thinks that consciousness is a primitive. It may be a basic feature of the universe, or at least as basic as matter and energy. It doesn’t seem explainable in terms of them. (For more about zombies and materialism, see this blog post from Phillip Goff. For more about the troubles of explaining consciousness, see this blog by Bobby Azarian).

“What does this have to do with God?” you might ask. Well, if there is something more than what physics studies (the material universe), that might open the door for immaterial beings like God. Moreover, given that there is no physical explanation for consciousness, and if it also is a primitive, then consciousness could only come from consciousness. And since God is an always existing conscious being, God could be an explanation for consciousness.

This wouldn’t be enough for a case for God: for one could just say that our consciousness derives from some general consciousness woven throughout the universe, and didn’t come from a particular conscious being. There is additional evidence for God, however, this evidence is problematic to skeptics. But one reason it is problematic may be disarmed by the mystery of consciousness.

The problematic evidence: consider the Kalam Cosmological Argument: The universe had a beginning, and things with beginnings have causes. Therefore, something caused the universe. That something must be outside the universe, and that something isn’t material (otherwise it would be part of the universe). Add to this that other features of the universe, such as the fine-tuning of physical constants for life, seem designed. Perhaps the cause of the universe is an immaterial mind.

The problem with the problematic evidence: we know that many features of our minds depend on physical brains. But there was no cosmic brain existing before the universe! Postulating such a being as an explanation for the universe is ridiculous, as Richard Dawkins argues, for a God like this would have be immensely complex and improbable.

How consciousness helps: Consciousness seems inexplicable in terms of brains. This opens up the possibility of a non-physical explanation. And, for all we know, there might be non-physical ways in which to instantiate other parts of the mind. So there could be such things as minds without problematically complex brains. And these ways, even if complex, might not contribute to improbability like physical complexity does (e.g., even complex mathematical statements are no less probable than simple ones). Thus God may not be such a long shot as Dawkins and others suppose.

It is a bit speculative to speak of such things; but regarding the beginning of the universe, and the fine tuning of the physical constants, it’s no more speculative than any of the other hypotheses floating around (especially the multiverse hypothesis). This, plus the fact that perhaps the most important part of mind can’t be explained purely in terms of physics fits better with this hypothesis than with atheistic naturalism. For not only could God create matter, He can create mind as well. Not so for multiverses. All a multiverse could do is create zombies.


7 thoughts on “Zombies: A Case for God

  1. This is a brilliant take on the problem of consciousness. It telescopes a number of very complex ideas down to very straight-forward thoughts.
    At least, you’ve definitely helped me clarify these points. Thank you.

  2. I have to agree with you again; these are the juicy bits! Except for the Kalam argument – that is a verificationist project at heart (in regards to causation) and subject to the fatal weaknesses of its brethren. It is appealing in terms of common sense, which is why I think showmen like Craig keep talking about it, but it really isn’t very interesting for the above reason. The contingency argument is much more interesting.
    I hate talking about modal logic, because I have no formal training in modal logic and even the experts are prone to run afoul of it (Swinburne for example), but… saying zombies are possible just means that we can speak of them logically as formulated. It doesn’t mean that zombieism is true. If I have it right, the whole zombie argument is supposed to establish that subjectivity is not necessarily a dependent phenomenon – that it doesn’t necessarily supervene on the process of thinking or perceiving.This in turn allows that subjectivity may be a basic property of nature, and if you take subjectivity as the basis of consciousness, then the latter, too may be a basic property.
    Of course, this all depends on what you think constitutes subjectivity and consciousness specifically. Those characterizations may be the real hard part – remember Chalmers would maintain that the thermostat in your house has a certain degree (yuk, yuk) of consciousness, so the concepts involved have already spread well beyond the common usage.
    Along the same lines, there are systems which are just as sound logically, but which treat consciousness as an epiphenomenon. They just rely on a slightly different formulation of what constitutes subjectivity and consciousness (and the relationship between those two things).
    On a certain level, all of this stuff is like trying to look at your own butt-crack without a mirror, but some of us just can’t help it ,’:-)!

  3. Sorry for taking so long to reply. I don’t think Zombie argument tries to show that consciousness doesn’t supervene on the physical. I always took it to mean that consciousness isn’t explainable in terms of the physical. Thus materialism, strictly speaking, isn’t true. The logical possibility of zombies is enough to show this — we don’t need real zombies (I hope!).

  4. What, you don’t find philosophy of mind so compelling that you must sort out every twist and turn immediately?
    I guess the quick answer is: So what? I agree that supervenience does not preclude property dualism, but then I don’t see how it remains dualistic. It follows the same rules as things like magnetism (i.e. it is manifest at certain times and places, and to certain degrees based on the circumstances), so how is it a non-natural or non-physical property?
    Only on a very naïve definition of the physical, which would also run the risk of precluding things which we blithely accept as physical properties (quantum fields come to mind).
    Which leads to the longer answer. Definitions are what logic operates upon, and definitions are cheap. Zombies are logically possible, if you pick your definitions carefully.
    The zombie is supposed to exhibit behaviors divorced from experience, the point being that experience arrives on a separate track from behaviors.
    So, I can say to my zombie friend, “Look at the lovely sunset,” and he will reply, “Yes, it is,” without a flutter of appreciation for the sunset’s beauty. He simply follows the rules of language and produces the appropriate response.
    Now I say to him, “This pudding tastes like crap!”
    What is he going to say?
    He can answer with a question: “Have you tasted crap?”
    I will say, “No, but you know what I mean. This pudding falls into the category of disgusting things, of which the global experience of crap is emblematic.”
    What he says in response depends very much on what kind of zombie he is. If he is the sort which runs on definitions of experience and behavior which include the qualitative content of experience which can be categorized, he is found out. He can’t understand what I really mean by ‘disgustingness’ and will ultimately fail to follow the discussion as it narrows.
    I say, “You know what it feels like when you bite into a piece of moldy bread? It’s more like that than accidentally taking a bite of rotten meat. And it’s more like taking a bite of moldy wonder bread than it is taking a bite of moldy wheat bread.”
    He can’t make sense of that, even to say, “You and I have a different appreciation of what’s disgusting.”
    If we change the definition of the qualitative content of experience to only those things which cannot be categorized, maybe such creatures become logically possible. Then they only lack the generic ‘mine-ness’ of an experience, with all the other behaviorally relevant contents intact. I think that would also include intentionality, for them.
    It gets tricky at that point, because you are talking about a creature with a sense of identity (a necessity for behavior) but not a sense of personal experience.
    But then, is such an experience really imaginable – conceivable – which is a part of the zombie argument?
    I don’t see how, as the imagined experience will always seem to be mine. There is an epistemological problem at the bottom of it all, which stops the zombie argument dead. Unless you are sly with your definitions…

  5. You wrlte, …..Consciousness, defined strictly as inner experience, doesn’t have a real explanatory role,
    I have to disagree. Consciousness definitely gives huge evolutionary advantage to species they have it. An example, you are dropped in an entirely strange city, with a map or without a map. To have a map is like to be conscious about your surroundings. Who has better chance to survive, the one who has a map and can use it or the other one?
    Then you write, things that have beginning have causes. First it is truth only from human perspective that everything has cause, then even if truth, still the cause may be very different from the human understanding of cause. For sure it will not be anything that is similar to any kind of God, created by human imagination.
    And the last, you wrote consciousness is inexplicable as an expression of the brain. You should say, it still was not explained as a function of the brain, and then what will be your argument if it will be explained as a function of the brain? Will you become a secularist?

  6. Regarding the map analogy, I don’t think the map is the consciousness: we can write a program that has a map in this sense, yet the computer that runs it has no inner experience. The experience of the map is what is meant by consciousness in this context.

    There are different meanings to “consciousness,” as Chalmers noted. It could me the ability to “perceive” in the sense of reacting to the sensory inputs in an appropriate way. But there is also the “what’s it like to be X” kind of consciousness, what it feels like. Sure, the first kind of consciousness does have evolutionary advantage, but Chalmers challenges whether the second kind could have any causal role at all.

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