A new proof of God: The argument from The Matrix

September 15, 2014 • 6:51 am

Well, there’s this website whose name (which includes “Science and Nonduality”) has some strange characters in it, so I’ll just give a screenshot that links to the site:

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 7.00.10 AMPart of the site’s aim is to “ignite the dialogue between science and spirituality,” which already erects my fur.

And on that site, someone named Bernardo Kastrup has decided to go after my view that studying theology is a useless endeavor. I agree with Dan Barker that it’s a “subject without an object,” a thesis I discussed a while back.

Kastrup, who was trained as a scientist (see below) but then jumped the rails and abandoned materialism, has decided that I’m dead wrong—that theology has an object after all, and that he can prove it. He tries to do so in a post called “In defense of theology: a reply to Jerry Coyne.” It’s one of the most convoluted arguments for God I’ve ever seen, right up there with the Ontological Argument, for it “proves” God without using real evidence. And, unless I am so unsophisticated that I can’t grasp the argument, I think it’s based on a faulty analogy. Fiinally, it involves that favorite point of theists: the “mystery” of consciousness.

But first, who is Kastrup? His website profile, includes this:

Bernardo Kastrup has a Ph.D. in Computer Engineering and has worked as a scientist in some of the world’s foremost research laboratories, including the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) and the Philips Research Laboratories (where the “Casimir Effect” of Quantum Field Theory was discovered). He has authored many scientific papers and four philosophy books: Rationalist Spirituality, Dreamed up Reality, Meaning in Absurdity, and Why Materialism Is Baloney. This latter book is a grand synthesis of his metaphysical views. Bernardo has also been an entrepreneur and founder of two high-tech businesses. Today, he holds a managerial position in the high-tech industry.

“Why Materialism is Baloney” sets off warning bells, but of course that must perforce be the view of someone who’s defending God’s existence.

So what is Kastrup’s argument? In short, it comes in three parts:

1.  We are conscious beings who construe reality through our senses and consciousness. This seems simple enough, but Kastrup can’t use ten words when 200 will do:

Consciousness is the only carrier of reality anyone can ever know for sure; it is the one undeniable, empirical fact of existence. As I elaborate extensively upon in my book Why Materialism Is Baloney, we do not need more than this one undeniable fact to explain reality: all things and phenomena can be explained as excitations of consciousness itself. As such, the ground of all reality is an impersonal flow of subjective experiences that I metaphorically describe  as a stream, while our personal awareness is simply a localization of this flow — a whirlpool in the stream. It is this localization that leads to the illusion of personal identity and separateness. Moreover, it is your body-brain system that is in consciousness, not consciousness in your body-brain system. Think of reality as a collective dream: in a dream, it is your dream character that is in your consciousness, not your consciousness in your dream character. This becomes obvious when you wake up, but isn’t at all obvious while you are dreaming. Furthermore, the body-brain system is the image of that process of localization in the stream of consciousness, like a whirlpool is the image of a process of localization in a stream of water. For exactly the same reason that a whirlpool doesn’t generate water, your brain doesn’t generate consciousness.

Whirlpools, schmirlpools! Throughout the article Kastrup implies that there is no reality independent of consciousness: a view shared by one Deepak Chopra. That, of course, is untenable, as there is plenty of evidence about what was going on in the Universe before consciousness evolved. But of course you can further argue that our notion of what happened before brains existed is a construction of those brains; but I don’t think that anybody who is science-friendly wants to go that route.

Kastrup has it backwards. In fact, for exactly the same reason that water generates a whirlpool under certain physical conditions, the brain generates consciousness. It’s the laws of physics, Jake!

2. Science and its methods can’t penetrate consciousness, and have no way of separating our perception of the world from the world itself.  Here we get the old trope: you can study neurons and hormones, and see what correlates with love, but that will never tell you what it actually feels like to be in love.

Perhaps that’s true, but what is not true is that the phenomenon of consciousness—of qualia—is forever beyond scientific understanding. That is the “hard problem” of consciousness.  As Kastrup says,

For example: a neuroscientist might put a volunteer in a functional brain scanner (fMRI) and measure the patterns of his brain activity while the volunteer watches pictures of his loved ones. The neuroscientist would have precise measurements showing a pattern of activity in the volunteer’s brain, which could be printed out on slides and shared with the volunteer himself. The patterns on those slides would represent what the volunteer’s first-person experience of love looks like from the outside. In other words, they would be the image of subjective processes in the volunteer’s personal consciousness; the footprints of love. But if the neuroscientist were to point at the slides and tell the volunteer: “this is what you felt when you looked at the pictures of your loves ones,” the volunteer would vehemently, and correctly, deny the assertion. The first-person experience of love doesn’t feel at all like watching neurons activate, or ‘fire.’ You see, the image correlates with the process and carries valid information about it — like footprints correlate with the gait and carry valid information about it — but it isn’t the process, for exactly the same reason that footprints aren’t the gait. Looking at patterns of brain activity certainly feels very different from feeling love.

Yes, it does, but if you can understand how consciousness arises from patterns of brain activity, you’ve gone a long way toward understanding it. But even if we can’t do that easily, what does this have to do with God?

And that leads to Kastrup’s conclusion:

3. Just like the brain scans we see empirically—the ones associated with consciousness—say nothing about what it’s like to be conscious, so the empirical universe we see around us is a reflection of a higher consciousness: God’s consciousness, which is equally unfathomable. Ergo God. Theology is an attempt to plumb God’s consciousness. 

If you think I’m kidding, here are Kastrup’s words. Bear with me, for he writes in theobabble:

As our personal psyches are like whirlpools in a broader stream, so the broader stream itself is an impersonal form of consciousness that underlies all reality. Aldous Huxley ably called it ‘mind-at-large,’ a term that I will adopt from this point on. Now, for the same reason that the experiences of another person appear to us as a seemingly objective image — namely, an active brain — the seemingly objective world around us is the image of conscious experiences in mind-at-large. Moreover, for exactly the same reason that feeling love is completely different than watching the brain activity of someone in love, the first-person experience of mind-at-large will feel completely different than your watching the world around you right now. The world is the image of conscious experiences in mind-at-large, but mind-at-large doesn’t experience the world the way we do, for the same reason that our volunteer inside the brain scanner doesn’t experience patterns of firing neurons! The volunteer experiences love, not firing neurons. When we look at the world around us, we do see the footprints of conscious experience, but not the gait. And this is why theology not only has a concrete and worthy subject of study and speculation, but perhaps the ultimate one.

. . .Thus, theology does have a very concrete subject: mind-at-large, or ‘God.’ And theology also has concrete data to make inferences about this subject: nature itself. After all, nature — from atoms to galaxy clusters — is an image of God’s mental activity, just like a brain scan is an image of a person’s subjective experiences.

. . . theology is an attempt to see past the mere images and make inferences about the subjective processes behind those images, which include emotions and intentionality; it is an attempt to see past the ‘brain scan’ and infer how it ‘feels to feel’ love in a direct way; it is an attempt to see past the footprints and understand where the hiker wants to go, as well as why he wants to go there. In this sense, theology and the natural sciences are entirely complementary.

and finally:

In conclusion, both nature itself and religious texts are expressions of a mysterious divine perspective and, as such, valid sources of concrete data for theological study. Theology has a clear, concrete subject, as well as a clear and concrete challenge: to decode the divine mystery behind the images (both ‘unconscious’ and empirical) that we can ordinarily access during life. Coyne is simply wrong. While the natural sciences attempt to model and predict the patterns and regularities of nature, theology attempts to interpret those patterns and regularities so to make some sense of their first-person perspective; that is, God’s perspective.

This is an Argument for God From The Matrix: the Universe is the reflection of God’s consciousness, which we see through a glass darkly.

But this seems to me to be an argument based on a false analogy, and the syllogism fails at point #3. The problems are twofold. (I’m not mentioning the problems that the universe preceded the evolution of consciousness of its creatures, and that we can make and test hypotheses about what it was like. The fact that some of those hypotheses are verified tells us that there was a universe before we knew of it, and it had properties that were independent of our consciousness.)

First, when there is a human being who says she is conscious, we know that that that human exists and is saying those words.  We don’t know the same about God, whirlpools or not. In other words, the existence of a Universe says nothing about either human or divine consciousness. While we can perceive other humans, there is no similar evidence for God. But at least we know that our view of reality is filtered through senses that have evolved (largely to represent reality!), and in real, demonstrable entities. Where is Kastrup’s evidence for the entity that is God?

Second, we can study consciousness in humans (and perhaps other creatures) through science. That is, we can show what is required for consciousness, how to remove it, where it resides in the brain, how to change its nature, and so on.  We can make hypotheses and test them.

In contrast, Kastrup is stuck not only with having to sneak in God via a false analogy, but then with his claim that theology has valid methods for understanding God’s “consciousness” though his creation.  That’s Natural Theology, a discipline that became obsolete with Darwin, though it has had a revival of sorts with arguments about “fine tuning” and “The Moral Law”.

But we all know that theology has no verifiable methods for inferring anything about God from his creation, except that He’s either malicious, indifferent, or a bungler. Kastrup, however, insists that certain properties of God can be discerned from the Universe:

The term, although admittedly old-fashioned and highly ambiguous, was and remains appropriate: if all reality consists of ripples (that is, inanimate objects and phenomena) and whirlpools (that is, living creatures) in the stream of mind-at-large, then the attributes ‘omnipresent,’ ‘omniscient,’ and ‘omnipotent’ apply to the stream for obvious reasons.

It’s not so obvious to me that these attributes—particularly “omnipotence”—would apply to even a Universal Consciousness. You can see here that Kastrup, desperate to prove his god, is simply making stuff up: throwing out words without considering whether they fit into a logical framework.

And he tries to anticipate the objection I’ll raise to his argument:

Coyne could counter this by saying that we already have the natural sciences for studying nature, and that the scientific method is much better suited for this purpose. This is as strictly correct as it misses the point: theology is an attempt to see past the mere images and make inferences about the subjective processes behind those images, which include emotions and intentionality. . .

He says it again, too, trying desperately to turn theology into a kind of science:

. . . theology attempts to interpret those patterns and regularities so to make some sense of their first-person perspective; that is, God’s perspective.

The key word here is “attempt.” Yes, theology tries to find out about God from nature. The problem is that it can’t find out squat, because its methods don’t allow the discernment of truth. That is why, of course, the gazillion different religions on this planet have come to different conclusions about “God’s perspective.” Does God like gays or hate them? Does He want women to be veiled or not? Is he affected by the world, as process theology claims, or is He completely unmoved by what happens on Earth? And how many Gods are there: how does Kastrup know that the Hindus are wrong and there’s only one God?

He doesn’t. He doesn’t know anything about God. And that’s because he has no good evidence that there is a God (the existence of “nature,” of course, is not evidence). Without a tangible object to study, you can’t say anything about it.

Kastrup’s argument fails miserably, I think, though it’s not for want of trying. It’s because, like all such arguments, it’s motivated less by logic than by wish-thinking. The man starts with his conclusion—God exists—and then retrofits the arguments to “demonstrate” that. Like all theology, it’s philosophical creationism.  As Voltaire said,

De plus, l’intérêt que j’ai à croire une chose n’est pas une preuve de l’existence de cette chose.

or, in English:

The interest I have in believing in something is not a proof that the something exists.

Kastrup has a deep interest in believing in God, and his “proof” is simply pulled out of thin air.

His readers’ comments are often funny, and Kastrup wades into the fray and argues with his commenters:

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 8.02.45 AM


Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 8.02.31 AM

Sadly, I was unable to ignore this flea, as I had an attack of Maru’s Syndrome. But I won’t fight with Kastrup here; if he wants to reply, he has his own website.

111 thoughts on “A new proof of God: The argument from The Matrix

  1. His approach is basically a solipsistic substance psychologizing. Mind at large? It’s just another form of Brahman, Will, Being etc. Same critique of these will apply to this latest adaptation.

    1. He says this quite explicitly in one of his comments below the article:

      “What I wrote isn’t a theory, but an ontology (look it up in the dictionary). And it’s the most parsimonious ontology possible, since it only postulates the one undeniable empirical fact of existence: consciousness (i.e. subjective experience). Everything else simply follows (i.e. they aren’t new postulates or entities).”

      So, as they say,
      “Is it solipsistic in here, or is it just me?”

      1. So if consciousness were to be only an (inescapable) illusion, a by-product of our brains, he would throw his ontology —and his god— to the bin… right?

      2. I think Kastrup is confusing “parsimonious” with “simplistic.” Solipsism — the narcissistic belief that nothing exists except your own mind — is even more “parsimonious” than Kastrup’s view of One Mind manifested in many little minds plus physical reality.

        Guess that makes it even better.

        1. I think it was Deutsch who argued (in The Fabric of Reality) that solipsism isn’t parsimonious at all. In order to present yourself a consistent illusion of reality, you end up having to mentally emulate all the entities of physical reality: particles, planets, people, and laws of physics to govern them all. So the solipsistic universe turns out to be just as complex as the real universe; you just choose to regard all those entities as internal mental constructs rather than external physical objects.

          1. Yes, so I put scare quotes. It’s also necessary to come up with moral reasons why you would imagine incredibly boring things as well as incredibly horrible things — including giving yourself cancer or letting children die of it.

            Solipsism and Idealistic Monism are only simple on the surface as plain ideas. In reality, you have to deal with … reality.

  2. The main issue is that he seems to think the analogy in the third part is a proof. “God is to physical reality what consciousness is to brains” could be true, I suppose, but it’s a premise or assertion, not (as far as I can tell) something he’s proven to be true based on a a set of generally acceptable premises.

    1. Taner Edis’ Ghost in the Universe: God in Light of Modern Science cogently argues that “God” is a natural extension of the self-evident “ghost-in-the-machine” — a model which modern science has made superfluous and falsified.

      But a lot of people didn’t get that note. It’s still “wow — I am not my body.”

      1. Am I the only one who thought the philosophical discussions in Ghost in the Shell were a lot deeper than any involving ghost-in-the-machine stuff?

        As a side note, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex contains the only pop-culture reference to Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene in which the book was discussed beyond its cover (in the end, the characters decided that it ultimately wasn’t relevant to them because they were completely inorganic robots and therefore had no genes).

      1. “Known in Sophisticated Theology circles as The Object Permanence hypothesis.”

        Kind of shows just how developmentally juvenile Chopra is, that he rejects object permanence and attempts to revert backwards to a time when he thought things disappeared when he couldn’t see them.

        1. That means my cousin was well versed in Sophisticated Theology when he was four. While playing hide and seek, he would cover his eyes and say you can’t see me, I’ve got my eyes closed.

  3. What a circuitous mess of logorrhea floating in a cesspool of apologetic neurotheology.

    If God is to physical reality as consciousness is to brains, then God is nothing more than another emergent property dependent on the very parameters that allow for such emergence.

  4. Consciousness is how we perceive reality, therefore consciousness is the only reality? Sorry, doesn’t follow. Just another shout of “I don’t want to die!”

  5. “In conclusion, both nature itself and religious texts are expressions of a mysterious divine perspective and, as such, valid sources of concrete data for theological study.”

    again, a baseless assertion. There is nothing supporting this other than the claim that “God exists, honest.”

    and this is just lovely “Looking at patterns of brain activity certainly feels very different from feeling love.”

    no shit. However, feeling/experiencing patterns of brain activity is exactly feeling love.

    if consciousness exists independently of the brain, then K. should be able to detect it other than only in brains. Where is it? This is the same nonsense used to claim “souls” exists.

    1. Exactly. The fact that this is a testable claim comes out when those who endorse this theory support it with supposed evidence of the paranormal or afterlife.

    2. If I were to say “Looking at musical scores certainly feels very different from hearing the music performed,” I’m sure there are several skilled musicians here who would take issue with that statement.

      If I were to say “Reading romantic novels certainly feels very different from feeling love,” nearly everyone here would take issue with that.

      So if Kastrup thinks there’s an unbridgeable gap between looking at brain scans and feeling the emotions they represent, that’s most likely because he lacks the skill (or the scans lack adequate resolution) to read them properly.

  6. When we look at the world around us, we do see the footprints of conscious experience, but not the gait. And this is why theology not only has a concrete and worthy subject of study and speculation, but perhaps the ultimate one.

    So charitable, qualifying that last sentence with a ‘perhaps’. How humble. It’s obvious the way forward is to study and speculate. Certainly the hard problem of consciousness will yield to the hard light of speculation.

    …then the attributes ‘omnipresent,’ ‘omniscient,’ and ‘omnipotent’ apply to the stream for obvious reasons.

    Well there you have it. It’s obvious. Therefore you’d have to be a poopyhead to argue the point. If you don’t see it, it’s back to the dusty books for you until you do.

  7. Oh boy not Bernardo Kastrup. He even fights for Deepak Chopra:


    He pushes New Age woo. He even mangles Quantum Mechanics in the article above because there is no need for a conscious observer like this experiment has shown:

    “To demonstrate this, Weizmann Institute researchers built a tiny device measuring less than one micron in size, which had a barrier with two openings. They then sent a current of electrons towards the barrier. The “observer” in this experiment wasn’t human. Institute scientists used for this purpose a tiny but sophisticated electronic detector that can spot passing electrons.”

    Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/02/980227055013.htm

  8. Why do these people never understand the difference between evidence and justification? If Klastrup had not otherwise previously been introduced to the concept of god, I don’t see how this argument would arise.

  9. This god he’s allegedly proved the existence of isn’t sort that’s going to answer any prayers. In the end what use is a god who doesn’t answer prayers? After all believers pray to their god to ask for things. Nobody prays to a “ground of being”.

    1. The last statement is not strictly true, though it involved redefining prayer to mean something a lot more like meditation or contemplation, but the meaning of what praying to a ground of being might mean has been explored by uber-liberal bishop John Robinson in his book “Honest to God”. (It essentially now means meditation!)

    2. Not necessarily. I know plenty of people who adhere to this God-Is-the-Upper-Level-of-Consciousness-Universal-Mind version of divinity and instead of traditional prayer you get all the stuff that falls out of <a href="New Thought. “>New Thought — including the belief that the origin of all illness lies in holding on to resentment and you can wish parking spaces into existence. The book The Secret certainly doesn’t give a picture of a remote and uninvolved cosmos —
      and yet I suspect the basic metaphysics is the same as Kastrup’s.

      This will get you prayer ramped up to 11.

  10. Another version of Chopra/Wilber emanationism. Assume God/consciousness is all that exists.

    IMO, Christian de Quincey did a great job of debunking this philosophy using their own methods and assumptions (though he did so in favor of panpsychism).

  11. At best (to be generous) Kastrup has gotten anyone he convinces up to William James’ “piecemeal supernaturalism”.

    However, after that apologists love to make an unwarranted quantum leap to the Abrahamic God and ignore issues about the problem of evil.

    I’m a Dawkins scale 7 on the classical God of the conservative Christian creeds. I am completely convinced this is false. There might be a sentient spirit behind the cosmos who is NOT (entirely?) in charge or in control of creation. I’m a Dawkins-scale 6 here: Improbable but possible. But I’m not going to lured into patently man-made religions even if I am a bit convinced by anything Kastrup says.

    1. Dawkins is probably pretty high on the scale for Kastrup’s God:

      “Mental things, brains, minds, consciousnesses, things that are capable of comprehending anything — these come late in evolution, they are a product of evolution. They don’t come at the beginning. So whatever lies behind the universe will not be an intellect. Intellects are things that come as the result of a long period of evolution.” (Richard Dawkins)

  12. JC: “. . . what is not true is that the phenomenon of consciousness—of qualia—is forever beyond scientific understanding.”
    Agreed. But what is also not true is that the phenomenon of consciousness definitely IS amenable to scientific understanding! “We” (neuroscientists, physicists, biologists, etc.)are so far from understanding and explaining consciousness that we just don’t know whether it is scientifically understandable. What is lacking is sufficient appreciation of the extent of current ignorance!

    1. Well, some aspects of it are amenable to scientific understanding, like whether it can be altered in predictable ways, what parts of the brain are involved in it, and so on. But I agree that it will be decades and decades before we understand it and the other ways the brain works. The brain, not the cosmos, is the last redoubt of understanding.

  13. This all reminds me of a posting that Jerry did a while back of music by a psychedelic harpist in a number called ‘Lookout, Science!’. I will not link to it, since hearing it will give you the dumb.

    1. Oh, noes, The Dumb! [/smites with paw]

      Agreed, it is mysticism so wrapped up in itself that it gives you a trip to nowhere. (“That word tapestry is brooown.”)

  14. “Throughout the article Kastrup implies that there is no reality independent of consciousness: a view shared by one Deepak Chopra.”

    One of the things that always bugs me about this sort of assertion is that this consensual hallucination that they claim we are experiencing as ‘reality’ has a lot of characteristics that very few of us would actually want in our shared fantasy. If we were really sharing an experience that we were making up I would think that everyone would be having a lot more fun.

    (Although one could use this quandary to take Kastrup’s shared hallucination hypothesis in a repressive direction: suffering people are non-player characters.)

  15. Might be off topic but I heard what seems a new argument for God today on the BBC Radio 4 programme “Beyond Belief”. New to me anyway.

    Alister McGrath posited, in a discussion about agnosticism, that faith is doubt because one cannot understand God. In fact, no one can understand God because God is not understandable.

    If this is new, can I name it the theory of patronising ignorance. McGrath cannot understand God and he is a professor of something, therefore no one can. Seems more like a way of subjugating the masses than a means to enlightenment.

  16. In my late teens I read Huxley, smoked a bit of hash and spent time watching eddies on a mountain stream, and considered a world view similar to Kastrup’s. I concluded that eddies are an instructive metaphor for life, not because the stream resembles consciousness (it doesn’t, in any meaningful sense) but because it is subject to the laws of physics and flows from higher to lower potential. Not theology but thermodynamics, dummy.

    1. There is a nice analogy though:

      Theology on New Atheists:

      “Big fleas have little fleas,
      Upon their backs to bite ’em,
      And little fleas have lesser fleas,
      and so, ad infinitum.”

      Thermodynamics on fresh water:

      “Big whirls have little whirls
      that feed on their velocity,
      and little whirls have lesser whirls
      and so on to viscosity.”

  17. It’s disappointing and frustrating when you do the unnecessarily convoluted mental gymnastics to get through all of that and it turns out to be something so mundane as solipsism and a cute metaphor.

    The dialectic method is fun and interesting, but it’s cheap to tack on a bunch of mumbo jumbo to obscure your simple argument in the hope that it will look more intimidating and thereby more credible. Sheesh.

  18. Throughout the article Kastrup implies that there is no reality independent of consciousness: a view shared by one Deepak Chopra.

    When you get right down to it it’s also a view shared by Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, neopagans, and every other version of religion and/or “Spirituality” which bothers to delve more deeply into the nature of things.

    Please note that this isn’t just “woo” or some new and bizarre version of God. The belief that the material world and all that’s in it depends on something pure and primary and mental is the very definition of the supernatural. The supernatural is what makes “religion” different than a life philosophy or nice social club. God’s consciousness or its love or its will or its values or its creativity — or God BEING one or more of those things — precedes the world. Grounds the world. Creates the world.

    And when we figure this out it will transform our lives. I mean, sure — just look how sad and sorry atheism is.

    And I think this Argument from the Matrix is also an old one — God is modeled on the human mind and therefore all we have to do is point to the strange “existence” of our own minds (which do not seem to be dependent on the body) and then simply assert that God is like that but bigger. Insist on it as if it was a self-evident truth and then quickly start talking about how transformed your life is. And how sad and sorry atheism is because it “denies the interior” or is like being in Flatland or is egoic and limited. Deny the atheists any standing to criticize because they haven’t opened their hearts and minds and thus can’t get it.

    By the way Kastrup is often held up as one of the wonderful sophisticated people who is discovering and/or exploring the scientific link between science and spirituality. Or at least I’ve seen this.

  19. “Furthermore, the body-brain system is the image of that process of localization in the stream of consciousness, like a whirlpool is the image of a process of localization in a stream of water.”

    Where have I read this kind of flapdoodle before? Kastrup Krazies. Could this be an offshoot of Deepak Deepities?

  20. So, the coherent streams and eddies of reality are God? Am I getting that right? Leaving aside the total lack of bloody evidence, let us entertain this notion for a ‘mo because it is will be mildly amusing.
    If that is God, and if my perceptions are at all accurate, then God could not hold a coherent thought for long. Some God. Sounds like a really scatterbrained God who needs a dose of cosmic Ritalin.

        1. Until a few years ago, I thought paisley was a colour that I just didn’t know. I didn’t realize it was a pattern.

  21. Reblogged this on bbnewsblog and commented:
    On his blog, Professor Jerry Coyne refutes some assertions made by Dr Bernardo Kastrup about God, consciousness and theology.

    Dr Kastrup argues 1) that the Universe is the reflection of God’s consciousness, 2) that theology should be seen as an attempt to plumb God’s consciousness in scientific terms; and 3) that there is no reality independent of our human consciousness (a view shared by for example Deepak Chopra).

    Or in Dr Kastrup’s own words, “After all, nature — from atoms to galaxy clusters — is an image of God’s mental activity, just like a brain scan is an image of a person’s subjective experiences.”

    To that Professor Coyne responds in the following way; i) “[T]he universe preceded the evolution of consciousness of its creatures”, ii) “[W]e can make and test hypotheses about what it was like. The fact that some of those hypotheses are verified tells us that there was a universe before we knew of it, and it had properties that were independent of our consciousness.”

    About Dr Kastrup’s claim that theology has valid methods for understanding God’s “consciousness” by studying the creation act as seen in Nature, Professor Coyne says, That’s Natural Theology, a discipline that became obsolete with Darwin, though it has had a revival of sorts with arguments about “fine tuning” and “The Moral Law”.

    And finally Professor Coyne chooses to quote what Voltaire once said, De plus, l’intérêt que j’ai à croire une chose n’est pas une preuve de l’existence de cette chose. Or, in English, The interest I have in believing in something is not a proof that the something exists.

    To find more of Professor Coyne’s persuasive and compelling refutation arguments, read his blog article in extenso.

  22. I suspect we are going to be inundated more and more with the woo of consciousness (which will probably make most of us wish we were unconscious) as science solves more and more mysteries.

    I so hope that the hard problem of consciousness is solved in my lifetime. It is such a complex thing because are brains are so complex, each part communicating to other parts, sometimes sharing visual information by making it conscious, other times editing it out before shooting it up to the next brain part. If my brain was a business, it would go bankrupt from bad process design. I’d need to Lean that sucker up!

    1. I also think we are going to be inundated with more and more woo of consciousness because it’s ecumenical.

      Think about it. This can be used to support every religion and no religion (I’m just spiritual”), traditions and “Sheilaism”, Eastern and Western. And it avoids all the arguments and embarrassment of trying to defend the barbarisms of sacred scripture, the crimes of churches and organizations, and the testable claims of the supernatural.

      Higher Consciousness blather is all very meta-meta and one can always plaintively insist that you can’t use physics (or science or reason) on METAphysics (or transcendence or mysticism.) Ontology apparently gets to be pulled out of personal experience + one’s ass and it’s perfectly respectable.

      Plus everyone can get behind it except for the atheists (along with those fundamentalists who get too uncomfortable with glittering generalities and proofs of God which don’t make the One True Religion a specific revelation.)

      1. ….and the meta meta’s will proclaim that science doesn’t know the answer in their regular – “so there, science” method of proof.

        1. They will proclaim that science can’t know the answer. Science is too lowly and provincial. No, what you want to consult for ultimate truth is your imagination. Although they won’t call it “imagination”. They will want to use fancy or arcane terminology because, as everyone knows, an argument using fancy or arcane terminology is a sound argument.

    1. Read your reply, no better than the original. This seems to perfectly sum up your position.
      “If one argues that the ground of reality (that is, the ontological primitive) is consciousness itself, then nervous systems are in consciousness, not consciousness in nervous systems.”
      Pure rubbish, try it like this. If one argues the moon is made of cheese, we can eat forever, except those nasty lactose intolerant people. You’re trying to be profound, but you’re just being nonsensical. Insisting something is true doesn’t make it so. Arguing for any poorly thought out idea doesn’t mean anything. The rest of your argument is simply “NaNa BooBoo, my god is everything I want it to be and nothing you can understand”

      1. If one clicks on the original article hyperlinked by JAC (hated to do it, but…), you’ll find that Kastrup has upvoted his own abrasive and argumentative replies to criticism. A minor point, I’m sure, but an insight into an insecure mind, regardless of the genesis of that mind. As Pozzo says in Waiting for Godot, “I am in need of such encouragement.”

    2. Bernardo has a classic post on HuffPo – coauthored with Deepak himself.

      Thomas Kuhn figures prominently – paradigm shifts – and D & B are at the forefront of the new improved paradigm – QM + human consciousness = God.

      B also is on board with Rupert Sheldrake and telepathy, parapsychology and the like.

      It is like the brain is a satellite receiver and consciousness is the satellite signal. The more evolved we are the more channels we get. Just not sure how it works….

  23. I can’t distinguish his ‘theology’ from solipsism at large.

    Google Scholar tells me two things:

    1. There is a B. Kastrup who has published on data and image processing technologies.

    2. The full titel of B. Kastrup’s Baloney is:

    “Why Materialism Is Baloney: How true skeptics know there is no death and fathom answers to life, the universe, and everything”.

    Um, “true skeptics”!? Kastrup forgets that organized, true skeptics accepts science. At its simplest, death is a diagnose in medicine…

    Methinks the simplest hypothesis behind his Baloney is that Kastrup is afraid of death.

    his metaphysical views

    As I’m sure will surprise nobody, my claim is as follows:

    When one see “metaphysical”, nothing of science will follow and one better stop read there in the interest of having more time for fusses and noms.

  24. At a certain point in the evolution of the human brain, the capacity for awe and wonder occurred along with the tendency to ask great existential questions like “where did I come from” and “where am I going”. Entrepreneurs in the tribe started selling answers to these questions and religion was born. But the human capacity for awe and wonder resulted in a myriad of explanations for the origin thereof, mostly involving a god of some sort. I see Kastrup’s new age babble as just another of these attempts. Like most god arguments, it boils down to a simple one: I wonder, therefore God exists!

    1. I look forward to the day when, for instance, we finally understand dolphin language. Before they say so long and thanks for all the fish, suspect they’ll ask why humans ever believed this God nonsense.

      1. I think the first thing dolphins will say will be, “if I had those stupid looking things you call “hands”, I’d slap you with them, followed by untranslatable gibberish that we will assume are just dolphin swears about where you can stick fish and things to do with blow holes.

    2. I think, therefore I am.

      I wonder, therefore God is.


      I was once taught that no question starting with “why” that couldn’t be more precisely phrased to start with “who, what, when and/or where” wasn’t worth asking.

  25. I suspect that when we finally come to understand consciousness, it will be as close as it’s possible to come to prove the non-existence of a god.

    And we already know omnipotence isn’t possible. Can god create something so heavy he can’t lift it? Whether the answer’s Yes or No, he’s not omnipotent.

  26. Let me see if I have ol’ Bernardo’s M.O. down. Make an argument that is almost too convoluted for the reader tom realize how full of bovine excreta it is . . . check. Suggest that anyone whom does not entertain your buffoonery or agree with your argument is wrong and a coward . . . check. I think Bernie’s been taking lessons from the folks at Free Thoughts Bludgeon, er Blog.

  27. Just another variation of an idealistic view. Conciousness is all.
    I may be persuaded as to the validity of theology in exposing lives truth’s and mysteries if someone, anyone can provide a coherent chain of logic showing the steps, from a little whirlpool in the ‘mind at large’ to ‘if you do the wrong thing with your genitals, then, off with your head’.
    If ‘theology’ can’t join those dots, or any dots leading from the mysterious to ‘commanding’ people, then, shove it.

    As Sam Harris has said, there is something to explore in the realm of conciousness, but theology and god are the failed hypotheses.

  28. Kastrup tries to claim that there is no color or light without consciousness. Prokaryotes can detect light, chemicals, heat, etc. – so either they are conscious without a brain or he is full of crap.

  29. Isn’t Kastrup’s argument anything other than plain old pantheism? God and the universe are the same. Or, the universe is part of God’s being, panentheism? These arguments have been around much longer than Kastrup but they’re not very popular among theists who want they’re god to be a person who created the universe (and who answers or doesn’t answer prayers).

  30. So his argument boils down to:
    If you accept all my suppositions then it follows that I am correct.
    Can’t argue with that proposition, I just don’t see the value of it…

  31. This all appears to be a rationalization to explain an experience of “oneness with the universe.” I had such early in my life and spent a lot of time exploring woo as an explanation. Thankfully, I kept asking questions that ultimately allowed me to pull my head out of that ‘cosmic AH.” I have come to believe that woo warriors are stuck in the wonderfulness of their “cosmic” experience and logic only pushes them deeper into witnessing for it. We should speak to their experiences and give a rational explanation for them. “I am glad that Kastrup had a nice brain fart, but his theory doesn’t allow me to predictably create it.” Neuroscience is making great inroads to understanding and reproducing these nice brain farts.

  32. Does anybody have any evidence – or have any idea how one could even conceive of any evidence – direct, verifiable evidence – for the existence of non-conscious anything? That is, something “material” or “physical” independent of any consciousness?

    I’m always amazed, when asking this, that people who think they are intelligent actually believe that an answer like “Well, if a tree hits you, you’ll have evidence of matter.”

    Remember, I said completely and wholly independent of any kind of mind or consciousness.

    Since obviously, by definition, you can’t provide any evidence of such a thing, why in the world should I believe in it?

    It makes virtually everything in the universe not only inexplicable, but virtually impossible. To believe in such a thing actually fits perfectly with the DSM V definition of delusional disorder. That’s a psychosis, in case you’re not familiar with the dSM

    The universe is said to start with chaos, prior to the ’emergence” of the patterns we misname “laws of physics.”

    In what possible universe of rational discourse could you believe that it makes sense to saw these patterns “just” emerge, and believe that you are providing a rational explanation for anything?

      1. And exactly how does that provide evidence for the existence of mind-independent matter?? Besides which (this is completely irrelevant to the point I was making, but since you brought up this tangential issue) the tests are not detecting sentience, they are not, in fact “detecting” (if by “detecting” you are referring to what happens in our experience when we perceive something, since “tests” can’t perceive anything) anything. They are mechanical instruments that respond whn certain other objectively observable events occur in the physical brain. They are not directly proviing evidence of “consciousness” – if by that, you mean sentience, experience. We know that certain brain activities are correlated with sentience by inference, because we are sentient beings.

        If anybody else wants to respond to this point, please read it first, then think about it for at least a minute before responding. Then check your response to see if it has any relevance to the point. And if anybody stops by who actually has an open mind, notice the extraordinary efforts to avoid cognitive dissonance in the tangential quality of whatever comments to come (I would offer a million dollars, if I had it, to anybody who is a regular contributor to this forum who actually stays on point and seriously answers the points raised. Saying, “Every time I step on a scale, I see “matter” measuring other matter” – someone who considers himself to be a genius actually responded to a similar point I made with this comment – has nothing to do with the point I made.

        1. I did read your comment when you said:

          Does anybody have any evidence – or have any idea how one could even conceive of any evidence – direct, verifiable evidence – for the existence of non-conscious anything?

          And I provided evidence that there are scientific tests to determine if there is no more consciousness. When consciousness can’t return after injury to the brain (the thalamus & cerebral cortex can’t get it together) you are in one of three states: coma, vegetative/persistent vegetative state (PVS) or minimally conscious. PVS is weird because patients have sleep/wake cycles and when awake their eyes can follow a person around a room and they can groan. Still these are only reflexes.

          This answers your question of “an unconscious anything” so your snark:

          If anybody else wants to respond to this point, please read it first, then think about it for at least a minute before responding. Then check your response to see if it has any relevance to the point.

          is rude and uncalled for and carries a whiff of superiority in its implication that I am too stupid and closed minded to answer your question. I’m holding back on a few choice words for you only because I respect Jerry’s rules for this site.

          1. Ahh me. You haven’t read what I wrote.

            I asked for proof that something material exists INDEPENDENTLY of any kind of consciousness.

            I see. Perhaps you didn’t understand. If you are aware of the brain that is being examined, (should I finish the sentence), that percept (brain) relates to your awareness.

            Perhaps it will be easier to understand if I explain that materialists believe that something they have conceived of – a purely abstract concept, matter – exists outside the matrix of any kind of consciousness, that is, it exists without any relationship to any awareness.

            That brain you’re talking about – the phenomenon you’re experiencing, the percept – is an object. The word “object” has as its necessary corollary “subject.”

            Do you see what it was not at all “snarky.” IT was a simple statement of fact. You didn’t take any time to reflect on what I’m saying, because the statement about a brain “lacking consciousness” has absolutely nothing to do with mind-independent matter. The materialist makes a non empirical, wholly unprovable assertion – absolutey impossible to prove or even provide a single piece of evidence for – that if there were no mind, no awareness, no consciousness anywhere in the entire universe, there would still be something physical.

            Only nowadays, most physicists will admit they have no definition they can agree upon for the word “physical”, so all you’re really left with is the assertion, that whatever exists in the universe, if there were no mind, no awareness, no consciousness, would not be mind, awareness or consciousness.

            This is a tautology, ultimately, not just irrational but incoherent.

            Does it make any more sense to you now why, what you said has no relevance to my initial statement?

            1. First of all, I maintain I answered your question that I quoted. If I didn’t, you were not clear about what you were asking. There is no “mind independent matter” are you saying that there is a mind outside our brains? You asked for a description of non consciousness – I gave you one. One that is accepted by science. I can give you another – when you are in non REM sleep. That is also unconsciousness accepted by science.

              This subject – object stuff is philosophical hooey. Scientists haven’t solved the hard problem of consciousness but they do know that it doesn’t sit in any one place in the brain. They are investigating if it arises out of complex systems and those complex systems may include non organic brains (AI perhaps). Game Theory is one area being ivestigated.

              Can you explain which materialists believe this:

              …materialists believe that something they have conceived of – a purely abstract concept, matter – exists outside the matrix of any kind of consciousness, that is, it exists without any relationship to any awareness.

              because the neuroscientists I think that it is possible that consciousness is not reducible but they don’t think that it exists outside the brain and they don’t think that qualia exist independently of consciousness.

              1. Nothing you’re saying about consciousness or matter is a scientific statement. It’s all philosophy. purely empirical investigations can tell us nothing essential about matter or consciousness as they exist apart from our awareness of them.

                That is why the assertion of virtually every materialist that matter exists apart from any relationship to awareness is philosophy, not science.

                You write: What materialists believe this:

                [Don wrote] …materialists believe that something they have conceived of – a purely abstract concept, matter – exists outside the matrix of any kind of consciousness, that is, it exists without any relationship to any awareness.

                because the neuroscientists I think that it is possible that consciousness is not reducible but they don’t think that it exists outside the brain and they don’t think that qualia exist independently of consciousness.


                I wrote that materialists believe matter exists without any relationship to awareness.

                What you just wrote: cause the neuroscientists … don’t think that [consciousness] exists outside the brain.

                Exactly, that’s what I just wrote. Materialists don’t think consciousness exists outside the brain. That means that, anyone calling themselves a materialist believes that, far away from the planet earth, virtually everything (which they can’t define, they just call it “physical”) exists entirely independent of any awareness whatsoever.

                This is a virtually unprovable assertion. All we can ever know is within the matrix of experience, that’s all Bernardo Kastrup is saying. Planck, Eddington, Dyson, Bohr, Heisenberg, Wald, Josephson (the last two are nobel prize winners, respectively in biology and physics), Schrodinger and Jeans all understood this perfectly. It is not some weird’ woo” or hooey philosophy. Unless you think (this is not snark, it’s directly implied in your response to me) that these scientists don’t understand science and instead or just are hopeless confused,unable to separate their personal beliefs from science.

              2. Diana is right. Not only is this philosophical hooey, if it even qualifies as philosophy, but it also amounts nothing more than a word game. What you are doing isn’t science, and if we generously label it philosophy, it immediately fails by not holding all parties to a consistent epistemological framework.

                You are implying an assertion for which you have an absolutely enormous burden of proof and then in the same breath try to shift the burden elsewhere. You are implying that all matter is dependent on consciousness and to demonstrate that, you must show that a conscious being created the matter being observed appear. Then you must show that this matter disappears, again violating the laws of Physics, when there is no conscious observer. Further, you must show how matter remanifests itself in a known state when a different conscious observer returns to view it. (E.g. i park my car in a closed garage, leave and then when my wife returns, it is just as i left it).

                And yes, these laws of Physics would be unaffected by any additional nonsense you pile on top of it. Even if matter were assumed to be dependent on consciousness, they still hold. So, you’ve proposed an unfalsifiable statement yourself, but you’ve added additional burdens of proof with are untestable and have not a single shred of evidence to support them. Show me my car disappeared when the observers left. That would be a great start.

                If this isn’t enough for you, try applying your own ludicrous requirements on any of an infinite number of scenarios. Let’s start with this, “Show me a single solar system that is independent from my late mother-in-law’s failure to ever win the lottery.” You can’t do it, there’s no empirical evidence showing that any galaxy would exist if she had won the lottery and it is incoherent to say you can prove otherwise. It’s untestable. Now that we’ve cleared that hurdle, I can fill in the blanks with whatever woo I want. If my mother-in-law had won the lottery, galaxies and other stars wouldn’t exist, only our sun. Why? Well, I have no evidence, but my original assertion put the burden of proof on you, so obviously it is. Right? Yes. I just thank Ceiling Cat my mother-in-law never had a lucky day. Our sky would be mighty boring at night.

              3. Hey Chris = every criticism you have of what I wrote about be spot on, absolutely correct, if I was promoting solipsism. But there’s nothing in what I wrote that indicated that. If you want a more elaborate presentation that provides “epistemological parity”, you might try my article, “Shaving Science With Ockham’s Razor.”

                Thanks for taking the time to look at this and reflect on it.

              4. You can assert that consciousness exists outside of the brain as much as you want; it doesn’t make it so. You can also assert that all the evidence given by scientists is wrong – also won’t make it true.

              5. Scientists can do philosophy for which they have no training and make a non-empirical claim that pure non conscious matter exists outside the matrix of subjective experience all they want. It doesn’t make it scientific.

  33. I guess I should also add, I do understand why you might have interpreted it that way. Generally, people committed to a materialist view interpret anything that is non materialist either as dualist or solipsist. Ironically, these are almost inevitable counterparts of the materialist belief system. It’s certainly interesting to observe.

    1. Christian de Quincy (a panpsychist) pretty much annihilated emanationism ala Ken Wilbur and his marketing arm Deepak Chopra.

      One woo is replaced by another, but at least his logic is internally consistent.

      1. I’ve corresponded with Christian. Neither Wilber nor Chopra understand non dualism. De Quincey never addressed non dualism. Your comment, therefore, is irrelevant.

        The only woo is the unprovable, non empirical, purely solipsistic faith (all we know, the materialist neuroscientist tells us, are images constructed by the brain, yet he insists that the cause of those images are invisible, inaudible, intangible, purely quantitative processes) of materialism.

        The ultimate woo. Among the scientists who study the foundations of science, less than 20% believe in this. You folks here are among the dwindling minority of true believers in a dying faith.

        At least, you haven’t taken up arms like ISIS – yet!

        1. Perhaps I’ve missed it, but in our correspondence Christian acknowledged he had only addressed idealism. Perhaps you can find somewhere that he addresses either Madhyamaka or Avaita. I haven’t found it.

  34. or true.

    The point is not to “prove” matter doesn’t exist outside the realm of non-personal experience (“non personal” indicates this is not about solipsism). The point is to show that the scientist-pseudo philosophic claim that matter exists outside expeience is at least as much a non empirical, purely philosophic assertion as the reverse. And since all we know is subjective experience, the most parsimonious assumption is that what lies outsie the individualized mind has the same essential nature.

    The philosopher/pseudo-rationaist, by asserting something extra, adds an ingredient which is wholly unnecessary for doing any kind of science.

    As I wrote in the first post, Bohr, Schrodinger, PLanck and many others wrote exactly the same “philosophic hooey” (Diane, you don’t think that comment was snarky? Philosophic hooey?). I’m not making an argument by authority. only pointing out that people who know much more about physics than anybody on this site put forth the same view I’m presenting. That doesn’t mean it’s correct, it just suggests it’s not entirely worthless, unless you think that Bohr, Schrodinger etc wet merely spotting philosophic hooey.

    Or perhaps you could tell me how what I wrote here is different from what Schrodinger wrote in “What is Life?”

    1. What I thought was snarky was your assertion that I hadn’t read what you wrote and your invitation for others to comment as a dismissal of what I had to say. Read the way you wrote your first response to me. You didn’t have to reply that way.

      1. Hi Diana, it’s so interesting to me. For some reason, this is not true on political sites, but overwhelmingly, in my experience with online groups for science and philosophy, women are much, much more dialogic and open-minded than men (women writers strike me just as irritable, snarky and close minded in political sites as men; go figure:>)

        So, thank you for coming back to that point. Let me think back to that – I was definitely frustrated, so if I came across as more than that, as irritated, I’m sorry. Actually, you might think of my comment that you didn’t read carefully as a compliment. Your comment was, to my understanding, so far from what I wrote, I started out assuming that you were an intelligent person, therefore the only explanation for yoru misunderstanding was the typical computer/online experience of rushing to write something in not enough time.

        In any case, we’re all talking at cross purposes. My main aim in coming on this site (I’ve dropped by a few times in the last year or so) was to see how people responded to Bernardo’s comments. I thought (wrongly, obviously) that it might be possible to suggest another way of looking at what he said, as I saw that most commenters were making off the top of their head assumptions, accusing him and everyone who agrees with him as being “woo” and irrational and trying to sneak in religion because of their fear of death and all that, so I just wrongly and I suppose unconsciously assumed you would be like every other commenter here.

        I was wrong. Again, apologies.

        So, are you actually interested in even considering another perspective? As I said to Len (was that his name? I don’t have time to check at the moment), the guy who cited deQuincey, I’m not out to convince or convert to another perspective. I think I’m not quite that naïve or stupid. But I thought someone here might be interested to know there are actual legitimate scientists (great ones, like Bohr, etc) who don’t think the same way Coyne and other materialists think.

        I would think, if some of the greatest scientists of the 20th century disagree with Jerry Coyne, that I might be at least minimally curious to try to understand their perspective, whether or not I agree with it.

        So, that’s my interest here. Not to convert or convince, to see what kind of language would be required to inspire someone to simply consider other views. I’m basically very doubtful that dialog would be possible here, but I try to remain open to the possibility.

        Thanks for checking back in with me.

  35. if you actually read what I wrote, you’ll notice I said within the scientific research framework now acceptable, whether you assert a materialist or non materialist framework, it’s an assumption in both cases.

    Virtually every point I’ve made is to demonstrate that materialism is, far from being a scientific “fact”, a non empirical, irrational and ultimately incoherent assumption.

    If you thought, when I sai that the ASSUMPTION that whatever lies outside individual experience has the nature of experience – was an attempt to “prove” or even assert the truth of that, I was only presenting it to contrast it with the materialistic belief system.

    Anybody who spent 3 or more minutes at this site and thought it was worth even a second of energy to try to put forth an alternative to materialism and convince someone here of that – well, one hardly knows what to say.

    I’m sure all of this probably seems hard to follow but the point is simple – and thanks to you, people can go to de quincey’s site and see extended arguments to support it:

    Mateiralism is an irrational, incoherent belief system based on something which is impossible find or even conceive (nobody today agrees what the word “physical” even means, and as Feynmann pointed out, nobody knows what “energy” actually is either). The only possible basis for it has been pointed out by John Searle and Thomas Nagel, fear of the alternatives.

    It is more of a fear based system than anything in any religion.

    fear mounting almost to a level of terror. And now we’re back to ISIS!

  36. you know, another approach would be to take Max Planck’s statement and see if we can, together, understand what he was saying and hold our opinions in abeyance before pronouncing judgment.


    We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter, Max Planck.

  37. i should probably add that I think Planck’s statement is a very clumsy statement of idealism, and I don’t agree with it (nor do I hold idealist views). I’m only offering it because it shows that a scientific genius can hold different views from materialists. I’m not the least bit interested in “proving” it’s true. You can’t prove any metaphysical position with reason, but I don’t think that’s something that will interest anybody here.

  38. Excessive superfluousness over consciousness, however we are aware that the entire human brain is a surviving mechanism with only task to keep body alive. Might there is some being or entire celestial engineering team that is fooling us, but for now we only know that reality we perceiving in our skulls is life-threatening and 100% of brain functions are dedicated to keep us alive. Brain performs all human cells do: replicate, specialise, survive and if/when needed, commit suicide (apoptosis). Except the last, brain does all cells are programed to do. Might happen all the concepts brain creates can be traced back to its survival function, and there is nothing more in it.

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