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The argument is simple.

1.) Every instance of consciousness/intelligence that we’ve observed requires something material

2.) God is assumed to be conscious and intelligent yet immaterial

3.) Given 1.) We have no reason to believe God exists

Is this a reasonable argument?

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    Every instance of consciousness/intelligence that we’ve observed is human, therefore, non-human consciousness/intelligence does not exist. Are you familiar with the fallacy of hasty generalization? One data point does not make a trend. Our observational basis is so meager even compared to what we already know is out there, that primitive inductions on it are just garbage in, garbage out.
    – Conifold
    Sep 1 at 9:19
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    @Conifold Every instance of consciousness/intelligence observed isn’t human though. Also, we’ve observed millions of instances of consciousness, so I don’t think it’s a hasty generalization Sep 1 at 11:45
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    You should think harder. Those instances are observed on a single planet and have the same genetic origin. Whether it is millions or billions is makes no difference to generalizability.
    – Conifold
    Sep 1 at 12:11
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    I mean you’re just arbitrarily narrowing your scope. “All humans we have observed die. Therefore this person will likely die.” doesn’t lose its power just because the next person happens to be on a planet no one has inhabited or died in. One can narrow the scope of any inductive argument by defining an “instance” in such a way that there are a few instances. That’s you trying to find a generalization fallacy in the argument, not the other way around. Sep 1 at 12:22
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    This is a good argument for God not being a human being :-)
    – gnasher729
    Sep 1 at 13:14

4 Answers 4

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No that is not an inductive argument, in inductive arguments the general rule would be the conclusion not the premise:

  A is a specimen 
  A is X
  > All specimen are X

You rather attempt a hypothetical deductive argument. Though your conclusion doesn't follow from your premises. The more straight forward argument would be:

(Assuming) all conscious things are material
god is immaterial
> god is not conscious

or

(Assuming) all conscious things are material
god is conscious
-> god is material

or

(Assuming) all existing things are material
god is immaterial
-> god doesn't exist

or

(Assuming) all conscious things are material and existing
the existing god is conscious but immaterial
-> one or both of the premises are wrong

So sure the idea of "if all X are Y" then "I wouldn't expect to find X that are not Y" is a reasonable assumption, but it's not really a good argument why that would need to be the case given that you only assumed that this relation holds, but gave no evidence why it should.

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Consciousness by definition requires the physical. Just because one can postulate consciousness without a physical source doesn’t mean it’s actual. One can postulate an infinite number of things. One can postulate a human with five arms too; this doesn’t mean a human by definition doesn’t have two arms. Your argument, although it works, can be made much stronger by recognizing this.

Other answers point out the black swan analogy to point out the problem with the argument but that’s just a problem with induction in general. You can’t just point out a problem with an inductive argument by pointing out the problem of induction. That problem is a given. That doesn’t imply all inductive arguments are useless. All of science is based on it.

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    "Consciousness by definition requires the physical." please can I have a reference for that definition? Sep 1 at 12:13
  • Consciousness is the state of being aware. Being aware implies life. Life is based on physical sources. Can you give me an example of a conscious being that isn’t physical that we know exists? Sep 1 at 12:26
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    In that case it is your personal definition of "consciousness". A supernatural being is not constrained by the laws of nature, by definition ( dictionary.com/browse/supernatural ). If God is supernatural (see previous definition) they can exist without a corporeal body or a physical brain. Sep 1 at 12:31
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    @seeker "Being aware implies life" - "implies" implies that reasoning is used, which would not be "by definition".
    – NotThatGuy
    Sep 1 at 12:33
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    @DikranMarsupial Hoomans are humans who don’t die. Pointing out that all humans die isn’t evidence of hoomans not existing, since by definition, hoomans don’t die. Sep 1 at 12:38
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The argument is flawed.

The first premise is seriously problematic: "Every instance of consciousness/intelligence that we’ve observed requires something material".

It is as good as asserting that all swans are white - just because all swans that have been observed are white.

People did actually believe so: that all swans are white. They even compared nonexistent things to a black swan. Then, it turned out that black swans do exist, in Australia. They just had not seen them ever before.

Same applies to the relationship between matter and consciousness. In fact, the observation is even more limited than the first premise asserts.

You can discuss consciousness because you are conscious of being conscious. That is why you know that you are conscious; also I know that I am, Jack knows that he is, Mary knows that she is, etc. but no one actually can know for sure that anyone else is. It is an extrapolation based on your own experience, and there are no methods or instruments that you can use to confirm it. Everyone else could in fact be a philosophical zombie, and no one could not tell the difference.

As of now, you cannot know if there is any consciousness even in other people, and it is just as impossible to know if there is consciousness somewhere else. When it comes to consciousness, we completely lack the experience of black swans in Australia, metaphorically.

So, basically your first premise boils down to this: because this body (incl. the brain) that I experience as my own is most likely made of matter, and I don't know of anything else, and I am conscious of being conscious, everything pertaining to consciousness must be made of matter just like my body.

That does not hold water at all.

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    To add: there are people who claim they have had an experience of dissolving into an universal consciousness that encompasses all existence and nonexistence. If your experience of your own subjective consciousness is a valid argument, then their experience of universal consciousness that is independent of matter is just as valid. That also poses a problem to your argument. Sep 1 at 11:09
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I wouldn't agree with concluding that we have "no reason", because:

  • we may have independent reasons for believing in God's existence
  • that wouldn't be a sound argument: you'd need "no reason" as a premise to conclude "no reason"

This may be one reason for believing that God doesn't exist, but that isn't the same as having no reason for believing that God does exist.

A conclusion that would fit better into the structure of arguments would be that God doesn't exist. But you can't (deductively) conclude that from those premises, because that would be a faulty generalisation.

As an inductive argument, however, that seems to be a reasonable conclusion:

P1. Every instance of consciousness/intelligence that we’ve observed requires something material.

C2. Immaterial consciousness/intelligence doesn't exist.

(From which you can trivially deductively conclude that God, as an immaterial conscious being, doesn't exist.)

If you want a sound deductive argument, you could use something like the following, instead:

P1. If we've only ever observed instances of something being one way, there's unlikely to exist instances of it being another way.

P2. Every instance of consciousness that we've observed requires something material.

C3. There is unlikely to exist instances of consciousness that don't require something material.

P4. God's consciousness doesn't require something material.

C5. God's consciousness (i.e. God) is unlikely to exist.

Whether the premises are true is, as always, subjective. But I think you can make a good case for those premises, and the argument is valid.

This obviously isn't as strong as "God doesn't exist" or "we have no reason to believe God exists", but it could be considered evidence against God's existence.


You could similarly add "is unlikely" to the problem of evil / suffering to create premises that are harder to object to than the original premises, at the expense of a weaker conclusion (e.g. "if there is suffering without an apparent justification, an all-powerful all-loving being is unlikely exist").

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