Posts Tagged ‘Natural Theololgy’

The Human Mind as Evidence for God

May 4, 2013

Before the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species, Natural Theology concentrated on attempting to prove the existence of God by pointing to the intricate construction of living creatures as evidence of design. The classic expression of this was Paley’s Natural Philosophy. The British politician and Christian apologist, Henry Lord Brougham, attempted to move beyond this focus on the physical construction of living things, to consider the human mind itself as evidence of design.

Brougham was Lord Chancellor in the government of the British prime minister, Earl Grey. He supervised the passage of the 1833 Abolition Act, which outlawed slavery in the British Empire. A skilled lawyer, Brougham set up a commission of five laywer in 1833 to conduct what was the most radical revision of English criminal law of its time. The eight reports issued by the Commission included detailed discussion of the nature of evidence in criminal trials. For Brougham the ability of the human mind to think and reason logically through the process of induction was strong evidence for the existence of the Almighty. In his 1835 Discourse of Natural Theology he argued:

‘The phenomena of mind, at the knowledge of which we arrive by this inductive process, the only legitimate intellectual philosophy, afford as decisive proofs of design as do the phenomenon of matter, adn they furnish those proofs by the strict method of induction. In other words, we study the nature and operations of the mind, and gather from them evidences of design, by one and the same species of reasoning, the induction of facts’.

He argued further:

‘Is there any reason whatever to draw this line; to narrow within these circles the field of Natural Theology; to draw from the consitutions and habits of matter alone the proof that one intelligent Cause creates and supports the universe? Ought we not rather to consider the phenomena of the mind as more peculiarly adapted to help this inquiry, and as bearing a nearer relation to the Great Intelligence which created and which maintains this system?’

The human mind’s ability to reason logically and arrive at a true conclusion from valid premises still puzzled Darwin after he wrote his Origin. In what has become known as Darwin’s Dilemma, Darwin wondered how his conception of evolution could be true, if the brain was merely the product of unaided evolution. Natural Selection simply selected those traits, which were useful for survival regardless of whether or not they gave true information about the world. If humanity was merely an evolved monkey, how could he be sure that his theory was true ‘for who could trust a monkey’s brain?’ There have been attempts since Darwin to argue that the mind does not provide true information about the world, and its evolution has been haphazard. Nevertheless, scientists have also recognised that the brain is the most complex structure in the universe. And even if the mind does play tricks, as shown by neurologists and stage magicians like the British mentalist, Derren Brown, nevertheless it still is able to arrive at true conclusions about the world. Thus, whether evolved or designed, the human mind must still present a strong case for the existence of the Lord.