Origins: A Reasonable Explanation For Reason Itself

Where Does Consciousness Originate?

When it comes to explanations for origins, the origin of the universe seems to be the logical place to begin the discussion. That’s where I usually start. But as a way of transitioning from the previous topic of morality, I will take a different approach and first consider where reason and logic come from at all.

Think about it (pun intended). The very fact that we can have a discussion about the nature of morality, or the origin of the universe — or anything at all — means that we have the capacity to consider alternative ideas. Ideas are not physical things. So, how can we do that? What is it about the physical neurons that make up our brains transmitting electro-chemical signals back and forth that gives us the ability to compare alternatives between non-physical things like concepts and ideas? How do we explain “intentionality” or free will?

The one thing about this life that we know and experience directly and without any doubt is the awareness of the “self.” We know we exist because we experience the physical realities of the world. But just who is it that has these experiences? There seems to be something about “us” that cannot be explained by the physical stuff we can see, touch, taste, hear, or smell, and it is something for which a purely physical, atheistic universe cannot even begin to account.

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Finding Her Mind

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My mom has Alzheimer’s Disease.

Most of us have read about it or seen movies about it, but until you experience what it does to a loved one, those are nothing but detached observations that can’t possibly describe the evil tyrant that Alzheimer’s is. Yes, its attack is relentless and debilitating. But the person who has the disease is not its only victim. In fact, the sad reality is that the victim seems blissfully unaware that anything is wrong with them — at least I pray that is the case — while those who love them must stand helplessly by and watch the one they love drift further and further away, even while they’re sitting right in front of you.

My mom tells stories from years ago but can’t remember that she just ate dinner. The stories are jumbled and intertwined. Sometimes she laughs or gets sad as she tells them, whether the emotion is appropriate to the story she’s telling or not. She warns us about imaginary problems and wonders why people who have been dead for many years haven’t stopped by to see her. We go along with the stories and ask questions to hear her tell more. We love to hear her tell them. We heed her warnings and encourage her to tells us more. We remind her who we are and where we live — several times a day. We tell her about the five grandsons she is shocked to learn she has — even as she can recite us their names in order if we prompt her in the right way. My wife and I explain that yes, we really did invite her to our wedding 30 years ago and, yes, that man over there has been her husband since 1956.

There are glimpses of coherence that pop in and out, but those moments seem to be showing themselves less often.

She loves to watch old movies. The beauty of that love is that you can tune into the American Movie Classics channel on TV at any point during a broadcast and she becomes completely engrossed in the story from that point forward. Unfortunately, it also means the TV is on a lot — and not just replaying old movies. The incessant news. The sports. The blathering chatter and audio pollution is ever-present in her family room. Her ears never get a rest from it. Sadly, both she, and we, have gotten too used to hearing it. It’s background noise.

But last Sunday morning we turned it off.

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Nephesh

Hank

Moses, the writer of the Genesis creation account, used the word nephesh (Hebrew: soul, self, life, creature, mind, living being, desire, emotion, passion) to describe the creation of the most advanced animal life next to man. These creatures are sometimes described as the “soulish” animals; those that display a mind, will, and emotion. They differ from humanity in the ways that are most important — they are not able to understand, relate to, or seek to communicate with the Creator Himself. But they seem to be perfectly suited to be in relationships with human beings. They seem to be made to please us.

They are sad when we are sad. They rejoice in our happiness. In fact, many of us have no doubt that they seem most content, and are indeed most determined, to seek to provide that happiness for us. They are designed to bring joy and comfort to us in ways that are completely inexplicable apart from what seems to be a deliberate creative act of God for that purpose.

How else do you explain an animal who runs to the window before you pull in the driveway; who cowers when you are angry; who fetches a ball until his tongue hangs down on his chest, covered with leaves and dirt; who licks your arm where it itches even if you cannot see or feel any physical reason for the itch; who senses cancer a doctor cannot see?

How else can pure evolutionary biology explain why a dog wags his tail?

Years ago our golden retriever, Hank, learned to be excited when we celebrated someone’s birthday. He would start to wiggle when we’d light the birthday candles. He would pant and jump when we sang “Happy Birthday.” When the song was over, he would beg the one whose birthday it was for one of their birthday card envelopes. He would take the envelope in his mouth and make his way around the house, wagging his tail and offering it to every person he could find.

None of us can explain why he started doing this. It seems he just wants to join us when we celebrate.

Today our family lost our favorite birthday party friend. Hank was the most kind, loving family pet we could ever imagine having. It was a joy to share our home with him and we will miss him greatly. When we remember Hank, it will always be with a smile and the tune of the “Happy Birthday” song in our hearts.

If God had a picture in His mind when he made nephesh, it must have looked just like Hank.