How does the brain form consciousness?
Note the form of this question. Neuroscientists aren’t asking whether the brain does it; they take this for granted. They only want to know how.
And this is what makes their work a major challenge to faith. For if consciousness is only a by-product of brain functioning, can it make sense to believe in a Divine consciousness? In a God “mindful” of human beings?
Not without asking what sort of brain the Divine must have, and neither scientists nor theologians show much interest in pursuing this matter (pun intended) further. Except, perhaps, in the direction of imagining something like a computer whose power is on an order of magnitude approaching infinity.
But the trouble with this analogy will always be that it cannot tell us who programmed the computer’s Artificial Intelligence originally.
It may be that, from a faith perspective, neuroscience’s brain-consciousness challenge should simply be declared beyond the pale of intelligible discourse. And then, that all parties return immediately to fine-tuning the mind-body problem on a purely human scale.
Contrary to the materialistic view of modern science, the question still remains of how to explain the very real interactions between purely physical and purely mental phenomena. Or in the phrasing of the founder of modern philosophy, Rene Descartes, between material and thinking substances.
From the perspective of faith, the even more important question remains of how to discern divine influences on turning mentally-formed moral choices into physically embodied moral actions.
But the question of the formation of consciousness itself also remains, for consciousness transcends both brain and mind. In human beings, it is at the very least the body’s awareness of itself, and the mind’s reflection upon both itself and its embodied condition.
What might consciousness be like in God? Even if this is truly beyond reason to determine, as I strongly suspect it is, it still may be possible to imagine at least some of its contents. As for instance, God’s appreciation of his work as the world’s creator and sustainer. And even more, God’s hopes for the world’s future.
Or in the phrasing of the Priestly writer in the Old Testament, and God saw all that he had made, and it was good.
As science continues to ask how the brain forms consciousness, perhaps faith will find it equally interesting to ask how consciousness forms the brain.