Martin van Creveld considers the problem of consciousness from the scientific perspective:
Starting at least as far back as Laplace—much earlier, if one cares to go back all the way to Epicurus—scientists have been arguing that consciousness grew out of the matter that preceded it. Not so, says Dr. Lanza: no natural process known to us could have performed that feat. Instead, he says, it was consciousness which gave rise to the world—so much so that, without the former, the latter could not even have existed.
To understand what he meant, take the popular riddle concerning a tree that has fallen in a forest with no one there to witness the fact. did it make a sound? Of course it did, say ninety-nine percent of those asked. Not so, say Dr. Lanza and a few others. The splintering of the trunk and its crash on the ground certainly gave rise to vibrations in the surrounding air. However, in the absence of anyone to receive those vibrations in his or her ears, transmit them by way of the acoustic nerves, and process them with the help of the brain, they would not have amounted to what we know as sound.
What applies to hearing applies equally well to our remaining senses. What the specialized neurons in the back of our brains register is not the world’s existing, objective, sound, light, and impact. On the contrary, light, impact, and sound are created by those neurons. To adduce another example, a single rainbow that can be seen by everyone who looks in the right direction at the right time does not exist. What does exist are trillions of raindrops. Each one carrying a potential rainbow; and all “waiting” to be discovered by animal sense organs and brains to be brought to bear on them. Instead of the internal and external world being separate and independent of one another, as Descartes would have it, they are merely two sides of the same coin. That, incidentally, is also the best available explanation for the riddle of quantum mechanics where, as far as we can make out, the speed and position of elementary particles seem to be determined by the fact that they are or are not observed.
This premise serves Dr. Lanza as the foundation on which to build everything else in the book, leading up to the conclusion that “the universe burst into existence from life [which is the seat of consciousness], not the other way around.” What I personally found most interesting in it is the following. We present-day humans are immensely proud of our scientific prowess. And rightly so, given that it has enabled us to study, and often gain some understanding of, anything from the bizarre submicroscopic world of elementary particles that exists right under our noses to gigantic galaxies more than thirty billion light years away. Dr. Lanza’s contribution is to point out that, without taking account of consciousness and the life with which it is inextricably tied, we shall never be able to understand reality as a whole.
One of the great conundrums that confound atheists is that while the average atheist intelligence is modestly higher than the average religious intelligence, the most intelligent individuals are considerably more religious than the norm. This is, of course, because we are less likely to cling stubbornly to our preconceived assumptions than midwits are.