Is Consciousness an Illusion?

Is Consciousness an Illusion? Daniel Dennett said consciousness is an illusion
Daniel Dennett III (1942-2024)

Is consciousness an illusion, or is it real? Philosopher Rene Descartes insisted that consciousness was the only undeniable fact of our existence. He is known for the phrase, “I think, therefore, I am” (cogito, ergo sum). Daniel Dennett was an analytic philosopher who, until his death on April 19, 2024, spent his career suggesting that consciousness is an illusion. He also insisted that God is an illusion, and, in agreement with Richard Dawkins, design in nature is an illusion.

Daniel Dennett was also closely associated with Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens as the “Four Horsemen of the New Atheism.” They all wrote best-selling books challenging the existence of God. Dennett was a vocal atheist, a Committee for Skeptical Inquiry member, and served on the advisory board of the Secular Coalition for America. He was also awarded the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s board of distinguished achievers.

Dennett believed that evolution by natural selection and adaptation accounts for every aspect of life, including morality. In his book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, he attempted to give a naturalistic explanation for religious belief. Is consciousness an illusion? According to Dennett, the answer is “yes.” If you have trouble accepting that concept, Dennett’s 1991 book Consciousness Explained attempted to explain it. His 2017 book From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds expands on Dennett’s concept of “competence without comprehension.”

According to Dennett, the Darwinian theory accounts for all aspects of our existence. No intelligent designer is needed because evolution explains everything. The “Four Horsemen of the New Atheism” alludes to the four horsemen of the apocalypse described in Revelation chapter 6. Those horsemen represent conquest, warfare, famine, and death, bringing judgment on the people of Earth. The four horsemen of atheism are now down to two since the death of Hitchens and now Dennett, but I am sure others will take their place.

What we need today are champions for God who will take the message of God’s love and redemption and peace and hope in Jesus Christ. If consciousness is an illusion, everything is meaningless, but if consciousness is reality, everything changes. Our lives have meaning, purpose, and value because God created and loves us.

— Roland Earnst © 2024