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The Conscious Universe

Conscious life is both complex and seemingly improbable, but neither of these facts by themselves are mysterious. Life may be complex, but science has shown us time and again how complexity can result from non-intelligent natural processes. Life may be improbable, but the cosmos is so utterly vast and the number of stars so far beyond counting that life, even conscious life, may be a common and frequently occurring phenomenon. What remains so remarkable about conscious life in the universe–and what still remains a powerful sticking point for the theist’s intelligent design argument–lies not in the facts about its complexity or the apparent improbability of its arrival, but in the fact that, given certain initial cosmic conditions, conscious life is possible at all. Philosophers and laypeople alike have often asked and puzzled about the question, “Why is there something instead of nothing?” It remains controversial as to whether or not that question has any real meaning, given our potentially incoherent concept of “nothing.” But whatever the merits of that question are, it certainly is fully coherent and understandable to ask the question, “Why is there conscious life instead of no conscious life?” We may not know how to conceive of nothing, but we do know how to conceive of conscious life and a universe that does not contain it. Even if we accept that something has to exist, it certainly does not follow that conscious life must exist. That our universe does, and therefore can, contain it remains one of the deepest and real mysteries.

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