Consider this news story from 2009:
A car crash victim has spoken of the horror he endured for 23 years after he was misdiagnosed as being in a coma when he was conscious the whole time.
Rom Houben, trapped in his paralysed body after a car crash, described his real-life nightmare as he screamed to doctors that he could hear them – but could make no sound.
‘I screamed, but there was nothing to hear,’ said Mr Houben, now 46, who doctors thought was in a persistent vegatative state.
‘I dreamed myself away,’ he added, tapping his tale out with the aid of a computer.
Doctors used a range of coma tests before reluctantly concluding that his consciousness was ‘extinct’.
But three years ago, new hi-tech scans showed his brain was still functioning almost completely normally.
Mr Houben described the moment as ‘my second birth’. Therapy has since allowed him to tap out messages on a computer screen.
This story leads to a thought experiment.
Put yourself in the place of Rom Houban. You know that you are conscious because you experience it subjectively. You know you are aware because you experience it subjectively. Imagine a team of physicians and scientists walk into your room to discuss your status. You hear everything they say. For a good bit of time, they discuss all the measurements and all the evidence and reach a strong consensus, based on reason, you are not conscious and you are not aware.
So who do you believe? Science says you are not conscious, because science cannot detect your consciousness. But you experience it moment to moment. Who do you believe? Yourself? Or science? The answer is obvious to me – the science would be wrong.
Don’t make the mistake of viewing the example of Rom Houbran as scientific evidence for the non-physical nature of consciousness. That’s not the lesson. The lesson is that if science tells me I am not consciousness, science is wrong. I may not know where it went wrong, but it got it wrong. The alternative would be to deny my consciousness as real and label it an illusion. But why do that? Tell myself that because science put men on the moon, those doctors must be right?
So when modern day atheists insist our sense of agency is an illusion, and our free will is an illusion, how do they know they are not in the same position as Rom’s doctors?
There are other lessons to be had. Rom’s consciousness did not begin once the new tests were developed. The new tests simply allowed others to detect what was always there. This should be a clear warning of the limitations of science. Science, by definition, is always limited but its ability to measure and detect.
So what if the core aspect of our sense of agency and our sense of free will remains beyond the limitations of science? In fact, given that science cannot determine whether or not God exists, what if science cannot ever determine whether or not agency and free will are real? Go back to our analogy – that would be like Rom’s doctors never having access to any new “hi tech scans.” All possible tests would give them the same denial of Rom’s consciousness. And Rom would witness reason and evidence confidently pointing in the wrong direction.