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Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology 5: The Argument from Consciousness


Moreland looks at three criteria for accepting a theory, and applies them to the area of consciousness. There’s basicality, naturalness, and epistemic values (simple, descriptively accurate, fruitful for new research, solves internal and external problems.)

Moreland argues that theism is a better worldview for basing consciousness than naturalism. Most of the time, he points out how unnatural consciousness is for naturalism. He also uses the basicality of consciousness on theism to avoid having to provide mechanistic explanations of consciousness.

I don’t really know exactly how to evaluate this. I’m not certain what naturalness means, nor whether Moreland’s three criteria are good ones.

There seems to be a reliance on the existence of personal explanations as a different type of explanation than scientific ones. This reliance on personal explanations might presuppose libertarianism (I think). If so, then this might be something that brushes up against my views directly. I think that libertarianism is incoherent, so that would need to be addressed before I could accept the existence of personal explanations, and further, the argument from consciousness.

Another issue is the idea of how well God even explains consciousness. The argument does basically appear to be an abductive one- an argument to the best explanation. Given Dawes’ critiques, I’m unsure how God could successfully explain consciousness, and other critieria, like simplicity, previous success of personal explanations in nature, and other things that affect prior probability are not addressed by Moreland.

This might be a basic argument against the AC. Even given a lack of an explanation for consciousness, positing theism is not a good move, given the complexity of the hypothesis, and its failure in so many other instances. It would be better to bet on naturalism. One might call the AC a God of the Gaps argument.

Still, Moreland might go so far as to say that consciousness is strange enough that it can’t be fit into the naturalistic grand story. I’m not sure how I could evaluate that. Aren’t there lots of weird things that are continuously added to naturalism?

Lastly, I had this thought on the queerness of consciousness. It is supposedly weird in part because we don’t know how matter in certain formations could lead to consciousness. Still, if we go to fundamental physics, forces, energy, bonds, etc., do we really have any non-weird explanation for how those things work? Some study of basic physics could help me flesh this out, but let’s try the example of forces. What makes the strong nuclear force push or pull things? Now this might be explained, but the explanation will no doubt have some strange, mysterious way of working, and no matter how far we go, there will always be the mystery of how such a thing could happen. How do fundamental particles respond to forces? It all seems like magic if we look closely enough. So if that magic can fit into naturalism, why not consciousness?

Kindle Notes:

Some entity (particular thing, process, property, or relation) e is natural for a theory T just in case either e is a central, core entity of T or e bears a relevant similarity to central, core entities in e’s category within T (7809).

The notion of “being ad hoc” is difficult to specify precisely. It is usually characterized as an inappropriate adjustment of a theory whose sole epistemic justification is to save the theory from falsification. Such an adjustment involves adding a new supposition to a theory not already implied by its other features (7816).

Issue three involves epistemic values, normative properties which confer some degree of justification on a theory possessing them. Examples are theories should be simple, descriptively accurate, predicatively successful, fruitful for guiding new research, capable of solving their internal and external conceptual problems, and use certain types of explanations or follow certain methodological rules and not others (7825).

it is not at all clear that libertarian agency and the associated form of personal explanation are not to be preferred as accounts of human action to event-causal accounts. Obviously, we cannot delve into this issue here, but if libertarian agency is correct, then Mackie is wrong in his claim that (4) is false (7861).

The presence of personal explanation as a unique argument form means that when it comes to explaining emergent properties such as those constituitive of consciousness, one does not need to acquiesce with Samuel Alexander’s dictum that such properties are “to be accepted with the natural piety of the investigator” (7893).

Note: Does the existence of personal explanation presuppose dualism?

Advocates of libertarian agency widely employ the following form of personal explanation (that stands in contrast to a covering law model): A personal explanation (divine or otherwise) of some basic result R brought about intentionally by person P where this bringing about of R is a basic action A will cite the intention I of P that R occur and the basic power B that P exercised to bring about R (7914).

Note: Do we have evidence of truly basic actions?

Maybe there are adequate naturalist accounts of the mental. In sections three through five, we will look at representative samples of the major strategies employed to provide such an account. I will conclude that none of these solutions is adequate and that AC is to be preferred. If I am right about this, then the existence of finite mental states provides good evidence that God exists (7936).

For present purposes, recall that according to N, the fundamental level of reality is strictly physical and emergent entities “up” the hierarchy depend for their existence, or at least instantiation, on strictly microphysical entities (8451).

Note: Is this really true? Also, what does physical mean?

McGinn says that AC is a plausible argument and that there is no plausible naturalist rival outside of his own. But for six reasons, AC is a bad argument. For one thing, if we appeal to a conscious God to explain finite consciousness, we generate a vicious infinite regress for we will have to explain why God Himself is conscious. And if we stop the regress with an unexplainable conscious God, we could just as easily do the same thing by taking finite consciousness as an unexplainable brute fact (8736).

Second, the God hypothesis dignifies consciousness with the word “soul” as an independent thing that uses the body, and thereby generates unanswerable questions that undercut AC: Do rats have souls? Why does God give souls to rats and not worms? Third, theists exaggerate the gap between minds and brains. Mind depends on brain. Why would this be so if mind depends on God? Fourth, the existence of causally powerful substantial souls that are dependent upon brains to which they are contingently connected implies that zombie worlds possible. Now, such a world seems prima facie possible, says McGinn, but on further inspection it faces an insurmountable difficulty. It means that consciousness is epiphenomenal and any view that entails epiphenomenalism must be rejected. Epiphenomenalism ensues because if a zombie world is possible if follows that the physical will chug along just the same regardless of whether or not consciousness obtains. Fifth, we do not know how God produces consciousness, so at best AC is a stalemate vis-à-vis naturalism. Finally, AC gets off the ground only if consciousness is a mystery for which we need an explanation. But, claims McGinn, his account provides a deflationary explanation for why consciousness is a mystery and, in so doing, it becomes obvious that the sort of mystery involved is not of the right kind needed to justify AC (8740).

At the Big Bang, we have a transformation from nonspatial to spatial reality, and at the appearance of consciousness we have a converse transformation. The nonspatial dimension continued to exist in matter after the Big Bang, lurking behind the scene until brains evolved, at which time this dimension showed itself again (8769).

Note: McGinn’s view.

Given that theism enjoys a positive degree of justification prior to the problem of consciousness, he should avail himself of the explanatory resources of theism (8961).

Note: Is this a necessary assumption for the argument?

Thomas Kuhn taught us that there are certain telltale signs of a paradigm in crisis, among which are the proliferation of epicycles and of rival specifications of the paradigm formulated to preserve that paradigm in the face of stubborn, recalcitrant facts (9029).

Note: Problem of evil? Divine hiddenness? Biblical contradictions? Scientific progress?

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