Monday, June 24, 2019

J. P. Moreland's Argument From Consciousness for God's Existence

(Green Lake Conference Center, Wisconsin)
(If you're interested in this check out U of Notre Dame's Christian Smith, What Is a Person? Smith explains emergent properties, and how they are irreducible to their components.)

I was privileged to have neuropsychologist-theologian James Ashbrook on my dissertation committee. My research was on metaphor theory and included neural studies on how the brain processes language and, especially, metaphor (in distinction from the other tropes, such as "simile"). Ashbook (now deceased) was immersed in brain-mind-personality studies and a pioneer in theological mind-brain issues. (See his The Humanizing Brain: Where Religion and Neuroscience Meet.)

Today we are immersed in a sea of neurophilosophical and neurotheological issues. A core question that is much-discussed is: Is "mind" fully reducible to the physical brain? The moral implications of answering "yes" to this are huge. 

Philosopher J.P. Moreland answers in the negative. We see this in his dense Consciousness and the Existence of God, his little article "The Argument From Consciousness,"  his contribution to the recent Debating Christian Theism (Moreland, Khaldoun Sweis, and Chad Meister, eds.), and his recent book The Soul: How We Know It's Real and Why It Matters

Moreland argues against philosophical naturalism (atheism) and for the existence of God via mind-body dualism (supernaturalism). The question is, as philosopher-naturalist Colin McGinn asks: "How can mere matter originate consciousness?" On naturalism, finite mental entities ("minds") seem inexplicable. This is not so on theism. Thus the existence of finite mental entities provide evidence for the existence of God, via inference to the best explanation.

Moreland argues that mental states "are in no sense physical since they possess five features not owned by physical states:

(a) there is a raw qualitative feel or a “what it is like” to have a mental state such as a pain; [See Thomas Nagel's "What Is It Like to Be a Bat?"]

(b) at least many mental states have intentionality—of-ness or about-ness–directed towards an object;

(c) mental states are inner, private and immediate to the subject having them; [The "problem" of first-person subjective consciousness; aka "the really hard problem" Pinker and Owen Flanagan, among others, write about.]

(d) they require a subjective ontology—namely, mental states are necessarily owned by the first person sentient subjects who have them;

(e) mental states fail to have crucial features (e.g., spatial extension, location) that characterize physical states and, in general, cannot be described using physical language."

How, on naturalism (atheism), can one explain "mind" coming from brute matter? Stephen Pinker at times seems to think it could never, in principle, be done. Moreland offers four reasons "for why there is no natural scientific explanation for the existence of mental states (or their regular correlation with physical states)." They are:

a) The uniformity of nature. Briefly, Moreland asks: "How can like causes produce radically different effects? The appearance of mind is utterly unpredictable and inexplicable. This radical discontinuity seems like an inhomogeneous rupture in the natural world."

b) Contingency of the mind/body correlation. Moreland writes: "For the naturalist, the regularity of mind/body correlations must be taken as contingent brute facts. But these facts are inexplicable from a naturalistic standpoint, and they are radically sui generis compared to all other entities in the naturalist ontology. Thus, it begs the question simply to announce that mental states and their regular correlations with certain brain states is a natural fact." Mental states are unique. On naturalism, as naturalist Terence Horgan states, "supervenient facts must be explainable rather than being sui generis.”

c) Epiphenomenalism and causal closure. "Physical effects have only physical causes... [I]f mental phenomena are genuinely non-physical, then they must be epiphenomena–effects caused by the physical that do not themselves have causal powers. But epiphenomenalism is false. Mental causation seems undeniable..."

d) The inadequacy of evolutionary explanations. "[B]oth the sheer existence of conscious states and the precise mental content that constitutes them is outside the pale of evolutionary explanation."

Real atheism is philosophical naturalism (PN). On atheism-as-PN there are no non-natural events. It is difficult, if not in principle impossible, to deny mental causation (such as "choosing" to argue against the existence of God). Atheism is, therefore, false.