Foundation for Natural Theology

I believe that the most promising reply to these arguments is to start with a challenge to the physicalism that lies behind most (although not all) forms of naturalism. It is first essential to set up a nonphysicalist alternative before addressing the no logical space for theism argument and so on. The importance of linking the philosophy of mind with the philosophy of God is not apparent only in the arguments by Rundle and Narveson. Consider Anthony Kenny's observation:

If we are to attribute intelligence to any entity - limited or unlimited, cosmic or extra-cosmic - we have to take as our starting point our concept of intelligence as exhibited by human beings: we have no other concept of it. Human intelligence is displaced in the behavior of human bodies and in the thoughts of human minds. If we reflect on the active way in which we attribute mental predicate such as "know," "believe," "think," "design," "control" to human beings, we realize the immense difficulty there is [in] applying them to a putative being to which is immaterial, ubiquitous and eternal. It is not just that we do not, and cannot, know what goes on in God's mind, it is that we cannot really ascribe a mind to God at all. The language that we use to describe the contents of human minds operates within a web of links with bodily behavior and social institutions. When we try to apply this language to an entity outside the natural world, whose scope of operation is the entire universe, this web comes to pieces, and we no longer know what we are saying. (Kenny 2006, pp. 52, 53)

If Kenny is right, the most promising theistic starting point must be to question whether or not terms such as "consciousness," "know," "act," and so on are thoroughly physical or reducible to bodily states and behavior.

Given a thoroughgoing physicalism, theism is not likely to receive a friendly hearing. For some naturalists, theism and consciousness itself are in the same boat. Alisdair Hannay rightly recognizes how contemporary physicalists seek to marginalize consciousness, granting it only secondary or a provisional status to be explained away in nonconscious categories. Something even more negative can be said about the receptivity to theism.

The attitude of much physicalism [to consciousness] has been that of new owners to a sitting tenant. They would prefer eviction but, failing that, are content to dispose of as much of the paraphernalia as possible while keeping busy in other parts of the house. We should, I think, feel free to surmise that the current picture of consciousness eking out a sequestered life as a print-out monitor or raw feeler fails in a quite radical way to capture the facts. (Hannay 1987, p. 397)

How certain should we be that consciousness and other mental states are in fact marginal or thoroughly physical and identical to a bodily "web of links"? I suggest in what follows that once we recognize that some conscious, purposive explanations should count as bona fide accounts of human (and perhaps other animal) lives, one may see that the theistic appeal to consciousness, and the purposive account of the cosmos itself, should be taken seriously as well.

Consider first the project of marginalizing consciousness. To see the problem with treating consciousness as secondary to observable, bodily processes, witness the work of Daniel Dennett. Dennett has made a career seeking to displace what may be considered the apparent primacy of consciousness in terms of certitude. Early modern philosophy began with Descartes' stress on the indubitability of self-awareness. One early effort by Dennett to combat Cartesianism was to promote what he called "heterophenomenology," a method that did not completely dismiss introspection from the outset but treated people's reports on their states of consciousness as data that required additional scientific evidence before those reports could be taken seriously. Over the years, he has become increasingly hostile toward those who attribute to conscious experience an ineliminable, primary status. In a recent exchange, Dennett contends that David Chalmers needs "an independent ground for contemplating the drastic move of adding 'experience' to mass, charge, and space-time" (Dennett 2000, p. 35). Chalmers replies that "Dennett challenges me to provide 'independent' evidence (presumably behavioral or functional evidence) for the 'postulation' of experience. But this is to miss the point: conscious experience is not 'postulated' to explain other phenomena in turn; rather, it is a phenomenon to be explained in its own right . . ." (Chalmers 2000, p. 385)

I suggest that Chalmers is absolutely convincing in this reply. There can be no "contemplating" or observations of this or that evidence about behavior or functions or any theories about mass, charge, and space-time unless there is conscious awareness. Consciousness is antecedent to, and a presupposition of, science and philosophy. To emphasize the primacy of consciousness, note Drew McDermott's effort to defend Dennett against Chalmers. McDermott offers this analogy against Chalmers and in favor of Dennett: "Suppose a lunatic claims he is Jesus Christ. We explain why his brain chemicals make him think that. But he is not convinced. 'The fact that I am Jesus is my starting point, a brute explanandum; explaining why I think this is not sufficient.' The only difference between him and us is that he can't stop believing he's Jesus because he's insane, whereas we can't stop believing in phenomenal consciousness because we are not" (McDermott 2001, p. 147). But surely, this analogy is wide of the mark, ignoring the unique, radically fundamental nature of consciousness and experience. Without consciousness, we should not be able even to think that someone is sane or insane, let alone Jesus. Recognition of the reality of conscious awareness is not simply an obstinate belief; the reality of consciousness seems to be a precondition of inquiry. (As a side note, it is peculiar that in his defense of Dennett, McDer-mott implies that we are not insane because we believe in phenomenal consciousness.)

Once the existence of consciousness is conceded as no less and perhaps even more assured than Dennett's "mass, charge, and space-time," it becomes difficult to see how consciousness can turn out to be the very same thing as brain activity or other bodily states and behavior. The following observation by Michael Lockwood is telling:

Let me begin by nailing my colours to the mast. I count myself a materialist, in the sense that I take consciousness to be a species of brain activity. Having said that, however, it seems to me evident that no description of brain activity of the relevant kind, couched in the currently available languages of physics, physiology, or functional or computational roles, is remotely capable of capturing what is distinctive about consciousness. So glaring, indeed, are the shortcomings of all the reductive programmes currently on offer, that I cannot believe that anyone with a philosophical training, looking dispassionately at these programmes, would take any of them seriously for a moment, were in not for a deep-seated conviction that current physical science has essentially got reality taped, and accordingly, something along the lines of what the reductionists are offering must be correct. To that extent the very existence of consciousness seems to me to be a standing demonstration of the explanatory limitations of contemporary physical science. (Lockwood 2003, p. 447)

There is a powerful, enduring argument against identifying consciousness and brain activity that is very much in favor now and that highlights the limitations of physicalist treatments of consciousness. A wide range of philosophers argue that it is possible for us to have an exhaustive observation of a person's physiology, anatomy, all outward behavior, and language use and still not know that the person is conscious (for a defense of this argument and reply to objections, see Taliaferro 1994, 2002; Swinburne 1997; Goetz & Taliaferro 2008; Moreland 2008).

It would be premature to refer to a consensus in philosophy of mind, but there is a strong, growing conviction that "solving" the problem of consciousness may require a revolution in the way that we conceive of both consciousness and the physical world. Thomas Nagel puts the matter as follows:

I believe that the explanatory gap [linking consciousness and physical processes] in its present form cannot be closed - that so long as we work with our present mental and physical concepts no transparently necessary connection will ever be revealed, between physically described brain processes and sensory experience, of the logical type familiar from the explanation of other natural processes by analysis into their physico-chemical constituents. We have good grounds for believing that the mental supervenes on the physical - i.e. that there is no mental difference without a physical difference. But pure, unexplained supervenience is not a solution but a sign that there is something fundamental we don't know. We cannot regard pure super-venience as the end of the story because that would require the physical to necessitate the mental without there being any answer to the question how it does so. But there must be a "how," and our task is to understand it. An obviously systematic connection that remains unintelligible to us calls out for a theory. (Nagel 1998, pp. 344-5)

Nagel's confidence that we will somehow bridge the gap and understand how consciousness may turn out to be brain activity does not inspire enthusiasm: "I believe," writes Nagel, "it is not irrational to hope that someday, long after we are all dead, people will be able to observe the operation of the brain and say, with true understanding 'That's what the experience of tasting chocolate looks like from the outside' " (Nagel 1998, p. 338).

The difficulty of explaining away the obstinate reality of consciousness, and the ostensible contingency of the relationship between consciousness and physical processes, should caution those who dismiss theism in light of a confident form of physicalism.

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