Reply to Argument I

I shall later reply in some detail to Rundle's argument that theism is incoherent, but I shall assume (provisionally) in my reply to the first argument that consciousness does indeed exist and that there are problems with explaining away what appears to be a contingent relationship between consciousness and physical states and processes. It seems that we can conceive of the one without the other, and we currently lack an explanatory scheme to show that there is an identity between them (see Taliaferro 1994, 1997, 2002). I do not assume here that some form of dualism is true; I am asserting, however, that physicalism is not known to be true and that it is problematic to beg the question about the successful prospects of nonphysical explanations at the outset. Granted this foundation, consider Argument I. If we cannot rule out that consciousness with respect to human beings is something nonphysical, how can we justifiably rule out that there may be a nonphysical theistic mode of consciousness (a God who knows, acts, and so on)? If it is possible that there is a nonphysical, purposive causal agent as conceived of in theism, is there not logical space for asking the theistic cosmic question that Phillips and Kai Nielsen seek to rule out?

Furthermore, the fundamental theistic cosmic question is actually slightly different than Phillips and Nielsen suppose. In standard forms of the cosmological argument, theists ask the question of why the contingent cosmos exists rather than not. This is not akin to asking why everything exists, assuming God (ex hypothesi) is a substantial reality or subject who would (if God exists) be referred to as one of the "things" that exists. So the question of the cosmological argument (addressed in Chapter 3) concerns the cosmos and its origin and continuation, not the cosmos plus God. Nielsen's objection to theism similarly seems to have purchase only if by "universe" we mean "everything." If, instead, the "universe" refers to the contingent cosmos we observe, it seems that it is perfectly sensible to ask why it exists and whether it has a sustaining, necessarily existing, conscious, nonphysical, purposive cause. The latter would be "beyond the universe" as such a being would not be identical to the contingent universe. It is worthy of note, too, that some naturalists have been led to posit abstract objects (propositions, properties, sets) that exist necessarily and are thus "beyond the contingent cosmos."

Consider, again, Nielsen's claim that "God exists" is akin to "procrastination drinks melancholy." Unless we charitably interpret the latter as a poetic report that, say, the tendency to delay projects promotes melancholy (which seems to hold in my case, on occasion), the latter report is profoundly different from the former. People and animals drink, but not tendencies or states of character. I suggest that the second phrase is meaningless, but the first expresses a proposition which may, in fact, be true and so ought to arouse our interest in its truth. If we have some reason to think human consciousness may not be physical and this opens up the question of whether there may be a nonphysical divine agent, then asking about (human or divine) causes of events is vital. A strict behaviorist who denies the possibility of any mental events may urge us to put to one side any search for a mental cause for my writing this sentence. But once strict behaviorism is put to one side, the search for causes can no longer be so contracted. (More on Phillips's claim about science and "the structure of the world" later in this chapter.)

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