Reply to Argument III
Let us first consider Hume's disparaging observation about using human beings as a model for God.1 The ways in which Hume denigrates consciousness is interesting because it is itself so laden with a narrow anthropomorphism. Why assume that if thought were the key to some cosmic metaphysic such as theism, then thought or a divine intention would be "minute"? Hume does not say that thought would have to be minute, but the passage implies that it is the minuteness of thought (in human life) that should dissuade us from thinking that it might be the key to a comprehensive account of nature. Thought (whether human or divine) would not be small in physical size because nonphysical and divine thought (if classical theism is true) would be neither "weak" nor "bounded." Cosmic theistic explanations would be in the form of appealing to the limitless knowledge and unsurpassable power of God. It may be that in constructing a theistic metaphysic, we employ the concepts of intentionality and consciousness that are used to describe our contingent and limited life, but in theism the concepts of intentionality and consciousness are then conceived in terms of a noncontingent, limitless, powerful, intentional, conscious Creator. To many naturalists, as we have seen, this is a matter of unwarranted projection, but, whether it is a mere projection or discovery, a theistic metaphysic needs to be seen as introducing a comprehensive, powerful, intentional account of the very existence and continuation of nature.
I believe that the basic point that is obscured in the passage from Hume is the way in which overall accounts of the cosmos should be contrasted. At the broadest level of description and explanation, theism and naturalism represent two of the more promising accounts of the cosmos. The one treats intentional, purposive explanations resting in a supreme agent as foundational, while the other accounts for the emergence of purpose and agency (if any) in terms of nonpurposive, nonconscious causal powers. The theistic account is no more to be disparaged if one of the reference points of teleological, conscious explanations is in human life than if one of the reference points in naturalistic accounts is water's boiling
1. Technically, the passage by Hume cited earlier occurs in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion as a claim advanced by one of the characters and not as a direct claim by Hume himself. In this context, I am following the practice of most philosophers in seeing the character, Philo, as a spokesperson for Hume's position.
(to use Narveson's example). (More on the topic under the section "Nontheistic Natural Theology" later in this chapter.)
Let us now consider Rundle's critique of theistic natural theology. Rundle's critique of divine agency is linked with his critique of human agency. He not only finds it puzzling to suppose that God's intentions could causally account for the origin and continued existence of light, he also doubts that human intentions play a causal role in human action. By taking this line, I suspect that Rundle winds up with his own version of "dualism," in which the apparent role played by our emotions and intentions is cut off from causal relations in the world. Because of the importance of Rundle's noncausal account of human agency and its bearing on the central attack on theism, I cite him at length.
Suppose you are pleased at having won a game of bridge, or disappointed at having lost. These are not, surely, brute-factual relations, but there are conceptual connections: the responses make sense in the light of what has led to them. That is indeed so, but is the relevant relation one of causation? How do you know that it is your loss at bridge that disappoints you? There may be feelings akin to those of disappointment at whose source you can only conjecture, but there is no room for conjecture as to what you are disappointed at, so that you might say: I think it is because I lost at bridge that I am disappointed, but it may be my failure to win the lottery that is having this effect. The inappropriateness of mere conjecture is not because we are infallible when it comes to identifying a cause in this connection, but because the very notions of cause and effect, as these are understood in the natural sciences, are out of place here.
Consider this in terms of reasons for action. You say that you are opening the door in order to let the cat out. If this is an explanation made in all sincerity, and with understanding of the words used, then the reason cited is indeed your reason for acting. Its being your reason just consists in its standing as an honestly made avowal, with no room for rival alternatives. It is not as with causal propositions, where one's honest say-so does not decide what caused what, but where it is always in principle possible that one's attribution of a cause will be overturned by further investigation. To say, for instance, "I think I am opening the door to let the cat out", would be to relocate what would ordinarily be a matter of one's reason for acting in an altogether different domain. It would be to treat one's avowal as a matter for conjecture on one's own part, much as if the act were involuntary, as with "I think I am sneezing because of the dust." Just the standing appropriate to a causal hypothesis, but a distortion of our conception of a reason. The conclusion is not that causal relations are, after all, a species of logical relation, but that we are concerned here with reasons rather than causes. (Rundle 2004, pp. 48-9)
Is Rundle's account plausible?
I do not think so and I suggest that, at the least, his position faces an enormous burden of proof. First, consider again Rundle's examples. Surely the whole idea that you are disappointed over a loss at bridge is that the realization that you lost and your desire to win is what (along with other factors) brings about (causally contributes to) your feeling disappointed. Rundle uses a humorous alternative (viz. losing the lottery) to cajole us into thinking there is no causation going on but adjust the example to something less remote (e.g. maybe the real cause of disappointment is that you are about to lose a friendship), and the example seems to resist Rundle's noncausal analysis. Surely you may be fully justified in believing that your disappointment stems from your belief that a friendship is on the rocks and not confusing this with your disappointment at failing to win 350 million dollars with your lottery ticket, which had a one in a trillion chance of winning. Consider also his case of letting the cat out. Plausible cases are readily described where a person's motives may be unclear, and this lack of clarity is owing to our not knowing what was the fundamental, intended cause of our action. Was the reason for opening the door to let the cat out or to welcome a visitor or to get fresh air or to interrupt a job interview? Rundle's noncausal account of reasoned, motivated action strikes me as promoting an intolerable dualism of sorts, whereby human action is cut off from the natural world. At least from a common sense or prephilosophical perspective, a person is a causal agent, one who brings about changes on the basis of reason. I am sympathetic with the claim that human agency involves more than "cause and effect, as these are understood in the natural sciences," if by the latter Rundle means nonintentional, nonmental processes. But once you allow the "natural sciences" to include things such as an agent's wanting there to be light (and other relevant desires and intentions), it is harder to see why these mental processes should not have causal roles.
It does not follow that if Rundle's noncausal account of human agency fails, then his case against divine agency fails. But as one looks more closely at some of Rundle's other examples, his overall case against theism wavers. Take, for example, the following critique of divine agency. He allows that some intentional control over remote objects may be imaginable or intelligible, but theism nonetheless faces an "intractable difficulty" with conceiving of the scope and precision of divine causation. Rundle shapes his objection against a proposal that psychokinesis could provide a model for thinking of divine agency.
Those who believe in the reality of psychokinesis consider it possible to effect changes in the world merely through an act of will - Locke's account of voluntary action, we may note, amounts to regarding it as an exercise of psychokinesis directed at one's own limbs. It is not absurd to suppose that issuing a spoken command should have an effect on things in one's environment, nor even that formulating the command to oneself should likewise have external repercussions. Neural activity associated with such an act could conceivably harness larger forces which impacted upon things beyond the brain. Whether the command is delivered out loud or said to oneself, what is difficult to account for is the specificity of the effect. If a soldier is given the command "Attention!" or "Stand at easel", his understanding of the words puts him in a position to comply. Even when the words are uttered in foro interno, we can imagine that some sort of signal should reach an inanimate object, but a seemingly intractable difficulty remains on the side of the object, which is not possessed of the understanding which would result in its moving to the left when told to move to the left, or rotating when told to rotate. Psychokinesis is not a promising model for making sense of God's action on a mindless cosmos, and God's supposed role as lawgiver. (Rundle 2004, p. 157)
This is puzzling. The cited passage suggests that theistic accounts of God's creative power rest on creation's understanding and then obeying divine commands. Clearly, this is a Pickwickean treatment of divine agency, although perhaps Rundle's observation bears on accounts of divine revelation when it is not clear what (or whether) God wills. All that to one side, once Rundle allows that an agent can have causal effects on remote objects (Rundle speaks of "some sort of signal"), why would it be incoherent to imagine that such causal efficacy is irresistible (necessarily, if God wills that there is light, there is light) and unsurpassed in specificity? Why suppose that God might only be able to set subatomic particles in motion but not be able to specify whether this be (in reference to some frame of reference) to the right or the left?
Let us now consider Rundle's charge that a nonphysical agent cannot hear prayers and so on. Rundle's work is reminiscent of the Wittgensteinian tactic (also employed by J. L.
Austin and G. Ryle) of professing bafflement over an opponent's position; Rundle maintains that he has "no idea" of theistic claims. "I can get no grip on the idea of an agent doing something where the doing, the bringing about, is not an episode in time . . ." (Rundle 2004, p. 77). One may well agree that he, Rundle, does, indeed, not understand the metaphysical claims he writes about, and yet challenge Rundle's charge that others also fail in this respect. Certainly, the line (presumably taken from Wittgenstein) that to talk of God's seeing requires (grammatically) that God have (literal) eyes seems open to question. I am tempted to ask the question, "Whose grammar?" Anselm of Canterbury and Ralph Cudworth (to pick two remote and otherwise quite different figures) held that God's cognition of the world and all its aspects did not require bodily organs. Perhaps they are mistaken, but it is hard to believe that they were merely making a mistake in Latin or English grammar. This is especially true if one adopts Rundle's view of meaning, according to which we fix the meaning of "God" and presumably words such as "to see" and "eyes." Rundle writes: "As with any other word, the meaning of 'God' is the meaning that our usage has conferred upon it, so what is true of God of necessity - that is, by dint of being required for the applicability of the term - is in principle something of which we know" (Rundle 2004, p. 101). In the seventeenth-century work The True Intellectual System, did Cudworth not use the terms "God" and "seeing" and "eyes" coherently in claiming God sees and knows without using eyes? Maybe "our usage" makes the claim problematic and we now know that it is impossible for there to be a nonphysical, cognitive agent. But what scientific account of (or conceptual investigation of) our eyes, brain, and so on led us to believe that a different form of agency and knowledge is metaphysically impossible? (It would be hard to argue that Cudworth was misusing the term "theism" since it appears that he coined the word in English.)
It is interesting that Rundle does not explicitly repudiate divine agency based on a form of contemporary physicalism. He writes:
The idea that an ultimate source of being and becoming is to be found in the purely mental and non-physical is at odds with the conception of mind espoused by most contemporary philosophers. It is commonly held that mental states are to be characterized in terms of their causal role, but since such states are thought to be states of the brain, there is no lessening of a dependence on the physical. This is not a position I wish to invoke. It is doubtless true that we could not believe, desire, or intend without a brain, but any attempt to construe belief and the rest as states of that organ involves a serious mismatch between the psychological concepts and physical reality. Beliefs can be obsessive, unwavering, irrational, or unfounded, but nothing inside anyone's head answers to such descriptions. (Rundle 2004, pp. 76-7)
But given Rundle's (I believe correct) misgivings about the identity between mental and brain states, why be so sure that it is impossible for there to be nonphysical agency and cognition? All the theist needs here is the bare coherence of dualism, not its plausibility. And many materialists in philosophy of mind at least grant that dualism is intelligible though mistaken (Peter van Inwagon, Lynne Baker).