Theistic Explanations of the Ontology of Consciousness

Consciousness is ontologically perplexing. Fyodor Dostoevsky has remarked that consciousness is “infinitely superior to two times two makes four”; Soren Kierkegaard echoes “If there were no eternal consciousness in a man…what would life be but despair?” In recent decades, the philosophy of mind, alongside its contributory scientific counterparts, have faced Thomas Nagel’s sober confession as to the status of consciousness. Consciousness is, Nagel suggests, “what makes the mind-body problem really intractable.”[1] Though consciousness causes metaphysical problems in the mind-body problem, there is a minority of philosophers who argue that the ontology of finite and irreducibly subjective conscious experiences calls for an explanation.[2] It seems to some, further, that a purely scientific explanation will not provide an adequate fundamental explanation for the existence of consciousness. This is controversial; however, it is in a particular area of this controversy that I want to explore an important natural theological argument, namely, the argument for the existence of God from the existence of consciousness (AC).[3] Two important defenders of the AC, Richard Swinburne and Robert Adams[4], argue that an explanation of psycho-physical laws, that is, laws correlating psychological (mental) states and physical (brain) states. However, the traditional AC has been challenged both in its structure and its function; and, as such, Timothy O’Connor and Kevin Kimble’s “The Argument from Consciousness Revisited.” (2011) suggests that the existence of consciousness contributes to the natural theological argument from fine-tuning. O’Connor and Kimble agree with the traditional AC defenders i.e., Swinburne and Adams, that consciousness raises the probability of theism, however, it is only in virtue of the AC shifting its functional role in contributing to a design argument that the probability of theism is thereafter raised. In juxtaposition with their challenge, I will suggest that J.P Moreland’s seminal text Consciousness and The Existence of God (2008) successfully answers O’Connor and Kimble’s argument against the traditional AC. So, schematically I will lay out Swinburne’s argument, explore the objection presented by O’Connor and Kimble, and respond with a thought experiment suggesting that O’Connor and Kimble’s hypothesis to be probably false on theism, and argue that the AC construed by Moreland is the best current model or attempt at formulating a successful AC. Ultimately, I will argue that although O’Connor and Kimble provide an alternative AC, Moreland’s deductive AC model is the most epistemically virtuous and successful AC.

Swinburne and Adams have offered their own formulations of the AC; however, I will explore Swinburne’s argument more exhaustively.[5] In Swinburne’s The Existence of God (1979), he formulates an AC by first constructing an epistemological framework. He begins by distinguishing types of explanations and the types of arguments relevant to his AC model. He distinguishes between personal and scientific explanations. For the sake of simplicity, the question of ‘explanation’ (what constitutes it, its nature and justification et cetera) will not be discussed here.[6] In his view, the former is an explanation which is brought about by a rational agent acting intentionally.[7] The latter, however, arrives at an explanation for some phenomenon in the absence of such personal agency. Thus, applied to the AC model, Swinburne is suggesting that a personal, not scientific, explanation best accounts for the existence of consciousness.[8] Swinburne then turns to epistemologically differentiate C-inductive and P-inductive arguments. A C-inductive argument is an argument such that the premises contribute to raising the probability of the conclusion; a P-inductive argument is such that the conclusion is more probable than not given the premises of the argument.[9] So, to use a theoretical scientific example, the existence of the electron, though not empirical, has the theoretical virtue of being explanatorily powerful. So, if one grants its ontology inasmuch as it is pragmatically justified, its explanatory power might serve as a reason to think the electron actually exists. (I do not mean to assert that this is a current approach to the electron, I am just showing how establishing the truth of a conclusion and establishing premises which raise the probability of the conclusion are distinct). As such, the deductive argument in question serves as a C-inductive argument. Given this epistemological background, Swinburne construes the AC as to increase the probability of God’s existence, that is, on a Bayesian Model[10] (where h is the hypothesis, e the evidence and k the general background knowledge:

P(h/e.k) = _______ x P(h/k)

For Swinburne, then, the probability of God’s existence on a Bayesian model, in conjunction with the AC, brings about the conclusion that God’s existence is more probable than not; in other words, C-inductively the truth of theism is more probable than not. He concludes that “A priori, theism is perhaps very unlikely, but it is far more likely than any rival supposition” and hence “our phenomena are substantial evidence for the truth of theism.”[11]

Given Swinburne’s epistemological framework and Bayesian considerations, the AC is structured to raise the probability of theism, not establish conclusively its truth. In Swinburne’s view, theistic (personal) explanation would amount to “God[’s] intervention in the natural order bring[ing] about [human persons]”[12] In juxtaposition to this, the scientific model of reality, operative strictly on scientific explanation and fundamental laws, makes the existence of consciousness improbable.[13] Thus, agents which are conscious, embodied and effect-producing through their intentions is much more probable on theism.[14] Swinburne then moves on to make terminological distinctions between mental and physical events, a precursor for the essential premise of the AC. He takes mental events as “one in which it is not logically possible should occur unexperienced”; for instance, “thoughts, feelings, sensations, imaginings, conscious decisions”[15] and the like are all mental events. Contrarily, brain events are essentially physical events. Given these definitions, the materialist, Swinburne argues, “needs laws, not merely a collection of generalizations correlating brain-events and mental events.”[16] The materialist, if she/he is to satisfy the generation of psycho-physical laws, must generate a scientific (or natural) explanation of the laws and would thus bring about a scientific explanation. Applying Swinburne’s argument to Bayes’ probability theorem, Swinburne summarizes his argument: “Let k be the premisses of the arguments which we have discussed so far, viz., that there is an orderly (and beautiful world). Let e be the existence of conscious men with brains of the kind which they have. Let h be, as before, the hypothesis of theism—that there is a God. P(e/~h.k) is low” and therefore “the argument from consciousness is a good C-inductive argument for the existence of God.”[17] I have not presented objections to Swinburne’s view insofar as the next paragraph will challenge the functional role of the AC as well as the validity of Swinburne’s AC argument as he presents it.

O’Connor and Kimble, in their “The Argument from Consciousness Revisited” (2011), are skeptical about traditional AC-type arguments as functionally raising the probability of theism.[18] They direct their critique as responding to Swinburne and Adams and characterize their argument as such: “[Swinburne and Adams] both argue that there can be no—or, more cautiously, that it is very unlikely that there can be a—systematic scientific or natural connection between physical properties and experiential qualities that would explain why they are correlated in the patterns that they are.”[19] Thus, for Swinburne and Adams, the natural (scientific) account of what I have called ‘psycho-physical laws’ is vastly improbable in the absence of rational, intentional personal agency (a ‘personal explanation’, Swinburne says). But O’Connor and Kimble reject this and argue the following: “[Swinburne and Adams’] versions [of the AC] are defective, since they overlook a naturalistic form of explanation that is available even on a robustly dualistic view of conscious states” and therefore the AC “may more plausibly be recast by treating the very form of explanation of conscious states we outline as a further datum in the currently popular fine-tuning version of the design argument.”[20] So, the traditional function of the AC was to provide evidence for the hypothesis of theism; however, O’Connor and Kimble challenge this contention and argue that the structure of traditional AC arguments entail problems which can be overcome through a function-shift of the traditional AC (so that it now contributes to the design-argument). They begin their critique with primary considerations concerning qualia, that is, the felt-like or phenomenal character of experience. They note that Swinburne does not admit of qualia being quantifiable; however, they dismiss this on the grounds that qualia might admit of quantification (in the quantitative, not logical sense). To use their example, qualia might display or be in geometrical relations.[21] Now, elsewhere Swinburne responds to such a criticism by clarifying his statement by means of making a distinction between qualia being measured absolutely, and qualia being measured relative to other qualia experiences. Since Swinburne admits this for mental states i.e., beliefs, and not explicitly qualia, I am making an analogical argument by extension. Swinburne argues that there can be measurements of (to use his example) beliefs; but, these beliefs can only be measured relative to each other. He argues that beliefs can be stronger than another, and so forth and thus beliefs can be measured relative to each other not, however, absolutely. (Otherwise there would need to be a standard and that, on Swinburne’s view, does not exist).[22] Unlike Swinburne, Adams admits of qualia being quantifiable; but, Adams notes that there remain two problems for a scientific theory of consciousness, namely, 1) the problem of a hypothesized law correlating psycho-physical only describing, and not explaining, why they are correlated as they are and 2) the problem of “finding a mathematical relationship between the qualia of the different modalities.”[23]

O’Connor and Kimble respond to Adams’ claim by arguing that Adams is correct in his analysis until he precludes any form of explanation at all. They suggest that the “form of explanation that non-panpsychist qualia realism precludes is a reductive and maximally unified explanation” and, further, “admitting primitive phenomenal qualities that causally interact with certain kinds of structured physical states is also to give up the aspiration for maximal theoretical unification.”[24] Here, O’Connor and Kimble argue that the implications of such a view is that the aforementioned properties are emergent “robustly” (in an ontological sense, they argue). These emergent properties, then, entail “correspondingly irreducible laws that chart their patterns of instantiation and their patterns of instantiation and their contribution to the dynamical evolution of physical systems.”[25] It might be tempting here to think that Adams’ first argument still holds. Suppose that O’Connor and Kimble’s argument is true and that the laws describing the patterns of instantiations can be measured mathematically. It seems that this does not extend to be an explanation; rather, it merely describes the phenomena itself. It seems that O’Connor and Kimble anticipate such an objection, and so go on to explain why they think that there is an explanation of the psycho-physical laws. They then go on to distinguish two kinds of causal dispositions. The first kind involves what they call “locally determinative” causal dispositions found in, for instance, small-scale systems. This sort of causal disposition involves, to use their example, “negatively charged particles to repel one another”[26]. Contrarily, the other causal disposition is as a configuration of some organized system which has a causal disposition to, or at least contributes to, bring about (or generate) an emergent property. The argument so far, then, brings about an important consequence, namely, that causal disposition can apply to neural states (since neural states are essentially conjunctions and configurations of matter). They give the following example: “if we ask why neural state N1 gives rise to an experience of phenomenal blue, rather than phenomenal yellow, there will be a true answer involving a fundamental disposition of the fundamental constituent particles of N1 toward just such an effect in just such a context, a disposition that is essential to them.”[27] So, it is in virtue of the causal disposition of the constituents of a neural configuration (N1) that a phenomenal state arises. Hence, to ask ‘why did one have a phenomenal state of purple?’ is in principle reducible to asking ‘why did the constituent materials (properties) of the neural configuration (N1) have a causal disposition to bring about the phenomenal state of purple?’ Thus, O’Connor and Kimble argue that “the phenomenal realist may reasonably suppose the existence of basic, general laws connecting neural-state types and families of phenomenal-state types (corresponding more or less directly to distinct sensory modalities).”[28] Inasmuch as this is true of the fundamental constituents of reality, it follows that neural states can bring about phenomenal states.

The inevitable question arises (as O’Connor and Kimble note): Since fundamental physical entities could have properties having causal dispositions far different from the dispositions they do have (i.e., phenomenal states), or not at all, why do the fundamental particles in the actual world exhibit the causal disposition to give rise to phenomenal states? Now, their answer here does not answer why some phenomenal character PC correlates to some neural configuration NC. It seems that their explanation is arbitrary. For instance, it could be the case that some neural configuration N2 has constituents which bring about the PC of purple. It seems that reality could have been constructed to have a different neural configuration N3 which brings about the PC. But, this objection conflates contingency with arbitrariness (which is false). To give an example, when riding a bicycle, one can freely decide to bike by the waterfront or by the local university. Suppose that one decided to bike by the water (the sun was setting and it was a marvellous sight). This decision, though contingent (i.e., one could have rode their bike by the local university) does not imply the choice was arbitrary; rather, the choice was made by a rationally acting person and therefore a sufficient reason for the choice was present. Analogically, it is in virtue of the truth of theism that the causal disposition of a neural configuration to bring about phenomenal states is to be expected. Now, although the hitherto objection does not succeed as a problem for O’Connor and Kimble, a suppressed premise in the objection still remains. While O’Connor and Kimble argue that the probability of the particles having causal dispositions towards phenomenal states is higher on theism than its negation and therefore “the argument from consciousness is best developed as adding to the data of fine-tuning”[29], it still remains why on theism this construction of reality would be actualized rather than another. I shall now and then suggest that Moreland’s deductive AC in his Consciousness and the Existence of God (2008) is the best model so far of a successful AC.

O’Connor and Kimble’s argument, as it rests on the causal dispositions of the constituents of neural configurations to bring about phenomenal states, is not, I shall argue, successful. There are reasons to doubt the ontological status of the causal dispositions of the constituents of neural configurations bringing about phenomenal states. There seems to be a thought experiment which makes their argument is improbable. Given that some neural configuration N1 brings about some phenomenal state P1 in virtue of the causal dispositions of the constituent properties, it follows that these phenomenal states hold independently of a subject. Now, although this objection might not work on a naturalistic framework, in my view theism makes this improbable. I will argue this point through a thought experiment.

Suppose that there is a robot, say, R. R is an essentially material thing. R, further, is created by some engineer (say, Dylan). Now, there are two important considerations here. First, suppose that Dylan constitutes R in such a way that R ends up having something strikingly relevant to the human brain. In fact, suppose Dylan somehow (in his genius), was able to duplicate the human brain in its entirety. R would, then, have neural states. So, if O’Connor and Kimble are correct in their analysis, it follows that a robot R could have phenomenal states (in virtue of the constituent materials having causal dispositions to bring about phenomenal states). So, abbreviated, where NC is a neural configuration, PC the property of having a phenomenal character of experience and T as denoting some instance of time: Dylan has PC iff he has NC at T. This, at least on theism, seems improbable. I say this for two reasons. First, if their argument is correct, any sort of material object, simply in virtue of its constituent properties being arranged in a particular way, would exemplify phenomenal states. It seems more likely that it is human persons who exemplify phenomenal states and that, further, these phenomenal states are possessed by rational thinkers who acts through her/his intentions. Secondly, following the hitherto objection, their analysis leads to the conclusion that it is arbitrary what has phenomenal states.[30] This arbitration does not seem to hold well on theism. Swinburne, for instance, suggests that God has good reasons to bring about human persons; thus, O’Connor and Kimble would have to, if my argument is correct, explain why God would bring about the ability for human persons to have the capacity in principle to bring about neural states which bring about phenomenal states. Further than that, they would have to explain why there would be better benefits to having this state of affairs (i.e., properties which realize or bring about phenomenal states) being realized in the actual world rather than alternative state of affairs, say, the explanation given by traditional AC-type argument which suggests that psycho-physical laws exist in virtue of a personal explanation, not in virtue of the dispositions of the constituent properties of a configuration of matter. But, perhaps this is not a fair interpretation of O’Connor and Kimble. It may well be the case that it is contributory to human moral responsibility to have the ability to do bring about phenomenal states, and, therefore, the capacity to do so is just another way in which the capacity for freedom of the will and our moral responsibility is realized. In response, I do not find this argument to suffice as a probable explanation. It seems that this argument does not explain why it is in principle possible to bring about neural configurations which in turn bring about phenomenal states. In other words, it seems more likely, instead, that God would bring about human persons exemplifying these properties insofar as they are good for human persons. If my assessment is correct, then it seems that O’Connor and Kimble’s thesis has a consequence which I regard as inconsistent with theism (or at any rate unfriendly to it). It seems to me that the burden of proof lies on O’Connor and Kimble to show that this in principle logical possibility would be good for both human persons as well as i.e., robots.  Given these considerations, I conclude that although O’Connor and Kimble provide an alternative to the traditional AC, it is improbable that psycho-physical laws are explainable in terms of the causal dispositions of particular neural configurations.

Though Swinburne and Adams have provided formulations of the AC, Moreland, in his Consciousness and the Existence of God (2008), has provided a different formulation which, I suggest, formalizes the AC in important ways and which makes considerable progress in the construction of AC-type arguments. Though Moreland’s argument is consistent with Swinburne and Adams’ argument, Moreland’s has benefits with regard to its deductive construction and the criteria he sets out prior to the construction of the argument. Prior to the deductive argument, Moreland argues that “three issues that inform the adjudication between rival scientific theories are relevant to AC.”[31] He argues that basicality, naturalness and epistemic values are criteria which hold epistemological weight in scientific theory acceptance. He takes basicality to mean essentially a phenomena which is ontologically basic. For Moreland, “Consciousness is ontologically basic for theism since it characterizes the fundamental being.”[32] With regard to naturalness, Moreland argues that some entity (or something close in the neighborhood of it), should be “at home” in the theory. That is, the entity in question should not be “out of place” in a particular ontology. For instance, if in some possible world all that exists are causally inert abstract objects, that is, numbers, relations, propositions et cetera, and no concrete particulars, it is not natural that there should exist a materially existent, concrete book, say, Plato’s Republic or Shakespeare’s Hamlet, just existing amidst the abstract objects. Lastly, epistemic values roughly amounts to “a normative property, which, if possessed by a theory, confers some degree of rational justification on that theory.”[33] For instance, a theory’s possessing the property of simplicity (to use Moreland’s example) is an epistemic value which does not in and of itself justify a theories truth, but which attributes a rough degree of rational justification on the theory itself. Since Moreland takes consciousness to be basic, natural and possessive of epistemic values on theism, this criteria serves as a contributory precursor to his AC. He mentions three forms of the AC as such: inference to the best explanation, Bayesian and deduction. Since inference to the best explanation has been implicitly (and somewhat explicitly) discussed and Swinburne’s Bayesian AC has been explored, I will lay out Moreland’s deductive argument:

(1) Mental events are genuine non-physical mental entities that exist.

(2) Specific mental event types are regularly correlated with specific physical event types.

(3) There is an explanation for these correlations.

(4) Personal explanation is different form natural scientific explanation.

(5) The explanation for these correlations is either a personal or natural scientific explanation.

(6) The explanation is not a natural scientific one.

(7) Therefore, the explanation is a personal one.

(8) If the explanation is personal, then it is theistic.

(9) Therefore, the explanation is theistic.[34]
This deductive argument reaches the same conclusion as the traditional AC-type arguments, namely, that the best explanation of mental events or psycho-physical laws is a theistic explanation. However, there are three reasons why this argument is, in my view, conducive to yield a correct formulation of an AC. Firstly, this deductive argument essentially formalizes the traditional AC-type arguments, that is, the premises are explicitly stated and they incorporate the essential theses and premises of the traditional AC. Secondly, one cannot dismiss the AC on the basis that it relies on Bayes’ theorem (i.e., one could argue that it does not follow from the axioms of the mathematical calculus of probability). So, such an ad hoc attempt of avoiding the AC does not work given the deductive construal of the argument. Lastly, Moreland’s argument yields clarity which, as he himself notes, allows one to “gain clarity on the precise considerations that most likely provide the basis for an IBE [Inference to the Best Explanation] argument or for assignment of probabilities to key factors in the Bayesian approach.”[35] Moreland is not arguing that Swinburne and Adams had it wrong; on the contrary, he is arguing that their arguments can be inflated with this deductive construal allowing for more accurate probability assignments. Thus, Moreland’s deductive formulation, whether or not successful, is the best formulation of the AC.

In this paper I have argued that although the argument by O’Connor and Kimble provide an alternative to the traditional AC, Moreland’s deductive AC yields the most successful AC model. I have explored the Bayesian AC formulated by Swinburne and have shown that his argument, if correct, provides evidence in an accumulative case for theism. I began by laying out his epistemological framework for his AC, and distinguished between a P-inductive from a C-inductive argument, and a personal explanation from a scientific explanation. I then moved on to explore the most prominent objection to the AC from O’Connor and Kimble. I displayed their argument concerning the causal dispositions of the constituents of neural configurations bringing about neural states and argued that this account is (minimally) improbable on theism. Then, I explored Moreland’s deductive AC and argued that the argument, insofar as it formalized the AC, didn’t depend on Bayes’ theorem and clarified the AC, was the best AC model. While I intend my paper to contribute to the literature on the relationship between consciousness and the existence of God, my intention is to provide an area for further exploration, namely, on the construction of AC-type arguments. Although I have not been able to consider important epistemological and metaphysical issues surrounding consciousness which might serve as counter-examples and defeaters for AC-type arguments, the scope of this paper, I hope, extended to open dialogue between those working on the AC and those thinking about the perplexing ontology of consciousness.[36]

Works Cited

Adams, Robert. The Virtue of Faith and Other Essays in Philosophical Theology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Block, Ned, Owen Flanagan, and Güven Güzeldere eds., The Nature of Consciousness: Philosophical Debates. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England, 1998.

Carruthers, Peter. Phenomenal Consciousness: A Naturalistic Theory. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Churchland, Paul M. The Engine of Reason, the Seat of the Soul. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: MIT Press, 1996.

Craig, William Lane. “Does God Exist?” Accessed December, 16 2015:

Kimble, Kevin and Timothy O’Connor. “The Argument from Consciousness Revisited.” Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion 3 (2011): 110-141.

Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. vol.2. New York: Dover Publications, 1959.

Moreland, J.P. Consciousness and the Existence of God. New York: Routledge, 2008.

Moreland, J.P. “J.P. Moreland Responds to Criticisms of the Argument from Consciousness.” YouTube. Accessed December 16, 2015.

Moreland, J.P, and William Lane Craig. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 2003.

Nagel, Thomas. Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Nagel, Thomas. “What is it like to be a bat?” in Mortal Questions. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1979.

Plantinga, Alvin. “Two Dozen (or so) Theistic Arguments,” Lecture presented at the 33rd Annual Philosophy Conference, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois, October 23-25, 1986.

Schudt, Karl. “Edith Stein’s Proof for the Existence of God from Consciousness.” American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 82.1 (2008): 105-125.

Smith, Quentin, and Aleksandar Jokic eds. Consciousness: New Philosophical Perspectives. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Stainton, Robert, and Andrew Brooks. Knowledge and Mind: A Philosophical Introduction. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: The MIT Press, 2000.

Stein, Edith. Finite and Eternal Being. Trans. Kurt F. Reinhardt. Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 2002.

Swinburne, Richard. Mind, Brain and Free Will. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Swinburne, Richard. “The Argument from Colors and Flavors,” Lecture presented at the Plantinga Workshop, Baylor University, Waco, Texas, November 4th, 2014.

Swinburne, Richard. The Existence of God, 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Welshon, Rex. Philosophy, Neuroscience and Consciousness. Durham, UK: Acumen Publishing, 2011.

[1] Thomas Nagel, “What is it like to be a Bat?” in Mortal Questions (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 165.

[2] Asides those who have denied the existence of consciousness altogether, there have been broadly two methods by which an explanation of consciousness has proceeded; either a personal (theistic) explanation is given, or a scientific (natural) explanation. For a rejection of contemporary explanations of consciousness altogether but still admits the possibility of an explanation, see Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012). The personal (theistic) explanations are usually construed the context of an AC. The first attempt at such a  personal (theistic) explanation is found in John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, vol.2, (New York: Dover Publications, 1959), Book IV, Chapter x. The AC has also been developed phenomenologically; see, Edith Stein, Finite and Eternal Being, Trans. Kurt F. Reinhardt. (Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 2002). For an examination of her argument, see Karl Schudt “Edith Stein’s Proof for the Existence of God from Consciousness.” American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 82.1 (2008): 105-125.  For developments by contemporary philosophers of religion, see J.P Moreland, Consciousness and the Existence of God (New York: Routledge, 2008), Chapter 2; Robert Adams, The Virtue of Faith and Other Essays in Philosophical Theology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), Part IV, Chapter 16; Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), Chapter 9. For a response to traditional AC arguments, see Kevin Kimble and Timothy O’Connor. “The Argument from Consciousness Revisited.” Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion 3 (2011): 110-141. For Moreland’s response to recent objections to his AC at the 63rd Annual Meeting of the Theological Evangelical Society, see “J.P. Moreland Responds to Criticisms of the Argument from Consciousness.” YouTube. Accessed December 16, 2015. For a naturalistic theory, see Paul M. Churchland. The Engine of Reason, the Seat of the Soul (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: MIT Press, 1996) (the citation is from Quentin Smith and Aleksandar Jokic eds., Consciousness: New Philosophical Perspectives (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).). This citation from Smith and Jokic also contains theories which are both naturalist/non-naturalist with regard to explanations of consciousness. For a survey of contemporary debates with an “objective of defending a particular kind of naturalist (scientifically acceptable) explanation of phenomenal consciousness” see Peter Carruthers, Phenomenal Consciousness: A Naturalistic Theory (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000). For neuroscientific proposals of consciousness from a philosophical standpoint, see Rex Welshon, Philosophy, Neuroscience and Consciousness (Durham, UK: Acumen Publishing, 2011). For an overview and interesting survey of the philosophical debates surrounding consciousness see Ned Block, Owen Flanagan, and Güven Güzeldere eds., The Nature of Consciousness: Philosophical Debates (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England, 1998). For an additional list of citations which exemplify attempts to reduce the mental to the physical for a materialist theory, see Thomas Nagel, “What is it like to be a bat?” in Mortal Questions (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1979), 165 Footnote 1.

[3] Now, logically moving from the existence of consciousness to the existence of God might seem presumptuous as a ‘metaphysical leap’; however, I intend to show that the inference from consciousness to the existence of God serves as the best explanation for the ontology of consciousness. So, I will simply presuppose that this inference (from consciousness to the existence of God) is at least logically possible—that is, not entailing a contradiction—and therefore is among the possible explanations of consciousness. From this presupposition, I will then move to explore attempts to formulate a successful AC.

[4] I will present Swinburne’s argument in detail; Adams’ argument, though closely related, is manifest in the critique O’Connor and Kimble make in their “The Argument from Consciousness Revisited.” (2011).

[5] Though Swinburne and Adams’ arguments are differently presented, their central points (theses) are similar. Alvin Plantinga, in his “Two Dozen (or so) Theistic Arguments” classifies perhaps the central scope and claim of Swinburne and Adams’ argument from (what he denotes as) the ‘Argument from Colors and Flavors’: “What is the explanation of the correlation between physical and psychical properties? Presumably there is an explanation of it; but also it will have to be, as Adams and Swinburne say, a personal, nonscientific explanation. The most plausible suggestion would involve our being created that way by God.” Alvin Plantinga, “Two Dozen (or so) Theistic Arguments,” Lecture presented at the 33rd Annual Philosophy Conference, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois, October 23-25, 1986. This citation was retrieved from William Lane Craig, “Does God Exist?” Accessed December, 16 2015: Thus, I will present Swinburne’s argument and therefore only make textual references to his work(s) and not Adams. I do this for two reasons. First, Swinburne’s Bayesian formulation of the argument is helpful for thinking about probability considerations. Secondly, Swinburne’s account is taken in conjunction with all other arguments (which serves as part of the k value in Bayes’ theorem) and thus his argument is all the stronger insofar as it is not taken individually. Though this may be controversial, I leave this aside as it is beyond the scope of my paper.

[6] Swinburne, though, does do his philosophical groundwork for pegging down ‘explanation’ (regarding its nature and justification). See, Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), Chapters 2 and 3.

[7] Swinburne, 32.

[8] The move from ‘personal’ to ‘theistic’ explanation is an inference J.P Moreland (in his Consciousness and the Existence of God (2008)) makes as well; however, I will not discuss the inferences cogency inasmuch as it lies beyond the scope of this paper.

[9] Moreland’s characterizations and summaries of Swinburne’s argument have been particularly helpful here.

[10] Swinburne, 64. Swinburne refers his readers who deny that Bayes’ Theorem is a “theorem [that] follows directly from the axioms of the mathematical calculus of probability” (p.64) to his longer defense of the independent justifications the truth of such axioms, see his An Introduction to Confirmation Theory, chapters 3-6.

[11] Swinburne, 290.

[12] Swinburne, 290. Theistic (personal) explanation here applies iff (if and only if) Swinburne’s arguments for God’s having good reasons to create persons with the aforementioned properties i.e., embodiment, is successful.

[13] I make this conclusion (rather hastily) inasmuch as intuitively on a naturalist causal story or ontology, matter/energy obeying the fundamental laws of physics is a priori unlikely to bring about consciousness. Even if this a priori thought is incorrect, a posteriori evidence is lacking. If this claim is in fact to hasty (and I am sure it will be thought to be), J.P Moreland explores epistemic virtues, particularly ontological basicality, which serves to demonstrate the improbability of consciousness on naturalism (which I will subsequently speak of).

[14] Inasmuch as spatial considerations preclude a full explanation of Swinburne’s argument for this contention, it should be noted that 1) Moreland goes more in-depth establishing this claim and 2) I will make explicit Moreland’s argument for it later subsequently.

[15] Swinburne, 161. In Swinburne’s later work, he has defined much more thoroughly mental and physical events, alongside further distinctions and classifications. He begins a series of definitions as follows: “a mental event [is] along the same lines as one to which the substance involved has privileged access, and a physical event as one to which the substance involved does not have privileged access, and a pure mental event as a mental event which does not entail a metaphysically contingent physical event as that substance” with the implication that “no mental event is identical to or supervenes on any physical event.” Richard Swinburne, Mind, Brain and Free Will (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 70. Whether or not his argument is consistent with his later definitions lies outside the scope of this paper.

[16] Swinburne, 169. Two notes should be made here. First, I shall use the terminology of ‘psycho-physical’ as opposed to ‘mental and physical’ or ‘mental and brain events’ as ‘psycho-physical’ is perhaps more conducive to focus on the relationship between the generation of laws regarding consciousness (or phenomenal states of consciousness) and the physical. Second, Swinburne’s characterization here of the mental is seemingly aligned with Robert Stainton and Andrew Brooks’ conception of ‘psychological explanation’ in describing human actions, that is, actions which appeal to a person’s reasons for acting (i.e., intentionally acting for some reason, feeling a specific way for some reason, et cetera). See, Robert Stainton and Andrew Brooks, Knowledge and Mind: A Philosophical Introduction (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: The MIT Press, 2000), 235.

[17] Swinburne, 174.

[18] O’Connor and Kimble spend the first four sections of their essay rejecting contemporary attempts to formulate a materialist account of phenomenal experience. In my paper, I will not mention their arguments against those accounts insofar as they are not incumbent upon my argument. I will take it for granted that their critique of those arguments are true. For their defense against such materialist accounts, see Sections I-IV of their essay.

[19] O’Connor and Kimble, 134.

[20] O’Connor and Kimble, 110. O’Connor and Kimble cite evidence of the finely tuned constants of the universe in the work of J.D. Barrow and F.J. Tipler, as well as Brandon Carter. For their reference, see page 138 of their article. For an elaboration of the natural theological argument from fine-tuning (often called the ‘teleological argument’), see J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 2003), 482-490.

[21] Here, O’Connor and Kimble reference David Chalmers’ The Conscious Mind (1996), 135.

[22] For Swinburne’s argument in full and for the reference I have made, see Richard Swinburne, “The Argument from Colors and Flavors,” Lecture presented at the Plantinga Workshop, Baylor University, Waco, Texas, November 4th, 2014.

[23] This quote is from Adams’ The Virtue of Faith and Other Essays in Philosophical Theology (1987) but cited in O’Connor and Kimble’s essay, 135.

[24] O’Connor and Kimble, 135-136.

[25] O’Connor and Kimble, 136.

[26] O’Connor and Kimble, 136.

[27] O’Connor and Kimble, 136.

[28] O’Connor and Kimble, 136-137.

[29] O’Connor and Kimble, 139.

[30] Here, I am not arguing that the contingency of x requires that x is arbitrary. Rather, I am only arguing that Swinburne lists a sufficient reason God has for creating human persons with these phenomenal experiences.

[31] Moreland, 28. By labeling these epistemic virtues ‘scientific theories’ I do not interpret Moreland to mean that the AC is a scientific hypothesis; rather, the AC is a natural theological argument which may or may not have successful theological implications (the premises of which may or may not be scientific—here it is irrelevant whether or not they are). If this seems dubious, consider the following. 4+6=10 is an arithmetical or mathematical truth; to say ‘this hypothesis is not scientific’ has no bearing on its truth-value. This may be true and simultaneously not scientific. So, the AC does not have to be a scientific hypothesis. (If one rules this out epistemologically i.e., scientism, this is ad hoc and it lies beyond the scope of this paper to address the issues here).

[32] Moreland, 29.

[33] Moreland, 30.

[34] Moreland, 37.

[35] Moreland, 37.

[36] I would like to thank here Professor Pietro Pirani who has selflessly overlooked the development of this essay, provided insightful comments on the original draft and for his ineliminable suggestions during our discussions. Also, I presented (orally) the research done for this essay “Theistic Explanations of the Ontology of Consciousness” at the Western Student Research Conference (WSRC), an Undergraduate Multi-Disciplinary Research Conference, University of Western, March, 2016, under the title “Consciousness, theism and explanation.” Again, Professor Pirani’s supervision was both essential and appreciated. I have published the lecture “Consciousness, theism and explanation” on YouTube:



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