on 14 January 2011
I found this book to be a bit of a curate's egg: excellent in parts, but having serious weaknesses in others. James P. Moreland argues that because no naturalistic/physicalist explanation of consciousness can be given, then theism must be true. It is thus a "God of the gaps" type of argument, which has the weakness that one must show that the purported gap is such that it cannot be closed - even in principle - in the future. This is a difficult task to say the least.
Two great features of the book are:
1). Robust realism about the facts of mental life that have to be explained (experiential qualities, agency, human freedom, and so on). The author (rightly in my view) criticises those who "solve" the problem of consciousness by denying such facts.
2). An on-the-whole excellent and representative survey and critique of various approaches to solving the problem of consciousness, as presented by leading experts in their respective fields. These are John Searle on biological naturalism; Timothy O'Connor on emergent necessitation; Colin McGinn's mysterianism; David Skrbina on panpsychism; and Philip Clayton on pluralistic emergentism. Moreland's analyses are fair, astute, and penetrate the weaknesses of each approach.
Flaws of Moreland's book are:
1). A lack of any proper specification or defence of dualism against its critics. He says "[T]he main problem for dualism has been the causal interactions, but in my view, this is the most exaggerated problem in the history of philosophy", page 125. But he gives no argument, just a reference, for this opinion. He mentions without explanation "the pairing problem" for dualism, and claims that Thomistic as opposed to Cartesian dualism solves this - again there are no explanations, just references.
2). A weakness in distinguishing various types of naturalism and physicalism. He equates both with one another and with scientism (the false claim that science is the only route to knowledge). An atheist must be a philosophical naturalist, but need not be a physicalist, and need not accept scientism.
3). He also fails to discuss alternative ways in which God might relate to the cosmos. Need God work in the clunky manner of associating a soul/additional-properties-of-agency to each human? This would result in an in-principle scientifically detectable change in the behaviour of humans. Suppose on the contrary that the human brain, admittedly complex, belongs to the same ontological category as any other piece of matter in the universe, and that it obeys exactly the same laws. Given robust realism about the human mind, this implies panpsychism. Wouldn't this be a far more elegant universe, and more worthy of a wise God, presuming God indeed exists? Moreland's discussion of panpsychism is notably weaker than his discussion of other theories of mind, but at least he does not dismiss it in a few words.
Moreland's key argument from consciousness to God fails. Overall I enjoyed this book for its robust realism about the mind, and its on-the-whole excellent survey of theories of mind.