The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism (Veritas) Paperback – 2 Aug 2010
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'The Recalcitrant Imago Dei is a wonderful read. Chapter by chapter, Moreland systematically sets forth how naturalism denies what is so obvious about ourselves, which is that we are conscious, rational souls
that have the power to make undetermined choices for purposes. The power of the book lies in the way that it makes clear how human beings becomeunrecognizable once naturalism has worked them over. Through page after page of careful argument, Moreland shows all of us how deeply unnatural the naturalist account of ourselves is.' (Stewart Goetz, St Ursinus College.)
'Materialistic naturalism has, for some years, been the received wisdom in philosophy, as well as amongst much of the educated public. Many serious philosophical arguments have been brought against this ideology, but usually in a series of separate controversies. Professor Moreland’s great service is to bring all these objections together, whilst adding his own original contributions, in a very effective anti-naturalist polemic. He shows us that the materialist world picture cannot accommodate the most basic phenomena of human life: It has no place for consciousness, free will, rationality, the human subject or any kind of intrinsic value. Materialism does not disprove these human realities, it is simply incapable of accounting for them in any remotely plausible way. I would add to the list of its failures that naturalism lacks even a coherent account of the physical world itself. Professor Moreland makes a very good case for saying that, as a serious world view, naturalism is a non-starter: more traditional, theistic philosophies fare much better in the face both of the phenomena and of argument.' (Howard Robinson, University Professor in Philosophy, Central European University, Budapest.)
J.P. Moreland’s new book is a tour de force. In six clear, concise and tightly argued chapters, he raises profound objections to the attempts of modern naturalistic philosophers to accommodate human consciousness, free will, rationality, selfhood and morality within a purely physical world-view. He thereby significantly enhances the intellectual appeal of a theistic alternative. All open-minded-metaphysicians, philosophers of mind and philosophical theologians should read this book (E. J. Lowe, Professor of Philosophy, Durham University)
Moreland;s book is a masterpiece of clear, compelling, accessible arguments against naturalism, and a powerful defense of a Christian understanding of persons. This should be required reading for anyone interested in the philosophy of human nature and the debate between theism and naturalism today.’ (Charles Taliaferro, St Olaf Collage)
About the Author
Professor J P Moreland is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Biola University in Southern California.Series Editors: Connor Cunningham (Centre for Philosophy and Theology, Nottingham) and Peter C. Candler (Baylor University, Waco, Texas).
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J.P. Moreland has, I believe, outlined a rather magnficent critique of naturalism in this work. Chapter by chapter, he lays out philosophical defeaters for naturalism that are based on some of the most basic facts of human life. Each chapter contains clear, though often intellectually challenging, arguments against naturalism based on such things as consciousness or free will.
The chapter on Consciousness was, I believe, great, but I've read almost all the material in other works (specifically, J.P. Moreland's Consciousness and the Existence of God and William Lane Craig/Moreland's Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology). I believe that current apologists are certainly on to something when they consider the argument from consciousness, which I would consider a rather impressive defeater of naturalism. Moreland's version of the argument is actually an argument for theism, and as far as I'm concerned, that makes it even better.
The next chapter considers the case of the freedom of the will. I believe that Moreland is correct in suggesting that naturalism generally, and physicalism specifically are almost certainly defeaters of the freedom of the will. Morelands argument in this chapter is again similar to some of his other works (here it would be Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview), but there is some material here that is both not recycled and very useful. I believe that this is a chapter I will continue to open to in my debates with physicalists.
One argument that continues to pique my interest is the argument from rationality. In this chapter, Moreland doesn't so much employ an argument from reason for the existence of God as he uses the existence of reason as a defeater for naturalism. I believe many of the aspects of the argument from reason tend to mirror some of the teleological argument's claims, and because of this I generally am biased against it, but I find Moreland's methodology of using it against naturalism rather than as a proof for God quite interesting and will probably use it in application.
The chapter on the substantial soul is, I believe, less useful as an argument against naturalism (I think naturalists who argue that the soul is a physical object are, well, generally ignored nowadays), but the chapter contains several pages of highly useful definitions. It's another chapter I will almost certainly continue to open to in order to clearly outline my responses.
Objective morality is a continual problem that I don't see naturalism having any way around. I'm a huge advocate of the moral argument, and while Moreland doesn't advance any specific moral argument in this chapter, he uses the idea of objective morality as a defeater for naturalism (and vice versa). Further, he argues that naturalism has no way to give humans intrinsic value, due to the idea that, according to naturalism, humans are merely animals and have no significant differences between them and, say, a dog as far as the physical world is concerned. His discussion in this chapter and the previous chapter on the errors of various philosophers using species relations when they should be discussing genus relations is highly interesting, though I'm unsure of the applicability.
The appendix has a few useful things, but it is mostly just Moreland observing various philosophical trends. He does offer an argument against naturalistic dismissivism that I will probably make use of in the future.
Overall, The Recalcitrant Imago Dei is a fantastic work. Although some portions of it are clearly recycled, including almost an entire chapter, it is a work that I will almost certainly use again and again. Moreland's style of writing is almost always clear, but he sometimes suffers from an overuse of philosophical terms that are usually obvious in meaning, but could probably have been better said in a simpler fashion (like qualia, desiderata, etc.). I got this book hoping it would have some good arguments in it to help formulate a general critique of naturalism and I was not disappointed. I recommend this book highly, but be aware of the fact that it is certainly not easy reading.
Rather than summarizing the entire book, as a previous reviewer has already done, I will focus on the last chapter which is entitled "Naturalism, Objective Morality, Intrinsic Value and Human Persons." Moreland begins the chapter by noting 3 features of the moral order:
1. objective, intrinsic value and an objective moral law;
2. the reality of human moral action; and
3. intrinsic value and human rights.
His claim is that these features of moral reality fit very well within a biblical theistic worldview. By contrast, some naturalist philosophers believe that naturalism yields defeaters for these aspects of moral reality. Moreland alludes to naturalists John Bishop and Michael Ruse as examples of such philosophers. (As a side note, other naturalists, such as Erik Wielenberg, would disagree. But Moreland's points count against a naturalist view which seeks to accomodate such non-natural properties within its ontology if he's right that these features have better metaphysical fit within a theistic framework.)
Moreland offers an argument that the following features are defeaters for a naturalist worldview. To fully appreciate and evaluate his argument of course requires reading the chapter in the book, but I'll give a quick summary of his points.
1. The existence of objective moral value: If the universe starts with the Big Bang, and over its history we find the arrangement of microphysical entities into increasingly complex physical compounds, how does value arise? How can a naturalist, as a naturalist, embrace non-natural, objective, values?
2. The nature of the moral law: The moral order presents itself imperatively, that is, as something which commands action. The sense of guilt one feels for falling short of the moral law is best explained if a good God is the source or ultimate exemplification of that law. As Moreland puts it, "One cannot sense shame and guilt towards a Platonic form (p. 147)."
3. The instantiation of morally relevant value properties: Even if a naturalist allows for the existence of some Platonic realm of the Forms, the naturalist has no explanation for why these universals were and are instantiated in the physical universe.
4. The intersection of intrinsic value and human persons: How is it that human beings are able to do as morality requires, and that such obedience to the moral law also happens to contribute to human flourishing? Theism has an obvious answer to such questions, but it is not clear, and is far from obvious, how naturalism would account for this.
5. Knowledge of intrinsic value and the moral law: Given that such values are not empirically detectable and cannot stand in physical causal relations with the brain, how is it that we could know such things? Evolutionary explanations fall short because of what is selected for in such processes on naturalistic versions of evolutionary theory.
6. The nature of moral action: Here, I will simply quote Moreland, "...evolutionary naturalism would seem to predict a world of wantons. Since genuine moral agents understand moral duty and conflicts involving moral duty, wantons cannot be depicted as such. What is at issue is whether evolutionary naturalism has the intellectual resources to avoid implying a wanton world. In my view, evolutionary naturalism does not have those resources (p. 153)."
7. An adequate answer to the question, "Why should I be moral?": Both naturalists and theists can respond, "Because it is the moral thing to do." But beyond this, when thinking about the question outside of the moral point of view, the issue becomes why is it rational to adopt the moral point of view rather than an egoistic one? According to Moreland, this is a problem for the naturalist. But the theist can offer a variety of reasons to adopt the moral point of view--the moral law is true; it is an expression of the non-arbitrary character of a good, loving, wise, and just God; and we were designed to function properly when living a moral life.
The rest of the chapter includes a discussion of the value of human beings and rights, and I'll leave it to the interested reader to explore.
The book is easily worth the price, and I highly recommend it for those inclined to do the work of reading and considering the arguments it contains.
Buy this book.
That aside, I think Moreland did an excellent job describing the parameters and constraints of naturalism when it comes to consciousness. This was his shining moment in the book for me. I thought his case with free will was weaker primarily because I didn't think he spent enough time defending libertarian free will but rather assuming that it is true and then arguing that it is not compatible with naturalism. I can't avoid believing in libertarian agency as a practical matter (and find no one who can either and be a successful person) yet that doesn't mean that it is true. I don't know how one can determine whether it is true or not. I don't know if there is any real way to know this. Naturalists can take the antecedent 'causes' into account for any human action and say that they are pre-determined while a libertarian can point to first-person introspection to claim that they are not but originate in the agent. I think that Moreland's thought experiment of the mad scientist controlling ones movements really shows that we need to think that we have libertarian free will but it doesn't show that we actually have it. Since this is the only positive argument he gives I was kind of left grasping after reading this chapter.
The discussion of naturalism and rationality was good though I wish Moreland spent more time on Plantinga's Evolutionary Argument against Naturalism (the famous EAAN). He didn't say much except to give an outline of the argument and endorse it. His arguments in regard to rationality are similar to Victor Reppert's Argument from Reason in his book, "C.S. Lewis' Dangerous Idea" which explores the topic in more length than Moreland allows for in this work. Also, Moreland in general has a shoot-gun approach to arguments which provides good food for thought but leaves something to be desired when one wants an argument to be defended at greater length. Moreland's reflection on normativity and rationality are also interesting.
The next chapter covered arguments for a substantial soul or mind-body dualism of the Cartesian variety. Here, I think Moreland could have done a better job by trying to counter popular arguments from the 'other side' against this view; the interaction problem chief among them. Occam's razor seems to suggest that one substance is simpler than two. I'm not suggesting materialism but perhaps panpsychism as being the correct view. I'm still open on this question but I enjoyed Moreland's defense of the traditional Cartesian view. To me these arguments provoke interesting questions that go beyond the box of philosophy of mind to more basic questions about what fundamentally exists. I think most of these arguments beg more fundamental questioning about the nature of reality. In other words, I don't think the traditional arguments about mind, matter, interaction, identity, really get at the root of things. I also think Moreland is way to dismissive of panpsychism as a possible solution. Of course, Moreland is right to note that if panpsychism is true than this does not work with naturalism so thus this is just a peripheral topic for him since the book is about how naturalism is inconsistent in what we know about human persons. Fair enough.
The last chapter is a quick rehash of the Moral Argument basically. In general I found this chapter to be off-putting in that I think others have provided far clearer theistic arguments from morality than Moreland has. For example, I don't see what "Darwinian" naturalism has anything to do with this discussion. "Darwinism" or for those of us less inclined to name-calling, evolutionary biology, is a field of science. Period. It has nothing to do with morality. To try to get morality out of "Darwinism" is like trying to get morality out of Einstein's general theory of relativity. Those are two different things. Moreland just muddies the issue by bringing it up. He also has a weird Kantian take that morality must be universalizable, which means all actions (for them to be moral) must be universalizable which leads to some clear absurdities. Personally, I tend to like the Moral Argument but I know those who don't buy it and reading this probably would just get them off-track about the main point of the argument.
I really enjoyed the Appendix where Moreland takes apart Thomas Nagel's 'dismissive naturalism' strategy. I especially enjoyed his summation of the history of philosophy of mind from the early 20th century to the present. How it started from Cartesian dualism to (buoyed by logical positivism) behavioralism, identity theory, functionalism, and then starting in 1990, emergentism (McGinn, Nagel, Searle, and now Jaegwon Kim). Basically, things went in a more materialist direction as the century progressed until the '70s or so when functionalism replaced identity theory due to the problems of reducing consciousness to the purely physical. Of course, functionalism suffered from the same problems as the 'harder' materialistic views so eventually emergentism emerged (lol).
In any case, I most enjoyed Moreland's analysis of other philosophers thinking and his use of their opinions to further his arguments. While this book was dry at times, I think overall, Moreland did an good job of arguing his case with brevity.
Among the features of our experience that Moreland argues convincingly a materialist ontology can't explain, even in principle, include cognition, consciousness (Moreland's analysis on this is the best, bar none, in my estimation), free will, rationality, and objective morality. Early in the book he lays out the salient features of naturalism in a way at once both fair and powerful, then argues with clarity and rigor that such a view, unlike classical theism, simply lacks adequate resources to make good sense of such stubborn features of reality as those delineated.
His case in each chapter is informed and insightful, and their cumulative force devastating, beyond anything you'll find just about anywhere. This book is truly an exceptional work and well worth the investment of time to work through it. Believers and skeptics alike should give it a close read, the former to understand better the philosophical power of their worldview and excellent reasons to see their faith as consistent with the dictates of reason, the latter to be challenged to give theism another look. Skeptics must not be content arguing with weak proponents of and dispensing with lame arguments for theism generally or Christianity particularly, strawmen easily dismantled or knocked down, of which there are, sadly, altogether too many. I suggest they give the likes of Moreland a try. He not only gives skeptics a run for their money; his case is nothing less than profound.
In his chapter on ethics, for example, he identifies seven features of morally relevant intrinsic value and objective moral law that individually and together constitute defeaters for naturalism. They include the existence of objective value, the nature of the moral law, the instantiation of morally relevant value properties, the intersection of intrinsic value and human persons, knowledge of such values and of prescriptively binding, ultima facie moral obligations, and an adequate answer to the "Why be Moral?" question.
Fantastic book by a world-class philosopher. Recommended with utmost enthusiasm!