The Substance of Consciousness
May 23, 2023
June 26, 2009
We are glad to announce the release of J.P. Moreland’s latest book, The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism (SCM Press, 2009). J.P. is the Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Biola University. We previously interviewed him about his Consciousness and the Existence of God (Routledge, 2008). Below is part one of our interview with him about his latest book and the philosophical failure of naturalism.
In roughly 200 pages, you try to clarify, if not recapture, an emphasis on the recalcitrant imago Dei? Why this emphasis?
In its doctrine of the image of God, the Bible teaches that the human constitution has features in common with God; we are like God in important respects. Namely, we have a will, consciousness, reason, etc. If Christianity is true, one would predict that alternative worldviews whose basic entity or entities are not spiritual would find these features of the human person recalcitrant, that is, hard to explain or explain away. And that is exactly what one finds, especially in connection with philosophical naturalism. If, in the beginning was the Logos, then, I claim, it is easy to see how six features of human persons could obtain—consciousness, libertarian freedom, rationality, a unified/simple self, equal and intrinsic value, and moral action of a certain sort. But if, in the beginning were the particles, then one cannot adequately account for these features, and reductive or eliminative strategies must be employed. I argue that these strategies are a failure, and, therefore, these six features provide rebutting defeaters for naturalism and confirmation (to a degree I specify) for biblical theism.
What is the worldview of naturalism?
Naturalism has many incarnations, but if it is taken to be explanatorily superior to rival worldviews, then it may be fairly characterized according to a majority construal of it, which would be (1) a scientistic attitude, which says that all that is real is physical and that knowledge is only that which can be detected by the sciences; (2) an origins account constituted by an event-causal story explains how everything has come-to-be as a result of combinatorial processes and rearrangements of micro-physical entities to form various structurally different macro-objects, and centered on the atomic theory of matter and evolutionary biology; (3) a strictly physicalist ontology that quantifies over and only over those entities that conform to (1) and (2). I argue in the book that the naturalist ontology cannot account for real substances (besides atomic simples if such there be) or genuinely emergent, sui generis properties, especially those constitutive of the six features mentioned above.
It seems that most public policy and pop cultural discussions about what it means to be a human person are largely shaped by the offerings of the hard or soft sciences. How is your approach different and why does that matter?
The fundamental questions about the nature of human beings are these: Is consciousness real and is it non-physical? Do I have free will and, if so, what is it? How could human rationality be possible, and if it is, what does that tell us about the nature of the human person? Do I have a unified self that remains the same through change, or am I just an aggregate of parts? Do human persons have equal and high moral value, and if so, how could such a thing be the case? What is a moral action, and can human persons engage in such? None of these questions is capable of being formulated or answered by the hard and social sciences, because they are, one and all, descriptive and not prescriptive disciplines. They have nothing to say about what must be the case or what ought to be the case. The questions listed above are all philosophical and theological questions. That is how I treat them in The Recalcitrant Imago Dei, and the answers I provide require philosophical and theological evaluation.
Philosopher Howard Robinson (Budapest’s Central European University) says that the “great service” of your book is that you cumulatively demonstrate how naturalism fails to give us an accurate account of some of the most basic fundamentals of human existence. Can you further unpack the failure of naturalism?
I argue that the worldview of naturalism denies the objectivity of value, meaning in and to life, free will and responsibility, normative rationality, sameness of self through various changes, and the possibility of a ground for equal rights and moral action.
With an overreliance on the hard sciences, secularism reduces us to our brains, our wills to nerve reactions to inputs, our value to the dictates of the herd. In the process, we lose what is so special to us—our consciousness, freedom, rationality, self and value.
Naturalism has singularly failed to provide a plausible, deep analysis of human persons sufficient to account for who they are, how they can have value and purpose in life, and how they can flourish in a robust social and ethical way. As naturalist views of human persons proliferate, people turn to sex and entertainment, all centered on the satisfaction of immediate desire, as the rails upon which they run their lives. In turn, this generates passivity and all kinds of addictions.
The worldview is kept in business, intellectually, by its alleged—but non-existent—connection with physical science, and, spiritually, by anger towards God and hostility towards religion. The former is simply false—it is not science, but philosophical naturalism itself that underwrites its core intellectual commitments (and a troublesome argumentative circle is lurking in the neighborhood; to avoid this, one must provide independent epistemic and methodological arguments for adopting naturalism, but these are, in my view, extremely weak). The latter is becoming more apparent now that the resurgence of Christian philosophy has made it more difficult to justify intellectually the claim that belief in God is irrational.
Does one have to be a Christian in order to buy into your view of the human person?
One does not need to be a Christian theist to accept the analysis of human persons I defend in The Recalcitrant Imago Dei. But if that analysis is accepted, then one is obligated to offer an account concerning how human persons could be this way. In other words, one does not get a free pass in their ontology of the human person. One has to tell a broad worldview story, including a creation account, within which that ontology is intelligible and plausible.
Stay tuned for part two. More about J.P. Moreland’s work can be found here.
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