Mind-Brain Dependence as Twofold Support for Atheism
Steven J. Conifer
[A somewhat shorter and significantly different version of this paper, entitled "Epiphenomenalism as Twofold Support for Atheism," was delivered before the fall 2000 meeting of the West Virginia Philosophical Society, held October 20-21 at Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, WV.]
My aim in this essay is to present two atheological arguments of the evidential variety which employ as their basis the plausibility of a broad, dualistic theory which I shall call "the Brain-dependence Theory" (to be abbreviated BDT). According to BDT, the existence of minds is dependent upon that of brains, i.e., without brains, there can be no minds. BDT is compatible with any dualistic theory (e.g., epiphenomenalism, interactionism, etc.) which takes the occurrence of brain events to be a necessary condition for the occurrence of mental events. It should be noted from the outset that what I shall call "hard materialism" (to be abbreviated HM), the theory that everything which exists (i.e., all existents, including thoughts, emotions, sensations, memories, propositions, laws/principles of logic, mathematical theorems, etc.) is reducible to matter/energy (specifically, certain brain states or events), would also suffice as a phenomenon upon which to ground the pair of arguments in question. That is, if it should be the case that HM (rather than BDT) is the correct view, those arguments would require only minor modifications so as to retain their soundness.
2. SUPPORT FOR BDT & HM
Many philosophers of past centuries and virtually all modern-day philosophers and neurophysiologists accept either BDT or HM. Those who have endorsed some version of the former include Ren0 Descartes, T.H. Huxley, Wilhelm Wundt, Laird Addis, Wilfrid Sellars, Frank Jackson, Jacques P. Thiroux, John Searle, David Chalmers, Thomas Nagel, Michael Tooley, and Theodore M. Drange. Among those who have espoused the latter are Thomas Hobbes, Gilbert Ryle, J.J.C. Smart, U.T. Place, Herbet Feigl, Karl Vogt, Donald Davidson, Paul and Patricia Churchland, and Daniel C. Dennett.
T.H. Huxley, the nineteenth-century English biologist and early epiphenomenalist who coined the term "agnostic," wrote this in 1874:
In an attempt to demonstrate the empirical impossibility of an afterlife, the philosopher Theodore Drange has constructed the following syllogism (which he dubs the "Brain-correlations Argument"):
(1) Studies have established such a strong correlation between brain events and mental events that it would be legitimate to declare the latter empirically impossible without the former.
(2) But, in an afterlife, there necessarily occur mental events without brain events.
(3) Hence, an afterlife is empirically impossible.
As Drange observes, "Scientists have determined that certain types of brain damage are always followed by a loss of mental function, which implies that total destruction of the brain results in total annihilation of the mind. And other correlations between brain and mind have been discovered, in addition to the brain-damage correlation."
Another philosopher who expresses this view is Jacques P. Thiroux, who writes: "When thoughts, imaginings, or sense experiences occur, neural (physical) processes are going on in the brain- no one can deny this. In fact, it seems to be true that thoughts never occur in the absence of neural processes and, moreover, that neural brain states or processes are absolutely necessary for the occurrence of thoughts and other mental events."
The Australian philosopher and materialist J.J.C. Smart cites both biological evolution and parsimony as two compelling reasons to embrace HM:
In what is perhaps his most famous book, Consciousness Explained (1991), Daniel C. Dennett, Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, argues forcefully for HM. He is harshly critical of dualism, about which he wrote this in 1994:
One philosopher who has conducted extensive research in the area of mind-brain dependence is Michael Tooley. He has presented five lines of evidence for the dependence of minds upon brains, which may be summarized as follows:
Keith Augustine puts it succinctly: "Modern science demonstrates the dependence of consciousness on the brain, verifying that the mind must die with the body."
Given all this, the conclusion that, at least insofar as our experience is concerned, nothing mental happens without the occurrence of a corresponding physical event appears all but inescapable. It should also be pointed out that the observed mind-brain dependence is mysterious and inexplicable on a theistic worldview (which traditionally includes as one of its integral components an appeal to some kind of a "soul," and on which, in light of its considerable emphasis upon the importance of the spiritual realm, the existence of physical organisms that reside within a physical universe itself seems quite peculiar, if not altogether pointless), while naturalism both predicts it and explains it (by way of biochemistry, biological evolution, and neurophysiology).
Let us now turn to an examination of our two arguments for God's nonexistence.
3. THE DISEMBODIED-MIND ARGUMENT (DMA) FORMULATED
(1) If God exists, then he is a disembodied mind.
(2) If BDT is true, then there cannot exist a disembodied mind.
(3) BDT is true.
(4) Therefore, there cannot exist a disembodied mind.
(5) Hence, God cannot not exist.
4. THE DISEMBODIED-AFTERLIFE ARGUMENT (DAA) FORMULATED
(1) If God exists, then there exists a disembodied afterlife.
(2) If BDT is true, then there cannot exist a disembodied afterlife.
(3) BDT is true.
(4) Therefore, there cannot exist a disembodied afterlife.
(5) Hence, God cannot exist.
5. PREFATORY REMARKS ON DMA & DAA
The question might be raised whether the two arguments are valid. The relevant logical form is as follows:
(1) G -> D
(2) B -> ~D
(4) Therefore, ~D [from (2) & (3) by modus ponens]
(5) Hence, ~G [from (1) & (4) by modus tollens]
This is definitely a valid form. So, the obvious question is whether the arguments are sound. I shall take up that matter in sections 6-7.7, below.
First, though, certain terms need to be clarified. By "disembodied" I mean totally separate, or apart from, the body (including the brain). Hence, by "disembodied afterlife," I am referring to the mode (or state) of existence ensuing physical death to which most theists (e.g., Christians, Jews, and Muslims) generally subscribe. It would be a type of existence in which there occur mental events without brain events. We might call it a personal kind of afterlife, in which a person's identity, consciousness, memories, etc. are retained, in some way or another continuous throughout both his or her earthly existence and existence in the hereafter.
6. DAA'S PREMISE (1)
Let us now briefly consider DAA's premise (1). Why believe it? It is to be granted from the outset that there is no logically necessary correlation between God's existence and the existence of an afterlife. Thus, it is certainly open to the theist to simply deny DAA's premise (1) and thereby sidestep the argument. But that more than a handful of theists (if any) would actually make such a move seems quite unlikely. As numerous surveys have shown, the vast majority of those who believe in God (especially those within the Judeo-Christian tradition) believe that the two are somehow inextricably bound to one another, i.e., that if one does not exist, then neither one exists. Surely if one were able to demonstrate the nonexistence of an afterlife to the satisfaction of such theists, then probably most of them would acknowledge the untenability of their (particular ilk of) theism itself. And since the argument is undeniably valid (as was shown in section 5, above), so long as the theist accepts DAA's premise (1), the only remaining route by which he might reasonably endeavor to escape the argument's conclusion is to reject one or both of its premises (2) & (3). However, such an undertaking would be of no avail, for, as was shown in section 2, above, the latter premise receives excellent support of both a scientific and philosophical sort; and, as shall be borne out in sections 7.1-7.7, below, attempts to controvert premise (2) of both DMA & DAA seem hugely inauspicious.
It should be observed that the existence of an afterlife is integral to a (classical) theistic worldview. Consequently, if the idea of life following physical (reducible) death is removed from that worldview, then the worldivew itself inescapably crumbles. It is rather akin to the situation of Adam and Jesus. As A.J. Mattill, Jr. writes in his book The Seven Mighty Blows to Traditional Beliefs:
Analogously, BDT ("the neurophysiological blow," we might say) knocks out (classical) theism with two stiff jabs: DMA dissolves the notion of a disembodied mind (i.e., God) and DAA the notion of a disembodied afterlife (i.e., heaven). As Paul Kurtz has recently written on the subject, "[F]or the great supernatural religions of the world- Christianity, Judaism, and Islam- belief in an afterlife and the promise of heaven are central." It is at adherents of those religions (and the conventional beliefs thereof) that my DAA is directed. For such theists (viz., the overwhelming majority of people who believe in a personal deity of some sort), I submit that DAA presents a forceful and potentially insurmountable challenge.
7.1. DMA'S PREMISE (2) & DAA'S PREMISE (2)
As I hope to have already established beyond a reasonable doubt the truth of premise (3) of both DMA & DAA (in section 2, above), I shall devote the remainder of my essay to a defense of their second premises. It would be expedient to take them up concurrently, as they are analogous to one another and thus can be defended in analogous ways.
As both BDT & HM necessitate that a brain exist in order for a mind also to exist, those premises strike me as indubitably true. Inevitably, however, the theist shall broach the issue of "souls," so allow me to quickly dispose of it. I myself have no comprehension whatever of what a "soul" is supposed to be. The notion seems irretrievably obscure and nebulous and hence devoid of any real content or meaning. Naturally, then, it defies any sort of analytical scrutiny or substantive assessment. As Theodore Drange writes:
Michael Martin evidently concurs, writing:
Another philosopher who shares this outlook is C.D. Broad, who says the following:
But what about the possibility of an embodied afterlife? It might be argued that since the whole Christian doctrine of resurrection involves, not a disembodied, but an embodied afterlife, that doctrine could easily accommodate the view that all mental events that occur in an afterlife do so within the context of the resurrection and therefore within brains. Nonetheless, as Theodore Drange explains, this reply is insufficient, for it fails to account for one's consciousness in the interim between his or her earthly (i.e., pre-resurrection) and heavenly (i.e., post-resurrection) modes of existence:
Certainly that is correct, and I should think that premise (2) of both DMA & DAA has been adequately supported. Albeit, the theist shall almost assuredly raise at least one of three objections here (call them O1, O2, & O3):
With respect to O1, the four sources of alleged evidence for an afterlife which are most commonly cited are NDEs (near-death experiences), OBEs (out-of-body experiences), reports of spirits or apparitions (i.e., "ghost sightings"), and supposed instances of reincarnation (i.e., "past-life memories"). As regards O2, typically it takes the form of some version or another of what I shall call "the Argument from Human Consciousness for the Existence of God" (AHC), which endeavors to show that sentient beings could not have evolved (or come to be) without divine intervention. And as for O3, it is essentially nothing more than a sheer appeal to ignorance, though an objection which needs to be considered all the same.
In what follows, I shall first address O1 by means of dividing it into four individual objections (each dealing with one of the four parapsychological phenomena mentioned above), then examine O2 & O3, and, finally, offer a brief recapitulation of those points of my essay which I take to be most salient.
7.2. THE NDE OBJECTION (NDO) FORMULATED & REFUTED
NDO may be formulated as a simple (modus ponens) syllogism, thus:
(B) is the premise to be attacked here, of course. What reason is there to believe that NDEs are, in fact, veridical? I would say that there is none whatever, and that, furthermore, there are several reasons to believe that NDEs are not veridical.
Keith Augustine offers a clear, thorough explanation and refutation of NDO (as part of what he calls the "survival hypothesis," which asserts that the human personality will continue to exist in some form after the death of the physical body) in his article "The Case Against Immortality," in which he writes this:
In his 1997 book Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time, Michael Shermer proffers the following account of various drugs and the striking similarity between their usual effects and some of the most common elements of NDEs:
In addition to all of these alternate (naturalistic) explanations for the principal features of NDEs, there are at least a dozen various facts (some of which pertain to those mentioned in the passages from Augustine's article and Shermer's book, above) which strongly suggest that NDEs are almost certainly a purely naturalistic phenomenon, viz., that they are not veridical:
As Augustine concludes, "In the case of immortality, the extinction hypothesis is supported by strong and incontrovertible evidence from the hard experimental data of physiological psychology, whereas the survival hypothesis is supported at best by weak and questionable anecdotal evidence from parapsychology." (Original italics)
Clearly, then, premise (B) of NDO is false, which makes that argument unsound. It appears that advocates of O1 will need to pursue a different objection, to which I now turn.
7.3. THE OBE OBJECTION (OBO) FORMULATED & REFUTED
OBO, like NDO, can be formulated as a simple modus ponens:
Again, the premise to be disputed is (B). Is there any better evidence for OBEs than there is for NDEs? Again, my answer is negative. Moreover, as in the case of NDEs, there is excellent support for the hypothesis that OBEs are anything but veridical.
The evidence against the veridicality of OBEs is similar to the evidence against that of NDEs. As Augustine writes:
The former parapsychologist Susan Blackmore sums up the results of investigations into OBEs: "There is no real evidence for psi in OBEs, there is no evidence of anything leaving the body, and there is no evidence of effects caused by out-of-body persons" (Blackmore, "Elusive" 132). Experiments designed to detect a double during OBEs have yielded negative results:
Parapsychologists "have even used animals and human 'detectors,' but no one has yet succeeded in detecting anything reliably" (Blackmore, "Near-Death" 38). Another type of experiment was designed to determine if OBE subjects can retrieve information from a remote location. Blackmore concludes that:
It seems that the evidence is more consistent with a psychological model of OBEs:
According to this model, "if the OBE occurs when the normal model of reality is replaced by a bird's-eye view constructed from memory, then people who have OBEs should be better able to use such views in memory and in imagery" (Blackmore, "Elusive" 133).
Michael Shermer has this to say:
In addition to all of these empirical obstacles to OBO, there exist all sorts of conceptual problems with the very nature of OBEs. For instance, it is terribly unclear what seeing without eyes, or even a head, might amount to. If there is no head to impede the OBEer's vision, then does he see in all directions simultaneously? Moreover, does he see from a specific position? If so, then just what is it that is located there with which he sees? Presumably there are no eyes (or anything similar) with which he might do it, so what exactly is there in that specific spot that could do it? Likewise, how, in the absence of a physical body, might he distinguish between actual sounds (or noises) and mere auditory hallucinations? Indeed, how could communication occur under such conditions at all? Does the OBEer rely upon some kind of mental telepathy? If so, then what exactly is that and just how is it supposed to work? That is, how does the receiver of the "telepathic message" (or whatever it might be) recognize the sender of that message, or even that it is a message at all? These are not but trivial matters of detail; rather, they are fundamental conceptual issues. As Theodore Drange comments, "There are many such puzzles which arise, and for which people who report [OBEs] have not as yet... provided solutions."
In view of all this, it seems most reasonable to declare that OBO's premise (B) is false, which makes that argument unsound. As OBO has proven no more promising than NDO, above, it looks as if proponents of O1 will again have to shift their focus to a different line of attack. Let us now see how they might do that.
7.4. THE APPARITION OBJECTION (AO) FORMULATED & REFUTED
AO can be set up in the same manner as NDO and OBO, as follows:
(B) Reports of apparitions (i.e., "ghost sightings") are veracious.
Obviously, premise (B) is the place at which AO, too, can be most readily attacked. Augustine observes the following:
In Weird Things, Shermer draws a rather comical comparison between ghosts and scientific laws:
I should think it quite safe to assert that AO's premise (B) is erroneous, thus rendering that argument unsound. Given the failure of NDO, OBO, & AO, above, advocates of O1, in a last-ditch effort to salvage it, might throw up one final objection, which I shall now proceed to scrutinize.
7.5. THE PAST-LIFE OBJECTION (PO) FORMULATED & REFUTED
Like its predecessors, PO can be constructed syllogistically by means of a modus ponens:
Once more, (B) is by far the most vulnerable premise, and therefore the one to be undercut. Augustine provides these remarks:
In his 1990 book Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, Michael Martin propounds this assessment of claims regarding reincarnation:
Theodore Drange sums up the (very likely insuperable) difficulties with both PO and O1 itself as follows:
All of these points seem most reasonable. Plainly, then, premise (B) of PO is false, which makes that argument unsound.
It has thus been shown that NDO, OBO, AO, & PO, above, are all insufficient to overcome premise (2) of either DMA or DAA. Hence, O1, expounded above, is a failure.
7.61. AHC FORMULATED
Many Christian philosophers (e.g., Richard Swinburne) advocate a theistic argument which has begun of late to garner considerable popularity in the literature. The argument is one from human consciousness, i.e., it appeals to the phenomenon of human consciousness as its main premise. That phenomenon, so the argument goes, is somehow unlikely or perhaps even impossible on the assumption of atheism (or naturalism). Let us call this argument "the Argument from Human Consciousness for the Existence of God" (AHC). There are various versions AHC, some more far-reaching than others. For the purposes of the present essay, however, the argument may be formulated quite simply, as follows:
Obviously, AHC poses a direct threat to both DMA & DAA inasmuch as the truth of the former's (i.e., AHC's) premise (B) would ipso facto defeat the latter (i.e., DMA & DAA). Naturally, then, we shall need to investigate AHC to the extent that it might be invoked in an effort to disprove our two atheological arguments.
7.62. THE AHC OBJECTION (AHCO) FORMULATED
Employing AHC as its basis, AHCO can be derived thus:
7.63. THE BURDEN-OF-PROOF REPLY
The onus of proving AHC's premise (B), and, in turn, AHCO's premise (a), rests squarely with the advocate of AHC. To simply advance it as a flat matter of fact is question-begging. In other words, since the premise in question is far from obviously true (indeed, it is profoundly controversial), the advocate of AHC must somehow demonstrate that it is true. Until he or she does so, advocates of DMA & DAA, in light of the substantial support for BDT & HM provided in section 2, above, are amply justified in maintaining the truth of each argument's premise (2) and thus the soundness of those arguments themselves.
7.64. THE INVALIDITY REPLY
AHC's step (C) does not follow from its premise (B). Even assuming that theism can adequately explain the fact at hand (i.e., human consciousness) and that atheism (or naturalism) cannot, it by no means follows from that alone that only theism can adequately explain that fact. That is, there are alternatives to theism other than atheism (or naturalism) and nontheism in general (the category to which both agnosticism and noncognitivism belong) which may also be able to adequately explain it. Take, for example, pantheism, deism, and the myriad breeds of polytheism which have abounded (and, to varying degrees, still do) in the dominant religions and philosophies of the East. How might it be that, say, the god of deism or the Hindu god Vishnu (or even the Norse god Thor) could not adequately explain it? I see no reason whatever why none of those deities should be able to sufficiently account for it, yet none of them is the god of (classical) theism. Hence, the inference from AHC's premise (B) to its step (C) is invalid, thus rendering that argument unsound. It follows that premise (a) of AHCO is false, which makes that argument unsound.
7.65. THE OBSCURITY & INADEQUACY REPLIES
It is not at all clear that the first part of AHC's premise (B) is true, i.e., that theism can indeed adequately explain human consciousness, especially since most advocates of AHC (as well as the vast majority of theists in general) conceive of God as a transcendent being and transcendent beings are supposed to exist outside space and time. There is a certain conceptual difficulty here, namely, how a being who is outside time might do any thinking or acting at all. Thinking and acting, as they are commonly understood, both necessarily (viz., by definition) involve time. Thus, the claim that God, so defined, performed some action(s) or conceived some thought(s) which resulted in the instantiation of human consciousness seems exceedingly nebulous, if not outright incoherent. But AHC presupposes precisely that claim. Consequently, AHC suffers from a certain kind of obscurity which renders it, at best, highly dubious.
There is also an empirical question which needs to be addressed, a kind of modus operandi problem. That is, AHC fails to supply any information concerning how God, presumably a transcendent being, supposedly brought about the phenomenon at issue, i.e., human consciousness. Hence, it is an explanation which is grossly incomplete (assuming one could even properly regard it to be explanation at all, which is certainly debatable). By failing to elucidate the matter of just how, exactly, God allegedly accomplished the feat in question, AHC implicitly proclaims it to be a "great mystery." But in the words of Theodore Drange, "The purpose of explanation is to dispel mystery, not introduce it."
Due to both its obscurity and inadequacy, AHC ought to be rejected, and thus AHCO along with it.
7.66. THE ATHEISTIC (OR NATURALISTIC)-EXPLANATION REPLY
While it may be difficult or even impossible to conclusively establish it, a strong case could be made for the contention that, contrary to what the latter half of AHC's premise (B) states, atheism (or naturalism) can, in fact, adequately explain the fact under scrutiny (i.e., human consciousness). As Drange notes:
Michael Martin shares this view, writing:
As regards Swinburne's theistic account of consciousness, Martin explicates its defects as follows:
In addition to all of this, even if one accepts theistic personal explanations in general, critical questions remain concerning theistic personal explanations of psychophysical correlations in particular. As the late philosopher J.L. Mackie put it:
Furthermore, a supernatural personal explanation is perfectly consistent with the correlations between brain states and mental states' being occasioned by the deliberate action(s) of either a finite deity or a number of finite deities. Hence, AHC fails to show that consciousness can be explained only by positing the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, and transcendent deity who created and rules the entire universe, viz., the god of classical theism.
In his 1996 book Is There a God?, Swinburne writes the following:
There are several problems with this. First of all, Swinburne seems, to a considerable degree, to just presuppose the falsity of HM, stating simply that "[t]hat view seems obviously false" and that the truth of dualism "stares us in the face." But that HM is indeed false (or even improbable) is no way obvious. As was shown in section 2, above, myriad philosophers and scientists, far from regarding it as absurd, find it extremely compelling (especially in light of its simplicity). The most notable among them is surely Daniel Dennett, who would doubtless deem Swinburne's markedly cavalier dismissal of HM to be both egregiously unfounded and rather archetypal of many theistic philosophers' indefensible inclination to write off the outlook as manifestly bogus when it is anything but. Such a dogmatic approach may be effective when addressing an audience whose members share the given bias, but it simply won't do as an argument which purports to have a broad dialectic value and which aims to persuade a neutral, even marginally scientifically astute individual.
Second, Swinburne's remarks (particularly his last) fail to acknowledge the significant progress which scientists have made in their efforts to explain consciousness in a strictly materialist context, as discussed by Drange, above. His (Swinburne's) claim that "[t]here simply is no possible scientific discovery which anyone could ever imagine which would explain why it happened this way rather than that way" is a mere assertion, in no way whatever supported by any scientific data. Nor is there anything inherently contradictory in the notion that there should occur just such a discovery. It would seem, then, that his claim is not only groundless, but flat-out false.
Third, suppose for a moment that science really were incapable (even in principle) of making the discovery at hand (which, of course, it is not). Could it not simply be a brute fact that what Swinburne describes "happened this way rather than that way"? I do not offhand see any reason to disbelieve so, and certainly Swinburne provides no reason to that effect. Not only does it seem intuitively correct to suppose that certain phenomena should ultimately have no explanation at all, but quantum physics has demonstrated already that at least a few such phenomena really do occur (e.g., the moment at which a subatomic particle begins to exist, the decay of a given atomic nucleus at a particular time, etc.). So, even supposing that Swinburne were right about what he says in the above passage (i.e., that it is somehow inconceivable that science should discover an explanation for the phenomenon in question), there would still be no reason to accept his conclusion that only God could adequately account for why certain brain states give rise to certain (corresponding) mental states (assuming, of course, that the latter exist at all).
In his older and much more comprehensive tome, The Existence of God, Swinburne says this:
There are numerous difficulties with this line of argumentation as well. The foremost among them is that it succumbs to analogues of the "Burden-of-proof," "Invalidity," and "Obscurity & Inadequacy" replies, above. An almost equally grave flaw which plagues it is the immense unclarity surrounding the kind of theistic personal explanations of psychophysical correlations to which Mackie alludes in the passage cited above.
Moreover, as the philosopher Quentin Smith has aptly observed, we could just as well let the "h" in Swinburne's formula (which derives from Bayes's theorem) represent the hypothesis that "there exists a mostly malevolent deity" as we could theism, i.e., the hypothesis that "there exists an omnibenevolent deity." Thus, by replacing
h = there exists a perfectly good god
h' = there exists a largely unloving god
and then modifying the given formula so that it states
we would arrive at the conclusion that h' is more probable than ~h' (i.e., a largely unloving god is more probable than the hypothesis that there exists no such god). Ergo, if we accept Swinburne's claim that consciousness is improbable barring divine intervention, then we may of h' precisely what Swinburne says of h, namely, that P(e/h'.k) > p(e/k). And while certainly there is no reason whatever to suppose h' better evidentially supported than its negation (since there is no reason whatever to accept Swinburne's claim), given the vast amount of (ostensibly) gratuitous suffering and premature death in the world and the absence of a satisfactory theodicy, there is every reason to suppose it better evidentially supported than h. Put another way, in light of the available data, h' is plainly more prima facie likely than is h. (Obviously, a mostly malevolent god would desire a universe with intelligent life no less than would one who is perfectly good, as the actualization of moral evil necessitates the existence of intelligent life no less than does the actualization of moral good; a being cannot inflict its malevolence upon inanimate matter, yet most certainly can do so upon intelligent creatures capable of suffering and premature death.) Hence, we may reasonably assert that P(e/h'.k) > P(e/h.k).
But isn't this paradoxical? How could the same evidence confirm equally well two incompatible hypotheses? As Quentin Smith explains:
Needless to say, however, such an implication of his formula was hardly one that Swinburne anticipated; and, to be sure, it shows to be unsuccessful his effort to employ that formula so as to prove h more probable than ~h.
Furthermore, the "h" need not stand for a hypothesis which posits the existence of any deity, whether benevolent or otherwise. Suppose, instead, that it were to designate the following:
h'' = there exists a species of exceedingly intellectually and technologically advanced extraterrestrials who somehow (covertly) endowed human beings with consciousness
Again, by performing the appropriate substitution and modification, we could produce the formula P(e/h''.k) and thereby reach the conclusion that P(e/h''.k) > P(e/h.k), viz., that h'' is more probable than h (i.e., that the hypothesis that there exists a species of exceedingly intellectually and technologically advanced aliens who somehow [covertly] endowed human beings with consciousness is more probable than the hypothesis that there exists a perfectly good god). Since h'' is at least equal in scope, simplicity, and fruitfulness to h, and because the former is undoubtedly less obscure (or conceptually problematic) than the latter, it seems reasonable enough to declare H'' explanatorily superior to h and thus (if only slightly) the more plausible of the two hypotheses. It follows that P(e/h''.k) > P(e/h.k), or, at least, that P(e/h''.k) = P(e/h.k). Clearly, then, Swinburne's formula does absolutely nothing to bolster the case even for supernaturalism, let alone (classical) theism.
In addition, while perhaps somewhat plausible two decades ago, Swinburne's claim that scientists cannot link mental events with neurophysiological states can no longer be sustained. Admittedly, due to the complexity of the brain and the difficulty in observing live brain processes, it is no easy task. Nevertheless, in recent years it has become possible to observe and measure certain thought processes and the reciprocal chemical and electrical events in the brain. Memory locations of certain thoughts have been ascertained, and progress in this field is rapidly accelerating (especially with the aid of such machines as magnetic resonance devices), with technological breakthroughs occurring regularly. Thus, although the correlations between some mental events and neurophysiological states cannot as yet be clearly determined, it is nonetheless virtually indisputable that they do exist. By way of analogy, while we are not as yet able to fully understand all the complex interactions which occur in global weather patterns, it would be quite absurd to declare that those interactions do not really take place. For example, merely because we cannot predict with much (if any) accuracy the course of a cyclone, we should hardly assert that there exist no meteorological regularities which govern that course, or that it is impossible that we should one day discover them. Similarly, we cannot assume that simply because scientists cannot as yet identify all the correlations between mental events and neurophysiological states, those correlations do not exist. To be sure, the scope of mind-brain correlations which has already been established is more than sufficient to support the contention that such correlations exist even in those cases where they are not readily discernible.
Furthermore, Swinburne's claim that "it is improbable that the world should just have the kind of complexity with which a dictionary of mind-body connections would set out, without some explanation" suffers from both a certain vagueness of its own and an entirely unfounded (implicit) assumption. As regards the vagueness, it arises from his mention of "complexity," a matter which certainly admits of considerable subjectivity: what one person takes to be complex another may very well regard to be quite simple (and vice versa), and there seems to be no objective procedure whereby either of them might prove the other mistaken. With respect to the assumption, it is one to which I made reference earlier, namely, that the phenomenon in question (i.e., the peculiar manner in which the mind and brain interact, assuming they do at all) must have some explanation. However, as was explained above, that simply isn't so, for it might very well be that that phenomenon is just a brute fact in the same way that the acausal behavior of subatomic particles and atomic nuclei appears to be such. At the very least, Swinburne does not acknowledge this possibility, which he most assuredly ought to.
Yet another objection to Swinburne's argument, above, is that many philosophers, including some eminent theists, outright reject the notion that any hypothesis has any a priori probability whatever. Others simply deny that theism and naturalism in particular have intrinsic, a priori probabilities. An example of the former is the theistic philosopher Alvin Plantinga, who rejects the view that hypotheses can have purely a priori probabilities. An example of the latter is the Christian theologian and philosopher John Hick, who regards theism and naturalism to be exhaustive, all-encompassing worldviews which, by virtue of their very comprehensiveness, preclude the existence of a neutral scale upon which might be weighed their relative probabilities. Swinburne fails to adequately address such objections.
Something also needs to be said about Swinburne's assertion that "for reasons of simplicity, the most probable personal explanation is one in terms of the agency of God... because such an explanation is in itself the simplest kind of personal explanation." First, as indicated in section 7.65, above, due to the colossal murkiness which afflicts the "God Hypothesis" itself, it is not at all clear, despite all that Swinburne says, that that hypothesis actually constitutes any explanation whatever. Furthermore, even if it were the case that that hypothesis is "in itself the simplest kind of personal explanation," I fail to see that it is the simplest explanation altogether. To be certain, postulating the existence of a seemingly superfluous entity (e.g., God) violates parsimony irrespective of how well that entity might fit into some allegedly explanatory framework within which one happens to mistakenly operate. And clearly, in view of all that has been said, it may be reasonably submitted that no such additional entity need be postulated in order to adequately account for human consciousness. Hence, postulating any such entity would indeed require that one disregard parsimony, from which it follows that Swinburne's assertion is erroneous.
Finally, quite apart from AHC (whether Swinburne's particular version of it or any other), there is no good objective evidence that God exists. None of the theistic arguments which has ever been put forward in the public arena is any good. Conversely, there are literally dozens of atheological arguments which have yet to be clearly refuted, most notably the evidential Argument from Evil, Drange's Arguments from Nonbelief and Confusion, and the sundry Arguments from Incoherence.
As should be overwhelmingly evident by this point, AHC's premise (B) is utterly without merit. And, in any case, AHC is invalid, as was shown in section 7.64, above. Thus, the argument collapses, taking premise (a) of AHCO and therefore that argument itself down with it.
Hence, O2, expounded above, is a failure.
7.7. THE OTHER-MINDS OBJECTION (OMO) FORMULATED & REFUTED
OMO may be formulated thus:
The obvious reply to OMO is that it is inapplicable to DMA & DAA, since they are simply evidential arguments and as such purport merely to show that there is good reason to accept their conclusions. That is, they claim their premises to be true, but by no means indubitable. Hence, possibilist objections such as OMO fail to undermine either argument.
But suppose that the advocate of OMO were to take the objection a step further and, in place of its premise (B), put forward the (substantially bolder) claim that not only is it possible that there exists some mind (or set of minds) which requires no brain in order to exist, but that it is probable that there exists such a mind (or set of minds); and hence that it is not only possible that premise (2) of both DMA & DAA is false (and therefore possible that both arguments are unsound), but that it is probable that that premise is false (and therefore probable that both arguments are unsound). If said advocate were to indeed make such a move, then OMO would become a different argument altogether, and its advocate would then assume the onus of proving the given claim. How he might go about doing that is unclear. However, it seems likely that such an endeavor would be doomed from the outset, since, by the very nature of the case, whatever hypothesis he might appeal to as support for that claim would be purely speculative. By contrast, BDT is supported by both cogent philosophical arguments and hard scientific data. Therefore, we may safely conclude that even this more audacious form of OMO poses no appreciable threat to premise (2) of either DMA or DAA.
Hence, O3, expounded above, is a failure.
In section 2, I argued that work in the fields of both neurophysiology and the philosophy of mind lends strong support to both BDT & HM, citing several experts in those fields so as to corroborate that claim.
In section 6, I defended DAA's premise (1), presenting what I regard to be a convincing case that the (probable) impossibility of a disembodied afterlife may be legitimately appealed to as a foundation upon which can be constructed a sound atheological argument: since the majority of theists believe God's existence and the existence of an afterlife to be inextricably bound to one another, the nonexistence of the latter, itself proven beyond a reasonable doubt by way of DMA, entails the falsity of at least most theists' belief in God (viz., insofar as those theists subscribe to the existence of a deity one of whose essential properties is that of having provided humanity with an afterlife, DMA refutes their particular ilk of theism by virtue of demonstrating that probably survival of physical [reducible] death is impossible, from which it follows that probably no such deity exists); and, furthermore, that because the existence of an afterlife is indispensable to a (classical) theistic worldview, it may be persuasively contended that, given the nonexistence of an afterlife, that worldview is itself groundless.
In sections 7.1-7.5, I first propounded and then proceeded to rebut the first of three objections (O1-O3, above) to premise (2) of both DMA & DAA, showing to be bogus the claim that there exists some sort of empirical evidence for an afterlife (and thus counterevidence to that premise) which outright invalidates them. As we saw in those sections, all four of the parapsychological phenomena which we examined can be explained naturalistically and, ergo, none of them constitutes any proof whatever for the plausibility of either disembodied minds or a disembodied afterlife.
In sections 7.61-7.66, I first propounded and then proceeded to rebut the second of the three aforementioned objections to premise (2) of both DMA & DAA, advancing four replies to AHC by means of which I both attacked its premise (B) and exposed its invalidity, thereby showing it (and hence AHCO itself) to be unsound. As was abundantly demonstrated, not only is the theist unable to prove that human consciousness is somehow unlikely (let alone impossible) on the assumption of atheism (or naturalism), but he is unable even to substantiate the claims that:
(i) only the god of (classical) theism could have brought about human consciousness, and
(ii) the god of (classical) theism (especially when viewed as a transcendent being) could, in fact, bring about that phenomenon.
Moreover, no theist has yet to satisfactorily resolve either the conceptual problem of how a being who exists outside space and time is supposed to have performed any action or conceived any thought (both of which, by definition, involve time) or the empirical difficulty of just how, exactly, God (whether transcendent or not) should have performed the feat in question (i.e., how, exactly, he went about endowing human beings with consciousness). Invalid, unsound, and explanatorily bankrupt, AHC is a transparent failure.
In section 7.7., I first propounded and then proceeded to rebut the third of the three aforementioned objections to premise (2) of both DMA & DAA, demonstrating that OMO is patently untenable, as there is simply no evidence whatever for any mind (or set of minds) which can exist in the absence of brains, whereas BDT is amply justified on both scientific and philosophical grounds.
Accordingly, I conclude that both DMA & DAA constitute strong evidential arguments for the nonexistence of God.
 T. H. Huxley, "On the Hypothesis that Animals are Automata, and its History" (1874), The Fortnightly Review, n.s.16:555-580. Reprinted in Method and Results: Essays by Thomas H. Huxley (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1898).
 Theodore M. Drange, Nonbelief & Evil: Two Arguments for the Nonexistence of God (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1998), p. 375.
 Ibid., 375.
 Jacques P. Thiroux, Philosophy: Theory and Practice (N.Y.: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1985), p. 87.
 J.J.C. Smart, "Materialism," Journal of Philosophy, 22 (October 1963), p. 660.
 Daniel C. Dennett, "Consciousness in Human and Robot Minds," (<URL:http://ase.tufts.edu/cogstud/papers/concrobt.htm).
 Michael Tooley, "Opening Statement" in William Lane Craig and Michael Tooley debate, "Does God Exist?" (<URL:http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/craig-tooley2.html>, 1994).
 Keith Augustine, "The Case Against Immortality," (<URL:http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/keith_augustine/immortality.html>).
 I should like to underscore that my arguments are merely evidential, viz., it is not my claim that these are deductively valid (or conclusive) arguments, but rather, only that the inferences from their premises (1)-(3) to their steps (4) & (5) are of a strong inductive sort.
 Suppose "mind" were replaced by "being." Would DMA retain its soundness? I should certainly think so, for, so far as we know, a being may consist of a maximum of two constituents: matter and mind. (Regarding "souls," see section 7.1, above.) And since, as demonstrated in section 2, minds cannot exist apart from matter (viz., brains), every conscious being must possess some physical appendage (viz., a brain). As regards the possibility that God perhaps possesses some physical appendage (and thus is himself physical at least in part), two points should be made: first, virtually no theist conceives of God as having any such (physical) appendage, so the issue is largely moot; and second, since a deity, by definition, differs from humans not merely in degree but in kind, the notion of "God" as a (partly) corporeal being not only departs so radically from ordinary usage of that term as to scarcely resemble what nearly all theists mean by it, but fails even to capture the essence of the aforementioned definition itself.
 This may be viewed as a sort of stipulative definition of "God," which could be stated thus: "God" = "a being who has (among other things) provided humanity with a disembodied afterlife." If a theist (e.g., a Jehovah's Witness) rejects this (stipulative) definition, then it is to be granted that DAA is inapplicable to his particular concept of God and therefore his particular ilk of (likely generic) theism.
 See, especially, Michael Shermer, How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science (New York, N.Y.: W.H. Freeman and Company, 2000), pp. 22-23, 251.
 A.J. Mattill, Jr., The Seven Mighty Blows to Traditional Beliefs (The Flatwoods Free Press: Gordo, Alabama, 1995), p. 53.
 Paul Kurtz, "The New Paranatural Paradigm: Claims of Communicating with the Dead," Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 24, No. 6 (November/December 2000), p. 28.
 Drange, p. 371.
 Michael Martin, "Problems With Heaven," (<URL:http://www.infidels.org/libary/modern/michael_martin/heaven.html>).
 C.D. Broad, "On Survival Without a Body" (Immortality, Paul Edwards [editor], New York: Macmillan, 1992), p. 278. See, also, Keith Augustine, "The Case Against Immortality," (<URL:http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/keith_augustine/immortality.html>).
Augustine presents several cogent philosophical and scientific arguments against both the empirical and conceptual possibility of a disembodied afterlife in this excellent essay.
 Drange, p. 376.
 Augustine, "The Case Against Immortality."
 Michael Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time (New York, N.Y.: W.H. Freeman and Company, 1997), p. 80.
 Ibid., pp. 81-82.
 Augustine, "The Case Against Immortality."
 Shermer, pp. 80-81.
 Drange, pp. 368, 377
 Augustine, "The Case Against Immortality"
 Shermer, p. 33.
 Augustine, "The Case Against Immortality."
 Michael Martin, Atheism: A Philosophical Justification (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990), pp. 449-450.
 Drange, p. 377.
 It is not my claim that this is a precise formulation of Swinburne's argument from consciousness per se. Rather, it constitutes merely my attempt to construct an argument which accurately represents a more general form of Swinburne's, viz., any argument which proceeds from the premise that, given atheism (or naturalism), human consciousness is either unlikely or else impossible.
 See Drange, "Atheism, Agnosticism, Noncognitivism," (<URL:http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/theodore_drange/definition.html>).
 Drange, Writings Regarding the Bible (1998), p. 103.
 Drange, "The Drange-Wilson Debate: Dr. Drange's First Rebuttal," (<URL:http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/theodore_drange/drange1.html>).
 Martin, pp. 218-219.
 Ibid., p. 220.
 J.L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), pp. 130-131.
 Richard Swinburne, Is There a God? (New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 89.
 Ibid., p. 39.
 Swinburne, The Existence of God (New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 1979), p. 166.
 While later in his 1996 book (pp. 71-77) Swinburne does make a rather flimsy attempt to defend two common dualistic arguments (namely, those which appeal to the so-called "privileged access" which a person has to his mental states and theoretical brain transplants), both of those arguments are highly controversial and their chief premises are enormously vulnerable to challenges from hard materialists such as Dennett. To all but assume them to be true (as Swinburne does to a large extent, arguing for them in only a very sketchy fashion) is question-begging. This is also so in the case of his argument from phenomenal properties (e.g., "blueness, painfulness, smelling of roses"), to which he appeals on pp. 164-166 of his larger book, The Existence of God.
 Swinburne, The Existence of God (New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 1979), pp. 173-174.
 Quentin Smith, "The Anthropic Coincidence, Evil, and the Disconfirmation of Theism," (<URL:http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/quentin_smith/anthropic.html>)
 See, especially, Drange's Nonbelief & Evil: Two Arguments for the Nonexistence of God.
 Smith, "The Anthropic Coincidence, Evil, and the Disconfirmation of Theism"
 Alvin Plantinga, "The Probabilistic Argument from Evil," Philosophical Studies, Vol. 35, #1 (1979).
 John Hick, Arguments for the Existence of God (London: Macmillan, 1970), pp. 32-33.
 For thorough refutations of the theistic arguments in question, see (<URL:http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/theism/arguments.html>)
 To access these and other atheological arguments, see (<URL:http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/nontheism/atheism/arguments.html>)
 At the risk of beating a dead horse, I would be remiss if I failed to mention Michael Martin's potent and rather clever parody of TAG (an argument rather akin to AHC), which he calls TANG ("the Transcendental Argument for the Nonexistence of God"). It is located on the Secular Web at
 I am indebted to Theodore M. Drange, Jeffery Jay Lowder, Wes Morriston, and Keith Augustine for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this essay.
Steven J. Conifer is the president of R.U.S.H. (Rationalists United for Secular Humanism) at Marshall University in Huntington, WV and can be reached via e-mail at email removed.
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