This basic approach, subject to wide variation, is characteristic of the strategy of assimilation that is the hallmark of the religious mind. This involves a predatory appropriation of this-worldly phenomena in an effort to recast them as projections sourced in alleged otherworldly forces, thereby presumably vindicating belief in the supernatural. And yet, the strands of inference from this world to a world essentially contradicting it are, to put it mildly, as fleeting and opaque as a forgotten dream.
Anderson begins framing his case by having the reader focus on what most people take for granted as a base point:
Pause for a moment and reflect on what you’re doing right now. You’re looking at a page in a book. You’re reading words, strung together into sentences, and you’re interpreting those sentences to grasp their meanings. Some of those sentences make assertions, and you’re subconsciously evaluating those assertions, considering whether they’re true or false. (WSIBC, pp. 119-120)
Anderson continues his description of the reading experience:
While those internal mental processes are going on, you’re also experiencing various sensory impressions from your immediate environment. You can see the shapes of the letters on the page. You’re conscious of the contrast between the text and the background. You can also feel the weight and texture of the book as you hold it in your hand and run your fingers over its surfaces. If you shift your attention, you’ll become aware of the distinct sounds around you, such as people talking nearby, background music, or traffic in the distance. Perhaps the taste of your last meal or cup of coffee lingers in your mouth. I could go on, but you get the point: at each moment you’re subject to a vivid, multifaceted, conscious experience of the world, not to mention thousands of complex internal thought processes. (p. 120)
Anderson then starts drawing some preliminary conclusions:
All of this is possible only because you possess a conscious mind distinct from your physical body. Indeed, you’re not merely a conscious being – you’re a self-conscious being. You’re conscious of your own consciousness. You’re able to reflect on your own conscious experiences. You’re able to think about your own thought processes. (p. 120)
The case Anderson wants to present here clearly centers on the concept of ‘mind’. So, going back to my original questions that I had set before myself as I embarked on my journey through Anderson’s book (see here), let us ask: Does Anderson define what he means by ‘mind’? While Anderson certainly describes certain functions attributable to a mind, I could not find a definition of ‘mind’ per se in his book; nor have I ever found one anywhere in the Christian bible. It seems ironic for apologists on the one hand to point out to thinkers today what they take for granted while ignoring on the other the fact that the writers of the bible themselves took so much for granted, and yet those same apologists are apparently not very concerned about that. For reference, let’s see what a standard dictionary definition of ‘mind’ is:
a : the element or complex of elements in an individual that feels, perceives, thinks, wills, and especially reasons
b : the conscious mental events and capabilities in an organism
c : the organized conscious and unconscious adaptive mental activity of an organism
Thus I find the notion that a mind as such is a separate entity quite suspect, for it fails to take into account the fact that the distinguishing feature of a mind is action. We do not treat other actions as entities, whether it’s swimming, walking, hiking, chopping, or otherwise. One may ask what performs the activity distinctive of a mind, and the answer is that the individual organism which possesses the consciousness associated with the mind in question is what performs that activity. This is the basic thrust behind mind-body integration: man is “an indivisible entity of matter and consciousness” (Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged).
A mind is something one develops volitionally as he matures in life. This starts from one’s earliest waking moments of consciousness and involves a lifelong series of choices, and once that process is set in motion, save for trauma or devastating illness, there’s really no going back. In one’s formative years, the choices one makes are often not very well informed choices – we have to learn as we go. But an uninformed choice is still a choice. The most primitive choice is the choice to focus – to isolate in one’s awareness some object or set of objects as against a background of objects. For a child this may be his mother’s person, actions, or words, a meal, a toy, a pet, a bug on the floor, and so on. Most often the first objects of focus are those which move against a background. If you stare at a blank sheet of paper, eventually your vision gets lost in a sea of undifferentiated whiteness. If you drop an ant on that sheet of paper, your focus will follow the ant’s movements. This is almost irresistible, but the mere sustaining of this focus is a choice. As one philosopher once put it, consciousness is essentially a difference detector.
As we would expect, Anderson seeks to tie these observations to his theism:
What does any of this have to do with God? The argument I want to develop in this section was hinted at in the previous section, where I argued that reason itself is reason to believe in God. There is, of course, a close connection between mind and reason. A mind is a prerequisite for reason. Only beings with minds have the ability to reason, because reasoning necessarily involves beliefs and ideas. Reasoning requires thoughts, and thoughts exist only in minds. Furthermore, minds exhibit consciousness, which offers a distinctive first-person perspective on the world. Each of us has a conscious perspective on the world that’s unique and distinct from everyone else’s. As beings with minds as well as bodies, we’re able to have experiences of the world and to revise our beliefs and ideas accordingly. (WSIBC, p. 121)
Generally, it appears that Anderson’s argument here is essentially: “Human beings have minds, therefore the God of Christianity exists,” or something along these lines. But if this is essentially what he wants to argue, he has a lot of unfinished business to tend to. For it’s stubbornly unclear exactly how the desired conclusion is supposed to follow from the fact that human beings have minds. It seems that there are numerous unstated premises here. And it doesn’t take a lot of scratching to uncover some very faulty premises indeed.
An important background presupposition of Anderson’s case here involves what is known as the mind-body dichotomy. Binswanger exposes this fallacy as follows:
…the biological function of reason has not been widely understood or appreciated. The long Platonic tradition, still gripping the intellectual world, holds that reason is concerned with “higher,” “spiritual” matters, not the allegedly “materialistic” issues of life on this earth.
Platonism pits the perceptual and conceptual levels [of consciousness] against each other, opposing spirit to matter, mind to body, intellectuality to worldly concerns, theory to practice. For Platonists, man’s consciousness is split between mind and body – between a faculty directed toward a “World of Forms” (heaven, in effect) and a faculty of dealing with this earth. Man is caught in an internal war between his “higher” and “lower” nature; Christianity took over and intensified this Platonic dichotomy, damning outright all earthly things.
The mind-body dichotomy is not only indefensible philosophically, in the light of modern biology, it represents an archaic embarrassment. We know that man evolved from pre-conceptual primates, and that our present intellectual capacity developed gradually, as the brain evolved. Man’s conceptual faculty arises from the nature of his brain, and the human brain is an elaboration of the primate brain. The conceptual faculty, reason, is an enhancement of perceptual consciousness, not an alien element wrenching man’s soul away from perceptual concretes.
After the work of Darwin, Mendel, Fisher, Watson and Crick, we know with full certainty that man’s conceptual faculty evolved due to natural selection – which means: man’s conceptual faculty has survival value. (How We Know, p. 98)
Binswanger suggests (p. 99) – correctly, I would argue – that the mind-body dichotomy arises from a failure to arrive at an objective answer on the question regarding how abstractions are related to perception of concretes. Lacking a good understanding of the nature of concepts and how they are rooted in perceptual awareness, then, invites mystical speculation into the nature and origin of higher abstractions like justice, honesty, liberty, goodness, etc. Failing to understand how these abstractions were formed from more fundamental concepts and how those more fundamental concepts were formed on the basis of perceptual input, the mystic sees only a massive gulf between what he crudely associates with the mind on the one hand, and bodily functions on the other. The recognition that the mind is as biological as respiration and digestion is foreign to him, even perverse, even though it is a wholly biological faculty.
The fact that we have conscious minds is another thing we take for granted. It’s so obvious and familiar to us that we don’t recognize just how remarkable it is. As we evaluate competing worldviews, it’s worth asking the question: How did we come to possess the minds that we do? Indeed, how is it that there are any conscious minds within this physical universe? (WSIBC, pp. 121-122)
Now suppose one replies to the questions Anderson asks here with a candid “I don’t know.” Are we at liberty to take such admissions of ignorance as validation of any hypothesis or conjecture one might propose? Certainly not! The point here is to emphasize that the burden of proof rests on the apologist’s shoulders, and questions are not the proper means for him to meet that burden.
Whatever might be the answers to Anderson’s questions (I’m persuaded that Binswanger’s points cited above are on the right track), they could not contradict fundamental facts which we can and do know apart from considering questions like those he poses. For example, no matter how human beings did “come to possess the minds that we do,” the following relevant facts would still obtain: existence exists independent of consciousness; consciousness is a biological faculty of awareness of existence, not a means of creating existence; the imaginary is not real; we discover facts and validate knowledge by looking outward as opposed to looking inward to our feelings, preferences, fears, hoping, etc.; there are no shortcuts to knowledge such as through faith in revelations, prayer, navel-gazing, etc., and so on. None of these facts are compatible with theism and in fact preclude theism as a rationally available possibility.
So even though questions are not arguments and any rational answers to legitimate questions would have to be wholly compatible with facts which rule out theism at its foundations, one might wonder what motivates the kinds of questions Anderson asks here. What fruit does he expect them to bring forth? If one proposes answers to his questions and those answers do not point to supernaturalism, we can expect that apologists like Anderson would be inclined to find fault with them, exercising a critical scrutiny which their own theistic answers would never survive.
But if we answer Anderson’s questions with a candid “I don’t know,” then what? Most likely the theist is going to interpret such a signal as an opening for theological speculation and pontification, an invitation to fill a gap of knowledge with deity-shaped assertions which have no basis in fact. Given my experience with apologists, I confess that it is very hard to shake this suspicion of the motivations behind questions such as these. Since the apologist is seeking to defend something that is only available to the human mind by means of imagination, we can safely rule out the possibility that such questions are aimed at uncovering legitimate facts about the nature and origin of human consciousness. That is to say, it would take some effort to convince me that Anderson is genuinely interested in learning more about how human beings as a species developed the conceptual level of consciousness, which is what is really in view here, especially if the facts uncovered in such an inquiry do nothing to vindicate his god-beliefs.
Anderson himself acknowledges that the questions he asks are not really so easy to wrestle with after all when he writes:
One of the oldest philosophical questions concerns how mind is related to matter, the physical stuff of rocks and trees and human bodies. After all, minds are so very different in nature from material objects. So did mind precede matter? Or did matter precede mind, such that mind is a product of matter? (p. 122)
Though some of my readers might not be so quick to agree, I do have a mind, and thus I am in possession of a specimen that is available for firsthand inquiry on the questions Anderson raises here. When I consider the questions “did mind precede matter? Or did matter precede mind, such that mind is a product of matter?” I make sure to focus on factual evidence. And all evidence – again, all evidence - indicates that matter existed before my mind did. Before I was, existence exists. This includes not only the building that I was born in and the people who built it, but also my mother, my father, the sheets that the doctor who delivered me swaddled me in shortly after I was birthed, the planet on which I was born, the gases I was breathing as well as the gases I was expelling, the sun, the moon, etc., etc. Needless to say, lots of stuff existed before I was born. And even further, I had to be born and to start developing physically in order to start developing cognitively. I had to be able to perceive objects as distinct entities in order to identify them, and I had to pass the stage of object permanence in order to understand, if only implicitly, that the objects of my awareness were in fact distinct from me and existed independent of my awareness of them.
Similarly for my parents. They had minds – they perceived and identified objects, they interacted intelligibly with the world about them, had opinions, came to conclusions, judged actions and offered counsel. And yet, like me, things existed before they did as well. And the same with their parents, and their parents’ parents, and so on. Biology involves a longer series of begats than Genesis and I Chronicles combined!
Here’s another fact: my mind does not create matter. I can try all I like, but I cannot command or wish material objects into existence. I cannot speak them into existence. I cannot perceive them into existence. Indeed, an object would first need to exist before I could perceive it! And these facts go for everyone I have met. I would not be surprised if they are true in James Anderson’s case as well. In fact, I’d bank on it! The fundamental facts to acknowledge here are that reality does not find its source in conscious activity, nor does reality conform to conscious activity. I can hold an object in my hand (I’m holding a ballpoint pen) and I can order it to become a steam shovel, a reel of Hollywood film, a pile of cash, a high-end microphone, a piece of schist, a B-52, etc. But the pen remains a pen nevertheless, no matter how strenuously I bring forth all the power of my will. Again, I expect this is the common report of all people: reality does not conform to anyone’s wishing, commanding, preferences, temper tantrums or imagination.
Indeed, when I pick up a pebble from the ground and examine it, do I find any evidence which tells me that it was created by an act of consciousness? It’s certainly not self-evident that the pebble was created by an act of consciousness. And I know of no conscious beings which I’ve ever discovered in reality which have such a power. In fact, what I know about consciousness, such a notion is impossible. Consciousness is awareness of things which exist, not a force which brings things into existence.
So what do we do with these facts? Do we just ignore them, even though they have direct bearing on Anderson’s questions? Do we wave them away like a nagging fly? Do we sneer at them as though they were the playthings of a juvenile, unworthy of serious adult consideration? Do we compartmentalize them, acknowledging their veracity while dismissing their relevance to the matter, even though they apply directly to the questions at hand? I do not advocate any of these alternatives. Rather, if you ask me, I think we need to keep them in central focus when considering such questions, for they all point to a fundamental fact: existence exists independent of mental activity. To assert the opposite is to contradict oneself by assuming the truth of what is being denied while denying it, for one does not assume that the truths he asserts are true by virtue of anyone’s wishing or simply because he believes them.
Anderson then devotes the next five paragraphs (out of thirteen total in this section) to a discussion of “Naturalism.” But I fail to see the relevance of “Naturalism” here, especially given the fact that Anderson hasn’t even presented an argument for theism to begin with. Moreover, I have yet to find sufficient cause to recognize “Naturalism” as a distinct philosophy as such in any case. Rather, my impression is that it is more along the lines of a handy moniker for a loose assemblage of (often vaguely) articulated notions which have a primarily reactionary nature that have, in piecemeal fashion, sprung out of debates with professional apologists. Much of what I have observed of “Naturalism” strikes me as rather contrarian in nature, grounded more in outright denial of supernaturalism, a negation rather than an actual position. What, for example, is Naturalism’s distinctive metaphysics, epistemology, ethics and politics? What is Naturalism’s starting point? What are Naturalism’s distinctive philosophical achievements or contributions to philosophy, not only as an intellectual discipline, but as a vital human need? What does Naturalism have to say about the irreducibility of consciousness, the relationship between consciousness and its objects and the issue of metaphysical primacy, or about identity and causality? What does Naturalism have to say about man’s nature, free will, and the role of reason in knowledge? What is Naturalism’s position on the analytic-synthetic dichotomy and so-called “a priori knowledge”? What does Naturalism say about the nature of moral values or individual rights? Is Naturalism cozy with self-sacrifice, altruism, Marxism, post-modernism, and the like? Are Naturalists opposed to collectivist ideologies, or are they fellow-travelers of these? What are Naturalism’s primary sources? If I wanted to know how Naturalism addresses problems raised by Kant, Hume, Hegel or Russell, where would I look? Would I find these in a definitive source, or would I find various (read: not exactly compatible) positions offered here and there among different mouth-pieces who style themselves as “Naturalists” for lack of better term?
Then again, there is “Naturalism” on the one hand (assuming it’s not just a hodgepodge), and there’s Anderson’s characterization of “Naturalism” on the other. What Anderson presents in his book are his own interpretations of what Naturalism affirms – or at any rate what some version of Naturalism affirms, and one might question the level of charitableness in his characterizations (for, at least in this section, it’s all in Anderson’s own words). That his purpose in raising Naturalism to begin with is to present a foil for his theism (I’m tempted to think that Naturalism becomes more of a distraction at this point), one might be justified in questioning the selectivity informing Anderson’s characterization: is he casting Naturalism accurately, or in its best light, or deliberately embellishing it with tinges of villainy? One wonders what we might find if we were to compare the effects on a societal scale when Naturalism is put into practice as opposed to Christianity. Where are Naturalism’s Jim Jones, David Koresh, Marshall Applewhite, Warren Jeffs, Wayne Bent, and the like?
That said, in my experience I’ve observed that many who style themselves as “Naturalists” seem quite comfortable with government funding for education, the arts and sciences, even welfare programs, public sector unions, and other big government extravagances. To the extent that such affinities reflect Naturalism proper, that frankly tells me all I really need to know about it.
But even if there were a distinct and comprehensive philosophy called “Naturalism,” I still don’t see the relevance of Anderson’s fixation here. For Naturalism could have all kinds of insurmountable problems, even the ones that Anderson highlights, and yet theism could still be entirely false. After all, it does not follow from the fact that one position is faulty that some other position, which is clearly premised on the imaginary, is therefore true. I’m interested in seeing how well Anderson can defend theism, not skewer “Naturalism.” But if Anderson’s defense of theism essentially boils down to “Naturalism has all kinds of problems,” that does not bode well at all for Anderson’s god-beliefs!
So I’m going to skip over Anderson’s objections to “Naturalism,” since they’re really a distraction from what should be the main event of his case “God and Mind.” If readers are interested in a discussion of Anderson’s interaction with Naturalism as he characterizes it, feel free to use the comments below.
Circling back to his religious commitments, we find that Anderson makes a curious admission. For he writes:
Worldviews which imply that rational, conscious minds developed late in the history of the universe, as the chance outcome of purely material processes, face some serious philosophical challenges. (WSIBC, pp. 124-125)
- Naturalism, by Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro (Eerdmans, 2008), and
- The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism, by J.P. Moreland (SCM Press, 2009)
But more broadly, I’m up for philosophical challenges. They provide an opportunity for growth and improvement. If we encounter serious challenges, what would Anderson have us do, cower and shrink in retreat to fantasy? You’d be amazed what the human mind can discover when guided by an authentic devotion to facts. So I reject the implicit pessimism expressed here. Challenges? Bring ‘em on, I says!
The Christian worldview isn’t one of them, however, since it affirms that mind preceded matter. (WSIBC, p. 125)
But what is Anderson’s argument for this position? I cannot find one. It certainly does not follow from “Naturalism has some hefty challenges” that “therefore mind preceded matter.” That would be an outright non sequitur. Is it the case that Anderson really has no argument for this view? I’d think that, were he in possession of an argument in which he had any worthwhile confidence, right here in chapter four of his book he’d waste no time unleashing it.
Also, has anyone noticed anything else here? By pointing to an alleged mind to explain the reality of minds, Anderson proves that he really has no “account for” minds as such in the first place. This concern to explain how minds might have come about is all for naught. It’s simply a ruse to peddle mysticism in the dark void of self-imposed ignorance.
At any rate, if existence holds metaphysical primacy, which it does (to deny this is to contradict one's own denial), then existence comes first, which means it comes before any conscious activity (even before the conscious activity we imagine some imaginary being performs). So on what rational basis can one suppose that "mind preceded matter"? If existence exists, existence has metaphysical primacy. Thus existence does not find its source in conscious activity. What evidence can the theist produce to support the view that matter has its source in conscious activity? Blank out.
Anderson qualifies his assertion:
Not human minds, of course, but God’s mind.
But here’s something important to keep in mind: even though existence holds metaphysical primacy over consciousness – over all instances of consciousness which we can objectively detect and discover, this does not prevent anyone from imagining a conscious being whose mind enjoys metaphysical primacy over everything else, including physical things. While we do not find any conscious beings which can exercise will over objects such that they are brought into existence and/or revise their identity according to the dictates of conscious intentions when we look outward at reality, we are able to look inward and invent such things in the confines of our imagination. There are no nine-hundred-foot-tall Jesuses walking around Tulsa, Oklahoma, but I can always imagine a whole battalion of such things in the endless corridors of fantasy.
Now the power to imagine things is definitely something people take for granted, so much so that it’s easy for people to mistake what they imagine for being real. And the more that this crucial distinction between reality and imagination is kept quietly out of view, the more liable people will be to blurring them into an indistinct mass. And I argue that this is vital to the religious mindset. After all, while Anderson does like to point to things that people take for granted, he nowhere shows any concern for the propensity for people to take what they imagine for granted as things that are real, when they’re in fact merely imaginary. Is there some reason why he does not draw the reader’s attention to this distinction? Indeed, does the Christian worldview offer anything by way of a stable principle by which a thinker can reliably distinguish between what is real and what is merely imaginary? If so, where does it do this, and how does it inform this principle? If the only access I have to the Christian god and all other supernatural things is by means of imagining them, then how can the Christian worldview provide a home for such a principle? If Christianity does in fact prey on a thinker’s blurring of the distinction between reality and imagination, then I don’t think we should be surprised when apologists like James Anderson fail to draw our attention to this distinction.
Anderson provides a little more detail:
God is an eternal, self-existent, transcendent, personal being with a mind - and not just any mind, but a perfect, absolute, infinite mind. (Ibid.)
Anderson goes on:
Furthermore, God created a universe that had both material and mental aspects from the outset: He created humans with minds as well as bodies. Not only can we physically manipulate the universe with our bodies, we can think about the universe with our minds. Our finite minds aren’t the first minds to exist in the universe; on the contrary, our human minds are dependent on – one might even say modeled on – an eternal divine mind. We are literally designed to think God’s thoughts after Him. (Ibid.)
This view of the universe and our place in it has some profoundly important implications. Here’s one of them: because the material and mental aspects of the universe both have their source in God, we can have confidence that our minds are ‘fitted’ to understand the physical universe, which is one of the most basic assumptions of science. (Ibid.)
It may be due to the fact that all this resides in the mind of the believer, as a figment of his imagination, that in the end he really finds it unnecessary to present any arguments for his theism. It’s clear that he really doesn’t have any good arguments for theism, and given that his experience of theism involves his immediate, inwardly-directed awareness of something that he has been imagining all along, it’s as though the existence of the god he imagines were self-evident to begin with. That’s the substance of faith, though: investing one’s hope in the imaginary.
by Dawson Bethrick