A short reflection on the argument from physical minds.

This blog will stay true to its title or I'll never publish it. Here goes.

There is a brand of atheological argument known as the arguments from physical minds that works something like this: Physicalism about the human mind is probably true--that is, our minds are the product of our physical brains alone and not anything extra or immaterial such as a soul. Thus, because all minds with which we are familiar are dependent on brains, we are justified in drawing the inductive conclusion that disembodied minds do not exist. However, because God is supposed to be a disembodied mind, God also does not exist.

I was initially quite fond of this argument. It seemed very solid given all the evidence for physicalism about the human mind. However, when I thought more about the argument, I realized its inductive force is so small it's insignificant. Why?

Well, let's break the argument down a little.

1. All minds that we have encountered in nature are dependent on, or are the product of, physical brains.
2. God is supposed to be or have a mind that is not dependent on, or is the product of, a physical brain.

So what conclusion follows here?

It's not this: 3a. Therefore, God does not exist.

No, instead it's this: 3b. Therefore, God must be or have a mind unlike any we have encountered in nature.

The problem should be obvious--(3b) is a conclusion the theist will most likely be glad to accept. In fact, the theist will probably say, "Pssssh. Took you long enough to figure that out. That's what I've been saying this whole time."

I think the appeal of the argument from physical minds is that it challenges less the existence of God and more the idea of human immortality. With the notion of a soul surviving the death of our body totally exploded by modern neuroscience and the philosophy of mind, the theist sort of has the wind taken out of his or her sails.

If an argument from physical minds wants to succeed as an argument against God's existence, I think it needs to do one of two things. First, it could show that certain mental characteristics essential to consciousness result directly from the brains physicality and therefore could not exist in a nonphysical brain. For example, one might argue that an immaterial, omnipresent mind could not draw the self/other distinction essential to the development of consciousness and personhood.

On the other hand, an argument from physical minds could tell strongly against God's existence if formulated like an argument presented by Richard Carrier--the argument from mind-brain dysteleology. The argument could go something like this:

1. If God exists, then disembodied minds can exist.
2. We do not have disembodied minds.
3. A disembodied mind would be preferable to a physically dependent brain.
4. Therefore, God, if he exists, would have given us disembodied minds rather than the kind we have.

Anyone with any thoughts?

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