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EPS Blog

This is the blog area for the Evangelical Philosophical Society and its journal, Philosophia Christi.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Downward Causation

It is always heartening to see other thinkers whom I admire moving in similar directions. My own recent work in philosophy of mind involves a defense of downward (or top-down) mental-to physical causation (e.g., see "Is Downward Causation Possible?" in the most recent issue of Philosophia Christi Vol 11, No. 1 2009, pp. 93-110). I have just read and reviewed an excellent work in defense of the soul, libertarian free will and teleological (downward) causation, namely Naturalism by Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro. This is highly recommended. I found it so engrossing, I was able to give it a first read on the plane while tired during apologetics events! Since then I have taken copious notes and learned a great deal.

Naturalism is a concise yet potent anti-materialist salvo, and is perhaps the ideal appetizer for my main entree J. P. Moreland's Consciousness and the Existence of God. (See his book interview here.) This is a very important work, also defending downward causation and showing how the varieties of naturalism are in real trouble. In the last chapter, Moreland notes the strange fact that while the case for dualism has now been developed with impressive sophistication, there is a failure of physicalists to "enjoin the dualist literature" (186) and a repertoire of "dismissive maneuvers" used to camouflage this exercise in intellectual irresponsibility. So my hope and plea is that we can change this situation and invite (or if necessary, shame) naturalists to engage the actual positions of the best contemporary defenders of dualism and theism.

Finally, on the apologetics front, a definite thumbs-up for Peter Williams' A Sceptic's Guide to Atheism, which contains a lot of helpful material for responding to the new atheists' attempts to dismiss religious belief and experience as an illusion (which helped me considerably in presentations I gave at UCLA and Fort Wayne). See his interview here.

Right now I am working on a defense of libertarian free will against the claims of some scientists and philosophers that neuroscience has undermined conscious free will. This has become a hot issue in the philosophy of law, as some claim that retributive justice is obsolete, leaving only utilitarian, "crowd control" arguments for punishment. The paper I am working on will be delivered at the IVR World Congress meeting on Philosophy of Law in Beijing, China, September 15-20th of this year in the workshop on the connection between Punishment, Retribution and Free Will.

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Blogger Tom Clark said:

Hi Angus,

Re Naturalism by Goetz and Taliaferro, see my review and ensuing exchange with them at


Tom Clark
Center for Naturalism

By Blogger Tom Clark, at June 5, 2009 at 3:46 PM  

Blogger Jime said:

Regarding "Downward Causation" (which, in my opinion, is evidence for dualism), I'd suggest the reading of the paper "Mind does really Matter" by neuroscientist Mario Beauregard:

Placebo effect, biofeedback and other facts are evidence for the causal efficacy of consciousness on the brain.

And neuroimaging studies showing brain changes in patients with obsessive-compulsive disorders, treated with Jeffrey Schwartz's method of "mental effort" is evidence for downward causation too.

Dr.Schwartz has described his method and its philosophical implications in his book "The Mind and The Brain" and, briefly, in this video in youtube:

By Blogger Jime, at June 12, 2009 at 12:44 AM  

Blogger Angus Menuge said:

Thank-you for gracious posting of the link to your exchange with Goetz and Taliaferro, which is most illuminating, and shows an exemplary concern for constructive dialog.

We are on the same page, as I think Schwartz and Beauregard provide strong evidence for downward causation. I think this is indeed evidence of dualism as naturalism is committed to causal closure and the denial of fundamentally new powers being brought into the world by the mind. Some emergentists, like Timothy O'Connor, try to steer a middle position here (new mental powers are somehow still compatible with naturalism), but I don't think he is successful. Perhaps at EPS this year he will explain why J.P. Moreland and I are wrong about this.

Angus Menuge

By Blogger Angus Menuge, at June 16, 2009 at 11:41 AM  

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