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Title: With God in mind : divine action and the naturalisation of consciousness
Author: Ritchie, Sarah Lane
ISNI:       0000 0004 6500 4547
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2017
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This thesis addresses the question of divine action in the mind: Is human consciousness a uniquely nonphysical causal joint wherein divine intentions meet natural realities without contravening lawlike physical processes? It is argued that consciousness is not uniquely spiritual but wholly natural (and possibly physical). However, this need not lead to the conclusion that divine action in the mind does not occur. Rather, this thesis argues that noninterventionist causal joint programs (such as those privileging the mind as uniquely open to divine action) are both scientifically implausible and theologically insufficient, resting on questionable metaphysical presuppositions that are not necessitated by either theology or the natural sciences. By discarding the God-nature model implied by contemporary noninterventionist divine action theories, one is freed up to explore theological and metaphysical alternatives for understanding divine action in the mind (and elsewhere). It is argued that a theologically robust theistic naturalism offers a more compelling vision of divine action in the mind than that offered by standard causal joint theories. By affirming that to be fully natural is to be involved with God’s active presence, one is then free to affirm divine action not only in the human mind, but throughout the natural world. This thesis is divided into two parts. Part One engages with the scientific and philosophical literature surrounding human consciousness, and uses debates about the nature of the mind to offer a sustained analysis and critique of what is termed the “standard model” of divine action. It is argued that the noninterventionist, incompatibilist model of divine action that has spurred the development of various causal joint theories is scientifically and theologically insufficient, and that this is seen particularly clearly in recent theories locating (and constraining) divine action in the emergent human mind. Chapter 2 analyses the contemporary divine action scene, arguing that the standard model presumes noninterventionism, incompatibilism, and a high view of the laws of nature. However, the God-world relationship implied by this model is theologically insufficient. Chapter 3 examines Philip Clayton’s divine action theory, which locates divine action in the emergent human mind and is the latest manifestation of the causal joint model described in Chapter 2. After using emergence theory itself to critique Clayton’s approach, the thesis then examines the philosophy and science of consciousness, in Chapters 4 and 5. It is suggested that a physicalist understanding of the mind is a well-supported position. Part Two of the thesis reframes divine action in the mind within an explicitly theological framework. The thesis does this by analysing what is termed the “theological turn” in divine action debates – the recent tendency to react against standard causal joint theories by rejecting the idea that science can say anything about how and whether divine action occurs. Proponents of the theological turn instead understand divine action from explicitly theological perspectives, affirming compatibilist models in which God is seen to work in, through, and with natural processes – precisely because God is never absent from nature in the first place. Such an approach allows theologians to accept physicalist explanations of the mind, precisely because all the natural world is necessarily involved with God. Chapter 6 introduces this theological turn by exploring various versions of naturalism, ultimately suggesting that neither philosophy nor science mandates the sort of metaphysical naturalism assumed not only by those who deny divine action, but (ironically) noninterventionist divine action theorists as well. Chapters 7, 8, and 9 then introduce, compare, and contrast three different versions of strong theistic naturalism: Thomism, panentheistic naturalism, and pneumatological naturalism. While each of these explicitly theological frameworks is distinctive, they share an affirmation of the intimate relationship between God’s immanent, active presence in the natural world, and suggest the naturalised mind as a relatively intense locus of divine action, as human minds actively participate in and with God. It is concluded that the participatory ontology supported by these theistic naturalisms does, after all, suggest the mind as a locus of intensified divine action – but for very different reasons than those motivating causal joint theorists.
Supervisor: Harris, Mark ; Sprevak, Mark Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: divine action ; consciousness ; mind ; naturalism