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Mind-Brain Dependence as Twofold Support for Atheism


[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.


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 RenImage0 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:

It is experimentally demonstrable… that a mode of motion of the nervous system is the immediate antecedent of a state of consciousness. All but adherents of “Occasionalism,” or of the doctrine of “Pre-established Harmony” (if any such now exist), must admit that we have as much reason for regarding the mode of motion of the nervous system as the cause of the state of consciousness, as we have for regarding any event as the cause of another. [W]e have as much right to believe that the sensation is an effect of the molecular change, as we have to believe that motion is an effect of impact; and there is as much propriety in saying that the brain evolves sensation, as there is in saying that an iron rod, when hammered, evolves heat.[1]

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.[2]

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.”[3]

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.”[4]

The Australian philosopher and materialist J.J.C. Smart cites both biological evolution and parsimony as two compelling reasons to embrace HM:

How could a nonphysical property or entity suddenly arise in the course of animal evolution? [W]hat sort of chemical process could lead to the springing into existence of something nonphysical? No enzyme can catalyze the production of a spook! Perhaps it will be said that the nonphysical comes into existence as a by-product: that whenever there is a certain complex physical structure, then, by an irreducible extraphysical law, there is also a nonphysical entity. Such laws would be quite outside normal scientific conceptions and quite inexplicable: they would be, in Herbert Feigl’s phrase, “nomological danglers.” To say the very least, we can vastly simplify our cosmological outlook if we can defend a materialistic philosophy of mind.[5]

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:

It continues to amaze me how attractive this position still is to many people. I would have thought a historical perspective alone would make this view seem ludicrous: over the centuries, every other phenomenon of initially “supernatural” mysteriousness has succumbed to an uncontroversial explanation within the commodious folds of physical science… The “miracles” of life itself, and of reproduction, are now analyzed into the well-known intricacies of molecular biology. Why should consciousness be any exception? Why should the brain be the only complex physical object in the universe to have an interface with another realm of being? Besides, the notorious problems with the supposed transactions at that dualistic interface are as good as a reductio ad absurdum of the view. The phenomena of consciousness are an admittedly dazzling lot, but I suspect that dualism would never be seriously considered if there weren’t such a strong undercurrent of desire to protect the mind from science, by supposing it composed of a stuff that is in principle uninvestigatable by the methods of the physical sciences. (Original italics)[6]

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:

(1) When an individual’s brain is directly stimulated and put into a certain physical state, this causes the person to have a corresponding experience.

(2) Certain injuries to the brain make it impossible for a person to have any mental states at all.

(3) Other injuries to the brain destroy various mental capacities. Which capacity is destroyed is tied directly to the particular region of the brain that was damaged.

(4) When we examine the mental capacities of animals, they become more complex as their brains become more complex.

(5) Within any given species, the development of mental capacities is correlated with the development of neurons in the brain.[7]

Keith Augustine puts it succinctly: “Modern science demonstrates the dependence of consciousness on the brain, verifying that the mind must die with the body.”[8]

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.[9]


(1) If God exists, then he is a disembodied mind.[10]

(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.


(1) If God exists, then there exists a disembodied afterlife.[11]

(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.


The question might be raised whether the two arguments are valid. The relevant logical form is as follows:

(1) G -> D

(2) B -> ~D

(3) B

(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.


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.[12] 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:

As Bishop Augustine so well said, the whole Christian religion may be summed up in the intervention of two men, the one to ruin us, the other to save us… But now we know that the biological blow dissolves the historical Adam and the apocalyptic blow discredits the historical Jesus… Hence the entire Christian system collapses, for there is none to ruin us, none to save us.[13]

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.”[14] 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.


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:

As a last resort, someone might introduce the term “soul.” It might be said that each of us possesses a soul and it is not the body but the soul that individuates us and makes us unique. The main problem with this is that it is unclear just what a soul is supposed to be. What are its properties or constituents, if any? How might it be appealed to in order to identify a person? What is one to look for? What test might be performed to ascertain that person A, who exists at a certain time, and person B, who exists at a later time, have the same soul? Such fundamental conceptual issues have never been adequately addressed, and until they are, the “Soul Theory” will be of no use… (Original italics)[15]

Michael Martin evidently concurs, writing:

It is difficult enough to imagine even in a rough way what disembodied existence would be like in time and space. How would a soul move from place to place? How would it recognize other souls? What would disembodied souls do all day long since presumably there would be no need to sleep? The problem becomes insuperable when it is combined with idea that Heaven is outside of space and time. All of our mental concepts- for instance, thinking, willing, desiring- are temporal notions that take time to perform and take place at some particular time. Nontemporal thinking and desiring are inconceivable.[16]

Another philosopher who shares this outlook is C.D. Broad, who says the following:

If I cannot clearly conceive what it would be like to be an unembodied person, I find it almost incredible that the experiences of such a person… could be sufficiently continuous with those had in his lifetime by any deceased human being as to constitute together the experiences of one and the same person. (Original italics).[17]

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:

Even Christians who advocate the resurrection doctrine often regard the person as existing in some sort of intermediate state while waiting for the resurrection to occur. So again there would be the idea of mental events without brain events. The point of the Brain-correlations Argument is that science has established physiological laws to the effect that mental life ceases when brain processes cease. For there to be any conscious life at all following brain death, no matter how temporary, it would have to be a violation of such laws.[18]

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):

O1: There exists some sort of empirical evidence for an afterlife and thus counterevidence to the premise in question, which casts doubt over both arguments.

O2: Human consciousness cannot be adequately explained without appealing to God’s existence, a fact which categorically falsifies both arguments.

O3: BDT shows only that human minds require brains in order to exist, but there may be other sorts of minds (of which we presently have no cognizance) which do not require brains, from which it follows that the premise in question may be false and hence that both arguments may be unsound.

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.


NDO may be formulated as a simple (modus ponens) syllogism, thus:

(A) If NDEs are veridical, then they constitute evidential support for the existence of a disembodied afterlife and thus counterevidence to DMA’s and DAA’s premise (2).

(B) NDEs are veridical.

(C) Therefore, NDEs constitute evidential support for the existence of a disembodied afterlife and thus counterevidence to DMA’s and DAA’s premise (2).

(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:

Survival proponents argue that because the core features of NDEs are almost invariably reported by experients, NDEs constitute evidence for an objective afterlife reality. However, these core features can be explained by physiological models because the same brain processes occur at the onset of dying (e.g. oxygen deprivation, endorphin release, and random neural firing) in those who undergo NDEs, thus their subjective experiences should be similar. Another argument is that NDEs are real because they feel real, but this does not constitute evidence that NDEs reflect an external reality anymore than the fact that hallucinations feel real constitutes evidence that they are real. Some researchers claim that information has been obtained in NDEs by means other than sensory perception, but there is no experimental evidence to support these claims… There is no corroboration for claims of perception outside of the immediate environment of the patient or accurate perception in NDEs in the blind, thus the paranormal argument does not constitute evidence for survival. Finally, the fact that people undergo positive personality transformations after NDEs does not indicate a mystical experience of an afterlife. A study conducted by Kenneth Ring found that personality transformations occurred in people who come medically close to death regardless of whether or not they experienced an NDE, suggesting that the transformation resulted from facing death rather than an NDE. (Original italics) [19]

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:

A… likely [naturalistic] explanation [for NDEs] looks to biochemical and neurophysiological causes. We know… that the hallucination of flying is triggered by atropine and other belladonna alkaloids… DMT (dimethyltryptamine) causes the perception that the world is enlarging or shrinking. MDA (methylenedioxyamphetamine) stimulates the feeling of age regression so that things we have long forgotten are brought back into memory. And, of course, LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) triggers visual and auditory hallucinations and creates a feeling of oneness with the cosmos… The fact that there are receptor sites in the brain for such artificially processed chemicals means that there are naturally produced chemicals in the brain that, under certain conditions (the stress of trauma or an accident, for example), can induce any or all of the experiences typically associated with an NDE.[20]

Shermer continues:

Psychologist Susan Blackmore has demonstrat[ed] why different people would experience similar effects, such as the tunnel. The visual cortex on the back of the brain is where information from the retina is processed. Hallucinogenic drugs and lack of oxygen to the brain (such as sometimes occurs near death) can interfere with the normal rate of firing by nerve cells in this area. When this occurs “stripes” of neuronal activity move across the visual cortex, which is interpreted by the brain as concentric rings or spirals. These spirals may be “seen” as a tunnel… Finally, the “otherworldliness” of the NDE is produced by the dominance of the fantasy of imagining the other side, visualizing our loved ones who died before, seeing our personal God, and so on.[21]

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:

(1) None of the patients who report NDEs could have been brain dead, for brain death is irreversible.

(2) NDEs occur in only one-third of all cases where there is a near-death crisis.

(3) The details of NDEs depend almost exclusively upon the individual’s personal and cultural background.

(4) Physiological and psychological factors affect the content of NDEs. Noises, tunnels, bright lights, and other beings are more common in physiological conditions directly affecting the brain state, such as cardiac arrest and anesthesia, whereas euphoria, mystical feelings, life review, and positive transformation can occur when people simply believe they are going to die.

(5) The core features of NDEs are found in drug-induced and naturally occurring hallucinations.

(6) The panoramic life review closely resembles a form of temporal lobe epilepsy. There are even cases where epileptics have had OBEs or “seen” apparitions of dead friends and relatives during their seizures.

(7) Computer simulations of random neural firing based on eye-brain mapping of the visual cortex have produced the tunnel and light characteristic of NDEs.

(8) The fact that naloxone- an opiate antagonist that inhibits the effects of endorphins on the brain- terminates near-death experiences provides some confirmation for the endorphin theory of NDEs.

(9) NDEs can be induced by direct electrical stimulation of brain areas surrounding the Sylvian fissure in the right temporal lobe.

(10) The tunnels described in NDEs vary considerably in form. If NDEs reflected an external reality, then one would expect consistency in the form of tunnel experiences reported.

(11) NDE cases have been reported where the patient has identified the “beings of light” as the medical staff making resuscitation attempts.

(12) Children who suffer NDEs are more likely to see living friends and family members than ones who have died.[22]

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)[23]

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.


OBO, like NDO, can be formulated as a simple modus ponens:

(A) If OBEs are veridical, then they constitute evidential support for the existence of a disembodied afterlife (or, at least, some mode of disembodied existence) and thus counterevidence to DMA’s and DAA’s premise (2).

(B) OBEs are veridical.

(C) Hence, OBEs constitute evidential support for the existence of a disembodied afterlife (or, at least, some mode of disembodied existence) and thus counterevidence to DMA’s and DAA’s premise (2).

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:

The size of any effect detected has decreased with increasing experimental sophistication. Most recent studies have used magnetometers, thermistors, ultraviolet and infra-red detectors, and so on… but no reliable detector has yet been found (Blackmore, “Oxford” 572).

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:

The experimental evidence is weak. Subjects have been asked to view target letters, numbers or pictures, placed in distant rooms… [and] other studies have tried to discover whether subjects seem to be looking from a specific location during OBEs; however, the results have been inconclusive. Generally these studies provide very mixed results and it is not clear that any paranormal process is involved (Blackmore, “Oxford” 572).

It seems that the evidence is more consistent with a psychological model of OBEs:

If sensory input is reduced or disrupted, the normal input-based model of the world may start to become unstable and break down. In this case the cognitive system will try to get back to normal by creating a new model of the world from imagination… [from] a bird’s-eye view, as though from above (Blackmore, “Oxford” 573).

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).[24]

Michael Shermer has this to say:

OBEs are easily induced by dissociative anesthetics such as the ketamines… the OBE is a confusion between reality and fantasy, as dreams can be upon first awakening. The brain tries to reconstruct events and in the process visualizes them from above- a normal process we all do when “decentering” ourselves (when you picture yourself sitting on the beach or climbing a mountain, it is usually from above, looking down).[25]

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.”[26]

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.


AO can be set up in the same manner as NDO and OBO, as follows:

(A) If reports of apparitions (i.e., “ghost sightings”) are veracious, then they constitute evidential support for the existence of a disembodied afterlife and thus counterevidence to DMA’s and DAA’s premise (2).

(B) Reports of apparitions (i.e., “ghost sightings”) are veracious.

(C) Ergo, OBEs constitute evidential support for the existence of a disembodied afterlife and thus counterevidence to DMA’s and DAA’s premise (2).

Obviously, premise (B) is the place at which AO, too, can be most readily attacked. Augustine observes the following:

Reports of apparitions can be explained in terms of hoaxes or hallucinations. Photographic evidence for apparitions is dubious because ghosts tend to look remarkably like double exposures (“Ghost” 293). Furthermore, apparitions can be explained in terms of hallucinations because:

There is a tendency to ‘see’ faces and human forms even in quite random shapes… It is possible that perceptual creations of this kind are occasionally elicited in states of fear, and there do seem to be social factors determining to some degree the forms that ghosts take [italics mine]… [The] lack of consistent evidence prevents general acceptance of ghosts (293-4).

Finally, the fact that apparitions “rarely communicate any important information” suggests that apparition experiences are hallucinatory (Beloff, “Anything” 261).[27]

In Weird Things, Shermer draws a rather comical comparison between ghosts and scientific laws:

The law of gravity… has been tested over and over against external reality, and thus it has been confirmed. Ghosts have never been successfully tested against external reality (I do not count blurry photographs with smudges on them that can be explained and replicated by lens distortions or light aberrations). The law of gravity can be considered factual, meaning that it has been confirmed to such an extent that it would be reasonable to offer temporary agreement. Ghosts can be considered nonfactual because they have never been confirmed to any extent. Finally, although the law of gravity did not exist before Newton, gravity did. Ghosts never exist apart from their descriptions by believers. (Original italics)[28]

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.


Like its predecessors, PO can be constructed syllogistically by means of a modus ponens:

(A) If reports of reincarnation (i.e., “past-life memories”) are veracious, then they constitute evidential support for the existence of a disembodied afterlife and thus counterevidence to DMA’s and DAA’s premise (2).

(B) Reports of reincarnation (i.e., “past-life memories”) are veracious.

(C) Thus, reports of reincarnations (i.e., “past-life memories”) constitute evidential support for the existence of a disembodied afterlife and thus counterevidence to DMA’s and DAA’s premise (2).

Once more, (B) is by far the most vulnerable premise, and therefore the one to be undercut. Augustine provides these remarks:

The evidence [for “past-life memories”] is more consistent with an alternative explanation- cryptomnesia. Melvin Harris describes this phenomena:

To understand cryptomnesia we must think of the subconscious mind as a vast, muddled storehouse of information. This information comes from books, newspapers, and magazines; from lectures, television, and radio; from direct observation and even from overheard scraps of conversation. Under normal circumstances most of this knowledge is not subject to recall, but sometimes these deeply buried memories are spontaneously revived. They may reemerge in a baffling form, since their origins are completely forgotten (Harris 19).

There are numerous cases where information from past-life regressions has been traced back to such mundane causes upon further investigation (Edwards, “Introduction” 9). In fact,

In all the [past life] cases so far that have been elicited under hypnosis, either there was no such person as the one described or the character in question could have been known to the informant who… might consciously be quite unaware of the source of this knowledge (Beloff, “Anything” 262).

Another form of past-life memories does not involve hypnotic regression. “Memories” of previous lives spontaneously occurred during waking life in cases investigated in India by Ian Stevenson. Stevenson collected cases where children generally between two and four years old began talking about their “previous lives” and even their “previous deaths” (Edwards, “Introduction” 11). Usually the memories are gone by age eight. In several cases the persons the children claimed to be in a previous life did in fact exist and many descriptions given were accurate (11). Stevenson dismissed the possibility of fraud because he saw no motive for it. Ian Wilson points out that many children claimed to have belonged to a higher caste, thus a motivation for better living conditions is obvious (Edwards, “Introduction” 12).[29]

In his 1990 book Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, Michael Martin propounds this assessment of claims regarding reincarnation:

Reincarnationists often postulate a series of incarnations in human bodies stretching backward forever in time. However, science teaches that human life came into existence relatively recently. Even if one postulates… that souls can inhabit the bodies of animals or plants, there is still a problem, for science teaches that life came into existence and has not existed forever. Further, reincarnationists who do believe that souls can be reincarnated in animals do not believe that the sequence of biological evolution parallels reincarnation. For example, a person’s soul might have been incarnated millions of years ago as a dog and reincarnated only recently as a bird.[30]

Theodore Drange sums up the (very likely insuperable) difficulties with both PO and O1 itself as follows:

Some think that empirical evidence has been found that supports the existence of an afterlife. They may point to reports of [NDEs or OBES] or reincarnations or ghosts… But as I see it, all this is misguided. [NDEs] are not relevant to the concept of [life following reducible death, i.e., life following the destruction of one’s body and brain], for the situation does not even involve technical death, let alone the complete destruction of body and brain. [As for OBEs,] I am not aware of any studies that have established that those who report [OBEs] could not have been merely hallucinating or dreaming… Until such studies come along, I am inclined simply to dismiss the various reports of experiences that occur apart from a body. Those reports do not prove anything to those of us who have never had any such experiences, even regarding the very possibility of the experience itself. For the time being… we are forced to classify the idea of a disembodied afterlife as something incoherent or inconceivable… And alleged ghosts… have been shown to be hoaxes in many cases. It is possible that they are all hoaxes or in some other way explainable naturalistically… With alleged reincarnations, the main issue has to do with identifying the person as someone who had died… [but] this has never been accomplished satisfactorily in any of the cases studied… It doesn’t make sense to try to find evidence for a proposition before one has rendered intelligible what that proposition is supposed to be. Before one can even make sense of the evidential problem (i.e., the problem of whether or not there is any evidence for an afterlife), one first needs to solve the conceptual problem, which is the problem of what the term “afterlife” might mean in operational terms, or what an afterlife could possibly be like if there were such a state. (Original italics)[31]

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.


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:

(A) It is a fact that human consciousness exists.

(B) That fact can be adequately explained within a theistic framework (i.e., one which posits God’s existence), whereas it cannot be adequately explained within an atheistic (or naturalistic) framework (i.e., one which denies God’s existence).

(C) Hence, there is a fact which only theism can adequately explain.

(D) Therefore, God must exist.[32]

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.


Employing AHC as its basis, AHCO can be derived thus:

(a) AHC is a sound argument.

(b) It is logically impossible that there should be two sound arguments whose conclusions are incompatible.

(c) The conclusions of DMA & DAA and the conclusion of AHC are incompatible.

(d) It follows that both DMA & DAA are unsound arguments.


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.


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[33] 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.


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.”[34]

Due to both its obscurity and inadequacy, AHC ought to be rejected, and thus AHCO along with it.


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:

[M]any scientists do make contributions to such a project. It is the subject of ongoing research within many sciences, including brain physiology, biology, and chemistry… although it is as yet incomplete, it has not come up against any insuperable difficulty. Scientists show how the chemical origin of life is compatible with certain natural laws. By appeal to mutations and natural selection, they explain the mechanisms by which life developed from simple to complex. They have theories about how “reason” operates and how it might have survival value… formulations of materialist explanations [of consciousness] in such terms [as] “time and chance acting on matter,” “random neuron firings,” “minds and intelligence arising by chance out of inchoate matter,” etc.) [which frequently characterize theistic critiques of such explanations] seem quite misguided and off the track… Science has come a long way towards explaining [consciousness] in materialist terms, and to dismiss all that work [out of hand] is not a piece of reasoning to be taken seriously.[35]

Michael Martin shares this view, writing:

[T]he difficulties that Swinburne finds with scientific nomological explanation[s] of psychophysical correlations either are not as serious as he supposes or else are based on misunderstandings… the most serious problem he finds with such explanations is that because of the very different nature of brain states and mental states, it is difficult to see how simple scientific laws could explain the diverse correlations between them… There is a problem here only if one misunderstands the sort of laws that can be used in such an explanation. [Analogously, it] might be supposed, in order to explain the [relevant] correlations, that there must be particular causal laws explicitly relating falling trees to blocked traffic and disruption of electrical circuits, but this assumption is false. Laws concerning falling bodies can be used to explain the correlation between some of the items covered by the description “disrupted electrical circuit” and some aspect of a tree’s fall. Similarly, laws concerning electricity can be used to explain the correlation between the items and the lack of electric power, and so on. In other words, the complex whole can be broken down into component parts, and these can be explained separately. The same approach can be used to explain mental phenomena… Once we look at the situation in this way the bulk of the difficulties noted by Swinburne dissolve.[36]

As regards Swinburne’s theistic account of consciousness, Martin explicates its defects as follows:

[A]lthough personal explanations are familiar and natural in ordinary life, we know that the way one’s intention brings about some action has a physiological basis… when I intentionally move my finger it may seem that there is a direct connection between the intention and the movement. But we know that this connection is possible only because of a complex physiological causal relation… between my intention and the movement of my finger. In the case of God there is no such relation. According to Swinburne, the relation between God’s intention and the intentional action is direct and unmediated. Given our background knowledge of how personal explanations work in ordinary life, personal explanations of psychophysical correlations in terms of God’s intentions seem improbable. All our evidence indicates that intentions do not directly cause physical events. (Original italics)[37]

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:

Has God somehow brought it about that material structures do now generate consciousness? But then is this not almost as hard to understand as that material structures do this of themselves? Or are we to regard each body-mind connection, for example the supervening of each state of perceptual awareness on the appropriate sensory input and neurophysiological disturbance, as the fulfillment of a fresh divine intention, so that sensory perception is, strictly speaking, an indefinitely repeated miracle so we have an endless series of divine interventions in the natural causal order? But further… Could not omnipotency superadd a faculty of thinking as easily to a block of wood as to a brain? If materialism has the difficulty in explaining how even the most elaborate neural system can give rise to consciousness, theism, with its personal explanations and direct intention-fulfillment, has at least as great a difficulty in explaining why consciousness is found only in them. (Original italics)[38]

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:

It may well be that certain primitive brain states cause the existence of souls- as the foetal brain reaches a certain state of development it gives rise to a soul connected with it. But what it could not cause is- which soul is connected with it. It could not be the powers of this brain, of the molecules of this foetus arising from these genes, which cause it to be the case that my soul is connected to this brain and yours to that, rather than vice versa. It would be equally compatible with all the regularities between kinds of event (this kind of brain organization and the existence of a kind of thing- a soul) that science could ever discover that you and I should have been connected to brains in the opposite way to the way in which we are connected. There simply is no possible scientific discovery which anyone could ever imagine which would explain why it happened this way rather than that way.[39]

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”[40] and that the truth of dualism “stares us in the face.”[41] 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.[42]

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:

Let k be the [premise] that there is an orderly (and beautiful) world. Let e be the existence of [consciousness]. Let h be… the hypothesis of theism- that there is a God. P(e/~h.k) is low- 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… regularity in the midst of complexity cries out for explanation… it does not look at all plausible to suppose that there is a scientific explanation of these phenomena… 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…[43]

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[44], 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:

If it appears paradoxical, it is because one is confusing relative confirmation (which I am here using ‘confirmation’ to express) with absolute confirmation (which I shall use ‘makes highly probable’ to express). The same evidence cannot make highly probable each of two incompatible hypotheses, but it can increase the probability of each of two incompatible hypotheses (i.e. make the two hypotheses more probable than they would have been without the evidence).[46]

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.[47] 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.[48] 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.[49] 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.[50]

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.[51]


OMO may be formulated thus:

(A) According to BDT, human minds cannot exist unless brains also exist.

(B) However, it is possible that human minds comprise only one set of a whole class of minds, some set(s) of which may consist of minds which can exist in the absence of brains (i.e., in a disembodied fashion).

(C) Therefore, it is possible that premise (2) of both DMA & DAA is false.

(D) Thus, it is possible that both DMA & DAA are unsound arguments.

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.[52]


[1] 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).

[2] Theodore M. Drange, Nonbelief & Evil: Two Arguments for the Nonexistence of God (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1998), p. 375.

[3] Ibid., 375.

[4] Jacques P. Thiroux, Philosophy: Theory and Practice (N.Y.: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1985), p. 87.

[5] J.J.C. Smart, “Materialism,” Journal of Philosophy, 22 (October 1963), p. 660.

[6] Daniel C. Dennett, “Consciousness in Human and Robot Minds,” (<URL:http://ase.tufts.edu/cogstud/papers/concrobt.htm).

[7] 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).

[8] Keith Augustine, “The Case Against Immortality,” (<URL:https://infidels.org/library/modern/keith_augustine/immortality.html>).

[9] 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.

[10] 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.

[11] 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.

[12] 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.

[13] A.J. Mattill, Jr., The Seven Mighty Blows to Traditional Beliefs (The Flatwoods Free Press: Gordo, Alabama, 1995), p. 53.

[14] Paul Kurtz, “The New Paranatural Paradigm: Claims of Communicating with the Dead,” Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 24, No. 6 (November/December 2000), p. 28.

[15] Drange, p. 371.

[16] Michael Martin, “Problems With Heaven,” (<URL:https://infidels.org/libary/modern/michael_martin/heaven.html>).

[17] 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:https://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.

[18] Drange, p. 376.

[19] Augustine, “The Case Against Immortality.”

[20] 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.

[21] Ibid., pp. 81-82.

[22] Augustine, “The Case Against Immortality.”

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Shermer, pp. 80-81.

[26] Drange, pp. 368, 377

[27] Augustine, “The Case Against Immortality”

[28] Shermer, p. 33.

[29] Augustine, “The Case Against Immortality.”

[30] Michael Martin, Atheism: A Philosophical Justification (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990), pp. 449-450.

[31] Drange, p. 377.

[32] 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.

[33] See Drange, “Atheism, Agnosticism, Noncognitivism,” (<URL:https://infidels.org/library/modern/theodore_drange/definition.html>).

[34] Drange, Writings Regarding the Bible (1998), p. 103.

[35] Drange, “The Drange-Wilson Debate: Dr. Drange’s First Rebuttal,” (<URL:https://infidels.org/library/modern/theodore_drange/drange1.html>).

[36] Martin, pp. 218-219.

[37] Ibid., p. 220.

[38] J.L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), pp. 130-131.

[39] Richard Swinburne, Is There a God? (New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 89.

[40] Ibid., p. 39.

[41] Swinburne, The Existence of God (New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 1979), p. 166.

[42] 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.

[43] Swinburne, The Existence of God (New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 1979), pp. 173-174.

[44] Quentin Smith, “The Anthropic Coincidence, Evil, and the Disconfirmation of Theism,” (<URL:https://infidels.org/library/modern/quentin_smith/anthropic.html>)

[45] See, especially, Drange’s Nonbelief & Evil: Two Arguments for the Nonexistence of God.

[46] Smith, “The Anthropic Coincidence, Evil, and the Disconfirmation of Theism”

[47] Alvin Plantinga, “The Probabilistic Argument from Evil,” Philosophical Studies, Vol. 35, #1 (1979).

[48] John Hick, Arguments for the Existence of God (London: Macmillan, 1970), pp. 32-33.

[49] For thorough refutations of the theistic arguments in question, see (<URL:https://infidels.org/library/modern/theism/arguments.html>)

[50] To access these and other atheological arguments, see (<URL:https://infidels.org/library/modern/nontheism/atheism/arguments.html>)

[51] 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


[52] 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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