Change search
ReferencesLink to record
Permanent link

Direct link
Seeing Nature as Creation: How Anti-Cartesian Philosophy of Mind and Perception Reshapes Natural Theology
Umeå University, Faculty of Arts, Department of historical, philosophical and religious studies.
2009 (English)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

This dissertation constructively explores the implications for natural theology of (especially) John McDowell’s anti-Cartesian philosophy of mind and perception. Traditionally, an important element within natural theology is the idea that nature testifies to its creator, thereby making knowledge of a creator available to humans. In traditional accounts, the relevant knowledge is usually conceived as inferential. From observations of “the things that have been made” (Rom 1: 20), we may reason our way to the existence of a creator.

The dissertation presents an alternative construal of creation’s testimony. It argues that biological nature may have expressive properties of a similar kind as human behaviour and art seem to have. We may be able to perceive nature as creation, i.e., as expressive of the mind of a creator. The knowledge of a creator acquired from nature is, according to this construal, perceptual rather than inferential.

The viability of the dissertation’s suggestion depends, however, on the rejection of certain common and fundamental assumptions about the nature of mind and perception – assumptions that may rightly be called “Cartesian.” In chapters 1-3, a radically anti-Cartesian outlook on mind and perception, drawn mainly from McDowell’s work, is presented. The outlook (labelled “open-mindedness”) conceives the mind as a system of essentially world-involving capacities. One such capacity is perception, which is portrayed as (when all goes well) a direct, cognitive openness to the world.

Chapter 4 argues that open-mindedness makes an attractive construal of our knowledge of “other minds” available. Human behaviour may, as McDowell suggests, be construed as having expressive properties, i.e., perceivable properties the instantiation of which logically entails the instantiation of certain mental properties. The main problem confronting this idea is the so-called “argument from pretence” – a version of the more general “argument from illusion.” The fact that behaviour that is the result of pretence can be indistinguishable, for an observer, from behaviour that is genuinely expressive of the mental property pain, can seem to entail that it is impossible to perceive that somebody else is in pain. It is argued that accepting the outlook of open-mindedness and the view of perception it includes dissolves this problem and makes it possible to construe (some of) our knowledge of the mental states of other people as perceptual rather than inferential knowledge.

Chapter 5 argues that the same philosophical moves that dissolve the “problem of other minds” also can be used to overcome the problems confronting the (from a Christian perspective) attractive idea that nature may be perceptibly expressive of the mind of a creator. It is argued that the idea that other phenomena than human behaviour can be genuinely expressive of mind is not at all counter-intuitive. Artworks have, for instance, (according to a common view) expressive properties that make something of the mental life of the artist available to others. Furthermore, many people seem to have experiences in which natural structures appear to them as intentionally created. Even atheists report that biological organisms strike them as “designed.” Experiences in which natural phenomena appear to the subject as intentionally created or “designed” are candidates for being veridical perceptions of expressive properties in nature. It is argued that the suggested construal of biological nature as expressive of the mind of a creator is completely compatible with the fact that biological species have evolved by natural selection. Chapter 6 briefly reflects on the consequences of the dissertation’s argument for Christian theology.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå, 2009. , 17 p.
Keyword [en]
natural theology, knowledge of God, philosophy of mind, perception, John McDowell, epistemological disjunctivism, problem of other minds, expression, postliberal theology, postsecular theology
Research subject
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-30360ISBN: 978-91-7264-912-5OAI: diva2:281939
Public defence
2010-01-22, Hörsal E, humanisthuset, Umeå universitet, Umeå, 13:15 (English)
Available from: 2009-12-29 Created: 2009-12-17 Last updated: 2009-12-29Bibliographically approved

Open Access in DiVA

summary(495 kB)496 downloads
File information
File name SUMMARY01.pdfFile size 495 kBChecksum SHA-512
Type summaryMimetype application/pdf
fulltext(495 kB)624 downloads
File information
File name FULLTEXT01.pdfFile size 495 kBChecksum SHA-512
Type fulltextMimetype application/pdf

Search in DiVA

By author/editor
Wahlberg, Mats
By organisation
Department of historical, philosophical and religious studies

Search outside of DiVA

GoogleGoogle Scholar
Total: 624 downloads
The number of downloads is the sum of all downloads of full texts. It may include eg previous versions that are now no longer available

Total: 1340 hits
ReferencesLink to record
Permanent link

Direct link