Consciousness and Fine-Tuning Part 1: Agentive Cosmopsychism: A New Naturalist Hypothesis

By Brandon Rickabaugh | Plus, The Competency of Early Christian Scribes


[W[hat does the evidence suggest about the training and competency of the [early Christian] scribes themselves? Fortunately, this question can be answered with a great deal of certainty. This is because one simply needs to examine the earliest extant manuscripts to observe the quality of their work. In fact, many scholars have recently done this kind of analysis with a view to discovering the level of training and ability of early Christian scribes. Put simply, what they have found is that most of the early Christian manuscripts are clearly the products of trained and and competent copyists, not zealous amateurs.

Two such studies are worth highlighting here. The first is the work of Kim Haines-Eitzen. In her monograph Guardians of Letters, Haines-Eitzen asks, “Who were the scribes who copied early Christian literature during the second and third centuries?” To answer this question, she examines the evidence of early Christian scribes found in ancient literature, archaeology, and the papyri themselves. One of her observations is key:

What is striking about our earliest Christian papyri is that they all exhibit the influences of literary and documentary styles, and they all seem to be located in the middle of the spectrum of experience and level of skill. The scribes who produced these copies fit well into the portrait of multifunctional scribes— both professional and nonprofessional—whose education entailed learning how to write a semicursive style.

Note carefully what she argues here. All of the earliest Christian papyri evidence a mix of documentary and literary influence. This means that early Christian papyri, far from looking like the work of “amateurs,” actually bear the characteristics of both documentary papyri and literary manuscripts and thus can be located in “the middle of the spectrum of experience and level of skill.” Finally, these papyri exhibit the work of “multifunctional” scribes. Haines-Eitzen uses the term multifunctional to describe copyists who were able to produce both documentary texts and works of literature, not simply one or the other.

Once again, we meet the terminology of professional versus nonprofessional, and this can lead to confusion. So we should be clear. For Haines-Eitzen the term professional simply indicates someone who was by trade a scribe or held a scribal title (such as the administrative scribes in Egypt). Importantly, the term is not synonymous with “competent” (in fact, we have evidence of professional yet clearly incompetent scribes!). Many copyists in the ancient world were slaves, servants, or freedpersons who were trained and fully able to copy texts accurately, even though they may not have been paid for it, and it may not have been their primary task. These individuals often filled the roles of “secretaries, clerks, stenographers, and record keepers” in large households, but they would not necessarily be scribes by trade or by title, or considered “professional” in the modern sense. Thus, one of Haines-Eitzen’s key findings is that early Christian literature was circulated and disseminated through informal channels formed on social networks, or “in-house.” When seeking to obtain a copy of a New Testament book, early Christians probably did not commission the “professional” scribes of the book shops for their services; rather, they more likely enlisted the help of individuals within their own social circles. But this does not in any way imply that these individuals were insufficiently trained or that they were unskilled amateurs. In fact, the opposite appears to have been the case, and she states this quite clearly:

The fact that Christian papyri (as well as many classical papyri more generally) all exhibit the influences of documentary and literary styles indicates scribes who were either comfortable with and experienced in both styles or trained in more general styles of writing that could be adapted in rather simple ways to different tasks; it seems to me that the latter scenario is more likely since had these scribes had extensive training in literary book hand [i.e., handwriting], their hands would have manifested this training.

In other words, while it is not so clear that many early Christian copyists were professional scribes by trade, there is no doubt that most were competent and experienced.

— Elijah Hixson and Peter J. Gurry, eds., Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism (IVP Academic), Kindle Locations 2905-2918.

Consciousness and Fine-Tuning

Part 1: Agentive Cosmopsychism: A New Naturalist Hypothesis

by Brandon Rickabaugh


Here is a claim that most find hard to resist: the universe or at least some of its parts seem to be fine-tuned. This claim is normally made in light anthropic fine-tuning data: the fact that the laws, initial conditions, and the fundamental parameters of physics are and must be precisely set for life to exist. Here is a popular example:

Strong Nuclear Force: if the strong nuclear force, the force that binds protons and neutrons together in an atom, had been stronger or weaker by as little as five percent, life would be impossible.[1]

The debate over the fine-tuning data has been a rival between two explanations, one personal or theistic, and one sub-personal, atheistic or naturalistic. According to the Theistic Hypothesis, fine-tuning is explained by the good intentions of an all-powerful, all-knowing, perfectly good supernatural person to create an objectively valuable, life-sustaining universe. According to the dominant atheistic or naturalist explanation, the Multiverse Hypothesis, fine-tuning is explained by an enormous number of physical universes, in which various cosmological parameters are realized, including our own. Recently, a new naturalist explanation has been advanced by Philip Goff.[2] Goff proposes agentive cosmopsychism: cosmic fine-tuning is best explained by a universe that possesses a basic form of consciousness, rationality, and agency.

To those who do not traffic in consciousness studies or the philosophy of mind Goff’s view may sound too incredible to take seriously. I think such dismissiveness is a mistake. First, Goff’s view is a species of panpsychism: the view that consciousness is a fundamental feature of reality. This view is gaining significant popularity in philosophy of mind and neuroscience. To neglect this view would be to ignore what looks to become a significant source of confidence in naturalism over Christian theism.

Second, certain forms of panpsychism are plausibly immune to many powerful objections to standard naturalism. Standard naturalism is committed to a ‘bottom up’ building of the universe from a non-conscious physical base. However, panpsychism begins with consciousness at the fundamental level along with the physical. So, for example, the argument that naturalism cannot account for consciousness coming into existence from the physical doesn’t work, as panpsychists don’t hold that consciousness comes from a non-conscious physical base.

Third, panpsychism is also gaining traction as an alternative conception of God. For these reasons, I think it is important that we take this new naturalism and its new account of fine-tuning seriously.

The Agentive Cosmopsychism Hypothesis

Given the great difficulties facing physicalism (primarily the hard problem of consciousness) and a steadfast rejection of mind-body dualism, a growing number of naturalists are embracing versions of panpsychism, according to which some fundamental physical entities are conscious. The leading version of panpsychism is called Constitutive Russellian panpsychism: the thesis that fundamental intrinsic properties of the microphysical are themselves fundamental microphenomenal properties. So, at the fundamental level exist properties that are both physical and conscious.

Goff situates his naturalist account of fine-tuning within the framework of a particular version of panpsychism, constitutive cosmopsychism, according to which:

(i)             all facts are grounded in facts about the universe as a whole,

(ii)           the universe instantiates consciousness-involving categorical properties.

According to (i) facts about the universe as a whole are fundamental, while facts about the parts of the universe are derivative from facts about the universe as a whole. From (i) and (ii), it follows that the universe is itself one conscious subject, which has a great multitude of conscious subjects as parts.

Goff recognizes that (i) and (ii) alone do not explain fine-tuning. He explains,

We could suppose that the universe has a disposition to develop laws with fine-tuned values. But if the universe is entirely non-rational, then the fact that it is disposed to develop laws with exactly those parameter-values required for life is going to remain an intolerable fluke.[3]

Goff modifies composite cosmopsychism in two ways. First, Goff posits what I will call reasons responsiveness:

(iii)         Reasons Responsiveness: the universe, although physical, acts, and only acts, through a basic capacity to recognize and respond to reasons.

According to Goff the universe is “not simply pushed and pulled by instinctive drives,” but that, at least sometimes, “acts on the basis of normative judgements about reasons.”[4] Goff’s universe acts “because she recognises what she has reason to do.”[5]

Goff’s second modification is what I will call future representationalism:

(iv)          Future Representationalism: the universe has a basic disposition to form spontaneous mental representations of the complete future consequences of all of the choices available to it in designing the universe.[6]

Taken together, Goff offers the following explanation of fine-tuning:

Agentive Cosmopsychism: fine-tuning is explained by the rational responsiveness of the conscious universe (a cosmic agent) to mental representations of the complete future consequences of all of available choices in designing the universe.

Goff is not the first to entertain this view. Paul Davies, for example, entertains the hypothesis that “the universe has engineered its own self-awareness through quantum backward causation or some other physical mechanism yet to be discovered.”[7] “In this way,” says Davies, “the universe could both create itself and steer itself toward its destiny.”[8] Goff is, however, the first to develop a detailed defense of such a view.

The motivation for agentive cosmopsychism is quite simple. Like theists, Goff understands that a mindless origin for cosmic fine-tuning is highly improbable. Goff has proffered an explanation of fine-tuning that is not mindless, as in the multiverse hypothesis, and still not supernatural as in the theistic hypothesis. In part 2 I will explain and raise objections to Goff’s defense of Agentive Cosmopsychism as an account of fine-tuning.

Brandon Rickabaugh is the Franz Brentano Fellow in the Metaphysics of Mind at the Cultura Initiative, and a doctoral candidate in the Department of Philosophy at Baylor University. Learn more about Brandon and his work at

*Note: This essay is adapted from an academic talk Brandon gave at the 2019 National Evangelical Philosophical Society Conference. A recording of that talk is available at


[1] John Leslie, Universes (New York: Routledge, 1989), 4, and 35.

[2] Philip Goff, “Did the Universe Design Itself?” International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 85 (1) (2019): 99-122.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 109.

[5] Ibid., 115.

[6] Ibid, 112.

[7] Paul Davies, The Goldilocks Enigma: Why Is the Universe Just Right for Life? (New York, NY: Penguin, 2006), 250.

[8] Ibid.

Photo credit: Hubble Space Telescope / ESA on Visual Hunt /  CC BY

Book Highlight

*Unless otherwise noted, descriptions are those provided by the publisher, sometimes edited for brevity.

Edited by Elijah Hixson and Peter J. Gurry
Foreword by Daniel B. Wallace

Since the unexpected popularity of Bart Ehrman's bestselling Misquoting Jesus, textual criticism has become a staple of Christian apologetics.

Ehrman's skepticism about recovering the original text of the New Testament does deserve a response. However, this renewed apologetic interest in textual criticism has created fresh problems for evangelicals. An unfortunate proliferation of myths, mistakes, and misinformation has arisen about this technical area of biblical studies.

In this volume Elijah Hixson and Peter Gurry, along with a team of New Testament textual critics, offer up-to-date, accurate information on the history and current state of the New Testament text that will serve apologists and Christian students even as it offers a self-corrective to evangelical excesses.


"Packed with reliable data, Christian-friendly apologetics, but also critical of exaggerations and inaccuracies of some apologists, this rich multiauthor volume is a valuable resource. Practically every aspect of New Testament textual criticism is addressed competently and clearly. Highly recommended!"

L. W. Hurtado, emeritus professor of New Testament language, literature, and theology, University of Edinburgh

"Early in my work as an apologist, I made an embarrassing number of mistakes when it came to comments about textual criticism. In almost every instance, a book like this one would have provided the broader perspective that I needed to speak the truth with greater precision. What Elijah Hixson and Peter Gurry have provided in this handbook is a tool that every would-be defender of the Christian faith should purchase and regularly consult. Sloppy defenses of the truth always end up diminishing the truth instead of exalting the truth. Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism will equip you to leave behind sloppy defenses of Scripture when it comes to textual criticism."

Timothy Paul Jones, C. Edwin Gheens Endowed Chair of Christian Ministry, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Find Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism at Amazon, IVP, and other major booksellers.


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