Consider this a kind of postscript to the last two posts. My personal view is that consciousness and mind are perfectly “natural” in the sense that no supernatural intervention was necessary to “insert” them into the process by which life developed. I take it that they emerged once living organisms became sufficiently complex, even though how this happened is still very incompletely understood. But at the same time, I think they are real features of the world and shouldn’t be explained away as mere epiphenomena. The temptation to treat them as such arises when theories or concepts are taken to be exhaustive descriptions of reality rather than abstractions that only capture certain aspects of it. So because consciousness, say, doesn’t lend itself to the kinds of measurement and quantification that have given theories in the physical sciences so much of their explanatory power, scientists (or more commonly philosophers and popularizers of science) sometimes dismiss it as somehow “less real.” What we need then is not an appeal to the supernatural to make room for mind, but an understanding of “nature” that is sufficiently rich to accommodate all the parts of our experience.
More specifically, I don’t think Christians have any theological stake in viewing mind or consciousness as somehow separate from nature. Even though most mainstream churches have made peace with evolution to some extent, there is still a tendency to make an exception for human minds. For instance, some theologians still insist that each human soul is directly created by God at the moment of conception. This not only seems to wreak havoc with the unity of the human person, but it undermines the observed continuity between humans and other animals. I think it’s preferable (and arguably more biblical) to see human beings as unitary organisms with both physical and mental aspects. Moreover, it seems more credible to think of God as creating a universe that already contains within it the seeds of consciousness and mind rather than as having to add them after the fact.