Challenging the medical materialists

In the BMJ (subscription required) Dalrymple addresses William James’ book The Varieties of Religious Experience, whose influence is clear from the impressive frequency with which I see still it referenced these days:

The belief that the theory of evolution and the neurosciences have something important to tell us about the inescapable problems of human existence has once again become fashionable. In my view, this is false and facile; a reading of the first chapter of William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience should explain why.

Dalrymple goes on to explain James’s strong argumentation against of the ideas of the “medical materialists”, who explained religious belief as emanating from the physiological condition of its adherents:

In other words, [argued James] humanity is stuck with the obligation to test the truth of its ideas, which no amount of reflection on their origins will ever do. The possession of self consciousness and propositional language means that naturalistic explanations will always remain insufficient and will never pluck out the heart of our mystery.

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