In this ambitious book, acclaimed writer Marilynne Robinson applies her astute intellect to some of the most vexing topics in the history of human thought—science, religion, and consciousness. Crafted with the same care and insight as her award-winning novels, Absence of Mind challenges postmodern atheists who crusade against religion under the banner of science. In Robinson’s view, scientific reasoning does not denote a sense of logical infallibility, as thinkers like Richard Dawkins might suggest. Instead, in its purest form, science represents a search for answers. It engages the problem of knowledge, an aspect of the mystery of consciousness, rather than providing a simple and final model of reality.
By defending the importance of individual reflection, Robinson celebrates the power and variety of human consciousness in the tradition of William James. She explores the nature of subjectivity and considers the culture in which Sigmund Freud was situated and its influence on his model of self and civilization. Through keen interpretations of language, emotion, science, and poetry, Absence of Mind restores human consciousness to its central place in the religion-science debate.
My Week in Ideas
Because this is an off-the-cuff sort of post, I haven't gone through and manually changed all of the dumb-quotes to curly quotes. This may not bother any of my readers, but it bothers me.
1.) How is God expressed through history? I have no idea, but Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel does (yes, I'm still reading The Prophets):
Hmm. I'm arrested by the analogy he makes between individual mystical experience and historic justice, but I don't know what I think of it. I do think of the Kingdom of God as something we must work towards on earth, and yet something that can only be completed with God. So does Heschel, apparently:
You know what this reminds of of? Occupy Wall Street. One of the Quaker bloggers I most admire, Micah Bales, writes often about the connections between his theology and his involvement with the Occupy movement. Our conscience is timid, but the world is ablaze with agony . . . our perception of justice is shallow, often defective, and our judgment liable to deception . . . yes. Is Occupy a modern prophetic voice?
Oh yes. One of the most painful arguments I've gotten into with non-theists of various stripes is my rather dim view of collective human goodness. This seems to be one of those deep-down, divisive issues that reasonable people can go back and forth on endlessly and never be satisfied with the other's point of view. But yes, my idea of redemption is very closely tied to my dim view of collective human goodness.
2.) I really am tired of logical positivism. Seriously, I'm over it. My friend asked me to comment on this article, which I did at some length before Facebook ate my reply. Long story short, I think it's reasonable to apply different standards of truth to different sorts of truth-claims, I think it's reasonable to arrive at beliefs in different ways (including both intuition and "faith," a horribly abused term) so long as the belief, once arrived at, is checked by and is consonant with logic and reason, and I think religion and science genuinely make different sorts of claims about the world, although their magisteria are certainly at least partially overlapping and are often confusingly intertwined. On that note, for my birthday I asked for (and received a week early!) a copy of Michael Lynch's Truth As One and Many.
I am pleased. Publisher's blurb: "What is truth? Michael Lynch defends a bold new answer to this question. Traditional theories of truth hold that truth has only a single uniform nature. All truths are true in the same way. More recent deflationary theories claim that truth has no nature at all; the concept of truth is of no real philosophical importance. In this concise and clearly written book, Lynch argues that we should reject both these extremes and hold that truth is a functional property. To understand truth we must understand what it does, its function in our cognitive economy. Once we understand that, we'll see that this function can be performed in more than one way. And that in turn opens the door to an appealing pluralism: beliefs about the concrete physical world needn't be true in the same way as our thoughts about matters—like morality—where the human stain is deepest."
I also came across Marilynne Robinson's book Absence of Mind (yes, she of Gilead and Housekeeping fame; I have decided I like her essays much better than her fiction). Here's the publisher's blurb:
I actually didn't like the rest of the book enough to buy it; it was interesting, but not arresting. If I wasn't on such a tight budget, both of money and of reading time, I might have!
3.) Yes, it's my birthday in a week. I have two more years of my 20's. I have decided that my 30th birthday gift to myself will be having gotten over the aging process. Two more years to work out my existential anxiety!
4.) I can't control my reading habit. I vowed not to buy any more books until I had whittled down my "on deck" list, but today I bought:
I justified this by telling myself that I had also vowed to educate myself on church history, and especially the history of theology. With Alistair Mcgrath's work on the latter arriving in the mail soon, this is the perfect companion volume—right? Right? At any rate, it's very, very well written. I sat down in the shop and read the first two chapters in a gulp. More on this later.
5.) I'm back in training for my next half marathon. Off for my run after this!
6.) Blog posts I loved on this week: Micah Bales with Christ is Within You . . . What are You Going to Do About It?, and Johan M. with Why Conversion? I'm usually more ecumenical in my reading, but darn, Quakers were hitting it out of the park!
7.) It's very difficult to hear absence. Every time I pronounce a death, I think of this. I usually hear a heartbeat within seconds when I place my stethoscope on a living chest. During those first few seconds when I don't, I might move my stethoscope around a little, ask the person to move, try to shut out background noise—but I very quickly hear it, and I always know it's there. When I pronounce, though, I listen for a good thirty seconds to a minute by my watch, because not hearing a heartbeat is a very difficult thing, indeed. I can never entirely shake the fear that I've missed it, that the heartbeat is just hiding from me, that this is the silence of that first second on the living chest and not an eternal silence at all, that I'll call the family and do the notification and then, somehow, I was wrong, and the person lives! Does my fear of missing something have anything to do with my belief in God, or am I reaching, here?
at 8:04 PM