Reply To: Suggestions of how discussions might be framed

  • Whit Blauvelt

    June 5, 2023 at 6:46 pm


    (Reading and replying here after posting a reply below.) Appreciate the background on your position. I don’t recall where McGilchrist makes mathematical claims; doesn’t he say he has little background in math? As for your claim about his grasp of science, where do you see him as going wrong?

    If he favors Catholics and dismisses Puritans, that’s natural enough for many from Scotland. What does that has to do with his grasp of science? He does argues against religious myths being judged by science’s standards, perhaps making a clearer case there than Stephen Jay Gould did with his “nonoverlapping magisteria.” I hope we can agree Gould was a decent scientist.

    Part of what fascinates me in James’s Pluralistic Universe is the case he makes against the New England Transcendentalists’ stance regarding the Absolute — the radical holism which as you point out goes back to Goethe, and the German philosophers they were all reading. I appreciate James’s taking that on all the more as I’ve been a holist since a teenager myself, in the light of which I’ve found McGilchrist’s extensive quotations of the Germans, who I’ve barely read, often making points I long ago came to on my own. It seems James wants to pull back about half-way from the transcendentalist position, to where there are many finite gods rather than one God Absolute. James says he worships a finite god, and believes that the god of the Bible, for whom he even allows the Absolute may be the “enemy.” A strange claim, to be sure.

    If it be at all true, it could explain how the larger portion of American protestant evangelicals are so comfortable with the obvious evil in their Trumpianism — that they are following a real, finite god, who is largely evil. As you pointed out earlier, this was also a claim of the Gnostic Christians. The Catholics on our Supreme Court may too be enthralled to that demon, as evidenced by the crookedness of their logic and disdain for personal ethics. Would we best go back to the Athenians’ many gods, none purely good nor evil?

    For myself though, I agree with the German philosophers’ claim of a fundamental free creativity to the universe, in which we participate. James, too, is clear this is better than traditional dualism. Our myths may be better when polytheistic — which for those Catholics invested in saints, is much the case. Meanwhile James’ points about the shortcomings in logical consistency the transcendentalists’ absolutist holistic views are, as roughed out in the Pluralistic lectures, beyond the level of the current debates in the journals of consciousness and philosophy I read, highly worthy of renewed attention.

    Still, if theology be one area, and science another, where do you see McGilchrist’s science going astray?