"The mind, whatever else it is, is a constant of everyone's experience, and, in more ways than we know, the creator of the reality that we live within . … Nothing is more essential to us." So observes Marilynne Robinson in her recent work, Absence of Mind, a slim polemic aimed at today's popular-science writers: evolutionary psychologists E. O. Wilson and Steven Pinker, philosopher Daniel C. Dennett, and biologist/general grump Richard Dawkins. Such writers, says the Pulitzer-winning novelist, tend to reduce the person to brains, explaining away the strangeness and mystery of human experience. This reduction not only runs counter to our deepest intuitions; it's also bad science, offered under the pretense that the modernist thinkers of the past 200 years have already answered the question of our existence.
It's also bad theology, of course. Robinson, a Christian and Calvinist, talked to Christianity Today associate editor Katelyn Beaty about total depravity, the culture wars, and what scientific discoveries most excite her.
In Absence of Mind, your main argument is that the influential popular scientist-writers of our age (Wilson, Dennett, Dawkins, Pinker, et al.) fail to acknowledge the spiritual impulses, conscience, compassion, and other felt experiences, via the human mind, that show up in all of human history and that set our species apart from others. Why is proper attention to the "felt life" important to you?
Frankly, it seems bizarre to me to dismiss the reality of consciousness, by which I mean inwardness, subjectivity. I am pretty sure it would seem just as bizarre to me if I were an atheist. Anyone who has been moved by a poem or who has passed a sleepless night should be able to offer testimony to the reality ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more