Intended for healthcare professionals

Views & Reviews Between the Lines

Challenging the medical materialists

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 10 August 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d5017
  1. Theodore Dalrymple, writer and retired doctor

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.

James (1842–1910) was one of three distinguished siblings. His brother Henry was the famous novelist, whom some find long winded and over-refined. His sister Alice became famous posthumously for the diary that she kept during her various breakdowns and the lung cancer that eventually killed her. William was one of those many distinguished doctors who never actually practised, though after he qualified …

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