The book is attacked on many fronts - my favourite - the one that made me smile - is the accusation that it's middlebrow. The reviewer is correct in this I think - and it's one of the things that I didn't care about it - but then I don't think H. Allen Orr and I are the target demographic.
Here's a couple of concurrent good paragraphs from the review:
"The reason Dawkins thinks he has something to say about God is, of course, clear: he is an evolutionary biologist. And as we all know, Darwinism had an early and noisy run-in with religion. What Dawkins never seems to consider is that this incident might have been, in an important way, local and contingent. It might, in other words, have turned out differently, at least in principle. Believers could, for instance, have uttered a collective "So what?" to evolution. Indeed some did. The angry reaction of many religious leaders to Darwinism had complex causes, involving equal parts ignorance, fear, politics, and the sheer shock of the new. The point is that it's far from certain that there is an ineluctable conflict between the acceptance of evolutionary mechanism and the belief that, as William James put it, "the visible world is part of a more spiritual universe." Instead, we and Dawkins might simply be living through the reverberations of an interesting, but not especially fundamental, bit of Victorian history. If so, evolutionary biology would enjoy no particularly exalted pulpit from which to preach about religion.
None of this is to say that evolutionary biology cannot inform our view of religion. It can and does. At the very least it insists that the Lord works in mysterious ways. More generally, it demands rejection of anything approaching biblical literalism. There are facts of nature—including that human beings evolved on the African savanna several million years ago—and these facts are not subject to negotiation. But Dawkins' book goes far beyond this. The reason, of course, is that The God Delusion is not itself a work of either evolutionary biology in particular or science in general. None of Dawkins' loud pronouncements on God follows from any experiment or piece of data. It's just Dawkins talking."
I love that line: It's just Dawkins talking.
He's right and it's one of the reasons the book has the feeling of ephemera - it won't last.
Certainly not in the same league Dawkins wonderful 'The Selfish Gene' - and that's a shame.
Alluding to Orr's first paragraph above I wish that certain Christian creeds had been able to get past the shock of Darwinism - it's refusal to engage with the realities of our time, (the equivalent of saying the Earth doesn't revolve around the Sun), are a hindrance to thought, religious or not, everywhere. In the review H. Allan asks why the book was written - this is why I think - Dawkins' fear - not of religion; but of the corrosive effects the anti-evolution brigade has on critical thinking - something, it goes without saying, we need now as much as we ever did.
I wonder: should religion be viewed as many do technology; a neutral 'force' that humans can use for good or ill?
Religion is different in the sense that from what I see it has a biological basis - or least spirituality does - there's a 'component' or area, (whether actual in terms of being located in a specific region or 'virtual' in the sense of a various of neuronal systems working together), that enables or I would even say creates that mystical feeling - that combined with like-minded upbringing, (perhaps by relatives that have the same predisposition towards the mystical), gives us religion.
So in that sense it's not a 'delusion' - it's real. One of the best examples of this I've seen in recent media is the German film 'Requiem'. A young university student raised in a strict religious family who suffers from terrifying epileptic attacks stops taking her medication - and begins to believe that she is being possessed by demons. The film is very effective in demonstrating that whether or not these demons are real, existent observable and recordable phenomena is immaterial - they're real to the girl and her family and her church. If there's no one else in the room of a possessed person, other than those who believe - than how can one say the events are not real?
Right, that's enough rambling for now. Let us look at that photo of the Sun setting on Mars that starts this post.
I love it. So desolate. So lonely.
The thing is, if humankind never existed - the Sun would still have set on that landscape - it doesn't know that we were ever here.
And someday we'll be gone and there'll be no one to remember us.
Dawkins and sunsets Previously on LTA: