Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Has Dawkins really softened?

I have been looking over some of the reviews of Richard Dawkins latest book, The Greatest Show on Earth.
It is interesting how different the reviews are. In The Independent, Marek Kohen says
The zero-tolerance stance he took towards religion in The God Delusion set atheists up as an exclusive sect, proudly isolated. Now he seems to have embraced the power of coalition and common cause, complaining that an opinion survey does not offer an option for people to agree that humans evolved over millions of years but that God had a hand in the process, and putting in a good word for the "churchmen and women who accept the evidence for evolution".

A side-effect of his new readiness to compromise is that he seems older, having shed some of the stringent impatience with the shortcomings of others that is more typically seen in much younger men. It suits him, though.
In contrast, in New Scientist, Randy Olsen writes:

Implying that your audience is stupid does not qualify as a great new angle. Yet this is precisely what Dawkins does. He opens the book by mentioning his two previous books about evolution, and then, with a nearly audible scoff, adds that back when he wrote those books (when people, apparently, were smarter?) he didn't have to argue that evolution actually happened. "That didn't seem to be necessary," he says.

By the first chapter he is comparing his predicament to a history professor forced to teach "a baying pack of ignoramuses" and dealing with a "rearguard defence". Today, he proclaims, "all but the woefully uninformed are forced to accept the fact of evolution".

It's really kind of comical. If "spot the condescensions" is a new drinking game, then bottoms up! There's one in just about every chapter. Though Dawkins says from the outset, "This is not an anti-religious book", he can't help but knock religion throughout, For instance, he writes: "God, to repeat this point, which ought to be obvious, but isn't, never made a tiny wing in his eternal life." Young Earth creationists are, he writes, "deluded to the point of perversity". You get the sense that Dawkins just can't control it. It's as if he suffers from an anti-religious form of Tourette's syndrome.

1 comment:

  1. When it comes to the popular science side of things, Dawkins is a very moving and brilliant writer, sensitive and powerful. When it comes to the religious side of thing, certainly in print, it is polemic all the way. Yet often in interviews, what is interesting to note is that he actually understands Christianity (though perhaps not theology) and the Bible pretty well and can quote its language and idioms with some ease - here he is often far more understanding, and sees the heritage of Christianity as not so clearly black and white.