“Sublimely non-tendentious,” that’s the phrase I’ve always attributed to Alfred North Whitehead — a man who began his career as a Cambridge mathematician collaborating with Bertrand Russell and ended that career as a Harvard philosopher and metaphysician. Two things you can count on when reading Whitehead. First, he will look at the big picture. Second, he will generously give to all historical players the credit due to them. I make these points to contrast Whitehead’s modus operandi with the scattershot pettiness that pervades Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion (Houghton Mifflin, 416 pages, $27).p>Here’s a sample taken from Whitehead’s Science and the Modern World — a stunningly insightful text based on the Lowell Lectures of 1925: br> /p>
The Reformation and the scientific movement were two aspects of the [historical] revolt which was the dominant intellectual movement of the later Renaissance. The appeal to the origins of Christianity, and Francis Bacon’s appeal to efficient causes as against final causes, were two sides of one movement of thought.br> And again: br>
I do not think…that I have even yet brought out the greatest contribution of medievalism to the formation of the scientific movement. I mean the inexpugnable belief that every detailed occurrence can be correlated with its antecedents in a perfectly definite manner, exemplifying general principles. Without this belief the incredible labours of scientists would be without hope…. My explanation is that the faith in the possibility of science, generated antecedently to the development of modern scientific theory, is an unconscious derivation from medieval theology.br> To simplify, both the Reformation and modern science arose out of a “movement of thought” that, in the case of science, rebelled against final causes. Yet, ironically, the confidence that modern science displays in its intellectual project rests upon an unconscious faith in the universe’s detailed rationality that was derived from medieval theology.
Don’t look for anything like this kind of subtle analysis in The God Delusion. What you’ll find, instead, is page after sarcastic page of attacks against any foe Dawkins considers an easy target: Pat Robertson, Pastor Ted Haggard, Ann Coulter, a small fundamentalist school in Northeast England (to which 7 of Dawkins’ 374 pages are devoted), Pastor Fred “God Hates Fags” Phelps, Dr. James Dobson, and, of course, G. W. Bush — who supposedly invaded Iraq because he was told to do so by God. Even poor Carl Jung is made into a kook by Dawkins for believing “that particular books on his shelf spontaneously exploded.” (I’ve read a number of works written by Freud’s unfaithful protege and have yet to encounter the concept of spontaneous book combustion. Dawkins, however, as with the comment about President Bush and Iraq, doesn’t bother to provide references for these claims.)
When it comes to magnanimity, here’s a sample of the author’s generosity: “To be fair, much of the Bible is not systematically evil but just plain weird.” This comment shows the contempt Dawkins consistently displays for ideas that don’t conform to his own — a bio-creed that includes the following affirmations: life emerged on earth due to random interactions of material elements; life evolved from its primitive forms to its current complexity because of natural selection; no god is needed to make sense of these (or any other) phenomena.
In truth, Dawkins’ entire book is an exercise in contempt — summarily dismissing Thomas Aquinas’ theological arguments and devoting less than 100 breezy pages to the whole issue of God’s existence. The rest of Dawkins’ book discusses — with the jaundiced eye of an H. L. Mencken in biological drag — how religious beliefs are given undue social deference, why Einstein’s references to God aren’t religious, why eastern religions aren’t religions, why religion developed (socio-biologically), how the Bible is a jumble of historical trash, how religion promotes intolerance and undermines science, how Hitler may have been Catholic, why Stalin’s atheism doesn’t matter, why society doesn’t need religion to be moral, why Jefferson was probably an atheist (the non-mentioned God-statements on the Jefferson Memorial to the contrary notwithstanding), why studying religion to understand literary references is okay, and why parents indoctrinating their children with religious beliefs are guilty of child abuse. (The depth of Dawkins’ political thought is shown by his failure to ponder for one second the implications of a government that can tell parents what beliefs they can and cannot transmit to their offspring.)
FAR FROM BEING A SERIOUS philosophical book, this ill-edited and garrulous diatribe contains just about anything that crosses the author’s mind — including numerous quotes from that popular author, atheist, and graduate student, Sam Harris. What one won’t find in The God Delusion is serious curiosity about the essential nature of the universe. The billions upon billions of stars and galaxies that Carl Sagan invoked with semi-mystical awe, become, for Dawkins, a mere premise for his theoretical conceit that random interactions could have produced the phenomenon of life on earth. (With so many planets, it had to have happened somewhere!) Never mind the fact that scientists endowed with that mysterious chemical characteristic known as consciousness can’t, with purposeful intent, replicate that vital accident. And never mind that scientists like DNA-theorist Francis Crick were so baffled by the complexity of early life forms that they toyed with a panspermia hypothesis according to which space aliens brought life-seeds to earth. And finally, never mind the embarrassing fossil-record confession by the late Harvard biologist, Stephen Jay Gould, that “most species exhibit no directional change during their tenure on earth” and that in any local area, “a species does not arise gradually by the steady transformation of its ancestors; it appears all at once and ‘fully formed.’”
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?