Apoplexy Now

May 8, 2009 § Leave a comment

A Devil’s Chaplain: Reflections on Hopes, Lies , Science and Love (Dawkins, Richard)

This is a collection of essays by Richard Dawkins, high priest of rationality and Darwin’s own Doberman.

I haven’t read any of Dawkins’ books prior to this, though several have been highly recommended to me (The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion among others) by people I trust, and so I am familiar with the general thrust of his arguments in favor of the theory of Evolution as opposed to those of Creationism or Intelligent Design. While I haven’t done much research into Professor Dawkins‘ body of work over the years, I have a faint suspicion that what once started as a defence of Darwin’s theory has broadened into a rejection of organized religion, and has then inexorably led to a stinging attack on those who profess faith in God without any evidentiary support.

Of course I am on the same side of the fence as Professor Dawkins on every point he makes, but occasionally – and certainly by the end of the book – I think he gets shrill and preachy in a tiresome way, a bit like an exasperated Ayatollah.

Searching for a historical analogy that would best explain my thoughts, I think of the Roman Inquisition in the 16th century, and the heresy trials of Giordano Bruno, for his defence of Copernican theory. I tend to forgive Pope Clement VIII for burning Bruno at the stake, because that was the unreasonable, uncivilized and brutal thing to do. That is what medieval religion did when faced with a stubborn opponent who would simply not agree to see eye-to-eye. Scientific knowledge, on the other hand, comes with the moral responsibility to be objective, dispassionate and never vindictive. And perhaps therein lies the source of my discomfort with Professor Dawkins’ book.

After such knowledge, as TS Eliot reminds us, what forgiveness?


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