A Devil's Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Loveby Richard Dawkins
The first collection of essays from renowned scientist and best-selling author Richard Dawkins.
Richard Dawkins's essays are an enthusiastic testament to the power of rigorous, scientific examination, and they span many different corners of his personal and professional life. He revisits the meme, the unit of cultural information that he named and wrote/b>
The first collection of essays from renowned scientist and best-selling author Richard Dawkins.
Richard Dawkins's essays are an enthusiastic testament to the power of rigorous, scientific examination, and they span many different corners of his personal and professional life. He revisits the meme, the unit of cultural information that he named and wrote about in his groundbreaking work The Selfish Gene. He makes moving tributes to friends and colleagues, including a eulogy for novelist Douglas Adams; he shares correspondence with the evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould; and he visits with the famed paleoanthropologists Richard and Maeve Leakey at their African wildlife preserve. He concludes the essays with a vivid note to his ten-year-old daughter, reminding her to remain curious, to ask questions, and to live the examined life.
"Dawkins’s enthusiasm for the diversity of life on this planet should prove contagious." Publishers Weekly
"His discussions of religious issues are intensely thought-provoking....Dawkins is creative, articulate and, above all, emotional."Christine Kenneally The New York Times Book Review
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This book constitutes a personal selection, made by the Editor Latha Menon,
from among all the articles and lectures, reflections and polemics, book
reviews and forewords, tributes and eulogies that I have published (or in a few
cases not previously published) over 25 years. There are many themes here,
some arising out of Darwinism or science in general, some concerned with
morality, some with religion, education, justice, history of science, some just
Though I admit to occasional flames of (entirely justified) irritation
in my writing, I like to think that the greater part of it is good-humoured,
perhaps even humorous. Where there is passion, well, there is much to be
passionate about. Where there is anger, I hope it is a controlled anger.
Where there is sadness, I hope it never spills over into despair but still looks
to the future. But mostly science is, for me, a source of living joy, and I hope
it comes through in these pages.
My contribution to the book itself has been to write the preambles
to each of the seven sections, reflecting on the essays Latha has chosen
and the connections between them. Hers was the difficult task, and I am
filled with admiration for the patience with which she read through vastly more
of my writings than are here reproduced, and for the skill with which she
achieved a subtler balance of them than I thought they possessed. Her own
Introduction gives the reasoning behind her choice, and behind her sorting of
the essays into seven sections with a carefully crafted running-order within
each section. But as for what she had to choosefrom, the responsibility is,
of course, mine.
It is not possible to list all the people who helped with the
individual pieces, spread as they are over 25 years. Help with the book itself
came from Yan Wong, Christine DeBlase-Ballstadt, Anthony Cheetham,
Michael Dover, Laura van Dam and Catherine Bradley. My gratitude to
Charles Simonyi is unabated. And my wife Lalla Ward continues to lend her
encouragement, her advice and her fine-tuned ear for the music of language.
It took quite a while for me to get round to reading The Selfish Gene. My love
had been for the elegance, the philosophical profundity, the exquisite
simplicity of the world as revealed by physics. Chemistry seemed messy,
and as for biology – well, my brief acquaintance with it from school had
suggested a dry field, full of dull collections of facts, much learning by rote,
and little in the way of organizational principles. How wrong I was. Like many,
I had thought I understood evolution, but it was through the books of Richard
Dawkins in particular that I was introduced to the astonishing depth and
grandeur of Darwin's (and Wallace's) idea, to its astounding explanatory
power and its profound implications for ourselves and our view of the world.
The narrow domestic walls that habit, tradition and prejudice had erected
between the fields of science in my mind fell away.
I was delighted, therefore, to be able to repay the debt in some
small measure when I was asked by the publishers to put together this
collection of Richard's writings. Richard is an academic scientist, but this
volume does not include his academic papers. Instead it brings together a
number of his shorter articles and columns intended for a wider audience.
The task was not an easy one. The composing of this volume has involved
some difficult choices and has sadly entailed leaving behind much which
must await a future collection. In selecting the pieces included here, I have
sought to reflect the range of Richard's interests and concerns, and
something of his life too; indeed, almost inevitably, the volume contains an
autobiographical element. It is divided into seven sections, moving broadly
from science, through memes and religion, to people and memories. The first
six sections contain mixtures of pieces of varying lengths and moods, written
in different contexts.
There is plenty here, of course, on evolution, and more generally
on the nature of science, on its unique ability to seek out truth, contrasted
with the muddled thinking of New Age mysticism and spirituality, the
superficially more impressive 'metatwaddle' of postmodernism, and the
closed, authoritarian, faith-based beliefs of revealed religion. This would not
be a representative volume without some of Richard's writings on religion. I
have an especially pertinent personal reason for sharing the urgency and
passion of his words on the subject: I was born in India – that country which
has been so dragged back by its superstitious baggage, where religious
labels have been used to such widespread and horrific effect.
So much for the necessary and principled stand. Being a scientist
and rationalist does not mean a life of soulless grind, of
meaninglessness, but one that is immensely more enriched, more precious.
Gathered here, too, then, is a selection of warm memories – of an African
childhood, of inspiring mentors, of departed friends, much loved. And books
and love of learning weave their way throughout the whole, with forewords,
reviews and critical commentaries (including a section on the works of the
late Stephen J. Gould).
The final section, 'A Prayer for My Daughter', in many ways sums
up the key themes of the volume. It expresses an earnest hope that future
generations will continue to strive for an understanding of the natural world
through reason and based on evidence. It is a passionate plea against the
tyranny of mind-numbing belief systems.
My main task has been the selection and arrangement of
Richard's writings. The articles appear much as they did in their original form,
with occasional deletions and minor word-changes to fit the context of the
collection, and the addition of further explanatory footnotes. Richard himself
has been a model of patience and generosity throughout the preparation of
the volume, as well as a constant inspiration. My thanks also go to Lalla
Ward for her valuable comments and suggestions, Christine DeBlase-
Ballstadt for her assistance with the textual material, and Michael Dover and
Laura van Dam for their encouragement and support for the project.
A final word. For me as editor, working on this collection has been
a particularly special experience, so closely do my own views accord with
those of the author on many things. Above all, this volume is about the
richness of the world when vie in the light of scientific understanding.
Science reveals a reality wondrous beyond the imaginings of tradition. Look
again at that entangled bank.
SCIENCE AND SENSIBILITY
The first essay in this volume, A Devil's Chaplain (1.1), has not previously
been published. The title, borrowed by the book, is explained in the essay
itself. The second essay, What is True? (1.2), was my contribution to a
symposium of that name, in Forbes ASAP magazine. Scientists tend to take
a robust view of truth and are impatient of philosophical equivocation over its
reality or importance. It's hard enough coaxing nature to give up her truths,
without spectators and hangers-on strewing gratuitous obstacles in our way.
My essay argues that we should at least be consistent. Truths about
everyday life are just as much – or as little – open to philosophical doubt as
scientific truths. Let us shun double standards.
At times I fear turning into a double standards bore. It started in
childhood when my first hero, Doctor Dolittle (he returned irresistibly to mind
when I read the Naturalist's Voyage of my adult hero, Charles Darwin), raised
my consciousness, to borrow a useful piece of feminist jargon, about our
treatment of animals. Non-human animals I should say, for, of course, we are
animals. The moral philosopher most justly credited with raising today's
consciousness in this direction is Peter Singer, lately moved from Australia
to Princeton. His The Great Ape Project aims towards granting the other
great apes, as near as is practically possible, civil rights equivalent to those
enjoyed by th human great ape. When you stop and ask yourself why this
seems so immediately ridiculous, the harder you think, the less ridiculous it
seems. Cheap cracks like 'I suppose you'll need reinforced ballot-boxes for
gorillas, then?' are soon dispatched: we give rights, but not the vote, to
children, lunatics and Members of the House of Lords. The biggest objection
to the GAP is 'Where will it all end? Rights for oysters?' (Bertrand Russell's
quip, in a similar context). Where do you draw the line? Gaps in the Mind
(1.3), my own contribution to the GAP book, uses an evolutionary argument
to show that we should not be in the business of drawing lines in the first
place. There's no law of nature that says boundaries have to be clear-cut.
In December 2000 I was among those invited by David Miliband
MP, then Head of the Prime Minister's Policy Unit and now Minister for
School Standards, to write a memo on a particular subject for Tony Blair to
read over the Christmas holiday. My brief was Science, Genetics, Risk and
Ethics (1.4) and I reproduce my (previously unpublished) contribution here
(eliminating Risk and some other passages to avoid overlap with other
Any proposal to curtail, in the smallest degree, the right of trial by
jury is greeted with wails of affront. On the three occasions when I have been
called to serve on a jury, the experience proved disagreeable and
disillusioning. Much later, two grotesquely over-publicized trials in the United
States prompted me to think through a central reason for my distrust of the
jury system, and to write it down as Trial By Jury (1.5).
Crystals are first out o the box of tricks toted by psychics,
mystics, mediums and other charlatans. My purpose in the next article was
to explain the real magic of crystals to the readers of a London newspaper,
the Sunday Telegraph. At one time it was only the low-grade tabloid
newspapers that encouraged popular superstitions like crystal-gazing or
astrology. Nowadays some up-market newspapers, including the Telegraph,
have dumbed down to the extent of printing a regular astrology column, which
is why I accepted their invitation to write Crystalline Truth and Crystal Balls
A more intellectual species of charlatan is the target of the next
essay, Postmodernism Disrobed (1.7). Dawkins' Law of the Conservation of
Difficulty states that obscurantism in an academic subject expands to fill the
vacuum of its intrinsic simplicity. Physics is a genuinely difficult and profound
subject, so physicists need to – and do – work hard to make their language
as simple as possible ('but no simpler,' rightly insisted Einstein). Other
academics – some would point the finger at continental schools of literary
criticism and social science – suffer from what Peter Medawar (I think) called
Physics Envy. They want to be thought profound, but their subject is actually
rather easy and shallow, so they have to language it up to redress the
balance. The physicist Alan Sokal perpetrated a blissfully funny hoax on the
Editorial 'Collective' (what else?) of a particularly pretentious journal of social
studies. Afterwards, together with his colleague Jean Bricmont, he published
a book, Intellectual Impostures, ably documenting this epidemic of
Fashionable Nonsense (as their book was retitled in the United
States). 'Postmodernism Disrobed' is my review of this hilarious but
I must add, the fact that the word 'postmodernism' occurs in the
title given me by the Editors of Nature does not imply that I (or they) know
what it means. Indeed, it is my belief that it means nothing at all, except in
the restricted context of architecture where it originated. I recommend the
following practice, whenever anybody uses the word in some other context.
Stop them instantly and ask, in a neutral spirit of friendly curiosity, what it
means. Never once have I heard anything that even remotely approaches a
usable, or even faintly coherent, definition. The best you'll get is a nervous
titter and something like, 'Yes I agree, it is a terrible word isn't it, but you
know what I mean.' Well no, actually, I don't.
As a lifelong teacher, I fret about where we go wrong in education.
I hear horror stories almost daily of ambitious parents or ambitious schools
ruining the joy of childhood. And it starts wretchedly early. A six-year-old boy
receives 'counselling' because he is 'worried' that his performance in
mathematics is falling behind. A headmistress summons the parents of a
little girl to suggest that she should be sent for external tuition. The parents
expostulate that it is the school's job to teach the child. Why is she falling
behind? She is falling behind, explains the headmistress patiently, because
the parents of all the other children in the class are paying for them to go to
It is not just the joy o that is threatened. It is the joy of
true education: of reading for the sake of a wonderful book rather than for an
exam; of following up a subject because it is fascinating rather than because
it is on a syllabus; of watching a great teacher's eyes light up for sheer love
of the subject. The Joy of Living Dangerously: Sanderson of Oundle (1.8) is
an attempt to bring back from the past the spirit of just such a great teacher.
Copyright © 2003 by Richard Dawkins. Reprinted by permission of Houghton
Meet the Author
RICHARD DAWKINS taught zoology at the University of California at Berkeley and at Oxford University and is now the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford, a position he has held since 1995. Among his previous books are The Ancestor’s Tale, The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, Climbing Mount Improbable, Unweaving the Rainbow, and A Devil’s Chaplain. Dawkins lives in Oxford with his wife, the actress and artist Lalla Ward.
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To some, Richard Dawkins is threatening. His phrases pry open shut minds. His words bend and flex rigid thinking. His ideas trash dearly held dogmas. And, of course, he idolizes The Devil's Chaplain - Charles Darwin [the title is from a letter of Darwin's]. He performs all these feats with a graceful style - one which anyone writing science should study. This collection is comprised of letters, book reviews and even eulogies - an unusual vehicle for espousing the cause of rational thinking. If much of his writing seems intense, it's because he recognizes his role in waging an uphill battle against 'established truths', no matter how false they prove. To show the validity of truth over myth requires a direct approach. Dawkins recognizes that people abhor being called animals. The continuity of life, one of the major themes in this collection, remains an indisputable fact, he stresses. This series reinforces Dawkins' attempts to make us aware that we are part of Nature. He is always witty, using his sound scientific basis and rationale to keep us informed. Science, in his view, must not be eroded by baseless tradition nor false dogmas. The goal of living, he argues, is the understanding of life itself. Religion and philosophy have failed abysmally, the realm of science should be given its opportunity. It's a broad view, sustained by an ability to grasp it firmly. Better yet, for us, it's presented here with verve and dedication. Segregated into [lucky!] seven sections, each addressing a general theme. He covers many topics in this anthology - evolution, of course, but medicine, genetically modified foods [many foods are hybrids resulting from genetic manipulation], jury trials, intellectual heresies, and even government policies are included. The arrangement presents no difficulty - in fact, each offering might be chosen at random without losing any impact. Selecting a favourite is an arduous task [although it promotes re-reading] but the review of Sokal and Bricmont's 'Fashionable Nonsense' ranks very high. The review demonstrates Dawkins' many talents, from insight to incisiveness. Few essayists provide the imagery he can attain to explain an idea. There are those, particularly adherents of the idea that science lacks morality, who see scientists as cold and distant. Dawkins shows how false this idea is with his laudatory comments on John Diamond, Douglas Adams and William Hamilton. He even extends an olive branch to his academic opponent, the late Stephen J. Gould. As fellow evolutionists, Dawkins and Gould forged a rapport against the rants and duplicities of the Christian creationists. It requires a broad mind to take such steps, and narrowness isn't among Dawkins' blemishes. He's a feeling human being and a tireless campaigner. We would all do well to heed and emulate him.
In his new book, A Devil's Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love, Dawkins has reproduced his favorite essays, reviews, and addresses in one volume. The book's title is from a letter Darwin wrote to his friend Joseph Hooker in 1856. Like Darwin, Dawkins argues that evolution is a blind process, demonstrating no concern for suffering 'as an inherent consequence of natural selection.' In this new volume, Dawkins asserts that 'evolution gave us a brain that is capable of understanding its own provenance, of deploring the moral implications and of fighting against them.' As a militant atheist, Dawkins is living out the inevitable consequences of the Darwinian worldview. Dawkin's evolutionary perspective teaches that the universe is a silent box empty of all intention and design. Everything within the box must be explained in terms of purely naturalistic materials and processes. The cosmos and everything within it is in the end a marvelous--if often malevolent--accident of nature. Dawkins' hostility toward religion in general, and Christianity in particular, has been evident from his earliest writings. In his popular articles for secular humanist and atheist periodicals, he identifies atheism as the only credible intellectual option in our modern age. He sees Christianity--and all forms of theistic belief--as intellectual viruses. But we underestimate Dawkins if we assume that his concerns are merely academic and intellectual. To the contrary, Dawkins aspires to be a social engineer and to bring the evolutionary worldview into the public square in order to revolutionize politics, culture, economics, and every dimension of life. The title of his newest book is more than a literary accident. Dawkins really sees himself as an evangelist for Darwinism and as something like a High Priest of naturalism. He sees all forms of religious belief as the enemy, and wants to expunge public life of all religious arguments, concepts, and traditions. Ultimately, Dawkins would like to clear the public square of all religious believers as well. In this book his goal comes through clearly, albeit tactfully.
Don't fall for the argument that because Dawkins doesn't like to be around creationists that he is a bad person. The bible states that believers should not associate with non-believers. It even states that believers should kill non-believers. Seems like good enough reason for me to stay away from them. This book is well thought out and a must have for anyone who may be interested in the TRUTH! If the real world scares you, then buy something more comforting.
Dawkins' prose not only makes science appealing to the usually uninterested, it forces the reader to look closely at every single passage and detail.
A wonderful view of how science works, the discussions, arguments, the working-out of differences... showing CLEARLY that there is no Darwinian Dogma in ANY sense of the word or idea. Some beautiful personal moments in his life as well as brilliant scientific insights.
Richard Dawkins, the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, defends the need for science and reason in this superb collection of essays, selected from his work over the last 25 years. The book includes many of his writings on science, education, evolutionary biology, alternative medicine and religion. It also contains tributes to colleagues and friends, and reviews of Stephen Jay Gould¿s works. Dawkins points out that the scientific method is the most powerful idea that we have ever invented, and that its goal is truth. That the sun is hotter than the earth is true, not just a belief. Nor is it a hypothesis awaiting falsification, as Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn would claim, nor is it a local truth deniable in another culture. Dawkins contends that Darwinism, one of mankind¿s greatest achievements, defined as `cumulative evolution by non-random survival of random hereditary changes¿, is universally true. He shows how the human mind is a material product of natural selection. He says yes to science and no to religion, the two possible roads. In science, ideas are up for attack, through evidence, argument and debate; in religion, there is only the appeal to authority, tradition and revelation. He opposes idealism in philosophy and all its consequent clerical and postmodernist waffle. We are on our own and must cope with the real world like adults. But convention says that we must respect religions. Why? Religion¿s intellectual function is to screen and defend non-science, while its social function is to promote fear. As Dawkins notes, ¿Religion is the most inflammatory enemy-labelling device in history.¿ For instance, the Old Testament, a barbaric Bronze Age text, promotes genocide, slavery, misanthropy and eternal hellfire. This is a book full of ideas, which must be read for its sheer sparkling, searing intelligence. Dawkins represents the collective mind of science at its most focused, consistent and militant.
This work is a collection of articles, many of which try to defend Dawkin¿s militant stand against religion. Some argue that Dawkins only objects to religious radicals or extremists. This is not true accordingly to Dawkins own words in this book and in his many writings. One recent example is in the Jun. 21, 2004 issue of New Scientist Dawkins, in answer to the question, ¿Why do you spend so much time debunking religion?¿ said: ¿I am very hostile to religion because it is enormously dominant, especially in American life. And I don't buy the argument that ¿ it's harmless. I think it is harmful¿¿ Note that he says ¿religion,¿ not fundamentalism or religious extremism, nor does he give any qualifiers. Another example is in the book reviewed here he says: ¿Religion is the most inflammatory enemy-labeling device in history.¿ This seems to be a gross overgeneralization that ignores the great good done by religion. Furthermore, this kind of language hardly serves to build bridges but only inflames passions on both sides. He also acts on his views and has done everything that he can to work against the influence of religious people. I agree with the reviewer above who noted that ¿Dawkins will antagonize some readers by his attacks on religion: his tone in these essays may fall just short of intellectual arrogance, but he certainly exhibits an intellectual impatience not always beneficial to his argument¿.
I struggle to comprehend how a business can succeed with such a lousy process. This is my second contact with BN.... Should be close to my last one. Really sad about that.
In The Name of Sar'ah, The Merciful, The Extravagant!: "Whoever misleads children into atheism or false, pagan, swine-filled religions of false conjecture and repugnant hypothesis shall surely be brought to the one-way glass of al-Dajjal (inferno), for being a voracious and rapacious, innocence stealing maggot. He/She shall be thrown through, but the will never escape! Prudessess! Did you not think I, Sar'ah, would judge justly for the many terrors commited by your hands? Look at the ruins of Hyakjik, which lie underneath the Pacific waters. I threw them into disarray for tolerating the killing of innocent, non-Prudess children and their Hoeist parents. Did they think I would not drown them for their atrocities? Prudessess they were! Waves of terror crashed upon them, a rift opening up in the earth beneath the sea, swallowing them up into the crumbling, boiling abyss! Their sin was lust for pearls; murderers they became! In this there is evidence of the truth for those who have been given Intelligence (by Sar'ah) to investigate all matters that arise under the sun and the clouds and the moon and [her] stars. I Am Sar'ah, The All-Compassionate and Ever-Exalted!" Amen.