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There’s an interesting review of Dawkins’s “The God Delusion” in the latest NY Review of Books, by H. Allen Orr, a professor of biology at the U. of Rochester, at…

Here are several excerpts:—————-

1. So we all agree: religion can be bad ? But the critical question is: compared to what? ? Dawkins has a difficult time facing up to the dual facts that (1) the twentieth century was an experiment in secularism; and (2) the result was secular evil, an evil that, if anything, was more spectacularly virulent than that which came before. [Note: he means Hitler, Stalin and Mao, for starters.]

2. Our entire history has been so thoroughly shaped by Judeo-Christian tradition that we cannot imagine the present state of society in its absence. But there’s a deeper point and one that Dawkins also fails to see. Even what we mean by the world being better off is conditioned by our religious inheritance. What most of us in the West mean?and what Dawkins, as revealed by his own Ten Commandments, means?is a world in which individuals are free to express their thoughts and passions and to develop their talents so long as these do not infringe on the ability of others to do so. But this is assuredly not what a better world would look like to, say, a traditional Confucian culture. There, a new and improved world might be one that allows the readier suppression of in-dividual differences and aspirations. The point is that all judgments, including ethical ones, begin somewhere and ours, often enough, begin in Judaism and Christianity. Dawkins should, of course, be applauded for his attempt to picture a better world. But intellectual honesty demands acknowledging that his moral vision derives, to a considerable extent, from the tradition he so despises.

3. 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.”

4. Dawkins’s problems with philosophy might be related to a failure of metaphysical imagination. When thinking of those vast matters that make up religion?matters of ultimate meaning that stand at the edge of intelligibility and that are among the most difficult to articulate?he sees only black and white. Despite some attempts at subtlety, Dawkins almost reflexively identifies religion with right-wing fundamentalism and biblical literalism. Other, more nuanced possibilities? varieties of deism, mysticism, or nondenominational spirituality?have a harder time holding his attention. It may be that Dawkins can’t imagine these possibilities vividly enough to worry over them in a serious way.


Some people have jobs that very clearly benefit humanity: doctors, dentists, nurses, shoemakers, food-growers, artists, musicians, and so on. Those of us in love with or forced to practice occupations that are less directly related to human happiness other than our own need some justification for what we do. For me, that justification, when I can convince myself of it, is a little abstract: I think that in whatever field you’re in, there’s some long-term virtue in perceiving the world as honestly and accurately as possible. It’s OK to be sentimental, but that shouldn’t obscure what’s actually going on. To see what is actually going on, you need imagination. I think it’s the lack of imagination about the complexity of people and the world implicit in Dawkins’s view that I dislike.

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