Dec 06

An Advent Triptych of Atheism (I did me some book readin’): intro

Proven By Science8 comments • 764 views

What links these books is their atheistic viewpoint – a sceptical approach to our own beliefs and an awareness of the shortcomings of human psychology and thinking – but coming from three very different perspectives. A very American “ground clearing” (the ground in question being covered in eggshells) debate style coming from a philosopher of mind, a british polemic from a friend of his who once wrote a very good book, and a compendium of stories and tricks written by a minor, though handsome, television personality who was an evangelical christian as a student.

I was not going to read the Dawkins book but a) it was mentioned in the other two books here, and b) there was a cheap “trade paperback/airport only” edition and a relaxing non-fiction read for my holiday between sections of the new Pynchon was in order.

The Dennett and Derren books help throw into relief just why I find Dawkins (now) so unengaging and unrewarding a writer. Where the other two worm their way into your attention through a warmth and humour that complements their positive crusade, Dawkins invidious, tiring and unapologetic rhetorical stance does nothing to enhance or advance the bald correctness of what he is saying. But I’ll devote separate posts to each book, so that can wait.

(ps I’m not loving the Pynchon so much, since you asked. More Vineland than M&D/GR if you ask. Is OK.)


  1. 1
    Dave Boyle on 22 Dec 2006 #

    Dawkins is a fine example of the assertion that no-one believes in God like and atheist; his organising principle of life is about divinity, as much as any christian fundy.

  2. 2
    Alan on 22 Dec 2006 #

    i’m not sure i get you, but his organising principle of life is clearly not about divinity.

  3. 3
    Jack Fear on 27 Dec 2006 #

    In the same way that the organizing principle in Ahab’s life was the white whale, yeah? Self-defined by his opposition; the concept of God obviously looms large in Dawkins’s life, else he wouldn’t dedicate so much time and invective to refuting it.

    I reckon it’s the same for any professional atheist—for such Dawkins has become. Admittedly, he’s not as naked about it as the evolutionary psychologist Jesse Bering, who matter-of-factly says, “I’ve got my hands around God’s throat, and I’m not going to stop until one of us is dead.”

  4. 4
    Alan on 27 Dec 2006 #

    What he really has a problem with is religion. The existence of god is well below his radar when you understand his position – its a non-issue. So no I still don’t believe the concept of God does loom large in his life. There are plenty of atheists in the world, only a few are in the ideal position to write extensively in its defence, and there’s no good reason to believe that those who so choose are in some sense compensating. Of course having taken on the task he can’t just retire and has to stand up and repeat his arguments (ad nauseum it would seem).

  5. 5
    Jack Fear on 28 Dec 2006 #

    …there’s no good reason to believe that those who so choose are in some sense compensating.

    No? Then why take on the task in the first place? Would you have me believe that it’s all to do with his being in the right place at the right time, and not with any deep drive within the man himself? I find that hard to swallow, Alan.

    No one thrust this fight upon Dawkins. He gloved up and came out swinging, and he did it for reasons of his own.

  6. 6
    Pete Baran on 28 Dec 2006 #

    I think Alan’s right though. It is not so much the concept of a Judeo-Christian God that Dawkins rails against, it is the concept of (and moreover the historical and current unscientific thought proccesses bundled up with) organised religion. And it is the orgnaisation which perhaps Dawkins over-compensates for, but I think the point is that like many an academic and self-publicist, he has been given fame for this particular aspect of his writing/personality and his own vanity allows himself to keep running with it. Which is a pity because it does colour his other truly great work on evolutionary biology.

    Altenratively God killed his puppy and he’s bloody well going to make him pay.

  7. 7
    Jack Fear on 28 Dec 2006 #

    Which actually seems to be the case for Jesse Bering, although for “puppy” substitute “mother.”

  8. 8
    Alan on 28 Dec 2006 #

    Why on earth find it so hard to swallow? Does this mean that you think that most intellectual pursuits are driven by a variety of intellectual vendetta – i find that hard to swallow. My own dispositions to write about or think about things are rarely driven that way, and I don’t believe that is the case for most people.

    And in Dawkins case yes he is in the right place because his previous work has led here quite naturally, so it just doesn’t follow that he has been driven by anything other than his philosophical view rather than reaction to an antithesis.

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