Richard Dawkins - A Devil's Chaplain

"What matters is not the facts but how you discover and think about them: education in the true sense..." (p. 60)
A Devil's Chaplain is a wonderful little collection of some previously published, and unpublished, essays of Richard Dawkins. The writings are grouped into categories, and Dawkins provides additional background information on them that most people, even if they previously read some of the essays, were unaware of. I had read several of them a while back but found them even more worthwhile the second time around, especially with the additional tidbits and in sequence with other similar topics.

Dawkins covers all his usual bases and a few more to boot. Some of the book reviews have inspired me to find those books (Pluto's Republic, Red Strangers, and The Lion Children) to see for myself. Others, I have already read. He, of course, gives religion its well deserved knocks in typical Dawkins fashion.

At its most naive, this intellectual appeasement policy (of saying that religion and science are harmonious, or equal, as each answers different kinds of questions and never tread on the other's turf) partitions the intellectual territory into "how questions" (science) and "why questions" (religion). What are "why questions," and why should we feel entitled to think they deserve an answer? There may be some deep questions about the cosmos that are forever beyond science. The mistake is to think that they are therefore not beyond religion, too. (p. 149)
...modern theists might acknowledge that, when it comes to Baal and the golden calf, Thor and Wotan, Poseidon and Apollo, Mithras and Ammon Ra, they are actually atheists. We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further. (p. 150)
He also discusses the Gould-Dawkins battles. And, as I've been saying all along, the war between the two really wasn't all that bad if you actually read their reviews of each other instead of the headlines and the titles of the reviews. They agreed more than they disagreed and were friendly to each other in private.

The final piece, "Good and Bad Reasons for Believing," from How Thing Are is exceptional. It is sort of a Demon Haunted World, condensed version, for kids. If you are a fan of Douglas Adams you don't want to miss the eulogy and lament (2 different items in the book) Dawkins writes for him.

Dawkins says that "Peter Medawar is a giant among scientists and a wicked genius with English prose." (p. 197) The same can certainly be said of Dawkins himself. Read this book, and you'll have to agree.

from the publisher:
One of the most renowned evolutionary biologists at work today, Richard Dawkins has written passionately for years on subjects that matter deeply to him - and matter urgently to all of us. A Devil's Chaplain brings together the best and most provocative of his essays, on subjects ranging from evolution to ethics, from travel to literature, from education to religion. The result is an intriguing portrait of one of the finest minds in science. With eloquence and vigor, these essays put forward Dawkins's most fundamental axiom: seek truth. He speaks out against pseudoscience and deftly dissects religion and mysticism. In a powerful letter to his ten-year-old daughter, he argues for the necessity of basing any belief on solid evidence. And he doesn't shy away from skewering the loftiest institutions, whether judicial or educational. "To hell with . . . your fact-stuffed syllabuses and your endless roster of exams," he proclaims with refreshing directness. He writes infectiously of his awe at the marvelous complexity of the universe, pays moving tribute to dear friends and worthy colleagues, and tenderly recalls his boyhood in Africa. Uncompromising, even ruthless as Dawkins famously is when defending scientific truth and reason, this collection also shows a gentler, more contemplative side which may surprise his many readers. Here we meet the essential Richard Dawkins: inspirational in both his unswerving attention to rationalism and his abiding passions.