A Devil's Chaplain
Richard Dawkins
book reviews:
· general fiction
· chick lit/romance
· sci-fi/fantasy
· graphic novels
· nonfiction
· audio books

Click here for the curledup.com RSS Feed

· author interviews
· children's books @
· DVD reviews @

win books
buy online


for authors
& publishers

for reviewers

click here to learn more

Buy *A Devil's Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love* online

A Devil's Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love
Richard Dawkins
Houghton Mifflin
263 pages
September 2003
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

previous review next review

On a cold night toward the end of 2003, a small crowd waited at the Free Library of Philadelphia to hear Richard Dawkins read from his latest book. For readers with any interest in evolution, Dawkins needs no introduction. The author of Selfish Genes, The Blind Watchmaker, Climbing Mount Improbable and Unweaving the Rainbow, this eminent Darwinian has become one of the most renowned writers on evolutionary biology today.

His latest book, A Devil’s Chaplain, a collection of essays on evolution, ethics, religion, and tributes to friends and colleagues, gets its strange name from a phrase used by Charles Darwin. In a letter to a friend, Darwin, talking about evolution, had wondered “What a book a Devil’s chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering low and horridly cruel works of nature.” That evening Dawkins read out, in a clear crisp voice, his retort, an extract from his book,

A process of trial and error, completely unplanned and on the massive scale of natural selection can be expected to be clumsy wasteful or blundering. Of waste there is no doubt. Clumsy and blundering though the process undoubtedly is its results are opposite. There is nothing clumsy about a swallow; nothing blundering about a shark.
Wonderful words indeed, just as the rest of the evening turned out to be. One of the few scientists to have taken the effort to explain evolutionary and developmental biology to a lay audience, Dawkins has always spoken out against false beliefs, half-baked philosophies and pseudoscience. In this book he attacks pseudoscientific drivel that has made us gullible enough to believe in star signs, telepathy, quantum healing, homeopathy, crystal gazing, etc., yet failed to make us appreciate the wonders of the real world in which we live, the world of atoms, molecules, big bang, black holes, the expanding universe, the universal laws of physics and so on, that is infinitely more beautiful and uplifting than the mumbo-jumbo of tricksters and conmen.

The reading of extracts on life and evolution, religion and beliefs was followed by questions from the audience. Dawkins did not disappoint his readers. When asked why mankind has through the ages always believed in the existence of God, his answer was brilliant. The brain of the homo sapien child is instinctively conditioned towards soaking up information without much questioning. This trait, according to Dawkins, developed from our origins in the harsh African habitat where information from elders rather than exploration was necessary for survival. This direct transmittal of information continues till we reach adulthood, by which time certain beliefs, among them the faith in an omnipresent, omnipotent God have firmly taken root.

A Devil’s Chaplain contains everything from Darwin to science to beliefs to provocative discourses on ethics and religion. Although the author has been quite harsh on believers of religion of the pew-prayer mat-temple kind, it must be accepted that despite a better understanding of the origins of the universe and life forms, institutionalized religion with a firm belief in the beneficent maker is here to stay. And nowhere is this more evident than among the practitioners of science themselves.

My favorite chapter of the book, "The Great Convergence," addresses the coming together of science and religion, a matter of endless debate among the general public. Dawkins has a simple answer. If both mean awe at the universe and a desire to know and unravel the truth, then, they are indeed converging. Extraordinary words from an extraordinary scientist; may his tribe increase.

© 2004 by Shampa Chatterjee for Curled Up With a Good Book

buy *A Devil's Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love* online
click here for more info
Click here to learn more about this month's sponsor!

fiction · sf/f · comic books · nonfiction · audio
newsletter · free book contest · buy books online
review index · links · · authors & publishers

site by ELBO Computing Resources, Inc.