Monday, October 15, 2007
Richard Dawkins, Mystery Religion
Richard Dawkins has already taken some flak, both from believers and non-believers, about the shoddy philosophical work he tries to do in his book The God Delusion. I was particularly interested, however, in reading a recent review of the book by fellow evolutionary biologist and atheist, David Sloan Wilson, available here. According to Wilson, Dawkins is right that religion is an evolved trait, but he is quite wrong about the mechanisms involved in the evolution of the trait. The disagreement between them ultimately boils down to a disagreement regarding the plausibility of group selection in a variety of cases, but it is interesting to note that, according to Wilson, Dawkins does a remarkably bad job of putting together a plausible just-so story about the development of religious belief. Taken along with the even worse job he does of telling a coherent philosophical story, one begins to wonder just who is buying and enjoying this book so much. Perhaps the reptilian brained Americans living in the north and along the coasts, one might waggishly suggest, thus parodying Dawkins' description of the American south, but apparently his book sales have been doing very well in the south as well, and, according to a story in the Wall Street Journal, Dawkins was received very politely recently when he participated in a debate with mathematician John Lennox in Birmingham, Alabama. I suspect that the interest in Dawkins' book is rather like my own interest in books like Babylon, Mystery Religion Ancient and Modern, by Ralph Woodrow, an amazingly hilarious anti-Catholic screed published in Riverside, California by--surprise!--the Ralph Woodrow Evangelistic Association. It has lots of funny pictures of the Pope wearing his mitre next to picture of ancient priests of some mystery cult also wearing mitre-like hats. If you needed more proof that Roman Catholicism is just warmed over paganism, you must be living on the moon. So I suspect that most folks just want to look at Dawkins' book for the same reason: they need a good belly-laugh every now and then.