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on 5 July 2009
Cornwell's work always erudite has never been better than this eloquent, measured and enjoyable deconstruction of "The God Delusion".
Not only do his arguments hold water better than Dawkins his writing betrays a superior mind and literary ability.
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on 5 September 2007
* * * * *

I really liked this book. It's so refreshing in the midst of all the mud-slinging by Dawkins and his cronies. The book is written from the perspective of a friendly Guardian Angel, with John Cornwell the earthly interpreter of its divine wisdom. He talks about the issues that Dawkins raises regarding religion and religious people, science as a doctrine for atheists etc. It takes issue with Dawkins sources and some of the dangerous implications of his dogmatic ideologies. Although it talks about all faiths, it does take on an openly Christian viewpoint of religion which might be slightly distancing for people of a non-Christian cultural or religious background. This should not matter though, as the real argument is about deity and the existence of the divine, not a specific religion. You must read this book if you read the God Delusion, and you should read it if you are interested in the debate, which is current. Five stars.
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on 5 September 2007
This is a gem of a book and a must-read, especially for those God Delusion readers who love intelligent debate and who don't take themselves too seriously - as Dawkins perhaps - on the subject of religious belief or non-belief. The book's arguments are sharp, stimulating and sincere; in more ways than one this slim volume is less pompous and h-e-a-v-y than God Delusion: its lively and entertaining 168 pages could be enjoyed in a weekend or on the train, providing a fascinating range of ideas, history and points of order. The weakness of the foundations and structures of many of Dawkins' arguments are exposed by Cornwell in prose which for all its lightness of touch and elegance is none the less devastating, and whose conclusions are profound, accessible and readable.

Darwin's Angel is an important book - for believers and unbelievers alike: in providing us a defence of religious belief Cornwell does not set out to preach to the converted; neither does the author seek to convert wavering agnostics or the certainty of unbelievers. Instead Darwin's Angel will be enjoyed by readers in both camps who value intellectual honesty and the accommodation in society of a range of beliefs and non-beliefs. One of the criticisms thrown at Dawkins is the smug certainty accompanying his dismissal of all those blind enough not to join him and other atheists (ideally getting them to stand up to be counted); in an age where fundamentalist and absolutist views abound - both religious and atheist - Darwin's Angel's message of tolerance and humanity is a salutary one and the book succeeds in stirring further and improving the quality of this great debate.
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on 7 October 2008
i think before publishing a rebutal of anothers work one should at least do the other the service of reading and understanding the work. Understanding is totally lacking from this book.
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on 10 September 2007
I thoroughly recommend John Cornwell's riposte to Dawkins' "The God Delusion" and have bought additional copies for my sons who, to my dismay as a Christian, are Dawkins fans. Although much of Cornwell's book is written in gentle tone as a contribution to the debate, he does at one point venture the cutting observation to Dawkins that "your book is as innocent of heavy scholarship as it is free of false modesty" adding that he has "no clear sense of you discriminating between history and theory, empirical evidence and intuition, statistical data and hunch".

Cornwell justly accuses Dawkins of being "dismissive of theology" and rightly reminds us that "theologians draw on an impressive range of academic disciplines - including history, philosophy, anthropology, literature and scriptural criticism - and they bring together dynamic intellectual capacities - of the imagination".

In suggesting that Dawkins is disturbed by the dimensions of imagination, Cornwell writes "It sounds as though you would substitute a set of case-notes on senile dementia for Shakespeare's King Lear; or a horticultural fact sheet for Wordsworth's `Daffodils'." What does the imagination do? It "enables human beings to contemplate and model their past and their future, their origins and their destiny, their meaning and their nature: to make choices; to think scientifically and religiously too. Scientific imagination is different from religious imagination - but both find connections in at least the capacity common to both to make metaphors". At the end of his early famous book "The Selfish Gene", Dawkins allowed that humans were able to rebel against and rise above the determinism of their genetic makeup to be creative and imaginative. But, says Cornwell, "you appear in this new book to have definitely retreated from a trust in the dynamic, protean power of imagination when it comes to religion." He asks: "Have you retreated because you no longer believe in the power of the imagination to impart literary, poetic, religious and moral truth either? Or because trust in the imagination threatens your militant atheism?"

In a well-put section on faith and the credibility of the Bible, Cornwell writes: "Although the Gospels are not history in the modern sense, they can be read in the reasonable confidence that Jesus Christ actually lived and walked the earth 2,000 years ago; that he chose followers, preached a striking message about love, told parables, and was crucified. Accepting that Christ was the Son of God, performed miracles, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven certainly requires something more than routine credibility: it requires faith. But is this comparable to requiring that to `enjoy' Wuthering Heights, a reader must believe that its characters actually existed? Surely not. A willing suspension of belief such as one adopts when reading plays, novels and poetry is not at all the same as faith; and your insinuation that people are incapable of making such a distinction betrays a poor regard for the reading public."

Dawkins complains that theologians (in Cornwell's words) "pick and choose which bits of scripture to believe, which bits to write off as symbols or allegories". In response, Cornwell tells him: "Your impatience with the general untidiness of the Scriptures and the different way in which theologians, and indeed most believers, read them betrays your neglect of even minimal enquiry into the nature of scriptural scholarship. The collection of texts known as the Bible contains a variety of different literary forms, including homily, allegory, meditation, parable, chronicle, poetry, legend, folk memory, ironic aphorisms, prophecy, prayer... Scholars don't so much pick and choose which bits to believe and which bits they decide to write off: they read critically on many different levels, and from many points of view, and not with the reductive aim you have in mind. The task of reading scripture critically - a task that requires a formidable array of skills and disciplines - has gone on in every era." Cornwell rebukes Dawkins for paying scant attention to new insights in literary criticism which have deepened our understanding of biblical stories and in the process enhanced rather than diminished the Bible's credibility.

Cornwell takes Dawkins up on his use of the word "supernatural" which he uses constantly as applied to religion and God. Cornwell argues that the concept of supernatural was originally developed to describe behaviour that outstrips the natural capacities of any creature and quotes the Cambridge theologian, Nicholas Lash, who would tell his students: "If you were to come across a rabbit playing Mozart on the violin you could bet your bottom dollar you have witnessed a supernatural phenomenon, for rabbits don't have it in them to play the violin." So Cornwell suggests to Dawkins that the phenomenon he calls God is the one being who cannot act supernaturally, for how could God outperform His natural abilities?

I have said nothing about Cornwell's final two chapters headed "Does God Exist?" and "Being Religious". These are splendid examples of very fine writing and I urge you to buy a copy of the book so that you can read them for yourself.
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on 17 September 2007
John Cornwell has written a book on religion knowing what he talks about. That is not the case of many authors that, no matter whether they are in favour or against religion, have not really understood what the question is. This is also the case of Richard Dawkins and his book "The God Delusion". Cornwell tries to challenge Dawkins' arguments mainly by showing how little they have to do with a serious understanding of religious phenomena in mankind, how little research he has done and how little information he has collected about such a difficult matter.

Cornwell's book is clear, kind and humoristic, in addition to its dialectic efficiency. If Dawkins wants to make the (little) effort of understanding it, sure he will be happy and grateful to his opponent, because he will have learnt much more about the true importance of the subject than he would have never imagined.
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on 12 September 2007
The critic always has the advantage over his subject: However, in his brief review, John Cornwell avoids focusing on easy targets such as Dawkins' pompous style and irritating self-reference, to which he has become increasingly prone over the years. Nor does he bleat paranoia about anti-religious bigotry.

Cornwell's précis of The God Delusion is excellent, including a summary of the God hypothesis and Dawkins' development of the theme. He complements this with ideas, which can evade positivist thinking (imagination, beauty, religion) and fills in some historical gaps on the origins of anti-religious thought, independent of science. I particularly liked this book when it touched on description of how it feels to be religious, avoiding use of all artificial sweeteners; while Cornwell is most raw, when we see his irritation at Dawkins' intolerance.

However, I am glad to come away from this book with a sense that reasoned debate can be balanced, if folks listen to each other. I see that Cornwell's acuity is good. I fear that Dawkins' intolerance prevents his engagement, which is a shame as, if nothing else, he might learn something about pruning text and avoiding unnecessary offence. Overall an excellent read!
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on 25 December 2011
This book is hilarious. The author clearly very learned(he thinks) has never once used his brain cells to reason out an argument. He has 'faith' so everyone else should have. Because he says so. In his own mind (nowhere else) he demolishes Dawkin's reasoning, not understanding (wilfully) what Dawkin's is saying. if you want a laugh read it. If you're a committed Christian you'll agree with everything in the book. Committed is the operative word. You should be.
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on 11 September 2007
This is a superb debunking of "The brilliant popular expositor of zoology, Professor Richard Dawkins, whom I endeavour to take as seriously as he does himself", done with wit, truth and imagination. Not for nothing is the author director of the Science and the Human Dimension project at Camrbidge - poor Dawkins misses the Human Dimension completely - nor does he understand that the greatest living scientists appreciate (eg Marin Rees, Stephen Hawking) that there can never be a scientific Theory of Everything. Read, enjoy and open your minds. And laugh at the arrogant pretentiousness that it gently but firmly puts in its place.
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on 16 September 2007
Beautifully written, gently wise and laugh-out-loud funny in parts, Darwin's Angel is a wonderful and heavenly voice which invites our deepest thoughts to take flight as John Cornwell questions the basis of some of Richard Dawkins' most radical and dangerous arguments about religion. A truly inspired book and divine read.
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