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Darwin's Angel: An Angelic Riposte to "The God Delusion" Hardcover – 6 Sep 2007

3.3 out of 5 stars 47 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books; First Edition edition (6 Sept. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846680484
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846680489
  • Product Dimensions: 13.8 x 2.1 x 20.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,283,401 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


This book is a piece of sheer heaven. It kicks Richard Dawkins' self-aggrandising polemic, The God Delusion, into touch with featherlight footwork and is deliciously wise, witty and intellectually sharp into the bargain. (The Times)

...he (Dawkins) might find some of the (other) arguments made by Cornwell in this short and elegantly written response (more) worthy of consideration. (Sunday Times)

It's an ace for Cornwell. (New Scientist)

Cornwell has done an excellent job in providing a book that should, in an ideal world, be sold taped to every copy of The God Delusion as an essential corrective. (Peter Stanford Independent)

Book Description

Richard Dawkins' apologia for atheism has attracted huge attention, and sales, all over the world. In a telling critique cast in the classical form of a letter to Dawkins John Cornwell takes issue with it. 'Monkeys make men ... Men make angels' - Charles Darwin --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I approached this book with some glee; it has generally had good reviews and I had high hopes of it. There have been several previous books, attempting serious criticisms of Richard Dawkins's highly popular (currently 51 weeks on the US `Bestseller list') The God Delusion. These earlier books disappointed me; they either failed to rebut Dawkins, they misrepresented him or, it appeared, their authors had not read TGD. So, how does Cornwell's Darwin's Angel compare? Unlike other writers, Cornwell has clearly read TGD; but to what effect? I had some surprises. The seraph writes:

Two natural philosophers, Diderot and d'Holbach, invoked atheism in reaction to theology's continued sway over physics, mathematics and medicine. These philosophers... were convinced that the autonomy of the sciences must be achieved by denying the existence of God. (DA, p. 158)

This misrepresents the French Enlightenment. The philosophes railed against the Church (not `theology') for its stifling of rational inquiry and it's cruel, authoritarian nature. In writing the Encyclopedie, the attempt to record the sum of human knowledge at the time, the philosophes did not `deny the existence of God' to achieve the autonomy of science; some may have concluded `there is no God' but others, perhaps the majority, were actually Deists and believed in a non-interventionist, non-personal God. And the Encyclopedie was about far more than science.

You may not see this as important and think that such differences do not matter. But they do. It is an example of how Cornwell twists things. Virtually the whole of Chapter 10 is a mis-representation of Dawkins's writing about Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov.

Then there is Chapter 4, the `Beauty' argument.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a small book, printed on thick paper with big margins - which sounds like a criticism, but, since it makes its case succintly, stylishly and, for the most part, carefully, really functions as a dig at Richard Dawkins' big book, The God Delusion, which brims with ideas apparently cribbed from stage 1 philosophy notes - the implication being that a more careful and detailed exposition would be lost on the sort of reader who was impressed with Richard Dawkins' original arguments.

Cornwell's book strikes just the right tone - faintly amused and rather derisive of Dawkins' great foray into religious studies: treating a dogmatic zoologist as a serious entrant in the philophy of religion would be to afford him too much respect: a courtesy Dawkins himself wouldn't extend for a moment if confronted with a dogmatic religious fundamentalist wishing to discuss biology (famously, Dawkins refuses to even debate such people).

Cornwell is also wise not to get dragged too far into the merits of the issue (i.e., whether there actually is a God) and instead spends his few pages more profitably remarking that, whatever ones position on that question, Dawkins' arguments simply can't carry the day, unless you really want them to.

That's important because Cornwell can therefore carry along skeptics like me, who don't personally subscribe to religious belief, but still find Dawkins' dogmatic essentialism a crashing bore.

Along the way Cornwell makes some thumping scores and while, as other reviewers have noted, he may misconstrue Dawkins' arguments in a couple of places, they don't really make a difference and, in any case, for a Dawkinite to make that protest really is to call the kettle black.
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Listing this book's failings would take a volume almost as long as the book itself, so this review will inevitably pick on only a few of its failings - although I promise to try to be fair.

I found the patronising tone repellent. Cornwell, wrapping himself in the wings of 'Darwin's Angel,' here allows himself the kind of personal abuse and partiality that isn't present in his other books. Instead of taking on Dawkins's issues on their own terms, he writes in a 'de haut en bas' style that diminishes his arguments by their sense of personal attack - thereby ensuring that anyone who reads the book without already having taken sides will probably be cheering for Dawkins.

He completely ignores some of the arguments that Dawkins presents for a benign and universal God: for example, Dawkins cites more than one Old Testament story in which a man is praised for putting out his daughters or his servants to be gang-raped to death - there are a number of such anecdotes, and they deserve to be treated on their own terms.

Somewhere about half-way through the book (which by now is becoming unreadable) he elides 'religion' into the 'Christian God' and so we have very little treatment of the dreadful atrocities committed in the name of whatever God is in view. And he doesn't treat any of the arguments for a benign God that permits childhood cancer, or any of the arguments that say 'God loves you ... but break his commandments and he'll send you to hell.'

I couldn't make sense of the last part of the book (and I have a fairly good brain).
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