- Save 10% on selected children’s books, compliments of Amazon Family Promotion exclusive for Prime members .
A Devil's Chaplain: Selected Writings Hardcover – 3 Feb 2003
Special offers and product promotions
Customers who bought this item also bought
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support?
Those unfamiliar with the writings of Richard Dawkins could do worse than begin with The Devil's Chaplain-a collection of pieces selected from the many articles, lectures, book reviews, polemics, forewords, essays and tributes written over a 25-year period.
The book is divided into seven sections containing a mixture of pieces of varying lengths covering several themes-- including Darwinism, morality, education, justice, history of science and, of course, religion. Dawkins provides a brief preamble to each of the seven sections while the pieces themselves, selected by Editor Latha Menon, show Dawkins at his captivating best and sometimes his angry, self-righteous side.
Dawkins at his best is peerless as an expositor of the wonders of science, a man for whom science is, as he put it "a source of living joy" and this shines through in many, if not most, of the essays.
He is of course Professor for the Public Understanding of Science and while he denies that scientists have special ethical qualifications he does insist that a proper understanding of our animal heritage ought to change the way we think about ourselves--in particular the way we arbitrarily draw the line between species, between, for instance, the human ape and our brothers the Great African apes. Dawkins is generous in his evaluation of his supposed scientific enemies, such as the late Stephen Jay Gould, and genuinely moving when paying tribute to his own heroes, people such as Douglas Adams and WD Hamilton.
Dawkins is also the current vice-president of the British Humanist Association and, in certain moods, he turns into a savage anti-religious polemicist. Religious folk for Dawkins are, at best, intellectually irresponsible or existentially immature and, at worst, a bunch of cowardly, irrational, dangerous ignoramuses. Religion itself is likened to a disease, or, more accurately, a deadly virus for which the cure is good, clean scientific habits of mind. The aggressively atheistic side of Dawkins is, in any event, as much a call for intellectual independence as it is a call to arms and he is just as eager to take on the quackery of crystal healing, as he is to expose the pretentious verbosity of postmodernist enemies of scientific truth. But whether Dawkins is writing for his fellow professionals or for the general public, he is considered--by friend and foe alike--he's one of the most intelligent, imaginative and inspirational educators alive. As a whole this collection of pieces conveys a faithful impression of the man and his passions. --Larry Brown
There has been a fantastic level of interest in Richard's new book. The bookwas Blackwell's book of the month for February, the Sunday Times no 6 hardback Bestseller for two weeks and number 10 for a further week, and the number 5 hardback bestseller in Ireland. . The publicity campaign started with 3 pages of extracts in the Times with the article flagged in a banner headline on the front page of the paper. On 4th February a 45minute profile of Richard was broadcast on Nightwaves BBC Radio 3. Extracts from the book appeared in theGuardian Saturday Review, 8th February. Richard appeared on Start the Week BBC Radio 4 on the 10th and was also the subject of a critical but ultimately flattering profile by Simon Hattenstone in the Monday Guardian, flagged in a banner headline from the front of the paper. BBC 4 TV broadcast a profile of Richard on 24th February. On 12th February Richard appeared on national IrishRadio - RTE Radio. On 13th February Richard featured in You Ask The Questions in the Independent with his answers being published the next week. The Irish Times published extracts from the book on 17th February with Richard writing the A Little Night Reading column for the Sunday Times, 23rd February. Features on Richard appeared in the Glasgow Herald and Sunday Herald and Richard wrote an opinion piece on the Iraq war for the Independent on 1 March and Guardian on 22 March. Richard appeared on The Sunday Sequence, BBC Radio Ulster on March 16th. An interview was published in Heffers Bookstore Magazine in March. The book was recommended as a key book for 2003 in The Evening Standard,Irish Times and New Scientist Reviews have appeared in Nature, Focus, TLS, New Scientist, Sunday Times, The Observer, Times, GQ, Guardian Review, Sunday Telegraph, Spectator, Scotland on Sunday, Independent, Irish Times, Church Times, Morning Star, Money Week, Evening Standard, New Humanist, Time Out, Sunday Business Post and The Scotsman. '...a punchy collection of articles, reflections, polemics, book reviews, forwards, tributes and elegies...This is the best book of sermons I have read for years.'Richard Holloway, THE GUARDIAN '...intelligent, witty, forceful and at all turns a pleasure to read.'Mark Pagel, NEW HUMANIST '... Dawkins' optimism is a shot in the arm, and his genius for snatching mind-boggling possibilities out of the air provokes, well, yes, wonder.'John Carey, SUNDAY TIMES 'He brings a beautiful clarity to the most difficult of scientific concepts yet does so in a style akin to that of fine literature.'Dick Ahlstrom, IRISH TIMES 'A DEVILS'S CHAPLAIN is a rare treat and it comes in seven servings, each with an introduction by the author.'Roy Herbert, NEW SCIENTIST 'This collection of essays is a rattling good read.'Christopher Lambton, SCOTSMAN 'Whatever his topic Dawkins is always eloquent, passionate and persuasive. The man is a national treasure ...'Charles Fernyhough, SCOTLAND ON SUNDAY 'A series of brilliant analogies renders most of the science accessible to the non-specialist'Richard Harries, THE INDEPENDENT Richard and his wife Lalla Ward gave an extremely successful reading with over 900 people in attendance on 13th February at the Institute of Education as part of the Times/Foyles Literary Events series. Richard also spoke at the Royal Dublin Society, the Oxford Union at a Blackwell's event, the Aldeburgh LiteraryFestival, the Oxford Literary Festival and Edinburgh Science Festival . He isSee all Product description
Top customer reviews
While I fully accept the validity of the theory of evolution by natural selection, I do not myself believe in the selfish gene theory. I'm more in favour of the mutual aid theory. Nonetheless, I enjoy reading Dawkins. He's clear and articulate.
Well worth a read.
By contrast, A Devil's Chaplain is a book that will appeal primarily to people who have read several books by Professor Dawkins and would like to know more about him as a person and his views outside of neo-Darwinism.
If you have not read anything by Professor Dawkins, I recommend you skip this book unless you have a thorough understanding of the latest evolutionary theories. Much of the book won't make sense to you otherwise.
A Devil's Chaplain is a series of essays (some published before and some not), laments, eulogies and a letter to his daughter. From these materials, you can learn more about how Professor Dawkins sees his colleagues, those who oppose evolutionary teachings, postmodernists, and his personal views on religious beliefs and "alternative" medicine. Much of what he says will not surprise you. As a scientist, he favors the scientific method and is rationally skeptical of anything that cannot be proven by this method. He is also annoyed by a society that grants prominent opportunities to share views that are not proven by scientific methods. As a result, he is also an atheist . . . but one who draws great joy from considering the world around him and the methods by which it has been created.
Many people think of atheists as gloomy people, or people without much emotion. Professor Dawkins is neither. His loving descriptions of relations with his colleagues, rivals and mentors show just the opposite. His concern for using scientific methods is obviously also based on a desire to help people live better lives.
Catholics may find the book a little annoying in that Professor Dawkins likes to challenge some of the "faith"-based beliefs that that religion espouses.
As I finished the book, I found that I was most attracted to the advanced speculations that Professor Dawkins used in his book that speak directly to evolutionary studies. I especially recommend the essay, "Son of Moore's Law," where he describes the timing of when individual genomes will be economically affordable and how that will influence health and medical treatments. I was also drawn to the essays that describe his optimistic belief that we can escape our evolutionary heritage and evolve into people who produce the best possible future for all.
There's much food for thought here. I doubt if any religious believers will be undone by his arguments. I also doubt that he will convert any people who believe in the literal creation as described in the Bible to change their views.
Ultimately, I was left wondering how other prominent scientists bridge the gap between their scientific methods and having a rich religious life.
I graded the book down one star because the editor presumes the reader has a little too much familiarity with the leading lines of thought about evolution. The book could have used more footnotes to explain the background of the points Professor Dawkins is making for those of us who are not evolutionary biologists . . . but simply like to read books about the subject.
Not that I agree with everything he says. Indeed, that is part of the fun. Dawkins is adamant on some subjects, religion being one of them. A goodly portion of this book is devoted to letting us know exactly how he feels about the "God hypothesis," "liberal agnostics," and the so-called miracles recognized by especially the Catholic Church. The title of Chapter 3.3, "The Great Convergence" (of science and religion), for example, is used ironically. He sees no convergence; in fact, he calls such a notion "a shallow, empty, hollow, spin-doctored sham." (p. 151)
Clearly Dawkins is not a man to mince words. But his insistence on a restrictive definition of "God" as "a hypothetical being who answers prayers; intervenes to save cancer patients...forgives sin," etc., is really the problem. He considers the "religion" attributed to scientists like Einstein, Carl Sagan, Paul Davies and others (and even himself!) to involve a misuse of the term, calling such a definition "flabbily elastic" and not religion as experienced by "the ordinary person in the pew." (p. 147)
But what Dawkins is really railing against is the illegitimacy of believing in the supernatural and science at the same time.
While I think Dawkins makes a good point with this argument, I think it would be better to make a distinction between fundamentalist religion, which has been, and continues to be, the root cause of much of the horror in the world, and the more progressive varieties which recognize the limitations of the barbaric "Bronze-Age God of Battles." See Chapter 3.5 "Time to Stand Up" in which Dawkins rightly condemns the hatreds and violent history of the three middle eastern religions. At the same time I think he needs to realize that it is legitimate to define "God" as God is defined in, for example, the Vedas; that is, as The Ineffable, which has no attributes, about which nothing can be said.
However it is exactly his point that there is no evidence for the God hypothesis and that to partially accept such a notion, or even to be "agnostic" is to depart from a purely scientific viewpoint. In this I think the atheistic Dawkins is mistaken. Absence of proof is not proof of absence, period. And as far as religion, per se, goes, I would add that not only is religion part of human culture (for better or for worse), but is also part of the so-called "extended phenotype" of human beings, and not something that is going to be argued away.
I also have some reservations about his reasons for not debating with creationists. He believes that to debate with them gives them a legitimacy they don't deserve. In Chapter 5.5, he reveals a letter he wrote to Steven Jay Gould expressing such a view. I don't debate creationists either, but my reason is that creationists don't really debate. They have already made up their minds and are not capable of being influenced by evidence. Theirs is purely an exercise in propaganda. Furthermore, as Dawkins discovered himself (in Chapter 2.3 on the Australian film crew that he allowed into his house for an interview), it is often the case that creationists don't play fair.
In Chapter 1.5 "Trial by Jury" Dawkins presents his reservations about "one of the most conspicuously bad good ideas anyone ever had." I understand his demurral, but would like to point out that juries dispense a social justice; that the tribe makes its decisions based on what it perceives as good for the tribe now, not necessarily what's true in an objective or scientific sense.
Interesting enough, Dawkins demonstrates his knowledge of other scientific subjects, including physics, and he does it very well. I was particularly impressed with his explanation of entropy and how it effects the evolutionary process in Chapter 2.2. (See especially page 85.) He also does a fine job of elucidating why Lamarckism cannot work without a "Darwinian underpinning" since there must be a mechanism for selecting between the acquired characteristics that are improvements and those that are not. (p. 90) Good too is his characterization of genes as constituting "a kind of description of the ancestral environments through which those genes have survived." (p. 113)
On his tiff with Gould, Dawkins attempts to make amends by reprinting some semi-gracious and mostly positive reviews of some of Gould's books; however it is obvious that his professional and emotional differences with Gould remain.
One of the most important points that Dawkins reaffirms here is his belief that we humans, because of our unique insight into ourselves and our predicament, "can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators." (p. 11) What Dawkins means is that we do not have to take biology as destiny or to take Darwinism as a template for our morality--a point often missed by his critics.
There is much, much more of interest in this refreshingly personal collection of essays by one of our most original evolutionary thinkers, some of it first rate, and some of it rather ordinary; yet taken in total reveals a lot about Richard Dawkins, scientist, science writer, teacher, and human being that I was pleased to learn.
Incidentally, the title is from Charles Darwin who speculated on how such a personage might regard "the clumsy, wasteful, blundering low and horridly cruel works of nature." (p. 8)
That "devil's chaplain" here is Richard Dawkins himself who mostly directs his ire toward the stupidities of human beings.