Critical responses to Richard Dawkins’ international best-seller The God Delusion have ranged from the scholarly to the acerbic. Few of Dawkins’ critics, however, have tried humour; and none have been as successful as John Cornwell.
Adopting the guise of Charles Darwin’s (and Dawkins’) guardian angel, Cornwell engages the various aspects of Dawkins’ argument in a series of epistolatory responses that are characterised by wit, insight, and a gently rebuking humour. Indeed, so gently does Cornwell disassemble Dawkins’ position that it is only toward the end of the book that the reader realises the viciously depersonalising and totalitarian nature of Dawkins’ argument and its implications for humanity (if religious belief is a disease that infects society, what is to be done with the “diseased” believers?).
Long beforehand, however, the observant reader has also noted how Cornwell has wittily yet pointedly uncovered Dawkins’ intellectual shabbiness, his evasions, inconsistencies, category errors, inclination toward the use of abuse (both general and particular) instead of data when his position is challenged, and, above all, his self-referencing framework that is actually a teleological assertion disguised as scientific analysis. But what makes this book truly admirable is that it is not Cornwell’s purpose to either revile Dawkins or suggest that he is wrong and theists are right; on the contrary, the whole book is a plea for Dawkins’ to seriously engage the issue of religious belief, to think through his position, and not (to borrow a phrase from Terry Eagleton) buy his rejection of the possibility of God “on the cheap”.
Compelling, witty, and insightful reading.
(c) Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2018. All rights reserved.