Review of Science in the Soul – Richard Dawkins

Posted: September 1, 2017 in nonfiction

The legendary biologist and bestselling author mounts a timely and passionate defense of science and clear thinking with this career-spanning collection of essays, including twenty pieces published in the United States for the first time.

For decades, Richard Dawkins has been a brilliant scientific communicator, consistently illuminating the wonders of nature and attacking faulty logic. Science in the Soul brings together forty-two essays, polemics, and paeans—all written with Dawkins’s characteristic erudition, remorseless wit, and unjaded awe of the natural world.

Though it spans three decades, this book couldn’t be more timely or more urgent. Elected officials have opened the floodgates to prejudices that have for half a century been unacceptable or at least undercover. In a passionate introduction, Dawkins calls on us to insist that reason take center stage and that gut feelings, even when they don’t represent the stirred dark waters of xenophobia, misogyny, or other blind prejudice, should stay out of the voting booth. And in the essays themselves, newly annotated by the author, he investigates a number of issues, including the importance of empirical evidence, and decries bad science, religion in the schools, and climate-change deniers.

Dawkins has equal ardor for “the sacred truth of nature” and renders here with typical virtuosity the glories and complexities of the natural world. Woven into an exploration of the vastness of geological time, for instance, is the peculiar history of the giant tortoises and the sea turtles—whose journeys between water and land tell us a deeper story about evolution. At this moment, when so many highly placed people still question the fact of evolution, Dawkins asks what Darwin would make of his own legacy—“a mixture of exhilaration and exasperation”—and celebrates science as possessing many of religion’s virtues—“explanation, consolation, and uplift”—without its detriments of superstition and prejudice.

In a world grown irrational and hostile to facts, Science in the Soul is an essential collection by an indispensable author.


Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve

Richard Dawkins latest offering is a collection of essays subtitled Selected Writings by a Passionate Rationalist. The approximately 50 essays are divided into eight themed sections and cover subjects dear to Dawkins heart. Most had been published before, many in the press, and Dawkins and his editor Gillian Somerscales have added explanatory footnotes where time has erased topicality. Somerscales introduces each section and Dawkins each essay. Occasionally he also provides an epilogue.

Dawkins is a vocal rationalist, and nothing provokes his ire more than public displays of stupidity. While religion is often the perceived target of his barbs, he considers Brexit to have the cake. But more often he is defending the theory of evolution. Few challenge Newton’s theory of gravitation or Einstein’s theory of relativity, but for some reason the doubters pounce on the “theory” part of evolution as though it were still a hypothesis under test. There goes one section, and another is devoted to misunderstanding concerning the mechanics of evolution.

The politics of faith is explored, while perhaps the most thoughtful section is titled “Living in the Real World”. Here Dawkins explores ethical questions, courtroom procedure and the scientific method, film dubbing, and several other issues. While brief, these are perhaps the best essays of the book and show a side of Dawkins few would glean from the popular press image. Lower down there are a couple of PG Wodehouse homages that are both amusing and thought provoking. Well done, Dawkins.

Finally there are the memorials, where Dawkins pays tribute to four of the people who shaped his life. Again, these are beautiful pieces and Dawkins’ humanity shines through. Oddly, I’ll finish with the introduction, where Dawkins discusses why he chose the word soul to go in the title. A smart reader never ignores the intro.

This is an excellent collection of very good essays, or vice versa. I’m glad to have this in my collection and I thank Penguin Random House New Zealand for the opportunity to review it.


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