Cover image for A devil's chaplain : reflections on hope, lies, science, and love
A devil's chaplain : reflections on hope, lies, science, and love
Dawkins, Richard, 1941-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin Co., [2003]

Physical Description:
vi, 263 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QH366.2 .D373 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



One of the most renowned evolutionary biologists at work today, Richard Dawkins has written passionately for years on subjects that matter deeply to him - and matter urgently to all of us. A Devil's Chaplain brings together the best and most provocative of his essays, on subjects ranging from evolution to ethics, from travel to literature, from education to religion. The result is an intriguing portrait of one of the finest minds in science.
With eloquence and vigor, these essays put forward Dawkins's most fundamental axiom: seek truth. He speaks out against pseudoscience and deftly dissects religion and mysticism. In a powerful letter to his ten-year-old daughter, he argues for the necessity of basing any belief on solid evidence. And he doesn't shy away from skewering the loftiest institutions, whether judicial or educational. "To hell with . . . your fact-stuffed syllabuses and your endless roster of exams," he proclaimswith refreshing directness. He writes infectiously of his awe at the marvelous complexity of the universe, pays moving tribute to dear friends and worthy colleagues, and tenderly recalls his boyhood in Africa. Uncompromising, even ruthless as Dawkins famously is when defending scientific truth and reason, this collection also shows a gentler, more contemplative side which may surprise his many readers.
Here we meet the essential Richard Dawkins: inspirational in both his unswerving attention to rationalism and his abiding passions.

Author Notes

Richard Dawkins was educated at Oxford University and taught zoology at the University of California and Oxford University, holding the position of the Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science. He writes about such topics as DNA and genetic engineering, virtual reality, astronomy, and evolution. His books include The Selfish Gene, The Extended Phenotype, The Blind Watchmaker, River Out of Eden, Climbing Mount Improbable, The God Delusion, and An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Oxford don Dawkins is familiar to readers with any interest in evolution. While the late Stephen Jay Gould was alive, he and Dawkins were friendly antagonists on the question of whether evolution "progresses" (Gould: No, Dawkins: Yes, depending on your definition of "progress"). Dawkins's The Selfish Gene has been very influential, not least for his introduction of the "meme," sort of a Lamarckian culturally inherited trait. In this, his first collection of essays, Dawkins muses on a wide spectrum of topics: why the jury system isn't the best way to determine innocence or guilt; the vindication of Darwinism (or what he insists is properly called neo-Darwinism) in the past quarter-century; the fallacy in thinking that individual genes, for instance a "gay gene," can be directly linked to personality traits; what he sees as the dangers of giving opponents the benefit of the doubt just because they wrap their arguments in religious belief; several sympathetic pieces on Gould; and a final section on why we all can be said to be "out of Africa." Fans of Dawkins's earlier books should snap up this collection. Readers new to him may find that the short format (many of these essays were originally forewords to books, book reviews or magazine pieces) doesn't quite do his reputation justice. Dawkins will antagonize some readers by his attacks on religion: his tone in these essays may fall just short of intellectual arrogance, but he certainly exhibits an intellectual impatience not always beneficial to his argument. Still, Dawkins's enthusiasm for the diversity of life on this planet should prove contagious. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

Not only has eloquent and outspoken evolutionary biologist and educator Dawkins written such seminal books as Unweaving the Rainbow (1998), he has also produced a steady stream of bracing popular essays. This debut collection serves as a primer to Dawkins' interests and keenly rationalistic point of view. Dawkins the scientist is a "passionate Darwinian," yet he rejects the pitiless rule of nature when it comes to "human affairs," asserting that our intellect can free us from the "bogey of genetic determinism." Dawkins briskly explicates the workings of evolution, dissects ethical questions, both legitimate and alarmist, associated with genetic engineering, criticizes standardized testing as a gauge of genuine learning, and eulogizes Douglas Adams and Stephen Jay Gould. But his most arresting essays revolve around his belief that "there is so much wonder in real science" there is no need for the "muddleheaded" thinking and unexamined faith associated with the pseudosciences and with religion, which he views as a "divisive force," a theme he forthrightly addresses in a searing response to 9/11. --Donna Seaman Copyright 2003 Booklist

Library Journal Review

A major Darwinian apologist, Dawkins put forth the idea that genes play a role in natural selection and dismissed so-called intelligent design theories of creation. This collection of disparate writings and essays, first published in scholarly monographs, newspapers such as the Guardian, and the electronic edition of Forbes, reinforces his position. In some selections, he eloquently pits scientific endeavors such as genetic engineering against what he sees as muddled and uninformed critics. In others, he ridicules pseudoscience as exemplified by "crystals" and misuse of scientific terminology in the social sciences. In "Darwinism Triumphant," Dawkins promotes his view that Darwin's theories have a universality-the question of how life evolved on earth-unmatched by thinkers such as Marx or Freud. His criticism of religion ("a dangerous collective delusion") reaches a crescendo of invective in his response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. A highlight is "Son of Moore's Law," which makes a striking analogy between increasingly inexpensive computing power and increasingly inexpensive genetic sequencing. At its best, the book reflects both the author's delight in science and the range and extendibility of his knowledge. It will complement any popular science collection in a public or academic science library and delivers an illuminating portrait of an extremely challenging and multifaceted contemporary scientist. (Many of these essays are also available on the unofficial Dawkins web site, Eastman, Rowland Inst., Harvard Univ. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



AUTHOR'S NOTE This book constitutes a personal selection, made by the Editor Latha Menon, from among all the articles and lectures, reflections and polemics, book reviews and forewords, tributes and eulogies that I have published (or in a few cases not previously published) over 25 years. There are many themes here, some arising out of Darwinism or science in general, some concerned with morality, some with religion, education, justice, history of science, some just plain personal. Though I admit to occasional flames of (entirely justified) irritation in my writing, I like to think that the greater part of it is good-humoured, perhaps even humorous. Where there is passion, well, there is much to be passionate about. Where there is anger, I hope it is a controlled anger. Where there is sadness, I hope it never spills over into despair but still looks to the future. But mostly science is, for me, a source of living joy, and I hope it comes through in these pages. My contribution to the book itself has been to write the preambles to each of the seven sections, reflecting on the essays Latha has chosen and the connections between them. Hers was the difficult task, and I am filled with admiration for the patience with which she read through vastly more of my writings than are here reproduced, and for the skill with which she achieved a subtler balance of them than I thought they possessed. Her own Introduction gives the reasoning behind her choice, and behind her sorting of the essays into seven sections with a carefully crafted running-order within each section. But as for what she had to choose from, the responsibility is, of course, mine. It is not possible to list all the people who helped with the individual pieces, spread as they are over 25 years. Help with the book itself came from Yan Wong, Christine DeBlase-Ballstadt, Anthony Cheetham, Michael Dover, Laura van Dam and Catherine Bradley. My gratitude to Charles Simonyi is unabated. And my wife Lalla Ward continues to lend her encouragement, her advice and her fine-tuned ear for the music of language. --Richard Dawkins EDITOR'S INTRODUCTION It took quite a while for me to get round to reading The Selfish Gene. My love had been for the elegance, the philosophical profundity, the exquisite simplicity of the world as revealed by physics. Chemistry seemed messy, and as for biology -- well, my brief acquaintance with it from school had suggested a dry field, full of dull collections of facts, much learning by rote, and little in the way of organizational principles. How wrong I was. Like many, I had thought I understood evolution, but it was through the books of Richard Dawkins in particular that I was introduced to the astonishing depth and grandeur of Darwin's (and Wallace's) idea, to its astounding explanatory power and its profound implications for ourselves and our view of the world. The narrow domestic walls that habit, tradition and prejudice had erected between the fields of science in my mind fell away. I was delighted, therefore, to be able to repay the debt in some small measure when I was asked by the publishers to put together this collection of Richard's writings. Richard is an academic scientist, but this volume does not include his academic papers. Instead it brings together a number of his shorter articles and columns intended for a wider audience. The task was not an easy one. The composing of this volume has involved some difficult choices and has sadly entailed leaving behind much which must await a future collection. In selecting the pieces included here, I have sought to reflect the range of Richard's interests and concerns, and something of his life too; indeed, almost inevitably, the volume contains an autobiographical element. It is divided into seven sections, moving broadly from science, through memes and religion, to people and memories. The first six sections contain mixtures of pieces of varying lengths and moods, written in different contexts. There is plenty here, of course, on evolution, and more generally on the nature of science, on its unique ability to seek out truth, contrasted with the muddled thinking of New Age mysticism and spirituality, the superficially more impressive 'metatwaddle' of postmodernism, and the closed, authoritarian, faith-based beliefs of revealed religion. This would not be a representative volume without some of Richard's writings on religion. I have an especially pertinent personal reason for sharing the urgency and passion of his words on the subject: I was born in India -- that country which has been so dragged back by its superstitious baggage, where religious labels have been used to such widespread and horrific effect. So much for the necessary and principled stand. Being a scientist and rationalist does not mean a life of soulless grind, of misery and meeeeeaninglessness, but one that is immensely more enriched, more precious. Gathered here, too, then, is a selection of warm memories -- of an African childhood, of inspiring mentors, of departed friends, much loved. And books and love of learning weave their way throughout the whole, with forewords, reviews and critical commentaries (including a section on the works of the late Stephen J. Gould). The final section, 'A Prayer for My Daughter', in many ways sums up the key themes of the volume. It expresses an earnest hope that future generations will continue to strive for an understanding of the natural world through reason and based on evidence. It is a passionate plea against the tyranny of mind-numbing belief systems. My main task has been the selection and arrangement of Richard's writings. The articles appear much as they did in their original form, with occasional deletions and minor word-changes to fit the context of the collection, and the addition of further explanatory footnotes. Richard himself has been a model of patience and generosity throughout the preparation of the volume, as well as a constant inspiration. My thanks also go to Lalla Ward for her valuable comments and suggestions, Christine DeBlase- Ballstadt for her assistance with the textual material, and Michael Dover and Laura van Dam for their encouragement and support for the project. A final word. For me as editor, working on this collection has been a particularly special experience, so closely do my own views accord with those of the author on many things. Above all, this volume is about the richness of the world when viewed in the light of scientific understanding. Science reveals a reality wondrous beyond the imaginings of tradition. Look again at that entangled bank. --L.M. 1 SCIENCE AND SENSIBILITY The first essay in this volume, A Devil's Chaplain (1.1), has not previously been published. The title, borrowed by the book, is explained in the essay itself. The second essay, What is True? (1.2), was my contribution to a symposium of that name, in Forbes ASAP magazine. Scientists tend to take a robust view of truth and are impatient of philosophical equivocation over its reality or importance. It's hard enough coaxing nature to give up her truths, without spectators and hangers-on strewing gratuitous obstacles in our way. My essay argues that we should at least be consistent. Truths about everyday life are just as much -- or as little -- open to philosophical doubt as scientific truths. Let us shun double standards. At times I fear turning into a double standards bore. It started in childhood when my first hero, Doctor Dolittle (he returned irresistibly to mind when I read the Naturalist's Voyage of my adult hero, Charles Darwin), raised my consciousness, to borrow a useful piece of feminist jargon, about our treatment of animals. Non-human animals I should say, for, of course, we are animals. The moral philosopher most justly credited with raising today's consciousness in this direction is Peter Singer, lately moved from Australia to Princeton. His The Great Ape Project aims towards granting the other great apes, as near as is practically possible, civil rights equivalent to those enjoyed by the human great ape. When you stop and ask yourself why this seems so immediately ridiculous, the harder you think, the less ridiculous it seems. Cheap cracks like 'I suppose you'll need reinforced ballot-boxes for gorillas, then?' are soon dispatched: we give rights, but not the vote, to children, lunatics and Members of the House of Lords. The biggest objection to the GAP is 'Where will it all end? Rights for oysters?' (Bertrand Russell's quip, in a similar context). Where do you draw the line? Gaps in the Mind (1.3), my own contribution to the GAP book, uses an evolutionary argument to show that we should not be in the business of drawing lines in the first place. There's no law of nature that says boundaries have to be clear-cut. In December 2000 I was among those invited by David Miliband MP, then Head of the Prime Minister's Policy Unit and now Minister for School Standards, to write a memo on a particular subject for Tony Blair to read over the Christmas holiday. My brief was Science, Genetics, Risk and Ethics (1.4) and I reproduce my (previously unpublished) contribution here (eliminating Risk and some other passages to avoid overlap with other essays). Any proposal to curtail, in the smallest degree, the right of trial by jury is greeted with wails of affront. On the three occasions when I have been called to serve on a jury, the experience proved disagreeable and disillusioning. Much later, two grotesquely over-publicized trials in the United States prompted me to think through a central reason for my distrust of the jury system, and to write it down as Trial By Jury (1.5). Crystals are first out of the box of tricks toted by psychics, mystics, mediums and other charlatans. My purpose in the next article was to explain the real magic of crystals to the readers of a London newspaper, the Sunday Telegraph. At one time it was only the low-grade tabloid newspapers that encouraged popular superstitions like crystal-gazing or astrology. Nowadays some up-market newspapers, including the Telegraph, have dumbed down to the extent of printing a regular astrology column, which is why I accepted their invitation to write Crystalline Truth and Crystal Balls (1.6). A more intellectual species of charlatan is the target of the next essay, Postmodernism Disrobed (1.7). Dawkins' Law of the Conservation of Difficulty states that obscurantism in an academic subject expands to fill the vacuum of its intrinsic simplicity. Physics is a genuinely difficult and profound subject, so physicists need to -- and do -- work hard to make their language as simple as possible ('but no simpler,' rightly insisted Einstein). Other academics -- some would point the finger at continental schools of literary criticism and social science -- suffer from what Peter Medawar (I think) called Physics Envy. They want to be thought profound, but their subject is actually rather easy and shallow, so they have to language it up to redress the balance. The physicist Alan Sokal perpetrated a blissfully funny hoax on the Editorial 'Collective' (what else?) of a particularly pretentious journal of social studies. Afterwards, together with his colleague Jean Bricmont, he published a book, Intellectual Impostures, ably documenting this epidemic of Fashionable Nonsense (as their book was retitled in the United States). 'Postmodernism Disrobed' is my review of this hilarious but disquieting book. I must add, the fact that the word 'postmodernism' occurs in the title given me by the Editors of Nature does not imply that I (or they) know what it means. Indeed, it is my belief that it means nothing at all, except in the restricted context of architecture where it originated. I recommend the following practice, whenever anybody uses the word in some other context. Stop them instantly and ask, in a neutral spirit of friendly curiosity, what it means. Never once have I heard anything that even remotely approaches a usable, or even faintly coherent, definition. The best you'll get is a nervous titter and something like, 'Yes I agree, it is a terrible word isn't it, but you know what I mean.' Well no, actually, I don't. As a lifelong teacher, I fret about where we go wrong in education. I hear horror stories almost daily of ambitious parents or ambitious schools ruining the joy of childhood. And it starts wretchedly early. A six-year-old boy receives 'counselling' because he is 'worried' that his performance in mathematics is falling behind. A headmistress summons the parents of a little girl to suggest that she should be sent for external tuition. The parents expostulate that it is the school's job to teach the child. Why is she falling behind? She is falling behind, explains the headmistress patiently, because the parents of all the other children in the class are paying for them to go to external tutors. It is not just the joy of childhood that is threatened. It is the joy of true education: of reading for the sake of a wonderful book rather than for an exam; of following up a subject because it is fascinating rather than because it is on a syllabus; of watching a great teacher's eyes light up for sheer love of the subject. The Joy of Living Dangerously: Sanderson of Oundle (1.8) is an attempt to bring back from the past the spirit of just such a great teacher. Copyright (c) 2003 by Richard Dawkins. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. Excerpted from A Devil's Chaplain: Reflections on Hope, Lies, Science, and Love by Richard Dawkins All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Introduction to the American Editionp. 1
1 Science and Sensibilityp. 5
1.1 A Devil's Chaplainp. 8
1.2 What is True?p. 14
1.3 Gaps in the Mindp. 20
1.4 Science, Genetics and Ethics: Memo for Tony Blairp. 27
1.5 Trial By Juryp. 38
1.6 Crystalline Truth and Crystal Ballsp. 42
1.7 Postmodernism Disrobedp. 47
1.8 The Joy of Living Dangerously: Sanderson of Oundlep. 54
2 Light Will Be Thrownp. 61
2.1 Light Will Be Thrownp. 63
2.2 Darwin Triumphantp. 78
2.3 The 'Information Challenge'p. 91
2.4 Genes Aren't Usp. 104
2.5 Son of Moore's Lawp. 107
3 The Infected Mindp. 117
3.1 Chinese Junk and Chinese Whispersp. 119
3.2 Viruses of the Mindp. 128
3.3 The Great Convergencep. 146
3.4 Dolly and the Cloth Headsp. 152
3.5 Time to Stand Upp. 156
4 They Told Me, Heraclitusp. 163
4.1 Lament for Douglasp. 165
4.2 Eulogy for Douglas Adamsp. 168
4.3 Eulogy for W. D. Hamiltonp. 171
4.4 Snake Oilp. 179
5 Even the Ranks of Tuscanyp. 187
5.1 Rejoicing in Multifarious Naturep. 190
5.2 The Art of the Developablep. 194
5.3 Hallucigenia, Wiwaxia and Friendsp. 203
5.4 Human Chauvinism and Evolutionary Progressp. 206
5.5 Unfinished Correspondence with a Darwinian Heavyweightp. 218
6 There is All Africa and her Prodigies in Usp. 223
6.1 Ecology of Genesp. 225
6.2 Out of the Soul of Africap. 228
6.3 I Speak of Africa and Golden Joysp. 231
6.4 Heroes and Ancestorsp. 234
7 A Prayer for My Daughterp. 241
7.1 Good and Bad Reasons for Believingp. 242
Endnotesp. 249
Indexp. 256