Biology and Bullshit

David P. Barash at

BarashBooks Discussed in this Essay:

    • Religion Explained: the evolutionary origins of religious thought, by Pascal Boyer. (Basic Books, 2002)
    • The Language of God: a scientist presents evidence for belief, by Francis Collins. (The Free Press, 2006)
    • The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins. (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)
      Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, by Daniel C. Dennett. (Viking Press, 2006)
    • Letter to a Christian Nation, by Sam Harris. (Knopf, 2006)
      Evolving God: a provocative view of the origins of religion, by Barbara King. (Doubleday, 2007)
    • Attachment, Evolution, and the Psychology of Religion, by L. A. Kirkpatrick. Guilford Publications, 2005.
      Evolution and Christian Faith: reflections of an evolutionary biologist, by Joan Roughgarden. (Island Press, 2006)
    • The Varieties of Scientific Experience: a personal view of the search for god, by Carl Sagan. (The Penguin Press, 2006)
    • Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society by David Sloan Wilson. (University of Chicago Press, 2002)
    • The Creation: an appeal to save life on earth, by Edward. O. Wilson. (W. W. Norton, 2006)
    • Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast: the evolutionary origins of belief, by Lewis Wolpert. (W. W. Norton, 2007)

All books supporting religion are alike. All books attacking it do so in their own way (well, maybe not, but doesn’t this start us off on a nice Tolstoyan note?). In any event, religion’s interface with science – long fraught – seems especially so these days, with a bevy of books criticizing religion as well as defending it.

Why so much attention, just now? Exhibit A: creationist efforts to undermine the teaching of evolution, masquerading as “intelligent design.” Next, the takeover of the US executive branch by right-wing ayatollahs, combined with presidential assertions that his policies are undertaken in furtherance of god’s will, not to mention efforts to break down the Jeffersonian “wall of separation” between church and state. Add to this the so-called war on terror, which is largely a struggle with radical Islam in response to the latter’s faith-based initiative against the United States.

Meanwhile, American stem-cell research continues to be hobbled by the insistence that every fertilized cell has been “ensouled” and is therefore human and holy. And don’t forget the conspicuous rise of the right-wing evangelical movement in the United States – bastion of religiosity in the developed world – featuring such gems as Pat Robertson’s assertion that catastrophes, from natural hurricanes to unnatural terrorism, are brought about by god’s displeasure with the sexually or textually sinful.

In short, it is fair to say that “they” (religious zealots) started it, as they usually do. It was the Catholic Church that burned Bruno and persecuted Galileo, not the other way around. When have atheists claimed that religious devotees will burn in hell, or sought to hurry them along not with words but flaming faggots? Polls consistently show Americans more likely to vote for a presidential candidate who is an anencephalic ax murderer (but religious) than the most admirable atheist. In any event, it appears that despite – or, perhaps, because of – being an oppressed minority, some atheists are finally madder than hell (and/or mad at hell) and unwilling to “take it” any more.

More here.