Friday, December 22, 2006

Baltimore on Dawkins

In the January-February 2007 issue of American Scientist, there's a review of Richard Dawkins's book, 'The God Delusion', by David Baltimore,;jsessionid=aaa5LVF0. The attack upon religion contained in Dawkins's book has been criticised for being, amongst other things, superfluous in a primarily secular society such as the UK. Baltimore's review is noteworthy precisely because it provides an American perspective upon the book:

These are difficult times for rational people, particularly in the United States. Those of us who believe that scientific evidence should be the bedrock of policy formation, that logic should be the basis for argument and that uncertainty should beget tolerance are not honored in the political world. Rather, scientific evidence is ignored when it leads to politically unacceptable conclusions, logic is tossed aside when faith is involved, and tolerance for minority opinions is simply out of political fashion. Why should this be? For one thing, we seem to be becoming an increasingly religious country, and because religion supplants evidence and logic with faith—and faith can mean anything you want it to—politicians can get away with appealing to faith without having to justify themselves...

Whether it be jihad, opposition to stem-cell research, or teaching of intelligent design, religion is the genesis of more of our news than at any time I can remember. Because of the central role of religious belief in U.S. political life, this is a good time for a hard look at its nature...

I am glad Dawkins took the time to write The God Delusion at this moment in history. In the United States, there is an increasingly pervasive assumption that Christianity is our state religion. In fact, the tolerance of other religions that was so much a part of American politics, at least in the post-World War II era, is giving way to an increasing focus on Christianity as the only true belief. Atheism has never had a strong position in the United States, and it is hard to imagine a politician today publicly admitting to such views.

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