A Devil’s Chaplain: Selected essays by Richard Dawkins, Edited by Latha Menon, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London (2003). ISBN 0 297 82973 4
When I make a statement I am certain, whether it hits the mark or not, it boomerangs. I just borrowed this book from a public library. The publishers introduce Richard Dawkins as ‘one of our most important evolutionary biologists, and a bestselling writer, for many years. A Devil’s Chaplain is a personal, intriguing selection of his writing which represents a portrait of one of the finest minds in science.’
As usual I go through the introduction (by the editor), Endnotes, Index, and the second cover page. The title refers, though not mentioned, to God, religion faith, beliefs, authority etc., and thereby its context to science. In the background lies evolution – creation debate that is going on in the West. Endnotes and Index have no clue to what I was looking for any reference to the Eastern religions/ cultures. I felt the author’s world is flat – two dimensional. The book contains lot of information though.
As I read the first chapter, “A Devil’s Chaplain” I catch a quote: ‘…There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed* into a few forms or into one…’ which carries a footnote: ‘*in the second edition of the Origin, the three words ‘by the Creator’ were introduced at this point, presumably as a sop to religious sensibilities’ (p. 13). This obviously refers to Charles Darwin and his ‘Origin of Species’, which I have not read.
Then I turn to the last and only chapter, ‘Good and Bad Reasons for believing’ of the last section, ‘A Prayer for my Daughter’. It is actually a letter written by him to his ten year daughter. I find it was worth reading and sharing with others – adults and children alike, for its orientation towards children, though no one need to agree to everything that he says. We don't know what circumstances made him write a letter instead of speaking in person.
Then I quickly go through rest of the pages, reading few here, few there. The book is full of information. However, much of it may not be comprehensible, or may not be possible to refer back to the references as not many books are available, without the help of specialised libraries. I am not a scientist, besides.
I have been gathering a lot of impressions and some information too over decades. I am not sure how much of this accumulation has turned into knowledge; about any wisdom I am doubtful.
When I read the Marathi Reader compiled by Acharya (Principal) Pralhad Keshav Atre, in my first standard, I developed liking for reading. I did my primary schooling at my native village. I, like many, did not get books (other than textbooks), newspaper or magazines. I would pick any scrap – an old newspaper used for packs that came from grocery shops – to read. Later I was borrowing books from others who had them. Our primary school had a couple of hundred books, which I finished in no time.
Now I read anything available about science from newspapers, magazines, books…, knowing that it is emerging as a new global religion in modern times, bringing along its faith, beliefs, disputes, and also superstitions. Thankfully it, too, is not universal, though global, and is in the safe custody of the scholars, experts and authority alike Vedas in the hands of Brahmins in India.
However now I read selectively, in scraps, at random, even from the bestsellers; I don’t look for entertainment that is usually taken for granted by writers and publishers. I tend to check its claims at the ground level, below my feet, here and now – the hard evidence, which Dawkins boasts while challenging religious and cultural beliefs etc. The results are mostly discouraging.
I find sciences and scientists, as in other disciplines such as architecture and planning, are fragmented, egoistic, and contented in their respective compartments and superstitions. There is no test tube containing ‘life’. They are blissfully divorced from life.
More I read about sciences – pure, natural, applied or social… more I am disillusioned. It is no more than adding the burden on history that is so fickle. This applies even to this book. More I read about the advances in different fields, and the strife it has caused all over the world, more I am convinced it has reduced the living to objects. By adding the three words Darwin has separated Creator from life.
I believe that life – Life – is larger than all the religions and philosophies, arts and sciences, forget the trades and the technologies, of all the ages and places; life is not a four-letter word. I believe that life is larger than all the gods the humanity has invented in all the ages.
How would anyone explain the birth of Sri Ganesh in modern vocabulary? Is he a clone? Did he receive his elephant head in a transplant operation?
On reading, ‘the “Information Challenge” turns out to be none other than our old friend: “How could something as complex as an eye evolve?’ (p. 102), I quote my verse ‘Oldie’s Secret’ here:
Oldie's Secret or Design by Evolution
If any talk of Oldie comes, ‘I’ quits.
This Person is pretty slow in our times.
Now see! How long did Oldie take
to design Homo sapiens, who is thriving on
the fruit of wisdom from Garden of Eden?
Now we are living sure fast life.
Instant food. Instant image. Instant Dolly.
Inflated ego. Inflated market. Inflated houses,
Such as, London – New York – Tokyo – Singapore,
taking farther the metropolitan culture,
taking over from the British Isles, turning faster
the Garden of Gaia, than ever before,
into a perpetual desert to last forever.
Cleverly we build ‘Ark of Genes’ to prepare
for man-made catastrophe, while we continue
to destroy ugly Oldie’s ugly designs.
Thoughtful or crazy Oldie the designer
be to evolve our nose and ears in pair
To carry our proud spectacles, and eyeballs
to wear contact lenses. But Oldie’s secret
and tantrum remain elusive to our vision.
(3 February 2002)
Darwinism or Evolutionism or Judeo-Christian Creationism: why worry? We – the humans – are just speck in haystack: Just be Happy. It’s high time, though civilisation hasn’t progressed much in 5000 years, to wonder at and Love the Life!
Remigius de Souza
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Remigius de Souza