Too many reviews in one place

David Barash tries to review 11 recent books on the religion/science conflict, all in one essay of middling length. It’s not entirely satisfying, nor could it be with that excess of books in so little space, but it does have a convenient short list of what’s been published lately.

Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, by Daniel C. Dennett (Viking Press, 2006)

The Creation: An Appealto Save Life on Earth, by Edward O. Wilson (W.W. Norton, 2006)

Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society, by David Sloan Wilson (University of Chicago Press, 2002)

Evolution and Christian Faith: Reflections of an Evolutionary Biologist, by Joan Roughgarden (Island Press, 2006)

Evolving God: A Provocative View of the Origins of Religion, by Barbara J. King (Doubleday, 2007)

The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)

The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, by Francis S. Collins (The Free Press, 2006)

Letter to a Christian Nation, by Sam Harris (Knopf, 2006)

Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought, by Pascal Boyer (Basic Books, 2002)

Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast: The Evolutionary Origins of Belief, by Lewis Wolpert (W.W. Norton, 2007)

The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God, by Carl Sagan (The Penguin Press, 2006)

I’ve read most of these, and I roughly agree with most of Barash’s assessments except that he’s much milder in his criticisms than I would be. I was also disappointed in Wolpert’s book, which was a bit too scattered.

Next on my list: Boyer. It’s going to have to wait a little longer, though, until this term ends.


  1. ChemBob says

    How about adding Victor J. Stenger’s “God, the Failed Hypothesis. How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist.” 2007.

  2. Richard Harris, FCD says

    Hey, we’re on a roll, here!

    I really think the tide is turning. We’ve got the religious loonies* on the run, & they’re running scared. Well, over here in the UK, anyway. We’ve got to keep hammering away at the illogical nonsense, & point out the harm that religion does.

    * when i say religious loonies, I mean anyone who believes in a theistic god or gods, or new age nonsense, or spirits, or feng shui, or anything else for which there’s no evidence, & which, if it were real, would not accord with the laws of physics & chemistry & evolution by natural selection.

  3. mndarwinist says

    Chembob: The book you mention is a wonderful book, and I think its absence from the list is a glaring omission.

  4. Paguroidea says

    Thanks for the short list and the link to Barash’s book review article.

    There certainly are a lot of reviews in one place, but I take it as a very good sign that people have been busy thinking about those sorts of issues recently, and publishers see the value of publishing such material. Now I just have to decide which book to start on next!!!

  5. Sheldon says

    Boyer’s book I think is quite good. I think you will enjoy it. It is different because it comes in part from an anthropological perspective and doesn’t priveledge monotheisms for a starting definition of religion.

  6. Eric Davison says

    I’m reading the Boyer book right now. So far, I’m enjoying it, though it does kinda have the feel of a textbook with the little summary boxes floating around.

  7. windy says

    Barash has a lovely quote from Roughgarden:

    “even after his death, Jesus continued to downplay miracles.”


  8. Greg Peterson says

    “Religion Explained” is a great and convincing book; he does a much better job with religion’s likely origin and continued hold on humanity than anyone else I’ve read, towering over Dennett in that respect.

    I fully agree with the comment on “Six Impossible Things.” It was a tedious, confusing book that I ultimately was not getting enough out of to justify completing.

    I seldom find the most popular books of this type to be anything like the best ones available. Kitcher and Edis have both produced books that outshine anything on this list, and Shermer has produced a steady stream of highly useful and readable books, but seldom gets the notice he deserves. I guess I have never quite figured out what makes a book a hit, but quality and value seem not to be priorities. I mean, I love Carl Sagan like pancakes, but “Varieties of Scientific Experience” was lukewarm leftovers at best.

  9. Jim Wallis says

    You’ve missed out on one of the best-Jennifer Michael Hecht’s “Doubt, a History” which tells the story of doubt from ancient to modern times with wit and flair. You can turn the world upside down if you see history as a history of doubt, rather than one of belief.