Christopher Booker on Richard Dawkins, Edward O. Wilson
Christopher Booker joins Stephen Meyer on the Medved Show's Science & Culture Update in a moment to talk about evolution, climate change and the "science denial" slur. If you're not familiar with Booker, a Darwkin-skeptical columnist for the London Telegraph, you should get acquainted with his writing, which is acid and very enjoyable. Here's the opening of his review for the Spectator of Richard Dawkins's self-indulget new memoir, An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist.
It is peculiarly apt that the author of this autobiography should be the man who coined that now fashionable term 'meme' -- so long as it is written 'me me'. His name is shown so large on the cover that one might miss the title printed below it. On the opening page he tells us that his full name is Clinton Richard Dawkins, which 'serendipitously' gives him the same initials as those of his greatest hero, Charles Robert Darwin. The time has come, he has decided, to tell the story of his life up to that seminal moment in 1976 when he published the book which made him famous, The Selfish Gene.And here he is on Edward O. Wilson's latest, The Social Conquest of Earth.
He begins by describing where he has come from genetically, going back to the General Clinton who presided over the loss of the American colonies in 1783. More recently we learn about grandfathers, uncles and cousins, who all seem to have led worthy lives, several of them, including his father, in the colonial service. We learn how he was born in Kenya during the second world war, followed by details of his childhood, such as his toy lorry. One chapter is devoted to his first school in Rhodesia (names of masters, reflections on bullying); another to his prep school back in England (more names of masters and reflections on bullying).
Occasionally we are given glimpses of what he was later to become, such as his contempt for the gullibility of small children who believe in Father Christmas, rather oddly contrasting with his admission that he himself as a small boy went through an 'intensely religious' phase. But all this has taken up more than 100 pages. Admirable though it may be that people should put together an account of their lives for the interest of their family, one inevitably begins to wonder whether, if the author of this book had not been such a celebrated figure, anyone would have thought such a pedestrian recital worth publishing.
It is our ability to escape from the rigid frame of instinct which explains almost everything that distinguishes human beings from any other form of life. But one looks in vain to Wilson to recognise this, let alone to explain how it could have come about in terms of Darwinian evolutionary theory. No attribute of Darwinians is more marked than their inability to grasp just how much their theory cannot account for, from all those evolutionary leaps which require a host of interdependent things to develop more or less simultaneously to be workable, that peculiarity of human consciousness which has allowed us to step outside the instinctive frame and to 'conquer the Earth' far more comprehensively than ants.It would be hard to think of an American journalist who writes as capably as Booker does about the failures of Darwinism's "beguiling" fable.
But it is this which also gives us our disintegrative propensity, individually and collectively, to behave egocentrically, presenting us with all those problems which distinguish us from all the other species which still live in unthinking obedience to the dictates of nature. All these follow from that split from our selfless 'higher nature', with which over the millennia our customs, laws, religion and artistic creativity have tried their best to re-integrate us.
Nothing is more comical about Darwinians than the contortions they get into in trying to explain those 'altruistic' aspects of human nature which might seem to contradict their belief that the evolutionary drive is always essentially self-centred (seen at its most extreme in Dawkins's 'selfish gene' theory). Wilson's thesis finally crumbles when he comes up with absurdly reductionist explanations for the emergence of the creative arts and religion. Forget Bach's B Minor Mass or the deeper insights of the Hindu scriptures -- as a lapsed Southern Baptist, he caricatures the religious instinct of mankind as little more than the stunted form of faith he escaped from.
His attempt to unravel what makes human nature unique is entirely a product of that limited 'left-brain thinking' which leads to cognitive dissonance. Unable to think outside the Darwinian box, his account lacks any real warmth or wider understanding. Coming from 'the most celebrated heir to Darwin', his book may have won wide attention and praise. But all it really demonstrates is that the real problem with Darwinians is their inability to see just how much their beguilingly simple theory simply cannot explain.