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October 06, 2005

Dawkins grows a heart

I recently finished Unweaving the Rainbow by Richard Dawkins. Dawkins thinks himself another "Darwin's Bulldog" like T. H. Huxley, and his past books on science have been pointedly anti-religion, casting evolution as the hero that banishes all superstition and nonsense from the world. Despite this -- or maybe because of it -- The Blind Watchmaker gets my vote for the most important popular science book of the twentieth century.

So naturally I figured Rainbow would be a compendium of erudite, irreverently humorous prose articulating the triumph of science over God. And yeah, that's in there if you look hard enough. But Dawkins (or his editor, maybe) has softened his notoriously pointy dialogue, opting instead for a synthesis of poetry and science that channels the best of Sagan and S. J. Gould. I'm not sure the word "creationist" appears in the entire book! Moreover, much of the discussion avoids zoology, his area of expertise, choosing instead to explicate physical science subjects like optics and quantum mechanics. The electromagnetic spectrum according to Dawkins has a whimsical bent, including a paragraph on how you might use the wavelength of urine on a fossilized mastadon track to augur the size of the beast's, um, beasthood. While I don't find his artistic arguments too compelling, I never much liked Yeats anyway...

If this is what his new "Professorship of Public Understanding of Science" will bring us, we're in for a treat.

Posted by The Greatness at October 6, 2005 09:06 AM