I withheld from buying Richard Dawkins' latest book for a long time. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, I knew what he was going to say – at least in outline – it is ground he has rehearsed in other books and his television series. (Of course, his views need not be taken seriously, as he has not seen fit to publish them in any peer-reviewed publications.) Secondly, given his support of organisations dedicated to spreading the message of humanism, I was reluctant to contribute to his royalty income.
There were a couple of down-sides to this. The first was that I waived my opportunity to say anything original and timely about the book here – thus foregoing the sort of site traffic that I have only attracted with about three posts in the past. The second was that, in some people's opinions, I did not have the right to have any opinion about the book. I don't think Dawkins himself would agree with this – I'll come to that in a future post.
The appearance of the paperback edition allowed me to buy the book with less money going to atheistic “good causes”. Professor Dawkins also did me the favour of writing a preface to the paperback edition, and I therefore have something I can write about which will not have been looked at by most of the reviewers.
Most of this preface was written in response to the “I'm an atheist BUT ...” community – those people who he might have considered he was doing a favour to by writing his book, but who in many cases felt that he had said too much too strongly. He continues to be indifferent to the sensitivities of religious believers who might read his book, or have to face the arguments that he presents. He describes such people as “faith-heads” in the first paragraph, and suggests the etymologically stupid use of the word “relusional” as a contraction of “religiously delusional” - doubtless it's only a matter of time before that is tiresome common currency, much as “IDiot” and “Flying Spaghetti Monster” are. However, he apparently has hardly any more time for these “vicarious second-order believers”, whose zeal is “pumped up by ingratiating broad-mindedness”.
In coming posts, I intend to look briefly at the arguments from these second-order believers – not religious people, remember, but atheists and agnostics, who simply don't share Dawkins' hatred for religion, and Dawkins' response to them.