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God, in books: Richard Dawkins, R. Crumb and making the case for God

October 10, 2009 |  8:59 am

Richard Dawkins

In books this Sunday, we look at God. And may lightning not strike us by beginning with Richard Dawkins, mobbed by fans at an atheist convention. Susan Salter-Reynolds talks to him about his new book.

In "The Greatest Show on Earth," he's more proactive, laying out the issue of evolution and natural selection with subheads like: "WHAT IS A THEORY? WHAT IS A FACT?" He writes of "softening up" his readers, as if kneading dough. By mid-book, however, Dawkins is his old scientist self, delighted by his subject, tossing off phrases such as: "What happened next is almost too wonderful to bear."

This is the upside of popular science writing. It's why Carl Sagan, Stephen Jay Gould and Stephen Hawking left their labs to write. They trade in awe, the desire to restore to science the sense of sublime wonder that drew them to it in the first place....

Dawkins is very keen to establish that his new book is not "The God Delusion." He wants, as much as possible, to distance it from conversations about God. "I have a strong feeling that the subject of evolution is beautiful without the excuse of creationists needing to be bashed," he says.

Two other books also take on evolution... the evolution of religion. Reviewer Jack Miles writes:

Can the later scriptures of West Asia -- the Jewish and Christian Bibles and the Koran -- be read as the record of a process of human domestication, a further taming and gentling of mankind over time? In "The Evolution of God," Robert Wright argues laboriously that they can indeed be so read.... Karen Armstrong would unhesitatingly dismiss Wright's vision of a deity inferred from the evidence of human evolution as a lamentable instance of the mistake lying at the core of the West's disaffection from received religion -- namely, regarding the case for God as one to be made from such evidence. "The Case for God" is in fact largely an elaborate history of the spread of this mistake from the late Middle Ages to the present.

These authors are probably not the readers R. Crumb is worried about when he writes that he may offend with his new "The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb." David L. Ulin writes:

In Crumb's interpretation, [Tamar's] is the story of a "fiercely determined woman, [who] takes it upon herself to ensure the survival of her lineage." That is what Genesis is about, and by portraying it in all its messy humanity, with blood, fear, violence and even graphic sex, Crumb strips away millennia of interpretation, returning this core text to an unexpected accessibility.

See our preview of "The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb," in bookstores on Oct. 19. The excerpt opens with the story of Lot in the town of Sodom.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Richard Dawkins. Credit: Houghton Mifflin