by Aravindan Neelakandan
Richard Dawkins is one of the best science popularisers of our times. He is also an eminent evolutionary biologist. Starting from his book Selfish Gene in 1976, for more than four decades, he has made science a part of popular culture in an uncompromising way. A staunch Darwinian, he is the no-nonsense science writer every peddler of pseudo-science would do well to avoid. His forthright questioning of Deepak Chopra, cornering him over the now customary misappropriation and misuse of the ‘Q’ (quantum physics) word is one of the most delightful exposes of pseudo-scientific word jugglery purporting to be science.
The Oxford zoologist has provided many terms in his popular science books which have become very famous today. The word meme was coined by him in The Selfish Gene (1976). His concept of ‘extended phenotype’, dealt with in the book of the same title (1982), just like his ‘memes’, has had a tremendous influence on social sciences. In his Unweaving the Rainbow (1998), he introduced Petwhac (Population of Events That Would Have Appeared Coincidental), which aims to demystify the Jungian synchronicity, though Dawkins does not mention synchronicity explicitly. His other books, The Blind watchmaker (1986), to his two-volume autobiographical works, An Appetite for Wonder (2013) and Brief Candle in the Dark: My Life in Science (2015), have consistently furthered the cause of science, both in polity and culture, in a combative yet uncompromisingly scientific style. In this list now comes the latest book, Science in the Soul.
The book is a collection of 42 essays, written on various occasions and issues, spanning over three decades, with one connecting thread running through them all – taking a scientific approach that’s central to the question in hand.
Consider for example the case of eugenics. It is reprehensible by human value system if a commercial venture or a state (like that of the Nazis) tries to breed people for a particular mental trait or physical ability. Such a eugenic policy would be politically and morally wrong, proclaims Dawkins, but cautions us not to get our moral compass decide the truth and thus declare it to be impossible. Because Dawkins says, “Nature, fortunately or unfortunately, is indifferent to anything so parochial as human values.” The caution Dawkins exercises is very important given the critical history of the brief but intense romance the British science establishment, particularly the biologists like JBS Haldane, had with Marxism (until they were rudely awakened by the Lysenko-pseudoscience affair). The ideological attack on science was carried forward well after the Lysenko affair too – there continued a vibrant lineage of British scientists wedded to the theory, or rather ‘The Theory’.
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