I certainly agree that with Pete that Richard Dawkins’s advice on aborting a Down syndrome fetus was somewhere beyond morally obtuse, and he fully deserves the blowback he’s gotten for it.

I also find puzzling that someone who prides himself on his devotion to science should be an avowed, indeed noisy atheist. Atheism, after all, is as much a religion as any other in that it is a belief system that can’t be tested, which is the definition of religion. You can no more prove the nonexistence of God than you can prove His existence. Of course, Dawkins’s book The God Delusion, has sold more than 2 million copies and been translated into 31 languages, so perhaps it was a commercial decision to be an atheist.

I suspect Dawkins might be getting grumpy in his old age (he’s 73), an age when hugely gifted people sometimes begin to become more and more extreme in their views. About ten years ago, Dawkins wrote a fascinating book called The Ancestor’s Tale. It was a history of life on earth, but one that went backwards in time, not forward. It was sort of a paleontologist’s version of Merrily We Roll Along, a Kaufmann and Hart play (and Sondheim musical) where each succeeding scene is set earlier in time. It’s an idea that didn’t work for Kaufmann and Hart, or Sondheim, but it works splendidly for Dawkins. But there was one thing very odd about it. Every hundred pages or so, Dawkins would throw in a completely gratuitous insult

to George W. Bush. In 2004, such insults were a dime a dozen, but it was startling, to say the least, to find one in the middle of a discussion of the Cambrian explosion or the Permian extinction.

But that said, Dawkins is a great scientist and an even better science writer. His gift for making complex subjects and subtle arguments accessible to the intelligent layman is second to none. The book that brought him to fame, The Selfish Gene, has been in print of almost forty years. It is one of those rare books that has you saying, “Ah, now I understand,” on almost every page.

So Dawkins, I think, is just further proof that we are all human, both sublime and ridiculous.

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