Steven M. Long is a freelance writer who lives in the western suburbs of Chicago. As well as writing for Friendly Atheist, Steve blogs about fantasy and science fiction at Foesofreality.com, and maintains a personal/professional site at Stevenmlong.com. His Twitter handle is @StevenMLong.
I knew very little about Richard Dawkins when I received my copy of the just-released An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist. I knew that he was a scientist and an atheist. I’ve seen him debate on YouTube and I’ve read about him on the internet, but I haven’t read The Selfish Gene, The God Delusion, or any of his other works. My hope, when I picked up An Appetite for Wonder, was that it would be a good introduction to Dawkins, that it would illuminate his life, and that it would fulfill the promise of its title. The book is structured chronologically, starting with Dawkins’ parents and grandparents and a plethora of other relatives that I struggled to keep straight and quickly forgot. From there, it moves through his childhood in Africa, his time at Oxford and Berkeley, and finally his return to Oxford and the conception and writing of The Selfish Gene. Dawkins is a strong, fluid writer, and his voice here is personal, but restrained; reading the book gives the feeling of sitting with him in a comfortable chair in front of a fire, as he walks you through the details of his life. He mostly stays on track, but draws frequent comparisons between events past and present, and occasionally questions his own memory, which I found oddly appropriate for an evolutionary biologist. If the concluding, quick summary of The Selfish Gene made me curious about the full book, though, the number of graphs and descriptions of scientific experiments in the later part of An Appetite for Wonder (and the struggle I experienced not to just skim these sections) made me rethink that position. Though Dawkins’ voice in An Appetite for Wonder may be warm, it is by no means intimate: there are many anecdotes, but they are rarely insightful, or overly personal. I have many stories I tell of my own life — the time spaghetti was spilled on me as a baby, how I imitated Mae West and Ronald Coleman — but few would be of interest to general readers unless they were woven into a larger thread of meaning. [Click headline for more…] Read more
Brother Jerry DeWitt has a problem. Since he first felt called to the ministry — a call that came in his teens — he’s been trying to bring about a revival: a gathering of souls that he would lead to Christ. He’s been moving from church to church, building his ministry and trying to get his doctrine right. Nothing seems to fit, and as time passes, it becomes clear to him that the disconnect is less about his failure to find the Word, and more a failure of the Word itself, which contains a myriad of positions that Jerry can’t accept, and contradictions that he ultimately comes to see as lies. This is the central arc of Hope After Faith: An Ex-Pastor’s Journey from Belief to Atheism (Da Capo Press, 2013). DeWitt starts by taking us back to his roots in DeRidder, Louisiana, to a church culture where religion fundamentally reorders one’s priorities, that sees spirituality as its wellspring, and accepts God as the only possible source of hope. These are people who welcome (Christian) preaching in the public schools and call their minister right after dialing 9-1-1. The first two-thirds of the book catalogue DeWitt’s struggles to balance creating a life for his family with finding his way as a young, Pentecostal preacher. The last third tells the story of his ultimate disillusionment with Christianity, his coming out as an atheist, and the fallout, as his professional and personal life disintegrate and he becomes a pariah. [Click headline for more…] Read more