Grounds for Disbelief?


Books by people who see religion as a profound misunderstanding or dangerous delusion have proliferated recently. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins has been on the New York Times best-seller list for weeks. Sam Harris’s The End of Faith sold well, prompting the author to write a sequel of sorts, Letter to a Christian Nation. Most of these attacks on religion have a common focus: religion is generally lumped with fundamentalism (nonfundamentalist believers are seen as timid, not really willing to go where their more benighted brethren do); and, like fundamentalists, the attackers seem to know exactly what they mean by God. An equally fundamentalist belief in scientism replaces religious belief, insisting that there is only one kind of knowledge that matters, only one way of knowing that can really be called knowing.

One of the more graceful entries in this genre is the late Carl Sagan’s The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God, edited by his wife, Ann Druyan, and published last year. It is a collection of Sagan’s 1985 Gifford Lectures, only now released in book form, and the title is an obvious borrowing from William James’s own Gifford Lectures, gathered as The Varieties of Religious Experience. The Gifford Lectures were established to promote “the study of natural theology in the widest sense of the term-in other words, the knowledge of God.” The long list of past...

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About the Author

John Garvey is an Orthodox priest and columnist for Commonweal. His most recent book is Seeds of the Word: Orthodox Thinking on Other Religions.