You might not expect a scientist's creativity to show up in the form of playfulness, at least not in his "serious" nonfiction books. Yet Richard Dawkins's humanity and sense of humor shine through nearly every page of The Greatest Show on Earth
, which I found delightful. I had often read quibbles, including from fellow atheists and agnostics, citing Dawkins's so-called stridency. Therefore I was surprised to find myself smiling throughout his latest bestseller, the first one of his books I'd read. ( I'd read articles about Dawkins and reviews, of course, and quite agree with his views, but I don't often read every word of a science book unless I'm researching something in particular.)
I wondered if the humor was purposefully added into the narrative, or if it's simply the way Dawkins thinks and acts and writes. It seems so integral to me. I found the answer in an interview by Thomas Rogers. Dawkins says (regarding a previous book):
I like to think The God Delusion is a humorous book. I think actually it's full of laughs. And people who describe it as a polarizing book or as an aggressive book, it's just that very often they haven't read it. They've read other people reacting to it. It is true that religious people do react to any kind of criticism as almost a personal insult. . . . You've heard words like strident and shrill, as well. I'd like to suggest that actually it's quite a funny book.
The humor in a book detailing evolution certainly must be appreciated in context, but I'll try a single example:
The tiger and the snake may be DNA-replicating machines but they are beautiful, elegant, complicated, expensive DNA-replicating machines. I've given money to preserve the tiger, but who would think of giving money to preserve the common cold? It's the futility of it that gets to me, as I blow my nose yet again and gasp for breath.
Futility? What nonsense. Sentimental, human nonsense. Natural selection is all futile. It is all about the survival of self-replicating instructions for self-replication. If a variant of DNA survives through an anaconda swallowing me whole, or a variant of RNA survives by making me sneeze, then that is all we need by way of explanation.
For a certain sense of humor (appreciators of the absurd, perhaps), there's a transcript mid-book of an interview by Dawkins of Wendy Wright, President of "Concerned Women for America." Dawkins introduces it like this: "Her opinion that 'The morning-after pill is a pedophile's best friend' gives a fair idea of her powers of reasoning, and she fully lived up to expectations during our interview." You can watch the full interview (it's in seven parts).
Learn more about the book and more links to articles about and interviews with Dawkins.
Watch a 44-minute video called "There is grandeur in this view of life."