« May 17, 2013

The Science Delusion

White takes aim at the bold targets of Richard Dawkins and Jonah Lehrer and their ilk
Review by Wayne Alan Brenner

The Science Delusion

by Curtis White
Melville House, 224 pp., $23.95 (May 28)

So here's a man who's no slouch in the mental arena – he's the president of the Center for Book Culture/Dalkey Archive Press; he writes regularly for Harper's; his previous book, The Middle Mind, is praised, blurbwise, by David Foster Wallace – and who, as if it's insurance against a faith-based bias, is also an atheist. This is the man, Curtis White, who's taking aim at the bold targets of Richard Dawkins and Jonah Lehrer and their science-championing ilk, attempting to show how those media-amplified icons of modern thought are actually, in certain respects, full of shit – particularly as regards Science, capital S, being the lord of all we survey. White's too smart and too educated to not score some points against those targets, cherrypicking among their more extreme lapses of judgment, and holy cow it's good to see someone calling bullshit on people who usually get carte blanche among their acolytes and, ah, Viewers Like You. But White's suggested alternative to fact-driven knowledge is some Romantic dream of embracing mystery for its own sake – because it's just so much more meaningful to be infatuated with mystery or something, especially if Radiohead is playing nearby – and that leaves a bit to be desired. Disconcerting, too, is the tone of engagement here, the author indulging much the same sort of nyaah-nyaah derision that he lambasts Dawkins & Co. for expressing: One gets the sense of two raging nerds in a crying slapfight on a playground during recess from grammar-school science class. But perhaps that's just your reviewer, missing whatever more clever and evenhanded scrutiny that Kurt Vonnegut, say, might've provided here once upon a time. Still, The Science Delusion deserves a thoughtful read, if only for its sharply dissenting view and the directions offered to further territories worthy of investigation.