Reading Rossano

Posted on May 9, 2012


How did February turn into May? It must have been magic!

Among the thousand and one things that have been keeping my away from updating my blog over the last couple of months has been a very much overdue review of Rossano’s Supernatural Selection. Reading the book has been interesting but from a meta perspective only. While the book is nowhere near as bad as the Westerhoff volume I reviewed before it, it is none-the-less not what one could hope for in a book published by OUP. Basically, Rossano falls back upon vague pleasantries when clear insight is what would be called for. His big ‘insight’ is the religion is about relationships. At any point in the book, this seems to mean whatever he wants it to mean at that very point – there being little proper connection between the various uses he makes of the slogan. Apart from being vague, the whole approach is strikingly conservative in an era where synthesis is sought through the joining together of the various mechanisms that have been identified.

But I have said as much in the review, which should be available relatively soon. What I did not manage to fit into the review is another aspect of the way in which Rossano appears to be unclear on the project of his book. At one point in the book, Rossano enters into a discussion with Dawkins’ views in The God Delusion. This seems peculiar in that Dawkins’ book is not an academic text but a popular one so that is mainly aims at achieving political change rather than to expound a defensible academic position. More importantly, Rossano then tries to adjudicate between Dawkins and unnamed representatives of religion by asserting that God’s existence can not be proved either way so that it would be better to focus on the effects of religion. There is so much wrong with that suggestion that it is hard to know where to start: 1) Both Dawkins and countless Christian writers expressly and repeatedly rejected that ‘solution’ long before Rossano thought of it, 2) Both Dawkins and countless Christian writers expressly and repeatedly have written on the effects of religion and they are far from seeing eye to eye on that topic, either, and 3) Most importantly, the disagreement between Dawkins and various Christians is primarily a subject of study for scientists who are investigating religion, rather than something for us qua scientists to arbitrate. Of course, it is potentially possible that scientific research concerning religion will lead to important implications for such debates but that is not the focus of such research.

Furthermore, on the dustjacket, it is stated that Rossano – unlike Dawkins – is neither a religion basher nor an apologist. The claim is actually false – his position is such that very few Christians would find much to complain about in how he evaluates religion. More importantly, however, it ought to be irrelevant whether his position is favourable or unfavourable to religion. The important question is how well it is based upon the available evidence and, as I discuss in my review of the book, the problem is that it is not very well based upon evidence at all.

The title is great, though.