Reply to B. Alan Wallace

December 6, 2006


Having now published two books critical of religious dogmatism, I have had many opportunities to marvel at the extent to which intelligent people still rise to the defense of all the divisive lunacy in our world that goes by the name of “religion.” While I have encountered many silly, vacuous, and even infuriating responses to my work, B. Alan Wallace’s review of my book, Letter to a Christian Nation, in the pages of this magazine has given me rare cause for astonishment. While Wallace purports to have exposed many “tragic” shortcomings in my book, I find that every one of his substantial criticisms has already been refuted by the book itself.  Consequently, I am at a loss for how to reply. I will grant that Mr. Wallace appears to have read Letter to a Christian Nation, as he quotes and misquotes from it readily, sometimes without attribution. But he has not understood it. While it would, of course, be very sportsmanlike of me to concede that Wallace has put forward many fine points that demand my further reflection, he hasn’t—and I am left to reflect only on the evident limits of written communication. I have neither “idealized” science, nor denied the profundity of contemplative experience, nor committed any of the other sins with which Wallace seems so (over) eager to charge me. There is only one point on which Wallace has offered a useful criticism: I am now convinced that I should have used the phrase “do not accept the idea of God” rather than “reject the idea of God” when referring to the religious attitudes of our most elite scientists. There is undoubtedly a difference between these two phrases, and I am embarrassed not to have caught it prior to the book’s publication. And yet, it is a difference that does not make the slightest impact upon my argument as a whole. The truth is that Wallace’s reaction to my book is symptomatic of the very political correctness and intellectual apathy to which Letter to a Christian Nation is itself a response. While my book undoubtedly has many flaws, Wallace appears to be precisely the sort of reader who cannot find them.

January 2007