The Insulted Trilobite

I’d like to point out a new book that I think is interesting and worth a look. It is called “The Insulted Trilobite: some helpful objections to the God Delusion” and it is by the pseudonymous J. A. Posner, and obviously the intended audience is the Atheist and Skeptics community.

Simply put, Poster Fisked Dawkins, and produced this book. Not exactly that, but close. I think there should be more books like this out there. You read a book, make a detailed response as you go along, and publish it as another book. I look forward to Dawkins’ counter-Fisk.

The book is available on Amazon. The Kindle edition is free for a period of time, betwen May 2nd and May 6th, and also, I think, for Prime members. There is also a print version.

If you’ve been irritated by Richard Dawkins, here’s a skeptical look at his most provocative work. If you found his forthright denunciation of religion stimulating, here’s an atheist who invites you to notice that The God Delusion isn’t science, and that Dawkins’ reasoning is weak. Dawkins is convinced that, as a scientist, he’s pre-eminently qualified to understand the world, and that if you disagree with him it’s probably because you’re not smart enough. The author of this book is content to suppose you can think for yourself, and encourages you to do so. The Insulted Trilobite suggests non-believers can, ought to, and need to take a rational view of religion. This book sketches in the personal, psychological, historical and ideological frameworks Dawkins neglects. The tone is occasionally sharp, but it’s not polemical. More than just another reply to The God Delusion, this is an entertaining sidelong glance at intellectual dishonesty, self-deception, belief, so-called rationalism, so-called religion, and how we think, talk and argue about the world in which we live.

Posner embodies in this work a lot of objections to The God Delusion that we find in the part of the Atheist and Skeptics community that aligns with the social sciences and humanities, but that are often not developed, I think partly because people are happy to have a big famous scientist write a big famous book supporting their overall belief system. Also, if you say something like “belief is a thing humans do, deal with it” many Dawkins-symps will yell at you, even though this is something Dawkins Himself has said.

When you read The Insulted Trilobite you’ll want to have a copy of The God Delusion handy unless you’ve just read it. It might have been nicer to have the original text being critiques IN the book but copyright laws may have made that difficult.

I especially enjoyed the discussion of religion as a side effect of the evolution of the human mind during the Paleolithic. Dawkins clearly got that wrong, and though I’m not sure I’m in agreement with Posner, his critique of Dawkins is refreshing. (Page 70 and beyond in my copy, and extensive discussion in the last chapter, especially.) I also enjoyed Posner’s discussion of belief. Very anthropological.


  1. #1 Dan Andrews
    April 15, 2014

    Did he deal with any of Dawkins philosophical errors, and his lack of knowledge of historical philosophy? I had a colleague who teaches religious philosophy say he’d fail any first year student who tried to use some of the arguments Dawkins used. His dealings with the proofs of god’s existence were particularly chock full of misunderstandings. Chapter 6, I think?????? Been a while since I read it and the errors were so egregious I gave up just past the halfway point.

  2. #2 Sou
    April 15, 2014

    Looks interesting. Was it intentional, Greg, that you wrote “Himself” with a capital H for Richard Dawkins? Seems appropriate 🙂

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    April 15, 2014

    Sou: Yes, actually.

    Dan: Yes.

  4. #4 Matt Whealton
    April 16, 2014

    Ooh, an anthropological take. Will give this one a read!

  5. #5 Double Helix
    April 19, 2014

    My understanding is that Dawkins was aiming his book at Average Everybody, not scholars. I don’t follow all the ins and outs of what Dawkins (or other scholars) do, and I don’t necessarily agree with some of the things he says, so please don’t brand me as a Dawkins-worshipper. But I don’t believe that “The God Delusion” was intended to be 100% accurate on the latest neurological theories, cognition theories, or philiosophical theories. (Dawkins is a biologist, so I’m assuming that he made few errors in that department.) Rather, this was an easy read, like having Richard in your living room while you both had a nice cup of tea and a discussion about the Nature of Things. Remember, at about the same time as Dawkins’ book came out, we had many viewpoints on Atheism presented to us in books by a philosopher (Dan Dennett), a newcomer (Sam Harris), a cognitive psychologist (Steven Pinker), and a polemicist (Christopher Hitchens). Why is our anonymous author picking on Dawkins for not writing a book that is scientifically and philosophically accurate in every detail? If he had (had he wanted to), I would suggest that we would have never heard of it. It was a bestseller because of its readability. And it struck a chord with fence-sitting “leaners” looking at the atheist side of the world. Wasn’t that enough? If our anonymous author wants to pick on Dawkins’ science skills, he or she should read “The Ancestor’s Tale” and critique that.

  6. #6 Greg Laden
    April 19, 2014

    Actually, Posner is highly complementary of Dawkins for the exact reasons you state.

    I’m not sure if the God Delusion was a best seller entirely because of its readability. It is a good book, but it was also written by a writer with a track record and a following. He probably could have reprinted Gideon’s Bible with a new cover and sold a good number of them!

    Anyway, Dawkins wrote stuff in a book and published it. Some other guy wrote other stuff in another book about what Dawkins says. Nothing wrong with that, and it’s not a polemic.

  7. #7 Double Helix
    April 20, 2014

    Ah, so! Thanks for the clarification. If you haven’t read The Ancestor’s Tale, I recommend it, if you like evolutionary biology.

  8. #8 G
    April 20, 2014

    Dawkins comes in for criticism because he’s the leading proponent of the New Atheism, and because his rhetorical flourishes are often highly tempting for counterpoint. That modern atheism can hang together while engaged in all manner of mutual critique, is a sign of its’ overall strength.

    These are times of significant and perhaps thorough change in the composition of philosophies and belief-systems that determine the attitudes of cultures. I’d say this process began early in the 20th century or at latest in the mid 20th century, and it will likely take anywhere from 30 to 300 years before a new stable mix emerges.

    Some that were prominent in the mainstream 30 years ago are less so today. Fundamentalisms have become politicized in all three of the Abrahamic traditions and also in Hinduism in India. New cults continue to arise and it’s difficult to tell which ones will grow and which will shrivel and die off.

    The sciences themselves have also spawned a range of new worldviews, some of which are closely derived from theory, some of which are far more speculative. We also see neo-Platonism in math, and some counterpoints to it.

    The climate crisis will be the history-defining event of modern times and the foreseeable future. This will likely produce an increasing degree of fierce competition among belief-systems as conditions worsen, and then a shakeout after the worst has passed and a “new normal” emerges.

    These are fertile times for anyone who wants to contribute to the evolution of belief-systems even in the smallest way, and also for writing fiction embodying some of these themes.