Any author is vulnerable to folie de grandeur. The reason is simple. The press-cuttings agency sends him his own cuttings but no one else's. This naturally inflates the extent to which he thinks his book is talked about: 'Another Cabinet minister was involved in the fuss about my book.' What fuss? What book? 'Every attempt he has made in public to summarise my book has been wrong.' I should think that William Waldegrave has better things to do than summarise one's books. 'In one breathless sweep he took in all the greats: Aristotle, Gilbert Ryle, Joseph Conrad, Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci and Bryan Appleyard.' Mr Appleyard tries to turn this into a joke, but it does not work. Believe it or not, this man takes himself seriously.
He attacks me, Peter Atkins and Stephen Hawking for over-reaching the legitimate bounds of science. Hawking is one of the most distinguished thinkers of our age and A Brief History of Time really is a prominent, talked-about book. Mr Appleyard has apparently read only one line of it, if he thinks that 'we would truly know the mind of God' is anything more than a picturesque figure of speech. It is no more about God than Einstein's 'He does not play dice.'
Peter Atkins's The Creation is not a 'dreadful' book, it is perhaps the most beautifully written work of prose poetry in all scientific literature. It is true that Dr Atkins and I go further than most scientists in attacking religion. The justification is simple. Religion does not confine itself to ethics and other non-scientific preserves: it strays massively and obtrusively into the territory of science. It has pretentions to explain life and the universe. A religion is therefore a rival scientific theory and it must be judged by the rigorous standards of science.
Religion can either claim immunity from scientific criticism - and drop its pretentions to explain anything. Or it can persist in its scientific ambitions - but then not squeal like a stuck pig when scientists subject it to the same critical scrutiny they would accord any scientific theory. You cannot have it both ways.
24 MarchReuse content