Instead of attempting to weave together some artful treatise on the book, I'll choose instead to rant indiscriminately on several key points.
- "Science is unnatural and goes against common sense." This statement is made a multitude of times throughout the book. Perhaps if you're speaking specifically of quantum mechanics, sure, but this guy is a professor of "biology as applied to medicine." I can appreciate that he is trying (albeit desperately and with a characteristic disinterest toward evidence) to explain that science is not easy to grasp. But science is simple, even if the math necessary to communicate it is not. There is a certain subset of the population for whom, because the mathematics come more innately, become scientists. But that is not to say that all people are not, to some extent, scientifically minded. People experiment regardless of their ability to do vector calculus.
- "Beliefs are overwhelmingly irrational and clung to despite a lack of (or contradictory) evidence." I'll agree that, when he speaks of beliefs in ghosts or ESP or fear of genetically modified foods or having one's aura fluffed, people tend to be pretty stupid (ok, what I really mean is gullible, or suggestible). But he's applying this statement directly to religious beliefs in many contexts. His "hero philosopher" is David Hume, so this comes as little suprise (additionally, he found William James a "wonderful" author - wonderful, perhaps, if you like dry, tasteless table crackers). Within this context, he quotes a myriad of statistics without references or backing arguments, and makes a surprising number of contradictory statements within mere paragraphs of one another. He'll refer to religious beliefs as "delusions," then state on the facing page that religious people "enjoy better mental health" than their non-religious counterparts.
- "Science is basically in conflict with religion." Ironically, this statement is followed immediately with "yet many scientists have been and are religious." Here, Wolpert grows insufferably arrogant. He quotes statistics on the number of scientists who believe in God and the number of "scientists of distinction - the scientific elite" who believe (most do not). Does that include you, shall we presume? The entire book is peppered with statements meant to tell the reader: "believe this because I said so; I'm substantially smarter than you are." And yet, he talks about 'authority' being a common means of passing down religious beliefs (which, as he previously mentioned, are unfounded and irrational). Are we supposed to take you on authority? For if we are, you've undermined your own argument. There is no reason to believe that science conflicts in any way with religion, unless that religion is actually a form of mysticism that tries to unnaturally explain the natural world (for example, Shintoism or other polytheistic mythologies) instead of examine it. There is a fuzzy line here, of course, but no religious scientist will tell you that God exists within nature and can therefore be shown to exist in it (oddly, Wolpert quotes such prominent scientists as Isaac Newton, Stephen Jay Gould and Francis Collins, without honestly paying attention to what they said).
- Wolpert displays his ignorance of many religious beliefs as he writes. Despite his background, he writes as though he was an expert in anthropology, sociology and psychology; he even goes so far as to say that he "believe[s] the Big Bang even if [he] doesn't really understand it" and would, given about five years of study, be able to fully comprehend it. Should I mention at this point it would probably take me a mere two months to learn his profession? But this is merely my pride reacting to his, and I digress. Unfortunately, however, his lack of knowledge on certain religious beliefs leads him to make sweeping generalizations: all religious beliefs are simple (consider, in contrast, the Trinity), all religious beliefs lack evidence (which is why, I'm sure, so many early Christians were willing to die for what they knew to be true), all religious beliefs are essentially the same (so salvation by faith is a common theme, versus salvation by works?). It is a simple matter to deny something you do not bother to understand, but doing so will often expose your own intellectual weaknesses.
- "As we shall see." This phrase occurred with unsettling (nay, alarming) frequency. Who taught this man to write? We never did see, Lewis. Quit saying that.
In the end, despite the fact that is lowers me to the same level as the author, I am forced to say: Lewis Wolpert is a pretentious British jerk. I certainly hope he's more pleasant in person.