Add Richard Dawkins to this short list. His latest book is a collection of essays, introductions, reviews, and eulogies collected over the last decade.
A Devil's Chaplain is organized in seven sections, but
almost all of its essays are informed by the encyclopedia
knowledge of evolution and the particularized point of view that
Dawkins has developed. Dawkins is a militant atheist who
takes on the creationists in a few of these pieces. His most
chilling anecdote involves creationist television producers who
misrepresented their intentions and inveigled Dawkins to
participate in a taped interview. Only when Dawkins sees the
finished product does he realize that his answers have been taken
out of context and arrayed behind misleading questions, so he
seems to advocate portions of their propagandistic agenda.
Duplicity aside, Dawkins also challenges the very notions on which
religions are founded, fairly but firmly. He carefully
distinguishes knowledge derived from the scientific method from
knowledge derived from revelation or other non-testable
sources. He saves his greatest scorn for the three
monotheistic faiths that sprang from the Middle
East, especially in an essay he writes after the 9/11 attacks.
Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould were the two most prominent neo-Darwinians, but they had substantial scientific and interpretational differences which they debated civilly in print before Gould died. They shared an abiding respect for each other and a mutual recognition that they were two of the greatest scientific stylists of the day. In a couple of reviews and a memoir written upon the occasion of Gould's death, Dawkins demonstrates how disputes should be handled within the world of science. He does not hesitate to explain how and why he thinks Gould is wrong, but he also asserts that evolutionary studies are the better for Gould having joined the debate.
Dawkins was one of the first to develop the idea of the meme, "a self-replicating element of culture passed on by imitation." While some memes, like religions, are viruses of the mind in Dawkins's view, others are less pernicious, and all are useful ways of mapping the new phenomenon that humans brought to the evolutionary process, the notion of cultural change. Dawkins summarizes the growing complexities of memetic scholarship that have occurred since he first introduced the concept in the 1970s.
Whatever his topic, Dawkins writes with a lively erudite style
that rewards the attentive reader. Commenting on the
mumbo-jumbo of post-modern deconstructionism, he adduces the
Dawkins Law of Conservation of Difficulty, which states that
"obscurantism in an academic subject expands to fill the vacuum of
its intrinsic simplicity." Dawkins distinguishes his science
from his politics in another passage condemning Social Darwinism:
"There is no inconsistency in favouring Darwinism as an academic
scientist while opposing it as a human being; any more than there
is inconsistency in explaining cancer as an academic doctor while
fighting it as a practising one." He forever remains a
champion of true science, and explains why as clearly as anyone:
"Science boosts its claim to truth by its spectacular ability to
make matter and energy jump through hoops on command, and to predict what will happen and when." Would that the religionists could state their aims and base assumptions with comparable common sense and clarity.
Dialogue on favorite books with Deane Rink before and during his latest trek to Antarctica, with a note from Bill Ransom and a digression about Frank Herbert (a.k.a Bookbabble 101) -- a very long and rapidly growing document: