What is Donahue doing asking the ultimate questions?

The Human Animal, by Phil Donahue (Simon and Schuster, 1985, 412 pp.; $19.95, cloth). Reviewed by Daniel Pawley, an assignment writer living in Richfield, Minnesota.

Phil Donahue has become the unofficial spokesman for secular humanists everywhere and, consequently, the whipping boy of most thinking people from the middle of the spectrum to the right. It was, therefore, only a matter of time before Donahue would rescue his philosophy from the ephemeral world of TV and preserve it in an attractive four-color hardcover book.

The Human Animal is the logical endpoint of a philosophy based in toto on a gee-whiz confidence in humanity’s goodness and creative genius. Although Donahue gives religion a place in his counter-Christian world view (he has never managed to wash away the residue of his Irish Catholic upbringing), science gets a lot more air time than religion. And whereas the former plays the brawny hero, the latter seems undernourished and impotent.

Why is a television personality and Notre Dame business major writing on serious questions about humankind: Who are we? Why do we behave the way we do? Can we change?

Perhaps the answer lies in Donahue’s efforts at reconciliation. Late in the book, for instance, he tries to reconcile the values of religion and science by asserting: “Science, if all works well, provides the knowledge, and religion provides the perspective; science the information and the means to control, religion the will to control. To go forward without either one is to deny the complexity and subtlety of the human animal.”

It is a valiant attempt to forge a cultural perspective, but the sides of the comparison leading up to the conclusion are not nearly so ...

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