Reviews (Books)
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The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

On the level of personal gratification, this was my least favorite Richard Dawkins' books, but in all other aspects I deem it his most important work to date.

I was attending a skeptics meeting in Melbourne Australia earlier this year when a local activist rushed in brandishing the newly released volume. "It's here," he pronounced "The God Delusion". Along with God is Not Great How Religion Poisons Everything, by Christopher Hitchens, there is the feeling that, at last, our side has competent and direct printed matter to battle the fables and myths of religion. Yes, it's the year of the atheist so we're told.

The quality of The God Delusion is, of course, beyond reproach. It is a veritable arsenal of logical snares, and therein lies the reason for my opening caveat. I couldn't agree more with almost everything Dawkins sets forth, but those who need to read this book most likely will not. For them there is no need for logic when the answer is always "God did it." For the vast majority of true believers it's too late: they're cooked. For me, (I'm tempted to use the preaching to the choir analogy), it's full of conclusions that I have come to, through logic, over the past 40 years as an atheist. Ideas such as, "these religions can't all be true," or "if they got most of the science of the universe wrong, why should the rest be right" are natural to a free thinker. It's as plain as day. Oh but Dawkins does it so well.

I think that this book is best used to immunize the young against religious
brainwashing. About 15 years ago when I lived in Hollywood, I was by the
swimming pool and the 12-year-old son of Mormons started talking to me about
the Lord. "Who's that?" I asked. He proceeded to fill me in, to which I told him it sounds silly to me. The point is I wanted him to know that there is a big world out there, a world of Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Catholics and yes atheists, and the Lord, is only his lord, his religion - in other words to demote in some way this myth.

Of course I relished the rare opportunity to indulge in self-affirmation particularly when reading the writing of a person of such outstanding character and achievements. In this regard, I found this passage and the following two from Dawkins previous book The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life, concerning the moving Zeitgeist, most welcome.

From The God Delusion:
The philosopher Peter Singer, in Animal Liberation, is the most eloquent advocate of the view that we should move to a post-speciesist condition in which humane treatment is meted out to all species that have the brain power to appreciate it. Perhaps this hints at the direction in which the moral
Zeitgeist might move in future centuries. It would be a natural extrapolation of earlier reforms like the abolition of slavery and the emancipation of women.

From The Ancestor's Tale:
Many of our legal and ethical principles depend on the separation between Homo sapiens and all other species. Of the people who regard abortion as a sin, including the minority who go to the lengths of assassinating doctors and blowing up abortion clinics, many are unthinking meat-eaters, and have no worries about chimpanzees being imprisoned in zoos and sacrificed in
laboratories.

From The Ancestor's Tale:
I suppose we should take comfort from the change that has come over our attitudes during the intervening century. Perhaps, in a negative sense, Hitler can take some credit for this, since nobody wants to be caught saying anything that he said. But what, I wonder, will our successors of the twenty-second century be quoting, in horror, from us? Something to do with our treatment of other species, perhaps?

I do recommend this book without reservation, and if, like me, you find that he's
preaching to the converted, display it proudly on your book shelf and maybe
one day it will sway someone.
-- Nicky

 

Gödel, Escher, Bach - An Eternal Golden Braid
by Douglas R. Hofstadter
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This year sees the release of the 20th anniversary edition of Hofstadter’s literary landmark in originality. If ever a book changed my life it was this masterpiece. As a huge fan of J.S.Bach and a long time admirer of M.C.Escher, the volume all but jumped into my hand when I discovered it back in 1981 at an airport book stall. Looking for reading material for the flight I was completely unprepared for the impact G.E.B. would have on me. The clarity of thought is staggering as Hofstadter takes the reader through a roller coaster of stunning propositions and elegant proofs. The eternal golden braid embarks from studies of J.S.Bach’s music, M.C. Escher’s illustrations and Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, travels through a labyrinth of strange loops, self referencing images, and recursive paradoxes concluding with a discourse on artificial intelligence before wrapping up with the narrators Achilles and the Tortoise in a Six-Part Ricercar. As I absorbed each chapter, ideas resonated through all aspects of my thought process. As each new element was established, then grasped, shock waves reformatted my thinking. -- Nicky

“A huge, sprawling literary marvel, a philosophy book disguised as a book of entertainment disguised as a book of instruction” -- Atlanta Journal Constitution

“A triumph of cleverness, a bravura performance, an incredible intellectual debut” -- Parabola

"A wondrous book that unites and explains, in a very entertaining way, many of the important ideas of recent intellectual history” -- Commonwealth

“Every few decades an unknown author brings out a book of such depth, clarity, range, wit, beauty and originality that it is recognized at once as a major literary event. (This) is such a work” -- Martin Gardner, Scientific American