Category Archives: books

Books – August 2010

Just added a new page called Books (see header) which lists all the Atheism, Philosophy, Science, Theism, and related topics, books that I own (and have, mostly, read – see Legend), updated and current as of August 2010.

Most of these used to be listed in a text widget in the sidebar, which has now been deleted.

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Books – brief reviews

Updated my reading list in the sidebar with some new additions.

The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins.

An excellent lay-persons guide to Evolution. It is such a pity that books like this have to be written to try and counter-act the complete misinformation that the Creationists, ‘Intelligent Designers’ and other narrow minded religious people spout.

Evolution is a Fact, get over it people, especially the misinformed sheep that believe anything if it come from a pulpit.

The saddest thing about this book is that the people who really need to read it won’t, in fact most will flat out refuse to.

It should be compulsory for everyone on the planet to read at least chapter 1 of this book, it would be good if this was freely available to download and read (perhaps it is?), then no one would have an excuse to use the “just a theory” pathetic argument against evolution.

Deer Hunting With Jesus by Joe Bageant.

A book that tries to explain why so many Americans vote against their own best interests, and discusses the class war that no one else wants to talk about, the white American underclass. This book is written in a easy to read story-telling style but covers a lot of topics, including the American health care system (or complete lack thereof), Americans at War, and why so many Americans want a theocratic state ( a rather scary section of the book).

He does get on his soap box a few times, but overall an interesting and thought provoking read.

Blog Update

I have also added tw0 comments to my previous blog post, about my new Kindle eBook reader, that will be of great interest to any Australians who are considering buying one.

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Book Review – The Atheist’s Guide to Religion

by William Harper, self published

This book is a mix of brief but informative facts, coupled with light hearted quips which makes for an easy read.

There are quite a few ‘facts’ quoted in this book but unfortunately no bibliography or references at the end. There are also several hypothesis to which there are no references, but in the most part, IMHO, they are quite feasible.

Bill’s writing style can be quite laconic in parts and he likes to use stories to demonstrate arguments. For instance, he invents Gorak the caveman to demonstrate the development of government and religion in early society. Whilst Bill obviously has no facts to back up Goraks story, the hypothesis is sound.

Sections of the book reminded me of shows like ‘Walking with Dinosaurs’ where they extrapolate known facts and develop a ‘what might of happened’ scenario. Some people may find this a more entertaining way of learning, I did.

The book covers the invention of god(s), evolution and the brain, the rise of various religions, the growth of Theology, philosophy and the Church, where religion is today, ethics and morality, and what to replace God with.

Highlights from the book:

The new found skills of logic, art and speech would take religion from a purely instinctive pastime into an organised one.

Indeed, one might say that from that point on, all religious history has been a process of mere tinkering.

  • Plug in god (A),
  • Select sacrifices (B),
  • Offer prayer set (C), and
  • Embellish with rituals (D).

How true is that?

I liked Bill’s take on all those sports stars that pray for God’s help, his theory:

For every winner, there must be a loser that God prevented from winning. … Think of the Headlines!

God arraigned on match-fixing charges!

I had quite a chuckle at that one.

When discussing the historical Jesus, I think Bill missed one possibility. He states there is “a contradiction between the Jesus of history and the Jesus of the Christian faith.” What about a third possibility; the Jesus of Myth?

I found the Philosophy chapters most interesting. Again only a brief outline but gives an idea how some modern day thinking originated – both in and out of the church. His discussions on altruism, selfishness, racism, self-sacrifice, humility and self-worth are quite though provoking (students of philosophy and ethics may not get as much out of these chapters as I did).

The next section where Bill discusses alternatives to ethics, morality and the State are, for me, the best sections in the book. His new virtues:

  • Rationality
  • Pride
  • Justice
  • Integrity
  • Benevolence

are well argued, as are the criteria he uses to justify them. I’d like to expand on this but fear I’d breach copyright. The book puts a big, and probably justified, emphasis on self-worth.

Bill surmises that an alternative to God and religion is vital as the religious instinct is too strong to merely cast it off. His answer:

to replace religion with Objectivist Agnosticism

He argues that the need for spirituality and religion is an instinctive need. A need which can be deflected by teaching a new set of ethics “based on the logical analysis of the human condition” and without any organised religious dogmas.

The idea that ethics and philosophy should be taught in schools from a very early age has excellent merit. For too long ethical instruction has come from the parents and churches who bring their own agendas and warped sense of moralities. A common ethical background that espouses self-worth and rationality and eschews religious overtones may well provide a new era of enlightenment.

Summary

Whilst reading this (or any) book I try to understand the motive and audience. I think Bill may have done himself a disservice by targeting this book strictly at atheists (eg. the title and cover picture, and some of the anti-religious quips). With a different title, and taking out the sarcastic digs at religion, this book could also be an excellent reference to religious people. Especially ones that are doubting their faith or questioning religion. The explanations of why we are like we are and why religion exists, as well as viable alternatives to religion, is of importance to atheists and theists alike.

Overall a good read and a worthwhile addition to my atheist book collection. I would have preferred some references and bibliographies, but I guess Google and Wikipedia are always available.

When I get a chance I intend to research Bill’s ethics concepts further and maybe post on the subject. I certainly agree with him that ethics and philosophy should be taught in schools in a non-judgmental, non-religious manner and from an early age.

If you are interested in getting a copy of this book it’s available on-line from Bills web site (make sure you send him an email if you do order a printed copy as there is/was a problem with the ordering system). The book can be purchased as a printed copy or as an eBook download.


On the book theme, I see Richard Dawkins has got a new book out. It’s called: The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing and is a collection of almost 100 essays by leading scientists covering all sorts of scientific fields.

Also as you can see in my library list I have a copy of The Portable Atheist, which I’m yet to read. Well Breaking Spells has already read it and posted a great reference to all the essays, with links.

(Note: the Australian version of this book has an all blue cover)

Last but not least, I’m currently reading Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? by Morgan Spurlock (the guy who did Super Size Me). An excellent read, quite humorous at times, but also providing a good insight on the mind-set of Islam and how and why Osama and Islam became so dangerous.

(Note: the Australian paperback version of this book has a completely different cover – Morgan riding a camel with warfare in the background)

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Book review – Blasphemy by Douglas Preston

Just finished reading this great novel – Blasphemy by Douglas Preston. It was, as they say, ‘a real page turner’ and boy, does he stick it to the religious right. Interestingly, Amazon’s suggested book to buy with this one is The 6 Sacred Stones by Matthew Reilly, another fast paced action novel.

From the author’s web site:

The world’s biggest supercollider, locked in an Arizona mountain, was built to reveal the secrets of the very moment of creation: the Big Bang itself.

Will the Torus divulge the mysteries of the creation of the universe? Or will it, as some predict, suck the earth into a mini black hole? Or is the Torus a Satanic attempt, as a powerful televangelist decries, to challenge God Almighty on the very throne of Heaven?

Twelve scientists … are sent … to turn it on, and what they discover must be hidden from the world at all costs. …, a secret that will either destroy the world…or save it.

At over 400 pages this is a fair sized novel but I managed to read it in a few days, the plot rolls along faster and faster until the twist towards then end.

The book pits science against religion, with politics intricately involved. A bit like real life actually. Some of the characters are well written, Douglas has managed to capture the religious zealot very well. There are sections in the book that could have come straight off any of the many fundamentalist Christian web sites or blogs. His portrayal of the TV Evangelist (Spates) is just like many of the real TV Evangelists, only in it for the money, fame and power. They say one thing and then do the other.  Several times in the book the religious person’s ability to justify any indiscretion or atrocity and then either ask for God’s forgiveness or blame it on God’s will is demonstrated. The following examples is from an early section in the book:

Every sermon seemed to generate vilification from the atheist left. It was a sad time when a man of God was attacked for speaking the simple truth. Of course, there’s been that unfortunate incident in the motel with the two prostitutes. … Spates had asked for and received God’s forgiveness.

blasphemy_cover I’d like to discuss this book more, but I don’t want to give too much away. If you like a good action packed intriguing novel Blasphemy might be one to read.

I think Christians should read this as well as us atheists, it might make them think about the machinations of the religious fundamentalists and how dangerous they can be.

There are plenty of favourable reviews for this book around the web, including an interesting interview with the author at ITW.

And remember ‘Blasphemy is a victimless crime’

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Vatican Censorship

Two authors have accused the Vatican of having their novel blacklisted in Italy. The historical novel Imprimatur, which will be published in Australia in May, suggests a 17th century Pope had funded the Protestant hero William III.

The authors claim that documents found in the Vatican secret archive and the Italian state archives suggest William III received a huge sum of money from Rome.

I guess the Vatican doesn’t like the idea that one of their Popes supported a Protestant heretic? However, that is no excuse for censorship.

from smh.com.au

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Which is the way to god please?

A few weeks ago Hemant posted about a German children’s book, which he termed “the god delusion for kids“. A couple of days ago he posted that the book is now available in English for free. The pictures can be viewed separately here.

The book tells the story of how piglet and hedgehog find a poster which says “He who knows not God, is missing something!”. So piglet and hedgehog go on a journey to find God and in the process  talk to a rabbi, a bishop and a mufti. In the end they decide they weren’t missing anything in their lives after all.

The books aims are to make children realise they are not missing out on anything without religion and God, and that respect has to be earned, not assumed.

Some people have stated the book badly caricatures the three religions and their leaders. Personally I thought it was hilarious and had some very valid messages.

Download yourself a copy of the book and have a read, make sure you look at the accompanying pictures. Piglet looks a tad worried in this one:

thecross

Happy reading, let me know what you think.

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