Irreligion: Book Review #5

While reading Irreligion: A Mathematician Explains Why the Arguments for God Just Don’t Add Up, I had some extremely mixed feelings. Not about the ideas presented, but about the book itself. Now for the most part there is no new material really presented in this book that you couldn’t get from any other atheistic writer, however there are some new ways of viewing the material at hand.

The author of Irreligion is a mathematician by the name of John Allen Paulos, Professor of Mathematics at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA, known for his writings on Mathematic literacy. Now with those credentials one realizes that a man like this is quite intelligent, but then asks them self, “What does he know about religion?” Well truth is, Paulos presents the idea that using pure logic to see how a God doesn’t fit, is key to realizing what reality and unreality, truly is.

The average reader will go into this book and will easily pick up the basic ideas from each chapter, but Paulos will likely lose them when he begins to talk in Mathematic lingo, at times alienating the reader if they do not have an in-depth knowledge in the field of mathematics. Though he refrains from using many formulas, he does tend to create hypothetical equations in which variables are used to show, rationally, why certain things, such as divinity, miracles, etc. are just not supernatural.

The fast pace of this book is rather nice when it comes to the mathematics involved. When one is presented with something that is a bit too dense, there is a bright side: the book moves on from that topic rather quickly. Each chapter is relatively short, often less than 10 pages, but it does seem that some chapters are unnecessarily repetitive of earlier parts of the book.

Overall the concept of this book is cool, but the execution is tough. Paulos manages to create a book for those that have a more technical thought process, while he also teaches the reader to think more critically. Recommending this book is tough, its not an easy read, but it should not be overlooked, because it is rather rewarding.

The Delivery Man: Book Review #4

The 2008, debut novel of Joe McGinniss Jr. is captivating to say the least. From the very beginning McGinnis is able to keep your attention with his peculiar cast of characters, and in a setting that seems to be over-used, McGinniss is able to bring new life to it in an original story. Taking place in sex-obsessed, drug infested, Las Vegas, you are taken through a story involving a group of childhood friends now all in their mid-twenties, and throughout the novel the reader slowly begins to put pieces of their dark past together.

The Delivery Man is to a certain degree a love story, but the most unconventional one I’ve seen in a while. You will find yourself rooting for the protagonist to get the girl. However, trying to figure out why he is so in love with such a whore (literally) is something readers are sure to try to figure out as the story progresses.

Not only is this a brilliant novel, but it is a critique of a shallow, Myspace absorbed generation that is detached from reality. If live fast, die hard is applicable to any story, The Delivery Man is one. The fast pace of the story keeps the reader turning page after page anticipating what will happen next. Honestly I could not stop until I had finished the book.

Chase is the unforgettable protagonist of The Delivery Man, at times seeming reminiscent of Holden Caulfield or the unnamed lead character of Fight Club with his apathetic attitude and tight situations. From the very beginning I found myself really liking his character. While many of the other characters have bi-polar attitudes throughout much of the story, Chase manages to hold himself well, but by no means is static.

Being a struggling artist disillusioned by a bright future, Chase is forced to teach art at a Las Vegas Highschool. But after losing his job he ends up getting involved in a teenage call-girl service which, while being lucrative, forces him to make some of the hardest decisions in his life. Choosing between a woman he once thought he wanted to marry and life on the strip with people from his past, he becomes conflicted and tries to rationalize his inclination for the latter.

After getting involved with certain people he shouldn’t have, his life takes a course that can’t be undone, bringing the story to a harsh ending. Down to the very last line of the novel readers will wonder if he ever will straighten things out.

This book is a must read, by a rising new author who really brings something new to the table. Being extremely enjoyable, fast paced, with unforgettable characters and in an interesting setting, you will leave this book wanting more.

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This book just happened to catch my eye on a huge wall of books at a local used book store, and wow, was I glad that I decided to purchase it. It’s a new favorite.

The Dawkins Delusion? Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine: Book Review #3

After finishing “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins earlier this week I decided that I should read the book that was written in response to Dawkins’s behemoth, so I could see what a theologian would say in response to such an argument as the one Dawkins presents. And it appears that maybe I had my expectations too high going into The Dawkins Delusion?. McGrath tried to address some of the points made in The God Delusion but falsely or incompletely represented Dawkins’s views and points before he tried to refute them. At several points in The Dawkins Delusion? I found myself asking if McGrath even read all of Dawkins’s book, because some of the conclusions McGrath come to simply show his misunderstanding of Dawkins’s standing on the topics at hand.

In this review I will try to address a few of the things that I found to be important points to discuss, however, I will not address everything simply because while reading this book I wrote 9-pages, front and back, on the points presented. Maybe at some point I will make them into a complete work explaining where McGrath was mistaken about Dawkins’s viewpoints and what I think about McGrath’s points made in this book. Whether or not I am to do this is still unclear.

Theologian and Apologist, Alister McGrath, penned the 97-page book, The Dawkins Delusion? (2007) in response to Richard Dawkins‘s The God Delusion (2006), and he starts by explaining why he decided to write this book:

“It is clear that a response of some sort is needed to The God Delusion, if only because the absence of one might persuade some that no answer could be given.” -Alister McGrath, The Dawkins Delusion?, page 13.

I would agree with McGrath’s point here, that if there is an answer to be given then by all means share it with us, and ultimately, I think that was the goal McGrath tried to accomplish, but to say that he reached this goal would be dishonest. When reading this book I felt like there was little substance at all to McGrath’s arguments, except there were some ideas that he presented that made sense but really didn’t defend his case well.

Throughout The Dawkins Delusion? McGrath consistently claims that Dawkins was misrepresenting Christianity, religion and abusing science through the majority of The God Delusion. However, McGrath fails to give hardly any specific examples of these injustices he claims Dawkins brought against Christianity, religion or examples of the abuse he brought on science. It is sad to say that McGrath’s best two arguments in this book for the existence of a God are at most, weak.

One of the first points that McGrath responds too is belief in God being infantile and childish, and mentions how Dawkins compares belief in God to the belief, in say, Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy.

“Like many of Dawkins’s analogies, this has been constructed with a specific agenda in mind – in this case, the ridiculing of religion. Yet the analogy is obviously flawed. How many people do you know who began to believe in Santa Claus in adulthood? Or who have found belief in the Tooth Fairy consoling in old age?” –The Dawkins Delusion?, Page 20

This being a serious point is just laughable, because every rational person would agree that just because an adult starts to believe something does not necessarily mean its true. For example, Hitler began to believe that ethnic cleansing was the right thing to do once he was into adulthood, and his belief was not at all justifiable by the age he began to believe it. Nor does the statement “consoling in old age” prove anything in the terms of God existing. Though it maybe true that some people find solace in the belief that heaven awaits after death, it does not make the existence of God a truth. For instance, I could easily say that I find solace in the idea that there is a massive being consisting of noodle like appendages and meat balls somewhere in the sky, and that he will watch after me in the afterlife, or that he created everything. Simply believing that does not make it true.

Over the course of the book McGrath paints the picture that Dawkins hates all religion and says all bad is caused by religion, which is simply false. In Dawkins book he never once says he hates religion, or for that matter, hates all religion. First off Dawkins states clearly in the beginning of his book, that he is mainly referring to the three major monotheistic religions, and more directly Christianity, because he is most familiar with it. As a matter of fact, Dawkins even says that other religions (i.e., Buddhism) present more direct and important moral teachings. However, Dawkins does acknowledge the great moral teachings of Jesus, or whoever penned the character of Jesus. (Dawkins leaves the existence of Jesus as an open question)

McGrath responds to the misinterpretation that Dawkins thinks all religion is evil by stating that atheists and the religious have both had their fair share of violent and malicious acts. Which is completely agreeable, both sides of the spectrum have been corrupted and have committed atrocities.

Later on in the book McGrath refutes some of Dawkins points by simply saying, “I don’t believe that.” while also acusing Dawkins of generalizing Christians. This may be a valid argument to a certain point, but Dawkins meant for his book to address the Christian majority, not the direct belief system of McGrath. McGrath holds a lot of views that do not run parallel to the majority of Christian believers. (Example: the majority of Christians do not accept evolution yet McGrath does.)

One important point that needs to be addressed is McGrath’s misinterpretation of atheism. From reading The Dawkins Delusion? the reader will often notice how he relates atheists and faith. For example terms like “godless faith”, “faltering faith” (when referring to atheists that are beginning to consider religion) and many other uses of the word “faith” when referring to atheistic beliefs. This is a misunderstanding, atheism does not have a system of “faith.”  And often McGrath assumes that there are a set of systematic atheistic beliefs, which there are not. The only requirement to be an atheist is not believing in a god. Other than that there are no central beliefs that are attributed to all atheists.

McGrath has stated many times in his career that he was once an atheist and by stating this one would assume that he has a better understanding of what being an atheist means. I only bring up the whole point of misrepresenting atheism because of the numerous times that McGrath claims Dawkins to misrepresent Christianity and religion, while at the same time he misrepresents other peoples belief systems.

The last specific point I would like to address here is McGrath saying Dawkins has a cognitive bias when it comes to analyzing facts. For readers who do not know what cognitive bias is, it is essentially an evolved mental behavior in which a person begins to distort facts or give illogical judgement, often discrediting the facts and evidence that do not cohere to their belief or worldview. One can fully accept that people will often write books that only present the facts that work with their beliefs so they can try to sway readers one way or another. However, McGrath does not give a single example of evidence that Dawkins ignores when explaining ideas and processes in his book. So it is hard to take McGrath’s claim seriously here because he does not show readers what evidence he is talking about when arguing that Dawkins is being ignorant of scientific evidence for God.

In all reality it seems as though if McGrath had full intentions of trying to seriously analyze Dawkins’s book but quit about a third of the way through. The book itself seems to be an effort to release some of the frustration that The God Delusion caused to many believers, and I believe that if McGrath had been able to provide more specific examples of the ‘mistakes’ Dawkins made in his book it would be a more sufficient response to The God Delusion.

If you are looking for an argument to dismantle The God Delusion‘s ideas then I suggest you not waste your time with this book, and keep searching. However, if you are looking for a book that is written by an intelligent man, embarrassing himself by making false accusations and hypocritical observations of Dawkins then look no further.

Siddhartha: Book Review #2

Have you ever had one of those days that just seemed to be genuinely longer than other days, but in all reality remained in the 18-22 average waking hours that you usually experience? And in this day you encounter a plethora of emotions and events that really made you consider your position in life? Well that is what Siddhartha is like.

Siddhartha is considered Hermann Hesse’s greatest, most famous novel, and for good reason. First published in the United States in 1951, it became an extremely popular and influential work of literature and art during the 1960s. With themes such as self-realization, freedom, spiritual enlightenment and finding ones way in life, readers will likely be intrigued by the insights that are shown in this small novel.

Being just over 150-pages, this story takes you through the turbulent life of a young man named Siddhartha as he tries to find meaning and truth in life outside of the structures of teachings given to the people by religious leaders. The story is set in ancient India during the time Guatama Buddha was traversing the land to spread his teachings, and eventually Siddhartha and Guatama’s paths cross, for better or for worse.

Through the novel we see how conflicted Siddhartha is about his spirituality and he tries to fix this through knowledge, but as his story continues he realizes that it is not knowledge that gives you enlightenment. It is wisdom, and wisdom cannot be learned by a master, a teacher or in a book or classroom. That is something you can only obtain through experience, and if anyone has some interesting experiences in his life, Siddhartha is ranked among them.

While reading this book you will likely be intrigued by some of the ideologies presented, even if you are not new to them. Hesse does a fantastic job of sliding important ideologies into an entertaining story. Not only is it entertaining, but it is precise. Hesse sticks to the point and quickly delivers the important events to his reader without having a static, flat character.

Some authors will write books two or three times the size of Siddhartha, but with only half the amount of memorable events in them that Hesse’s novel contains. You will feel like you just got back from a long journey after you finish this book. A journey that progressed quickly over a lifetime and left you with a nice reminder that you are alive and need to see the bigger picture, how everything is, in the end, one in the same.

For any person who loves literature, philosophy or is looking for inspiration, they should consider this an essential piece of reading, I highly recommend it. Even if you only leave this book with a fraction of the beautiful motifs presented, you have walked away as a beneficiary of Hesse’s fantastic work.

I will end with a quote that stuck out to me in particular:

“At times he heard within him a soft, gentle voice, which reminded him quietly, complained quietly, so that he could hardly hear it. Then he suddenly saw clearly that he was leading a strange life, that he was doing many things that were only a game, that he was quite cheerful and sometimes experienced pleasure, but that real life was flowing past him and did not touch him . . . His real self wandered elsewhere, far away, wandered on and on invisibly and had nothing to do with his life. He was sometimes afraid of these thoughts and wished that he could also share their childish daily affairs with intensity, truly to take part in them, to enjoy and live their lives instead of only being there as an onlooker.” –Siddhartha, page 71, Bantam Books Edition.

The God Delusion: Book Review #1

The God Delusion has gotten many different reviews, both extremely positive and extremely negative. So in light of the theistic world it has been vigorously stated to be a terrible, christian bashing book, this is inaccurate. It is aimed at religion as a whole, but as Dawkins states he uses Christianity as the most frequent example because he is most familiar with it. In the non-theistic world this book has received fantastic reviews and has been considered a brilliant piece of work.

I would like to propose that, from both stand points, this book should be considered a brilliant piece of work. It angers many theists, which is understandable because it is quite possibly the strongest challenge of faith presented by a book. However, the indisputable facts are presented time after time in this book and whether one wants to believe it or not is their choice. But believing them or not does not change that they are facts.

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins is quite simply put: a phenomenal work of literature in which the many faces of religion and Christianity are examined and then deconstructed through the combination of the religion’s own holy book, the Bible, and science. However, it does not only examine Christianity, but directly mutilates the idea of there being a god, whether Christian, Muslim or Jewish.

Dawkins is relentless and pays no lip service to any of the three religions and many times uses Islam as a prime example of a primarily violent religion, and notes how religious sects try to gain justification for their immoral acts from higher beings.
Some of the most notable and memorable chapters are those regarding morality (Chapter 6 and 7). Along with other important chapters like Chapter 3: Arguments for God’s Existence and Chapter 4: Why There Almost Certainly is No God.

Many of the points made are completely undeniable and should be taken very seriously. I suggest that you keep a Bible on hand when you dive into this book so you can look up some of the references yourself. You maybe astonished at some of the things that Dawkins’ brings to light in the ‘good’ book.

The God Delusion is extremely well articulated and deals more blunt trauma to religion than the average theist can shake a stick at. (Or a Bible at in this case.) Not only does this grand analysis of God, Religion and Christianity deal with the existence of God, it also deals with why we can examine the world around and see how it is truly broken down, so that we can further conclude that God may not be there. Making it seem completely absurd to think that such an existence simply appeared out of nothing. The basic principles of Evolution and the Origin of Life are set out in a well formulated, easy to understand explanation.

While many may argue that Dawkins’ view on life is bleak without a god to provide meaning, he address that also. One must create a meaning for his or her own life and not expect that he or she can blame others for their problems and have them assign meaning to their life. He continues to point out that there are just as many (if not more) theists who suffer from discontent, anger, depression and sadness than there are atheists.

Dawkins also states that he believes that not only religion is non-beneficial for society and civilization, but that it is truly dangerous. Through examples of fundamentalism and religious radicals of Christianity and Islam he detests religion to the furthest degree. One must note that he is able to do this without even having to discuss the Crusades as an example of injustice created by the Catholic church.

An important subject that Dawkins attacks vigorously is religious indoctrination. When reading the sections regarding this you can almost feel the passion in which he detests the idea of brainwashing children into believing as their parents and assigning titles such as “Catholic Children”, “Muslim Children” and “Protestant Children” to those who are too young to decide for themselves.

Though The God Delusion is a serious analysis on religion it does have many moments that it can invoke laughter for both the theist and the non-theist. However, Dawkins only jests for a couple moments here and there before obliterating the next topic.
The reason for this book getting 4/5 stars is due to one problem: Some sections are hard to push through, or may lose the non-devoted reader do to some information being tedious at some points. One section in particular that comes to mind is the discussion of Memes and possibly a bit of the Quantum Mechanic ideas in the very last chapter. However, when one focuses on these ideas they are fascinating and notably, informative to any person, scientist or not.

Overall there is not really anything to complain about in this book. Having read Sam Harris’s, Letter to a Christian Nation*, directly before The God Delusion, I was pleased to see many of Sam Harris’s ideas put into light once again.

*I highly recommend Letter to a Christian Nation, it is an easy and quick read. It is likely to raise awareness of almost any reader.

The God Delusion is a book that every theist and atheist should read, even if its just a study of an atheistic argument or simply for enlightenment. The God Delusion holds literary merit of its own before its scientific merit even need be mentioned. This book truly is a towering model of a deconstruction of God, Religion and Morality.

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A book that was later written in response of this book was written by none other than Alister McGrath, titled, The Dawkins Delusion, which I have read and reviewed here: The Dawkins Delusion? Review