Magic and Belief, Complete

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The Magic of Reality – How We Know What’s Really True, by Richard Dawkins

I picked this book from my late wife’s collection of unread books and decided to give it a try. I know a bit about the author; he’s a biologist of note, and one of a growing number of thoughtful persons claiming to be an atheist. I have my doubts, though, that his claim to non-theism would be totally true, were we to share a bottle of brandy and dig deeply into the subject. What he’s really posturing about, I think, is the need of humanity to rid itself of beliefs coming from thousands of years ago, from tribal societies who feared the world they lived within and drummed up superstitions and magical claims to buttress those fears. Too, we have had some four hundred years of dedication to reason and exploration through humanity’s increasing ability to reason, and those thinkers like Dawkins see, perhaps for somewhat valid reasons, an increasing suspicion of philosophy and science and a return to antiquated belief systems that have absolutely nothing to do with the world we live within. Perhaps what we need instead today is a more holistic pronouncement of what we know now of our world, the universe we live within and, indeed, ourselves. And so to Dawkins’ book.

From the standpoint of someone such as I, a boy schooled in the rapidly progressing scientific achievements of mid-twentieth century, a man who worked in the field of engineering using that scientific knowledge to provide for a healthier, safer humanity, a lot of what Dawkins lays out in this book is rather ho-hum. But were I to scroll down through the years to today’s twenty-somethings and early middle-agers, I fear I’d find an indifference to the last half a millennium’s achievements, largely due to the increasing pressure put on educators by politicians and those who would have future generations turn a blind eye to reason for the sake of once again promulgating control through fear.

And so Dawkins goes from chapter to chapter, giving us examples of superstitions and explanations of occurrences on earth and through the cosmos from ancient cultures, phenomena that science and reason has enabled us to understand and thereby lose our fear of them. And then, unwilling to have us take his word for things, he gives us tools to help us reason what’s true and what isn’t.

His writing is down-to-earth, not pedantic at all, although one might take the book as a whole as a trifle condescending, much as an adult would do in instructing and guiding children toward an ability to think and reason for themselves. Given all the above, though, this is a book to be read and kept in one’s library for posterity, something I shall do.
My Rating: 17 of 20 stars

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