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Posts Tagged Richard Dawkins

What’s really true? Ken Perrott Oct 27

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I am spending some time dealing with family business so I am reposting some of my past book reviews over the next few days. These could be useful with Christmas coming up.

Here’s an ideal Christmas present for the aspiring young scientist in your family – or someone you would like to encourage in that direction. 


Book Review: The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True by Richard Dawkins. Illustrated by Dave McKean

Price: US$16.49; NZ$37.50;
iPad app US$13.99, NZ17.99.
Audio vers. US$ 19.79.

Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Free Press (October 4, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1439192812
ISBN-13: 978-1439192818

I have posted on this book before (see A reminder of reality’s magic). It’s now available in New Zealand so a review is in order. Fortunately I have had an audio version of the book for a week, have listened to it all and am happy to recommend it. I can especially confirm my earlier recommendation as a sciency book for young people – perhaps a Christmas present.

Richard Dawkins himself says he aimed the book at young people from 12 years old to 100 years old. Younger children may also enjoy it, especially with parental help.

Each of the book’s twelve  chapters are built around a question – the sort of questions young and other inquisitive people ask. “Who was the first person?”, “What is a rainbow?”, “What is the sun?”, “What is reality? What is magic?”, “When and how did everything begin?”, “Why do bad things happen?” “What is a miracle?” and so on.

Most chapters start with the traditional or mythological answers. Some of those will not be new, coming from our own tradition or religion. New Zealanders will recognise a number of Maori or Christian myths. Others will be new, refreshing, intriguing, or even plain silly from our point of view. But, of course, there is no reason to suppose any mythological tradition is any more correct, or of any more value, than another. This helps develop a rational perspective.

The rest of each chapter provides scientific answers. In the process of providing the background and history the narrator goes off at tangents, but always returns to the original question. In the process Dawkins describes whole areas of science in a lively, interesting and thorough way.

The audio version is successful – not easy for science which can often be complex and need visual material. I think this demonstrates that Dawkins’ approach, examples and language communicates the subject well. He certainly does shine as a science communicator.

Although I did well without them, I imagine the books graphics will also be very helpful – especially for the younger reader. What I have seen on the internet does look impressive.

The publishers have recognised both the importance and consumer response to this book by publishing it in several different formats. A hardcover (or pBook) version, an audio version and an iPad version. Its large graphical content has probably precluded an eBook version – but seems to have made it ideal as an iPad app (see video below).

iPad version trailer

Nothing is perfect

This is reality, after all.  As good as this book is there will be valid criticisms to make. Other reviewers might find errors of fact (inevitable in such a book). My main criticism is that Dawkins did not take on the challenge of providing more coverage of modern relativity and quantum theories.

On the one hand, I can appreciate the dilemma for the author. To what extent should a book for young people attempt the challenge of such counter-intuitive concepts? And Dawkins does a good job communicating the humility of science and individual scientists. He acknowledges his own limitations by explaining that as a biologist he cannot adequately  describe ideas of what caused the “big bang” or what quarks are. His implication is that such questions be directed at particle physicists and cosmologists. This modesty does a lot for his credible image in the book.

On the other had – this book is about the magic of reality. It does, in places, show how reality is non-intuitive and that “common sense” ideas often fail. I feel this approach could have included introductory ideas of relativity and quantum mechanics. It would also help to reinforce his message that some of the models scientists use are mathematical and not mechanical. Without getting into the mathematics or the complexity of the logic he could have communicated the idea that we should not expect to build mechanical models of things like the very large, very small or very fast, which are outside human experience. And yet we can construct mathematical models which are very accurate and powerful.

It’s a message he has given elsewhere. And it would have added to his excellent description of scientific method and understanding of what we mean by scientific knowledge.

A publishing phenomenon

The publishers are putting some effort into the book promotion. The book launch itself will be to a large audience at the Royal Albert Hall in London on 19th October (see An evening with Richard Dawkins). No doubt there will be a number of book tours – and there seems a good chance that we will have opportunities to attend one of Richards talks down under. Dawkins will speak at the Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne next April . His publishers took advantage of a similar engagement last year to send him on a speaking tour of New Zealand and Australia promoting his last book (The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution).

The controversy generated by Dawkins’ book The God Delusion seems to have created a publishing phenomenon. Publishers now unhesitatingly bring us similar books – they see them as best sellers. They have also reprinted and promoted Dawkins previous books. Many new readers now have the opportunity to purchase and read other books by Richard Dawkins. I personally feel this has also helped encourage recent publication of many other popular science books.

Although controversy over The God Delusion originated from religious sensitivities even his last book  (The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution) was frantically attacked by creationists. These attacks have only increased sales.

I guess its only natural to be somewhat cynical of such promoted publicity. However, it is very gratifying that in this case it’s for such a worthwhile cause.

A seditious message?

I think most readers will appreciate inclusion of the mythological explanations. They do illustrate the human inventiveness when it comes to primitive explanation, as well as our colourful story telling. Inclusion of multiple mythological explanations in each case also helps demonstrate the ineffectiveness of such mythology – with such variety how can any one tradition seem more reliable than the others.

In a sense this, and not the science, is the real seditious message of Dawkins’ book. It is similar to his advocacy for the teaching of comparative religion in schools, rather than providing religious instruction. I expect it will be this, rather than the science, which will motivate the ideological critics of Dawkins to angrily denounce this book, as they have his earlier books.

Their emotional reactions will also be motivated by the success of Dawkins as a science communicator and the publishing phenomenon he has become. And who would have it any other way? Not me – I think this emotional reaction is one of the reasons for Dawkins’ success. And given the nature of his message that is all for the good.

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Jon Stewart interviews Richard Dawkins Ken Perrott Sep 26

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I always enjoy the Daily show and this is another classic. Jon Stewart interviews Richard Dawkins (who is on a tour for his latest book An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist).

Can’t embed the daily Show videos, but go to September 24, 2013 – Richard Dawkins | The Daily Show With Jon Stewart – Full Episode Video | Comedy Central.

The whole show is 36 min long – but if you just want to the interview it starts at 13.33 and goes to the end.

Stewart is an amazing interviewer.

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Richard Dawkins learns about the Bible Ken Perrott Jul 04

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This isn’t the usual subject for videos of Richard Dawkins. This time he is in discussion with John Huddleston, from the College of Charleston, Charleston, South Carolina.

The discussion was recorded in March this year.

Found it far more interesting than I expected

A Conversation with Richard Dawkins and John Huddlestun

‘The Unbelievers’ and science Ken Perrott Apr 30

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The World Premiere of  the film “The Unbelievers” took place on Monday in Toronto.

The YouTube site for the film’s trailer describes it this way:

‘The Unbelievers’ follows renowned scientists Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss across the globe as they speak publicly about the importance of science and reason in the modern world – encouraging others to cast off antiquated religious and politically motivated approaches toward important current issues. The film includes interviews with celebrities and other influential people who support the work of these controversial speakers,trailer of the film”

The premiere, and the three later screenings were sold out. I posted the trailer for the film at The “dynamic duo” of science? Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss spoke at the Premiere. But they were also interviewed by Global’s The Morning Show, on Monday morning.

It’s an excellent interview – they were not heckled in the way many US interviewers do. And they managed to calmly present their story about science, and describe their attitude to religion.

Only 12 minutes long its worth  watching. Click on the image below to go to the Global New’s Video.

Dawkins-Krauss

Credit: Dawkins, Krauss have faith in ‘The Unbelievers’ | Globalnews.ca.

Dawkins’ new book Ken Perrott Mar 20

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Richard Dawkins’ latest book is due out next September. The title – Childhood, Boyhood, Truth: From an African Youth to The Selfish Gene

It’s yet a new genre for Dawkins – autobiography. Mind you he has reached the age where people do tend to write memoirs and autobiographies.

Richard says  this book covers his life up to the  writing of The Selfish Gene.  There will be a second volume, published in 2015, covering the second half of his life.

I have enjoyed his other books and am looking forward to this one – especially as I have a special interest in scientific biography.

These two volumes will be a good read – he is an excellent writer and has had an interesting life, scientifically.

I wonder if it will get the same sort of emotional attacks his earlier books received?

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The “dynamic duo” of science? Ken Perrott Feb 13

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Well, that’s how someone described them.

But I have generally found the discussions between Lawrence Krauss and Richard Dawkins stimulating. I first commented on these almost 5 years ago (see Lawrence Krauss – Richard Dawkins discussion).

They have had a number of discussions recently, in a range of countries. Someone has now put these together in a single movie. Here’s the movie trailer. Looks interesting

THE UNBELIEVERS (2013) – Official Movie Trailer

Thanks to: Dawkins & Krauss making kick-ass new atheism doc

By the way, the movie includes discussions with others too. here’s a description from the YouTube site:

‘The Unbelievers’ follows renowned scientists Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss across the globe as they speak publicly about the importance of science and reason in the modern world – encouraging others to cast off antiquated religious and politically motivated approaches toward important current issues.

The film includes interviews with celebrities and other influential people who support the work of these controversial speakers, including:

Ricky Gervais
Woody Allen
Cameron Diaz
Stephen Hawking
Sarah Silverman
Bill Pullman
Werner Herzog
Tim Minchin
Eddie Izzard
Ian McEwan
Adam Savage
Ayaan Hirsi-Ali
Penn Jillette
Sam Harris
Dan Dennett
James Randi
Cormac McCarthy
Paul Provenza
James Morrison
Michael Shermer
David Silverman
…and more.

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Sex, Death And The Meaning Of Life. Episode 3: Meaning Ken Perrott Oct 30

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This is the third and last video in the series Sex, Death And The Meaning Of Life. It’s about “meaning.”

Richard Dawkins sets out to answer the question he often gets asked - “How do you get up in the morning?”

Sex, Death And The Meaning Of Life Episode 3.

Another laid-back coverage by Dawkins. He gives plenty of space to the religious attempts to find meaning but is personally not convinced. I find his own description of meaning in understanding and observing reality, experiencing human art and culture, and appreciating the awe provided by our surroundings, far more attractive.

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Death – part 2 of a series Ken Perrott Oct 24

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Here’s the second episode in the series Sex, Death and the Meaning of life – fronted by “everyone’s favourite Strident Atheist.” See Sex, Death And The Meaning Of Life – Sin for Part 1

It’s another laid back, non-threatening presentation of an important issue. A chance to consider different religious/philosophical approaches and to also learn some science.

Sex, Death And The Meaning Of Life Episode 2.

For such an evil atheist Dawkins seems to spend a lot of time in cemeteries and churches. Seems quite at home there.

The 3rd and final episode on The Meaning of Life screens in the UK next week.

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Sex, Death And The Meaning Of Life – Sin Ken Perrott Oct 19

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Sex, Death and The Meaning of Life is a new series of TV documentaries fronted by Richard Dawkins. I welcome this – partly because Dawkins is an excellent communicator. But also because it’s about time some of the current ideas in the science of morality and ethics were more widely known.

The first programme in the series, SIN,  was screened last Monday, on Channel 4 in the UK. I have embedded it below. It’s very informative.

There’s even a bit of humour – look out for the David Attenborough moment where Dawkins gives a description of evolution social customs around animal mating while watching humans performing on a dance floor

Sex, Death And The Meaning Of Life Episode 1.

There are at least two other programmes in the series. LIFE AFTER DEATH and MEANING OF LIFE.

See Death – part 2 of a series for the second episode.

See also:
Clear Story – Sex, death and the Meaning of Life
Channel 4 – SIN
Channel 4 – LIFE AFTER DEATH
Channel 4 – THE MEANING OF LIFE
British Atheist Richard Dawkins Explores Sin and Morality in New TV Series

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Is there room for religion in science? Ken Perrott Jul 02

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Jerry Coyne at Why Evolution is True highly recommends this video (see Dawkins on Al Jazeera). I watched it over lunch and can second his recommendation.

It’s an Al Jazeera talk back show – The Stream – where Richard Dawkins is interviewed and other people from around the world are linked in for comments and questions. The basic question was “Is there room for religion in science?”

I think Dawkin does an excellent job of calmly and sensibly answering the questions (so much for the “strident” myth). But I was also fascinated by the way the programme was integrated with  Twitter and Google+ to get real-time feedback from viewers. Those comments themselves are intriguing.

Quite a unique experience – and fascinating to see such a well done programme presented on an international news media channel. Dawkins really seems to be getting his message across internationally.

New Atheism’s most polarising figure? – YouTube.

Must admit I wondered if I had the colour balance wrong – or does Richard have a touch of sunburn?

Update: Richard has confirmed that it was a colour balance problem. He added: “They could presumably have fixed it “in post” but perhaps they rather enjoyed the association of red face with strident anger!”

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