An Advent Triptych of Atheism

Dec 06

An Advent Triptych of Atheism (I did me some book readin’): intro

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What links these books is their atheistic viewpoint – a sceptical approach to our own beliefs and an awareness of the shortcomings of human psychology and thinking – but coming from three very different perspectives. A very American “ground clearing” (the ground in question being covered in eggshells) debate style coming from a philosopher of mind, a british polemic from a friend of his who once wrote a very good book, and a compendium of stories and tricks written by a minor, though handsome, television personality who was an evangelical christian as a student.

I was not going to read the Dawkins book but

Dec 06

Advent Triptych of Atheism: Daniel Dennett ‘Breaking the Spell’

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This book is not for you – it said to me in the preface. Me in this case being a non-US reader – however I was already disqualified being a fully paid up member of the choir already, having read pretty much everything by Dennett that has reached print. But this is an unusual book, sitting off-centre from the rest of his work in style and tone. It is a much more accessible book in that it is aimed at a general reader and there is consequently much less of the casual jargon of the philosopher. (Sadly, reviews of the book repeatedly underestimate Dennett’s philosophical credentials because of this.) More marked though for me, was the occasional tone of apparent disingenuosness. For someone whose writing is normally so ingenuous with a clear, distinctive and generous style respectful of the reader, this perhaps says something of the subject in hand. Or perhaps it survived the editing process on purpose, and I was feeling hyper crictical.

Either way, despite being on his side, I felt a little bit sorry for his imagined “believer” reader

Dec 06

Advent Triptych of Atheism: Richard Dawkins ‘The God Delusion’

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As a change from other reviews, I’m not going to touch much on the intellectual content of this book. This book is selling incredibly well. It has garnered a LOT of publicity in the US (I gather) and is a bit of “surprise” christmas hit in the UK – currently 5 in Amazon UK’s chart (when pre-orders for the new Harry Potter are 1 and 2). That it has become a big seller, that it is widely read and discussed, is its principal success. Could it be that the much-commented on “Darwin’s rottweiler” invidiousness of his writing has been to this deliberate effect? Either way congratulations of a sort are in order.

My objection to Dawkins recent crusade has been that he is no longer deserving of both his earlier self (thoroughly readable and often entertaining) and his current professorial endowment set up “to contribute to the understanding of science by the public”. He really isn’t doing that any more is he?

Dec 06

Advent Triptych of Atheism: Derren Brown ‘Tricks of the Mind’

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Actual book review: an enjoyable, untidy compendium of a book – the author’s fake smugness, modesty and self deprecation pulls off the trick of hauling you enthusiastically through musings, memoir, memory tricks, mesmerism and magic.

I’ve included Brown in this atheist’s progress because (apart from referencing the Dawkins book) it provides an additional important perspective, that of being an ex-Christian,