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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Religion versus Science debate: the End?
Steve Jones is a non-believer, and has made clear in other books where he stands in the religion versus science debate. But not for him the no-holds-barred, all-out assault on religion favoured by Richard Dawkins and others. Jones' approach is calmer, sometimes ironic, but just as effective, and often even more devastating. In this book he revisits the Bible and...
Published 18 months ago by Brian R. Martin

versus
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Rambling and not really what it says on the tin
There are broadly two ways to write a popular science book. One is to pick a specific aspect of science and really dig into it. The other is to use a theme that allows you to explore a whole range of different scientific topics. But there has to be a reason for choosing the framework - and I find Steve Jones' hook in this particular book - the Bible - a little odd...
Published 17 months ago by Brian Clegg


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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Religion versus Science debate: the End?, 11 May 2013
By 
Brian R. Martin (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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Steve Jones is a non-believer, and has made clear in other books where he stands in the religion versus science debate. But not for him the no-holds-barred, all-out assault on religion favoured by Richard Dawkins and others. Jones' approach is calmer, sometimes ironic, but just as effective, and often even more devastating. In this book he revisits the Bible and interprets its stories and messages in the light of science. In doing so he presents the reader with an impressive torrent of facts from a wide range of scientific disciplines including physics, chemistry, paleontology, geology, anthropology, and above all his own specialty, genetics. They pour from the pages in a superbly presented elegant narrative that shows not only his scientific credentials and extensive research, but also his considerable knowledge of the Bible, possibly coming from his family history.

The book analyses many important Biblical stories and other general religious themes: Adam and his descendants; the origins of life in the Universe and on Earth; the role of sex, climate, and dietary restrictions; migration and floods; saintly hallucinations and visions; the tendency for religious movements to fragment and denigrate each other; and many others. At each turn there is no room for divine intervention and this is made explicit in the superb final chapter, particularly its closing paragraph, where he urges mankind to finally abandon its last great restraint, William Blake's `mind-forg'd manacles' of organized religion, with its dubious promises of an afterlife, and move confidently forward to a new single community, united by an unambiguous logical culture that embraces all mankind, i.e. science. For me, it is an unanswerable case made with great skill and erudition.

The criticisms are very minor: genetics is at the heart of the book and readers unfamiliar with at least some of the basic ideas of the subject may find the detailed discussions a bit hard going; although there is an excellent index, there is no list of `further readings' to check some of the numerous facts; and some sentences could be better structured to remove obvious ambiguities.
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4.0 out of 5 stars and fine writer. His analysis of the Bible highlighting inconsistencies, 31 Aug 2014
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This review is from: The Serpent's Promise: The Bible Retold as Science (Kindle Edition)
Steve Jones is an outstanding intellectual and scientist....and fine writer. His analysis of the Bible highlighting inconsistencies, contradictions, "miracles", superstitions and calls to perpetrate evil in the name of Jehovah / God is masterly with similar side-assessments of the Koran where appropriate. The only 'mistake' that I have found so far is his under-estimate of the percentage of the UK population that states itself to be of 'non-belief' .....not 25% but now 51% in 2009 (Social Attitudes Survey) and 53 % in 2011 rising at about 1% of the total population per year (from the Social Attitudes Survey and the official Census). We are not a religious country!
Steve is a prominent humanist, one of many who seek to live good lives without superstitious or religious beliefs. Any one who who feels they need support for their religious doubts should read this book and those who have struggled free of them can have their views and prejudices supported, quite gently!
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Rambling and not really what it says on the tin, 11 Jun 2013
By 
Brian Clegg "Brian Clegg" (Wiltshire, England) - See all my reviews
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There are broadly two ways to write a popular science book. One is to pick a specific aspect of science and really dig into it. The other is to use a theme that allows you to explore a whole range of different scientific topics. But there has to be a reason for choosing the framework - and I find Steve Jones' hook in this particular book - the Bible - a little odd.

The bumf for the book says `The Bible was the first scientific textbook of all; and it got some things right (and plenty more wrong).' I'm really not sure about that premise - I don't think anyone sensibly would regard the Bible as a scientific textbook. The whole reason, for instance, that Genesis gets away with having two scientifically incompatible versions of the creation story is that it isn't intended to be a literal, scientific explanation, but rather a contextual, spiritual description. (Which is why those who take the Bible as literal truth have an uphill struggle.) This is a bit like thinking that people thought the Earth was flat in the Middle Ages, because the likes of the Mappa Mundi look like a flat Earth - again, this was a symbolic representation, never intended as a projection of the real world.

In his introduction, Jones takes a slightly dubious path, saying he isn't attacking religious belief per se, and then setting out to do just that. I've nothing against scientists attacking religious beliefs, there is plenty of reason to do so - but they shouldn't try to weasel out of what they are doing. However, in the book proper he moves away from this (until the last chapter) and gets down to some more interesting stuff.

Rather strangely, and perhaps reflecting Jones' background in biology, he starts not with the creation, but with humans and the endless lists of descent that are found in the Bible, using this to explore the real genetic, DNA-based possibilities, including the `real' Adam and Eve, separated unfortunately by about 100,000 years, so not exactly on the best of terms. These lists in the Bible are rather dull, and unfortunately the endless seeming discussions of different lines of descent in Jones' modern-day telling also gets a little tedious.

We then jump back to the creation and some fairly straightforward big bang description - adequate, though rather skimpy compared with the depth he went to on inheritance and DNA. It's a shame, given Jones makes a big thing of one of the distinctions between religion and science is that religion has a `what's in the book is true' stance, where science goes on data and method that he doesn't point out that the big bang is not `truth' but the best accepted current theory, but we've all slipped into that kind of easy science writing - it gets a bit boring to keep pointing out the limitations of our knowledge, but it would probably have been worth doing it at the start, just to emphasize this is real science, not the unquestionable word of the science oracle.

Although there is a touch of physics there, even that single chapter soon jumps to a much longer discourse on where life came from. For me there was far too much biology here, fine for a single topic book, but over-emphasised for a book based on such a broad concept. In writing terms, it's a mixed book. Some of the content has Jones' trademark storytelling but a lot of it is plonking facts with little flow. Some parts read well, others (often where there's a lot of mention of DNA) get a touch boring.

In the final chapter Jones comes back to religion itself and does a fair demolishing job, though there is one glaring non-sequitur. He is commenting on wars driven by religion and concludes with a sort of rosy picture of a peaceful harmonious world without religious divides. Yet one of his principle lines seems to run counter to this. He comments `For civil wars, like those between nations, there was a striking fit between how long they lasted and how ethnically (and often religiously) divided the nation had become.' He concludes that Pascal was right to ascribe evil to a religious conviction. Yet look what he has done. Take away the religion and the ethnicity is still there. Is there any reason to suppose that wouldn't still be an issue, especially bearing in mind that `and often'? That's not science, Dr Jones.

Overall, then, this is the classic curates egg of a book, not really doing what it sets out to do and rambling (I like a good diversion, but this jumps all over) too much for good storytelling, but with some undoubted good bits. It's not a bad book, but not great either.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating science for the general reader, 6 May 2013
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markr - See all my reviews
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This is a fascinating and very readable book for the general reader with an interest in human evolution. The author, Steve Jones is a geneticist, and this book covers genetics and evolution, and touches on medicine, geology, sociology,and much more, to explore the scientific explanations for some of the key claims made in religion.

With chapters covering the origin of the universe and life on earth, as well as visions, the dietary requirements of religions, the spread and control of disease, immaculate conception and altruism, amongst many other topics, this is a wide ranging book full of fascinating snippets of fact.

The writing style is easy to follow, but not at patronising for the general reader. The author covers material rather similar to the works of Richard Dawkins, but in a way which I at least found more enjoyable. However, I suspect that this book would not be an enjoyable or comfortable reading experience for believers who do not wish their faith to be challenged.

This was the first book by Steve Jones which I have read, but I enjoyed it so much I have just ordered another
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3.0 out of 5 stars interesting but difficult, 12 Sep 2014
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This review is from: The Serpent's Promise: The Bible Retold as Science (Kindle Edition)
Interesting and very well written book but for readers like myself, for whom chemistry and physics were not the strongest subjects, the book is a struggle.
Worth reading if not for any other reason than just to confirm our own ignorance.
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Irritating, 17 May 2013
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I am currently on page 304 of 418, and I can honestly say this has been one of the most irritating reads I have encountered. The science is sound and I have learnt many things that I have not come across in the hundreds of popular science books I have read to date. My issue with this book is that I find my self left wanting for more discussion of the conflict and concordance of modern biology with the actual bible. A prime example is the chapter on Leprosy. The chapter begins discussing the attitudes towards lepers in the bible, it then moves on to other epidemics and contagious diseases, the links are tenuous at best. I find my self becoming irritated at the fact that this book is not really presenting an argument. Steve Jones is a scientist; and as all scientists know you make claims that your work can stand by, no more and no less, the title of this book would suggest that he will re-write the bible, that is what I expect going in and all I find is a lot of cool, but irrelevant facts. Very few verses are presented and then discussed. Both science and the bible should be felt in each example, compared, critiqued and a conclusion drawn.

Other reviews (not presented here on Amazon) have suggested that he disregards a direct comparison due to the bibles "other worldly" considerations. One review (published elsewhere) suggests that the book was published with this sub-title to make sales, the reviewer then goes on to defend it because of all the interesting facts that it presents.

This is a real shame as I bought this after reading "In the blood" and being impressed by Steve Jones' appearances on the BBC's "the big question". Especially the episode where he plugs the future publication of this book. It makes me wonder, is "Almost a whale" worth reading as it claims to be a modernisation of "On the origin of species".
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3.0 out of 5 stars Half way through. So far lots of interesting stuff ..., 8 Sep 2014
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This review is from: The Serpent's Promise: The Bible Retold as Science (Kindle Edition)
Half way through. So far lots of interesting stuff about genetics but involvement of bible material seems very laboured. General tone of patronisation of those with faith.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly absorbing tour de force, 3 Aug 2014
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This review is from: The Serpent's Promise: The Bible Retold as Science (Kindle Edition)
Packed with information. Very interesting and compelling. If anything, I thought Steve Jones overcooks it a bit. Evangelical zeal?
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What an enthralling book!, 29 Sep 2013
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A good subject to get your teeth into and Jones certainly does! He has lovely style of writing, and you don't feel that he is attacking religion in the bigoted way that Dawkins does; he is far from being pro religion, but tackles the bible stories in a scientific and forensically based manner. I'm a Christian and trained as a scientist, so such books are part of my reading life. This is one book that has, for me, made a number of connections between the way we were and the way we are.
There are lots of 'wow' moments as you prgress through the chapters of the book and each chapter is as enjoyable as the one before.
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7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gödel, Escher, Jones, 18 May 2013
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Diziet "I Like Toast" (Netherlands) - See all my reviews
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Steve Jones' new book is sub-titled 'The Bible Retold as Science'. It takes a section or theme from the bible, new or old testament, and explores the theme in the light of current scientific knowledge.

In the beginning we have - the beginning. An enjoyable summary of the current state of Big Bang theories and, more locally, the history of the Earth. Leading on from that is a discussion of theories of the origin and development of life on this planet.

Moving on, 'The Battle of the Sexes' looks at the development of ideas about sex, both initially from the bible - where there is an awful lot of 'begetting' - and as it has developed within Christianity. The discussion is closely informed by a discussion of the parallel development of biological, cultural and demographic approaches to sex and population. Of course, the two - science and religion - intertwine when apparently arcane questions such as whether identical twins may share a soul, whether a clone may have a soul at all and, rather more pointedly, whether stem cell research and similar studies are 'morally acceptable'. If discussions of souls sounds a little antiquated, Jones' example of a recent pronouncement by the EU Court of Justice relating to 'proposals for the creation for research purposes of human embryos' suggests not:

'In the hallowed halls of Strasbourg, with plentiful advice from the Church, the ancient argument about clones has been brought back to life and the soul now has the full protection of European law.' (P167)

There follow chapters on growing old (Methuselah), natural disasters (Noah's Ark), disease (lepers feature prominently here), food and food taboos, transcendental experiences and finally, morals, ethics, the bible and Darwin.

The book is, then, not simply just a look at the 'errors' of the bible, about how modern science can explode the myths and reveal truth obscured. It recognises where the two rub up against each other, how they conflict and, to a degree, what this says about both.

In the end Steve Jones is a scientist. He interprets the world from a scientific perspective - a 'natural' perspective as opposed to a 'supernatural' perspective. And, as a scientist, he privileges the natural over the supernatural. But there are some niggles here.

In the preface, Jones says that the book is 'about dry fact, not theology (nor, God preserve us, philosophy)'. (P14)

A bit further on, he suggests that science's enquiries:

'know no limits, none of its explanations is complete, and authority, divine or otherwise, is never enough. Sometimes, as in the downfall of Newton's ideas as the foundation of physics from Higgs boson to cosmos, a whole subject collapses in the face of new evidence, but those whose temple has been thrown down do not wring their hands over the ruins, but dust themselves off and build a new one.' (P14)

So science has its temples too, it seems. The difference, I suppose, is that religion has faith in eternal verities whereas science perhaps has 'faith' in the provisionality of it all, right down to the quantum level. Now science is trying to probe to a 'time' before the Big Bang, to places outside the universe, in order to explain the development and contents of this universe, which is all starting to sound a bit like Gödel's 'incompleteness theorems'.

This book is, in a way, an example of science again attempting, or at least indicating progress towards, a Theory of Everything, as opposed to the biblical theory of everything. While admitting that everything is not known, science still promises the possibility of such omniscience. I can't help thinking of John Gray's comments:

'Enemies of religion think of it as an intellectual error, which humanity will eventually grow out of. It is hard to square this view with Darwin's science - why should religion be practically universal, if it has no evolutionary value? But as the evangelical zeal of contemporary atheists shows, it is not science that is at issue here. No form of human behaviour is more religious than the attempt to convert the world to unbelief, and none is more irrational, for belief has no particular importance in either science or religion.' (The Immortalization Commission, P 224)

The book, for all its wonderful exploration of the current state of scientific knowledge and the direct comparison of that with biblical teachings, falls into that scientific (maybe scientistic) evangelising trap. 'The Bible Retold as Science' - is still a bible.

Gray goes on:

'Science is like religion, an effort at transcendence that ends by accepting a world that is beyond understanding. All our enquiries come to rest in groundless facts. Just like faith, reason must at last submit; the final end of science is a revelation of the absurd.' (Ibid P 227)

It's a shame that Steve Jones seems so adverse to philosophy ;-). Still - a good and thought-provoking read.
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