Customer Review

33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Reading, 2 Jan 2011
This review is from: To Set Prometheus Free: Religion, Reason and Humanity (Hardcover)
A delightful little gem of a book at around 100 very short pages, beautifully bound, a casket packed tight with essential ideas and information on the perennial theism/atheism debate. It is elegantly and clearly written and though its author is a professional philosopher you need no technical knowledge to understand it. If you have children you should buy it for them when they are 16+ as an essential part of their education. It contains a brief historical overview of the arguments against theism (and necessarily the arguments for) as well as a review of the more recent literature (the new atheism as it is called). It never ceases to amaze me how ignorant religious people often are of the arguments against their (or any) faith - arguments that have been around hundreds (and in some cases thousands) of years. Most of them have never heared of Hume or Kant. Every time you enter a debate its like starting again from scratch. Earlier proponents of religion would laugh at them - they made it their job to know the enemy - if you are are going to believe at least get informed - don't do so in ignorance. For the uncommitted it's a great introduction to the debate - you will not find a clearer explanation of the issues anywhere. Yes the author is an atheist and the book is all the better for being a passionate advocacy of atheism. A neutral exposition of the arguments would be anaemic. ( If you want balance follow it up by reading Anthony Flew "There is a God" - you won't find any new arguments here but at least you can view them from the other side). If I have any quibbles at all with Grayling its with his occasional expression of an over simplified view of the history of science - if you want to know why you will have to write and ask!
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 29 Jan 2011 21:55:08 GMT
Dookey says:
Well now... you can't leave it there. Do tell. Briefly, where and what are the troubling bits in Grayling about history of science? I think there's much merit in the idea that one should be able to make a meaningful and significant point in a couple of sentences at most and that as a matter of principle authors should strike out every second word. What's the shortest summary you could / would give to rectify the over simplified view(s)?

In reply to an earlier post on 1 Feb 2011 14:54:12 GMT
Last edited by the author on 19 Jun 2011 14:58:42 BDT
There is a tendency to project modern notions of science onto pre-scientific societies and this, I believe, distorts our understanding of those older cultures and of science itself. Most philosophers and scientists tend to do this. The ancient Greeks did not create science and nor did the Renaissance or the Enlightenment "re-discover" it. We can see elements of science in these earlier periods but that is all. I don't agree that "the ID theorists are the inheritors of Cardinal Bellarmine in refusing to accept what science discovers" (p. 96). The case for evolution was secured long ago and proponents of ID deserve no place in serious scientific or philosophical debate - they are cranks. But one can't say the same for Bellarmine - at the time of Galileo's trial the case for a moving Earth was far from proven and many eminent thinkers did not support it - and their denial was not always for religious reasons. It wasn't until Newton that the requisite physics had been developed to make the case convincing. Also, Galileo was himself only halfway out of the Aristotelian/Ptolomaic straight jacket - he still advocated perfect uniform circular motion in the heavens and rejected Kepler's elliptical orbits and his (correct) ascription of the movement of the tides to the influence of the moon. We must also remember that Galileo and Descartes were both Catholics and that Newton was deeply religious (indeed it is almost certainly the case that Newton's avowal of action-at-a- distance and hence universal gravitation owed much to his belief in an immanent God). A view of the history of science that sees it as a straightforward battle against religion is, I believe, an oversimplification. The wonder of science is that, perhaps uniquely, it manages, over time, to completely transcend the idiosyncracies and mistakes of its contributers and leaves us with what is truly universal. It is self-correcting and progressive in a way that religion isn't. But that does not mean that every contributor to what now consitutes the accepted body of knowledge of modern science was a paragon of rationality nor that their opponents were crass reactionaries like the proponents of ID.

I hope that goes some way to explaining my earlier comments.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Jun 2011 13:42:15 BDT
Timbo says:
Thanks for a quality review and for these equally valuable further comments. I'm glad Dookey asked.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Jun 2011 14:52:03 BDT
You're welcome.

Posted on 4 Jan 2013 15:00:43 GMT
DP Laing says:
For someone who has wrtten an intellectual tome on "Against All gods", ACG worships or idolizes rather too many deities for non-hypocrisy, like Prometheus, Hercules, Wittgenstein, Kant, Aristotle, and, if you compare axioms, the libertarian cult guru Ayn Rand. Rand's most noted cult member was Alan Greenspan, of the Bubble Economics of the 1990s to ~2017, hence she was the most misinfluential thinker of that era. She too wrote on Hercules, his eleventh Labor with Titanic Atlas. Is ACG ragingly trying to bring back the ancient Roman deities of the Secular emperor-deity Nero?

Prometheus was an interesting one, his "fire to humankind" also refers to intellect and/or instinct (literally fire inside, higher instinct that is, as comprehension of anything minimally complex requires intellect). Moses' editor, a bit more scientifically, located the 'spirit' of human reason in the synoptic Menorah of Holy Spirit, never to be treated as individual absolutes. They include the Holy Spirits of Genesis, of Exodus, of Law, of Numbers, of Second Sight, of Higher Love, of Eternity (long-termism) and so on; they can synergize to thwart the absolist Devil brain defect of impulsive one-sidedness (absolutes), of wanton boys and Rand's peculiar deified virilism, and by fairly obvous mechanisms too, testable in science. For example, if you assess importance using quantification (such as body count), you will not be using the fixed, absolutist 'impotances' of values (what the ancients called underworld 'deities' and 'passions' or obessions or demons, use of the Devil blind trust device and brain defect)
Has ACG admitted, like Darwin and his Devil's Chaplain, to being a Satanist yet?

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Jan 2013 15:33:47 GMT
Last edited by the author on 4 Jan 2013 15:52:45 GMT
Dookey says:
So what's wrong with being a Satanist? You make it sound like such a bad thing. And compared to the ignorant, contradictory, petty, egotistical, puerile sky God whose knowledge of science, biology, logic, epistemology or mathematics is just pathetic (it has yet to progress past stone tablets to email or automatic updates, let alone give an explanation for mammalian parthenogenisis), I'd say that Kant, Rand, Aristotle and Wittgenstein are indeed godlike deities infinitely more worth worshipping, even though they're entirely human.
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