Learn more Shop now Learn more Shop now Shop now Shop now Learn More Shop now Shop now Learn more Shop Fire Shop Kindle Amazon Music Unlimited for Family Shop now Fitbit

Customer reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
25
4.0 out of 5 stars


There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

on 4 March 2017
Excellent book
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 30 October 2005
As a scientist Winston gives us an historical examination of what he knows to be real, the fact that humans have had a concept of what he calls the Divine Idea from pre-historic times and that persists into the scientific present.
He describes how human perception and psychology have lead to particular forms of believing and religious behaviour in various cultural contexts. However, despite having provided such rational explanations for why a religion may have adopted its particular idea of The Divine, he manages to resist making a generalised leap into reasoning about the existence of a God. He prefers to see science and religion as two totally separate ways of understanding the natural world.
There is agreement with fellow scientist Richard Dawkins on the examinable facts of what religion is and what science can tell us. Avoiding Dawkins’ anti-religious stance he seems quite deliberate in his intention to provide moderate ground. He suggests that neither science nor religion should be judged on their failures, seeing value in acknowledging good in religion; accepting it as a self-evident and inescapable part of human nature. In the same way he sees the abuse of the outcomes of science and technology as something that should not cause them to be rejected in the cause of mumbo jumbo thinking.
Had he not deliberately avoided the question of whether God exists we could have had the makings of a new genre of ‘Popular Theology’. We may do anyway. This is advocacy for science and religion that leaves it up to the reader to work the god/God bit out for themselves.
22 Comments| 70 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
I always enjoy this sort of book and The Story Of God is a good read. An historial view of God from pre-history until the present day wriiten by a scientist.

Really well researched. The readers is made aware that the author knows his stuff!

Good basic but very enjoyable introduction.
0Comment| 3 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 1 April 2013
This book was a slight disappointment as although readable it was a personal view which was coloured by the TV series which it accompanies. Winston's view is as an orthodox Jew and as a scientist and doctor. He reconciles his various viewpoints well, but I would have hoped to have gained some perspective from the eastern religions as well from shamanism.Nonetheless there were for me some useful insights including how ancient peoples must have been puzzled by death given its similarity to sleep. Professor Winston also helps explain the great Jewish contribution to religion and history and also grapples with puritans. However, at times it did seem slightly superficial.

One small cavill was that the author referred to Newton's great work as the Principia Mathematica , which whilst not incorrect is a title usually reserved for Russell and Whitehaed's book on maths.

It is also good to know that the author supports the great football club known as Arsenal.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 20 December 2008
If you are an athiest (or even maybe a non-athiest), it is quite possible you have asked the question "why do human beings have the need to believe in a God"?
This book goes a long way to answering that question. Fantastic to read, from the mind of a brilliant man. Robert Winston is also being very clever in not giving away his own personal opinion as to whether or not a God exists.
0Comment| 3 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
VINE VOICEon 10 January 2010
Having watched Robert Winston's excellent BBC programme "Making Babies", I was intrigued by his venture into the science/religion debate. Winston acknowledges at the outset that his scientific position that, "humans evolved from hominids; apes that naturally stand upright on two legs" will offend some religious people. He also understands that, as a practising Jew, he holds views which many fellow scientists will dismiss as soft headed. He states his own position clearly, "I am not an atheist. I do not pretend to understand the nature of God; I do not know whether our moral code is a human construct, a piece of genetic programming or a God-given gift; I do not fully understand the concept of a soul and I have no idea whether there is an afterlife - but I am prepared to accept that God may exist." Such open mindedness brings a breath of fresh air to what is often a sterile debate.

Winston attributes the survival of humans to "our relatively large brain" admitting that, "the evolutionary causes of this....are not certain". He recognises the inevitability of conflict between those who would attribute the human brain as "a gift from God" and scientists, like himself, who believe "the similarity between our brains and those of apes make the idea of evolution irrefutable." At the same time he points out that, "of all apes, body weight for body weight, we have been the weakest, the least agile, the least fleet of foot and so - with few natural weapons - the most defenceless. With our soft, fleshy young, remaining dependent for so long upon their parents, we were the perfect snack for the many predators around us" He suggests that it was humans' ability to adapt to the environment in which they existed, coupled with their imagination, which enabled them to survive.

While Winston's argument appears strong he has to fall back on the word "probably" and other suppositions which prevent many of those of religious opinion to accept his interpretation without question. He examines a wealth of archaeological evidence to support his contention, much of which can be accurately dated, although its relationship with evolution is done by inference. This includes the suggestion that ancient people thought about God . Winston writes, "Whenever we look at the evidence for religious belief in our ancestors and antecedents, we see that it centres on the business of death and the dead." He claims, "we are wired to survive" thus dead bodies create an error message in the human psyche. Religion is one way in which humans deal with death, not in a fear of dying but in the belief that the dead are only dead physically. He draws attention to E B Tylor's view that animism and magic gave way to organised religion and eventually to science which he regards as too simplistic an explanation of religion.

Winston's knowledge of the subject is extensive and, while he is not an expert in the field, he does provides a balanced account of the Bible and the three main monotheistic religions. He clearly understands the intermix of politics and religion which has led to the rise of fundamentalism as a means of restoring traditional values. This was a theme seen in the messages of the Old Testament prophets. Jesus, who Winston accepts is an historical figure, provided a somewhat different view by emphasising commitment over ritual. Winston also traces the doctrinal and political schisms which occurred within the three large monotheistic religions arguing that the good in each should not be " hijacked by a few people who have confused bigotry and fanaticism with religion and a blind denial of moral behaviour with God." Irrespective of one's own theological beliefs Winston provides a well balanced potted account of each religion, including the way in which science emerged as a competitor for knowledge as a result of the decline of traditional loyalties in the wake of the Renaissance and Reformation.

He covers a range of scientific/religious conflicts and, while he lauds Dawkins's ability as a scientist, criticises him for believing that religion is the expression of sickness within the human psyche. If so, Winston argues, "why does he suppose (this) will vanish with the abolition of religion." In other words the behaviour arising from some religious beliefs is not necessarily symptomatic of religious belief alone. The notion that the ends justify the means is not confined to religion and applies equally to some who hold no such beliefs.

At the height of the debate on stem cell research Winston found himself the subject of attacks from religious quarters and even his Roman Catholic secretary was put under pressure to refuse to do his work - which she laudably resisted. While disagreeing with some of Winston's assumptions, interpretations and conclusions, I recommend this book as a splendid read. Personally I learned some new historical information and am more fully informed about the nature of stem cell research. Winston ends his book as he started it from a position of uncertainty. Neither religion nor science produce evil it is the uses to which each is put, especially when based on an unjustifiable certainty, that creates such evil. Winston argues it is the search for ultimate answers that gives meaning to life and his personal account of that search is interesting even if incomplete. Five stars.
0Comment| 8 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 10 January 2006
A good place to start if you are interested in the history of religion and especially of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. The book is written in a comprehensible fashion, rarely boring and at times even gripping. Unfortunately the style isn't always immaculate, and some more editing certainly would have done no harm (too many repetitions of phrases or entire paragraphs). Also, although by and large the author is careful to explain the most important points at great length, the reader is sometimes left alone when he least expects it (e.g. in the story about the schism between sunni and shi'ite muslims). Nevertheless, a must-read unless you are already well-versed in your own religion and at least one or two others.
0Comment| 14 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 6 October 2014
I had great hopes for this book, having heard Lord Winston defending faith against onslaughts from the New Atheists some years back. But, I have found the book disappointing, indeed biased and unscholarly, error-ridden, esoterically unique and just a bit arrogant and insulting. It is every thing that a book on Religion by a leading Scientist would be expected to be, but this is uniquely such a tome from a leading Jewish Scientist.

The structure is predictable: pre-monotheism, the three monotheistic faiths, the schisms and random scrambles of recent centuries. However, the number of odds and errors, compounded by the passage of time, make this a book not worth even returning to a charity shop.

Can I first say that I am a retired Computer Scientist, with three degrees (bachelor, master, doctor) from ancient universities. I am a man of faith, a practising Christian with strong Judaic sympathies, and an excellent grasp of NT Greek and passable OT Hebrew. As a trained Scientist I treat Religion in much that way: never spinning tales, seeking evidence purely to substantiate my position, and ignoring evidence to the contrary. As Oliver Cromwell said: think it likely, you might be wrong.

The first piece of suspect scholarship regards the chapter on Judaism. Everything is presented as straightforward 'fact' as presented in the Tanakh (Old Testament.) Even that Moses wrote the Torah verbatim. Now, no-one believes this to be so as it has clearly been redacted, quite probably by Ezra or Ezraites after the Babylonian captivity. This does not make it any less the work of Moses; but redacted.

The next chapter on Christianity is, frankly, shocking. Lord Winston rejects the entirety of Christianity as no more than 'Mithraic' myth propounded by a pagan-leaning St Paul seeking to placate Greeks. This is the kind of theory only to be found in the wilder edges of the Internet. No serious scholar believes this to be so. He rejects Jesus as a kind of boring rabbi who just repeated things he had heard. When compared with his do-not-touch approach to the Tanakh, his cut-and-burn approach to Christianity is shocking. He even deliberately misrepresents a core teaching of Christianity - the Resurrection - stating firstly, that this was merely a rebirth of a God figure, and secondly that Christians believe this to be so. Which they do not, never have and never will.

He sees St Paul as a bitter madman who reacted against Greek paganism in Tarsus to create a new religion. There is absolutely no evidence anywhere of such a claim. As a professor once wrote on one of my undergraduate essays, "Who said that?"

Then, he moves on to Islam. Now, this book was written in 2005. So, consider the following lines on Islam:

"[Islam's] deep respect for the sanctity of life, has been vilified and slandered" by Islam's detractors.

"[Islam] is often perceived as violent, repressive and backward-looking, the spiritual basis for terrorism, public amputations and the suppression of women ... In contemporary Britain ... Muslim communities ... [are depicted as being] divorced from mainstream life and breeding ground for extremism."

"This misunderstanding frequently emanates from the very people who should know better."

Words can fail as nine years on the World comes to terms with a religion that has changed little in essence in its homelands. To be fair, Lord Winston does attempt to explain the series of murders and battles that have riven this faith since the death of its founder. I am not being anti-Islamic, just saying that Lord Winston does a strange patch-up job here. He even manages to relate the Quaranic tales of the Hebrew Patriarchs as if they were true. Which Islam would deny, claiming that the Jews distorted the truth in Torah. And no joint narrative can be constructed which creates a harmony of Torah and Quran. For this is impossible and unbelievable.

He then heads off on a how-terrible-are-these-tales summary of religious change since the earlier Islamic civil wars, attacking everyone from Jewish Messiahs to Pentecostalists. Throughout there is a feeling of looking down pince-nez at some kind of lesser beings who believe utterly astounding nonsense, when "people should know better."

In summary, just another unsound and unwelcome book from another person speaking through a hole in their field. I could write just as meaningfully on the ethics and Science of the conception and birthing process. Particularly when Lord Winston does not consider that 1st century Christians had no idea that it was genetically impossible for a male child to be born spontaneously from a woman. Who was his father, remains a smoking gun.

I could go on, but there is one final clue to the reasoning behind this book. The publisher. The BBC. An organisation which contains so much anti-Christian bias as to finally recently appoint a practising Muslim to head up its Religious Affairs department. Aaqil Ahmed is Commissioning Editor for Religion and Head of Religion & Ethics at the British Broadcasting Corporation.

So, a sad failure of a book. Not worthy of a pass at a 1st year undergraduate Theology class. And a stark warning to other Scientists who wish to throw their ha'pennyworth into the Religious debate.
0Comment| 6 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
You have to want to read a book like this, but it is very rewarding. Robert Winston rose hugely in my estimation by writing this.

THe brief histories of so many religions are absolutely fascinating, and tend to back up my own long-held view that all monotheisms are essentially the same, and we fight over what we call our god and how we worship him/her, which is of course utterly ridiculous.

I think if some of the anti-religion writers took note of this style, we could overcome the ranting and bludgeoning of "The God Delusion" and elevate things to a real debate, rather than the school playground raspberry blowing which generally passes for debate.

The only fault I think anyone could call for this book is that if Winston expresses any opinion, or even bias, it's in the volume dedicated to each subject; aside from pointing out the logic he sees in the Jewish faith (and he is very open about this) he works extremely hard to keep opinion at bay (apart perhaps from Mel Gibson and "The Passion of the Christ", which made me look at that film again).

This is a very worthy book and deserves to be very widely read.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 3 September 2008
Informative look at the history of religion and God but could be better written and more structured.
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse

Sponsored Links

  (What is this?)