Tuesday, September 20, 2022

The God delusion - Richard Dawkins

You might be sincere and passionate about your religious faith and conviction, yet debating the topic with the likes of Richard Dawkins turns out to be a very difficult task. He not only is an evolution theory guru, he’s also skilled in philosophical arguments and seems to be very at ease debating religious matters with the most prominent theologians.
Dawkins admits that religion could well be regarded as an innocuous matter of personal choice, under some specific theoretical conditions. Unfortunately those conditions are not met in the real world: religions continuously put pressure on institutions that have a secular nature, interfere with the private preferences and lives of common people (both religious and non religious) and are at the bottom of countless conflicts worldwide. It’s been like that for centuries. Sometimes those conflicts are actually about something entirely different - land control, natural and financial resources, political power - it’s true, but without religions you wouldn’t be able to separate the various factions in the first place. And if you didn’t have the conflicting factions, you wouldn’t probably have the conflicts at all.
One of the most subtle aspects of religions - of every religion - is that core convictions and the absolute value of unquestionable faith are inculcated in the minds of children that are not old enough to understand - let alone reason about - the myths, the rules and the narratives that are being forced upon them. Quite likely if you didn’t start brainwashing individuals before they have displayed the ability to make their own life decisions, in a few generations you would have forgotten about religions altogether.
And for those who think that without religion you have no morals, Dawkins informs us that there is more and more solid evidence proving that ethics predate religion, not the other way around. Religions don’t include morals: they actually restrict their scope. Plus, if you go to the root of the scriptures, they state in-group vs out-group moral standards, not universal ones.
Finally, if you feel irritated or offended by the arguments of people like Dawkins, ask yourself the following question: you don’t agree with them or you just don’t like what they say, regardless of whether they’re right or wrong?
This might well be defined the "Bible of atheism". Give it a try.

Monday, September 12, 2022

A short history of nearly everything - Bill Bryson

This is the kind of science book I would have liked to read when I was a high school student.
Bill Bryson, the famous travel writer, one day realized that he didn’t have an answer for even the most basic questions about why the world is the way it is and works the way it does. Therefore he embarked on a journey through articles, books and interviews that helped him shed some light on many of nature’s supposed mysteries.
The book covers topics such as astronomy, subatomic particles, plate tectonics, biology, ice ages, natural disasters and mass extinctions. The language and the style used make it accessible to the wider public. At the same time though it also tries to be as rigorous as possible. Bryson particularly enjoys focusing on the sequence of events, successes and failures that lead to the most important scientific breakthroughs, the idiosyncratic behavior of famous scientists and the relationships between them (I particularly like the part on Newton, Halley and Hook).
Often funny, always engaging, it’s a great read for those who want to have an overview of the history of science, fill some knowledge gaps, refresh one’s memory or getting an update on some specific topic.
Finally, the most important lesson this book teaches us, in my opinion, is that life in the universe is extremely rare (for all we know it might exist only on our planet), and intelligent life is even rarer. As we are gifted with arguably the most advanced form of it, we should enjoy it at the fullest, without complaining about it or even try to erase it.

Monday, September 5, 2022

Living planet - David Attenborough

Who doesn’t know David Attenborough? Everyone has watched at least one of his documentaries, listened to his elegant narrating voice, enjoyed his poetic, delicate, sometimes ironic comments on the world wildlife and plants. Richard Dawkins, in one of his books, referred to him as “arguably the most respected person in the UK”.
For my Italian readers who are fans of the late Piero Angela (arguably one of the most respected individuals in Italy), I think it’s pretty obvious that David Attenborough’s BBC documentaries have always been the model on which Angela based his work. By the way, David was born before Piero, and fortunately he is still alive!
Although I watched a lot of Attenborough’s documentaries, I had never read one of his books. In Living Planet, he gives us an overview of the various types of environment of our planet, and for each one of them he explains how it mutated over the course of thousands of years and how plants and animals have adapted to those changes, how old species have disappeared and how new ones have managed to arrive from elsewhere and fit in.
It is a wonderful adventure through plate tectonics, astronomy and climate change, where seeds, flowers and leaves on one hand and insects, fish, reptiles and mammals on the other, exploit and/or help each other to survive and proliferate, given the opportunities and the dangers that characterise the particular environment in which they happen to be born, live and die.
If you’ve enjoyed his documentaries (and I’m sure you did), you’ll love his books.