Books on/for atheists? Cool beans! Send it along! While it was heading here, I looked for other reviews to see what it could be about. It looks like the publisher is sending it to atheist blogs and although numerous people have mentioned getting the invitation to review it, I could only find two reviews on it, which I'll address after the book itself.
I finally received the book about a month and a half ago. I read the first few chapters and put it down when I was sent another book to review that ended up being far more interesting. But the publisher dropped me an Email asking me if I'd had time to read it yet. I'd intended to write a short, personal response, but in picking the book back up to pass long the few notes I'd made so far, I decided to go ahead an finish it since it's a very quick read.
This review may seem somewhat odd. But then again, the book is amazingly odd. I'm not going to start out with describing the premise of the book, because when I started out reading it, I had no idea what it was about. So this will be more of a liveblogging of my (re)reading as opposed to my more usual retrospective.
In the opening pages the author claims to use logic, but then shortly thereafter demands that anyone disagreeing must be thinking incorrectly and should read it again, and again, and again,... until they agree. This is not logic. This is brainwashing. If it's wrong the first time, it will continue to be wrong.
Within the first few pages of the first chapter, the author claims there are two "lists" which essentially boil down to the "haves" and "have-nots", just rephrased. This is the logical fallacy of bifurcation. Again, logic is abandoned.
The first page of the second chapter contains even more errors, in claiming that time existed 50 gigayears ago. The Big Bang happened only 13.6 gigayears ago and physics has revealed that time and space were wrapped up in such a way that talking about them existing prior to that instant is complete nonsense. Thus, claiming that time existed prior to that is simply wrong, yet the author claims it must exist because the author cannot perceive any other option. Yet another logical fallacy (argument from personal incredulity/ignorance).
In chapter 4, this same problem is repeated, but instead of time, the author extends personal incredulity to matter and energy. While this is mostly true due to the conservation of mass/energy, it's not strictly true when you get to the quantum level. Later, the author seems to imply that energy is created from matter when you burn wood. This is completely incorrect. It comes from the destruction of bonds in the matter. This is straight out of high school chemistry. The bastardization of the term theory at the end of the chapter is likewise unimpressive.
Chapter 5 questions why orbits are elliptical and goes through, yet again, an argument from ignorance. Although the author is right (orbits are elliptical), it's for the entirely wrong reasons. The author then describes perpetual motion using the analogy of a rocket to Venus. While the picture is more or less accurate (less in that he claims no energy occurs once the engines stop firing and it will coast. Energy is still being used in that the Sun's gravitational energy will still cause an acceleration. This doesn't destroy the point, but is a rather blatant oversight.), it is somewhat confounding that the author for some reason (intentionally or through ignorance) cannot simply call this what it is: momentum. Again, the lack of basic high school familiarity with the topics that seem to be the entire foundation of the book does not inspire confidence.
From the start of chapter 7, the author shows confusion between the Big Bang and the formation of planets (entirely distinct and unrelated events). From there, he dismisses the Big Bang simply because he cannot understand it because it contradicts his notion that time must have always existed. Thus, this is an argument from ignorance built on an argument of ignorance. It is doubly worthless. But with the Big Bang rejected out of hand, the author now tries desperately to make a model for a Steady State universe. Take a look at this train wreck:
The author plays with scenarios in which, for no apparent reason, the Sun's gravity magically increases. The result:
All of the planets and their satellites, asteroids, meteoroids, and everything else in our Solar system will fall onto the Sun and such a collision will produce ... [a]n extremely huge explosion (most probably, that's what science calls a nova or a supernova) or a series of smaller explosions. Any of these explosions might lead to the creation of a new reaction because Earth, the other planets, satellites, asteroids, etc. will provide a new fuel (all of them will burn.) In other words it may may lead to the creation of a new sun. If there are some broken off pieces - they might create new planets and satellites. Thus, the process of creation of the new solar system takes off.*Blink*
Where to start?
1) No, that's not a supernova or nova. If those happened that way, the vaporized planets would be readily visible in the spectra. They're not. Doesn't fit the evidence. REJECT.
2) Planets do not "burn" in any sense. They can be vaporized, but this is not burning. And even if it were,
3) Stars operate under fusion. Planets like Jupiter have lots of hydrogen which can easily fuse, but there's a problem: a planet plopping on the sun only deposits the material on the surface where the temperature is far too low to undergo fusion.
4) Explosions would take place certainly due to the kinetic impact, but its not going to throw off enough material (especially the right kinds of material) to form new planets at just the right trajectories to form stable orbits!
This shouldn't take that much thinking to realize. But the author again plays to ignorance saying: "Please remember - you and I are not astrophysicists or astronomers".
Oh, but I AM!
His other scenario involves the Sun's gravity magically turning off. In this scenario, planets would (correctly) drift off from their parent stars until (potentially) captured by other solar systems.
I really don't think the author appreciates the size of the universe and just how empty it is, even on a galactic scale. In in the author's fictional eternal universe, sure, eventually they would be captured, but what are the odds of getting planetary systems formed in a set of damn near planar orbits like we have in our own solar system? Not happening.
"Probability" it the title of chapter 8, but it would be more accurately named "Pulling numbers out of my ass".
Chapter 9 is about "Circumstances" and starts with a few sentences on why each planet can't sustain life. For all the pop-sci I suspect the author watches, I'm amazed he hasn't heard all the inferences on the potential for (primitive) life on Mars. Or on any of Jupiter's moons. He then claims that the asteroid belt was a destroyed planet, again invoking an argument from ignorance (where else did they all come from?).
He closes the chapter making the absolutely bizarre claim that, the "more we learn about life - the less complicated it becomes".
I don't imagine the author could make it into an sort of college level Bio course. I didn't take any, but I've heard the rumors of Organic Chem. It's not simple. It's complex. What we have learned is that it's not magical.
Chapter 10 is a screed against the notion of God. It's the best part of the book so far. The short version of it is that the concept of an omnibenevolent God is obviously incompatible with the way the world works.
In the next chapter, the author takes some time to do a quick review and then chapter 12 is a summary of evolution. It's pretty much right although shows some bias in anthrocentrism with claims that brain (especially big ones) are an imperative for life. With little reason or evidence, he deems this sufficient and moves on.
In chapter 13 he engages in come Creationist-esque logic demanding that there be some magical division between humans and animals. He claims that evolution is (somehow) insufficient to bridge this gap using some bizarre chicken and egg argument that makes little sense. Apparently he thinks that developing conscious thought takes conscious thought. The notion that conscious thought could be the result of evolutionary processes is somehow completely missed.
He claims, "scientists compared genetic materials of neanderthals and modern humans.... they do not match." Obviously this book is missing out on some important information.
From there, it's the whole canard about humans only using 10% of their brains. Which in the author's world means that we're all geniuses and means
(wait for it......)
We're Intelligently Designed.
Chapter 14 explains: Assuming (incorrectly) that population growth will go on unbounded, humans will be forced to venture out into the cosmos since there will simply be no further space or resources here. And if we do that, the author presumes we'll create "a new human species using our DNA".
In other words, we intelligently designed ourselves...... and then abandoned ourselves without any sort of technology. I think the author watched a the last episode of Battlestar Galactica a few too many times.
Of course, this all begs the question: If pre-human humans are filling the cosmos with new versions of ourselves, why has SETI not detected anything yet? (Incidentally, the other book I'm reading it Eerie Silence on that very topic which seeks to answer why we haven't heard from ETs, but none of the explanations are really compatible with the scenario laid out in this book.)
This is the grand conclusion of the book so far put together through a string of logical fallacies:
1. The universe must be infinitely old because I can't imagine it otherwise.
2. I can't understand how humans could have evolved.
3. Thus, since time is infinite, so are humans and we can create ourselves.
Chapter 15 attempts to answer the question of why the pre-human humans that apparently created us didn't leave us anything. The author claims they did. They left us a library of infinite knowledge (or at least everything they knew). And he knows where it is.
It's in our DNA.
Yeah.... it's a code to a secret library.... Like the DaVinci Code.... But with genetics....
Shame that it's subject to all sorts of random mutations, insertions from retroviruses and other distortions that it's probably a bunch of gobbly gook now.
But the author doesn't seem to realize this and also thinks that this magical library of knowledge has a plan. And it's tailored explicitly to you....
I guess the author doesn't realize how heredity works and that the collection of genes and chromosomes we get is random, making this "plan" as accurate as a horoscope. Again, the author apparently didn't master high school science.
That's the end of "Part 1".
Chapter 1 of the second section is a rant against religion that I skimmed over. In chapter 2, the author claims that we're subconsciously in touch with this library of knowledge, but some people more than others. Those that are more in touch are the successful Bill Gates' of the world. Those that aren't are the masses.
In Chapter 3, the author discusses failures and success. Of failures he blames everyone else, saying that with all your friends and families pulling you in their own directions, you can't go anywhere. Of success, he simply states that if at first you don't succeed, "[a]ll you have to do is to try, and try, and try, and try again."
But don't worry about it. Once you've tapped into the cosmic knowledge fountain, you'll be riding the gravy train.
Chapter 4 is all about "Goals". Basically, it's asking what do we do with our lives when we aren't busy procreating to make more humans (which is apparently the meaning of life). The author says, "Our creators knew perfectly well that nobody would go far on pure altruism." (Where altruism is being defined as making more human spawn to fill the rest of the cosmos.
I'm not sure why our creators would know this given it's not a necessary condition. If they created us, they could have made us 100% altruistic. But they didn't. Why?
Meanwhile, there's some more touchy feel good crap along the lines of the "Aim for the stars and even if you miss, you'll still get the moon" junk.
Chapter 5 is all about maintaining a positive attitude all the time. Yay rainbows coming out of your ass nonsense! And how do you do this? More self help book nonsense about positive visualization.
Chapter 6 is a review of all the metaphysics rubbish: If you want to succeed, get in touch with your magic data center.
Chapter 7 is about the value of thinking. I'd agree with this. However, sometimes before one does too much thinking, it's helpful to actually do some learning.
The next chapter is two pages long. It's basically more self-help nonsense: You have to be obsessed with what you want.
Chapter 9 covers faith. The author lambastes blind faith yet, ironically, it's exactly what he uses to build up the entire argument so far. It's blind faith that drives him to claim that, just because he can't imagine something, reality must be what he can imagine. Fail.
Meanwhile, the author praises informed faith which he calls "real faith". This I can get behind. I appreciate the distinction that so many theists miss so they can hide behind equivocations of the term.
But the author dips right back into bizarro land in chapter 10 in which he claims that people hearing voices aren't really crazy. They're just getting an overload of information by being too in touch with the super information repository. His evidence for this? A guy in a mental institution who was good at math.
Apparently all you have to do to tap into this information storehouse is to do a lot of visualization. Just picture it, and become completely OCD about making it happen, and it will!
Chapter 11 again summarizes all the faulty logic before moving on to chapter 12 which tries to illustrate the whole process in action. In specific, the author discusses Einstein:
He was very educated in physics and mathematics (understanding.) Space, energy, mass, and time questions - that is all he thought about (real thinking). He did not care about his job in the patent bureau and he had even neglected his family in favor of those questions (obsession and persistence. Instead of going home after work, he was pacing the streets and his mind was filled with imaginary pictures of possible answers (visualization.) He did not have any doubts that one day he will [sic] solve these problems (faith) and he finally did.Does this whole thing reek of confirmation bias to anyone else? The author takes a success story and shoe horns it into his paradigm without bothering to assess counter examples of people who went through the same steps (those underlined) and failed utterly.
Chapter 13 goes through how using this magic system will produce good habits and lead to good health.
Chapter 14 is the summary of the entire book and not even worth mentioning.
Taking stock of the book as a whole: It's a bunch of metaphysical gibberish based on false premises born out of logical fallacies. It's nonsense on par with Creationists. The logical flaws are so astoundingly blatant, I'd be amazed that anyone engaging in a bit of critical thinking, or with any background knowledge to the topics would be taken in. Yet, the two other reviews of this book I could find online both found it compelling.
One review said, "the book’s strongest point is the writer’s eagerness to help readers understand that there is no god". As I pointed out before, the argument against god(s) laid out in this book is simply because the author finds no need for them given his (erroneous) understanding of the history of the universe. Knowledge through misinformation is not something I can encourage. Especially for something that is such a minor part of the overall narrative.
The other review I found says, "the book is dedicated to discussing those questions we all always wonder about, especially today, in a day when there are so many more people questioning religion and faith." This claim is outright frightening to me. Sure, it asks the questions, but the answers are pure rubbish. Yet the reviewer says this book has her "convinced".
Really? I mean really?!
Asking questions is good. But at least put some thought into the response you get!
The only other thing I want to say about this book is that the whole publishing and promoting seems highly suspicious. The author simply refers to himself by the pseudonym FINIFID which stands for "Friend In Need Is a Friend In Deed". Cute and in and of itself, I wouldn't find it suspicious.
But there's something else that seemed odd. Comment 235, by Mark Ofshtein at this blog claims that Mark is the publisher and he was "presented with a manuscript by an unknown author." In his Email to me, asking if I'd like a copy, Mark again identifies himself as the publisher.
Yet, in his Email to me asking for my thoughts recently, Mark identifies the book as his.
On that same link to the "Why Won't God Heal Amputees" blog, Mark asks that criticisms be given in private. In the book, FINIFID repeatedly claims these revelations are meant only for the person given the book. In both cases, there's a creepy sense of cultish secrecy. However, I've maintained a policy of addressing things without shying away from them. Good work I'll praise publicly, but if one wants that, they must also risk public humiliation. That's how fair exchange of information works. I appreciate the amount of work it takes to write a 300 page book, but effort isn't everything.
If I were to take anything out of that, it would be a final confirmation of the intellectual vacuity of the entire premise of the book. If the magical source of knowledge were truly available, and the author were so in tune with it, this book should be an intellectual masterpiece topping the best seller list. But it's not. It's being peddled to bloggers who think it's crazy and toss it aside.
Is Mark really FINIFID; Hiding behind the mask of a publisher promoting his own work?
I can't say, but everything about this book, from the content, to the publishing, to the random bolding and underlining (often seen by religious nuts) both in the book and on the publisher's website points to the person behind it being more than a little off their rocker.
It's great to keep an open mind, but that doesn't mean that you should let your brain get soggy when it rains.
UPDATE: The author has responded in the comments. My response to him is here.