Thursday, December 27, 2018

• God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist

God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not ExistGod: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist by Victor J. Stenger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow! In reading through the various reviews of this book, which has a near-4 rating, it's incredibly funny and predictable how the fundies and other bible thumpers try to attack Stenger -- who allegedly not only doesn't use science in this book, but apparently doesn't even know it; I assume all of the fundies making this criticism have their freaking PhDs themselves in scientific fields since they obviously are claiming authority on what is and isn't science??? Anyway, these people nit pick and target a few select lines or assertions of his to "prove" that Stenger did not "disprove" god. So predictable. I just read one who was sarcastically (presumably) making fun of his interpretation of Stenger asserting that anything that can be described or generally proven though "natural," scientifically accepted methods means such things aren't God's doing. This critic is making fun of that. Holy crap, what an idiot! Um, yeah, that's basically the massively accepted and assumed consensus on the part of nearly all scientists, as well as freethinkers, rationalists, and plenty of other people. That pretty much nails it on the head. If science can explain natural causes, etc, for a whole variety of things, events, etc, then YES, you don't bring god into it! It's been proven to be non-supernatural. Duh! Fundies excel at nit picking non-fundie philosophers, other religionists (particularly other theists), scientists, and other people of differing persuasion, yet once you start pointing out the thousands of discrepancies, inconsistencies, inaccuracies (god showed Moses the part of Cannan known as "Dan" before he died, the irony being, there was NO place named "Dan" at the time; how do you know which of the two creation stories to believe in Genesis?; the crucifixion is described in all four gospels, yet while each described a sign above Jesus's head on the cross, they are ALL different from each other, so again, how do you pick out which one to believe?,; Moses, the author of the Torah/first five books of the OT, describes in detail his own death and burial in Deuteronomy, which I guess made him a zombie, and SO many damn more falsehoods and bullshit that countless books many hundreds of pages in length have been authored by Christians, atheists and others, pointing out just a number of them, because to get them all, it would surely exceed 1,000 pages), conflicting information, outright falsehoods (Nazareth evidently did not exist during this alleged census -- which also is verifiably historically wrong: there was none then, and not for about another decade -- and would not exist for several hundred more years, so obviously Joseph did not come from there.), and totally stupid "evidence" or "logic" (Example, with two problems -- Jesus's genealogy. The Jewish Messiah was supposed to have descended from King David's lineage. So two gospel authors felt it important to include Jesus's genealogy to "prove" he descended from David, thus helping to confirm his legitimacy. However, one just goes back some 14 generations to David while the other exceeds 30 and more generations, and to top it off, virtually none of the names of Jesus's ancestors leading to David match! Maybe one name. That's it. So, which one's right? How do you know which to believe? Or are neither of them right? This spurious discrepancy immediately calls into question the credibility of both authors and both gospels. But I said there are two problems. The beauty of the second problem is that it's so much more relevant that it pretty much wipes out any issues with or complaints about the previous problem I just described. The Messiah had to be of the line of David, and if Jesus was the Messiah, he would then have to have descended from the line of David. Well, throughout their history up to and beyond this time in Jewish culture, a person's line and genealogy was defined SOLEY through their fathers! Indeed, these two gospel genealogies refer, as is seen regularly throughout the bible, to a person as "son of 'X'," etc. And I hope you're seeing the irony now, and thus the outright bullshit? Joseph, an apparent true descendant of David, was NOT the biological father of Jesus!!! He literally passed no genes or DNA on to Jesus. Meaning that Jesus was absolutely NOT from the line of David, meaning he could not have been the Messiah at all! Freaking beautiful. And yet you'll never hear that mentioned in church, will you?), etc.

Look, not everyone will agree with the thesis of this book or Stenger, his points, examples, etc, and I get that. No book is universally loved and respected. And while I agree that a couple of the chapters are certainly weaker than others, which is virtually inevitable in a book such as this, and while Stenger doesn't resort to a Ph.D.-level volume on the subject, I tend to think he does a basically decent job of what he sets out to do, and at a very reader-friendly level, which some can't seem to accomplish. And while I've obviously read better, conversely I've read much, much worse, so I thus think that Stenger did a fairly good job at a complex and incredibly comprehensive subject (books 10 times this length could have been written about this, and you still wouldn't touch on everything), and while Stenger could have chosen to better address a few issues or perhaps have touched on some that are left out of this volume, on the whole, it's not a bad place to start for those who want to see how god stacks up against science. Oh, and I read one or two criticisms that focused on Stenger apparently addressing only the christian god. Well, I'm pretty sure that most points made in this and similar books could and do apply to ALL theistic gods, if not ALL alleged supernatural entities as a whole. The fact that Stenger refers to the christian god should not be held against him, because he is writing from the perspective of one raised and educated in, and almost certainly lives in the primary biggest and best known christian country, one in which you're exposed almost exclusively to the christian god and one in which right wing evangelicals have been working for decades to creative an evangelical theocracy here, and in which they've nearly succeeded and probably will. Thus destroying the country in the process. Finally, I'm very willing to bet the people criticizing this author for focusing on the christian god, apparently to the exclusion of Allah or Yahweh, are believers of and followers of these other religions, or even other ones, and I'd be shocked if these people actually think Stenger should be additionally addressing these other gods, as they share equal importance to the christian god. In fact, I'd be willing to bet a whole lot on that. So, hypocrites, don't be so damn stupid! If you can't fight the facts, shut up. And ultimately, please know that if science doesn't have the answer for everything (and it doesn't - yet), that doesn't freaking automatically mean the answer must obviously be supernatural, and moreso, must also be the christian god! There's no logic to that at all! Even if the supernatural were given partial credence, what gives you or anyone the right to insist it be the damn christian god (yours) instead of Buddha, Allah, Thor, Zeus, or any of the thousands of other gods that have and do swirl around this planet? Geez, try to use your brains for once and stop being a sheeple! What makes you so sure that you are right, in your christian god, while Muslims, who are equally as fervent and devout -- if not moreso -- and equally convinced of their heaven and hell, are obviously wrong, or ditto for Jews, Hindus, and so on? Even IF there were supernatural explanations for anything, why in the world does it have to be your own instead of someone else's? Think about that, why don't you. In the meantime, recommended book.

View all my reviews

Death by China: Confronting the Dragon - A Global Call to Action

Death by China: Confronting the Dragon - A Global Call to ActionDeath by China: Confronting the Dragon - A Global Call to Action by Peter Navarro
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Some interesting assertions mixed with some plausible facts, but the author clearly has an agenda and is literally resorting to little more than scare tactics to get his message across. I'm well aware that there are legitimate issues with China, their government, foreign policies, regulations, business strategies, etc, but I don't think one needs to go quite this far to get certain legitimate points across. Further, the author has developed a certain, say, "controversial" reputation over the past few years, has apparently benefited from it in unanticipated ways, and one could possibly argue that he remains a more fringe element "expert" that other, possibly more credible, individuals may be.

View all my reviews

Decoding the Language of God: Can a Scientist Really Be a Believer?

Decoding the Language of God: Can a Scientist Really Be a Believer?Decoding the Language of God: Can a Scientist Really Be a Believer? by George C. Cunningham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not spectacular, not bad. This book is designed to be a point-by-point refutation of Francis Collin's claims about his faith in a personal god as being compatible with science. Well, many people, including a very vast majority of the world's scientists, that the two are not compatible. I don't think Cunningham has to make much effort to show the flaws, holes, logical fallacies, etc, that Collins presents in his book and thinking. Really don't need to make much of a stretch here. Unfortunately, I do think a couple of Cunningham's points tend to be weaker than preferable and he should have elaborated or made more of an effort to finish Collins off. Not as good as Dawkins and some of the other current intellectuals addressing these issues, but I think the author went out of his way to "dumb it down" and make his thesis and evidence as accessible to all laypeople as possible, thus making his book seem less intellectually impressive. That still doesn't diminish the authenticity and truth behind the points he makes. Solid, above average effort. Recommended.

View all my reviews

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy: How America's Civil Religion Betrayed the National Interest

The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy: How America's Civil Religion Betrayed the National InterestThe Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy: How America's Civil Religion Betrayed the National Interest by Walter A. McDougall
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I didn't like this book. And my criticisms are probably unfair, because the author most likely accomplished what he set out to do. I think I merely misinterpreted or misunderstand the primary thrust of where the thesis was going. I had been hoping for a general history of America's "civil religion" over the years through the present, but especially focusing on the Reagan years through the present, and I guess I expected some analysis which would frankly be somewhat critical of the present situation.

Now before you jump on me to tell me that that is exactly what happened in this book, let me admit that I gave up and stopped reading before I got too far in. So if the author did what I expected, it's my own fault for giving up. However, I literally have hundreds of books here waiting to be read, and I'm in the middle of reading over 100 at the present, so I really don't have the time or patience for authors who micromanage their topics to death, particularly when a layman's book is being somewhat treated as an academic book. Because this was detailed freaking history starting in the 1600s, going excruciatingly slow, unbelievably boring, and to be honest, while it's fine for historical authors to be objective and not have an agenda, on the whole, the very title of this book implied a definite agenda, one with which I'd probably agree. Yet, for the life of me, I couldn't tell what the author felt, believed, perceived, was advocating -- nothing!!! -- as he proceeded to regale the reader with amazingly boring trivial shit! And trust me, I don't claim to be the smartest person around, but I'm not entirely dumb either. For instance, I'm presently reading books in fields such as public policy, nuclear engineering, religion (especially the primary theistic ones), atheism, philosophy, history, business, blockchain technology, network engineering, espionage, biographies, science, fiction, poetry, cryptography, culture, international relations, think tanks, hardware, software development, health, machine learning, AI, electronic warfare, limited nuclear warfare, radar signal processing, management consulting, quantum mechanics & quantum computing, among other topics. Trust me -- I can handle details, I can handle boredom, I can handle a lot of "difficult" material. Sometimes I want to quit reading a couple of these other book -- one nuclear engineering book is killing me, and one book on microwave RF design is boring -- but I rarely have any questions as to the thesis of the books, the authors' stances or where they stand on issues, what their agendas are, etc. And while I obviously know sometimes you have to work hard to reach certain points, this damn book simply seemed pointless to me. Mere American religious and political history. Ho hum. Pretty much know those fields already. By heart. I thought this would be a little more cutting edge, and again, perhaps it is, but dammit, give me a reason to reach the point in your book where you venture into uncharted territory! Otherwise, I've got better, more educational, more stimulating, more challenging books to read -- piles of them. So for those of you who read this book in its entirety and came away impressed, please enlighten me as to why I am mistaken in my response to the book. In any event, I can't possibly recommend this book. I'm sure there are alternatives that do a much better job. I'm extremely disappointed. Two stars.

View all my reviews

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Sid Gillman: Father of the Passing Game

Sid Gillman: Father of the Passing GameSid Gillman: Father of the Passing Game by Josh Katzowitz
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’ve always heard about Sid Gillman my whole life, and about how he “invented” football’s passing game. Yet when the great coaches are mentioned, he’s rarely, if ever, included. I’ve always wanted to know why, and I’ve always wanted to know some real details about him. Thus my excitement when I found this book some time back. I held on to it, like it was a treasure, waiting for the “right” moment to break it open and revel in its contents. So I finally did break it open, after waiting a very long time. And didn’t finish it. Because I didn’t enjoy it. I found it, and Gillman himself, tremendously disappointing. It was frankly a disillusioning read.

Gillman does indeed deserve credit for “inventing” the passing game, and he revolutionized the game of football forever. He quite possibly was an offensive genius. He was a lifelong workaholic. He tutored assistants who went on to amazing careers, like Don Shula and Chuck Noll. You could see elements of his game in the way they coached and won. So why isn’t Gillman typically included in discussions of the great coaches? Maybe it was because he never won a Super Bowl, which is a legitimate point, although he did a good deal of his coaching before Super Bowls existed. Maybe it’s also because he was a giant asshole of a person, unlikeable to almost anyone who ever met him. I hated him from about the 10th page on. And in terms of this book, I felt it was boring, redundant, didn’t exactly go to great lengths to argue for his greatness, although it made some efforts, and it kind of felt like the book went out of its way to ensure I’ll never include Gillman in a discussion of the greatest coaches, and nor will anyone else. I don’t know if that was the author’s intention – I tend to doubt it – but that’s what happened with me. I feel the book could have been a lot better, and possibly if a more experienced, more talented writer had been writing such a book, perhaps the outcome could have been different. However, the best I can do is give it two stars and state that I definitely do not recommend this book at all.


View all my reviews

The Templars: The Secret History Revealed

The Templars: The Secret History RevealedThe Templars: The Secret History Revealed by Barbara Frale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s hard for me to decide what I think about this book. For virtually my entire life, I’ve heard and read rumors, stories, and myths about the mysterious Knights Templar, and most people know about the Holy Grail and have heard stories that the organization continues to secretly exist to the present day. When I got this book, I wasn’t exactly looking for or expecting to find these stories were justified. However, while I admittedly did enjoy learning about how the Templars were founded, and for what reasons, and the qualities one had to have and the sacrifices one had to make in order to become one, this book then quickly turned into basically a dry textbook of history, places, several events, politics, culminating in a very disappointing (for me) end to what had been an admirable organization, complete with confessions tortured out of the Templars who had been arrested due to political BS between the King of France and the Pope. It was further disappointing to learn that at least some of the confessions were true, as in the Templars’ secret initiation rites, which I cannot believe were original, had degraded into something undeserving of the name and purpose of the organization, and personal requirements and standards had been lowered to recruit new members, thus making for a lack of morals in some that would have probably gotten an original Templar killed by his fellows. It was also disappointing to learn of such a once-splendid organization’s demise, and as the primary author was granted access to the “secret” Vatican files, it’s highly likely that the reports of its termination as an organization are and were indeed true, thus destroying my youthful fantasies of a super-secret organization existing over the centuries to the present, exercising power in all sorts of areas. Like I originally stated, I knew that was essentially a myth, but it was still disappointing to read the historical truth.

This is a well-researched, and professionally written history of a fascinating organization that was quite powerful for several hundred years and which still interests numerous people til this day. The writing gets fairly dry at times, even boring, but there’s enough good details and history in it to make it worth reading. I’d give this book a solid four stars and state that it’s recommended.

View all my reviews

God Needs To Go: Why Christian Beliefs Fail

God Needs To Go: Why Christian Beliefs FailGod Needs To Go: Why Christian Beliefs Fail by J.D. Brucker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This short book is decent, not bad, and makes good and legitimate points. The author's sections include 1. The Absence of Eternity, 2. The Birth of Ignorance, 3. The Flawed Logic in Modern Miracles, 4. The Error in Faith-Based Morality, 5. The Myth of Intelligent Design, 6. The Imaginary End, and 7. My Fall from "Grace.”

While I enjoyed reading it, however, I couldn’t help but think that these are largely issues that have already been addressed, mostly in more detail, depth, and intellectual mastery, by other authors out there, so aside from my feeling good about seeing another (reader-friendly) atheistic book on the market, I don’t feel like it truly contributes too much, certainly little new. Thus, while again I enjoyed it, I can’t help but view it as an average book, and am thus giving it three stars. If you have not yet read Barker, Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, and some of the others, this may be a good intro, but I would quickly move on to the meatier resources out there. Cautiously recommended.


View all my reviews

Forged: Writing in the Name of God

Forged: Writing in the Name of GodForged: Writing in the Name of God by Bart D. Ehrman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found this a fascinating book and really loved it. Much of it was new to me when I started, but for some reason, I set it aside for awhile while I read other books. And some of these other books went on to assert some of the same things I found Ehrman referring to when I later picked up the book to finish. That doesn't diminish the research or quality of the material, but it does mean some of it isn't as "original" as I had previously thought, which is the reason I've knocked it down from five stars to four. Still, if you want to learn the "real" story of many of the books of the Bible, particularly the New Testament, when they were actually written, who did and did not actually author so many of the books, this is an excellent source. Definitely recommended.

View all my reviews

Monday, November 5, 2018

God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything

God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons EverythingGod Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Brilliant. Witty. Clever. Not completely perfect. There are other books out there that deconstruct the myth of theism through physics, archaeology, biology, hell -- using thousands of verses from the "holy" book itself (the Bible), Dan Barker and many others show the plain lack of logic, consistency, accuracy, the bloodthirsty portrayal of a brutally evil god, etc, so that you really don't even need the sciences to show the Bible, the and any theistic god is completely made up and fictitious, and there's not even virtually any independent evidence at all that Jesus Christ ever even existed! Hitch could have gone in a lot of different directions, but chose to show how evil the Bible and its followers are and have been throughout the past several thousand years, and while I love how archaeology totally destroys Biblical myths, such as the Exodus, the flood, the invasion of Canaan, and so much more, and how the other hard sciences prove there is no evidence for a supernatural being, Hitch does an admirable work himself. And yes, there are some very negative reviews here. The vast majority of them are written by those he criticizes, and are hence defensive, vindictive, and utterly pointless. Skeptics, doubters, agnostics, atheists, and polytheists should read this book, certainly, but theists should try to read this book as objectively as possible, which I realize is asking a lot, but if they took some of his points and didn't automatically pump out a knee jerk reaction, but thought about things, some people may realize they haven't asked all the right questions, they haven't been given all of the information, they've been ... misled! Recommended.

View all my reviews

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Nuclear Weapons: A Very Short Introduction

Nuclear Weapons: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)Nuclear Weapons: A Very Short Introduction by Joseph M. Siracusa
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At a little over 150 pages, this book covers a lot of ground in a short format. Unfortunately, while I did think it was pretty good, its focus wasn't entirely what I wanted, and it lacked in some areas. There is an initial introduction to the creation of atomic bombs from a very minimal and layman's technical perspective, but then the book launches into the history of nuclear power, the history behind the Manhattan Project and the WW II race for the atomic bomb, America's legacy of being the first and only country to use it, and the bulk of the rest of the book is a history and discussion of the Cold War politics, diplomacy, and military strategic readiness (from a US perspective) between the US and the Soviet Union. The book ends with a minor bit on how, with the fall of the Soviet Union, the US has had to try to find a place for the Bomb in its arsenal, for some people, how to justify not only maintaining a large stockpile, but improving it, for others, how to decrease a load of weapons large enough to destroy this planet many times over. It ends by acknowledging the fact that now that there's not another nuclear "enemy" to construct a strategy around, and with the advent of non-state sponsored organizations, terrorists and the like, the effort to construct a new ideology and strategy is much more difficult than it used to be.

All of that was good, if not occasionally repetitive. What I had hoped to see was more scientific and technical detail behind, not only the creation of the early bombs, but current technology, and where we are heading. And I didn't get that. I also wanted to see more of a discussion on the ethics behind this, and on the justifications of maintaining the current seven nuclear powers while working to ensure no other country, and especially no other country the US "disapproves" of (Iran...), obtains nuclear weapons or a nuclear weapon industry. I mean, why is it okay for Pakistan to have them, but not Iran? Why is it okay for Israel to be thought of of having them (they won't admit to it), while other countries cannot? I'm not saying I support the idea of more or warmongering countries getting nuclear weapons, but who made America the planet's god, to decide who gets them and who doesn't? That strikes me as incredibly arrogant and hypocritical. And I'm American! Naturally, the world would be better off without nuclear weapons, but that genie is out of the bottle, so this is a complex problem requiring, yes, political and diplomatic discussions and solutions, and not saber rattling. I'm currently reading another book on "limited" nuclear warfare for the 21st century. It's incredibly interesting, and I think it would make a good companion piece to this book, maybe as Volume 2 of a two volume series. Because that's where the world has gone, that's where the world should and will have to go if we intend to not commit global suicide, and nuclear power countries need to dialogue about these issues and more.

This book doesn't have the highest rating out there, and I've read a lot of reviews and it seems mostly due to lack of sufficient discussion on a wide range of topics, such as I've brought up. But I think its lower rating is unfair, because the subtitle for the book is "A Very Short Introduction." What the hell do you expect for 150 pages?!? Of course I would have liked more. For that, I need to buy a 750 page textbook for $200. This was exactly what it advertised itself to be, so I feel it merits four stars at a minimum. If this is a topic that interests you, I certainly recommend it.

View all my reviews