Monday, 8 September 2008

The official Kelosophy bookclub

Recently my work environment shifted across the city, so instead of having a leisurely 30 minutes walk to work, I now take public transport. This opportunity to sit and read is one I've taken gladly, currently I've got a large pile of accumulated unread books that have been neglected in favour of a much more handy source. So starting last month, I've picked up one of the more appealing books in my growing unread collection and took a read. Now a month later, I'm onto my third book.

Book 1: Dr Michael Shermer - Why People Believe Weird Things
I was introduced to Dr. Shermer through an episode of Penn & Teller, and since then I've sought out his work with Skeptic magazine, online and whatever I could get my hand on. His essay on Captain Bligh in Science Friction was one of the most captivating pieces of historical analysis I have ever read. So when it came to looking for a good book on scepticism, this book sang out as a must read.

What struck me as the strongest element the book is that it's purpose is beyond just trying to get to the bottom of certain claims. Rather the book's strongest point was it's exercise in critical thinking. Although it did discuss some areas at length, it wasn't exactly to show a comprehensive worldview. Rather it was the medium in which to guide the reader into thinking critically. It was comprehensive in explaining the ways thinking can go wrote, the kinds of fallacies to look out for, and how our current modes of thinking can lead us away from the problems the human mind creates. The only problem I see is that it's direct confrontational nature of ideas may be a drawback to those who need that critical thinking most, but it's a minor point. For anyone who wants a good sceptical guide to exploring reality, the book stands on it's own.

Book 2: Dr Michael Shermer - The Science Of Good and Evil
I've been meaning to explore the origins of morality for quite a while on here, but every time I do I've found my view to be lacking something fundamental. I hoped this book would either give me some insight into where my view was lacking or provide me with the clarity to tie seemingly opposing ideas between the individual and the constraints (both social and genetic) they are bound by. Taking God out of the equation of morality needs an adequate explanation.

The book itself is a great overview of the necessity for morality as a species, and the fundamental drives that helped us achieve it. It lays the case out for exactly why "moral" traits have survived and "immoral" traits have persisted. As far as the science is concerned, the book was a little light on actual data. Rather it took snippets of information to help with the overall narrative. Although this did somewhat diminish the title, it by no means detracted from the actual argument. It successfully answered the question "can we be good without God?" and took it one step further: outlining the dangers absolute morality poses on a society. The explanation of provisional ethics is one that society would be better for taking on. It's not an all or nothing between God and nihilism, and Shermer wrote with great care and precision to explain exactly why that's a false dichotomy.

Next book: Richard Dawkins - The Blind Watchmaker

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