Spring Clean #11 Five More Books

This is the next group of books set aside for donation. They were all informative and I have fond memories of them. Even Johnson’s book, which I consider propaganda at least made me think. I meant to get back to this sooner, but a bout of pneumonia waylaid me.

The final decision on the Jeffrey book was to not donate it. It’s so full of bad information and just nonsense it’s like sending misinformation out into the world. Yes, I know no one is forced to buy the book. Yet, in all good conscience, I’ll keep it as a door stop.

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Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds by Phillip E. Johnson (1997) is not a scientific but an argument-based stance against evolution. Its target audience is “late teen—high-school juniors and seniors and beginning college undergraduates, along with the parents and teachers of such young people.” He continues: “These young people…need to protect themselves against the indoctrination in naturalism that so often accompanies education.” In other words, don’t let facts get in the way. He argues that scientific inquiry/empiricism presumes a godless universe.

Hooey.

Bio: Phillip E. Johnson (1940-2019) was a UC Berkeley law professor, opponent of evolutionary science, and co-founder of the pseudoscientific intelligent design movement. The idea of a “wedge” strategy for introducing the supernatural to science and public thought is attributed to him. Aside from his professional publications, his books include: Darwin on Trial (1991), Reason in the Balance: The Case Against Naturalism in Science, Law & Education (1995), and The Wedge of Truth: Splitting the Foundations of Naturalism (2002).

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The Language of Genes: Solving the Mysteries of Our Genetic Past, Present and Future by Steve Jones (1993) is drawn from a series of Reith Lectures the author delivered over BBC Radio in late 1991. Jones studied snails. For a long time, studying human genetics was clouded in ignorance and hampered by the detrimental ideas of the heritability of traits like criminality and intelligence.

Jones sees genetics as a code, a language encoded into genes that can gradually be unlocked. He does not view human behavior or destiny as a simple question of nature or nurture.

A few things may be dated. For example, Jones writes, “By about the year 2000, we should have the complete sequence of the three thousand million letters in the DNA alphabet which go to make up a human being.”

It wasn’t a bad guess. The human genome was sequenced in 2003.

This is a good, readable primer on how genes work despite a few dated things like this.

Bio: Steve Jones is a British geneticist and was a professor of genetics at the Galton Laboratory at University College London. He is also a television presenter. In 1996 he was awarded the Michael Faraday Prize. Among his books are: In the Blood: God, Genes and Destiny (1997), Darwin’s Ghost: The Origin of Species Updated (2000), and Evolution (2017).

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Atheism: A Reader by S.T. Joshi (2000) is, as the title suggests, a selection of articles and excerpts from various writers throughout the centuries regarding disbelief in a god. The entries are arranged by topic: e.g., “Religion and Science,” “Religion and Ethics,” and “Religion and the State.” In his introduction, Joshi writes that his book is not for those who are persuaded in their religion, rather “only for those who profess an open mind on the subject of religion and religious beliefs.” His primary question is: is religion true? Not any particular religion, of course. Religion itself has been around as long as humans have.

Some of the authors included are (stop me if you’re surprised) Robert G. Ingersoll, but also David Hume, Lucretius, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Thomas Paine, and Benedict (Baruch) de Spinoza. Joshi is an H. P. Lovecraft scholar (which I didn’t find out until after reading the book), so, of course, he includes an entry from Lovecraft.

While the readings ranged far and wide and were interesting, I got the feeling there were a lot of unpleasant people among my fellow non-believers.

Bio: S. T. Joshi (b. 1958) is an Indian-American writer and literary critic specializing in weird fiction who has published biographies of H. P Lovecraft and edited collections of M. R. James’ ghost stories. He has also published in the areas of atheism and politics.

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The Harlot by the Side of the Road: Forbidden Tales of the Bible by Jonathan Kirsch (1997) grew out of the author’s efforts to read the Bible to his five-year-old son. After the story of Noah’s sons finding their father drunk and naked in his tent, Kirsch says he began to read more slowly. If he waited too long, his son—no fool, he—began to ask, “What are you leaving out?”

What makes Kirsch’s book entertaining is not the lurid stories themselves but how various guardians of the people’s morals sought to deal with the tales of lust, intrigue, murder (GEEZ, a tent stake through the temple?), etc. For example, one group of Protestant clergy marked passages they saw fit for the laity. Kirsch points out the unmarked passages might draw the curious Bible reader. There is also a bit of deliberate mistranslation and dancing around of odd (yet obvious) metaphors. What exactly is Ruth doing when she uncovers Boaz’s feet while he was sleeping?

Bio: Jonathan Kirsch (b. 1949) is an American lawyer specializing in intellectual property rights, a writer, and a book reviewer. He reviews books for the Los Angeles Times and has written both fiction and nonfiction. Among his books are Bad Moon Rising (1977), Kirsch’s Handbook of Publishing Law: For Authors, Publishers, Editors, and Agents (1995), and The Woman Who Laughed at God: The Untold Story of the Jewish People (2001).

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God Against the Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism by Jonathan Kirsch (2004) is pretty much as advertised, concentrating on the Abrahamic religions. Author Kirsch begins his discussion with the short-lived monotheistic experiment under the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaton (14th C. BCE), turns to the prophets scolding the people of Israel to finally abandon the gods in favor of the God of Israel, and ends with the Roman Emperors Constantine and Julian. Common wisdom views paganism as dark and violent; they sacrificed humans, didn’t they? But Kirsch takes a different tack. This was an intriguing book.

Bio: See entry at The Harlot at the Side of the Road.

Published by 9siduri

I have written book and movie reviews for the late and lamented sites Epinions and Examiner. I have book of reviews of speculative fiction from before 1900, and short works in publications such Mobius, Protea Poetry Journal, and, most recently, Wisconsin Review and Drunken Pen Writing. I'm busily working away on a book of reviews pulp science fiction stories from the 1930s-1960s. It's a lot of fun. I am the author of the short story "Always Coming Home," a chapbook of poetry titled "Sotto Voce," and a collection of reviews of pre-1900 speculative fiction, "By Firelight."

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