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Beiträge von Jeremy M. Harris
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Rezensionen verfasst von
Jeremy M. Harris (Worthington, OH USA)
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The Ten Commandments: The Significance of God's Laws in Everyday Life
The Ten Commandments: The Significance of God's Laws in Everyday Life
von Dr. Laura Schlessinger
  Taschenbuch
Preis: EUR 13,99

3.0 von 5 Sternen The 10C's on the dissecting table, 16. Juni 2000
Dr. Schlessinger and Rabbi Vogel have organized their book in the most straightforward fashion imaginable. The 319 pages of text are doled out at the rate of one chapter per commandment, in numerical order. The back cover contains a handy condensed list which shows, at a glance, how the commandments divide into two natural groups.
The first group, 1 through 4, contains doctrinal commands bearing directly on religious practices and traditions. The second group, 5 through 10, consists of social interaction rules which are not intrinsically religious at all, but rather address behavioral issues very familiar to anyone who has reached adulthood in the company of other humans.
It has always seemed to me that the doctrinal commandments (I'm your God; don't worship any other gods; don't blaspheme; keep the Sabbath) offer next-to-zero practical guidance for solving moral problems. Hence I was especially curious to see how Dr. Schlessinger and Rabbi Vogel would treat the initial four commandments in their effort to relate them to everyday life. One answer is, "thoroughly" -- roughly 44,000 words of commentary for 190 words of commandment. The result literally defies summary, but I'll try.
C1). The authors characterize the First Commandment as a challenge to take relationships with God seriously, as a means for laying down the authority of one God, and as a reminder that proper interaction with God is covenantal, not casual. Five supporting points are made by stating reservations that a person might have in accepting doctrinal-command obligations, then giving a rejoinder or counter-argument in parentheses. The first is
"Abdication of personal freedom (but not so - you always retain free will)."
Fair enough. The fifth is
"Acquiescence of intellect to ancient mysticism (but imagining one's own intellect as the ultimate possible intelligence and power is supreme arrogance)."
Oops. Note that the rejoinder spuriously attempts to limit the possible responses to two. In truth the reader does NOT have to choose between a) acquiescing to mysticism or b) appointing himself Master of the Universe. It is entirely possible to reject mysticism and remain one's humble self. In fact, I and many others do it regularly. In the end, the First Commandment remains about as simple as it sounds: I'm the main man; I rescued you from Egypt; take it or leave it.
C2). In the opening pages of the C2 (false idols) chapter, the authors quote from Exodus 34:6,7, describing God as one "...Who cleanses -- but does not cleanse completely, recalling the iniquity of parents upon children and grandchildren...". In my Bible, a similar threat of generational pass-through punishment for idolatry is included in the wording of C2 itself (Exodus 20:5,6). If there is any moral point on which every resident of Earth could intellectually and instinctively agree, it would be that each child is rightfully born innocent. What, then, should we think of an authority figure who takes vengeance by deliberately subverting that eminently just and fair principle?
According to Dr. Schlessinger and Rabbi Vogel, C2 is taken so seriously in Judaism that breaking it, i.e. engaging in idolatry, is a sin one must be willing to die to avoid. They go on to define idolatry as everything from full-blown, golden-calf idol worship down to common foibles such as superstitions, Princess Diana fixations, egocentrism, bowing to feelings, selfish pursuit of happiness, and love of things or style. If you would, then, rather die than break C2, you'll be very careful or very short-lived. Having twice absorbed all 39 pages of C2 elucidation, I can pretty confidently reduce it to this: God is really, really touchy about competition.
C3) and C4). My reading of the C3 (blasphemy) chapter led to an interesting discovery. Back on page 33 of the C2 chapter, the authors had pointed to mass killings in Russia, the Third Reich, China and Cambodia as "blatant testimonials to godless chaos and cruelty," the implication being that if people who are not religious do bad things, it must be BECAUSE they are not religious. A little additional thinking would have helped the authors realize that lack of Judeo-Christian religiosity may, or may not, account for a given instance of bad behavior.
I wondered why the alternative cases where bad things are done by religious people, such as Northern Ireland, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, etc., were omitted. A partial answer came when I reached page 93, at the end of the C3 chapter. Sure enough, the Crusaders were condemned for "raping and murdering with the sign of the cross embroidered on their chests and banners," but as blasphemers, not as religious criminals! That, I had to concede, was ingenious. Evidently the reasoning goes as follows: No evil can be done by religious people, because if you're evil, you're not really religious. So the Crusaders can be passed off as blasphemers who were merely masquerading as murderous religious zealots. It is a perfectly circular bit of Catch-22 logic that Yossarian, the Abyssinian bombardier, would have loved. The fullsome C4 chapter says, six ways to Saturday, that the Sabbath or day of rest is enhancing and uplifting, provided it is dedicated to spiritually acceptable activities. A list of suggestions is provided to clarify what is acceptable. Coincidentally, there are 10 of them.
Having learned many things about the four doctrinal commandments, I was nevertheless left with the depressingly tautological conclusion that they can be inspiring, but only if you are religious to begin with, or become religious while studying them.
The remainder of the book, covering the social interaction commandments 5 through 10, deals with common-sense moral rules that can help anyone, religious or not. But they consist of isolated cases rather than embodying a general principle that covers all situations. I can't write much more and stay within the Amazon word limit, so suffice it to say that I'm coming to believe the moral-guidance value of the 10 C's is rather overrated, and the power of the golden rule is definitely underrated.


How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science
How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science
von Michael Shermer
  Gebundene Ausgabe

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4.0 von 5 Sternen Being is believing - but can you choose wisely?, 5. Juni 2000
In the preface to "How We Believe," Michael Shermer thanks his family for raising him in an atmosphere free of pressure regarding either religious or secular beliefs. I feel the same gratitude toward my family, and greatly enjoy the game of truth-hunting without having to drag along the millstones that childhood indoctrination can attach. Shermer's book covers a lot of ground, ranging from general philosophical commentary on belief systems, to Cargo and Messiah Cults, to the author's personal intellectual journey and conclusions. Along the way (Chapter 4) we are shown interesting results from a study, co-designed by the author, in which selected groups of individuals were asked to explain and interpret their own religious views. Shermer is able to deduce some fascinating, revealing, and occasionally amusing generalizations from the survey data.
In terms of creative content the book's most important contribution is Chapter 10, "Glorious Contingency." Here Shermer expands on a theme credited to S.J. Gould, the central idea being that the evolutionary chain leading to H. Sapiens (us) was contingency-intensive, and therefore probably irreproducible if a repeat trial could somehow be arranged. Gould attributes the irreproducibility not primarily to true randomness or asteroid-type disasters, but rather to overwhelming practical uncertainties rooted in the sensitivity of final outcomes to initial conditions and early events in lengthy, complex processes. As the author points out, recent trends in Chaos Theory lend support to such a conclusion. After addressing some criticisms of Gould (primarily from Daniel Dennett), Shermer introduces his own concept, Contingent-Necessity, which is generalized to cover not just biological evolution, but any historical sequence or process. He proposes a shifting balance (bifurcation) between contingency and necessity that could clarify the nature and genesis of events ranging from punctuated equilibria in evolution to the great social upheavals in human history.
A common complaint about Shermer's books is that he tends to ramble; that is, every chapter is not centered on the book's title subject. True enough, but I don't see a serious problem if the material is at least related to the book's main theme. One Amazon reviewer saw no satisfactorily-explained connection between religion and the above-described Chapter 10. It seems to me that in the chapter's last section ("Finding Meaning in a Contingent Universe"), the connection becomes clear enough: To evaluate intelligently any religion's view of how and when we got here, one requires more than passing familiarity with what science, with its built-in BS detectors, can tell us about the very same subject. On the critical side, I have to agree with the reviewer who found Shermer's reference to science as "a type of myth" quite annoying. The problem isn't so much the statement itself as the author's assumption that no supporting explanation was necessary.


One Two Three . . . Infinity: Facts and Speculations of Science (Dover Books on Mathematics)
One Two Three . . . Infinity: Facts and Speculations of Science (Dover Books on Mathematics)
von George Gamow
  Taschenbuch
Preis: EUR 8,89

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5.0 von 5 Sternen A grand tour of science by a master, 21. September 1999
I'm happy to join the list of reviewers who owe something personal to this marvelous book. As a liberal arts undergraduate in 1955, I borrowed "1,2,3..." from my physics-major roomate. I liked it so much that he kindly gave me his copy. Its influence contributed to my later decision to become an engineer, and marked the beginning of my lifelong interest in science.
On recently re-reading the 1961 edition, I was impressed all over again by Gamow's friendly, conversational, agenda-free style. Since he never talks down, never hand-waves, and always goes straight to the essence of a topic, this decades-old book still seems fresh and contemporary. And yes, the dry, slightly pixilated humor still works.
I once met a man who had taken a course from Gamow at the University of Colorado. He said he would never forget the sight of the professor careening around campus in an open convertible -- in the middle of January!


Rosalind Franklin and DNA
Rosalind Franklin and DNA
von Anne Sayre
  Taschenbuch

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5.0 von 5 Sternen What "The Double Helix" didn't tell you, 21. September 1999
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Rosalind Franklin and DNA (Taschenbuch)
Sayre's book is a biography with an agenda. It is also one of the rare instances where an author is sufficiently thoughtful and objective to keep the agenda from ruining the piece.
Rosalind Franklin was a chemist doing x-ray crystallography on DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) in Maurice Wilkins' laboratory at King's College, London. Concurrently, James Watson and Francis Crick were trying to puzzle out DNA's molecular structure in the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge. Technically the two institutions were not competitors, because the English scientific establishment had "ceded" the DNA problem to King's. The world knows that Watson and Crick were first to publish the correct structure of the substance which encodes and controls every detail of the configuration, development, maintenance and reproduction of living things.
Watson and Crick were the kind of bad boys we generally admire. From positions very low on the Cavendish totem pole, they tunneled under, around and through the decorous conventions of incremental science to snatch a Nobel-caliber breakthrough from the very hands of the people who were supposed (eventually) to produce it. They even had a plausible excuse for ethical shortcuts, because the American superstar-chemist Linus Pauling, unconstrained by British decorum, was known to be working on the DNA structure.
In 1968, Watson published "The Double Helix", an entertaining and irreverent personal account of the triumph he and Crick had achieved in 1953. On the positive side, the book gave many people (including myself) their first look at the fascinating scientific and human details of a brilliant achievement in the relatively new field of molecular biology. On the negative side, Watson's version of the story did not please everyone who had prior knowledge of the people and events involved. Among the least pleased, to put it mildly, were the family and friends of Rosalind Franklin (Ms. Franklin herself did not live to see the cruelly caricatured "Rosy" that Watson sketched for his largely naive and trusting audience.)
One of the friends, Anne Sayre, took on the task of providing a comprehensive portrait of Franklin, interwoven with a retelling of the DNA story centered on the tragic consequences flowing from the simple inability of two intelligent people (Franklin and Wilkins) to get along. But the book is much more than a psychological study. Sayre documents some unambiguous facts that establish what Franklin knew about DNA and when she knew it. Also revealed are the instances in which her work was used without her knowledge and, even more unfortunately, the degree to which misunderstanding of Franklin's conclusions about the B-form of DNA slowed everyone's progress and robbed her of due credit.
I found Sayre to be unfailingly perceptive and balanced while following a course of strong, even indignant, advocacy. This is no mean feat, and follows in part from her extensive interviews with all the principals, as well as fruitful discussions with her scientist husband. I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in gaining perspective on the DNA story, and on science itself.


Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution
Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution
von Michael J. Behe
  Taschenbuch

3.0 von 5 Sternen A biochemist throws down the gauntlet, 10. Februar 1999
Prof. Behe is quick to immobilize his target. In the preface to "Darwin's Black Box," he takes aim at evolution (as a word) and pins down its "full-throated biological meaning" as "...a process whereby life arose from non-living matter and subsequently developed entirely by natural means." Such a sweeping definition is central to Prof. Behe's case, because he ends chapter one by stating "...for the Darwinian theory of evolution to be true, it has to account for the molecular structure of life. It is the purpose of this book to show that it does not."
Behe's goal is to convince the general reader that the logical foundations of evolution cannot reach back into the cell itself because a number of intra-cellular subsystems and processes are "irreducibly complex." By analogy, he describes a mousetrap as irreducibly complex because each of its parts is necessary for the whole to function. Therefore any step-by-step assembly sequence of the mechanism would produce non-functioning precursors until the last part was in place. In the equivalent biological model, there would be no way for the machinery of the cell to evolve by natural selection of small random variations, because the non-functional precursors could never gain a foothold on the ladder of increasing survivability.
After apologizing rather profusely to his readers for asking them to actually follow a technical description, Behe expertly and entertainingly presents several examples for which he claims irreducibility, namely the bacterial flagellum (propeller), the blood clotting cycle, vesicular transport, the immune system, and AMP/ATP molecular synthesis. As one of the biological innocents in his target audience, I confess to being bowled over by Behe's arguments on first reading. When he says, in effect, "O.K. Darwin, evolve THAT," a layperson can't be blamed for feeling overwhelmed.
However, on looking over the many responses to "Darwin's Black Box" from molecular biologists and evolutionists, one can see that Behe's fellow professionals are far from cowed. The most telling counter-argument points out a fundamental flaw in the mousetrap analogy -- the implicit assumption that the parts themselves can't change as the mechanism develops. Evolutionists maintain that the "finished" components of an evolved system may not even resemble the initial components, and that parts or subsystems are likely to serve different functions at different stages. These possibilities provide many additional ways for intermediate assemblies to be partially functional and to improve incrementally. What was merely helpful at one stage can become necessary at a later stage, so irreducibility in advanced systems need not imply irreducibility along the way.
The latter half of the book is devoted to the implications of evolution's imputed failure at the molecular level. In Behe's view, the only viable alternative is design, which implies a sentient designer. What kind of entity the designer might be, where and how it functioned, whether it still exists, why it left no traces of laboratories or equipment, and all such reasonable and obvious questions are not only unanswered but unposed. The author makes it clear that he is a religious person, but does not provide anything further to help a reader unravel the conundrum he has raised.
Behe generously cites some evidence of evolution at the molecular level by saying, on page 15, "...viruses such as the one that causes AIDS mutate their coats in order to evade the human immune system." Note that this description blatantly anthropomorphizes the virus. Viruses don't mutate in order to evade things, because they have no brains with which to strategize. The mutations occur by chance, and if a particular change happens to help the virus survive and reproduce despite the immune system, then that mutation will tend to sustain and spread. I am positive the author knows better, but he shows poor judgment by carelessly misstating the fundamentals of a theory he is attempting to refute.
Nevertheless, Prof. Behe has produced a vivid, instructive and thought-provoking polemic. Its widely publicized challenge to molecular evolutionary biology is bound to stimulate useful results.


Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design
Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design
von Richard Dawkins
  Taschenbuch
Preis: EUR 20,78

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5.0 von 5 Sternen "BW" is a superb introduction to the case for evolution, 22. Januar 1999
"The Blind Watchmaker" is the antithesis of the take-no-position surveys that are regularly served up as scientific literacy booster shots. In these books the author, frequently a journalist, earnestly runs around interviewing a bevy of competing scientists who, naturally enough, are very taken with their own work but not too enthusiastic about the other competitors who share the cutting edge of whatever field-du-jour is involved. The bemused reader is left wondering what, if anything, to conclude about the cross-currents which have been described (but not illuminated) by the maddeningly neutral science writer.
Prof. Dawkins, by contrast, does not go softly or neutrally into the controversies of evolutionary biology and the philosophical issues that any inquiry into life's origins must invoke. He steadfastly defends the Darwinist outlook, not out of reflex or veneration, but because continual research and evaluation of the factual record, by himself and many others, appear to justify it.
"Watchmaker" exemplifies the best kind of science popularization, in which a professional scientist gives you a seminar, a one-on-one tour of his or her field. You are treated as an intelligent skeptic, open to being convinced but not to being indoctrinated or patronized. Dawkins lucidly builds the logical case for evolution as an inevitable result of two interacting factors. Factor one is the automatic natural occurrence of random, incremental, molecular-level mutations in reproductive (germ cell) DNA . Factor two, also automatic and natural, is the distinctly non-random selection filter of survivability at the whole-creature level. Dawkins also takes ample space to dissect and refute many arguments, bogus and legitimate, from laughable to laudable, AGAINST evolution. You may not agree, but you will learn about the issues and personalities of a great scientific debate from a skilled and ingenious participant.
I was especially impressed by the thoroughness with which Dawkins addresses a pair of forgivable weaknesses that prevent many people from grasping the essential reasonableness of evolution. These are insufficient feeling for the immensity of geologic time spans, and inadequate understanding of what is, and is not, probabilistically feasible. The second point, in particular, must be successfully communicated to combat the venerable misconception that wildly unlikely coincidences are required to explain evolution's stunning results.
A good deal of the criticism leveled against Dawkins seems to stem from the underlying thesis of the book - that evolution is a blind process, not influenced by the thinking or planning of any conscious entity. Those who support the existence of such an entity seem to have agreed by consensus to call it a "designer." I can easily understand why any thoughtful person would be tempted to assume a designer when studying the sublime and superb technology that all living things embody. The more you learn, the more awestruck you must be. In my opinion, Prof. Dawkins is the epitome of such a thoughtful person. So when he concludes that the case for a designer is weak, I am more than willing to pay close attention.
At present the defenders of designer intervention seem to have retreated to the pre-cellular era of molecular genesis. Numerous Amazon.com reviews have warned that one should not pass judgment on the current state of the evolution debate without considering the irreducible complexity arguments now in vogue. Frankly, I wouldn't want to miss them.


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