Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Universe Is Not A Mistake! It Is A Happy Accident!

Not by DesignNot by Design by Victor J. Stenger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The only reason anyone should read this particular book is if he or she is a fan of Victor J. Senger's writings. A combination of his later writings are more comprehensive, lucid, and contemporary than this somewhat outdated 1988 publication. Stenger's description of entropy's role in the evolution of the universe is an exception to the above. His description rivals that of Sean Carroll who does an outstanding job with the subject matter.

In case you're curious though, the book provides a history of cosmology and particle physics aimed at the layperson with a modicum of scientific literacy. He then lays out a fairly good argument that there is no good reason to suppose that the universe came about by design. He does a much better job of this in his books, God, The Failed Hypothesis, and The Fallacy of Fine Tuning. He then points out that humans are much better at design than accidents of nature and that we will make ourselves extinct through our machine inventions. Whoo-hoo! But in a good way.

Read this if you want to study the evolution of Victor J. Stenger's writing and ideas. Also, if you have nothing else to read, this book will certainly not harm you as long as you realize that some of the cosmology and particle physics are a wee bit outdated.

Oh, and seriously, people! The temperature of the universe is 2.7 kelvins (2.7 K). There is no reason for a PhD physicist to be using degrees with kelvins - even for a lay audience. That's insulting dumbing down! You use degrees with Celsius and Fahrenheit - not kelvins! Jesus H. Christ! Also, a PhD physicist should know that people can hear sound from supersonic sources, but most cannot hear ultrasonic or infrasonic frequencies of sound.

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Thursday, August 02, 2018

A Seriously Needed Wakeup Call

The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read for three reasons: (1) Te become informed, (2) to gain a new perspective on an issue or worldview and (3) to escape into a story. Rarely do I ever read to enjoy the way that someone writes, and I usually stumble onto impressive writing. I stumbled onto Margaret Atwood's very excellent novel, The Handmaid's Tale, because it was all the rage, what with Trump's policies of intolerance, the religious right being overly obnoxious and the more visible notoriety of white supremacists. I got it from the Kindle Lending Library and was so engaged by chapter 3, that I just outright bought the kindle book. I love the way Margaret Atwood writes. It's hard for me to explain why. Let's just say that I'll be reading a passage and I suddenly get a cognitive and emotional shock. Call it a perspective shock. It's both discombobulating and pleasant. If you even have a mild interest in this novel, I don't need to tell you why you should read it. If you don't have even a mild interest in this novel, then you're probably part of the problem and too stupid to get anything from it anyway. If you've already read it, read it again just to enjoy the writing. It's so freaking awesome!

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Wednesday, August 01, 2018

I Want To Be Somebody!

Along Came a Spider (Alex Cross, #1)Along Came a Spider by James Patterson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this 20 years ago, and I'm surprised about how much I don't remember! This is a classic trash novel. Typical cop story except that the cop is African-American and a psychologist. Thankfully, he's not much into the pseudoscience that so many psychologists spew these days. He's skeptical of what some call "multiple personality disorder" and he is not all that convinced that the villain in the story even has dissociative disorder. I like Alex. He is a family man and a good cop with a strong sense of integrity, although he does make bad choices where women are concerned. He's a true guy in that respect. Patterson writes great bathroom reading material, because his chapters are so short. Also good for kitchen reading or reading during commercials. James Patterson - master of the trash novel. He does it so well.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Cosmos A Personal Voyage introduction


God: The Most Unpleasant Character in All FictionGod: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction by Dan Barker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In his book, The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins says of The Holy Bible's main character:

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

― Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion

Dan Barker sets out to provide biblical evidence (via many broadly accepted translations of The Bible) that each of the above descriptors of God is justified. Not only that, but he throws in a few more. God is a pyromaniac, an abortionist, cannibalistic, merciless and more. He also makes the case that, at best, Jesus was marginally better, but essentially the same character.

I read the kindle version of the book (actually started with the Nook version) and eventually added the Audible version as a read-along. Dan Barker reads the main text, while Buzz Kemper provides The Voice of God. He's very good at it too!

As many have pointed out before, The Bible provides plenty of evidence against itself that it is .... well .... awful. In all fairness, the vast majority of Christians that I know find this truth problematic and they appropriately pick and choose those parts of The Bible that promote a more kind, tolerant and ethical viewpoint. I want for those hateful Christians who take the text literally, or feel that the awful book is a good foundation for their faith to read this book or at least actually read their favorite translation of The Bible.

The Bible is an important book for its literary influence, culturally historical relevance and as a reminder that people back in the day were effing cray! Also, God - as described in The Old Testament - is entirely fictional and if such a being exists is unworthy of respect, let alone adoration.

If you worship this character, get a new god!

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Monday, July 16, 2018

Groovy, Man!

There's Probably No God: the Atheists' Guide to ChristmasThere's Probably No God: the Atheists' Guide to Christmas by Ariane Sherine
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This UK edition of essays by noted nontheists, apatheists and skeptics tackles the thorny issue of how to deal with Christmas. Some will be surprised that most of the contributors are happy to celebrate the holidays, although they don't do it for the love of a god or for the sake of Baby Jesus. They do it for the love of friends and family and for the sake of cultural traditions - just like everybody else who doesn't have a religion pole up their bum. Besides, Christmas is freaking fun, man! No need to be a Grinch about it. What makes this collection read-worthy is that many of the essays are hilarious. Some offer touching stories. Some are educational. Some just make you think. Enjoy it by the Festivus pole over a glass of eggnog. And happy holidays to you and yours!

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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Well, That Was Different

A Little Bit of Everything For DummiesA Little Bit of Everything For Dummies by John Wiley & Sons
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I got this ebook as a freebie back in the day. I confess that I skimmed about half of it as some of the topics were of little to zero interest to me. It's a good sampler though. The Dummies series is prolific and very useful. In fact, were I to restart civilization with only one book series as a resource, I would choose the Dummies series over even The Feynman Lectures on Physics despite the latter's status as sacred text in my universe. Should you choose to learn from it, I hope it serves you well.

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Monday, July 09, 2018

A Tribute to Carl Sagan at 60

Carl Sagan's UniverseCarl Sagan's Universe by Yervant Terzian
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This collection of 23 esays pays tribute to the ideas, efforts, studies and engagements that Carl Sagan cared deeply about - planetary exploration, science education and science literacy, nuclear disarmament, human caused climate change, astronomy and astrophysics, nuturing and mentoring young scientists, the threat of nuclear winter and asteroid or comet impacts with Earth and the improvement of the human condition. Many of the contributors are Sagan's colleagues at Cornell, but some are notable friends such as James Randi and his wife, Anne Druyan. All of the essays address interesting issues, but many of them could have used some diligent editing. If you're a fan of Sagan, you'll enjoy this book. I promise.

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Thursday, June 28, 2018

And It Was Good

Marvel's Captain America: Civil War: The Junior NovelMarvel's Captain America: Civil War: The Junior Novel by Chris Wyatt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As movie novelization go, this one is not too shabby in the sense that it provides closure to those scenes in which the actors practice the craft of mumbling their lines. The paperback version is less expensive than the ebook - less than the movie rental charge - and worth it to clear those mumbling issues up. It is a junior novel, so don't expect brilliant writing. Praise Thor, it gets the job done. Amen.

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Sunday, June 24, 2018

Is It True?

Christianity in the Light of Science: Critically Examining the World's Largest ReligionChristianity in the Light of Science: Critically Examining the World's Largest Religion by John W. Loftus
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you accept Christianity on faith, then there's nothing in this book that will change your mind, and I wish you happiness as long as you don't make others suffer needlessly. If, however, you view science as the best way of knowing whether testable claims are true, and you happen to accept Christianity, then this book will either (1) convince you that your acceptance is entirely faith based or (2) change your mind.

In this collection of scholarly treatments of testable claims of Christianity, authors honor the belief of the late Victor J. Stenger that such claims should be held to the same rigors of other scientifically testable claims. Claims addressed are those for which physical and historical evidence can be examined. Included are such topics as cosmology, intelligent design, the shroud of Turin, the existence of the soul, free will, historicity of the bible and the events surrounding Jesus of Nazareth, the efficacy of prayer and that star that hung out over town.

Note that the topics addressed are those that actually testable through rigorous scientific or historic methods. You'll not find an essay criticizing the existence of anything supernatural since claims of the supernatural are not testable. Even the essay on the soul addresses only those claims about the soul that bear directly on the physical world.

The issues included are rigorously researched, accurately sourced (footnotes consist mainly of references to academic publications), and very engaging. Victor J. Stenger would have been proud. If you read this book, then at the very least, you'll get an appreciation for the skeptical view that science takes of testable religious claims.

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Monday, June 18, 2018

Stargate - It's A Great Big World!

StargateStargate by Dean Devlin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Long ago, in the outer reaches of one of the spiral arms of the Milky Way Galaxy, in a solar system centered on The Sun on the 3rd planet from that sun, two men - Dean Devlin and Roland Emerich wrote a novel that mixed Egyptian mythology, science, the US military, aliens, adventure, romance and what has become known as a stargate (StarGate in the novel). Later, the book would become a movie and the movie would spawn one of the most successful science fiction television series in the history of that genre. As novelizations go, this one isn't too bad. It has extra scenes in it and inner dialogue that adds much to the story told in the movie. Devlin and Emerich are decent writers. The novel is well paced and makes for great casual reading. And, if you're a stargate freak like me, you'll want to read it, even though it's not canon to the TV series.

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Thursday, May 17, 2018

Great Physicists: The Life and Times of Leading Physicists from Galileo to HawkingGreat Physicists: The Life and Times of Leading Physicists from Galileo to Hawking by William H. Cropper
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What an awesome book! If you know me, you know that if physics were a woman, I'd marry her. This collection of the biographies and contributions to the field of several of the greatest physicists ever is a joy to read. Physics is a human endeavor and it's explorers were amazing characters. It would take years to read detailed biographies of each physicist included in this volume, but the concise, engaging, respectful accumulation of their stories gathered here will entertain and educate. A must read and have displayed on the bookshelf for any physics enthusiast.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Holy Cow!

The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe ItselfThe Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself by Sean Carroll
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Holy cow! I read the kindle version (and I'm listening to the audiobook separately on Google Play), and I'm surprised that I didn't exceed the highlight limit of this book. Thank you, Sean Carroll! The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself goes on my shelf of books that most influenced my thinking along with Cosmos, The Demon Haunted World, The Character of Physical Law and The Nature of Reality. Here, Sean Carroll tackles the question, "Now that you've decided that nature is enough, how do you determine your place in the universe?" He suggests taking the view he calls poetic naturalism - coming to terms with the reality that we live in a universe governed by laws that determine how matter, energy, space and time behave and that it's totally up to each of us to find the beauty in it and create meaning in our lives. While this idea isn't new to me (or probably to anyone willing to tackle this book), Sean Carroll weaves our understanding of the universe with the wonder of it all into our perception of it our place in it, and he does so in a very engaging, non-threatening, hopeful, enchanting, enlightening, humorous, and, above all, satisfying way. The appendix is a very concise and well presented overview of the core theory of physics. I'm getting the equation put on a T-shirt. If you read only one book that I've recommended on Goodreads other than the ones mentioned in this review, read this one. Even if you're a theist with a religious worldview, you'll gain an appreciation for how a naturalistic worldview can be rewarding and meaningful.

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Wordy Rappinghood!

Blue SkyBlue Sky by Wallfestories
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This fan fiction novel picks up where Portal 2 left off. It is the extremely verbose story of the romance between Chell and Wheatley, which is strange, but well thought out. My only reason for rating it 3 stars is that it could have seriously benefited from extensive editing. You know a book needs editing when you find yourself screaming, "Jesus Christ! Describing it once is enough, and 4 times is freaking torture!" Skimmers will enjoy this more than I did.

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