Book Review: God and the Atom

GodAndTheAtom

(Author's Note: The following review was solicited and is written in accordance with this site's policy for such reviews.)Summary: Written at an expert level; ordinary readers won't be able to keep up.Victor Stenger is a professor of physics and the author of many atheist books such as God: The Failed Hypothesis. His new book God and the Atom brings these domains together by arguing for the importance of atomic theory in disproving theism.Stenger's aim is to show that scientists … [Read more...]

Book Review: A Year of Biblical Womanhood

Summary: A personable, good-humored example of the liberal-theist cherry-picking ethic. I recently wrote about the evangelical writer Rachel Held Evans and whether her book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, can undo Christianity's entrenched ideals of patriarchy. I still don't think that's likely, but I've read the book now, so I'd like to offer some more thoughts. Evans lives in Tennessee and describes herself as an evangelical Christian, but as evangelicals go, she's hardly typical. She belongs … [Read more...]

Blogging Better Angels: The Escalator of Reason

In my last post, I talked about some of the cultural factors Steven Pinker identifies that have led to a reduction in violence. There are two other major forces he discusses which are worthy of note. The Flynn Effect The first of these is a truly strange phenomenon. If you go by the results of IQ tests, average intelligence has been steadily rising for decades. This is called the Flynn effect, and it's been found consistently in countries all around the world since IQ tests first started being … [Read more...]

Blogging Better Angels: Changing of the Norms

In my previous post, I discussed how the invention of government led to a major reduction in the level of violence in human civilization, as compared to the constant battles of tribal societies. But while democracy, laws and police forces can account for most of the decline, they can't account for all of it. To get to the extraordinarily low levels of violence seen in most developed nations today, we need to invoke other cultural forces that tilt the balance toward peace. In Better Angels, … [Read more...]

Blogging Better Angels: Hobbes Was Right

The most famous human being of prehistoric times is probably Otzi the Iceman, a Neolithic human whose mummified body was discovered frozen in a glacier in the Alps in 1991. What's less well known about Otzi is that he met his death violently: an arrowhead was lodged in his back, and he was carrying an arrow and a flint knife which had traces of three people's blood, none of them his own. Anthropologists speculate that he was part of a raiding party that attacked a rival tribe and was killed … [Read more...]

Blogging Better Angels: The Bad Old Days

Back in May, I reviewed Steven Pinker's hugely ambitious new book The Better Angels of Our Nature, about the decline of violence through history. I couldn't do justice to all the ideas in this book with a single post, so I promised to return to it and write about Pinker's argument in more detail. It's taken me a while, but I'm getting back to that promise now. I plan to write several posts exploring some of the major ideas put forth in the book, which I intend to eventually collect into an essay … [Read more...]

Book Review: Nonbeliever Nation

Summary: A solid, informative history of the rise of the American secular movement. Books like Jennifer Michael Hecht's Doubt: A History or Susan Jacoby's Freethinkers show how brave nonbelievers have always existed, even in theocratic societies that were implacably hostile to their views. In most cases, persecution prevented those isolated sparks from joining together into a brighter light. But what happens when they do join together? In the past two decades, observers of American politics … [Read more...]

Book Review: The Better Angels of Our Nature

I've just finished reading Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature, an extraordinary book that I think deserves wider attention. I want to write a full review, but this book is far too vast (696 pages!) and too broad in scope to do it justice in a single post, so I plan to split my review up into several installments over the coming weeks. This post is just to serve as a brief overview of the book and a few of its more startling data points. The book's thesis is that humanity is … [Read more...]

Book Review: Letters From an Atheist Nation

(Author's Note: The following review was solicited and is written in accordance with this site's policy for such reviews.) Summary: A surprising, welcome reminder that atheism has a long and storied history in the U.S. Letters from an Atheist Nation, edited by Thomas Lawson, is a compilation of reader letters printed by the Blue Grass Blade, a pro-atheist, pro-freethought newspaper published in, of all places, Kentucky in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Its editor, Charles Chilton Moore, was a … [Read more...]

Book Review: Unorthodox

(Note: This review was solicited and is written in accordance with my policy for such reviews.) Summary: A memoir of escape from the overbearing, oppressive life of ultra-Orthodox Judaism, but the appalling details are somewhat clouded by doubts raised about the narrative's veracity. Like many other books that I've reviewed, Deborah Feldman's Unorthodox is an autobiography that tells the story of escape from a suffocating religious community. In her case, it's a story of escape from Satmar … [Read more...]


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