I popped into WH Smith’s at lunchtime and saw that they were promoting the new paperback edition of Richard Dawkins’ latest book The Magic of Reality.
I originally bought this book in hardback over 6 months ago and it is a superb introduction to science aimed at younger children and teenagers. In addition to Dawkins’ usual splendid prose it is also beautifully and lavishly illustrated throughout by David McKean. The illustrations and accompanying images really do add to the appreciation of the text.
However, the paperback edition in WH Smith’s today said that it was also illustrated by David McKean (see this link to the Guardian Bookshop for the front cover image) but when I opened the book, there were no illustrations whatsoever except for crappy little drawings at the beginning of each chapter. What a letdown!
Buy the gorgeous hardback version instead. Here is a taster of the text:
“…anything ‘supernatural’ must by definition be beyond the reach of a natural explanation. It must be beyond the reach of science and the well-established, tried and tested scientific method that has been responsible for the huge advances in knowledge we have enjoyed over the last 400 years or so. To say that something happened supernaturally is not just to say ‘We don’t understand it’ but to say ‘We will never understand it, so don’t even try.’
“Science takes exactly the opposite approach. Science thrives on its inability – so far – to explain everything, and uses that as the spur to go on asking questions, creating possible models and testing them, so that we make our way, inch by inch, closer to the truth. If something were to happen that went against our current understanding of reality, scientists would see that as a challenge to our present model, requiring us to abandon or at least change it. It is through such adjustments and subsequent testing that we approach closer and closer to what is true.
“What would you think of a detective who, baffled by a murder, was too lazy even to try to work at the problem and instead wrote the mystery off as ‘supernatural’? The whole history of science shows us that things once thought to be the result of the supernatural – caused by gods (both happy and angry), demons, witches, spirits, curses and spells – actually do have natural explanations: explanations that we can understand and test and have confidence in. There is absolutely no reason to believe that those things for which science does not yet have natural explanations will turn out to be of supernatural origin, any more than volcanoes or earthquakes or diseases turn out to be caused by angry deities, as people once believed they were.”
Challenging words, and though one might perhaps doubt whether absolutely everything will in the end turn out to have a natural explanation, there can be no doubting Dawkins that we are foolish not to put in the required effort to look for natural explanations.