Dawkins’ The Magic of Reality – But No Illustrations!

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.

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7 Responses to Dawkins’ The Magic of Reality – But No Illustrations!

  1. LibertyPhile says:

    Very well put. What do you think of the research into the origins of Islam, in particular, as summarised by Robert Spencer in his recent book “Did Muhammad Exist”? Do you think such research should be encouraged, given that such research seems, by virtue of it being attempted, to deny Islam’s claims?

  2. LibertyPhile: Richard Dawkins is a highly qualified scientist and respected by his peers. His views on science and the teaching of science therefore deserve to be taken seriously and engaged with.

    Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch is a McCarthyite twit. His views can be compared with those of the Young Earth creationists. They also claim scientific backing for their views but their views are not respected by their scientific peers.

    If you are seriously interested in this history of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad (which I seriously doubt based on your numerous bigoted postings) then I suggest you try reading books by someone of the stature of the late Professor W. Montgomery Watt whom I was very privileged to meet and interview while he was still alive.

  3. LibertyPhile says:

    Spencer makes no pretence at scholarship. He clearly states at the beginning of his book he is “exploring questions” [in effect he gives an excellent summary of them] raised by a group of “pioneering scholars”. They include:

    Gustav Weil (1808-1889), Aloys Sprenger (1813-1893)(Austria), William Muir (1819-1905), Ernest Renan (1823-1892)(France), Theodor Noldeke (1836-1930)(Germany), Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918), Ignaz Goldziher (1850-1921)(Hungary), David S. Margoliouth (1858-1940)(UK), Henri Lammens (1862-1937)(Belgium), Prince Leone Caetani (1869-1935)(Italy), Alphonse Mingana (1878-1937)(UK), Arthur Jeffery (1892-1959)(Australia), Joseph Schacht (1902-1969), as well as modern-day scholars such as:

    Patricia Crone, Michael Cook, Judith Koren, Christoph Luxenberg, Gunter Luling, Yehuda Nevo, Volker Popp, Ibn Rawandi, David S. Powers, John Wansbrough (1928-2002)

    He says of Renan (who is famous for the remark that Islam emerged “in the full light of history”)

    “Ernest Renan, for all his enthusiasm about the historicity of Muhammad, actually approached the Islamic sources with something of a critical eye. Writing of the Qur’an, he pointed out that “the integrity of a work committed to memory for a long time is unlikely to be well preserved; could not interpolations and alterations have slipped in during the successive revisions?””

    Now I’m sure some if not all these scholars can be criticised in some way but I don’t think they can all be twits?

  4. LibertyPhile: Those you have listed are genuine scholars. I myself possess a wonderful translation of the Qur’an by Professor Arthur Arberry who was an extremely learned man. Spencer is not. As I said, he is a McCarthyite twit. If you are seriously interested in learning about Islam try reading books directly written by scholars such as Watt or Arberry. Forget Spencer – why do you need to go to second hand sources? Unless, of course, you are also a twit. Now, go and fuck off, please.

  5. LibertyPhile says:

    I’m glad you agree the people listed are genuine scholars. May I repeat: Spencer is not posing as a “learned man”. He writes a good summary of the work of others and saves the lay reader much time.

    I’m good at maths but I’ve achieved that by studying popular books. I haven’t read Russell’s Principia Mathematica.

    If you can hold your nose for a moment read what Spencer says about Montgomery-Watt whom you admire.

    …. the twentieth-century scholar of Islam W. Montgomery Watt (1909-2006) purported to separate the historical from the legendary in Ibn Ishaq in his two-volume biography of the prophet of Islam, Muhammad at Mecca and Muhammad at Medina. He did so simply by ignoring the miraculous elements of Ibn Ishaq’s work and presenting the rest as historically accurate, a procedure that is, in the final analysis, completely arbitrary: There is no reason to give any more credence to the nonmiraculous elements of Ibn Ishaq’s biography than to the miraculous ones. Neither the miraculous nor the non miraculous accounts are attested by any other contemporary source, or any source closer to the actual lifetime of Muhammad.

    Is that not fair comment?

  6. LibertyPhile: Your anology of the maths books you have read and Whitehead and Russell’s Principia Mathematica with that of Spencer and genuine scholars of Islam does not really hold. I am supposing that the authors of the popular maths books you have read would not have been held in contempt by Whitehead and Russell? Do you really think that Robert Spencer is viewed as anything but a contemptible hate-monger by the vast majority of genuine scholars of Islam?

    Coming to your question regarding Spencer’s views on W. Montgomery Watt, I am afraid I do not agree with Spencer. I have a translation of Ibn Hisham’s Sirat Rasul Allah (I understand that we no longer have Ibn Ishaq’s biography but the later revision by Ibn Hisham) by Alfred Guillaume. I just looked at the contents and cannot find any reference to the miraculous in Ibn Hisham’s biography apart from a chapter on the Night Journey of the Prophet to Jerusalem. So, Spencer’s objections to Watt’s extensive work of scholarship appears to be fatuous.

    Once again, I suggest that rather than reading the utterences of a twit like Spencer, you take the time to read the works of the scholars you cited. For example, I have a book called A Very Short History of the Koran by Michael Cook – it is worth reading, and certainly more so than Spencer.

  7. LibertyPhile says:

    It is said (by Spencer I’m afraid”) that:

    QUOTE Ibn Ishaq’s Biography of the Messenger of Allah has not survived in its original form. It comes down to us today only in a later, abbreviated (although still quite lengthy) version compiled by another Islamic scholar, Ibn Hisham, who died in 834, sixty years after Ibn Ishaq, as well as in fragments quoted by other early Muslim writers, including the historian Muhammad ibn Jarir at-Tabari (839-923).

    Ibn Hisham …. warns that his version is sanitized: He left out, he says, “things which it is disgraceful to discuss; matters which would distress certain people; and such reports as al-Bakkai [Ibn Ishaq’s student, who edited his work] told me he could not accept as trustworthy.” UNQUOTE

    Regarding the life of Muhammad and the origins of Islam there are many important unanswered questions.

    Tom Holland, the popular historian, covers the same ground as Spencer in his recent book “In The Shadow of the Sword” with much the same result, posing these questions and showing how likely answers (from the experts) contradict Islamic tradition.

    As far as I am aware Holland is not a hate monger and is highly respected having won several prestigious awards for his works.

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