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Manny Rayner's book reviews

I love reviewing books - have been doing it at Goodreads, but considering moving here.

Currently reading

The Greatest Show On Earth: The Evidence For Evolution
Richard Dawkins
R in Action
Robert Kabacoff
Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies
Douglas R. Hofstadter
McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture
Harold McGee
Epistemic Dimensions of Personhood
Simon Evnine
Pattern Recognition and Machine Learning (Information Science and Statistics)
Christopher M. Bishop
Relativity, Thermodynamics and Cosmology
Richard C. Tolman
The Cambridge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition
Julia Herschensohn, Martha Young-Scholten
Is There a God? - Richard Swinburne Right now, there should be a fascinating dialogue going on between the science and faith communities... but there isn't. It's so frustrating! You'd think it would be impossible to stop it; as you can see in recent books like Rees's Just Six Numbers, Susskind's The Cosmic Landscape and Hawking's The Grand Design, many scientists are happy to agree that the universe looks as though it has been designed to make life possible. Susskind's book is subtitled "String theory and the illusion of Intelligent Design"; Hawking's has a chapter called "The Apparent Miracle". Needless to say, a large part of the faith-based community has been telling us the same thing for a long time. So there's an obvious question that needs to be answered: is the universe designed, or isn't it? You'd expect a bit more discussion.

I am disappointed to say that no such thing is happening. The scientists have all decided that the one explanation which makes sense is a combination of the Multiverse and the Anthropic Principle. There are a zillion possible universes, of almost any kind you can imagine; a very small number support life, and since we're alive we're in one of them. We look around and think we see design, but it's pure chance. They won't even discuss the possibility that it actually is design. On the other side, you have the faith-based people, like Francis Collins (The Language of God), and this guy. They look at the Multiverse argument for about two pages and dismiss it. It looks like design, they tell us, so, duh, it probably is.

Swinburne wants to establish the probable existence of God and, really, he doesn't have much more going for him than the Argument from Design. He spends a chapter talking about souls (very unconvincingly, IMHO), and he spends another arguing that God could be good and still allow evil, because it's an inevitable consequence of free will (I thought this part was quite well done). He waffles for twenty pages about miracles without ever really saying very much. But if the design part of the argument holds, it's enough. The rest is just due diligence.

So how credible is the Design argument? Having finished the book, I know about as much as I did when I started. The most infuriating thing is that both sides invariably quote Ockham's Razor and claim it supports their case. Guys, I know you are all super-smart and have published books on the subject and get invited to prestigious conferences, but may I be so bold as to offer you a tiny piece of advice? Ockham's Razor probably isn't going to help a lot here. Leave it alone and develop some other lines of attack.