'Forty-four per cent of Americans [Thirty-nine per cent of British] deny evolution totally, whether it is guided by God or not, and the implication is that they believe the entire world is no more than 10 000 years old. As I have pointed out before, given that the true age of the world is 4.6 billion years, this is equivalent to believing that the width of North America is less than 10 yardsÃ¢?Â¦ [Nineteen per cent of people in the United Kingdom] believe it takes one month for the Earth to go around the Sun... What, I wonder, do they think a year is?'
Professor Richard Dawkins left us to ponder these, and many more, disturbing statistics at the end of his previous book The Greatest Show on Earth. They depict the knowledge gap between the scientific facts that enable our modern Western society, and the 75% (in some cases) of the population who are either ignorant of these facts or deny them as fiction. This wide-spread ignorance and denial is obvious when you look at the online conversations on news web sites and social media, where people regularly rant about how all science is nonsense Ã¢?? ironically delivered via their computers and internet, neither of which would exist without our scientific understanding of reality.
Professor Dawkins, who is renowned for his work on evolutionary biology and his unflinching promotion of atheism, sets out to redress this disjunction in his 11th book The Magic of Reality: How we know whatÃ¢??s really true. In The Magic of Reality Dawkins not only educates, but entices the reader to appreciate the true wonder of the universe that scientific knowledge and understanding brings.
Most chapters begin with brief accounts of myths that relate to the topic of the chapter, which he then debunks as he explains the reality of our universe using reason and scientific evidence. Myths and stories might be fun or entertaining, he tells us, but they are no substitute for the truth. Ã¢??The magic of reality is neither supernatural nor a trick, but Ã¢?? quite simply Ã¢??wonderful. Wonderful, and real. Wonderful because real.Ã¢??
His prose is eloquent and easily understood, making even the most complex concepts accessible to the reader, while introducing us to some of historyÃ¢??s greatest scientific minds and covering a wide array of topics, including the scientific method; evolution and the origins of humans; atoms; what the Sun and other stars are made of; what causes rainbows; the big bang; natural disasters; miracles; why we have seasons and years; the possibility of alien life; supernovas; selective breeding; and DNA. Dawkins demonstrates that the world, when understood through scientific knowledge, is far more amazing, inspirational and Ã¢??magicalÃ¢?? than any archaic myth could be.
'Your family tree includes not just the obvious cousins like chimpanzees and monkeys but also mice, buffaloes, iguanas, wallabies, snails, dandelions, golden eagles, mushrooms, whales, wombats and bacteria. All are our cousins. Every last one of themÃ¢?Â¦ And the most wonderful thing of all is that we know for certain it is literally true.'
Dawkins effectively uses a number of interesting, relevant analogies and thought experiments throughout the book to help us understand. There is, however, one exception to this. In the chapter Ã¢??Are We Alone?Ã¢?? he uses coal as an example of a Ã¢??lighterÃ¢?? substance in the discussion about how the mass of a planetÃ¢??s constituents would affect its gravitational pull. The problem with this example arises because coal is formed from organic plant-matter, yet the chapter is about the possibilities of life on planets in different solar systems. This example therefore becomes confusing because of the context of the chapter, and should really have been swapped for another example, or excluded altogether.
The Magic of Reality is primarily aimed at teenagers and adults without a formal science education. Most of what Dawkins discusses is taught in decent high-school science curriculums in Western nations, however statistics like those Dawkins presented in his previous book indicate that our education systems are failing. In Western countries most science in high schools is optional, and/or is increasingly polluted by religious indoctrination such as creationism. This book is therefore important; to educate, and to open peopleÃ¢??s minds to the beautiful and intriguing nature of the universe. It also demonstrates to the scientific community how to communicate the nature of reality to others in an interesting and easily digestible manner.
In response to the bookÃ¢??s release, Deepak Chopra Ã¢?? a promoter of alternative medicine and religious pseudoscience, who is well known for his nonsensical references to quantum theory Ã¢?? wrote a scathing diatribe attacking Dawkins in the Huffington Post. In it he accused Dawkins of producing Ã¢??shameless propagandaÃ¢??, and of trying to create Ã¢??atheist youthÃ¢??. Chopra, and those like him, appear to be too obsessed with attacking anyone who disagree with them to consider or comprehend the concepts and evidence being presented, even when it is that evidence that enables all the benefits of the modern world. These types of attacks from the religious-right further demonstrate the very real need for more books like The Magic of Reality: How we know whatÃ¢??s really true.show more