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Doug Peters (Montreal, Canada)

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The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis
The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis
by Robert R. Reilly
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 17.94
32 used & new from CDN$ 13.20

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Strong while grounded in history, Oct. 8 2011
Anyone who has ever held an opinion about Islam owes it to themselves to read the first sections of this book. As long as Reilly sticks to the historical development of Islamic thought, this book is compelling and solid. Without a doubt, the current face of modern Islamic intellectual thought derives from the centuries of theological and philosophical debate that this book presents so very well. Indeed, history's explanation for the fact that there is no longer any significant debate and very little room for dissent from the received orthodoxy is made clear. (Consider, for example, the fact that the works of the famous twelfth-century Moslem philosopher Abu'l-Walid Ibn Rushd [Averroes] come to us only through medieval Christian transmission.) In later chapters, however, attempts to explore the implications of this historical outcome are certainly interesting, but slip away from the rigorous and careful treatment that made the historical portion of this work so valuable.

Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution: A Global Perspective
Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution: A Global Perspective
by Toby E. Huff
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 28.52
25 used & new from CDN$ 21.92

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Perspective" is the key word, Oct. 8 2011
In essence, this book is a book of data -- not polemic, not argument, not spin... data. And the data points to an interesting historical position, a position that contradicts a great deal of modern "education". That's what makes the book so much fun. Again and again and again, the *data* indicates that what we've been taught in our schools is simply false. It isn't crystal clear exactly what the best explanation for the data is (and Huff avoids heavy-handed attempts to provide alternatives), but the wide-spread idea that scientific thinking is universal to the human race is, frankly, anti-scientific: that is, it flies in the face of the historical evidence. Providing that evidence in a lively and readable manner, this book is an delightful read and an excellent resource.

The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the Soul
The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the Soul
by Mario Beauregard
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 27.95
27 used & new from CDN$ 1.15

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars better than I thought...!, Jan. 28 2009
There is a lot of good material in this book. And this material is typically presented clearly and fairly. Why, then, does it get these nasty reviews? Because there are folk that have all their religious impulses invested in the materialism that this book has the audacity to question!

A large part of the book first exposes the failure of most recent serious attempts at the dismissal of RSMEs (religious/spiritual/mystical experiences). There is nothing objectionable here. The authors are correct that notions of "God gene" and the like are laughable.

Then there is a brief exploration of a few things unexplained-by-materialism: how mind can change brain, the "psi" effect, the "placebo" effect, and NDEs (near death experiences). While I am somewhat skeptical of "psi" stuff (which is too easy to fake for my tastes), the other three really have no adequate materialist explanation.

Finally, after much foreshadowing and build-up, the book describes experiments conducted on Carmelite contemplatives. What the experiments actually show is that RSMEs are complex. They are not "made up". They are the product of a healthy brain. That's it. Hardly demonstration of the existence of a soul. Talk about an over-stated case!

So with such a let-down, why the four stars? The book is very well written. It presents its case, as well as the "opposing" case, carefully and fairly (fairness to the opposition is always worth an extra star, it is so rare these days). Finally, it provides sufficient good facts to make anyone but a "true believer" in materialism appreciate the shortcomings of that philosophical position.

Blank Slate
Blank Slate
by Steven Pinker
Edition: Hardcover
35 used & new from CDN$ 8.25

9 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars dude! stick with what you know..., Jan. 22 2004
This review is from: Blank Slate (Hardcover)
Pinker attempts to do four things in "The Blank Slate":
1. demolish "the blank slate" concept
2. demolish "the noble savage" concept
3. demolish "the ghost in the machine" concept
4. use statistics according to Disraeli.
Strawman-baiting notwithstanding, Pinker makes a good show toward his first two goals. He only deserves partial credit, however, as those ideas have far outlasted their intrinsic value and deserve the burial he gleefully supplies.
Unfortunately for Pinker, the same cannot be said of "the ghost in the machine". That it should be conflated with the previous two over-ripe ideas is odd. While the "ghost" has appeared in many dubious incarnations, some of which Pinker uses as foils, "the ghost in the machine" can be reduced to the idea that "there is something about human nature that is beyond our ability to understand (AKA 'science')". Put in those terms, the concept resists sophisticated attempts at dismissal, let alone the light-weight ones Pinker employs. A clause like "we have every reason to believe that" (consciousness [derives from] neural networks in the brain - p.240) really means "we cannot conceive other than that" or "our faith affirms that". Apparently, what should be obvious is not: science is unable to define its own limits.
Pinker also gets the proverbial raspberry for playing fast-and-loose with statistics in the final chapters. At least he is honest enough to mitigate his stance with some necessary caveats. He admits that prizing apart genetics and environment can be a tricky business. He admits that the adopting demographic has huge correlation within it. He mentions the crucial differences between "determines/affects" and "variance/outcome" but appears to have trouble interpreting these differences on occasion. He mentions the necessity of systematic influence. He could have mentioned the sample set size problem for twins-reared-apart studies, studies that have shown as much as 25% environmental influence, linearity and independence assumptions, free will as a source of measurement noise, etc. I suppose that the glosses were made in an attempt to make the whole more accessible to the masses, but the end result is that conclusions derive more from the assumptions than from the evidence itself.
Finally, Pinker also indulges in the just-so-story-making that true believers have gobbled up throughout history. Passive? Aggressive? Got them both covered. Ethical? Violent? No problem. We can "explain" them both with ease. If a theory can explain any two conflicting phenomena without so much as a flinch, it is non-falsifiable and hence non-scientific.

Bottom line: I learned precious little about human nature from this book. Plenty about the foibles of academia, the politics of science, and the inertia of dogma -- but I was already familiar with all those topics. Recognizing this weakness in his book, Pinker defers, in closing, to the real experts on human nature: poets and novelists. Wanna learn about human nature? Read Tolstoy, Austen, Dickens, Hardy, Dostoevsky...

Doctor Copernicus
Doctor Copernicus
33 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars blind man describes the rainbow, July 20 2001
This review is from: Doctor Copernicus (Paperback)
I find it amazing that a writer with so little understanding or respect (let alone appreciation) for science and religion should choose Nicolas Copernicus as a suitable subject for a novel. We are only given the briefest glimpse of Copernicus's scientific endeavours, and even less of his faith. Excuse me, but without these crucial elements, one cannot pretend to say anything at all about this man's life.
My mistake! The author has no intention of actually _saying anything_. Rather, Banville wants to use a pathetic caricature of Nicolas Copernicus as a foil for his own semi-coherent philosophical agenda. By dismissing the search for the "thing in itself" (correctly identified by the author as one of the motivations of modern science), Banville has no pressing need to do justice to the "things" that characterize good historical literature. History? Who needs it? It is what I say about it that matters. Human nature? Just an illusion! I, the omnipotent author, can recreate man in my own image.
Because he can, that is precisely what John Banville does. And it isn't pretty. By using the loathesome Andreas as his true voice, John Banville gives the game away: "Yes! Yes! I will be revenged!" The reader is only left to guess for what pathetic grudges Andreas (and Banville) requires his revenge. If only he had not taken that revenge out on the readers of his pompous creation.

Cry the Beloved Country.
Cry the Beloved Country.
by Alan. Paton
Edition: Paperback
50 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent, June 1 2001
Cry, the Beloved Country is an authentic expression of hope in a bleak climate of despair. The characters are human. Their experiences are sheer misery, and their responses are not particularly heroic. Through it all, the reader is sustained by the vision of a redemptive truth at work in one of the deepest hells of the present century.
Alan Paton unquestionably attributes this truth to a personal God. At the same time, Paton believes that his God expressed Himself in the lives of weak and selfish creatures like ourselves. Thus, even if the reader prefers to maintain a humanist stance, Cry, the Beloved Country will resonate as its characters grapple with the primal struggles of all humanity.
Cry, the beloved century. I did.

Educating Eve
Educating Eve
by Geoffrey Sampson
Edition: Perfect Paperback
15 used & new from CDN$ 20.25

4.0 out of 5 stars Sampson vs. the Philistines, Jan. 7 2000
This review is from: Educating Eve (Perfect Paperback)
In "Educating Eve", Geoffrey Sampson rips into the Chomsky-Pinker camp of language theory in a manner somewhat reminiscent of a Philosophy sophomore's dismissal of Christianity. Are Sampson's points valid? Yes. Are they well-presented? Yes. Do they fairly represent his opposition? Well...not exactly (Sampson proves equal to Pinker in the wanton construction of strawmen). Do they provide any substantive alternative besides the less-than-impressive agnosticism? No, in spite of protests to the contrary.
At least that's the story for most of the book. Sensing, perhaps, that his agnostic position is insufficient to generate the reader enthusiasm for which he envies Pinker, Sampson goes out on a limb in his final chapter. In it, the word "incoherent" resonates. While his position here (with respect to human creative ability) is perfectly coherent, his arguments are not. By making clipped reference to all manner of personal and academic material, Sampson fails miserably to make his final point accessible. By the end, even this interested, patient, and sympathetic reader couldn't care less.
Valuable reading, taken with a grain of salt.

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