Thursday, August 23, 2012

Equivalent Books

I was enjoying a few hours blissfully lost in the stacks at Powell's in downtown Portland when I ran into this on the display rack:
I leafed through it and found that the popular beliefs under "explanation" cover pretty much anything that can't be quantified with a spectrometer. This being a normal-sized book there's only 5-6 pages per belief, which is probably inadequate to actually address issues like the existence of God or the fine-tuning of the universe. Predictably, each issue is flattened and condensed almost beyond recgonition. It's actually a pretty amazing accomplishment of Guy Harrison (the author) that he stands out from the new-atheist crowd in actually having some understanding of why people might believe in some of these unprovable things, and that he conveys that empathy (or is it sympathy?) in such a short space. Other similar authors would be advised to do likewise. But there's no way that such a book will change any minds, it's just too short. It's a confirmatory book, one that you don't actually read but keep up on the shelf to assure you that the answer's right there should you ever want to look it up.

It reminded me immediately of this book:
In high school I "read" this book, meaning I flipped through it and found articles of about the same dimensions (that is, word length and philosophical depth) as Harrison's, but from the Christian side, about why you should believe/behave in this way. These are pretty much the same book written by different tribes. Personally, I think the latter is more worthwhile and that there is more to it when you get down to it, but both are really reference works. My question is, these days, has Google replaced the reference book? If so, why did the 50 Popular Beliefs book come out now? It suggests to me that the church of atheism has produced its own Practical Christianity manual, at least when it comes to its theology. A second volume of ethics must not be far behind.

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