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Q2 2007 Freethinker Book Poll!
Official Q2 2007 Freethinker Book Poll!
Q2 2007 = April, May & June
Please read these directions BEFORE you vote!
How many nonfiction books will we be reading?
We'll be reading 2 nonfiction books in 2nd quarter of 2007. This poll will select 1 "Freethinker" book, while the Q2 2007 Nonfiction Book Poll selects 1 general nonfiction book.
How long will the poll stay open?
This poll is opening on Thursday, March 21st, 2007 and will be closing on Saturday, March 31, 2007. This is a total of 10 full days. I'll probably shut the poll down in the middle of the day on Saturday the 31st as this is the last day of the month and I'd love to have the new winning books announced before the 1st of April. So cast your votes early!
Who can vote?
All active members are invited and encouraged to vote and participate in our book selection process, but please follow these simple rules:
Only cast a vote if you have 10 or more posts on our forums. If you don't have at least 10 you should have no problem jumping into some discussion threads and meeting this rather relaxed criterion. You can meet this requirement in one day.
Don't vote if you don't plan on participating if your book wins. Again, if you vote for a book and it wins we really hope you participate. You should not be influencing the direction of the community if you're not actively involved.
If you vote for a book and it does not win we still hope you read and discuss the winning book with us, but we understand if you opt to not participate. Please try to get involved no matter which book wins, as this is all about education AND entertainment. We can all learn from our book selections and from each other, and reading a book you typically would never have even picked up is a great way to expand your horizons and perspective on life.
How do I vote?
If you are an active member with 10 or more total posts AND you plan on participating in the Q2 2007 discussion if your chosen book wins THEN you are permitted to cast a total of 4 votes. You can use your 4 votes however you see fit, which could mean assigning all three votes to just one of the book choices, or distributing the 4 points or votes over the book choices according to your own interest level for each book. No half-points assigned to books.
You should make a brief post to this thread telling everyone how you wish to distribute your three votes.
Nothing further needs to be said, however you're welcome and encouraged to be as verbose as you like. Just make it crystal clear how you are voting.
It is inevitable that some people will either forget to cast all three votes or will not have read this entire post. They will simply vote on one book. If this happens I will be assigning all 4 of their votes to the one book they selected.
You are permitted to change your vote at any time during the voting period, but not after I close the poll. The poll is closed on the last day of the polling period as stated above.
This thread can and SHOULD be used as an open discussion of the books on the poll. You're welcome to try to sell people on a particular book, or dissuade them from another. I am asking you all to comment on the votes as you see them. Don't be shy...speak your mind.
As always, we will need a discussion leader that is willing to be active in the reading and discussion of the winning book. If you are up to the task please let us all know in this forum by making a post and stating your interest.
Or, if you are only interested in being the discussion leader if your choice of books wins the poll, you may wait to see if it wins and then let us know of your interest in the forum that is created to discuss that book. But please consider volunteering!
Being a discussion leader does not entail being an authority on the subject matter or defending the author's position. You simply need to attempt to stimulate discussion.
And here are our 4 FREETHINKER book choices for 2nd Quarter 2007 (April, May & June). Please read about all books before casting your votes. Think hard about which book will be the most educational, entertaining, and worthy of discussion. May the best book win!
Amazon offers no editorial reviews of this book, but several Amazon readers have done reviews. I'm going to post a few of those reviews here.
Reviewer: Craig MACKINNON (Thunder Bay, Ontario Canada) This book is exactly what the title implies - a treatise on how many people in the scientific community (including physical and social science) and in the general public have come to regard biology, or more specifically DNA, as The Answer. Just as religion had The Answer in previous ages, so now, we "know" that all the answers lie in understanding our DNA. This has spread to all aspects of human society, from justification of our capitalist monetary system to modern medicine. To emphasise the point, a quote from the text: "[An] editor of Science, what asked why the Human Genome Project funds should not be given instead to the homeless, answered, 'What these people don't realise is that the homeless are impaired.... Indeed, no group would benefit more from the application of human genetics.'" This is a chilling statement, and we're fortunate to have books like these pointing out the ethical and scientific problems in such pronouncements. Prof. Lewontin debunks the myth that DNA is the be all and end all. In a wide ranging series of essays, he attacks the claims of the Human Genome Project scientists (I want to point out that he does not attack the science itself, which is fine, simply the rationale in doing it) and others who are trying to find a panacea in understanding genetics. He argues that while DNA is important, it does not define what it means to be human, any more than a pile of bricks defines a house, and it certainly can't be used to justify capitalism, fascism, or anarchical government systems, as claimed by some political philosophers. Or that people are homeless because they have defective DNA.
There are two minor points that I must make objection to. The first is that he seems to imply that scientists (specifically, those working on the human genome) make wild claims as to how much their research will benefit mankind, and society is duped into believing them. While this is undoubtedly the case some of the time, in my experience, the media often exaggerate the claims of scientists to make a better story. "This project will help us understand cancer better, and will lead to better treatments" becomes "Cause of cancer discovered!" Lewontin tends to blame the scientist entirely for these grandiose claims. Secondly, I believe basic research is valuable, thus the Genome Project is important, something Lewontin doesn't seem to want to admit.
Those two points aside, however, this is an interesting and important book, if a little one-sided. Highly recommended.
Reviewer: Robert Derenthal "bucherwurm" (California) Author Lewontin, a Harvard geneticist, presents his case against biological determinism, and for a form of social constructionism. Don't stop reading this review if the first sentence caused your eyes to glaze over. You don't need to understand those terms. RCL is simply saying that our social environment is more important than our genetic structure. And, no, this book is not about Marxist ideas as one reviewer wrote. One is not a marxist because one supports environmental affects on society. He is not spouting Marxism when he suggests that society is responsible for many diseases, and not microbes. Tuberculosis had greatly declined by the early twentieth century, not because of vaccination, but because living conditions and nutrition had improved. The ultimate cause of some cancers is not so much the proximate cause of pollution, but the society that has decided that pollution in the air is acceptable in furthering our society.
Our society is not based on the total genetic activity of its members. First of all there aren't enough genes to begin to determine the billions of circuits in the brain, many of which aren't constructed until after birth. We become individuals in a society. The two most common ways in which children are similar to their parents relate to religion and politics. Are we then to say that there is a Baptist gene, or a Republican gene?
Lewontin believes that the genome project(s) will not fulfill the promises currently being made. His social constructionist beliefs (that science is culturally determined) must be given some credence when he states that no prominent geneticist of his acquaintance is free of a financial interest in these projects. We also cannot assume that mapping the genome of an individual will result in a set of genes that we can accept as a normal reference. You, the reader, and I may be very normal human beings, but our genes differ by about 3 million nucleotides.
The author also states that organisms create their environment; they do not react passively to their surroundings. There is no such thing as a environmental balance he says. 99.99% of all beings that existed are now extinct. The environment has always been in a state of continual flux. He points out that many organisms have had a negative effect on the environment. The beaver, for example, is notorious for its destruction of its surroundings.
A very thought provoking book. I read it through twice which was easy to do because of its 128 page length. You do not need to accept all of his ideas, but he sure stimulates your neurons to form some new connections. Edited by: Chris OConnor at: 3/22/07 2:31 am
From Booklist The popular perception of the Bible as a divinely perfect book receives scant support from Ehrman, who sees in Holy Writ ample evidence of human fallibility and ecclesiastical politics. Though himself schooled in evangelical literalism, Ehrman has come to regard his earlier faith in the inerrant inspiration of the Bible as misguided, given that the original texts have disappeared and that the extant texts available do not agree with one another. Most of the textual discrepancies, Ehrman acknowledges, matter little, but some do profoundly affect religious doctrine. To assess how ignorant or theologically manipulative scribes may have changed the biblical text, modern scholars have developed procedures for comparing diverging texts. And in language accessible to nonspecialists, Ehrman explains these procedures and their results. He further explains why textual criticism has frequently sparked intense controversy, especially among scripture-alone Protestants. In discounting not only the authenticity of existing manuscripts but also the inspiration of the original writers, Ehrman will deeply divide his readers. Although he addresses a popular audience, he undercuts the very religious attitudes that have made the Bible a popular book. Still, this is a useful overview for biblical history collections.
Charleston Post & Courier "Offers a fascinating look into the field of textual criticism and evidence that Scriptures have been altered."
Dallas Morning News "Whichever side you sit on regarding Biblical inerrancy, this is a rewarding read."
Book Description World-renowned biblical scholar Bart Ehrman reveals the truth behind the many mistakes and changes that can be found throughout the Bible, including the following:
The King James Bible was based on inferior manuscripts that in many cases do not accurately represent the meaning of the original text.
The favorite story of Jesus forgiving the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-11) does not belong in the Bible.
Scribal errors were so common in antiquity that the author of the Book of Revelation threatened damnation to anyone who "adds to" or "takes away" words from the text. Edited by: Chris OConnor at: 3/22/07 2:20 am
From Publishers Weekly How do humans develop their capacity to make moral decisions? Harvard biologist Hauser (Wild Minds) struggles to answer this and other questions in a study that is by turns fascinating and dull. Drawing on the linguistic theories of Noam Chomsky, Hauser argues that humans have a universal moral grammar, an instinctive, unconscious tool kit for constructing moral systems. For example, although we might not be able to articulate immediately the moral principle underlying the ban on incest, our moral faculty instinctually declares that incest is disgusting and thus impermissible. Hauser's universal moral grammar builds on the 18th-century theories of moral sentiments devised by Adam Smith and others. Hauser also asserts that nurture is as important as nature: "our moral faculty is equipped with a universal set of rules, with each culture setting up particular exceptions to these rules." All societies accept the moral necessity of caring for infants, but Eskimos make the exception of permitting infanticide when resources are scarce. Readers unfamiliar with philosophy will be lost in Hauser's labyrinthine explanations of Kant, Hume and Rawls, and Hauser makes overly large claims for his theory's ability to guide us in making more moral, and more enforceable, laws.
From Scientific American You are driving a train when you see five hikers on the track ahead of you and a siding with a single hiker. Is it okay to flip a switch and send the train onto the siding, killing one hiker but saving five? Most people say yes. Would it be okay for a doctor to harvest organs from a healthy person to save five patients? Most people say no. But they often do not have a clue why they think one of these choices is okay and the other is not. And that fact is a clue that we have an innate moral faculty. Like competent speakers who do not understand the grammatical underpinnings of language, people tend to have strong, gut-level opinions about what is moral but are unable to give coherent explanations. Marc D. Hauser, a Harvard University psychologist, wants to do for morality what Massachusetts Institute of Technology linguist Noam Chomsky did for language
This is another one of the books for which Amazon.com offers no editorial reviews. I'm posting here the only review available on Amazon, which was written by a member.
Reviewer: R. Hardy "Rob Hardy" (Columbus, Mississippi USA) "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." This famous phrase is illustriously located as the first part of the very first amendment to the Constitution. It comes even before the rest of the amendment promises free speech, press, and assembly, indicating that the Founding Fathers, who were of diverse religious views, had a high fear of the historical complications that had resulted when governments sponsored religions or regulated them. (It was preceded even by an article within the Constitution itself that forbade religious tests as a qualification for public office.) Just what these sixteen influential words mean has been debated endlessly since they were written; indeed, they contain a paradox, for if there are no laws regarding religion, then there is nothing to debate. Franklyn S. Haiman, a professor who describes himself as "a First Amendment junkie," has given a fine summary of the importance of these words and how the courts and eventually the Supreme Court have interpreted them into laws we can live by in _Religious Expression and the American Constitution_ (Michigan State University Press). It is an extremely complex story, told here in an engaging way by examining different cases and decisions within chapters having to do with specific arenas like religious expression within public schools or within public spaces. Haiman's book is a perfect summary for the historic understanding of the contemporary state of religious expression in America.
When Calvinist Puritans had had enough discrimination in the Old World, they came to the New and began themselves to discriminate against others. Only four of the original thirteen colonies never had an established church. Once the revolution had been won, governments did not automatically withdraw from the religion game. It took a few decades for some states to disestablish the Anglican church, and even then they often retained a prohibition that only protestant believers could hold office. Conflicts caused by the eventual amendment have different sources. There are difficulties in the words themselves; what is a religion (does it include the groups following patently fraudulent charlatans?) or what is free exercise (does it include keeping one's children away from doctors so that they can only get the benefits of religious healing?)? Those who wrote the amendment could have had no concept of current medicine or media. The greatest problem, because it reflects a difference in judicial philosophy, is whether the amendment (and the rest of the Constitution, of course) should be interpreted with special attention to what the signers of the document would have meant, or should be interpreted as a "living document" which might mean something different in current society. The examples given here are thought-provoking and will invite the reader to try to second guess what the Supreme Court should have done in many diverse cases.
As long as believers attempt to get the government further to sponsor their particular beliefs, it is to be expected that these battles will continue, and that Haiman will have to revise his book before long. He won't have to change the many useful appendices, however, which include writings of Roger Williams, John Locke, and Thomas Jefferson, as well as parts of important decisions to which the text refers. Haiman's book is a thorough and entertaining introduction to contemporary issues, and anyone reading it will get a close view of how separation of church and state has been so important to our country. An aspect of the story is disconcerting, however. Those who have sat on the Supreme Court represent inarguably some of the best legal minds our nation has produced, and yet no one can be pleased at the long list of 5 to 4 decisions regarding religious matters that were bitterly argued, or in which those who cast votes for the winning side could not agree upon the basis for their decision. It is a messy way of making decisions that are at the heart of our nation's history and society. Given the strong feelings on the issues described herein, they will be forever debatable. Haiman's book is a valuable summary of the arguments, but only of the arguments thus far.
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Re: Q2 2007 Freethinker Book Poll!
I'm casting my 4 votes for Religious Expression and the American Constitution by Franklyn Saul Haiman. I think this is a subject that is timely and topical. Haiman's book looks like a promising treatment of it. It's also an area in which I take a deep personal interest.
To repeat: Religious Expression and the American Constitution by Franklyn Saul Haiman - 4 votes
"Godlessness is not about denying the existence of nonsensical beings. It is the starting point for living life without them."
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Re: Q2 2007 Freethinker Book Poll!
Hmm. Either some glitch killed my previous post, or it was deleted to save me the indignity of looking stupid for having cast 3 votes instead of 4. Either way, it's gone.
Anyway, 3 votes for Biology as Ideology and 1 for Religious Expression and the American Constitution.
Those two, because they both seem like a change of pace from the subject matter and viewpoint of a lot of the books we've read in the last year. And more votes to Biology as Ideology because we haven't really had a book discussion about the way science is practiced and the issues raised by that methodology. Those seem like natural issues for a forum like BookTalk. Plus, I've already read it, and can think of at least a dozen topics raised by the book that would make meaty substance for discussion.
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Re: Q2 2007 Freethinker Book Poll!
Since I don't see myself reading any of those books, I won't vote.
I thumbed through Moral Minds at the bookstore, and it looked plausible. My wife liked Misquoting Jesus and we own it, but I wasn't planning to read it.
A Google search didn't reveal any published reviews of Biology as Ideology or Religious Expression and the American Constitution. That makes me wary of choosing either of them, since they might be too esoteric or low quality. [They could great books, but we don't have much evidence saying so.]
Since I haven't participated much since The Omnivore's Dilemma, I'm not sure i'm entitled to these votes, and being jet lagged, I haven't the energy to figure it out. If I am though, I would like to apply:
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