Book Review: The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True
After reading the The God Delusion, I was happy to check out Richard Dawkins’ next book The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True. Instead of buying the physical book, I got the IPad App of the same name.
Now this book is sold as a ‘children’s book’ and that is certainly going to cause a stir. Dawkins is a hard hitting Atheist, so you know the book is going to come under fire by Christians and other religions as trying to ‘convert’ them to Atheism. To be honest, I was curious too on what kind of book it was going to be. I don’t mind a hard hitting book, but I don’t need or want to preach (for lack of a better word) to my kids about Atheism than I do anything else. If they are brought up to think critically about the world, they should get there on their own and they will have a stronger understanding of the world for it. Can Dawkins strike a balance?
So before I get into that question, let’s talk about the age level of this book. So what kids should read this book? Currently, I’m reading this with my older son who is age 10 and I think that is the lower end of who is going to understand this book from cover to cover (with some help from me on some of the science details that he hasn’t seen in school). My younger son is age 7 and I would certainly read parts of the book to him that he might like, but I think the book is too deep for him overall and there are parts I would skip (Example: Chapter 9 briefly touches on a cult that castrated themselves, that’s a little too deep for age 7, IMHO). So overall, I would say age 9 and up is about right, but YMMV depending on the child.
So the book itself, let’s start with the high level of how the book is broken up. Chapter 1 sets the ground rules. It’s called: ‘What is Reality? What is Magic?’. It defines what science is and how it works, and what magic and the supernatural is. It is a great piece of writing. He does it at a good level for kids and doesn’t take any shots at anyone’s religion (yet).
Then in the same chapter he transitions into a talk on Evolution. I thought this was odd at first, but then, as I thought about it, I realized this was a smart move. Evolution for a lot of folks, religious or not, is the ‘elephant in the room’ in science. By touching on it early, it gets it out in the open. Dawkins keeps the talk at the high level saving more details for later.
The rest of the chapters cover one topic each, they are:
- Who was the first person?
- Why are there so many different kinds of animals?
- What are things made of?
- Why do we have night & day, winter and summer?
- What is the sun?
- What is a rainbow?
- When and how did everything begin?
- Are we alone?
- What is an earthquake?
- Why do bad things happen?
- What is a miracle?
Let’s put the last two chapters aside for a minute. The reminding chapters from ‘Who is the first person?’ to ‘What is an earthquake?’ follow the following format:
- What do myths say about the subject?
- What does science say about the subject?
Now the part that will get the far right upset is Dawkins will toss any religious story out there as myth including those of the Bible. In these chapters he will take aim at the old testament myths from time to time which shoots at Judaism, Christianity and Islam at the same time. Stories like Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark and The Tower of Babel. If that bothers you to call these stories myths, then I’m sorry but you need to read up on your science and maybe this book could be your first step.
As for the science part of these chapters, Dawkins keeps it a high level but doesn’t dumb it down for the kids. If you are looking for the gory details of the science behind these questions, then you need to find a different book. It’s not what this book is aiming for. Overall, I think these chapters are great. The illustrations in the book rock and keeps it interesting for kids. Also, in the IPad app, there are a few games that teach kids about some key science concepts and videos of Dawkins that gives the app an interactive part for today’s generation.
Let’s get back to the last chapters:
- Why do bad things happen?
- What is a miracle?
These last two chapters take a stronger aim at today’s religions of the world and not the bronze age stories of long ago. The ‘Why do Bad Things Happen’ chapter looks at the idea that the world is a battleground of gods and devils and that there is a reason for bad things. The last chapter ‘What is a Miracle’ takes a stronger look at miracle claims and is similar take to the talk of ‘What is Magic’ that was discussed in Chapter 1. These chapters are going to get religious folk upset because there are a number of references to Jesus as a ‘Jewish Preacher’. This is a correct view of Jesus that likely doesn’t go far enough for a lot of folks however.
So how far does Dawkins ‘go down the rabbit hole’? Does he say that God doesn’t exist? No. Does he say that all religion is false? No. Does Dawkins invite you to go to the edge of the hole and look down? Yes.
In the end, is that really that bad? If you have some objection to this book, is your faith so weak that you can’t even look at the other side of the argument? Most Atheists that I know are Atheists because they are well read in the Bible and reject these myths and stories for various reasons. I challenge those who object to this book to try to learn the science in the same way I tried to learn about the Bible.
I could nitpick a bit, but this is a great book for teaching your kids to think for themselves and learn about our world. In the end, it’s hard to argue against that. Well done Richard Dawkins and thanks for another good book.