Books in Brief

Andrea Szalanski, Julia Lavarnway, Nicole Scott

Listing here does not preclude a full review in a later issue.

Truly Human Enhancement: A Philo­sophical Defense of Limits, by Nicholas Agar (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 2014, ISBN: 978-0-2620-2663-5). 232 pp. Hardcover $35.00.

The transformative potential of genetic and cybernetic technologies to enhance human capabilities is most often rejected on moral and prudential grounds or hailed as the future salvation of humanity. Agar makes the case for moderate human enhancement—improvements to attributes and abilities that do not significantly exceed what is currently possible for human beings. He argues against radical human enhancement, or improvements that greatly exceed current human capabilities, because we may inadvertently create beings (“post-persons”) with higher status than that of unenhanced persons. Agar explores notions of transformative change and motives for human enhancement, distinguishes between the instrumental and intrinsic value of enhancements, argues that too much enhancement undermines human identity, considers the possibility of cognitively enhanced scientists, and argues against radical life extension.

God Wills It: Presidents and the Political Use of Religion, by David O’Connell (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 2014, ISBN: 978-1-4128-5486-3). 352 pp. Hardcover $54.95.

David O’Connell analyzes hundreds of transcripts to discover the hidden strategy behind presidential religious speech. He asks when and why religious language is used and whether such language is influential. Case studies explore the religious arguments presidents have made to defend their decisions on issues such as defense spending, environmental protection, and presidential scandals. The author provides evidence that when religious rhetoric is used, public opinion typically goes against the president, the media reacts harshly, and Congress fails to do as he wants. But he says that presidents do not talk this way because they want to: Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush were quite uncomfortable using faith to promote their agendas, but they felt they must.

Unsafe Gods: Security, Secularism, and Schooling, by Lynn Davies (London: Insti­tute of Education, 2014, ISBN softcover 978-1-85856-525-5, PDF e-book 978-1-85856-549-1, ePub e-book 978-1-85856-550-7, Kindle e-book 978-1-85856-551-4). References and Index. 248 pp. Softcover $36.95.

In this era of revived fundamentalist religions, education has come under attack—literally as schoolchildren are mowed down in their classrooms and dorms in Pakistan and Nigeria and more subtly as curriculum changes are forced upon educators. The author argues that religion can be complicit in conflicts and that a new secularism is vital to foster security. It can be used to accommodate diverse faiths and beliefs in world politics and enable young people to develop the skills and networks to create change without resorting to violence.

Provocations: Don’t Call Them Liber­tarians, AA Lies, and Other Incitements, by Chaz Brufe (Tucson, Ariz.: See Sharp Press, 2014, ISBN: 978-1-9372-27605-8). 185 pp. Paperback $14.95.

A collection of the author’s essays and short pieces from the last three decades, most revised and expanded for this new book. Contents include: “Don’t Call Them Libertarians” (on the appropriation of the term libertarian by laissez-faire capitalists); “AA Lies” (on the ineffectiveness and religiosity of Alcoholics Anonymous); “Anarchism: What It Is and What It Isn’t,” “Means to Change,” and “20 Reasons to Abandon Christianity.” Provocations also includes the best 170 definitions from The American Heretic’s Dictionary and numerous caustic essays on politics, economics, and “livin’ in the USA.”

Voices of Humanism, edited by Gary Bauslaugh (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada: Rocketday Arts, 2014, ISBN 978-0-9877987-1-8). 262 pp. Softcover $22.

This anthology includes thirty-five articles by fifteen humanists. They showcase the rich and lively intellectual history of humanism and go beyond the issue of nonbelief to show how humanist thought enriches our thinking about many issues of human importance. The book is structured around the seven fundamental principles of humanism as defined in the 2002 Amsterdam Declaration of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. Bauslaugh is a past editor of the magazine Humanist Perspectives and a past president of the Humanist Association of Canada.

Reimagining God: The Faith Journey of a Modern Heretic, by Lloyd Geering (Salem, Ore.: Polebridge Press, 2014, ISBN paperback 978-1-59815-156-5 and e-book 978-1-59815-157-2). 250 pp. Paperback $20 and e-book $9.99.

In this engaging collection of essays, Geering retraces key developments in the Western understanding of God. He is a New Zealand theologian who was charged with heresy in 1967 by the Presbyterian Church and a member of the Jesus Seminar.

Freedom from Speech, by Greg Lukianoff (New York: Encounter Books, 2014, ISBN softcover 978-159403807-5). 48 pp. Soft­cover $5.99.

The legal protections of the First Amendment notwithstanding, the larger culture is increasingly obsessed with punishing both public and private individuals for allegedly offensive utterances. Academia has grown still more intolerant with high profile “disinvitation” efforts against some well-known speakers and demands from students for professors to provide “trigger warnings” in class to protect them from even G-rated material. Meanwhile, the global situation for freedom of speech has grown even worse. Lukianoff argues that as global populations increasingly expect not just physical comfort in their lives but intellectual comfort as a kind of right, threats to freedom of speech are only going to become more intense as time goes by. He offers potential solutions to ensure freedom of speech survives.

Belief & Unbelief, by Barbara G. Walker (Washington, D.C.: Humanist Press, 2015, ISBN 978-0-9317-7956-5). 180 pp. Softcover $16.95.

Twenty-two essays cover the spectrum, from “The Islamic Holocaust” being perpetrated against women to the dizziness of crystal-gazers in “Encountering the New Age.” Walker explains how religion has been perverted from its naturalistic roots in coping with the mysteries of life to a patriarchal orgy of violence. In “Does Religion Make People Good?” she responds with an emphatic “No!” and cites extensive evidence in “Bible Morality” that produces today’s Christian “God the Monster.” Women have borne the brunt of patriarchal religion’s evils, which she argues in “Religion as the Root of Sexism.”

The Soul Fallacy: What Science Shows We Gain from Letting Go of Our Soul Beliefs, by Julien Musolino, with a foreword by Victor J. Stenger (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2015, ISBN softcover 978-1-61614-962-8 and e-book 978-1-61614-963-5). Endnotes, bibliography, index. 287 pp. Softcover $18.00, e-book $11.99.

A cognitive scientist explains where soul beliefs come from, why they are so widespread culturally and historically, and how science offers a naturalistic alternative to religious conceptions of mind. He shows that a coherent, meaningful, and sensitive appreciation of what it means to be human remains and rebuts recent claims that science supports the existence of the soul and the afterlife.

Alpha God: The Psychology of Religious Violence and Oppression, by Hector A. Garcia (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2015, ISBN softcover 978-1-6388-020-7 and e-book 978-2-6388-021-4) Notes. 320 pp. Softcover $19.00, e-book $11.99.

The author is a clinical psychologist who uses evolutionary psychology as a lens to explain religious violence and oppression. He examines religious scriptures, rituals, and canon law, focusing on the image of God as the dominant male in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The concept reflects the dominant-ape paradigm.

Voltaire’s Revolution: Writings from His Campaign to Free Laws from Religion, edited and translated by G. K. Noyer (also the author of the Introduction) (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2015, ISBN soft­cover 978-1-6388-038-2 and e-book 978-1-63388-039-9). Endnotes. Softcover $21.00, e-book $12.99.

Voltaire (the pen name of Francois-Marie Arouet) was one of the most influential leaders of the French Enlightenment. This is the first English translation of many of his key writings from his famous pamphlet war for tolerance, written from 1750 to 1768. The pieces focus on the errors in the Bible, the corruption of the clergy, and religiously inspired persecutions, among other topics.

Islam Evolving: Radicalism, Reformation, and the Uneasy Relationship with the Secular West, by Taner Edis (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2016, ISBN 978-
1-6338-8189-1). 340 pp. Hardcover $28.00.

Edis evaluates the interplay of modern trends and Islamic values and devotes separate chapters to prominent examples of what he calls Islam’s “pious modernity.” For instance, while most Muslim societies embrace the applied sciences and technology, they are cooler toward aspects of science with materialist implications. They are also enthusiastically adopting a market economy and consumerism while preserving Muslim religious values. Even in such controversial areas as multiculturalism, individual human rights, freedom of speech, and gender roles, the author shows that Muslim societies are drawn toward a flexible conservatism. He critically evaluates attempts to import Western political and cultural notions into Muslim societies and draws interesting parallels between conservative Christian reactions to secular society and similar responses in Islam.

Atheism: The Case Against God, by George H. Smith, foreword by Lawrence M. Krauss (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2016, ISBN softcover 978-1-63388-197-6, e-book 978-1-63388-198-3). 384 pp. Softcover $18.00, e-book $11.99.

In this classic atheist treatise, George H. Smith sets out to demolish what he considers the most widespread and destructive of all the myths devised by human beings—the concept of a supreme being. With painstaking scholarship and rigorous arguments, Smith examines, dissects, and refutes the myriad “proofs” offered by theists—sophisticated, professional theologians—as well as the average religious layman. He explores the historical and psychological havoc wrought by religion in general and concludes that religious belief cannot have any place in the life of modern, rational man.

Andrea Szalanski

Free Inquiry Managing Editor

Julia Lavarnway

Julia Lavarnway is assistant editor at FREE INQUIRY, a columnist for the Secular Humanist Bulletin, and the managing editor of Skeptical Inquirer magazine.

Nicole Scott

Nicole Scott is the managing editor of Free Inquiry.


Brief reviews from Free Inquiry Vol. 36, No. 4.

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