Archive for the Reviews Category

Review of The God Delusion

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , on November 23, 2008 by Joe

Rating: B+

[Book cover of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion]

As I stared at the cover of this delightfully bright, silver book, I expected grandeur. The book has sold over one and a half million copies, and has been cited by atheists for just an unholy amount of times. The author, Richard Dawkins, is a renowned ethologist and evolutionary biologist; known not only for his preeminent achievement in science, but also for his clear logic, high quality prose, and sharp wit. The God Delusion is currently perhaps the most controversial book arguing against religion, but I ponder whether it lives up to the high-standards so convincingly set forth by atheists.

It certainly has its faults. Chapter three, so titled “Arguments for God’s existence”, is almost embarrassing. I can only deduce that Dawkins wanted to preach to the choir when he employed such abusive labels as “perniciously misleading” and “infantile”. And when he employs a mocking “Nur Nurny Nur Nur” it is hard for a reader not to cringe. If I were religious, Mr. Dawkins would have needlessly offended me. The religious people who picked up the book should be eased in — not pissed into throwing the book away in anger!

Furthermore, Dawkins puts very little effort into his counterarguments. They are the same counterarguments people who have educated themselves on the religion debate have heard a million times. Indeed, I found myself increasingly bored throughout chapter three, as I slowly turned the next pages to find I had correctly predicted the route of his arguments.

In short, religious arguments are (admittedly) easy to refute, but if Dawkins wanted to convert more religious people, he should have gotten his act together, ceased using mockery, and started to take his refutation more seriously.

Chapter four, so titled “Why there is certainly no God”, does not get much better. But it certainly does get better. Dawkins correctly refutes the idea that a creator who has set up all the world’s variables, who simultaneously whispers in the ear of every religious person, and who maintains every single electron in every single atom in every single world is far more improbable than our universe either being spawned by black holes or being part of a system of an infinite number of multiverses.

In this chapter, the literary technique employed by Dawkins will induce many mini-epiphanies in the minds of his readers, especially if they have not studied the essence of our universe; however, Dawkins, once again, continues to be abusive. Not only that, but he begins a whole new list of No-Noes — a list that includes needlessly attacking many no-name religious individuals, and confusing the existence of a non-interventionist God with the Christian God.

Thankfully, the following chapters give a breath of fresh air. They deal with the psychology of religion, important case studies (the “Cargo cults” section is a must read), a discussion about the changing of morality, the indoctrination of children to religion, and a convincing argument as to why organized religion should be abolished. I spoke of “mini-epiphanies” in reviewing chapter four; well, chapters five through ten will leave your mind utterly engaged, perplexed, and bedazzled. Chapters five through ten are Dawkins at his best — it is when he forgets the devise of abstract arguments (which he unfortunately remembered for chapters two and three), and gets down and dirty with the cold hard facts. His ideas are nothing but elegant, and his original thoughts will fascinate.

After reading the book, I conclude that it has failed at its vital intention — to disprove the existence of God. Those two chapters contained so little substance that Dawkins resorted to petty personal attacks. But I believe it has succeeded, miraculously, at something perhaps unintentional. The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins, examines, investigates, and makes vital conclusions about religion.

His thoughts on religion dominate. Why is it that only one in twelve children deviate from their parents’ religious beliefs? How is it that religions have so much in common? How can atheists be moral without religion? Why should religion exclusively define morality? How and why does religion evolve throughout the ages? Dawkins answers all these questions — and more — in his book.

So sure, I was disappointed at first, because I expected a discussion on the existence of God. But mid-way through the book, I gave up my initial expectation, and I discovered a “wholly” different type of book. And that book was good.


Review of Simple Plan

Posted in Music, Reviews with tags , , , on September 28, 2008 by Joe

Rating: A+

[Cover of Simple Plan's third studio self-titled album.]

I’ve often been criticized for liking Simple Plan’s music, perhaps even rightly so. Why not? Their fan base is largely comprised of female teenagers; they sing songs with titles such as “The Worst Day Ever”, “Me Against the World”, and “No Love”; they’re a mainstream band; and they get heavy airplay on MTV. Simple Plan’s third studio self-titled album, Simple Plan, is no different; it’s the plan I love.

Or maybe it’s not. “It’s something totally different that we’re trying out. You know we figured this is our third album now and we needed to try stuff, just for ourselves. To keep it fresh and fun,” lead singer Pierre Bouvier explains. “Honestly I don’t really know how it is going to turn out but I have a really good feeling.”

The album’s opening song, “When I’m Gone” exemplifies this change in direction; an R’n’B-ish synthesizer loop begins the song, and a hip-hop beat follows the band through the song’s verses. The essence of Simple Plan is still there—its big choruses, catchy melodies, and powerful beat remain, but it’s different, and very noticeably so.

And this change doesn’t exclusively lie within producer Danja Hill’s R’n’B contributions either; there is something more. No longer are the band members merely expressing their discomfort with the world, they are now filled with genuine hope. For example, in its first verse, Bouvier boldly sings, “It’s like we’re going through the motions, of a scripted destiny / Tell me where’s our inspiration / If life won’t wait, I guess it’s up to me.” In other words, they are maturing.

There are throwbacks to their previous works though. “Take My Hand”, for instance, could have fit easily on the band’s second studio album Still Not Getting Any…. And “Time to Say Goodbye” reminds the listener of the fun, bratty pop-punk of their first effort No Pads, No Helmets…Just Balls. Both are excellent tracks, and they both reaffirm the band’s wide range of writing styles.

At this point in the review, I fear listing any further standout tracks, because they are all great. (Seriously, this album has very few blemishes, and is quite possibly the best album this year.) I will, however, note the closing track “What If”.

As a friend of mine, Gary, once told me, closing tracks are tracks that a band really puts everything they’ve got into. “What If” is a perfect example of this. A string orchestra opens the song, then followed by Bouvier’s mystically layered vocals, before the band kicks into full modern-rock force. I say this sincerely: You must listen to the track to get a feel for how awesome this song really is.

But back to my point, if indeed I had one. I don’t think I should be criticized for my liking of Simple Plan’s music. Beyond the fact that everyone has different tastes, the music, I believe, is universally good. What surrounds a band does not dictate the quality of its music. Indeed, it is the music that makes a band’s music good.

As just another know-nothing reviewer, I cannot force, nor can I rationally expect anyone to be affected by my opinion of this work. All I can write is that I highly recommend it. That said, I urge you to ignore the “easy guitar parts” and the band’s “image”, and to legitimately give the music a chance. You might like it.