Friday, January 18, 2019

Book Review: 'A Beginner's Guide to Skepticism' by Maor Kohn and Mati Cohen

A Beginner's Guide to Skepticism by [Kohn, Maor, Cohen, Mati]
‘Heaven is here, on earth, and if we do not take care of it, we will be banished from it.’

Authors Maor Kohn and Mati Cohen have penned what could be one of the more controversial books of the year. Though neither author reveals a background biography, it is clear that they are well schooled in both science and spirituality and that is the playing field on which this book s is written. Science and faith – complementary or contradictory?

In the Introductory comments they state, ‘We estimate that the difference between an atheist and a believer is, among other things, the ability to listen and to cope. [We consider an atheist as a type of skeptic, to a certain extent—an agnostic, who claims that he does not know whether there is a God or not until proven otherwise. And, therefore, he is an a-theist. Without a god]. From most of the debates we have held to this day, it is clear that most believers are not open to a concrete confrontation with scientific arguments, even the simplest ones. This is not a lack of scientific knowledge. This is a process of psychological confrontation with reality. It is very possible that each of the parties in this dispute is blind. It is very possible that the atheist does not have the
mental ability to view the world as a spiritual whole. It is possible that faith, even if it is not rational, makes the believer happier, it settles his mind and calms his spirit. It gives him a worthy purpose to live. This is indeed a sacred goal. But, perhaps, it is worthwhile for someone who believes in the supernatural to examine the alternative. To take the pill of sobriety and to allow himself the choice, between religion and science, with knowledge and understanding, and not to go blindly toward the absolute? This is not a preconceived assumption that the believer is less sober than the atheist. But by virtue of worshiping a supernatural being, it is appropriate to examine the extent of his sobriety. Either way and to be more confident, we took the same advice for ourselves before embarking on a journey. These are the impressions we collected on the way.’

What follows is a lucid examination of the spiritual and scientific view of the universe – with tools for critical observation and comparison rather than ‘taking sides’. The authors offer scientific alternatives to a cascade of spiritual issues. 

The writing is accessible and fascinating, for example the following is a portion found in the later porter of the book – ‘There is another God worthy of mentioning on the pages of this book; a God that appeared in our many conversations and was expressed even among secular people. This God also converges on one of the most common arguments of agnostics: “I do not know if there is a God but I also do not know if there is not. I feel that there is something there, an energy.” The God of nature, the God of the π, the God of Infinity. The secular, metaphorical, virtual, psychological God, the same God who is an expression of a psychological inner feeling, regardless of religious belief. The reference to this God is a psychological one (this book’s main issue). This God is a reference point that is not religious and is not based on belief for many people. It is a poetic God, a wailing wall, a source of hope or accusation. It was used by many artists, writers, poets, playwrights, bohemians. He is not part of any religion and one does not have to have faith in Him. It does not hold a mystical story, a collection of laws to obey, or rituals. It is part of the daily jargon, the discourse, the terminology we use to describe feeling, pain, joy, impotence. His name will be extended to concepts such as: “God knows,” “So help me God,” “With God’s help,” etc. There is no mistaking the existence of this God, it is not a true God, it has no powers, consciousness or interests. This God, in our estimation, is the most common God. The very use of this terminology expresses its existence, nothing more.’

Challenging and a rich palette of food for thought, this book should find a large curious reading audience.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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