Searching for Magic with Richard Dawkins

“I want to show you that the real world, as understood scientifically, has magic of its own–the kind I call poetic magic: an inspiring beauty which is all the more magical because it is real and because we can understand how it works . . . The magic of reality is–quite simply–wonderful.  Wonderful and real.  Wonderful because real.”  — Richard Dawkins in The Magic of Reality

When I heard that Richard Dawkins was writing a book for young people, I was semi-interested.  When I heard that the book was going to be illustrated by Dave McKean, I was solidly interested. When I read the above quote, I was sold.  I am so glad that someone else, with a bigger mouth than mine, is finally talking about the idea of “poetic magic.”  This is the best kind of magic because it never goes away.  The more we delve into it, the cooler it gets.  The more magical–awe inspiring, beautiful–it is.  This is the world in which we live.

This kind of magic is all around us, and people have been trying to understand it for a long time.  The Magic of Reality is a fascinating mix of history/culture, science, and art that brings science alive in a way that can’t help but draw in readers–even a “non-science person” such as myself–as it answers questions with the many ways humans have tried to understand the natural world with myth and science.   I must admit that I often found the cultural bits more interesting than the science bits, but the real draw throughout the book were the illustrations, which were almost a second narrative that intertwined with the text.  I imagined the illustrations as one reader’s imagination/thought process as he or she sorted through the stories and facts that filled the book.  Some pages are like dreamscapes while others are more like diagrams.  It really opens the book up to people, like myself, who aren’t used to thinking scientifically or who may connect with concepts more visually.  It really is quite striking.

That’s the good news.  The bad news is that not everyone likes Richard Dawkins’ way of talking about religion.  Even non-religious people don’t necessarily appreciate that this book includes the Judeo-Christian stories right next to the myths of others cultures with no differentiation between them.  I even blogged about my concern before I’d read the book.  Now that I have read The Magic of Reality, I’m less concerned.  It didn’t seem to cross any lines I hadn’t seen crossed in books aimed at young people before when addressing issue related to religion, faith, or critical thinking, in particular the Really, Really Big Questions series I blogged about recently.

These are just a few of the issues I discussed during a taping of an upcoming episode of Atheists Talk, which is a public access television show produced by the MN Atheists.  You might remember me blogging about it before.  Keep an eye for your local stations or for the podcast when it becomes available if you are interested in the whole conversation.

Meanwhile, I’ll be putting The Magic of Reality on the shelf for a while until Ladybug is old enough to appreciate it.  Can’t wait. :)

For more about science for kids, see my Secular Thursday page.

Disclosure: Amazon links are affiliate links.

Behind the scenes of Atheist Talk

A few months ago, a friend asked me for book recommendations for her son.  She was looking for a way to explain various religions to her young son from a secular perspective.  I have to admit, I love helping people find the right books, but I was less than enthusiastic about her request.  Books about religion for kids that aren’t religious?  I wasn’t expecting much.  I did a search and sent a list of books, each one with a caveat.  Most books that touch on religions have mixed reviews from professional audiences and let’s not even get into the customer reviews on Amazon and other booksellers’ sites.  It’s hard to sort the good from the bad, and I was wondering if there even were any good to choose.  But even after I sent the list, I kept up my search.  There had to be something out there, right?

I’m glad I kept searching because it came in handy when I was invited to discuss books for secular families on Atheist Talk, a public access television program produced by Minnesota Atheists.  We discussed books about religion and books about science that would have particular appeal to families raising children without religion.  It was a bit last minute, so I wasn’t able to share everything I wanted to share because I couldn’t get my hands on a copy of the book that quickly.  But I’m happy with the discussion.  Here is a shot of me with my friend James Zimmerman, who invited me on the show:


I’d never been on TV before, and I must say that I was really nervous. It didn’t help that the crew informed me that there was no editing.  Any mistake I made, big or small, would be included in the final version of the show.  James was a great host, though.  He kept the conversation rolling with questions about the books and stories of his own family’s reading.  We got great feedback from the crew after we finished taping.  My family cheered me on from the control room.  My three year old actually managed to stay and watch for the whole taping, which was two thirty minute episodes.

I’ll post the link to the video when it’s available online.  Those in the Twin Cities area can watch for me on their public access stations.  Information about channels and showtimes is available here.  Stay tuned here, though, because I’ll be blogging about the books we talked about on the show and the ones we didn’t have time to include.

I also feel compelled to mention that the television program and the organization behind it are not about denigrating religion.  The Minnesota Atheists as an organization are committed to positive atheism:

“Minnesota Atheists is Minnesota’s oldest and largest atheist organization. We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit, educational organization that seeks to promote the positive contributions of atheism to society and to maintain separation of state and church.”

The atheist community in Minnesota is a diverse group of secular individuals and families.  I’m happy that I was able to work with them, and I hope that they enjoy the books!