In Case You Need Some Reading Material… June 9, 2008

In Case You Need Some Reading Material…

This isn’t anything new. In fact, some of you have brought it up before (and thanks to Krista for reminding me about it).

Dilbert creator Scott Adams has some interesting (and wrong) views on evolution and religion.

But he wrote a book some years back that had nothing to do with cartoons. It’s called God’s Debris.

It’s available as a free ebook (PDF).

As Adams writes about it:

God’s Debris is emphatically not for everyone. Although there’s no sex or violence, I don’t recommend it for readers under fourteen unless a parent has screened it. And if you don’t like to have your perceptions challenged, this book isn’t for you. However, if you like a good book-induced buzz now and then, I think you’ll agree that the price was right.

What’s the book about?

Imagine that you meet a very old man who — you eventually realize — knows literally everything. Imagine that he explains for you the great mysteries of life — quantum physics, evolution, God, gravity, light, psychic phenomenon, and probability — in a way so simple, so novel, and so compelling that it all fits together and makes perfect sense. What does it feel like to suddenly understand everything? God’s Debris isn’t the final answer to the Big Questions. But it might be the most compelling vision of reality you will ever read. The thought experiment is this: Try to figure out what’s wrong with the old man’s explanation of reality. Share the book with your smart friends then discuss it later while enjoying a beverage.

I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but some of you may have.

If you check it out (or have already done so), please let us know what you think.

[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

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  • Allytude

    I read the book a while back- and did not find it very gripping. It is interesting to a point, but then wanders off into realms I did not expect it to. Or maybe I was expecting something more Dilbertish. I do not understand the “not under fourteen” part.

  • Travis McDermott

    Dilbert creator Scott Adams has some interesting (and wrong) views on evolution and religion.

    Sorry Hemant. I don’t think I can read this. I treasure my neurons.

  • Kapture

    I read God’s Debris and the sequel a while back (The God War). There is no plot and no character development. They are short but dry. They posit what Adams calls a thought experiment about the nature of god. The first one is pretty much a dialog. The second involves a character from the first trying to divert the western and muslim nations by convincing their fictional leaders to accept his premises about the nature of god.

    Some of his ideas are mildly compelling but weird. Many of the rest, like his ideas about evolution (which he touches on) are weird and contrarian.

    Like his statements about atheism, many of ideas seem idiosyncratically logical. It’s kind of like he starts from a premise (Atheists must think they are god) back to a starting point (they claim 100% certainty).

    They are good natured, but they agitated my “bullshit filter.” They are probably less entertaining than the work you would do to read them would warrant.

  • Audrey

    I started reading it and am having trouble forcing myself to continue since I got to this point:

    Religious people are happier, they live longer, have fewer accidents, and stay out of trouble compared to nonreligious people.

    Mostly because it wasn’t qualified by anything. Just stated as though it were obvious.

  • I like tea

    That’s the most pretentious book synopsis I’ve ever seen.

    Definitely going to read this, though I can’t promise I’ll make it far into it.

  • I read it a while ago too, didn’t think much of the “thought experiment”. He just makes up a bunch of stuff that’s supposed to be thought-provoking, standard Scott Adams “stir the pot” stuff…

  • I like tea

    I’m about halfway through. So far my preconceived notions remain unshattered, and my mind remains unblown.

    There was nothing new or original in the book until about page 50. Just about everything the old man said could easily have come from the mouth of a first-year philosophy student. How exactly does this man “know everything”? He has a lot of opinions and is pretty short on actual facts. Oh, but that’s okay, because according to him there’s no objective reality. Sorry, old dude, but saying there’s no objective reality doesn’t count as knowing everything. That’s solipsistic thinking.

    Adams claims that the characters’ opinions are not his own, so I decided to keep an open mind and take him at his word. But at times, I have trouble believing that they’re not a mouthpiece for the author. And when the old man says things as stupid as, “Religious people are happier, they live longer, have fewer accidents, and stay out of trouble compared to nonreligious people,” it doesn’t matter if he’s someone’s mouthpiece or not, because he’s not a guy you want reshaping your worldview.

    When I read in the introduction that the old man had a “view about God that you’ve probably never heard before,” I wanted so bad for him to be wrong again and for the old man’s view of God to be another freshman philosophy talking point. But I will admit that I hadn’t heard of his idea of God before, and it’s a fairly interesting and (as far as I know) novel idea. It’s still hilarious, because it’s not nearly as revolutionary, mind-blowing, or worldview-shattering as Adams seems to think it is. (This, I suspect, is the cause of his pretentious and highly inaccurate claim that people under 14 shouldn’t read the book.) For it to be as foundation-shaking as he wants to believe it is, it would actually have to be true, whereas it’s just a cute idea that sounds cool but has no root in reality. Science fiction authors have been doing that for a century.

    Oh, and while he seems to think that the fact that he arrived at this idea through “logic” gives it some semblance of truth, he’s wrong, because the idea, while interesting, is just as self-contradicting as the classical notion of God.

    What’s really hilarious about all this is Adams’ self-importance. He thinks he’s an intellectual, while what he actually is is the kind of guy who could trounce a few philosophy undergrads and would feel insufferably pleased with himself for doing so. What he’s written is a book of philosophy, except it hasn’t been presented for peer review by actual philosophers, it wasn’t written by an actual philosopher, and it draws on none of the history of philosophy except by referring to a few ideas that have been around for centuries with an amusing pretense of originality.

  • I’d just like to point out that Scott Adams is an atheist.He just loves to say wacky things. So, don’t take comments such as religious people being happier than nonrealigous people too seriously as an argument from his side. Some months back in his blog, he used pascals wager to argue that Islam was the only safe bet.

    So, yeah….^^

  • I like tea

    Oh, I know.

  • Wes

    I’m about 50 pages through. So far it’s not as bad as I expected it to be–some parts of it I really enjoyed. But it’s not really mind-blowing either, and a lot of his “philosophy” is pretty superficial. I’d give it two and a half out of 5 stars so far.

    But I could see how someone who’s never bothered to consider doubts about God might find their beliefs challenged by it.

  • Steven Dutch has a good rebuttal to Scott Adams titled “Suckered by Intelligent Design: Where was Saint Dogbert when Scott Adams Really Needed Him?

  • drew

    Yeah, I have to echo the sentiments on here. It was fairly entertaining, but not really thought-provoking. I read it when I was still very much Christian, so that might have influenced my feelings towards it.

  • Scott Adams’ book just doesn’t cut it for “earth shattering”. I read it some time back, and it was mildly entertaining, but as Kapture said, it agitated my BS detector. I read it in 5 minute increments over a couple of nights right before bed. I don’t really feel a need to read it again.

  • Anticontrame

    I just finished reading it.

    I agree, it activates the BS meter. He skims over and selectively misrepresents too much in order to support his idea, while masking the superficiality of any single argument by constantly changing the subject. It almost felt like I was reading Dianetics again. :/

    He wiggles out of culpability in the introduction by saying that the opinions and philosophies contained are not his own, and by giving this disclaimer:

    The central character states a number of scientific “facts.” Some of his weirdest statements are consistent with what scientists generally believe. Some of what he says is creative baloney designed to sound true. See if you can tell the difference.

    I guess that gives him an out when it comes to his descriptions of evolution, light, the observer effect, etc.

    Despite the disclaimers, I got the same impression as I Like Tea: that these are probably versions of his views woven into story form. I’ve even read some of these opinions in his work before. The section on affirmations was mentioned at the end of Dilbert Future, though I was happy to read that he attributed it to something like cognitive psychology rather than a mysterious force this time.

    These things wouldn’t normally bother me, except that this story is presented as some kind of philosophical/theological allegory, and not as flat-out fiction.

    On the other hand:

    I thought it was a decent novella, from a “this is pure fiction” perspective. He tied a lot of different arguments together in an interesting way, though I didn’t notice any that were original to Adams. I have a feeling that a lot of atheists have heard most of them before, but I can see how it could be interesting to the average Joe.

    The main idea behind the story was developed in the early 1900s by a Jesuit, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, in an attempt to resolve conflicts between his faith and the Theory of Evolution. Since then a few philosophers have latched onto it, the latest being the dude who thinks physics proves Christianity.

    I’ve read some good scifi stories written around this concept, including the Hyperion series by Dan Simmons, The Last Question by Issac Asimov, and a few others. I just, ah, procured The Religion War. We’ll see if Adams can make his version work.

  • Anticontrame

    I just looked at the introduction to The Religion War.
    Get this (emphasis his):

    This is a sequel to my book God’s Debris, a story about a deliveryman who chances upon the smartest person in the world and learns the secrets of reality. I subtitled that book A Thought Experiment and used a variety of hypnosis techniques in an attempt to produce a feeling of euphoric enlightenment in the reader similar to what the main character would feel while discovering the (fictionally) true nature of reality.

    Hypnosis techniques!? Did anyone notice that they were being hypnotized while reading God’s Debris? If it were possible to hypnotize someone with a book, don’t you think that would be a little unethical?

    “Consider this worldview. Got it? Good. By the way, when I said ‘consider it’, I really meant ‘focus on it while I hypnotize you into thinking it’s true’ (fictionally).”

    Reactions to the book were all over the map. About half of the people who e-mailed me said they felt various flavors of euphoria, expanded awareness, connectedness, and other weird sensations that defied description. A surprising number of people reported reading the entire book twice in one day. So I know something was happening. But no two people had the same reaction.

    “Muhahaha! My spell worked! Well, the Probability that my spell works is apparently 50%.” (Probability – spooky!)

    So… was it a “thought experiment”, or a new holy book?

    Other people wrote angry letters and scathing reviews, pointing out the logical and factual flaws in the book. It is full of flaws, and much of the science is made up, as it states in the introduction. I explained that the reader is supposed to be looking for flaws. That’s what makes the experiment work. You might think this group of readers skipped the introduction and missed the stated point of the book, but I suspect that something else is going on. People get a kind of cognitive dissonance (brain cramp) when their worldview is disturbed. It’s fun to watch.

    So it was an experiment, but those of us that noticed he was skimming over factual errors and flaws in his thinking weren’t really critically evaluating his holy- I mean, thought experiment. Our puny brains were just experiencing so much cognitive dissonance that we failed to understand his disclaimers. At least he derives pleasure from our confusion.

    The most interesting readers are the ones who have instant amnesia after reading the book, angrily insisting that there were no new ideas in it. False memories are a common side effect of having your worldview suddenly bent. You might love the book, you might hate it, but if you can remember it, you’ll be interested to hear that some readers thought it had no new ideas.

    Wait a minute… I said, “He tied a lot of different arguments together in an interesting way, though I didn’t notice any that were original to Adams. I have a feeling that a lot of atheists have heard most of them before”. In other words, I didn’t notice any new ideas. It couldn’t be that I’ve actually read these arguments and ideas before in the works of Teilhard, Dennett, Aristotle, Spinoza, Hume, Asimov, Simmons, etc. Those must be false memories manufactured by my apparently still-reeling mind. Maybe we wouldn’t contract this weird form of amnesia if he cut back on his secret hypnotizing.

    My target readers for The Religion War are bright people with short attention spans, especially lazy students and busy book clubs. I try to avoid tedious descriptions of scenery and clothing. I hope you don’t miss them. You can read the whole thing in three hours, and it’s packed with ideas to mull.

    While the story is fiction, most booksellers will list the book under nonfiction because its purpose is to highlight the most important—yet most ignored—questions in the world. I list some of those questions in the back of the book, but they won’t make complete sense until you’ve finished the story. I call them “Questions to Ponder.”

    So this isn’t really a fiction book based on Teilhard’s omega point. It’s more of his “most important-yet most ignored” pseudo-philosophical omega point theology made into a short story for the lazy people with short attention spans.

    After reading that, I think my earlier comparison to Dianetics was on the mark. I don’t buy his disclaimers: I think this is what he wants people to believe. I can easily imagine Adams spinning this thing into a new Scientology.

  • Richard Wade

    Watch. Watch my words. Read my words. See how the sentences flow. With a rhythm. Shorter, longer, shorter, longer. Feel how the words are relaxing. Relaxing. Yes. Relaxing. Feel yourself relaxing. Yes, that is right, relaxing. My words are relaxing. You are relaxing. As you read my words. You are very relaxed. So relaxed. You are calm. So calm. and now,

  • I like tea

    Hahahaha, thank you so much for posting that introduction to The Religion War, Anticontrame. Adams is an even more self-important shithead than I realized. “All these people loved it because it changed their worldview. Everybody who hated it hated it because it changed their worldview. The people who thought it was unoriginal just thought that because it changed their worldview.”

    The poor man is delusionally convinced that nobody can read his book without it changing their worldview. Even most real philosophers aren’t that arrogant. (And philosophers can be a pretty arrogant bunch, but I love them anyway.)

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