Books Archive

Friday, February 25, 2011

Book Review - God- or Gorilla?, First Part of a Series

God or Gorilla PicMy parents bought me an interesting present for Christmas a couple years ago. It was an old book published in 1922, titled God- or Gorilla? How the Monkey Theory of Evolution Exposes Its Own Methods, Refutes Its Own Principles, Denies Its Own Inferences, Disproves Its own Case. As you can guess, the author, Alfred W. McCann, was not a big fan of universal common descent. (For those of you who may be wondering, my parents aren't creationists - they bought the book because they knew I'd find it interesting.)

After reading the book, I knew I wanted to do a review of it on this blog, but I wasn't exactly sure how. McCann's not really a household name, so I didn't feel like he had a strong influence that needed to be countered. I also do have a bit of sympathy for his position, in that the evidence for evolution wasn't quite as strong in the '20s as it is today (it was still pretty strong, though). He also spent a good deal of time debunking the Piltdown Man, which is now widely acknowledged as a hoax. However, one of the things that struck me about the book is that many of the arguments that McCann used are still being used by creationists today, so refuting those arguments is still relevant.

I'd originally intended to quote just a few passages to give the flavor of the book, with a little commentary and links to the relevant entries in the Index to Creationist Claims where appropriate. However, once I started skimming through the book and pulling out interesting quotes, I ended up with 40 pages worth of excerpts! So, I decided to turn this into a series. I'll try to post a new installment to the series every Friday.

McCann's writing style was a bit, shall we say, flamboyant. In fact, it is eerily similar to the kook style you see on Internet forums today. I can only imagine what the book would have looked like if the publisher had allowed multiple fonts, or had the ability to do color printing. I've tried to quote the book faithfully throughout this review. Any italics, bold, or other forms of emphasis, unless specifically noted, were done by McCann himself. On a similar note, McCann was very fond of using '(sic)' in the quotes in his book. To avoid confusion, I'll use '[sic, jrl]' whenever I use the term.

This book is available online through The Internet Archive and Google Books, though without the musty smell and incoherent scribbles in the margins that you get from the real deal. Actually, that's not quite true - the Google copy does have a few scribbles, but not nearly as many as my copy. The Internet Archive edition appears to match the edition I read, while the Google edition lacks the appendices.

Obviously, I'm going to criticize creationism quite a bit in this series of entries, so, let me make the necessary disclaimer right up front. I realize that around half the people in this country are creationists. For most of them, I think it's simply ignorance. I don't mean that as an insult - it's a failure of our country's education system. So, if you're a creationist who's never been exposed to a good discussion of evolution, don't take offense to my comments here. My frustration is directed mainly at people like McCann and his modern day counterparts like Ken Ham or Ray Comfort, who despite being so ignorant of evolution, are actively spreading their misinformation to others. (For a fuller version of this disclaimer, read my entry, Run of the Mill vs. Big Name Creationists.)

To make sure that I didn't stall out mid-book, I actually completed most of the review before I started posting entries. So, I have the advantage of seeing how the entire review turned out, which you readers won't know for a few months. I do think it's interesting, and I hope you enjoy it, but looking back, I'm not sure it was worth the effort I put into it. Had I put the same effort into writing something a little more organized, I probably could have created a better resource for learning about evolution. So, I doubt I'll ever do another review of this depth (I'm no Slacktivist). If you do enjoy this review, savor it.

As one last introductory note, I'll be using this entry as a table of contents for the series. I will make updates here with links to all of the subsequent entries in this review.

Added 2013-01-22 I've slightly reorganized this site, putting all of these entries into their own section. So, if you want to just browse through them all, you can read them at:
God - Or Gorilla? Archive

Proceed to Introduction & Chapter 1

Monday, January 31, 2011

More Thoughts on Left Behind After Finishing the Book

I'd already written my initial impressions of Left Behind after reading the first 50 pages. I mentioned in that entry that I'd started reading Slacktivist's reviews of the book, which had biased me against the story before I even started reading it. Well, I finally finished the first book. My pace reading the book outstripped my pace reading Slactivist's blog entries, so I was able to be less biased by preconceptions. That helped. The book still wasn't the greatest, but I could at least begin to suspend my disbelief and enjoy the story for what it was. In fact, I think I'll try to finish the whole series (just not all at once).

Much of what I wrote in my initial impressions hasn't changed. The two lead characters, Cameron 'Buck' Williams and Rayford Steele, aren't very sympathetic. You don't so much root for them, as just read to see what's going to happen. The two characters that readers could relate to the most were Hattie Durham, the flight attendant that Steele had led on for years, only to dump in the aftermath of the Rapture, and Chloe Steel, Rayford's daughter.

One thing I didn't mention in the first review was the lack of detail. The introduction of Hattie Durham described her as "drop dead gorgeous", but that was all the detail given. Different people have different ideas of what constitutes "drop dead gorgeous", so I was left wondering if she was beutiful in an Elle McPherson sort of way, or a Tyra Banks sort of way, or a Halle Berry sort of way, or Marilyn Monroe sort of way, or an Eva Mendes sort of way, or a Salma Hayek sort of way, or an Angelina Jolie sort of way, or, well, you get the picture. There are so many different ways a woman can be considered gorgeous, that it's not a very descriptive description. It wasn't until around 50 pages into the book that we learned Hattie weighed 115 pounds, and we didn't really get much more description after that. And this was similar to all of the main characters. I now know that Buck is blonde, and in reasonably good shape, but L&J gave so little detail that I just imagined him throughout the book to look like Kirk Cameron, the actor who played him in the movie.

I think one of the most interesting aspects of the book is what it revealed about L&J's view of the world (and by extension, those people with similar outlooks). L&J portrayed non-believers as being skeptical of religion, or just not being very interested in religion at all. But remember, they're writing about a post-Rapture world. Everybody on Earth had already witnessed the miraculous defense of Israel during the Russian attack, and the sudden disappearance of billions in one instant. These aren't miracles on the scale of seeing the Virgin Mary in a potato chip. These are the types of events that would make James Randi and Michael Shermer sit up and take notice. Given the continued skepticism of religion exhibited by many characters in the book following these miracles, I can only imagine that that's the way L&J see the world, now. They must think that evidence for the divine is obvious, and us skeptics choose not to see it. I'm not sure if they understand how much some of us have looked for that evidence, or the sincerity of our non-belief. (Or maybe they're Calvinists, and don't think it matters how much we try, since Yahweh's already decided who he's going to save and who he's going to punish for all eternity in the fiery furnace with the gnashing of teeth.)

There's a similar theme with conspiracy theorists. In the world of Left Behind, there's a global cabal pulling all the strings behind the curtains. Buck Williams knows an informant who's told him of various meetings and decisions of this group. But despite the informant being right, even on extremely unlikely events (like predicting the global economy consolidating on three currencies - dollars, marks and yen), Buck still treats the guy as a bit loony because he's a conspiracy theorist. In the real world, conspiracy theorists are mocked not just because of their outlandish ideas, but because of their lack of evidence to back them up. If any conspiracy theorists could back up their ideas the way Buck's informant did in the book, people would start taking them seriously. Again, I wonder if this comes from L&J's own experience. They're entirely convinced that their own outlandish ideas are true, yet they've been mocked repeatedly for those ideas. Is that just how L&J think the world deals with (what they consider to be) true ideas?

Left Behind wasn't great, but it wasn't horrible, either. It wasn't, as Slacktivist said, "The Worst Book Ever Written." At the very least, it gives you some insight into the mindset of premillenial dispensationalists. If you can get past the corny dialog, unlikeable heros, and lack of detail, and then suspend your disbelief about the implausible scenarios, you can enjoy the book. I liked it enough that I'll probably read the rest of the series.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Some Early Thoughts on Left Behind

I've written before about the dangers of not knowing enough about a book when you begin reading it - it may end up being a completely different type of story from the type you usually enjoy reading. I've also written about the danger of knowing too much about a book before you start - it might bias your perception of the book. I recently began reading Left Behind, and I think it might be a case of the latter.

Specifically, I've been reading some of the blog posts from Slacktivist (as I write this, page 32 is the start of his (her?) Left Behind posts, but newer entries get added to the beginning, pushing older posts back, so there may be more pages if you're reading this a while after I first posted it). Slacktivist really, really doesn't like the Left Behind series, and frequently calls them the Worst Books Ever Written. As an evangelical Christian himself (herself), Slacktivist disagrees with LaHaye and Jenkins' interpretation of the Bible. But, worse than that from a story telling perspective, Slacktivist thinks the books are written badly. To put it in his (her) own words, "they're so consistently awful in so many different ways: theologically, politically, ethically, stylistically, all presented along with howling errors of continuity, logic and even basic geography. All of which combines to make these books not merely bad, but instructively bad." (Here's another example of one of my favorite posts from Slacktivist.)

After reading a few of Slacktivist's entries reviewing the books, I'm already biased against them. So far, I'm around 50 pages into the story, and while I can accept the religious aspects, it's been hard not to focus on the corny dialog, the lack of empathy of the main characters, and some of the simply unrealistic aspects.

Consider a few examples. One of the main characters, ace reporter, Buck Williams, flew into Chicago O'hare airport immediately after the Rapture. The book described a scene of utter destruction, with crashed planes strewn about the airport. Even if it weren't for the taxiways being blocked, all the terminals were full, anyway. So, after our heroes had landed, they had to walk back to the airport, through the wreckage. The book says that Buck Williams was "the first passenger from his flight to reach the terminal at O'Hare." Stop and think about that, keeping in mind how most people reacted after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Buck didn't stop to help a single one of the people in distress on the airfield. Instead, he rushed past every one of them in his hurry to get back to the terminal. Now, maybe Buck's supposed to be shown as a callous jerk in these early chapters, so that we can see him become a better person once he's born again (like Scrooge after being visited by Marley and the three spirits). I hope so, because right now, he's not a very sympathetic character.

On his way out of the plane, Buck had banged his head at the bottom of the emergency slide. Once back in the terminal, a doctor noticed his wound, and offered to stitch it up for him (why the doctor wasn't out on the airfield helping people is a bit of a mystery). But, just read what the doctor said when he was stitching Buck back up, "Be a big boy there, stud. This'll hurt less than the infection you'd get otherwise." Who talks like that? Was the doctor Olivia Newton John?

To illustrate the worldwide extent of the Rapture, the book described a newscast. There was a clip of a pregnant woman, whose baby was raptured in the middle of the delivery. Here's how the book described it, "CNN reran the footage in superslow motion, showing the woman going from very pregnant to nearly flat stomached, as if she had instantaneously delivered." This sounded a bit fishy to me. My wife just so happens to be a nurse who spent several years working in labor and delivery, so I asked her how long after delivery it took for a woman to be 'nearly flat stomached'. She said around a week or two for most people, but maybe one or two days if the woman had kept in really good shape during the pregnancy. It certainly wasn't immediately after the birth - the uterus was still enlarged. My wife did suggest that maybe the magic of the Rapture accelerated this woman's recovery.

I still have over 300 pages to go in the book, and possibly a whole lot more if I continue with the rest of the series. So, I'm going to do my best to quit being so critical, and try to just enjoy the story. It is better than Twilight, at least.

Added 2011-01-20 - I had another thought cross my mind when reading these books, and I'm pretty sure it's not the one LaHaye and Jenkins (L & J) want people to walk away with. Once people figure out who was responsible for all the suffering, death, and destruction caused by the Rapture, you'd think many of them might be out for vengeance. Consider that when L & J described Russia and her allies attacking Israel and showed God intervening to destroy the entire invading military force, He made sure that every piece of debris and crashed jet fighter that hit the ground didn't injure a single Israeli. He showed it was in his power. But in their description of the aftermath of the Rapture, L & J describe a catastrophe, where pilotless airliners had flown themselves into the ground, taking all their passengers with them, and where driverless cars had rammed head on into cars full of unfortunate non-believers. L & J haven't dwelt much on the consequences of all these accidents, but you have to assume that they left many survivors injured, maimed, and suffering.

If any human terrorist had caused the type of suffering and destruction that occured because of L & J's Rapture, people would be screaming for his blood. It would be similar to Americans' hatred for Osama bin Laden, but where practically everyone had been personally affected, everywhere in the world. If they were to discover that this Carpathia fellow were the enemey of the being that was responsible for their wife becoming paralyzed, or their husband losing a leg, or their father being in a coma, or their son being blinded, or their daughter being disfigured by burns, I can imagine people joining Carpathia's forces in droves to get revenge, resulting in a final battle like Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy, attempting to dethrone God to set up a Republic of Heaven. I wonder if this is part of how the story line will play out? (From reading ahead in Slacktivist's reviews, it doesn't look like it. Instead, Carpathia's trying to bring about world peace. Damned liberal hippy.)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Book Update

Book Cover to Leaving Christianity: A Collection of Essays by Jeff LewisI'm copying this in the original entry where I announced my book, but I figured I'd give it its own entry as well. My self-published book, Leaving Christianity: A Collection of Essays by Jeff Lewis, is now available through the print on demand company, Lulu, for the low, low price of $4.99. What makes this announcement different than the first, is that I've finally received my copy of the book to review, and it looks good. The few changes I'd made from the first review copy did help a lot with the layout. I'm not planning on making any changes to it for a while, so you're safe if you order the book now.

As a reminder, the book contains the essays from my Religious Essays section. You can still read the essays for free by following that link, but if you particularly like them, or want to share them with someone, you may want the book.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

My New Book Is Now Available

Book Cover to Leaving Christianity: A Collection of Essays by Jeff LewisI've published a book (sort of). It's the collection of essays from my Religious Essays section. The book is available through the print on demand company, Lulu, for the low, low price of $4.99 Here's the link to buy it:

Leaving Christianity: A Collection of Essays by Jeff Lewis.

The essays are still available for free on this site, but I figured some people (okay, just me) might want a nice, professionally printed and bound copy of the essays.

I say that I only 'sort of' published the book, because it's super easy to publish on Lulu. You don't have to convince anybody that your book's good enough. You just upload it, hit the publish button, and anybody can buy it. It's the modern version of a vanity press, but without having to pay for a print run.

I've only looked over 1 review copy, and haven't actually ordered this latest version, yet. I think it should be okay, though. The review copy I got looked pretty good already, and I only made minor changes. So, if you order the book, I think you'll be safe.

Added 2011-01-12 I finally got the review copy that incorporated my revisions. It looks good. The changes did help with the layout and made the book easier to read. So, you're definitely safe if you order the book now.


Selling Out