Many of you saw Richard Dawkins offer a preview of The Magic of Reality at TAM 2011. The book was published later that year, and Dawkins recently embarked on a book tour of the US. He was accompanied by Executive Director R. Elisabeth Cornwell and Sean Faircloth, Director of Strategy and Policy. They only visited a few states, including Hawaii, Oregon, California, Colorado and Texas, and there will be forthcoming events in Ann Arbor, Michigan. At an event in Portland, Dawkins broke away from the theme of the tour, to speak about religion in politics. His lecture was a call for politicians to discuss their religious beliefs, and for these views to be held open to scrutiny.
I had the opportunity to meet with him at two events, including a reception where Dawkins admitted that he, “Couldn’t be a paranormal investigator; I’m too gullible.”
With his preference to not preach to the choir, Dawkins was scheduled to present a talk at the U.S Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. However, they canceled suddenly, for “mysterious” reasons. Those who know the area know that these reasons are less mysterious and more expected. The city is full of such delights as mega-churches, the Focus on the Family ministry, and the Turin Shroud Center. Dawkins recovered quickly from the cancelation. Instead, they planned a lecture at the ("haunted") Macky Auditorium at the University of Colorado, Boulder. With a week’s notice, they had sold over 1,500 seats.
Dawkins’ latest book isn’t aimed at evolutionary biologists or atheists, but 12-year-olds. The Magic of Reality answers twelve fundamental questions that children ask, and that various religions and belief systems have attempted to explain thorough myths and religion. The book encourages critical thinking and a scientific worldview for young people.
Dawkins explains that there are three kinds of “magic”. There is the mystical “magick” that presupposes a belief in the paranormal. There is the type of “magic” that is performed by magicians, such as Randi. Finally, there is a kind of “poetic magic” that we refer to when we are deeply moved by beauty, such as sunsets, rainbows, music or the “slow magic of evolution”. Dawkins teaches that truth has a magic of its own.
The first chapter answers the question, “Who was the first person?” Dawkins explains that there was no “first person” as such, and that our “185 millionth great grandfather was a fish”. Other chapters address a range of important questions and phenomena. Why are there so many different kinds of animals? What is the sun? What is an earthquake? Are we alone? Why do bad things happen? What is a miracle?
Each chapter begins with the telling of tribal myths and indigenous folkloric explanations for these questions, and then presents easy to understand, scientific explanations. Dawkins also points out that sometimes it’s okay to simply say, “We don’t know yet”.
The book includes some beautiful illustrations by Dave McKean, featuring some drawings of none other than James Randi.
The Richard Dawkins Foundation is organizing a number of campaigns and projects at the moment. For more information, and to become involved, visit here.
Dr. Karen Stollznow is a research fellow for the James Randi Educational Foundation.