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Skeptics and True Believers by Chet Raymo
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Skeptics and True Believers (edition 1999)

by Chet Raymo

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262466,987 (3.67)2
Member:muralijayapala
Title:Skeptics and True Believers
Authors:Chet Raymo
Info:Walker & Company (1999), Edition: 0, Paperback, 288 pages
Collections:Your library
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Tags:non-fiction, philosophy, pb

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Skeptics and True Believers : the exhilarating connection between science and religion by Chet Raymo

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Raymo is a physicist and astronomer who cannot quite accept the idea of God, nor quite leave it alone. He makes the case that science is part of the “traditional religious quest for the God of creation.” He defines a vital religious faith as having three components: a shared story of the universe and our place in it (cosmology), a personal response to the mystery of the world (spirituality) and a public expression of awe and gratitude (liturgy). Before getting into his argument, he identifies two “postures” that reveal the schism in our culture: Skeptics and True Believers. The Skeptic trusts the human mind to make sense of the universe, accepting the “evolving nature of truth” and a measure of uncertainty.

True Believers look to the outside for help in understanding God, spirits, extraterrestrials, looking beyond human capabilities. “They are repulsed by diversity, comforted by dogma, and respectful of authority.” Many great religious leaders can be counted among the Skeptics and numerous scientists, blindly accepting the authority of science, fit into the category of True Believers. Our culture is woefully schizophrenic. We embrace the fruits of technology and science while often holding religious beliefs flatly contradicted by scientific evidence. A 1993 poll revealed almost 50% of Americans believe in a geologically young earth despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. A two-to-one majority of Americans picked religion when queried which explanation they would choose between conflicting religious and scientific explanations. Raymo finds his miracles in the wonders of the world: the Red Knot a bird that flies 9,000 miles to return to specific feeding grounds without ever having been there. This ability is apparently coded in its DNA, an extraordinarily simple sequence of paired nucleotides that enables profound complexity. “Miracles are explainable; it is the explanations that are miraculous.” Ironically, what the Skeptic believes is often harder to imagine than what the True Believer accepts: the impossibly twisted strands of DNA reproducing themselves flawlessly, versus the familiar finger of God imparting life to Adam. The Skeptic is willing to believe the unfamiliar. “Certainly it is easier to believe in fairies than in DNA. It is also more consoling, more selfedifying, more entertaining. Fairies play into the whole gamut of human emotions: love, fear, power, powerlessness, ‘the land of lost content’ of childhood. But ‘fairies’ are a concept we can do without and still make perfect sense of the world. We cannot do without the concept of DNA whether we are Skeptics or True Believers.” Science is deliberately boring, he says. It is the “one human endeavor that has proven relatively immune to the passions that divide us. There is no such things as Jewish science, Christian science, Muslim science, Buddhist science. There is no such thing as male or female science, black or white science, Democratic or Republican science.” That doesn’t mean it can’t be misused or misinterpreted or argued about, but it remains a tool “for human improvement that is anchored in repeatable, verifiable observation, rather than in prejudice and passionate conviction.” “Give me evidence for your belief,” Raymo asks, to which the response often is, “It makes me feel good,” or “The truth is out there.” “They have become, in short, True Believers by default. And fair enough. Certainly it is better to feel good than to feel bad. But the price the True Believer pays for feeling good can be a chasm between intellect and intuition, and exile from a scientific story of the universe that, like it or not, is our best story, a story that is empirically reliable and therefore ultimately more meaningful than any mishmash of New Age enthusiasms. The choice, on the face of it, is between a hard truth or an easy high.” Yet, to use his metaphor, “knowledge remains an island in a sea of mystery.” We all yearn to be part of something greater than ourselves. Yet finding the proper balance between yearning and learning is essential. . “We learn by hard experience that miracles don’t happen. . . . We cannot be fully human without both. . . Yearning without learning is seeing Elvis in a crowd. . . [or] following whatever current guru offers the most promising prospects of eternal life. . . .Learning without yearning is pedantry, scientism, idées fixes. . . believing that we know it all, that what we see is what we get, that nothing exists except what can be presently weighed and measured. . . science without a heart, without a dream, without a hope of beauty.. . Yearning without learning is seeing the face of Jesus in a gassy nebula. Learning without yearning is seeing only the gas.” ( )
1 vote ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
Each chapter contains an essay on a skeptics vs believers topic. Some of them are quite interesting, but I found most of them dull and fairly predictable.

Thankfully this book isn't as condescending to believers as many of these types of book, but it still manages to be a bit smug at times even though I think the author tries hard to avoid this.

In summary, better than most of these sorts of books, but still ultimately disappointing for me. But perhaps that's more down the subject matter than the author: I wonder if this topic can ever be covered in a neutral, insightful and non condescending way? ( )
  Pondlife | Jun 20, 2012 |
What I love about Raymo is that, being a physicist and skepticist, he still admits the need for mystery and awe and a longing for God. As he writes, ”Finding the proper balance between yearning and learning can keep us occupied for a lifetime. [...] Yearning without learning is seeing the face of Jesus in a gassy nebula. Learning without yearning is seeing only the gas.” [pp. 59-61] And quoting the British writer and cartographer Tim Robinson, “Miracles are explainable; it is the explanations that are miraculous.”

While some enthusiastic skeptics like Richard Dawkins tend to almost attack the reader with their arguments, Raymo goes into something more like a critical dialogue, which I find to be more in the spirit of what I consider a true skeptic. Raymo is also an excellent writer, and it seems like his love for the text is as big as his love for the argument.

The book contains fourteen more or less free-standing essays, but I think it's a good idea to read the first chapters in row to get a view of what Raymo means by skepticism. His two intellectual postures Skeptic and True Believer are defined in the first chapter. At first, I found their frequent use (always capitalized to be clear) a bit silly and simplifying, but they are nevertheless quite useful as long as a mean for distinguishing an intellectual position from a person taking on that position. This is not the kind of book that give answers, but that give great input for dialogue, discussion and self-reflection. ( )
  danmichaelo | May 28, 2011 |
Acknowledging that the scientific & the spiritual communities are increasingly split, the author, a physics & astronomy professor, builds strong bridges between them. He asserts that while rejecting pseudo-science and religious fundamentalism, it is time for a religious renaissance inspired by "cosmic knowledge, the power of good, awareness of mystery, a sense of responsibility for all creation, and a longing for union with the Absolute." In the process, science does not deplete mystery, but extends it. "As knowledge deepens, so does wonder."

God as Mystery has long been part of the mystical tradition, and it is a usage that is universal, non-sectarian, and inclusive. The author doesn't use the word Pantheism, but his articulation of this new religious philosophy is ultimately Pantheist: "Let your soul go free for a moment into that scene outside your window, into vistas of cosmic space and time revealed by your physics, and there encounter, gape-jawed and silent, the God of birds and birth defects, trees and cancer, quarks and galaxies, earthquakes and supernovas - awesome, edifying, dreadful and good, more beautiful and more terrible than is strictly necessary. Let it strike you dumb with worship and fear, beyond words, beyond logic. What is it? It is everything that is." ( )
1 vote pansociety | Oct 15, 2006 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0802775640, Paperback)

Years ago, noted science teacher and writer Chet Raymo embarked upon his own quest to reconcile the miracle stories he learned as a child with the science he learned as an adult. Skeptics and True Believersis the culmination of that search—a passionate, ever-inquisitive statement that science and religion can mutually reinforce the way we experience the world.

Acknowledging that the scientific and the spiritual communities are increasingly split, Raymo builds strong bridges between them. He illustrates his argument with an array of thought-provoking stories, such as the remarkable migratory flight of a small bird called the red knot; the long, glorious glide of the Comet Hyakutake across the night sky; a hilarious alien abduction that didn't happen. Together, they are compelling evidence that religion should embrace the reliable knowledge of the world that science provides, while at the same time science should respect and nourish humankind's need for spiritual sustenance. "Miracles are explainable," Raymo paraphrases the writer Tim Robinson, "it is the explanations that are miraculous."

For anyone drawn to reflect on life's meaning and purpose, Chet Raymo's uncompromising skepticism and reverence for mystery will affirm and inspire.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:58:41 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Years ago, noted science teacher and writer Chet Raymo embarked upon his own quest to reconcile the miracle stories he learned as a child with the science he learned as an adult. Skeptics and True Believers is the culmination of that search. Acknowledging that the scientific and the spiritual communities are increasingly split, Raymo builds strong bridges between them. He illustrates his argument with an array of thought-provoking stories, such as the remarkable migratory flight of a small bird called the red knot; the long, glorious glide of the Comet Hyakutake across the night sky; a hilarious alien abduction that didn't happen. Together, they are compelling evidence that religion should embrace the reliable knowledge of the world that science provides, while at the same time science should respect and nourish humankind's need for spiritual sustenance.

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