12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Little Book
I truly enjoyed this book. Dr. Cunningham is a sharp thinker and an excellent writer. Although written as a rebuttal to Francis Collins' book "The Language of God", this book serves as a great survey of common arguments used by Christians to defend their faith. Dr. Cunningham is respectful, yet blunt when it is called for. He goes to great lengths to not construct a...
Published on September 29, 2010 by Johnny London
70 of 123 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Big Picture and Little Picture: Both Wrong
Written by a medical geneticist with a high-school and undergraduate education by the Jesuits, this book aims to "decode" the recent classic by Francis Collins but misses both the big picture and the little picture. The Big Picture: Consider Dr. Cunningham's problem. He cannot impugn Dr. Collins's scientific credentials. So he must step outside science while pulling under...
Published on February 8, 2010 by David Williams
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Little Book,
This review is from: Decoding the Language of God: Can a Scientist Really Be a Believer? (Paperback)I truly enjoyed this book. Dr. Cunningham is a sharp thinker and an excellent writer. Although written as a rebuttal to Francis Collins' book "The Language of God", this book serves as a great survey of common arguments used by Christians to defend their faith. Dr. Cunningham is respectful, yet blunt when it is called for. He goes to great lengths to not construct a straw man, but rather it is clear that he truly wants to understand, and to articulate sincerely and accurately the positions which he argues against. This intellectual honesty, for those of us who find such things very edifying, is refreshing. Highly Recommended.
23 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good old-fashioned smackdown,
This review is from: Decoding the Language of God: Can a Scientist Really Be a Believer? (Paperback)I have to admit that at some points while reading this book, I felt so much sympathy for Collins that I didn't want to read on. Cunningham absolutely eviscerates him. Normally, I don't mind if someone's arguments get hammered because we need to vigorously challenge ideas in order to move forward; however, I do have a lot of respect for Collins' scientific achievements (it should be noted that Cunningham is an esteemed scientist as well). Collins is quite deservedly held in high regard and this book takes nothing away from those achievements, nor should we lose sight of the fact that Collins operates well above the ignorance of the creationist/fundamentalist community.
Although this is a serious book, Cunningham has an excellent sense of humor. He points out the absurdities in Collins' views, though it's almost unfair given how easy it is to attack faith-based claims. As many authors in the freethought community have noted, supernatural ideas don't answer any questions, all they do is create more absurd and irrelevant questions (consider the issue of theodicy, for example).
Finally, I think we can perhaps speculate on the author's motivations here. That is, why write a book like this, particularly since presumably Collins' intentions are good - that is, he's aiming for some sort of reconcilation between science and religion. Having spent a lot of time in the freethought community (in addition to the faith community), and having the pleasure of meeting Dr. Cunningham personally, it's clear to me that Collins' book is offensive for largely the same reasons that televangelists and imans are offensive. They make claims with no evidence; claims that represent an implicit attack on the foundation of human knowledge, and do nothing but divide humanity along schisms of "faith". Collins' case is particularly egregious because I think he "enables" the supernatural worldview (and its consequences), and his book implies (erroneously) that supernatural/faith-based thinking is prevalent in the scientific community.
I'm the author of a novel, Kaleidoscope, in which I explore many of these themes.
17 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Strong critical response to Francis Collins' The Language of God,
This review is from: Decoding the Language of God: Can a Scientist Really Be a Believer? (Paperback)In this book, fellow geneticist George Cunningham takes on the major points former head of the Human Genome Project Francis Collins makes in his best-seller The Language of God. Collins attempts to demonstrate that belief in evangelical Christianity is compatible with a scientific worldview. Cunningham strongly disagrees with this premise and devastatingly refutes all of Collins' arguments one by one. For anyone who has read The Language of God, believers and skeptics alike should read Cunningham's book as well. I have read both books and I definitely feel Cunningham comes out on top.
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling and Well-thought out Book,
This review is from: Decoding the Language of God: Can a Scientist Really Be a Believer? (Kindle Edition)Decoding the Language of God: Can a Scientist Be a Believer? by George C. Cunningham
"Decoding the Language of God..." is a wonderful, well-written book by geneticist George C. Cunningham who rebuts Francis Collins' best-selling book, "The Language of God..." It's a book that cogently, and with lucid logic effectively destroys all of Mr. Collin's main points. The book is composed of the following nine chapters: 1. From Belief to Atheism, 2. Evidence and Rules of Engagement, 3. The War of Worldviews, 4. What's Wrong with The Moral Argument?, 5. Cosmology Origins of the Universe, 6. The Bible, 7. Naturalism (Atheism and Agnosticism), 8. Supernaturalism (Ethical, Monotheism, Spirituality) and 9.A Personal God?
1. A gem of a book! Well written, researched, and reasoned book that was a treat to read.
2. Elegant conversational prose that uses a direct yet respectful tone in destroying Mr. Collin's main points.
3. This book is critical thinking at its best. Profound without being unintelligible.
4. More wisdom for your buck! I've learned so much from this book.
5. Great explanations for knowledge...worth the price of the book!
6. Great defense of science.
7. Reason versus faith, a one-sided battle.
8. Mr. Cunningham obliterates Mr. Collins' main defense of his religious beliefs. No contest!
9. How religious dogma do more harm than good.
10. Omnipotence and free will discussed.
11. The inconsistency of hell with "God's" infinite power of forgiveness. Compelling arguments throughout.
12. The problem of evil.
13. Unreliable biblical accounts and related matters. No evidence for the great Flood, the exodus or the existence of Abraham, Job, and Moses.
14. Miracles debunked...
15. Great arguments concerning morality.
16. How brain injuries impact humans.
17. The imperfect universe.
18. Biblical immorality.
19. Great quotes, "Science deal with reality, and religion with supernatural unreality".
20. Compelling arguments throughout made by Mr. Cunningham are a staple of this great book.
21. Great conclusion section.
1. No formal bibliography.
2. Having to wait for Mr. Cunningham's next book.
In summary, I loved the "Decoding the Language of God..."! This book was pure brain candy. This is a surprise gem of a book. I got so much more out of it than I anticipated. It's a treat to read a book with well thought out arguments. I can't recommend this book enough!
Further recommendations: "50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God" by Guy P. Harrison, "Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists" by Dan Barker, "Christian No More: On Leaving Christianity, Debunking Christianity, And Embracing Atheism And Freethinking" by Jeffrey Mark, "Atheism Explained: From Folly to Philosophy (Ideas Explained)" by David Ramsay Steele, and "Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity" by John Loftus.
9 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cunningham gets it right,
This review is from: Decoding the Language of God: Can a Scientist Really Be a Believer? (Paperback)This thorough and thoughtful rebuttal of Collins' book is an outstanding piece of work. As I pointed out in my review of the Collins book (q. v.), Collins' basic premise is that there exists an absolute "moral law" which must be attributable to a deity (and specifically the Judaeo-Christian one). But Collins is doubly wrong here: firstly, there is no such thing as an absolute moral law: moral codes differ among societies and over time, and there is nothing absolute about any of them. Secondly, it would not be evidence of the existence of any sort of deity (Christian or otherwise)if there were, any more than the law of gravity does. It is unfortunate indeed that Collins' theological reasoning is not up to the quality of his science.
See also: Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape (p. 160-174) for more on this.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Collins decoded,
This review is from: Decoding the Language of God: Can a Scientist Really Be a Believer? (Paperback)This is virtually two books in one - Francis Collins' "The Language of God" and Cunningham's - as the author here cites verbatim the key points made by Collins and proceeded to refute the claims he (Collins) made. The language of Cunningham was clear, precise, and devoid of emotional terminolgy. The reader is thus able to compare the two conflicting views in a rational manner. It is the sort of book a scientist would write. Cunningham was once a Christian (Roman Catholic) and he explained in his introduction what led him to the path where he is today, an atheist so far as the Christian god was concerned. He then set out how a scientist would proceed to examine the evidence and basis for the study of whether a god of the Christian variety can exist. The choices are between reason and evidence on the one hand, and unproven, subjective beliefs in the supernatural, on the other. His main attacks against the Christian criteria of an all knowing, all powerful, and all good god were based on the problem of evil and the scientific improbability of the creation of the human race in just 10,000 years. He questioned the idea of an intelligent supernatural being creating a flawed universe for the sake of human companionship. Why, he asked would such a being feel such loneliness that he would crave the fellowship of man? He challenges the assumption that the desire for moral behaviour points to the existence of a super moral being. His analysis and study of the sole basis of Christian beliefs - the Bible - is worth the price of the book alone. The greatest Christian miracle, the Resurrection of Jesus, was described in the four Gospels (all written by unknown writers) and in complete contradiction to each other. Mark's version said that when the three women appeared at the tomb, it was already opened. Matthew embellished it by describing how the stone was rolled open in front of them. Luke made no mention of the women, and John had only Mary Magdalene visiting the tomb. All other details were also at variance with each other. According to Cunningham Biblical scholars found between 200,000 to 400,000 textual versions of the Bible existed before the present (still varied) version churches use today. He made the point that the inerrant word of God inexplicably led to so many different Christian versions even today Greek Orthodox has 50 books in the Old Testament, the Hebrews have 39 and the Christians have 39 plus 27 New Testaments, and the Catholics have 46 in their Bible. Cunningham's clear and detailed account refuted the idea of a "free will" defence for God. Either God knows everything in advance or he does not. Either free will is truly free or it is not. One cannot have it both ways. This is just a short synopsis of Cunningham's arguments. It is worth reading them in full. Finally, he pointed out that Christian fundamentalists among many other divergent Christian groups do not accept Collins' idea of the Christian God.
10 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This inspirational survey offers plenty for debate and dialogue,
This review is from: Decoding the Language of God: Can a Scientist Really Be a Believer? (Paperback)DECODING THE LANGUAGE OF GOD: CAN A SCIENTIST REALLY BE A BELIEVER? A GENETICIST RESPONDS TO FRANCIS COLLINS comes a geneticist who presents a point-by-point rebuttal of THE LANGUAGE OF GOD by Francis Collins, and is a pick for any library where Francis Collins' work is studied. Here Cunningham argues that there is no scientifically acceptable evidence to support a belief in a personal god - and much that discredits it. This inspirational survey offers plenty for debate and dialogue.
4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth the read,
This review is from: Decoding the Language of God: Can a Scientist Really Be a Believer? (Paperback)Definitely worth it. Cunningham takes a thorough and logical approach to rebutting Collins book, as well as general topics in the existence of god discussions. I have not read Collins book but had no problem following (in most cases Cunningham pastes verbatim and adds context).
Whether your a believer and want to challenge yourself, a non-believer and want to discover others viewpoints, this will serve both!
Avoiding scientific jargon (or explaining when he does) its suitable for teens and above.
Would very much enjoy reading a rebuttal to this book!
Thanks Dr. Cunningham
70 of 123 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Big Picture and Little Picture: Both Wrong,
This review is from: Decoding the Language of God: Can a Scientist Really Be a Believer? (Paperback)Written by a medical geneticist with a high-school and undergraduate education by the Jesuits, this book aims to "decode" the recent classic by Francis Collins but misses both the big picture and the little picture. The Big Picture: Consider Dr. Cunningham's problem. He cannot impugn Dr. Collins's scientific credentials. So he must step outside science while pulling under the mantle of science his argument that the believing scientist is a fraud, a magical thinker, or (in a closing attempt at graciousness) suffers from "cognitive dissonance." How can such an argument be made to work? The technique here is to state the conclusion magisterially and repeat it relentlessly, harmonizing the motif with variations taken from the chapters of Dr. Collins's book. The bare bones of the argument? A scientist cannot be a believer. Why not? Why, because a scientist cannot be a believer. Yes, that is Dr. Cunningham's conclusion and his premise. Aristotle and the medieval logicians and the Jesuits, although of course we have moved way beyond these people, called this the fallacy of "begging the question."
Where does this kind of thinking get us? Is a mathematician or a violinist allowed to say he loves his wife without equations or a sonata, or would this be cognitive dissonance? What about the poor truck driver who loves Bach and a beer but doesn't know the code of the musician or the brewer? God help him if he loves poetry too. Is he not allowed to talk? The chilly imperialism of the biologist or physicist who says "there's no talk outside my talk" is arrogant and self-contradictory. Someone--Thomas Kuhn? Niels Bohr?--famously said, "Don't listen to what the physicist says, just watch what they do." That is to say, weigh differently what the scientist does and what the scientist says it all means. I am sure that Dr Cunningham's own courtship was not conducted in code about occipital cortex and hippocampus and synapses, nor did he even tell himself that by not talking in neural code he was just talking symbolically. But a world divided between science talk and myth-making is a small and crabbed world. So, poets and scientists alike, we can take religion and faith seriously; more, we must confront its claims to truth, right norms of behavior, and the inviolacy of human dignity. To the scientist who puts on his high hat as Spokesman of Science and accuses us, "That is not science," we answer, "Of course it is not science. Nor is most of life. Nor, incidentally, is your accusation science."
And he gets the Little Pictures wrong, usually wrong in a big way. Start with prayer. Dr Cunningham talks of measuring the efficacy of prayer by counting number of wishes granted, cures, miracle, etc. But the real measure of prayer is Jesus in Gethsemane: "Take this cup from me, but not my will but Thine be done." That was intercessory prayer. "Take up your cross and follow me." "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done." Perhaps you can ask "scientific" questions about certain kinds of "prayer", like the *prayer* of the quarterback or of the battlefield general, but it is ludicrous to think such an exercise sheds any light on the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane, Theresa of Avila, or Mother Theresa of Calcutta, to which believers aspire. This is the fallacy of equivocation, calling different things by the same name, deconstructing *prayer* then claiming prayer is superstitious.
The problem of evil, why do terrible things happen to innocent people? is for Dr Cunningham the nail in the coffin of God. There are questions for which any conceivable verbal answer is inadequate. This is one of them. Another is when your true love asks, "Why do you love me?" These words are questions. Are the answers words too? Are words even expected? Would words be tolerated? The answer of the believer to the Problem of Evil is not words but a person, Jesus on Calvary. God loved the world so much he took on a human body and suffered like one of us. The challenge to believers is to keep this always in front of them.
Consider apparitions and mystical experiences. Leave alone the skepticism which the official Catholic Church treats any of these claims before accepting them. Dr. Cunningham claims they don't happen because--are you ready for this?--they can't happen. If someone could have tested Bernadette at Lourdes or Lucia at Fatima with an EEG or a PET scan during an apparition, a believer-scientist would expect to find occipital brain activity without a retinal image. How else would a human visionary experience the apparition but through her brain? But Dr. Cunningham, using the fallacy of the undistributed middle, concludes that this proves the apparition is a seizure or a hallucination, because these too stimulate occipital brain activity without the eye participating.
Consider Dr. Cunningham's notion of person, carefully constructed so as not to forbid abortion and euthanasia. It is an amalgam of notions, a monster of body parts cobbled together. It is a function of the brain (so, you see, God cannot be a person because, having no body, he has no brain). Being a person means one is conscious of "his or herself", "capable of interacting with other humans and the environment in a meaningful, rational, and empathetic way," "capable of assigning values and meaning to people, objects, and events in his or her experience." Although there is more of this, the definition fails when the person falls asleep or gets a rap on the head, and moreover it would be a stretch for the definition to cover a baby or even a 6 year old boy. But, don't worry, Dr. Cunningham can amplify the definition in his next edition. Another lump or suture line on the face of this Frankenstein monster wouldn't even be noticed.
A few other notions invite comments. In his closing pep talk to scientists, Dr. Cunningham says, "The compensation for accepting the truth of a scientific worldview is the joy of the physical pleasures of the body and the intellectual pleasures of an active mind." What self-inflated nonsense. The joys are available to you whether you are a scientist or not, and whether you have hobbled your mind with his narrow worldview or not. Then we get this: "For science, the ultimate value is truth; for religion, the ultimate value is unquestioning faith." Again, what nonsense. There are certain experiments we would not conduct on humans despite the truths of physiology or molecular biology or psychology or pharmacology they might give us. Yes, we want truth, but not truth at any price, and not just truth that comes from a spectrometer or Petri dish. And unquestioning faith? That is a betrayal of his Jesuit teachers, whom earlier he credited for their promotion of "critical thinking." Perhaps he is confusing Christians for the soldiers of the Light Brigade: "Their's not to reason why." Or maybe dogs, I don't know.
In summary, Dr Cunningham's book fails as an intellectual enterprise. He disagrees with Dr. Collins because Dr. Collins has got it wrong, because, you see, Dr. Collins can live with cognitive dissonance but a true scientist like Dr. Cunningham cannot. The book fails even to get the target right, as in this howler: "According to most Christians, Jesus is not just one person but three persons in one divine person interacting with his self." Of course, no Christian believes that. At first I thought it was a typo, but, no, Dr. Cunningham goes on to call it (accurately) a logical impossibility. But he actually thinks that's what Christians believe. Even Wikipedia gets the Trinity right, for Pete's sake, why can't Dr. Cunningham or Prometheus Books? The book is full of this kind of gabble. If you must read it, borrow a copy.
2 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Response to "Decoding the language of God",
This review is from: Decoding the Language of God: Can a Scientist Really Be a Believer? (Paperback)Response to "Decoding the language of God"
From a first glance at its contents this book seems to be clearly written and most atheists will probaly be satisfied by its contents, but they will hardly become much wiser.
I have just received the book; and have as yet read but a few lines here and there. I may not care to read much more. Why? To any reader but his own disciples it ought to be immediately obvious that his arguments are not strictly scientific, but basically based on his a priori faith that God does not exist.
His paragraphs on "Why is there something rather than nothing" (p. 104-105) is for example most speculative, his admitting that "This cyclical universe hypothesis is not the current scientific consensus, but it is more reasonable than supposing a supernatural creation". That this Hypothesis"is more reasonable than supposing a supernatural creation" is of course plain atheistic faith. Moreover, since the universe is a closed system (in Cunningham's faith), the universe entropy must increase with time -which means that less and less energy becomes usable for the work required to renew the presumed cycling universes, so that the universe(s) will become more and more INHABITABLE; which by the way, anyway will happen in a far, far future, scientifically speaking, to this present universe, if not before in an nuclear bomb created inferno. Nuclear and biological weapons are creations by clever scientists, high priests of Cunningham's scientific god. Science with faith in God is good, science without faith in God is most dangerous, as shown for example by the disasters caused by the God-haters Hitler, Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Mao, to mention just a few, of the atheist tyrants of the last century.
As well George Cunningham's comment on "The spirit molecule" (p. 244-245) is faithful to an atheistic interpretation. That dimethyltryptamine might open up a gate to experiences beyond the reach of General relativity space-time, is not, of course, an option to a convinced atheist.
Note added (April 2013): Cunningham refers a few times to Blaise Pascal without informing his readers that the mathematician also was a devote christian.
I myself do not advocate the use of drugs for spiritual purposes. In fact I would strongly warn against it. The Bible says, and so is my experience, that nobody can see or experience the kingdom of God without being a born again christian, by faith. Sins not forgiven by faith in Jesus Christ prevent us from seeing the kingdom of God.Cunningham's denial thus confirms the Bible in this respect, in my opinion.
Magne Kongshaug, retired biophysicist
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Decoding the Language of God: Can a Scientist Really Be a Believer? by George C. Cunningham (Paperback - December 22, 2009)