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Did Adam and Eve Have Navels?: Debunking Pseudoscience Paperback – October 17, 2001

3.6 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Gardner is a national treasure...I wish [this] could be made compulsory reading in every high school—and in Congress. -- Arthur C. Clarke

Nobody alive has done more than Gardner to spread the understanding and appreciation of mathematics, and to dispel superstition. -- The New Criterion, John Derbyshire

[Gardner] zaps his targets with laserlike precision and wit. -- Entertainment Weekly

About the Author

Martin Gardner (1914-2010) is regarded as one of the world's leading experts on Lewis Carroll and his work. The author of more than a hundred books, he wrote the "Mathematical Games" column for Scientific American for twenty-five years and has been hailed by Douglas Hofstadter as "one of the great intellects produced in this country in this century."

Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (October 17, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393322386
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393322385
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,613,105 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

For 25 of his 95 years, Martin Gardner wrote 'Mathematical Games and Recreations', a monthly column for Scientific American magazine. These columns have inspired hundreds of thousands of readers to delve more deeply into the large world of mathematics. He has also made significant contributions to magic, philosophy, debunking pseudoscience, and children's literature. He has produced more than 60 books, including many best sellers, most of which are still in print. His Annotated Alice has sold more than a million copies. He continues to write a regular column for the Skeptical Inquirer magazine.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
There are certain qualities and characteristics that make a great writer. One is the ability to write well, of course, but closely related is the ability to convey clear and succinct concepts in a way that communicates with the reader. The best authors all leave me with that "ahah" moment, as they teach me something I didn't know before.
For these reasons and others, Martin Gardner is one of my favorite authors. I've enjoyed his articles over the years, and find his books both refreshing and educational. This book, "Did Adam and Eve have Navels," is consistent with Gardner's reputation as one of the best science and mathematics authors around.
Gardner's book consists of a collection of essays (there are 28), each dealing with some aspect of pseudo science (or, in some cases, I'd call it pseudo logic). The title on the front of the jacket corresponds with the subject matter of the first essay. There is something about simple questions and observations that fascinates me. They tend to be overlooked or ignored, but often lead us to deep insights. In Gardner's first essay, he explores the logic - or lack of it - in the idea of the mythical Adam and Eve and whether they actually had belly buttons. This seems like a whimsical question, and one probably best forgotten by most people. The problem is, as Gardner points out, whether you answer the question "yes," or "no," there are unexpected consequences.
This is pretty much Gardner's style throughout the rest of the book, as he picks off one after the other unsupported idea or myth. Topics include ideas about intelligent design, egg balancing, numerology, Cannibalism as a myth, Freud, and the Star of Bethlehem.
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Format: Hardcover
I found this the chewiest of the four Martin Gardner collections that I have read. Once again the venerable champion of common sense assumes his role as the sorcerer's apprentice trying to sweep back the tide of pseudoscience. And once again he provides insight into just how overwhelming that task really is.
There are 28 essays in this collection, all but one from Gardner's column in the Skeptical Inquirer. They range over such matters as UFOs, religion, social science, astronomy, evolution versus creationism, etc. There is a chapter on "Alan Sokal's Hilarious Hoax." ( I too thought it was pretty hilarious. See my review of The Sokal Hoax: The Sham that Shook the Academy (2000).) There is one on cannibalism in which I found Gardner's skepticism understandable, especially as he points out that it is always the other culture that makes the accusation; however his essay finally suggests that the debate may be more over the extent than in any doubt about its occurrence. The Adam and Eve question is of course a joke, but the kind of joke that has been taken seriously by some for hundreds of years. For me it's similar to the question about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. More germane is the chapter, "Freud's Flawed Theory of Dreams" followed by "Post-Freudian Dream Theory" in which it is demonstrated once again that Freud was, shall we say, mistaken.
The chapter on Carlos Castaneda is illuminating in what it reveals about the gullibility of some anthropologists, while the essay on the ill-fated Heaven's Gate "Bo and Peep" cult is sad. Gardner has some fun with Jean Houston, channeling master and New Age guru to Hillary Rodman Clinton.
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Format: Paperback
I read the intelligent design chapter of this book in a bookstore and was interested enough to buy it and read the rest. Based on the marketing of the book (bearing the subtitle "Debunking Pseudoscience"), I expected to read a set of discussions explaining the flaws in the reasoning of purveyors of popular but incorrect science. This was certainly the model for the chapter on intelligent design, which addresses the common arguments for this "theory" and points out their problems.

However, upon reading the rest of the book I was dismayed to find that the majority of the chapters spend precious little time debunking flawed science, and mainly give an exhausting list of the instances of a particular misconception. For example, the chapter on urine therapy spends vastly more time on various incarnations of this technique than on medical evidence showing that urine has no therapeutic benefit. Gardner addresses this point briefly in one chapter, in which he states that he wouldn't waste print space trying to have an intelligent argument over whether a certain topic is right or wrong. The implication being that it is beneath his intelligence to do so. And to be fair, this thinking is true for a great many of the topics in the book, including remote viewing, second coming prophecies, and UFO cults.

I therefore feel somewhat mislead that a book subtitled "Debunking Pseudoscience" focuses less on the inaccuracies of scientific misconceptions and more on completely and obviously ridiculous crackpot ideas. Expanding on Gardner's comment, this is not "pseudoscience", "science" doesn't belong anywhere near the label of many of these subjects.
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