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Christopher Petroni RSS Feed (Bozeman, MT United States)

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Jonathan Park, Vol. 4: The Hunt for Beowulf
Jonathan Park, Vol. 4: The Hunt for Beowulf
by Roy Pat
Edition: Audio CD
24 used & new from $11.11

6 of 52 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Entertainment? Yes! Education? No..., September 22, 2008
I first listened to the Jonathan Park series on a Christian radio station on one of my many long drives across the country. It's an attractive production, with enthusiastic acting, engrossing sound effects and a hilariously over-the-top storyline. I have no doubt that children find it thoroughly engaging. Unfortunately, therein lies the problem.

This series is funded by the Institute for Creation Research, which, as anyone who has done a cursory examination knows, does no research at all. All they do is perform public relations campaigns to convince people that creationism is legitimate science. Part of that campaign seems to be the indoctrination of children with such production as the Jonathan Park series. The result is that students' thinking will be set back years, if not for good, by pseudo-science and logical fallacy.

Here's an example from the episode broadcast last night, which happens to be on this collection: "Jonathan Park and Darwin's Fiery Mountain, pt 1." Jonathan and the kids travel to the Galapagos to investigate a new species of tortoise. All the while, Jonathan explains to his younglings that natural selection, the theory that, according to legend, was born in the Galapagos, cannot account for adaptive radiation, because "mutations cannot create new information." This idea is spouted constantly by creationists, despite the fact that they never bother to define exactly what they mean by information. In fact, nearly all mutations add information to the genome, even though very few of them actually produce a visible change. This is just one example of the ways in which such products for children twist children's thinking with misinformation.

This product gets zero stars for its education value, but I give it two stars for its capacity to entertain. The healthiest way to enjoy it with children would be to take time to discuss the claims Jonathan Park makes about science, and make sure the young ones understand exactly what is wrong with creation "science."
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 21, 2011 3:51 AM PST

The Blind Watchmaker
The Blind Watchmaker
by Richard Dawkins
Edition: Diskette
3 used & new from $8.00

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A useful (16-year-old!) analogy for selection, July 23, 2006
This review is from: The Blind Watchmaker (Diskette)
It astounds me how often Dawkins' detractors display a fundamental misunderstanding of his ideas. Dawkins never claimed at any point in "The Blind Watchmaker" that his software program of the same name constituted a perfect model of natural selection. It is a model of artifical selection, such as that which produced all the different modern varieties of dogs, and as such it demonstrates how selection acting on variation introduced by mutation can lead to increasing complexity and diversity. This it does admirably, even if there is nothing obviously "biological" about the biomorphs themselves. Dawkins can be forgiven his pride in his creation, I think.

A reviewer accused Dawkins of "never getting past" the arisal of a complete functional cell from nothing (the reviewer's words.) In fact Dawkins never made such a claim. Dawkins holds that life as we know it would have had to arise from a single self-replicating molecule, whose arisal is perhaps not overwhelmingly likely, but much more so than a complete cell.

The more I read into it, the more I believe that Darwinism is the only theory capable of explaining the complexity and diversity of life. I found the neo-Darwinian synthesis seductively easy to understand, staggeringly effective at explaining the way things are, and most of all, beautiful. My thanks to Dawkins for introducing me to it, if more through his books than through this software.

The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary Edition--with a new Introduction by the Author
The Selfish Gene: 30th Anniversary Edition--with a new Introduction by the Author
by Richard Dawkins
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.38
182 used & new from $7.74

7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Endlessly fascinating, and surprisingly life-affirming, July 4, 2006
Dawkins makes the fascinating point that, of all the sciences, evolution is the only one that laymen claim almost universally to understand. Most members of small town school boards would never feign understanding of quantum theory or general relativity, but when it comes to evolution they somehow know enough to require its teaching alongside "intelligent design" pseudoscience, or to ban its teaching outright. Thankfully, the book straightened out my understanding of evolution, leaving me not only with a beautifully simple and subtle understanding of how life on Earth came to take the form it now holds, but also with a better understanding of humanity's purpose on this planet.

That last point may surprise many readers. Judging by the popularity of Michael Edwards' review (it is quoted in Dawkins' introduction to the 30th Anniversary Edition), most people familiar with the book see in it a vision of a purposeless, aimless meandering through the eons, of humans as helpless slaves to their genes. After all, if humans are nothing more than "survival machines" with no more purpose than to carry the genes they contain down through the ages, what are we worth?

To someone used to thinking of human beings as the "dominant" form of life on Earth, as a species above and separate from all the rest, this book may be cause for despair. This is because the bald, unvarnished truth of the book, and of this view of evolution, is that humans are no more special than any other life form on this Earth. We are no more special than the deer, no more special than the algae, no more special than the simplest bacteria. Neither are we any less special.

Why should this revelation be a distressing one? We alone among all the creatures of the world, including humans still living as they did before contact with Western or Eastern civilization, have it in our heads that we must take our existence solely into our own hands. Dawkins rephrases "survival of the fittest" as "survival of the stable," meaning that the species, and strategies unique to them, that survive are the ones that cannot be improved upon under current circumstances. We have tried to improve upon the strategy for living as humans that evolved with us, and the steady decay of the world as a result is evidence that we are failing in the attempt.

That we are survival machines for selfish genes does not take away from the purpose of life. It merely changes us from masters of the Earth, or more accurately a rebel species at war with the rest of life, into just one among many, a gem in a mountain of gems, each no more or less precious than any other. If I've achieved nothing more than to confuse the reader, I recommend Daniel Quinn's books, most notable "Ishmael" and "The Story of B." They've shown me a meaning and purpose in life wholly compatible with our existence as gene-operated robots (so to speak.)

The Story of B
The Story of B
by Daniel Quinn
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.24
217 used & new from $0.01

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Continues the work begun by Ishmael, September 30, 2005
This review is from: The Story of B (Paperback)
I first read Daniel Quinn's "Ishmael" over four years ago, and as a direct result my way of looking at the world has been forever changed. In "Ishmael," Quinn outlines inescapably what has gone wrong here on Earth, and that we civilized humans, far from being a doomed race, are simply a single culture with a dangerously deluded idea of ourselves. As such, it is an immensely important book.

"The Story of B" did something entirely different for me. I had already read "Ishmael" when I began it; I had already been changed. "B" did something "Ishmael" had not; it spelled out in simple and beautiful terms the ancient and original role of humans on Earth, the role our species occupied universally before a destructive and maniacal lifestyle spread across the Earth, before what Quinn calls the Great Forgetting. It defined the once-universal religion called animism, not in the cold terms of an outsider but with the loving caress of a believer.

It's true that the book is told from the point of view of a Catholic priest sent by his order to investigate a possible candidate for the Antichrist, and in the end the name seems to fit, in a way. But you will find no great blasphemy here, only a plea to our people to walk away from their mantle of kings on Earth and into the more capable hands of the gods.

Nightfall in Middle Earth
Nightfall in Middle Earth
22 used & new from $4.94

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Metal for the non-metal fan (i.e. ME), July 13, 2004
I review this album as someone who knows next to nothing about metal. Rather, I was attracted to "Nightfall in Middle-earth" because I'm a die-hard Tolkien fan, and in this album Blind Guardian spins a roiling rock rendition of Tolkien's "The Silmarillion."
I can't speak knowledgeably of Blind Guardian's technical prowess, though their dense harmonies, rapid-fire double-bass beats and appropriately epic sound overall bowl me over. Rather, I can only speak to this album's remarkable invocation of the events and moods in "The Silmarillion;" of Fingolfin's desperate challenge of single combat against Morgoth, of Feanor's rage and anguish at the slaying of his father and the theft of the Silmaril's, and on and on.
If you're a Tolkien fan (but not necessarily a metal fan), you should look into this album. If you're a metal fan (but not necessarily a Tolkien fan), why are you reading this review?

The Histories of Middle Earth, Volumes 1-5
The Histories of Middle Earth, Volumes 1-5
by J. R. R. Tolkien
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $31.02
68 used & new from $19.27

199 of 206 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not for the casual fan, a tall glass of limpe for devotees, July 11, 2004
I first feel the need to level a good-natured attack at the reviewer who claimed that Christopher Tolkien spent uncounted exhausted hours reviewing and annotating his father's mountains of notes and manuscripts to "line his pockets." The very notion is ludicrous. The publication of the Histories was a labor of love, nothing more, and I for one appreciate it immensely.
"The Histories of Middle-Earth" is an invaluable collection for anyone who would know the process behind the creation of a literary world as vast as Tolkien's. For someone who has read "The Lord of the Rings," "The Hobbit," and "The Silmarillion" (I recommend also reading "The Unfinished Tales" first) and is interested in knowing more about the origins of Middle-Earth and Valinor, these volumes are fascinating. For someone who simply loves the story of LOTR and sees the greater history of Middle Earth as nothing more than a setting, these books probably aren't for you. Hence the four stars rather than five.

Harry Potter Quidditch World Cup - Gamecube
Harry Potter Quidditch World Cup - Gamecube
Offered by atouchofclass2000
Price: $49.00
104 used & new from $0.25

20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars... For Potter fans at least., November 1, 2003
In my head, I've been clamoring for this game since I first read through the Potter books in 2001. Quidditch is simply too well-realized a sport not to enjoy a video game incarnation; now, finally, we Muggles can play it whenever we wish.
From the first tutorial training challenges, Quidditch World Cup is immensely satisfying. The character animations and special effects are breathtaking, always worth the brief cutscene following any special move. Controlling the three chasers (the only position over which you have direct control until the end of a match) is simple and intuitive, though passing can get tricky at times. Whacking a bludger at an opposing chaser is always a sadisitic good time, and chasing down the snitch at the end of the match is appropriately exciting.
Are there problems with Quidditch World Cup? Absolutely. Most glaring is the utter lack of customization options, a staple for any respectable sports title. There is no way to slow down or speed up the snitch meter (when the meter fills up, the snitch chase begins, thus ending the match), and no storage of team or player statistics. These are minor gripes, and EA has plenty of time to resolve them in a sequel. All in all, these problems would probably only be an issue to non-Potter fans, who won't buy the game anyway.
All said and done, Quidditch World Cup is a charming and addictive realization of the fictional sport. And seeing as it's the only way any of us is ever going to get to take a turn on a Firebolt, it's at the very least a must-rent for Potter fans.

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