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Superstition: Belief in the Age of Science Hardcover – October 12, 2008

4.2 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews
Book 2 of 2 in the Voodoo Science Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Science is the only way of knowing—everything else is just superstition, says physicist Park (Voodoo Science) in this thinly argued rehash of the debate between science and religion. Among other questions, Park revisits experiments regarding the healing power of intercessory prayer (prayer for the healing of others), citing several studies that he claims are meaningless because it is impossible to measure prayer. Further, he says, only science, not prayer, con protect us from so-called acts of God, like a tsunami. Park argues against the existence of the soul by debunking a tale of reincarnation and even interprets the Bible to his own purposes. But this chapter also shows how disjointed his arguments can be, as he jumps from the Plan B contraceptive to genes and memes to stem cells and ghosts. Such issues have been covered more eloquently and in greater depth by thinkers like Daniel Dennett in Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. (Nov.)
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From Booklist

For Princeton physicist Robert Park, science serves as a rapier for skewering all beliefs not sustained by empirical proof. Predictably, religion heads the list of targets. And much to Park’s credit, he engages some of the most scientifically respected exponents of scriptural faith, including fellow physicist Charles Townes and pioneering geneticist Francis Collins. Park particularly challenges the religious argument that the cosmos reflects a divine purpose and that the human moral sense ultimately depends upon sacred revelations. Devout readers may resist Park’s reasoning, but his refreshingly lucid style ensures that all will understand its internal logic. That logic pits experimental rigor not only against the creeds of antiquity but also against the irrationality of New Age gurus who evangelize for alternative medicines or extrasensory perception. Strong when crusading against others’ credulity, Park leaves unanswered questions when he begins extolling the liberating virtues of his own atheism. In particular, readers may wonder why he never addresses the problem of free will within his life-is-just-chemistry metaphysics. Sure to spark sharp debate. --Bryce Christensen

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; First Edition edition (October 12, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691133557
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691133553
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,195,354 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a fan of Robert Park's book "Voodoo Science", I was pleased when this book came out. Park provides a enjoyable reading experience for the layman, touching upon various flashpoints of the conflict between science and pseudoscience, adroitly incorporating lucid, well-reasoned arguments, and his own personal experiences, told in a reader-friendly prose that avoids excesses of technicality, without succumbing to attempts to dumbing down the reader. While he is hardly the first to espouse the importance of naturalism and scientific skepticism in the topics covered, his willingness to express views that are not often heard even in the annals of skepticism, such as his views on manned spaceflight, is refreshing.

I was surprised, however, to read the Publishers Weekly review for the book here at Amazon. Offhand, I can't recall ever previously seeing negative reviews in the Editorial Reviews section, and was under the impression that that section was intended to serve the interest of the author or publisher in promoting it. Nothing wrong with learning otherwise, I suppose, since Amazon is free to do as it wishes on its site, but what surprised me (though in retrospect I suppose it shouldn't have) was the threadbare reasoning, Astroturf Logic and outright deception that PW employed in its review.

PW begins with some questionable recounting of Park's conclusions, asserting that Park cites prayer studies that "he claims are meaningless because it is impossible to measure prayer." But PW never refutes this seeming dismissal on Park's part by explaining what's wrong with it. In fact, Park doesn't just claim these studies are meaningless.
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Format: Hardcover
With acerbic wit and humorous repartee, Robert L. Park, professor of physics at the University of Maryland, asks why we believe weird things even when no evidence supports our claims.

"Science," he writes, "is the only way of knowing--everything else is superstition. Everything in the universe is governed by the same natural laws; there is a physical cause behind every event."

A humanist and naturalist, Park asserts that science rejects appeal to authority in favor of empirical evidence. He attacks pseudoscience--from so-called "intelligent design" and young-Earth fundamentalism to New Age mysticism, homeopathic "remedies," and snake-oil "cures."

"Science," he says, "is the only way humankind has found of separating truth from fraud or mere foolishness; it's what we've learned about how not to fool ourselves."

If you like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, you'll love Robert L. Park.
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This is a very interesting book. It is kind a diatribe against religion, and yet he very open to conversations with believers. I liked the way he bought out the oddities and inconsistencies that some people believe because it is part of their religion. He is an avowed atheist, but his friends throughout this book are a couple of Roman Catholic Brothers. They are all inquisitive people, but none of them are willing to change their religion.
After a lot of reflection, I have come to understand that Christianity is based on mythology (if you need faith, you are believing in mythology, or else it is fact and faith is unreasonable), and this book speaks of Christianity as mythology, the first time I have seen it in print as such.
He goes through a lot of interesting science and religion and health claims and puts them into a form where you can see the impossibility of them being true. Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research studying parapsychology does a lot of extensive studies to prove the existence of ESP, but Mr. Park suggests they could just have the participants move a scale with little or no weight on it. If it works, consistently, there is the proof, if not, there is no proof and no need to spend more on proving nothing happens.
There was some talk of habitats built in orbit to relieve population growth in the Seventies. He explains how he gives this as a problem for his students to see if they can prove or disprove its practicality. It is not possible, too much money and energy and too many people to be accommodated.
This was one exceptional book. Easy to read and understand and interesting.
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Bob Park has done a great service in this book about current superstitions in mentioning the "superstitious nonsense" known as vitalism, the foundation of many 'alternative medicines,' including naturopathy [which ludicrously claims such survives scientific scrutiny!]. Here's a sample, and I quote:

"at the beginning of the twentieth century, the existence of a 'vital life force' or 'divine spark' still seemed necessary to some scientists [...] this is the ancient concept of vitalism, which long ago lost any meaning in science. The chemistry and physics that animates matter has ceased to be a mystery. Certainly since Watson and Crick resolved the mystery of DNA, there is no longer a need for a 'divine spark' [p.081...and] Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection in particular gave rise to naturalism [...which] left no room for vitalism or other spiritual explanations. The germ theory of disease, emerging from the work of Pasteur and Koch after the death of Darwin, would prove to be the death of such superstitious nonsense as vitalism [p.151]."

I recommend all of Dr. Park's books -- including this excellent one -- and his "What's New" weekly online UM column.

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