I had plans for this afternoon, then I thought ‘I’ll just read a bit, I need to finish it before Thursday'; the afternoon disappeared. If that’s not the best compliment to a book I don’t know a greater one.
This is the forth installment of the ‘Science of Discworld’ books, the first was published in 1999 and as the authors point out things have changed in the last 14 years.
Theories have been tested in new ways and been modified as new information had been made available. And that is the central argument of this book. Science is uncertain and ever questioning. Faith does not question, it merely ignores data that doesn’t fit.
Interweaving this discussion with a short story about Roundworld, the pretty bauble accidentally made when the Wizards of Unseen University made a booboo in the first Science of Discworld book, the authors illustrate their arguments using the best method possible when trying to explain concepts to Pan narrans : storytelling.
A radically fundamental sect of the Church of Om demands that the wizard hand over Roundworld. The Patrician decides to hold a tribunal into the matter. Into this milieu comes Margery Daw, librarian of Four Farthings, London, England, Earth. Highly educated and intelligent, with a firm belief in truth, and also the best runner at Roedean in her day, Margery has been transported to Discworld by the Unseen University’s Great Big Thing. Purely accidentally.
With wizards, gods, fractious priests and angry librarians, the short story is a very entertaining addition to the Discworld canon. However it is the joint author’s use of this allegory to illustrate the workings of the real world that makes this book such a worthwhile read. They make difficult concepts, if not simple, then easier to understand, are open about the uncertainty inherent in science and explain how different ways if thinking, analytical, universe centred versus faith based, human centred thinking, causes so much conflict.
The writing style is accessible and the authors try to explain technical terminology, crediting their readers with enough intelligence to make the necessary mental leaps and illustrating their narrative with plenty if examples.
Critical thinking is a necessary skill that many refuse to practice; always question everything you are told, probe it for loopholes and irrational thought. That essentially is the message of this book, and it is one I agree with. I may not always agree with the authors but they at least can form a rational argument. This book, along with the first three, should be available in all schools and libraries.
I recently read and reviewed a book proposing to advance the argument for atheism, it failed miserably. This book, based on solid science and rational argument, does a much better job.
And with that, I’m going to get on with at least on of the things I meant to do this afternoon.