THE SPLENDID FEAST OF REASON

S. Jonathan Singer, Author, Seymour Jonathan Singer, Author
S. Jonathan Singer, Author, Seymour Jonathan Singer, Author . Univ. of California $24.95 (242p) ISBN 978-0-520-22425-4
Reviewed on: 05/28/2001
Release date: 06/01/2001
Paperback - 242 pages - 978-0-520-23911-1
Ebook - 267 pages - 978-0-520-93732-1
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Emerging from a lifetime spent in the laboratory to survey the human condition, biologist Singer finds himself appalled: "[W]e are heading for disaster unless much higher levels of intelligence and altruism are applied to our burgeoning problems." What raises his spirits is his contemplation of a great human virtue, the power of Reason. Yet modern humankind forgets this power, he says, allowing itself to be guided by irrationality in all fields of endeavor. Singer (a member of the National Academy of Science and emeritus professor at UC-San Diego) proposes nothing short of revolution to resituate rationalism in what he sees as its proper place in society. He contends that while many irrationalists have hypocrisy as their "first and last refuge," rationalists display seven distinct features, including the conscious choice of reason as guiding light; esteem for scientific knowledge; a penchant for truth-seeking, often against conventional wisdom; rejection of religious beliefs; and open minds. He believes religion exists to explain the external world and provide safety from its terrors. Singer extols biology and quantum physics as rationalism's greatest achievements, claiming that the workings of the physical world demonstrate the irrationality of religious beliefs. His overview of modern biology focuses on the opportunity to offer scientific explanations for reproduction, aging and death that supplant irrational beliefs in life after death. Though not blind to the vagaries and excesses of science and technology—"much of the research... is redundant and inconsequential"—Singer clearly believes that biological world models offer the foundations for any thoughtful activity today. While Singer's prose is inviting and lively, his subject has been examined with greater effect in E.O. Wilson's On Human Nature and Consilience and Richard Dawkins's Unweaving the Rainbow. (June)

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