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The Magic of Reality

The Magic of Reality 1

How we know what's really true

by Richard Dawkins
Publication Date: 03/10/2011
1/5 Rating 1 Reviews

A stunning collaboration between a world-famous scientist and outstanding illustrator

What are things made of? What is the sun? Why is there night and day, winter and summer? Why do bad things happen? Are we alone? Throughout history people all over the world have invented stories to answer profound questions such as these.

Have you heard the tale of how the sun hatched out of an emu's egg?Or what about the great catfish that carries the world on its back?Has anyone ever told you that earthquakes are caused by a sneezing giant? These fantastical myths are fun - but what is the real answer to such questions?

The Magic of Reality, with its explanations of space, time, evolution and more, will inspire and amaze readers of all ages - young adults, adults, children, octogenarians.Teaming up with the renowned illustrator Dave McKean, Richard Dawkins answers all these questions and many more.In stunning words and pictures this book presents the real story of the world around us, taking us on an enthralling journey through scientific reality, and showing that it has an awe-inspiring beauty and thrilling magic which far exceed those of the ancient myths.

We encounter rainbows, earthquakes, tsunamis, shooting stars, plants, animals, and an intriguing cast of characters in this extraordinary scientific voyage of discovery. Richard Dawkins and Dave McKean have created a dazzling celebration of our planet that will entertain and inform for years to come.

Natural history
Publication Date:
Transworld Publishers Ltd
Country of origin:
United Kingdom
Dimensions (mm):
Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins is the former Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University (1995-2008).

His many bestsellers include The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating

1 / 5 (1 Ratings)
  • the majic of reality

    by on

    What do you get when the world's most influential atheist teams up with a tarot card illustrator to write a book for younger readers? Well, you get a book that takes scientism on faith, openly mocks religion, and is full of occult-like imagery.

    The stated purpose of The Magic of Reality is to help kids understand both the content and nature of scientific knowledge, but it seems to get them to disbelieve in anything supernatural and to associate traditional religious beliefs with wacky superstitions that few have even heard of, and openly labels those who disagree with you as being "dishonest" and "lying."

    On the science-content side, so long as it's discussing objective and non-controversial science, it's a fun read. Agree with him or not, Dawkins is an excellent writer, and illustrator Dave McKean is also clearly gifted. So you get cool illustrations of how much sunlight hits the earth at various latitudes, and explanations of why different parts of the earth experience different seasons. That's on the left side of the page. Then, on the right side, you get a drawing of a fanged vampire face in the moon (p. 117).

    Another chapter offers beautifully illustrated sections describing how stars work. That's at the end of the chapter. The beginning freely associates the God of the Bible (whom Dawkins refers to as "the tribal god YHWH") with the Greek sun god Helios and the primitive superstitions of the Barotse tribe of southeast Africa (they believe "the sun is the moon's husband" p. 118). Dawkins wants kids to see them as all the same.

    With a remarkable rapidity, The Magic of Reality switches back and forth between solid between well-accepted science and the issues mentioned, as if to confuse kids and they won't be able to tell the difference.

    Dawkins on Miracles: They Don't Happen, Therefore They Don't Happen

    The last chapter of the book, "What is a Miracle?," is dedicated to teaching kids to disbelieve in miracles. In his signature fashion, Dawkins knocks down wacky straw man examples, like claims that Jesus's face appeared in toast.

    Taking the old Humean approach, he claims that if someone seemingly trustworthy tells you about a miracle, your first inclination should be to believe the person is lying because "the 'miracle' of their lying would still be a smaller miracle than the [miracle] they claimed..." (p. 255

    Dawkins continues:

    Hume didn't come right out and say miracles are impossible. Instead he asked us to think of a miracle as an improbable event -- an event whose improbability we might estimate. The estimate doesn't have to be exact. It's enough that the improbability of a suggested miracle can be roughly placed on some sort of scale, and then compared with an alternative explanation such as hallucination or a lie. (p. 259)

    Of course it's good advice not to simply accept without investigation every claim of a miracle. But under all other circumstances you can think of, you would consider the testimony of a sane, credible witness trustworthy. Dawkins wants us to disregard the testimony of such a credible witness, and hold miracles to an unreasonably high standard of proof -- a standard unknown in any other human discipline of truth seeking.

    Those who are familiar with the law will immediately recognize what Dawkins is doing: he's trying to exclude evidence from consideration whenever it challenges his case. He's acting more like a lawyer who's been paid by a party to vigorously defend one particular position than someone who is dispassionately seeking truth.

    Dawkins's method assumes the untruth (read: insane "improbability") of miracles before the inquiry even begins. In other words, Dawkins says that by definition you must never believe in miracles, and instead should go around viewing people who do believe in them as "crazy" or "liars."

    "At least," the skeptic may respond, "Dawkins admits the possibility of miracles. He's just trying to be logical.'" Not so. Read on as Dawkins shows his true colors:

    Suppose something happens that we don't understand, and we can't see how it could be fraud or trickery or lies: would it ever be right to conclude that it must be supernatural? No! ... It would be lazy, even dishonest. (p. 263)

    So in reality, Dawkins's parting wisdom to kids is that it is never, under any circumstances OK to accept a miracle. Kids must adopt the faith of scientism, which always denies even the possibility that miracles or the supernatural might be real. And if you don't agree, then you'll be branded "lazy" or "dishonest."

    Kids who read this book and understand its message will end up in one of two places: either they will (1) realize that genuine truth-seeking is worth the price of getting called a few names by Dawkins and his new atheist buddies, or (2) they will become new atheists themselves -- assuming the truth of their position despite the evidence, and keeping those who might disagree in line by calling them all kinds of nasty names.

    Dawkins message is this: All supernatural claims are superstitions, and all superstitions are explained by science. Except for those that aren't. But we have faith that they will be.

    Why the Obsession with Occult-like Imagery?

    One odd aspect of the book is its apparent obsession with occult-style images. A friend and I went through The Magic of Reality and together we counted over a dozen pages with pictures of demons, devils, and the like. These aren't cute cartoony-devils. After all, if you wanted to give your kid a fun book about science, why would you want it to be full of creepy pictures of demons and devils? I'm also left wondering: Why is Dawkins apparently so obsessed with occult topics and iconography?

    Check out The Magic of Reality on a reader and peruse some of the pages available from the book.

    Apart from miracles, another area where Dawkins rules out contrary evidence is when he declares the "fact" of common descent. According to, it's "a fact beyond all doubt" that "we share an ancestry with every other species of animal and plant on this planet." (p. 52) Dawkins explains: "We know this because some genes are recognizably the same genes in all living creatures, including animals, plants and bacteria."

    By this logic, when we find similar programming code in Windows 95 and Windows XP, then it should be "a fact beyond all doubt" that the two operating systems evolved through unguided descent with modification from a common ancestor. But of course that's silly. They share similarities because they had a common intelligent designer, or design team of intelligent designing agents. That's what happened then. Dawkins simply ignores alternative explanations like intelligent design.

    Dawkins continues:

    And, above all, the genetic code itself -- the dictionary by which all genes are translated -- is the same across all living creatures that have ever been looked at. (p. 52)

    Aside from the fact that this claim isnt true (view Reply To Kenneth Miller On The Genetic Code) it raises the question of why merely sharing common genes necessarily demonstrates common ancestry as "a fact beyond all doubt"? After all, intelligent agents regularly re-use parts that work in different designs, so the fact that living species share so many functional genes could point to common design just as well as their common descent. Add to that all the many conflicts between gene based phylogenetic trees (view papers 'gene tree discordance, mosaic retroposon insertion, large-scale taxonomic profiling of eukaryotes, conflicting phylogenetic signals'), and it is clear that the genetic data doesn't establish common descent as "a fact beyond all doubt." Common design is an equally good explanation.

    So we see non disclosure, as Dawkins tells kids about none of these problems. Instead, he suggests they take comfort in the following "wonderful thought":

    We are all cousins. Your family tree includes not just obvious cousins like chimpanzees and monkeys but also mice, buffaloes, iguanas, wallabies, snails, dandelions, golden eagles, mushrooms, whales, wombats, and bacteria. All are our cousins. Every last one of them. Isn't that a far more wonderful thought than any myth?(p. 52)

    Let me get this straight: We're not supposed to look carefully at all the evidence, but instead should think about "wonderful thoughts" like common descent because it "for certain is literally true" and "a fact beyond all doubt"? Dawkins sounds more and more like the superstitious religionists he's always telling us deserve our contempt. If you want your kid to learn about the fascinating world of science, there are much better books out there than The Magic of Reality.