Richard Dawkins explains the 3 kinds of magic

[Video Link]


The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins, is an illustrated book for readers age 12 and up. Each chapter opens with a question: "What is a rainbow?" "What is an earthquake?" What is the sun?" Dawkins then presents the religious myths that some people think explains these things. He follows that with the scientific explanation.

The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins (Via Open Culture)


  1. I actually think this guy is doing more to promote religion that anything else. And I’m okay with that.

    And hey, where’s the book that explains how magnets work?

  2.  “What is a rainbow?” “What is an earthquake?” What is the sun?”
    Are these questions anyone is still answering with religion?

    1. This is a book for kids, kids get gas but if you said plasma you would then have to take a lot of time explaining what plasma is. It’s like telling young kids first learning math that you can only subtract smaller numbers from larger numbers because explaining negative numbers is beyond their understanding.

  3. I’m still a bit crestfallen that he decided to go with these topics, and a bit of a “look at the stoopid people” slant, for his children’s book.  I guess I was hoping for a book that would explain, say,  evolution in a visual and concise way instead of him getting into rainbows (I mean it took my parents about 3 minutes to successfully explain rainbows to me).

    Evolution is one heck of a complex topic to introduce to a young kid. As a parent, I feel I could have used his expertise on the matter, on how to vulgarize it without leaving critical bits out. But perhaps the one chapter on ‘How Everything Began’ covers it adequately?

    I’ll have a look at it, definitely. I’m just hoping the tone is not overly ‘soapboxy’…

    1. If you are looking for “evolution in a visual and concise way” please consider my scientifically accurate rhyming comic books about the origin of the Universe, life on Earth and the human race.  You can see them online at if you’re interested.  They’re free to download too.

  4. I really wish Dawkins would go back to explaining science without feeling compelled to point out that he thinks most people are idiots.
    Explaining the universe in a way that anyone can understand is great.
    Making fun of people for being more creative than himself (or does he think ancient greeks literally thought the sun was a flaming chariot?), I can do with out.

  5. I once saw a panel of skeptics (Randi Foundation types) do a presentation on, to paraphrase, “How to be a Skeptic and a Critical Thinker Without Being a Dick.” It was very low-budget, but thoughtful and interesting. Some of Dawkins’ work makes me cringe a bit at his brand of science evangelism.

    1. As someone who deals with skeptics (especially fundamentalist ones) almost routinely, I can safely say the presentation did not work. I always find it interesting that we have “professional skeptics” and often wondered what psychological makeup makes a person desire to be considered such. 

      What I find curious is that the fundamentalist skeptic roots are in the Secular Humanist movement – that many have called a religion. 

      1. I think that if one engages in any form of activism, one will ruffle feathers and be perceived as an ‘asshole’ by a number of folks. It comes with the territory. Promoting critical thinking as a career isn’t any stranger than promoting environmentalism, feminism or any other cause full-time and vocally.

        It is true that there are less antagonistic ways to promote a cause. If ones becomes a perpetually angry, whiny, acerbic figure and turns every opportunity, big or small, into an occasion for attack, it naturally gets grating and counter-productive. There absolutely are times and places for strong debates and even for open denunciation, but all the fucking time probably ain’t it.

        1. Understood. But there are “skeptics” and then there are critical thinkers. A dyed in the wool fundamentalist skeptic isn’t interested in facts, and dismisses whatever he chooses based on ignorance and an attempt to be the ultra intellectual rising above the pathetically stupid masses.

          I worked with a skeptic group to provide data that effectively destroys a “paranormal” case that has gone on for over 30+ years. We found a lot of common ground. However I feel that’s a rarity. Most “self styled” skeptics I’ve met don’t offer data to prove their point, but derision – and think that’s enough.

  6. It’s really too bad he has such a shallow understanding of “Myth”. He belittles the human impulse to assume we understand things we don’t, and makes that impulse something humans have left behind when in fact we are still engaged in the business of myth making and believing. 

    1. What is a “deep” understanding of myth, then? Myth is not a very complicated concept as evidenced by the fact that even the simplest of cultures can manage to create them.

      1. The “simplest of cultures” is really not a simple thing.  Of course myth, and culture as a whole, are oversimplified and underestimated by people who stick to the line that religion is nothing more than bad science.

  7. I, for one, enjoyed this and look forward to buying this book for my nieces and nephews, much to the chagrin of my devout siblings.  Myths can certainly be colorful and entertaining, but distinguishing them from reality seems like an important distinction to make to a developing mind, lest they accidentally grow up believing that wanting something to be true makes it so.

  8. On the book’s cover, “Richard Dawkins” is printed out much larger than the book’s actual title. To me, this makes the whole product feel less like, “here is a helpful tool for learners” and more, “let’s build the Richard Dawkins brand!” Discouraging.

  9. Superstition and the like must be questioned and debated at every turn, no exceptions.  Granted, you can be tactful and subtle in your approach, but every time you let woo slip by without notice it just adds to the giant pile of stinking woo.
    I will admit that some skeptics are more about letting everyone know that they’re skeptics than about promoting skeptical thought, but the same goes for many philosophies, religious and non-religious.  Let’s focus on the argument, instead of making personal attacks on the speaker.  Granted, he can be a bit grating and comes across as inconsiderate, I don’t think we want someone who is overly charismatic to be heading the skeptical movement, because people would then become skeptics for the wrong reasons.

  10. Then again, some charisma never hurt, such as with the late Carl Sagan.  Saw this video just a few minutes ago, and thought I should share it.

  11. I’m a theist. And I don’t use faith to answer these questions:

    “What is a rainbow?” “What is an earthquake?” What is the sun?”

    I use science. There is no dichotomy between faith and reason. Unless you have an axe to grind like Dawkins does and you create one. The man is a raving zealot. I wish he would just stick to evolutionary theory. he is a genius in the field.

    1. Of course there’s a dichotomy between faith and reason. Theists believe in a god or gods who can influence the world. Otherwise there isn’t any point in worship or prayer to get on their good side. Science is based on the idea that the world works by rules which humans can understand and which are impervious to influence by gods. It’s not like E=mc^3 if you really pray hard and say three hail marys.

  12. Two things: first off, there’s no such thing as a simple culture.

    Second – no, there isn’t a dichotomy between faith and reason – this is the real collateral damage of the Dawkins/Hitchens/Harris axis (and the fundamentalists).  The fact is, a large number of religious people don’t think of ‘explanation of unknown physical phenomena’ to be the main purpose of their religion, or even a part of it at all.  I love science, I believe in science; but I can believe in God with the two conflicting.  And since half of Dawkins argument tends to be ‘I’m smarter than you, so you should believe what I believe’ and the other half is ‘I hold this debate in such contempt I won’t even bother to learn what intelligent people who’ve come before me have written and said on the subject’ you can add my name to the list that wishes he’d return to what he’s brilliant at – simple explanations of difficult concepts in evolutionary theory.

    1. The fact that the general response of religious people to the news that somebody they know is in the hospital is “I’ll pray for them” rather suggests that they *do* see their god(s) as explaining the physical phenomena of illness and recovering from it, at the very least.

      1. Really?  You think people throw out the germ theory of disease in favor of prayer?  Prayer can be an expression of hope, a response to uncertainty.  But most importantly, it doesn’t replace science.  Most religious people don’t say – ‘I’ll pray for him, so he doesn’t need to be in the hospital.”

        And, so what if someone thinks that disease is ultimately caused by their god, if the intermediate steps are rock solid science?  If someone believes that God created the world through evolution and the big bang?  How does that hurt science?

        Go read some Stephen Jay Gould.

  13. I believe Richard is attempting to inoculate children from viral stupidity.
    Pointing out a problem as delicious as memetics and not at least appearing to try to do something about the theory’s implications would be actual douchery.
    As compared to the Noam Chomsky-style douchery that everyone is accused of when pointing out that group behaviour is a major contributing factor to the world’s ills.
    It’s a quadruple edged sword! Don’t grasp the wrong end.

  14. Actually, most religious people want it both ways, which makes no sense. They want to take advantage of science to cure disease but at the same time believe in all-powerful being(s) that could cure disease instantly (or eliminate it entirely) if they wanted to. This self-contradiction is what hurts science. Science requires a self-consistent world view based on evidence.

  15. Ah, wonderful! Say what you will, but he clearly wants to indoctrinate children into atheism by emphasizing all these myths and then disproving them. Indoctrination, by the way, is a word with bad connotations, so I use it with this definition in mind: to sway the mind of person according to one’s own beliefs.

    Good thing my beliefs are right and scientifically proven! I’d would not have my child indoctrinated any other way. All hail the atheist agenda!
    Or wait,… I think it’s called getting an early education in reality.

  16. Richard Dawkins is a great scientist but a less than ideal philosopher.
    However, I flinch every time my daughter says – in answer to my prompting her to *think* – ‘Well, God must have done that’. Not because I object to my daughter’s faith [I am agnostic, not Athiest], but because of the sheer volume of things that science can and has explained.I will seek out this book, look through it myself and decide whether it’s something my daughter will understand and appreciate.As I continually find myself expressing to her mother, I find it slightly absurd to have my daughter believe things that patently are not true, in the name of Christianity. To that extent, if not certain others, I agree fully with Mr Dawkins.

  17. Dawkins kicks ass. This will be a great book for those interested in science and the discussion of how primitive cultures made up the answers to difficult scientific questions they did not understand. Now we know most of the answers and are quickly gaining on the few that are left. If anyone chooses to put their fingers in their ears and LA! LA! LA! at the truth, please feel free to do so. Evolution is a very slow process.

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