...ambitious, erudite … Shermer examines the claims of spiritual seekers, who see consciousness as primary, an essence from which all human experience is derived. He tries to take these views seriously … We don’t yet have the science to explain spectacularly unlikely events. But until we do, Shermer says, we don’t have to fill in the explanatory gaps with gods and preternatural forces.
The book’s underlying theme: It is natural to want to read into the unexplainable and search for forces greater than ourselves — and yet, the more we want to believe, the more we need to enlist scientific inquiry on our side … I admit I was a bit taken aback by Shermer’s cavalier dismissal of one of the most long-lasting quests for immortality of them all. Rather than explore the nuance of religious experience, he resorts to glib comments … As Shermer concludes after reviewing the current state of science, it seems that our present best hope for immortality lies in ‘eating well, exercising regularly and sleeping soundly’ — a prosaic answer if there ever was one in the face of so much spiritual and technological brouhaha.
As Michael Shermer shows in Heavens on Earth, his inviting and informative tour of humankind’s various conceptions of where God locates himself, heaven is built to resolve such paradoxes … In bringing so many heavens together, Mr. Shermer does us a service. Among other things, he shows us why we are lucky that not everything can be fully grasped by our limited capacities. In our minds can be found the mixtures of immanence and transcendence that we call ‘heavens.’
In one of many no-brainers that fill the book, Shermer points out that anyone near death is, by definition, not dead. Another crowd pleaser, reincarnation, becomes a stretch if 10s of billions of wandering souls try to cram themselves into the 7.5 billion bodies currently alive. Since deeply held beliefs are often immune to evidence, the author’s blend of common sense, neuroscience, experimental findings, and history will attract few readers expecting a strong argument for the existence of an afterlife. This is a pity because Shermer proceeds to less controversial subjects … Not a polemic but an ingenious popular-science account of how we deal with mortality.