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Between the Covers 20/05/2012

Your weekly guide to what's really going on inside the world of books

Author Chris McGrath faces six figure legal bill after unfavourable Amazon reviews case is struck out

An author who tried to sue a father of three from the West Midlands over comments made in a series of unfavourable reviews on Amazon is facing a six figure legal bill after a judge struck out his case.

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Brian Cox

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Professor Richard Dawkins and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams outside Clarendon House before the televised debate

Two existential heavyweights in a gentle contest for your very soul

Oxford University held its first debate on the subject of evolution in 1860, just months after the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species. Then, the Bishop of Winchester, Samuel Wilberforce, famously enquired of the biologist Thomas Henry Huxley whether it was through his grandmother or his grandfather that he traced his descent from a monkey.

Richard Dawkins, scientist: 'I am at a loss to understand how any reasonable person can defend first past the post. AV should be supported by every democrat'

Mary Ann Sieghart: Thank God for the Church of England

The Church of England couldn't hope for a better enemy than Richard Dawkins. Puffed-up, self-regarding, vain, prickly and militant, he displays exactly the character traits that could do with some Christian mellowing. In fact, he's almost an advertisement against atheism. You can't help thinking that a few Sundays in the pews and the odd day volunteering in a Church-run soup kitchen might do him the power of good.

Letters: Secularism Hitlerism? Absurdism!

Richard Dawkins and AC Grayling must have been mildly surprised to find that they are no better than Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot or Mao, and that they are incapable of compassion, altruism, serenity and enlightenment according to Peter Popham ("No secularism please, we're British", 15 February).

62% of the population never attend any form of religious service

Believe it or not, secularism is not what it used to be

Britain is in the thick of an acrimonious debate about secularism and religion. Religious belief and church attendance have been shrinking for decades, yet religion continues to play an important part in our national life. Prayers before council meetings may have been banned last week by a judge and an increasing number of our city churches have sad, decapitated spires and are put to sound secular use as indoor ski slopes or apartments. But there are still bishops in the House of Lords, prayers are said at the Cenotaph, the communal celebrations of Christmas and Easter are yet to become taboo.

Dragging dogmas out of the basement: Farm workers in India, where Rupert Sheldrake worked as a crop scientist

The Science Delusion: Freeing the Spirit of Enquiry, By Rupert Sheldrake

Science is wonderful and necessary - one of the great creations of humankind. Most importantly, it is helping us to see just how extraordinary life and the universe really are, far exceeding the unaided imagination even of the greatest poets. At its best, too, science lives up to its own mythology: a disinterested, self-effacing search after truth, carried out by people of humility in true generosity of spirit. As a fairly considerable bonus it has led us to create a wide range of "high" (science-based) technologies that have improved the lives of a great many people, and have the potential to help all humankind and our fellow creatures too.

Brian Cox’s TV work has made him Britain’s most visible scientist, but his latest book is far from populist

Last Night's TV - Inside Nature's Giants, Channel 4; Shameless, Channel 4

Desert dissection's worth a closer look

The Great Partnership: God, Science and the Search for Meaning, By Jonathan Sacks

We need all of our brain to understand and appreciate the world around us. The left-brain, associated largely with scientific activity, and the right hemisphere concerned with religious matters, must work in unison. But they also have to be kept apart. The logic of one does not apply to the other. The challenge of our time is to keep the two separate but integrated and in balance. This, in essence, is the main message of The Great Partnership.

Last Night's TV: Polar Bear: Inside Nature's Giants Special/Channel 4<br />Dance! The Most Incredible Thing about Contemporary Dance/BBC4

How's this for a fact? Polar bears are so fat that even if they don't eat for eight whole months they'll still be fine. They're practically supermodels! Or this: their penises have bones in them. Huge ones. Giant white pieces of calcium.

Death, revolution and forgiveness

On Father's Day, and as his new novel appears, Andrew Miller tells James Kidd how his own dad wanted him to get a 'proper' job

The Book of Books, By Melvyn Bragg

Those who wish to banish religion from public life dismiss any enduring legacy of Christianity on the way we live or think now on two main grounds. The first is that the legacy is widely exaggerated by scheming bishops. The second is that, even if it exists, it is wholly negative, saddling us with the baggage of sectarianism, sexual repression and illogical thought. Melvyn Bragg's elegant, accessible and passionately argued account of the influence of the King James Bible, in its 400th year, quite simply blows such arguments out of the water. The King James, he writes, "is one of the fundamental makers of the modern world".

The moral formula: How facts inform our ethics

Can science help us tell right from wrong? Sam Harris certainly thinks so. Julian Baggini sits down with one of the 'four horsemen of atheism' to learn how facts can inform our ethics
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A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory