Among the Creationists, by Jason Rosenhouse

Among the Creationists: Dispatches from the Anti-Evolutionists Front Line
by Jason Rosenhouse, Narrated by George Orlando

This is the story of Rosenhouse’s exploration of Creationism. Rosenhouse is an intelligent, rational mathematician and declared atheist (though the way he describes his beliefs I’d put him in the agnostic category myself). He decided in college to explore the seemingly irrational views of ultra-conservative Christians to try to understand how they can possibly deny evolution. This book describes his journey through conferences, museums, and personal conversations. It also has a light smattering of history of the creationist-evolutionist debate.


This was a surprisingly considerate and fair book considering the fact that it was coming from an atheist talking about Creationists. From the beginning, Rosenhouse insisted that although he was well-known as “that atheist guy who goes to Creationist conferences,” he was almost always treated with respect and kindness. This is possibly because his main goal was to educate himself rather than to change anyone’s mind. He did, of course, make public comments/questions to the speakers at the conferences, but they always were polite and seemed to be answered politely as well. 

Despite this even-handedness, there were a few times that I cringed while reading this book. For instance, he lumped Intelligent Design, Theistic Evolution, Christian Science and and other lesser known ideologies all in with Creationism. He even said that they were pretty much the same thing. They’re really not, though. Denying the possibility of evolution is not the same as saying that God directed evolution. Yes, I can see where an atheist might think the second option wasn’t sensible either. But the basic difference remains – one set denies evolution altogether the other does not. To me, and I would imagine to many atheists as well, an all-out denial of the evidence for evolution is less sensible than saying God directed the evolution. Another lapse in his even-handedness was when he criticized the Creationists as being name-callers – as if that doesn’t go both ways. Trust me, I’ve been disappointed in interviews and essays by prominent evolutionary theorists like Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins. Scientists can disparage and name-call too.

From what I could tell of his book, the conferences were all about getting together with people who totally agree with you to say “Here’s what we agree on, now how can we get others to see the light?” Then they’d have the requisite book signings and other gatherings. So Rosenhouse had plenty of time to hobnob. In his book, he related several interesting conversations between himself and Creationist individuals. Most of these conversations seemed to include teenagers. He’d give information about which authors to read if they wanted to learn more about evolution, or just have an interesting discussion about the points of each argument. I imagine he had a lot of conversations with teenagers because they’re less jaded about trying to convince people of their points of view.

This was an interesting book, and I’m glad I read it. It had some shortcomings (noted above), but listening to this book actually educated me on certain things. For instance, years ago I was turned off by Richard Dawkins when I heard an NPR interview in which he disregarded a question from a Creationist. This question could have been easily answered: it was the old “how could evolution be scientifically possible when entropy (chaos) is always increasing?” (This is the second law of thermodynamics.) 

The answer is: entropy always increases in a “closed system.” A closed system is one that doesn’t have any exchange of energy with the outside. Like the entire universe. There’s only one universe. There’s nothing that it can exchange energy with. On the other hand, Earth is not a closed system. It’s always losing atmosphere to the space surrounding it. It’s always getting light and heat from the sun. That’s called an open system. Animals are open systems too. We breathe, we eat, we poop. That’s energy exchange. Evolution took place in an open system, therefore the second law of thermodynamics doesn’t apply and there is no contradiction. 

Ok, maybe that wasn’t easy to explain…Point is, Dawkins could have answered the question politely instead of rudely disregarding it. Although I still think Dawkins was in the wrong, after reading this book I now understand how frustrating it might be to be constantly answering exactly the same question over and over and people ignoring my answer. 


Vulnerability – My deepest fear



As usual this week I am combining my Life of a Blogger (by Novel Heartbeat) post with my Friendship Friday (by Create with Joy).  This week’s topic is fears. 

Some fears are easy to discuss, and some are harder to discuss. It depends a lot on what your fears are. For instance, I have a fear of making myself vulnerable. So stating my fears actually goes against one of my deepest fears. However, I’ve been working on this specific fear, so this post will be a good opportunity to test out my new mad skilz at being vulnerable.

The Scream
Artist: Edvard Munch
(who theoretically had bipolar)

One of the things that has been making me feel vulnerable lately is my recent diagnosis of bipolar disorder. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this diagnosis, it used to be called manic-depressive disorder. I’m diagnosed with type 2, which means I’ve only been “hypomanic” and not “fully manic.” Hypomania increased my irritability, irrationality, and impulsivity while (on a happier note) making me feel that I couldn’t be wrong, that I had the ability to climb the highest mountains and take on the world. I lost several people I considered friends during that period. And that still makes me feel abandoned and vulnerable. (Though, I have to admit, the online community is SO amazingly supportive, and I’m very thankful for you guys. You’re all rockstars!)



With the spirit of fighting my fears, I will admit that the reason my blog has been a bit quiet last week is because I was in the psych ward of the hospital. (My doctor was unfortunately not as handsome as the one above.) I was really angry at my psychiatric NP for putting me there, because I didn’t feel that I was in crisis at that time. But now that I’m out, I realize that he was trying to make sure I was stabilized and ready for my new job, which starts on the 2nd of September. He was being forward thinking, and I was very unappreciative. I guess I’ll have to thank him later.



I hadn’t originally planned on writing about my mental illness on this post – nor had I planned to mention that I’d been hospitalized in my upcoming weekly update. But when I was searching stock photos for a nice illustration of fear, I found the one above. It seemed fitting, somehow. Before I can change (and therefore master my new job), I need to admit to myself that I actually am in crisis. And to admit that, I need to make myself vulnerable. 


The picture I wanted to choose for this post is the one above – with the spooky religious images. I’d already been having a bit of a faith crisis before I was diagnosed with bipolar, but the diagnosis put my faith into a tailspin. What if…I thought…what if all this time that I thought I was being inspired or called by God, all those feelings of “rightness” and euphoria were just figments of a hypomanic mind? That is the most terrifying feeling I’ve ever experienced. The foundation of my faith was no longer stable. I’d say on the Richter scale this faithquake was about a 6.5. Most of my faith is still there, but I’m walking around all wobbly. There were a lot of things I felt that God had called me to do – writing is among them. I started writing this blog because I felt that God wanted me to write, and a blog would be a good place to practice both writing and marketing. Now I wonder…what do I blog for? If I give up on my faith, do I stop blogging?



Anyway, putting my vulnerability and faith aside, my own diagnosis of mental illness is a fantastic segue to plug my upcoming Suicide and Mental Illness Theme Read. Don’t forget to stop by my blog in September and October to see what people are reading and watching for this event. I’ll also be having a couple of giveaways. You’re welcome to jump in and participate at any point in time…all you need to do is read or watch something that educates you on suicide or mental illness. It can even be something that’s an accurate portrayal of mental illness – just tell us why you think it’s not. 🙂 I have a list of suggestions for both books and movies.

Practicing Tolerance in a Religious Society: The Church and Jews in Italy – Enrollment!

Practicing Tolerance in a Religious Society: The Church and Jews in Italy

Well, I’ve shown a terrible lack of discipline this week. Quite against the spirit of Resolution 5: Please, Just Stop! I have signed up for several Coursera MOOCs this year – Practicing Tolerance in a Religious Society begins on March 10, and runs for 6 weeks. I intend to post my thoughts on this course weekly. 

a little later…
I’ve now looked over all the lecture notes for the first week and I’m so thrilled at all the wonderful supplemental reading suggestions provided by Dr. Cooperman! One reason I only rarely sign up for these Coursera classes is because I have an OCD need to read all suggested readings and totally immerse myself in a subject. And such a thing simply isn’t possible within a course’s time-frame. And then I get all nervous and shaky and feel overwhelmed. So I tend to focus on Great Courses lecture series instead, because I can go as slowly as I want. But I really love being able to interact and network with people who have similar interests (albeit different opinions) – and that’s what I love about Coursera.  

So I’ve vowed that I will simply move through this entire course and not fret about reading everything. I’ll just write down all the suggested readings, and I can get to them later during my personal studies.

Does anyone else have this tendency to get frustrated when you can’t read everything, or to over-commit to your passions and interests?

How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, by Thomas E. Woods

How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization

Written by Thomas E. Woods, Narrated by Barrett Whitener

Reason for Reading: I have an interest in Church history and history of religion. 

Review
How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization is an apologetics treatise about how the Catholic Church contributed to the development of science, philosophy, art, and culture. For someone who has not read a lot of books on the subject – who wishes to be disabused of the belief that the Catholic Church shunned science and tried to halt the progression of culture – this book is an excellent introduction. It covers a wide variety of topics in a superficial survey of how the Church changed and promoted civilization. On the other hand, if you’re like myself and are well-read on the subject, this book lacks depth. Although there was a wide variety of information discussed, there was very little that it discussed in greater detail than I already knew. Therefore, I would highly recommend this text to someone who’d like an introduction to the topic – it’s well-written, well-researched, and interesting. But if you’re looking for depth and detail, this may be worth just a quick read. 

This audiobook was well-narrated by Barrett Whitener. No complaints there! 🙂

The Horse and His Boy, by C. S. Lewis

2012 Book 153: The Horse and His Boy, by C. S. Lewis

Reason for Reading: Fifth Book (publication order) of the Chronicles of Narnia

Review*****

Shasta grew up as practically a slave to his “father,” until he meet a talking horse. Bree (the horse) has been kidnapped from Narnia, a foreign land that Shasta has never heard of. Bree is convinced that Shasta, too, has been taken from Narnia. They escape together, and have many adventures on the way to Narnia. This book takes place during the original reign of High King Peter and his brother and sisters. It was a delightful little book, and complements the Narnia series quite well. I DID have a good laugh at the rather xenophobic treatment of Archenland–most people from this land were portrayed as corrupt, degenerate, and evil. By the way they dressed and some of their habits, Lewis clearly meant for Archenland to be similar to the Orient. This snafu made me chuckle a little bit, since I took into consideration the age in which Lewis was writing…and that he was writing about a fantasy land. In the end, I enjoyed this book just as much as the other books in the series. It is fun, cute, and a delight to read.

Surprised by Joy, by C. S. Lewis

2012 Book 144: Surprised by Joy

Written by C. S. Lewis, Narrated by Geoffrey Howard

Reason for Reading: I’m slowly working through the books of C. S. Lewis out of curiosity for his theology. 



Reveiw

In this short memoir, C. S. Lewis describes his spiritual journey from youthful atheist to firm and faithful believer. This isn’t really a memoir of Lewis’ life, although it does contain some interesting anecdotes about his school years. Mostly, he only focuses on incidents in his life that impacted his spiritual development. I have read many spiritual development memoirs, and this one is like the others…only it stands out because it is a classic. It was written when these types of journeys were not as commonly shared in memoirs. (In fact, I suspect that this book was one of the ones that inspired so many of the spiritual-journey memoirs that we see today.) One thing I found interesting about this book is it explained to me why so many people retro-diagnose Lewis with Asperger’s syndrome. He talked about his difficulties dealing with other students…not knowing how to respond in social situations and being told to “take that look off [his] face” when he was trying very hard to keep an appropriate facial expression. I think it is important to recognize that we can’t accurately retro-diagnose people with today’s syndromes, but it IS interesting to see how such personality traits were present in Lewis’ day, and how he excused them with stories about how childhood events affected his social interactions. It was definitely an interesting read…and anyone who likes to hear about others’ spiritual journeys really should start with C. S. Lewis.


The Little Green God of Agony, by Stephen King



“The Little Green God of Agony,” by Stephen King 
(Found in A Book of Horrors, ed. Stephen Jones)


In the introduction to his new anthology, Stephen Jones expresses dismay at the overpowering onslaught of horror-lite which has obliterated the good old-fashioned horror story from the market. The purpose of this anthology is to take back the market with some bad-@$$ creepy stories. He opens his anthology with “The Little Green God of Agony,” a story by the well-known master of horror, Stephen King.

Newsome, the sixth richest man in the world, is a man in agony. A plane crash has left him scarred all over his body, and unable to get out of bed due to neuropathic pain. After exploring all the traditional medical procedures for freeing himself of this burden, he cashes in for the non-traditional treatment–a reverend who claims that Newsome is possessed by a god of agony, and that he (the reverend) has the power to expel the demon. Is the reverend a charlatan? Or is Newsome really possessed by a demonic agony?

This is the first Stephen King story I’ve read in quite a long time. I’ve always felt that he has an incredibly creative mind, and an amazing power to delve the reader into the darkness of his stories. On the other hand, the almost-book-snob in me cringes at his metaphors sometimes. (eg. “she…laced her hands together on the hanging hot-water bottles of muscle beneath his right thigh.” I’m sorry. That just really falls flat for me.) Once I’d managed to rid myself of the sharpened pencil stabs of distaste for SK’s continued use of unsatisfactory metaphors, however, I enjoyed the story quite a bit. His dark imagination was the perfect taster for the savory horrors to come in this anthology. 😉