Books Archives

Lessons from the Recent Past

The Unlearned Lessons Of the Twentieth Century: An Essay On Late Modernity by Chantal Delsol, a french contemporary philosopher seems like a very interesting book. Ms Delsol self describes herself as a neo-liberal. This book came up in a search of book in the “Library of Modern Thinkers” series which summarizes the currents of thought of (mostly conservative and libertarian) important political, economic and philosophical figures. This book is very much different in that it is a (striking it seems) essay by one of these figures and not another author or expert summarizing and putting their works in perspective. Over the next few weeks (months?) I’m going to examine, hopefully chapter by chapter, the topics and ideas presented in this book.

In the introduction (chapter 1) Ms Delsol poses following, “Imagine and heir who has just been informed that his inheritance consists of a trunk full of serpents.” This is how she presents our present inheritance from the turbulent 20th century. The 20th century began with hope and a looking for great promise of the future and is ending with shame over totalitarian excesses. Ours is an age which is rejecting hope.

She also suggests why this age might be termed “late modernity” in particular to call to mind particular parallels with late antiquity. Like (Western) Rome of late antiquity, our society shows similar signs of aging in its arts. Late antiquity had “an affirmation of art without meaning, literature which was simultaneously pretentious and trivial, and a dwindling population.” Hmm. Sound familiar?

There is yet, one idea which had sprung forth in late antiquity which still remains, perhaps wounded and ailing today, that offers promise. The idea of the dignity of individual man remains. This idea had come under assault in the 20th century, notably in the totalitarian regimes but in other venues as well. Ms Delsol offers in what follows a clarion cry for the necessity of preserving this core principal.

On Science and Method

The Galileo/Copernican and the Ptolemaic views of the solar system lay in dispute for the 150 years between Galileo and Newton (specifically between the dates of the publication of Copernicus De Revolutionibus and Newton’s Principia). In the period of time between these events, with the possible admission of Kepler’s third law) there were no facts to distinguish these theories. In fact, glancing far to the future, the negative results of the Michelson-Morley experiment demonstrating that the Earth was at rest would have been a point to the Ptolemaic not Copernican view. The scientific (heuristic) passions of the proponents of the Copernican view is what drove the outlook of astronomers to the point where at the publishing of the Principia the Copernican viewpoint was dominant. Attached to the prologue of Galileo’s thesis was a forward by Osiander expressing the point that this view was not necessarily “true” but instead was a “fruitful” way of approaching astronomy. This is a red herring. Ptolemaic astronomy was a fruitful source of inquiry for thousands of years. Astrology has been fruitful employment for 2500 years, Marixism was (and remains alas)
a fruitful mechanism for obtaining political power. Fruitful by itself is not sufficient. Theories are fruitful in that they are believed to be fruitful mechanisms for getting to the truth of reality.

In 1914 TW Richards was awarded the Nobel prize for an extremely accurate measurement of atomic weights. Fifteen years this result was completely scorned as useless, for as that measurement made no allowance for isotopic ratios those painstaking measurements were rendered useless. This was a measurement, of high accuracy, of a value that was discovered to have no correspondence to any features of nature. Accuracy qua accuracy is of no value. One misconception about science is that it is experiment that drives progress. Yet it is theory that is required before experiments to provide the basis for how experimental data is interpreted and in fact for what experimental data is deemed to have any value at all.

New visions and insights drive theoretical breakthroughs. Yet the history of science is littered with far more failures than success. This is not limited to “lesser scientists”. Einstein’s vision following Mach imagined Relativity and against Mach solved Brownian motion. Yet Einstein same said vision rejected quantum randomness. Major theoretical breakthroughs in science require a major reworking of our view of nature, a replacing of an older view with a newer one. Proponents of the new, driven by their heuristic passionate belief in the correctness of their vision, must pursuade on the basis of future intimations of fruitfulness in the search for truth of their vision. In doing so, they also must invalidate the older vision. This process of invalidation is often rancorous and ugly. This “feature” is common and perhaps not easily escapable.

This then suggests some striking things about the scientific process. Theory preceded and both validates and interprets experiment. Major theoretical breakthroughs require persuasion. The passion of scientific discovery must be transformed and moved to the passion of persuasion that the new vision of the truth has intimations that it might be fruitful for further deepening of our understanding of nature. Yet a problem remains. Is there anything left? What differentiates the project of chasing the structure of matter at CERN and Fermilab from astrology? Why was it right for the Copernican view to supplant the Ptolmaic in the period between Copernicus and Galileo and before Newton? There are good answers to these questions but that will have to wait until a later essay.

The first parts of this essay draw heavily on Michael Polanyi’s Personal Knowledge which is an epistemological inquiry looking toward a “post-critical reality” epistemic framework. It might also be noted, this book predated Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Critical reality is the idea that our physical theories accurately represent reality. This is in contrast to the Positivist (which is not as far as I can tell the same as Logical Positivism). This view espoused for example by Stephen Hawking suggests that the question of whether the underlying matches the theory is irrelevant and that physics (or theory in general) merely is a mechanism for predicting experimental results.

Collecting the Canon

I’ve begun reading John Behr’s (so far) two volume series (three are reported as planned) subtitled Formation of Christian Theology. The first volume, in soft cover from SVS Press, is entitled The Way to Nicaea. This books covers aspects of the formation of Christian theology, focusing on the development of the answer to Jesus query to the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Volume 2 is split into two books and covers in some detail the controversies surrounding the two councils which developed the Nicene creed.

The first chapter of this book begins with a look at how the Scriptural canon for the Christian church developed and was set. There were a lot of alternative canonical choices at the end of the second century when the canon was set. But the result, to summarize Behr, was that two key criteria were used to select what books and epistles were included in the New Testament canon. They are that the books chosen were “according the the Scriptures” and that the cross (the passion) was central. The phrase “according the the Scriptures” meant specifically that the acts and narrative account in the selected book connected these actions with the accounts and prophecies of the Old Testament. This meant that books like the Gospel of Thomas and other gnostic works were excluded. Behr defends his interpretation of this development of canon by examining the methods and arguments used by St. Irenaeus in discussing various heresies of his day at the close of the 2nd century.

David Schraub blogging at the Debate Link, dislikes the term “Judeo-Christian”. This term admittedly can be misused. The above historical notes demonstrate how this term is at the same time correct and how the traditions diverged. For certainly in the context of investigating first and second century theological currents and ideas that term is relevant. Throughout the first century the majority of Christians were Jews who felt that Jesus was in fact the awaited Messianic figure, the fulfillment of Scriptural promise. At the same time, there is here a key difference which will form the basis possibly for the contention that this term does not make sense. Christians over the centuries following embarked on a program to reinterpret the Jewish Scriptural canon through the “lens of the cross”, i.e., via the life and passion of Jesus. That is they re-examined and reinterpreted, often as “type”, events and prophecies of Scripture to be interpreted specifically in the context of Jesus message, and his crucifixion and resurrection. Christian theology at the end of the second century defined itself and its theological methods in the light of Jewish writing. At the same time however, it was beginning to highlight the differences by beginning a program of returning to and examining that same canon in a radically different way (although it might be noted that “different” way was himself a 1st century Jew).

Bad Monkeys … Started

Tuesday night I attended the choral concert at my daughter’s middle school. Stylistically speaking choral arrangements of 20-30 year old popular songs and show-tunes are not my cup of tea. Before the concert I began, at long last, reading Matt Ruff’s Bad Monkeys and am now about a 1/3 of the way into the book. “Bad Monkeys” we discover is the short-hand phrase for the place on the org chart of the secret “evil fighting” society of which Thiour main character was(is?) a member.

  • The Department for Optimal Utilization of Resources and Personnel — Cost-Benefits
  • The Department of Ubiquitous Intermittent Surveillance  — Panopticon
  • The Department for the Final Disposition of Irredeemable Persons — Bad Monkeys. Bad Monkey’s are the “assassins” who remove from circulation people who are, well, irredeemable. A common weapon used is an NC gun, NC stands for “Natural Causes,” this gun works at short range and has two settings, MI and CI which stand for myocardial and cerebral Infarction respectively.
  • The Department of Organizational Counterintelligence — Catering

Our narrator is a young girl who is being interviewed by a doctor in a criminal psychiatric ward. She is recounting how she became a Bad Monkey and some of her exploits. Anyhow, judging from the cover the rest of the story is going to have its share of twists, turns and weirdness.

A Few Good Men (and a Woman)

Mr Sandefur poses an interesting question, well actually the question that it prompted for me was not at all the point of his post but be that as it may, he writes:

My favorite living writer, John Varley, is a candid man. He’s also a proud hippie. So when he says something about politics, it’s candid hippiness, and thus a good opportunity to see how weird that sort of thinking (obviously in the ascendant now) really is.

I haven’t read John Varley since the mid 80s, but that prompted a question for me, namely was who is my favorite living (fiction) writer. To which I have no ready answer, but I have a few suggestions for my favorite (living) writer spread across a few different categories

  1. Fiction in General: Dan Simmons. If you like the Homer epics read his Ilium and Olympos books. This is his latest (Drood: A Novel), which I have not read yet.
  2. Classical fantasy: Steven Erickson. He’s coming to the end of an intensely complicated series of 10 books, intricately imagined. Start with Gardens of the Moon and be warned there’s a deluge of characters and names. Many if not most return in later books. But if you like your fantasy with to be epic in breadth, realistic character motivations and a gritty combination of the fantasy equivalent of nuclear war as seen from the trenches … stick with it. The ride is worth it.
  3. Historical Fiction: Sharon Kay Penman. Her writing gripping and interestingly enough on of the most difficult parts of her writing is how the narrative seems to jump randomly forward in her characters life … but the reason for that is fascinating. It’s because she only writes and imagines in narrative scenes of a her protagonists lives which are supported by the historical record (with the addition of one or two fictional characters to help her fill out the narrative). I’d highly recommend The Sunne In Splendour: A Novel of Richard III and Here Be Dragons to start.
  4. Honorable Mention: Matt Ruff.With Ayn Rand getting back in the news, every libertarian with any sense of humor should have Sewer, Gas and Electric: The Public Works Trilogy on their list as required reading to be a card carrying libertarian or … if you just like to laugh out loud while reading a book. And Set This House in Order: A Romance of Souls was a fascinating psychological thriller

How about you?

Wing to Wing: A Start

Recently I suggested returning to reading through an excellent book on marriage. Hopefully, for the foreseeable future, I’m going to be blogging my way though in exhaustive detail through the book Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying. This is a repost of some introductory remarks about this book and then look ahead, via the table of contents at what is in store for us over the upcoming weeks.

Leon Kass, by virtue of his tenure on the President’s Committee on Bioethics has become a somewhat polarizing figure. I had the distinct pleasure of having him teaching a class at the U of Chicago some few years ago in a class on .. of all things, ethics and science. He was (and still is) an amazing discussion leader. His ability to “sum up” and hone in and restate the jumbled thoughts of undergraduates. His wife Amy was even more sought for her courses by those Humanities and Social Thought undergraduates.

This book is not what one might expect. It doesn’t put forth any particular viewpoint in any obvious way. The majority of this book comprises a collection of essays or short excerpts bequeathed to us as part of the heritage of Western civilization. For example, contributing essays or excerpts are drawn from: Darwin, Erasmus, Keirkegaard, Homer, Herodotus, Shakespeare, Franklin, Tolstoy, and Frost. The structure of this book is as follows, after a short introductory remarks, the readings and discussions are drawn up in seven larger/basic sections:

  1. Where are we Now? This section is comprised of essays by modern critics, anthropologists, and scholars who examine and critique the state of modern courtship and marriage. Contributors are Stone, Bailey, Bloom, and Blankenhorn. Arguably this might be the most controversial or biased section of the book.
  2. Why Marry?The book then pushes forth with a firm defense of the institution of marriage. Contributors range through history: Darwin, Aquinas, Erasmus, Bacon, Austen, Keirkegaard, Tucker, Meilaender, Borowitz, and Muir.
  3. What about Sex?Next, sexuality itself is examined via writings of Homer, Genesis, Rousseau, Herodotus, Kant, Riezler, and May.
  4. Is this Love?What is this (little) thing we call love? Answers are sought from Divakaruni, Plato (2 contributions from the Symposium, The Song of Songs, De Rougemont, Shakespeare (2 entries), Rousseau, Rilke, and Lewis.
  5. How Can I find the Right One?If Marriage is good, and love is a thing we are beginning to have a glimmer of understanding, Courtship must be considered. Advice from Miss Manners (Martin), Genesis (2 entries), Abraham, Pitt-Rivers, Erasmus, Shakespeare, Franklin, Rousseau, Tolstoy, and Austen is on offer.
  6. Why a Wedding?When one considers wedding, May, De Rougemont, a variety of wedding ceremonies and vows are included (including Anglican, Lutheran, Jewish, Muslim, and “Contemporary” vows), and an essay by Kass and Kass on the patronym.
  7. What Can Married Life Be Like?Finally, what are the blessings one might obtain in marraige? These include contributions from: Homer, Aristotle, Jewish Midrash, Kipling, Ballou, de Toqueville, Rousseau, Capon, Tolstoy, and Frost.

In each of chapters, each of the readings is introduced by a very short (page or less) introduction explaining the context of the reading selected, why it was selected and perhaps some assistance in understanding how the writer operates if the dialectial methodology is unfamiliar to most, e.g,. the formalized dialectical methods of the scholastics as is used in the example drawn from Aquinas. Read the rest of this entry

Of Reason (or Warrant) and Faith

This weekend I began reading a book by Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief, which is a philosophical defense of the Christian faith. This book poses an extended argument supporting the notion that Christian belief is intellectually acceptable and justified in the modern era. Mr Plantinga distinguishes between de facto and de jure objections to Christian belief. De facto objections are those which dispute particular Christian truth claims whereas de jure objections are those which speak more to the intellectual defensibility, that such belief is not reasonable or justified … or following two earlier books by Mr Plantinga warranted.

In the first part of this book (and I have not finished but am only about 200 pages or so in), Mr Plantinga begins to examine what arguments have been made supporting the claim that such belief is not justified. Ultimately he finds only two, after having discarded as inadequate quite a few. I thought this passage, supporting the notion that one is being responsible with respect to ones deontological epistemic duty, that is one has done one’s due diligence to support ones foundational beliefs. He writes (pp 100-101):

Consider such a believer: she displays no noticeable dysfunction. She is aware of the objections people have made to Christianity and has relfected on Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche (not to mention Flew, Mackie and Nielsen) and other critics of Christian or theistic belief; she knows the world contains many who do not believe as she does. She doesn’t believe on the basis of propositional evidence; she therefore believes in the basic way. Can she be justified (in this broadly deontological sense) in believing in God in this way.

The answer seems to be pretty easy. She reads Nietzsche, but remains unmoved by his complaint that Christianity fosters a weak, whining, whimpering, and generally disgusting kind of person; more the Christians she knows or knows of — Mother Theresa, for example — don’t fit that mold. She finds Freud’s contemptuous attitude toward Christianity and theistic belief backed by little more than implausible fantasies about the origin of belief in God (patricide in the primal horde? Can he be serious?) and she finds little more of substance in Marx. She thinks as carefully as she can about these objections and others but finds them wholly uncompelling.

On the other side, although she is aware of theistic arguments and thinks some of them not without value, she doesn’t believe on the basis of them. Rather, she has a rich inner spiritual life, the sort described in the early pages of Jonathan Edwards Religious Affections; it seems to her that she is somtimes made aware; catches a glimpse, of something of the overwhelming beauty and loveliness of the Lord; she is often aware, as it strongly seems to her, of the work of the Holy Spirit in her heart, comforting, encouraging, teaching, leading her to accept the “great things of the gospel” (as Edwards calls them), helping her to see that the mangificent scheme of salvation devised by the Lord himself is not only for others but for her as well. After long, hard, conscientious reflection, this all seems to her enormously more convincing than the complaints of the critics. Is she then going contrary to duty in believing as she does? Is she being irresponsible? Clearly not. […] She could be mistaken […] nevertheless, she isn’t flouting any discernable duty. She is fullfilling her epistemic responsibilities; she is doing her level best; she is justified.

Another cute logical demonstration Mr Plantinga elaborates is related to arguments concerning evidence. Classical foundational or evidential arguments separate statements as basic or contingent. A contingent statement is one which is dependent on other tatements or evidence which should in turn rest on those until founds the whole array on basic truths and evidence.The statement that evidence is required is not a basic statement but is complex and contingent on other statements. Alas, it seems there is no chain of logic and propositional evidential argument that leads to any evidential support for the evidential method. This is stated baldly here and if needed I’ll attempt to unpack and express Mr Plantinga’s argument on this matter in more detail. If you really want the goods, of course, buy or borrow the book.

I should mention that ultimately the complaints of lack of warrant given by Freud and Marx are found to be the only sustainable objections. In part III, which I have not completed, Mr Plantinga mounts argument for Christian warrant against these complaints.

According to Freud, theistic belief is produced by cognitive faculties that are functioning properly, but the process that produces them — wishful thinking — does not have the production of true belief as its purpose; it is aimed instead at something like enabling us to carry on in the grim and threatening world in which we find ourselves.

Therefore it fails one of the conditions for warrant, namely reliability. Marx’s view is similar.

He thinks first that theistic and religious belief is produced by cognitive faculties that are not functioning properly. Those faculties are, to the extent that they produce such belief, dysfunctional; the dysfunction is due to a sort of perversion in social structure, a sort of social malfunction. Religious belief therefore doesn’t meet the first condition of warrant; it is therefore without warrant and an intellectually health person will reject it. Further, Marx also thinks that a person whose cognitive faculties are functioning properly and who knows what was known by the middle of the nineteenth century will see that materialism is very probably true, in which case Christian and theistic belief is very likely false.

As, in the future, I return to this book I will attempt to summarize Mr Plantinga’s defense against the “F&M” objections to Christian warrant and as well, if elaborations of arguments or discussion of matters from the early sections are desired, let me know and I’ll attempt to provide them.

A Possible Aveneue

Considering the amount of discussion that an offhand comment on fidelity and monogamy stirred up, I’m considering returning to a chapter by chapter overview/discussion of what I feel is the hands down best book on the subject of relationships, dating, and marriage. Namely the compilation by Amy and Leon Kass entitled Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying.

This book is not polemical or one which takes any position in particular. The purpose of the collection is not to drive the reader to any particular conclusion but instead provide a resource of thoughtful discourse on the insights of the great thinkers of the past on the subject. In that vein, it follows more in the line of a Great Books approach, and comprises with a few exceptions a fairly complete series of excerpts collected from the Western Canon which deal specifically with courtship, romance, and marriage. Each excerpt includes a brief half page to one page introduction describing the piece, providing some thoughts to motivate the reader, and in some cases assist the reader to penetrate the stylistic methods employed by the author. Contributors include Rousseau, Aquinas, Darwin, Shakespeare, and many more.

I began that endeavor a year or more ago but set it aside, should I return to it? Would that be interesting?

A Little Earnest Bleg

What I’d really really like to see sometime is the following:

Ayn Rand and discussions of John Galt and her Atlas Shrugged abound everywhere these days. For a while, every time that I saw someone mentioning Ayn Rand I’d pop in with “did you ever read Matt Ruff’s Public Works Trilogy?” Sewer, Gas and Electric: The Public Works Trilogy is an absolutely hysterical book. It’s just a little dangerous … in the “you’ll laugh so hard you’ll be in danger doing harm to yourself and those around you.”

So, what would I like to see. I’d like to see someone take my advice and read this book and then tell me how much they enjoyed it. I’ve lent it to people and they’ve really liked it. Libertarians and the like are enamoured of Ms Rand it seems. Do they not have any sense of humor. Why does it seem that they’ve never heard of this book. And why do they ignore the chance to read this escapes me.

So humor me. Read the book, and when people start talking about “going John Galt” we can mutter about, “By which you really mean Harry Gant.”

A Book Reviewed: Preserving Democracy

Henry Neufeld, long time blog neighbor, owns a small publishing firm. Quite surprisingly (to me), he offered to send me a pre-publication copy of a book which he is releasing shortly, more specifically on April 15. I readily agreed and here is a short review of the book he sent me. This book, Preserving Democracy by Elgin Hushbeck, Jr. will be released next month. Mr Neufeld locates this as “a conservative” book, and I’m not entirely sure I agree with that assesment. First, bear with me for a quick overview of the book (my impression at any rate from a somewhat cursory/quick read) after which I’ll explain what I mean by that that claim.

Mr Hushbeck’s book is an eminently readable exposition detailing point by point what might be described as political or cultural catchpoints with each chapter addressing a different catchpoint. These catchpoints are issues which, if matters go unchecked might be seen as most likely stumbling blocks for our American political experiment. Taxes, Law, Central planning, Voting, Language and other issues are covered succinctly and simply. The language is plain spoken and non-technical with liberal illustrative examples from current events and past history. Graphs and charts are frequently used and contain no evidence of the sorts of trickery used to mislead via manipulation of axis, the data is honestly presented (and the source data cited).

Another item which I must praise highly is that Mr Hushbeck doesn’t fall into the all to common “Thomas Paine” fallacy. John Adams, according to his biographer, praised Mr Paine for being very good at “tearing down” and assisting the American efforts at Revolution but noted that Mr Paine was not well suited for “building up.” It is terribly easy to criticize. But criticism is incomplete without an offer of a solution. Mr Hushbeck in each of his chapters in which a catchpoint for our society is identified and located also then briefly sketches a way to avoid or steer clear of the problem.

My only criticism of the book is that some of his historical allusions to highlight a modern problem gloss over historical details perhaps stretching some points in order to make a point. Allow me to give one example, in the first chapter in a long historical overview of the (Western) Roman progression from Kingdom to Republic to Empire … Mr Husbheck notes that:

It was only with the fall of the Roman Empire 500 years later and the subsequent rise of Christianity that a new set of values would dominate the culture and slavery would be questioned

and to this a footnote expands

Slavery did disappear in Europe following the rise of Christianity, only to reappear following the Renaissance as the Church’s hold on the culture weakened and Europeans explorers started sailing down the coast of Africa encountering and then becoming part of the slave trade.

I’d take issue with that reading of the history of slavery and the Christian influence … setting aside the very Western reading of Christianity in general as an member of the Easter Orthodox tradition myself as well, e.g., Rome finally fell in 1453. It might be argued that the timing of slavery disappearing from the West in a large part coincided less with the spread of Christianity than with the economics of Western Europe. Western Europe slid back into late Bronze age subsistence economic and social conditions. Organized and widespread slavery needed a higher level of culture and standards of living in order to exist. When economic and social conditions improved … slavery returned. This aside is a brief sidelight to the main point of a brief summary of Roman political history. My only point is that Mr Hushbeck in painting the historical situation with a broad brush, well to be frank, paints with a broad brush and in doing so occasionally makes claims which when examined in detail are questionable.

Aside from that (minor) criticism this book makes for a very readable overview a number of issues facing America today. However, in conclusion I’d like to return to the claim that this book is not conservative. The issues chosen are in fact issues which conservatives would identify as the most serious issues facing our nation today. However by and large the methods used to address these issues and way in which these issues are framed are not “conservative” per se, but more aligned with classical liberalism. Mises and Hayek, the Founders, Locke, Smith and so on (for example) are quoted as much if not more often by Libertarian writers as conservative and these sources are used liberally in this book. I don’t see a Libertarian or Conservative disagreeing with much that is said in this book. What exactly a liberal/progressive would disagree with … that might be a task more suited for a different reviewer. 🙂

Looking at the New Deal with Amity Shlaes

One of the most fascinating books I have read over the last few months is The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression. Actually, in reading the book I was amazed at how much President Barack Obama’s economic policies are like that of FDR. Needless to say, that was not comforting.

Recently I had the opportunity to talk with Amity Shlaes, author of the book. Click here to read more about our conversation and what she had to say about the current economic crisis.

Four Books and Lent

Last year for Lent, I had an (inspired?) somewhat strange idea for Lent. There is a age-old wedding tradition in the form of a little ditty aimed at guiding the bride when she prepares her garment for the feast. That tradition goes in the manner of a ditty, she is to wear,

Something old,
Something new,
Something borrowed, and
Something blue.

I read. If I had time and less concerns I’d read a lot more, but I really enjoy study and reading. As a result, my Lenten tradition, now all of two years old, is to read 4 from books during the Lenten journey. And … the strange part is, I select these books based for good reason on that marriage ditty. I don’t have my borrowed book as yet, but the other three are the following:

  1. The old book is a book I’ve read and am going to re-read. For this book, I’m going to re-read The Brothers Karamazov. I finished this about a year ago but just before completing it I read in this little book on theodicy The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami? by David Bentley Hart that a important theme in the Brothers K is the posing and the Christian answer to the theodicy problem.
  2. The new book is a book newly acquired. Two books have vied for this as both seem really good. But I’ve selected God, Man and the Church by Vladamir Solovyev. Mr Solovyev was a late 19th century religious philosopher who influenced both Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, judging by his wiki page and the introduction which I’ve glanced through, this will be an interesting read.
  3. And the blue book, is likely going to recur as the blue book for quite some time to come, Saint Silouan, the Athonite by the Archimandrite Sophrony has a blue cover … and is full of the teaching and example of an exemplary saint. Mount Athos is the holy mountain in Greece, a treasured and holy place for the Eastern Orthodox churches. Twenty monasteries dot the hillside and many, if not most, have been there for more than a millenia.

From Our President’s Reading List

Starting reading a book … but for now, the question is … should I continue? The book is Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World. Apparently, one of the books noted as a book our President has read recently. I think I may continue, but some of the errors spotted in a quick perusal at the start were annoying.

For example, Mr Zakaria notes in pointing out how commodity prices are getting higher because, apparently Malthusian shortages. One of his examples is Helium. He notes that Helium is the “second most abundant element” in the Universe … yet is a shortage. This is really ignorant. Helium is called helium because it is very very rare terrestrially. It was discovered via spectral analysis of solar radiation … because it is so rare on earth. It is basically only found in any quantity from oil wells.

I think the thesis that American’s dominance in all sphere’s is going to wane is uninteresting. The question is what to make of it. America will likely remain dominant at the “things at which we excell” and no longer be dominant in sphere’s in which we had been dominant by default.

As Mr Collier notes in the The Bottom Billion that of the 6 1/2 billion people on the globe, one billion are “very rich”, 4 1/2 billion are “getting rich very quickly” and one billion are stuck at the bottom. While his book concentrates on the billion which are stuck in poverty, the obvious logical consequence of the other 5 1/2 billion being rich or getting rich quicker is that influence of nations and economies will spread.

I think I’m going to skip or quickly skim (and try not get hung up on rhetorical simplification and overstatement) this book tomorrow night. I’ll hunt for some conclusions … because otherwise the book just a long winded statement of the obvious.

Words Read, Thoughts Churned in 2008

It’s typical of periodical media of many types, news, sports, special interests at this time of year to do year end reviews and so on. Last year I suggested some books which I thought most affected or influenced my thinking and ideas in the prior year. As a reminder the two books, which I still very highly recommend from last year were Stephen Collier’s The Bottom Billion (note: now in paperback) and Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age.

  • For the first book, an interesting approach to the theodicy problem in The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami? This book frames the problem and stresses that there aren’t “trivial” answers locates the best solution (and framing of the problem) in the literature as being found in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov which … I also finished reading this year at long last. And which, now having found the suggestion that this book, among other things, is “about” theodicy I will start to re-read. This book too, I glanced at but will return to when I return to the latter book here Dostoevsky: Language, Faith, and Fiction.
  • For my second book, I’m going to have to go with The Princeton Companion to Mathematics, which I highly recommend to anyone who likes math and has a few collegiate mathematics classes under their belt.

How about you? Any books you found interesting that you read in 2008?

Books Looked At While Traveling

I’ve just completed a 24 hour or so train trip to the East Coast. In the absence of computers and the net, books were read.

I’ve really enjoyed reading through the first parts of the Princeton Companion for Mathematics. I’ve been away from academics and “real” mathematics for almost 20 years. This book is aimed at a mid-collegiate level math background and so far is pitch perfect for me, although I’m just getting into topics in section 3 with which I’m not very familiar. Anyhow I recommend it highly.

St. Siluan the Athonite is a great spiritual read, but best taken in smallish bites … at least for me.

The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy was very good and a very short study on why a little self-examination and reflection is a good idea. Actually (as my parents don’t regularly read this blog), I’ll admit that I’m going to give it to my father for Christmas once-read.

I’m about half-way through Ian Banks The Algebraist which paints an interesting galactic society without breaking (much) known laws of physics (I think wormholes, if possible are harder to “work” with than suggested).  I’m getting hints half-way through that this is a book about oppression and liberty.

I’ve read a few chapters of Fagles and Fox recent translation of The Aeneid and had brought a parallel book The Black Ships but didn’t get a positive impression of the second from the first 10 or so pages and will defer returning to that for a while.

Finally, I still have “grand” plans on reading a Banks “Culture” novel (The Player of Games) and a translation of Henryk Sienkiewicz With Fire and Sword before getting back to the midwest, but that will depend on time remaining and how much the Companion grabs me in the meantime.

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