IVP - Andy Unedited

July 11, 2017

The Penultimate Curiosity

Are science and religion enemies, each seeking supremacy over the other? Or do they simply look at the same thing from different, perhaps complementary, perspectives? In The Penultimate Curiosity, Wagner and Briggs propose a very different relationship than either of these options.

From Penultimate Curiosity.jpgthe earliest days of prehistory, as much as a hundred thousand years ago, there has been an interplay (or entanglement) between religion and science, with each pushing and prodding the other to think more deeply about their inquiries. From there the authors trace the dramatic story of the interaction of science and religion from Athens to Alexandria to Italy to Oxford.

In this well-illustrated book, the story begins with cave paintings discovered in recent decades showing religious impulses. Yet the mixing of pigments needed to create these paintings show rudimentary science in the service of religion--but also that religion pushed our science further so faith could express itself. Likewise the new discipline of the cognitive science of religion (CSR) investigates how and how long religion has been fundamental capacity of the mind, like language.

While the authors offer ample attention to the giants--Aristotle, Galileo, Newton--we learn of the contributions of many other lesser-known but important figures. There is the story of two men (one Christian, one pagan) who studied in Alexandria and whose arguments continued to be played out for a thousand years. We learn of the contributions of Muslim philosophers and of Robert Grosseteste ("Large head"). Aquinas, the Bacons, Pascal, Maxwell and many others all receive their due. Not only do we get a wonderfully told story of a slice of the history of western thought, we see how religious and scientific concerns continually spurred each other on.

One Lost World of Genesis One.jpgof the most helpful and nuanced sections of the book concerns 19th-century archeological discoveries that uncovered the context in which many Old Testament books were written. In the ancient myths of Mesopotamia, humans were created as slaves. In Genesis they are made in God's image as his vice regents. Instead of a multitude of warring gods seeking to destroy the nuisance of humanity with a flood in an act of arbitrary despotism, the one creator God judges the world for having ruined itself. Instead of an ark being the subversion of a rival god, it is God's own provision of rescue. Similar to the work of John Walton, Briggs and Wagner suggest that the Bible can be seen at least in part protest literature against harsh and cruel worldviews.

Yes, there was rancor and animosity between opposing characters in this long drama of science and faith. Arguments abounded on whether new scientific discoveries contradicted the Bible (or Aristotle!). Was science seeking to go beyond penultimate curiosity (which extends to the limits of the visible world)? What implications did the theological thoughts regarding ultimate curiosity have on science?

Yet the authors want us to view these quarrels through the lens of a slipstream. We know geese do not fly in a fixed V-formation but that each goose takes its turn at the front, so the others can have an easier time flying behind it in its slipstream. That is, they contend, how religion and science interact. Each helping the other despite their differences.

Posted by Andy Le Peau at 10:06 AM | Comments

June 20, 2017

Does Character Matter?

Does character matter?

Weaving wisdom and insight with the life stories of fascinating people, in The Road to Character, David Brooks offers a much needed book. Each chapter focuses on a different person and theme. Through the lives of people like Frances Perkins, Dwight Eisenhower, Dorothy Day, George Marshall, A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans), Augustine, Samuel Johnson and Montaigne, we consider dignity, struggle, self-mastery, love, self-examination and more.

Brooks Frances Perkins.jpgbegins, though, with the categories of Adam I and Adam II--Adam I being external-oriented and achievement-oriented while Adam II is internally focused, seeking inner character. Adam II seeks to embody certain moral qualities, to have an inner center, a sense of calling. While we are all no doubt a mix of Adam I and Adam II, Brooks pays special attention in this book to Adam II.

One theme he notes is that several people he highlights, like Frances Perkins (the first woman U.S. cabinet member), were socially liberal and daring but personally conservative--self-disciplined, guarding against self-glorification. Perkins was reticent, private, kept her personal life separate. But in public life she pushed the boundaries for women and for workers.

Another theme is what Brooks refers to as the "crooked timber" school of humanity, people who are very aware of their flaws and as a result, push against their bent selves to achieve strength. This is especially highlighted in the moral realism of Samuel Johnson, Dorothy Day and George Eliot.

Related to this, Brooks sees sin is a valuable concept. "Sin is not some demonic thing. It's just our perverse tendency to f___ things up, to favor the short term over the long term, the lower over the higher. Sin, when it is committed over and over again, hardens into a loyalty to a lower love" (p. 55).

In the Road to Character.jpglast chapter he makes the case that the shift from a culture of humility to a culture of the Big Me, from emphasis on people of depth to people with a thin veneer, has not come over the last fifty years. Certainly there has been plenty of self-promoting individualism during that time.

Rather, the shift came about two hundred years ago with the rise of the romantic movement. Realists distrusted the self while romantics idealized the self. Interestingly, Brooks says we need both dimensions. The problem is that the romantic side has overwhelmed the moral realist side in recent decades, and we need to rebalance.

This is an extremely worthwhile book that pushes us to answer many key questions for ourselves:

How is character formed?
How do achievement or character go together and fight against each other?
What have we found helpful in cultivating an inner life?
What hinders us from developing character?
And, yes, does character matter?

Posted by Andy Le Peau at 10:31 AM | Comments

May 31, 2017

Paul's New Perspective

Those who walk down the middle of the road, it is said, are likely to get run over by both sides. That is where Garwood Anderson has chosen to daringly place himself in his Paul's New Perspective. In the current debate on justification between those who hold to the Traditional Protestant Perspective (TPP) and the New Perspective on Paul (NPP), Anderson charts a third way.

Continue reading "Paul's New Perspective"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 10:46 AM | Comments

May 24, 2017

Cracking the Writer's Block 4: Life Issues

Ron Brackin tells us, "Writers block occurs when a writer has nothing to say. Unfortunately not all writers experience it."

But you are not like that. No, no, no. Obviously, you have something to say, even if you are not quite sure at the moment what that is. So how do you get unstuck?

Continue reading "Cracking the Writer's Block 4: Life Issues"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 10:28 AM | Comments

May 17, 2017

Cracking the Writer's Block 3: Playing Balderdash

Sometimes our writing is stuck because we don't know where to start. For some of us, we need to know where we are going to end up before we can begin. And if we don't, the ink has run out, our pencil is down to a nub, our muse is silent, and the battery to our laptop has died.

Continue reading "Cracking the Writer's Block 3: Playing Balderdash"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 10:16 AM | Comments

May 11, 2017

Cracking the Writer's Block 2: Quick Tips

So you are a writer with lots of ideas, but don't know where to start. Or you have no ideas, with the same result. What do you do? Here are a few simple ideas to get you going.

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Posted by Andy Le Peau at 10:14 AM | Comments

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book cover"Some publishers tell you what to believe. Other publishers tell you what you already believe. But InterVarsity Press helps you believe," says J. I. Packer. Andy Le Peau and Linda Doll describe how this came to be a hallmark of InterVarsity Press in Heart. Soul. Mind. Strength, an anecdotal history spanning the sixty years from the founding of IVP in 1947 to the present day.