Like all cultures, ours has a dominant origin myth (using the word in the sociological sense, which connotes nothing about its truth or falsity): in t...moreLike all cultures, ours has a dominant origin myth (using the word in the sociological sense, which connotes nothing about its truth or falsity): in this case, the mythos of accidental evolution, the emergence and development of the universe and all life in it by blind, random chance through the purposeless interaction of matter and energy, which are defined a priori as the only realities in the universe. Like all origin myths, this one has universal implications for how all areas of life are lived; confers cultural power on the intellectual elite that upholds it; is taught as fact and automatically accepted by most people as a given that needs no examination, and engenders passionate loyalty on many levels independent of rational argument. And like all origin myths, it rests on no eyewitness testimony; the origin of the universe and of life had no humans to record it historically or photographically.
A significant difference between this mythos and many others, though, is its theoretical appeal to empirical evidence. Though the origin is itself unobservable, the physical realities of the universe supposedly provide enough circumstantial evidence to "prove" the mythos. That this proof exists is a postulate most people accept, in practice, on the authority of tradition, social consensus, and "expert" say-so; pressed to explain it, most could not. But the appeal to evidence as the ostensible basis of the belief system is significant --because evidence is supposed to be able to withstand informed examination. This is where Denton's book comes in.
An Australian molecular biologist, Denton has impeccable scientific credentials. (He is also a theistic evolutionist, but here he makes no reference to religious revelation or philosophical reasoning; his case is developed strictly from empirical scientific observations.) He begins by outlining the origins of Darwin's theory and the arguments for it, and traces the history of its rise to a position of dogma. Then, chapter by chapter, he examines the present state of various areas of circumstantial "evidence" for the mythos, and the circumstantial evidence against it. The latter vastly outweighs the former.
There is a great deal of content and information in this book, most of it clearly understandable to intelligent laymen (the chapter on cell biology might be challenging). Two of the most salient points can be summarized as follows. First, we know a great deal more about the actual mechanisms of heredity through DNA than was known in Darwin's day (which was essentially nothing). Everything we know and have observed about the structure and transmission of DNA suggests that it is mutable up to a point --but it is not infinitely mutable. Empirical evidence refutes the fixity of species (a typical straw man Darwinists like to knock down) --but it does suggest the relative fixity of broad kinds of living things, and here the fossil record is completely in harmony with the evidence of biochemistry. Second, most highly developed organs and systems of living things exhibit "irreducible complexity" --that is, their development by small accidental mutations would have required a vast number of them, but none of them would have had any adaptive value at all until the complete development was done, and some would actually have temporarily greatly reduced the ability of the organism to survive. Much earlier, Peter Stoner, in Science Speaks, demonstrated accidental evolution to be a "statistical monstrosity" from the standpoint of probability theory; Denton demonstrates it to be a biological monstrosity as well.
This book is carefully researched and documented, clearly argued, and cogent. It is a pleasure to recommend it to anyone who genuinely wants to understand the "blind chance vs. ultimate purpose" debate.(less)
(The 1986 date given for the book is for the paperback edition; I read the hardcover edition, which came out a number of years earlier.) Phipps, a lib...more(The 1986 date given for the book is for the paperback edition; I read the hardcover edition, which came out a number of years earlier.) Phipps, a liberal Protestant scholar, takes issue with the profoundly anti-sex, ultra-ascetic strain of thought that took deep root in the developing Catholic/Orthodox Church of the 2nd and succeeding Christian centuries, with its attendant glorification of perpetual celibacy (a strain that also exerted a historic influence even on Protestantism). He documents this movement pretty solidly, and convincingly demonstrates that it runs counter to the Biblical, Hebraic view of creation, the body and sexuality.
In Phipps view, the doctrines of both Jesus' and Mary's perpetual virginity, as well as of the Virgin Birth, arose as by-products of this essentially heretical asceticism. The third point, of course, is his weakest. The Virgin Birth is clearly taught already in the New Testament (his attempt to argue the contrary is ludicrous), and taught because it reflects historical reality, not a disparagement of sex. In my opinion, though, he is on surer ground in arguing that Jesus and Mary both followed the normal and Biblical pattern of their culture: chaste and monogamous marriage, in which sex played a normal part. Virtually all Protestants recognize that the idea of Mary's perpetual virginity has no Biblical or historical basis. The case for Jesus' celibacy rests only on an argument from silence: if no wife is mentioned, he must not have had one. As Phipps convincingly points out, if his wife died before he began his ministry and they had no children, the N.T. writers had no reason to mention her; and the argument from silence actually cuts the other way: if a radical departure on Jesus' part from normal Jewish social and religious duty (for marriage was held to be no less than a commanded duty) isn't mentioned in the N.T., then it probably didn't occur. (less)
Like most people, I was always taught from childhood on to assume that the Bible teaches the doctrine of conscious eternal torment for the wicked; but...moreLike most people, I was always taught from childhood on to assume that the Bible teaches the doctrine of conscious eternal torment for the wicked; but as a young adult (I'd become a Christian while in high school), beginning to seriously study the Bible for myself for the first time, I was amazed at how flimsy the actual scriptural case for this position is. Fudge here inductively examines the Biblical teaching on final punishment from Genesis to Revelation to build a convincing case that conditional immortality (i.e., that eternal life is not an inherent attribute of humanity, but a gift of God in Christ) is the doctrine of the scriptures, and that "the wages of sin is death." (less)
What I'm reviewing here is actually the 1992 (hardback) edition of this book, though Goodreads' record combines all the editions in such a way that th...moreWhat I'm reviewing here is actually the 1992 (hardback) edition of this book, though Goodreads' record combines all the editions in such a way that the reviews of one are all listed under each of the others. This is a similar textbook, by the same publisher, to American Literature for Christian Schools (which see), which I reviewed earlier here on Goodreads, and as such it has very similar strengths and weaknesses. Like the other volume, I used it successfully in homeschooling, with some supplementation (especially in teaching literature, a certain amount of supplementation is probably a good idea whatever textbook is used). I've awarded it three stars, rather than the two the other text got, because I thought Horton's introductory overviews for the various literary periods here (Old English, Middle English, Tudor, Stuart, Neoclassical, Romantic, Victorian, and Modern), and short bio-critical introductions to various writers, were more constructive than Raymond St. John's. Though they have some of the same limitations and blind spots, they at least avoid (which St. John's sometimes don't) socio-political comments so egregiously off-beam as to be embarrassing, and mostly eschew unfair attacks on individual writers, though Horton is quite partisan in attacking Thomas More --but nobody else!-- for "bigotry". There is also less inclusion, in this volume, of non-literary, utilitarian writing selections --though John and Charles Wesley were not writers of "literature" as such; excerpts from the former's journal, and some of the latter's hymns, are dragged in only to provide an excuse for discussing their lives in detail here. (And some other selections from the earlier periods are open to criticism on this point, too.) While Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales, Morte d'Arthur, The Faerie Queen, and The Pilgrim's Progress are perhaps inevitably represented (the first two in modern English translation) by excerpts, and so are several other writings, there may be less excerpting of larger works here than there is in the American literature counterpart. Again, the discussion questions for particular works tend to be helpful and well-focused.
The choices of writers to highlight and represent individually here, up to the Victorian period, tends to follow the traditional canon (though with the addition of excerpts from divines or hymn composers like Wycliffe, Tyndale, Rutherford, Baxter, Isaac Watts, etc., as well as the Wesleys, all of whom really belong to the study of general and church history). As in the other book, poetry is represented much more than fiction (which takes a back seat to non-fiction prose, much of the latter in excerpted form.) A lot of the poetry is outstanding; two masterpieces I'd never read before, and was introduced to here, are Keats' "The Eve of St. Agnes" and Robert Graves' "Coronation Address." Only five short stories are included, but those five are well-chosen: Hardy's "The Three Strangers" (the only one I'd read before); Kipling's too-little-known "The Conversion of Aurelian McGoggin;" Joyce's "Araby;" Woolf's "Three Pictures," which is an excellent introduction to her existentially pessimist worldview; and Mansfield's splendid gem "Feuille D'Album." The essay as such also tends to be slighted, though Charles Lamb's "Old China" (a subject I didn't think I'd be interested in --but the ostensible subject is not really the focus here! :-)) is one of the few that do appear. (Swift's "A Modest Proposal" was omitted, though he would have been much better represented here by that than by a selection from Gulliver's Travels!) Macbeth is the only play included, but a weakness in presenting drama is more forgivable --that form is better experienced by viewing than reading. (I didn't assign Macbeth for reading --but I DID assign videos of good productions of both Macbeth and Hamlet to be watched. :-))
My biggest criticism here, especially for a textbook that claims to represent a Christian perspective, is that a number of major modern Christian writers --Eliot, Chesterton, Lewis, Waugh, Sayers, etc.-- are not represented and featured here, and are almost totally ignored. (Ironically, Horton concludes his introduction to the Modern period by quoting approvingly and at some length from Eliot on the right Christian response to modern literature --but Eliot's writing otherwise is invisible in this book!) Some of this may be due to snobbishness against "genre" fiction, in which some of these writers wrote (and which is also invisible here); and one might argue that Eliot was an American writer, though I consider him British. Then too, any works of creative literature written after 1922 are usually under copyright --and purchasing the rights can pose a crushing financial cost to a small press, or make the textbook prohibitively expensive for Christian schools and homeschooling parents. (The entire modern period from 1900 on is represented by exactly seven selections from as many writers, a phenomenon almost certainly related to the former.) Still, I suspect their absence also reflects prejudice against Roman Catholic and "High" Anglican writers --either the author/publisher's own, or in the press' constituency.
In summation, this isn't a perfect text, and it's certainly possible to imagine a better one. But for now, it is (or at least was when I picked it) about the best one of its kind available; and, supplemented by a good public or college library, will fit the bill as a tolerable high school text to begin a young person's acquaintance with British literature. (And such a class should be the beginning, not the end, of what ought to become a lifelong reading adventure!)(less)
I read this book as a pre-teen kid (which was probably not the best time in my life to read it). For a long time, I had it on my "to re-read" shelf, n...moreI read this book as a pre-teen kid (which was probably not the best time in my life to read it). For a long time, I had it on my "to re-read" shelf, not because I liked it --I didn't-- but because I'm not sure I didn't skim and skip a good bit in the last parts (by then, even my youthful broad tolerance for all sorts of reading was being challenged), and I felt it might be unfair to write a review based on something less than a careful cover-to-cover read. However, I've finally realized that, given that I was dreading the re-read as a chore, that's not what a good reading experience is supposed to be about; and some reviewers on this site do write reviews based on a much less full reading of a book than I did of this one! (Though I won't presume to rate it.)
Smith's setting here is turn-of-the-(20th)-century Brooklyn --much the same milieu as in most of O. Henry's stories, but she's a much less optimistic writer. The Goodreads description above mentions "cruelty" and "heartache," which I remember in spades, and uses the term "heartbreaking" (the writer could have added "depressing"), but I don't recall much in the way of "sublime" and "uplifting" elements that supposedly counterbalance this. Also, I do recall a heavy stress on vulgarity and sexual content, much of which appeared to me to be dragged in for its own sake. While I liked Francie reasonably well, I wasn't engaged with any of the other characters; and even as a 10-year- old, I thought some of Katie's "motherly" advice near the end was idiotic. To be fair, if I'd read it as an adult, my perspective would probably have been different and potentially more favorable, and Smith's Maggie Now is actually a pretty good read. But this one isn't one I'm really interested in re-visiting.(less)
Garland (who wrote in the tradition of regionalist Realism) was a master of short fiction, and these 11 stories demonstrate it. A strong concern for s...moreGarland (who wrote in the tradition of regionalist Realism) was a master of short fiction, and these 11 stories demonstrate it. A strong concern for social justice, which he saw denied to the family farmers he wrote about (as it still is to their descendants), and a compassion for his subject's poverty and its debilitating consequences, is evident in many of these stories, esp. "Under the Lion's Paw" and "Up the Cooly." But his characters are not simply whining, passive victims of fate and society; they tend to be strong, hard-working, indomitable people who wrest the best that they can from life, and care about others along the way. Nor was he simply a writer of large-scale social commentary; his topic is often the everyday human relationships of marriage, family and community, treated with a good deal of psychological insight. These are stories that will touch your heart!(less)
Note, May 22, 2013: Some of the discussion below convinced me that I should add a couple of clarifying sentences, which I've just done.
With the curren...moreNote, May 22, 2013: Some of the discussion below convinced me that I should add a couple of clarifying sentences, which I've just done.
With the current controversies over the projected "Ground Zero" mosque and the threatened Koran burning, a review of the Koran (also spelled Quran; there isn't always a one-on-one correspondence of Arabic and Latin letters) seemed topical. That might seem ground that angels fear to tread, fraught as it is with controversy, deeply-felt sensibilities for some, and the potential for verbal abuse and even physical violence in response. (It's also a challenge to distinguish between a review of the Koran per se and a full-blown discussion of Islam and its role in the world; the two subjects inevitably impinge on each other, but they aren't identical.) But Goodreads exists to provide book discussion --especially discussion of books with ideas that greatly impact the modern world; and by any definition, this one fits that description. Reviews so far tend to fall into three camps: those by Moslems lauding the book to the skies, those by Christian and Jewish believers angrily attacking it, and those by skeptics who see it as a prime example of the ludicrous nature of any and all religions. My own perspective is that of a committed Christian believer convinced of the truth claims of Jesus Christ. That stance is not only compatible with an effort to be fair in describing and evaluating others' beliefs in an attitude of respect for fellow human beings, but positively mandates it.
Unlike the Bible, which contains the writings of many authors spread over millenia, the Koran preserves the oral discourses of just one man, Mohammed, during his lifetime in seventh-century Arabia. (So it has a single basic historical-cultural context, and reflects the theology and style of just one author.) Moslems regard Mohammed as the last and ultimate prophet of God ("Allah" is simply the Arabic word for God, cognate with the Hebrew "El") --and by "God," they mean the God of the ancient Near Eastern religious tradition that also underlies the Bible, the God who revealed Himself to Noah and Abraham. (This in itself doesn't mean that their beliefs perfectly comprehend Him --arguably, nobody perfectly comprehends Him-- but it does mean that "Allah" should not be viewed by Christians as some alien deity comparable to Baal or Molech.) Mohammed's words were dictated to scribes; he was himself illiterate (not a disgrace, in that time and place). Raised in a polytheistic environment, he had some personal contact with Jews, and mostly second-hand information about Christian beliefs, and he connected Jewish and Christian conceptions of God with the primitive monotheistic tradition of his Arab ancestors, but he obviously never read either the Old or New Testaments. He viewed himself as a prophet called to uphold God's cause, and claimed Divine authority for his words.
The content of the Koran itself is sermonic material; it lays down some laws, which reflect a fairly primitive tribal society, and touches incidentally on theology in places, but the overwhelming majority of the content is a pounding reinteration of the twin themes of demand for absolute loyalty and obedience to God and threats of judgment against the disobedient, expressed over and over with a high degree of repetitive language (useful for memorization in a mainly oral culture) and in what I found to be a turgid style. (For me, it was a chore to read, and I think it would be for most Occidental readers.) Naturally, for Christian readers the obvious question here is the legitimacy of Mohammed's claim that this represents divinely inspired teaching. That this is not a claim to be rejected a priori is indicated by the fact that there are an increasing number of Moslems who accept Jesus as the Savior, and who see this as compatible with various views of Mohammed's prophetic role as legitimate. (See "Moslem Followers of Jesus?" by Joseph Cumming, Christianity Today, Dec. 2009, p. 32-5.) There is no hint here of the gospel of grace through faith on the basis of Christ's sacrifice, and not much hint of Divine compassion (beyond pro forma statements that God is "compassionate and merciful" --though here He doesn't sound like it); and the legislation allows things like slavery, polygamy and the subordination of women, and prescribes the death penalty much more liberally than we would. The same, however, can be said of parts of the Old Testament (though the Koranic command to cut off the hands of thieves and its encouragement of wife-beating goes beyond anything found in the Mosaic law). Those parts are set in a total context of Divine revelation that modifies or qualifies them; we accept them as Scripture, but if our sole understanding of God came from, say, the book of Obadiah, we'd have a severely mutilated picture. Much of the content of the Koran, on the most charitable assessment, could be seen as primitive and incomplete, in the same sense as some of the Old Testament that we can now view through the lens of progressive revelation and of Divine accommodation to limited human understanding on the part of the people He had to work with; a parent, as Calvin pointed out, speaks baby talk to an infant. (Though Mohammed lived in a time long after Christ, for all practical purposes his part of the world was a pre-Christian culture, and neither he nor his people had heard the gospel in anything like a coherent or understandable sense.)
IMO, though, there are aspects of the Koran that resist such a charitable view. To be sure, the stress on God's oneness is an Old Testament theme that no New Testament believer would deny, either; and even the insistence that God does not beget can be taken as a refutation of a misunderstanding of Christian doctrine, much as James in his epistle rebuts a misunderstanding of Pauline theology, not the genuine article. (God did not literally beget Jesus by sexual intercourse with Mary, in the manner of pagan gods siring children on human women, and no Christian believer would argue that He did.) But from a Christian standpoint, the Koranic insistence that Jesus was not really killed by his enemies, but was rescued by God, is incompatible with Divine revelation (not to mention history). It stems from the conviction that God must always necessarily rescue and vindicate the righteous, in this world --which, experientially, is NOT true-- and from (understandable) ignorance of the vicarious role of Jesus' death. Here again, Mohammed's lack of acquaintance with the New Testament was a serious liability --much as a lack of acquaintance with the Koran would be a liability to anyone making claims about Islam. (That isn't, obviously, anything that he could have helped; he had the information that could realistically be available to him in his time and place. By all accounts, he was actively interested in obtaining verbal information about both Judaism and Christianity; he can't be faulted for inevitable gaps in what he could acquire that way.) Also, while the Old Testament applies the Mosaic Law only to Israel, and the New Testament supersedes the letter of it with the spirit/Spirit, the Koran suggests no such limits for its laws --which is seen by strict Moslems today as a mandate to impose them on the entire world! Finally (and related to the latter) the Koran in places clearly commands a Moslem theocracy as the form of human government, and calls for its forcible imposition on the world. To be sure, not all Moslems are inclined to follow this to the letter. But this kind of Koranic teaching (coupled with its death penalty provisions for blasphemy and apostasy) certainly creates a built-in ratchet towards intolerance and religious violence, and provides religious justification for social policies which, no matter how constructive or mitigating they might have been in 7th-century tribal society, today more often create and perpetuate horrible injustice rather than mitigate it. To be wisely aware of this is not the same thing as calling for persecution of peaceful Moslems.
So in conclusion, my recommendation regarding the Koran is to read it, not burn it --but read it with a discerning critical faculty. :-) (less)
In the clash of worldviews that characterizes our cultural milieu, one of the major battlegrounds is over the origins of the natural world and of huma...moreIn the clash of worldviews that characterizes our cultural milieu, one of the major battlegrounds is over the origins of the natural world and of humanity in particular, with advocates of random evolution as "proof" of existential meaninglessness and purposelessness squaring off against those who believe in purposive creation by a Creator. One of the primary weapons of the former is root-and-branch ridicule of the Genesis creation and flood accounts, which are caricatured as hopelessly outdated and obvious falsehoods which "everybody knows" are thoroughly discredited by Science (even if "everybody" is a bit clueless about the details), and only believed in by knuckle-dragging, brainwashed idiots totally ignorant of the glories of Science. Enter Christian scientist Hugh Ross (B.Sc. in Physics, Univ. of British Columbia; M.Sc. and PhD. in Astronomy, Univ. of Toronto), founder of the Reasons to Believe institute, whom even the most prejudiced religion-basher would (or at least should) have some difficulty in portraying as "ignorant of science." This book is one of several by the author, though the only one I've read. While it's not a commentary as such on Genesis 1-11, it carefully considers the basic messages of those chapters in textual order, determining their actual meaning, and bringing to bear the light that cutting-edge (as of 2001, when this second edition was published) science casts on its credibility. The results might surprise some readers.
This is a difficult book to do justice to in a short review, because it's packed so full of information and ideas. Ross writes from the perspective of "old earth" creationism, accepting the GAD (Generally Accepted Dates) and providing a cogent explanation of why the 6,000-year-old earth theory of the "young earth" creationists will not hold water. (He also deals with the theological argument that certain New Testament passages require young-earth creationism, demonstrating that this is not the case.) He then analyzes the seven "days" of creation, making a convincing case that these are not to be understood as successive literal 24-hour days, and establishing that the order of Divine creative acts dovetails precisely with the order of events as suggested by current science. Among the other subjects treated here are the scientific facts that discredit random macroevolution as the explanation for the emergence of the basic kinds of living things, the interpretation of the flood narrative (he demonstrates conclusively, IMO, that this was a localized rather a global event, and that this is compatible with the teaching of the text), the perennial skeptical question, "Where did Cain get his wife?" and some speculations about the "Nephilim" mentioned in Genesis 6:4.
One of the most interesting aspects of the book to me was the treatment of studies comparing the DNA of modern Japanese males with that found in the bones of males from the ancient Jomon and Yayoi tribes, the ancestors of the modern Japanese. This allowed scientists to calculate the rate of chromosome divergence over time, allowing for the figuring of the approximate date of the most recent common male ancestor of all living humans once the degree of chromosome divergence among them was established. According to a Y-chromosome study published in 1995, that date is 37,000-49,000 years B.P. (before present), with the most recent common female ancestor dated "somewhere between a few thousand and a few tens of thousands" of years earlier. If we hypothesize that this common male ancestor was Noah, it provides an approximate date for Noah's flood. Another especially illuminating part, for me, was the discussion of the plausibility of the long antediluvian lifespans, in light of the fact that human aging is caused mostly by exposure to cosmic radiation (and its interaction with telomerase activity). In 1996, it was determined that most of the current cosmic radiation comes from the explosion of the Vela supernova, only 1300 light years from Earth, ca. 8,500-37,000 years B.P. Prior to that time, it seems clear that exposure to cosmic radiation would have been much less than it is today.
I don't personally agree with every conclusion Ross espouses. I'm not convinced that there was no genuine human habitation outside of the Middle East before Noah's flood; I don't think that's a necessary conclusion from the Biblical text, and the archaeological evidence, IMO, would suggest the opposite. In particular, I think Ross (and others) are in error in considering the Neanderthals to be a lower primate species unrelated to humanity. Skeletal remains from caves on Mount Carmel in Palestine known as early as the mid-20th century, as I understand it, clearly indicate interbreeding between Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons (anatomically modern humans), which to me proves the humanity of the former. In this respect, I would agree with scholars such as Ralph Linton (The Tree of Culture). But even on points where one disagrees with him, Ross' treatment here is enormously stimulating and fascinating. (I took copious notes from the book when I read it; there's much more material here than I've been able to summarize!) It's not necessary to agree with him in toto to realize that he's set forth a solid basic case for the credibility of Genesis as an account of origins and primeval history. Obviously, the book will not convince the bigoted, who will either avoid reading it or read it only to ridicule it. But for open-minded readers willing to consider what science and Genesis have to say to each other, it will offer a lot of both factual information and food for thought.
While the book does utilize footnotes (and has a good index), it's written for the intelligent layperson. Some of the science involved is necessarily complicated, but the author does a very good job of explaining it without either jargon or "dumbing it down."(less)