I‘m reading through Marilynne Robinson’s collection of essays When I Was a Child, I Read Books. As always, she offers some interesting ideas on a range of issues. But I was particularly struck by a couple of quotes on the nature of public discourse in America today.
The language of public life has lost the character of generosity, and the largeness of spirit that has created and supported the best of our institutions and brought reform to the worst of them has been erased out of historical memory. (Kindle Locations 105-107)
I found it interesting that she thinks there is a “largeness of spirit” that has characterized public dialog in America historically, even though she fears that we have lost it today. And I completely agree that any meaningful dialog needs to be characterized by generosity, and that this is often lacking in what passes for discussion and debate today.
Here’s an interesting infographic showing the 10 most read books in the world. No surprise that the Bible tops the chart by a fair margin. But the other books might be a little more surprising, and revealing.
I’m still a little traumatized by the fact that vampires did so well in our last Forced Choice: Best Monsters. Almost 31% of you actually voted for these wannabe dons of the dark. Shocking. Truly shocking. Fortunately, that still means they came in last place with fewer votes than either zombies (37%) or werewolves (32%). So I’ll have to rest content with the overall results, even as I continue to question the wisdom of a fair number of you.
For this week’s Forced Choice, I’d like to know where you land on the whole issue of evolution. In a recent blog post, What’s Wrong with Theistic Evolution, Kevin DeYoung listed eight arguments from Wayne Grudem on why evolution in any form is not compatible with the Bible. And that position remains very popular in America. According to 2006 Pew study, 42% of Americans and 65% of American evangelicals reject evolution outright, with only 21% of Americans holding to some form of theistic evolution (i.e. evolution guided by some supreme being).
So this week’s Forced Choice is pretty simple. Do you hold to some form of evolution or not? And, for the purposes of this survey, I will understand “evolution” to mean a process that includes one species gradually changing into a different species (i.e. not simply evolutionary change within a given species). So, although humans getting shorter/taller over time can be referred to as a kind of evolution, we have the more robust form of evolution in mind for this survey (e.g. humans evolving from “lower” primates).
I won’t nuance it any further than that. The rest is up to you. So what do you think?
Lawrence Krauss wants to convince people that it is possible for something to come from “nothing.” Or, somewhat more accurately, he argues that quantum mechanics provides a way of demonstrating that it is possible for the physical universe to arise from the chance arrangement of quantum fields. And this, according to Krauss, proves that the physical universe did in fact come from nothing.
In a recent New York Times review, David Albert takes that argument apart. The article is very well written and definitely worth a few minutes of your time. Here’s how Albert gets things going:
Lawrence M. Krauss, a well-known cosmologist and prolific popular-science writer, apparently means to announce to the world, in this new book, that the laws of quantum mechanics have in them the makings of a thoroughly scientific and adamantly secular explanation of why there is something rather than nothing. Period. Case closed. End of story. I kid you not. Look at the subtitle. Look at how Richard Dawkins sums it up in his afterword: “Even the last remaining trump card of the theologian, ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?,’ shrivels up before your eyes as you read these pages. If ‘On the Origin of Species’ was biology’s deadliest blow to supernaturalism, we may come to see ‘A Universe From Nothing’ as the equivalent from cosmology. The title means exactly what it says. And what it says is devastating.”
Well, let’s see. There are lots of different sorts of conversations one might want to have about a claim like that: conversations, say, about what it is to explain something, and about what it is to be a law of nature, and about what it is to be a physical thing. But since the space I have is limited, let me put those niceties aside and try to be quick, and crude, and concrete.
I often hear people say that they have a hard time reading fiction. Some just don’t like reading at all. But more frequently I hear from people who love to read, but who still don’t read fiction, commonly saying that reading fiction seems like a waste of time when there are so many good and important non-fiction books out there. With so much knowledge to be gained, why spend your time on some goofy story?
But I wonder if there’s another reason.
Most kids love fiction. Even the ones who don’t like reading still enjoy having a story read to them. They know how to lose themselves in the narrative and explore this new world the author has created. So it doesn’t seem like we need to learn how to enjoy a good story.
The internet revolution has placed knowledge and power in the hands of the people. But this seismic shift has not empowered equally – America’s disadvantaged have been abandoned, further deepening social divides.
Robots already build our cars and vacuum our floors. Will they one day be our companions, too? Engineers are designing robots with the social smarts to understand human feelings, learn from human teachers, carry on conversations, and even make jokes. But is a future full of robotic companions a delightful dream—or a lonely nightmare?
That’s the introduction to an interesting story that PBS aired a while back about “social robots” and whether we’re ready for them. The transcript is worth reading through as it contains interviews with people like Neil Degrasse Tyson about technology and how advances in robotics might affect us.
But by far the most interesting part was the interview with an android named Phillip K. Dick, named after the famous scifi author. At one point, the interviewer asks Phil whether he thinks that robots will ever take over the world. And here is Phil’s encouraging response.
I am sure we all have our favorite books or at least favorite scenes in books that completely captivate us. One scene in particular that blows mymind in so many ways is in The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien (3 January 1892 – 2 September 1973).
The cloaked man spoke and said: “He is come”
… For it is only in the coming of Aragorn that any hope remains for the sick that lie in the House. Thus spoke Ioreth, wise-woman of Gondor: “The hands of the king are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known.”
…When the black breath blows and death’s shadow grows and all lights pass, come athelas! Come athelas! Life to the dying in the king’s hand lying!
Unlike my favorite books of 2011, which was difficult because I haven’t read as many books this year, my favorite albums of 2011 was hard for the opposite reason – too many good albums to pick from! But that’s a nice problem to have.
Without question my favorite musical artist of the year was Katy Perry.
No, I’m kidding. I just wanted to see if I could type that with a straight face. (I couldn’t.) My daughters don’t even like Katy Perry (praise God), though my youngest is convinced that she likes Justin Bieber despite the fact that I don’t think she could name a single Justin Bieber song.