Reading suggestions

Last month I wrote about my friend Glenn, who reads over 100 books a year. I don’t think I’ll ever hit that level, but I have been encouraged to be more disciplined and intentional in my reading habits. This week Glenn pointed to a challenging reading list from Monergism books. I have about 20% of these books in my library, though I haven’t read all of them yet. The list comes from a Calvinist perspective (and I’m mostly Calvinist in my theology) but draws from non-Calvinist writers as well, such as Martin Luther.

HT: Be Bold, Be Gentle

Grace and Peace

Reading — March 2009

Here are the books I finished in March:

  • The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, by Mark Noll. Noll examines Evangelical thinking (or the lack thereof), and comes down really hard on two specific realms of Evangelical intellectual activity: politics and science.
  • The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman. Would the world really be better off without us? I don’t think so—we are part of the biosphere, not a cancer on the biosphere—but this book certainly opens one’s eyes to the increasing impact of human activities.
  • 2010: Odyssey Two, by Arthur C. Clarke. This is the science fiction sequel to 2001: A Space Odessey. In 2010 a joint Soviet-American expedition brings HAL back to life, we find out more about what happened to astronaut Dave Bowman, and something very interesting happens to Jupiter.

Here are some additional books I’ve been working on this month:

  • A History of the American People, by Paul Johnson. This one might take me a couple more months to get through.
  • Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe, by Christian paleontologist Simon Conway Morris. A famous statement by Stephen Jay Gould was that if one were to rewind the tape of evolution and play it over again, chance events would result in a very different world, probably without humans. Conway Morris argues the opposite, that convergence (e.g. multiple evolutionary pathways that lead over and over to similar structures) dictates that once evolution gets going in multicellular animals, something like human beings will inevitably occur.
  • Economic Mineral Deposits, by Jensen and Bateman. Right now I’m in the chapter on hydrothermal alteration. I’ve done a lot of re-reading in my geology textbooks in the past six months. Depending on the employment prospects that looked most promising at the time, I have re-read substantial portions of textbooks on sedimentary petrology, geochemistry, igneous petrology, petroleum geology, and groundwater hydrology. This hasn’t led to a job yet, but I’ve had fun, as well as learned (re-learned) a lot.

Grace and Peace

A man who reads

My friend Glenn is one of the smartest people I know. With ACT, SAT, GRE percentiles in the upper 90s (some portions in the 99th percentile), I am an intelligent person. When I am with Glenn, I am reminded that I am only down at the bottom of the 99th percentile, because he outsmarts me by a bunch. Glenn says that he knows plenty of people who are smarter than him, and I suppose they all know smarter people too, until you get up to the Albert Einsteins and Henry Kissingers up at the top.

Glenn, a PhD biochemist, plans on reading the Bible cover to cover four times this year. I suspect that he is able to do this with a high level of focus and understanding. In addition, Glenn read 131 other books last year, with a goal of reading 110 this year. Because of this, Glenn can talk intelligently about a wide range of topics: the Bible, teaching the Bible, politics, the family, or feeding the world.

Glenn doesn’t read just to boost his ego. He reads for the glory of God, the building up of the body of Christ, and to excel in the workplace.

He wrote about his reading habits today on his excellent blog, Be Bold, Be Gentle: Learning Faster — The Great Need. Here are a few quotes:

In addition to regular, deep time in the Word of God, teachers, pastors, and leaders need to be students of life.

Now I strongly believe that Christians should be the best learners and thinkers on the planet — we have the Mind of Christ!  But it is often not so.

Are these extraordinary, superhuman accomplishments?  Absolutely not!  They are well within the range of most adults.
What sets great teachers, pastors, and leaders apart on the learning scale is
* they know what they need to learn, and why
* they understand what learning really is, and have mastered the practices of learning
* they apply what they learn (because the point of learning is not knowing, it’s doing)

Here are a few of my thoughts:

  • Not all of us will read the Bible four times in one year, but I suspect that most Christians don’t even read the New Testament once in a year.
  • We don’t all have to read 131 books per year, but I suspect that most of us could read more than we do.
  • Glenn has reading goals: “they know what they need to learn, and why.” I have some reading goals, but I think I could strengthen them.
  • Glenn knows what works for him. What works for you or I might be different than what works for Glenn. Do you know the best ways for you to learn?
  • Glenn is a doer. He takes what he reads and applies it.
  • Selectivity is important. I have 86 books in my Amazon shopping cart “to buy later” section. I have unread books here at home (I can’t say on the bookshelves; we’re still living out of boxes after our move from Romania last year). What are the most important books for me to be reading, in terms of ministry, family, work, and knowing God better?
  • Not everyone is called to an intellectual vocation (though again, I suspect most of us need to be readers with clear objectives). Romans 12:3-10 applies to all in the church:

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. (NIV)

And let him who studies, do it diligently for the glory of God and the good of people.

Thanks, Glenn. I’m inspired.

Grace and Peace

Required reading for science majors

The geoblogosphere (as well as the broader world of science blogs) has a meme going around:

Imagine: YOU are asked to assign a half-dozen-or-so books as required reading for ALL science majors at a college as part of their 4-year degree; NOT technical or text books, but other works, old or new, touching upon the nature of science, philosophy, thought, or methodology in a way that a practicing scientist might gain from. [This is the wording from Highly Allochthonous, but there are many other blogs which are doing the same]

Here’s my list of a book collection that would be beneficial for an undergraduate in any science major. I have included a couple books by Christian authors, as these would help both Christian and non-Christian students to have a fuller understanding of the relationship between science and faith than they would get from reading Dawkins or Sagan.

  • Geology: The Bible, Rocks, and Time by Young and Stearley. This is not only a polemic against young-Earth creationism, but an excellent introduction to the science of geology, with sections on the historical development, philosophy, and major subdivisions of the science.
  • Environment: Pollution and the Death of Man by Francis Schaeffer. Christianity is not the enemy of the environment, but Christians sometimes are. Schaeffer saw clearly that we are in a massive ecological crisis, and pointed to a Christian world view as the solution rather than the source of the problem.
  • Biology: The Creation by E.O. Wilson. The author is a skeptic, but recognizes the need to have religious people involved in the fight to preserve biodiversity, which is the theme of the book. This book opened my eyes to the wonder of Genesis 1:20-25, where the waters, skies, and land swarmed with swarms of living creatures, and it was good. We now live in an impoverished world.
  • Physics: Six Easy Pieces by Richard Feynman. This physics professor was able to explain foundational physics topics like no other.
  • Chemistry: Radar, Hula Hoops, and Playful Pigs by Joe Schwarcz (or another book by him; this is the one I’ve read). This book is proof that even chemists can have fun and a sense of humor.
  • Philosophy of Science: What is This Thing Called Science? by Alan Chalmers. Every science undergraduate should read a philosophy of science book, and this one is a good overview of the various philosophies of science, such as those of Popper, Kuhn, and others. My one critique: like most other philosophers of science, Chalmers focuses on the experimental sciences. Geology doesn’t operate by all of the same rules as do chemistry and physics.
  • Plus anything by Stephen Jay Gould, just to read some really good science writing.

Grace and Peace

Reading — February 2009

Here are a couple books I finished in February:

  • The Bible, Rocks, and Time, by Young and Stearley. This is the best book I’ve read on the relationship between geology and Christian faith. It is much more than a Biblical and scientific polemic against young-Earth creationism, though that is certainly a big part of the book.
  • Living the Cross Centered Life, by C. J. Mahaney. I had a post with a few quotes from this book a couple weeks ago.

Here are some additional books I’ve been working on this month:

  • The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, by Mark Noll. The first sentence of this indictment of Evangelical thinking reads, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” Ouch.
  • The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman. What would happen to Earth if we humans suddenly all disappeared?
  • A History of the American People, by Paul Johnson.

Grace and Peace