Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Unhelpful Books (ongoing)

There's a part of me that really, really enjoys criticizing, so as long as I'm compiling a list of books I've enjoyed it's probably appropriate to have a list of books that I didn't enjoy, enough to want to mention it anyway. At least it could generate discussion, no?

Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, Gray - I know some people swear by this book but I really did not find it very enlightening. (*pause for snide personal attack directed at blogger and the current quality of his relationships with women*) Certainly the first few chapters are striking in that they very accurately characterize some typical behaviors of men and women. But the reasoning behind them is very generalizing and seems a very blunt instrument with which to assess all of humanity. Also the remaining chapters seem to be very repetitive, as well as contain several lists of characterizations of men and women that seemed to me quite arbitrary.

Another criticism that a friend brought up is that the author is divorced. While I personally would not want to lay too much judgment on such a circumstance, it is an interesting point to bring up considering the book is meant to educate its audience in relational matters. Incidentally, the woman that Gray divorced happens to be Barbara de Angelis, another author whose work I have read and commented on, and actually enjoyed.

Books (ongoing)

I want to make a list of books that I have helped me over the years, both to share and to record for myself. I welcome comments on these selections, and would love to hear about the books that have inspired you, motivated you, or opened your mind. This is an ongoing post so with updates the post date will update as well.

Posted 12/19/06:

Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman - The most interesting concept that this book introduced to me was the idea that as far as the evolutionary time-line goes, man has relied on his emotional responses far longer (perhaps one million years) than his ability to communicate (perhaps 10,000 years) for survival. Thus it is to be expected that at some level our emotions would tend to get the better of us without careful development of emotional control and maturity.* Goleman also gives quite a few explanations for the physiological responses we exhibit when experiencing the emotions common to all. For example:

With fear blood goes to the large skeletal muscles, such as in the legs, making it easier to flee — and making the face blanch as blood is shunted away from it (creating the feeling that the blood "runs cold"). At the same time, the body freezes, if only for a moment, perhaps allowing time to gauge whether hiding might be a better reaction. Circuits in the brain's emotional centers trigger a flood of hormones that put the body on general alert, making it edgy and ready for action, and attention fixates on the threat at hand, the better to evaluate what response to make.

I find his reasoning very enlightening as it gave a lot of rationale behind the expressions of emotion that recognize so vividly yet never thought to wonder why they are just so.

The majority of the book is essentially a call to revolutionize the curriculum of standardized teaching to better equip youth for the emotional challenges that they face in today's world. While admirable, I found myself skeptical of the book's ability to reform the current state of society which seems to leave the education of such subjects to community and family. Nevertheless it is a very illuminating work.

* Incidentally a similar line of reasoning was also brought up in an artificial intelligence paper that I reported on for a class recently, Intelligence without Representation. In it Brooks argues that most of evolution has been spent figuring out how to interact and respond to a dynamic environment, whereas the typical problem-solving behavior was developed in a fraction of the time in comparison. His argument is that the true basis of intelligence is in the former, rather than the latter, which at the time was where most artificial intelligence work was being focused.

Posted 4/28/05:

God Will Make a Way, Cloud & Townsend - See my commentary in a different post.

Posted 8/14/04:

The Disciplined Life, Taylor - Almost everyone I know really hated this book, but I really enjoyed it for some reason. I think in some weird way it empowered me. I guess I feel like I found a lot of validation for some of the things I tend to do naturally.

The Making of a Man of God, Redpath - It's been a while since I have read this one so I don't remember the specifics of why I liked it so much. Mostly it has great insights into David's life and heart.

Humility, Murray - A very humbling book indeed.

A Tale of Three Kings, Edwards - A great study of the enemy within yourself.

Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis - There are a lot of C. S. Lewis writings that I love, and I think this one compilation is the most valuable. I consider Lewis a quite convincing apologetic.

Trusting God, Bridges - A good answer to the question, "Why do bad things happen to good people." It's one of those paradoxes that you have to hold in constant ... I can't think of the word. Anyway I remember my perspective on the subject shifting subtly while reading this.

How People Grow, Cloud & Townsend - The Shoffs had us read this as a leadership group a few years ago. It was so revolutionary for me that I had to read it about three times to really get it.

Boundaries, Cloud & Townsend - How People Grow made references to this book, so I decided to read it too. There is some overlap, but this one is probably more accessible and straightforward. It's probably where I would have started if I did it all over again.

Boundaries in Dating, Cloud & Townsend - Again, there's some overlap here, but there are some very useful insights specific to dating and romantic relationships. Good stuff.

Making Small Groups Work, Cloud & Townsend - This is a pretty short book that tends to have a lot of "lists", which I am not that fond of, but nevertheless it is a great tool for practically implementing the concepts of the other books in the context of small group. Also there is a section on listening that I found to be completely revolutionary.

The Road Less Travelled, Peck - This book has several interesting insights and perspectives on life and human evolution and such. It does go off in the deep-end at certain points, though. While reading this book I wasn't sure of Peck's precise religious beliefs because he seems to approach from mostly a psychological and secular standpoint. I came to find out (in the next book) that he does indeed profess to be Christian.

The Different Drum, Peck - This is sort of a sequel to The Road Less Travelled. I'm reading this one right now, and it's very good so far.

Love/Hate (ongoing)

I've decided that I should be more assertive about who I am rather than deferring my opinions to whoever else is in the room at the time. As an exercise towards this endeavor I will maintain an ongoing list of some things that I love and hate.

    Posted 12/19/06:
  • the TED video blog
  • Radio Lab podcast
  • things my mom gets enthusiastic about

    • Bookworm
    • Sudoku
    • that online Scrabble game with the jumping tile when you score big

  • toffee bar crunch ice cream
  • philosophical discussions with friends
  • feeling a shiver when listening to a new song
    Posted 12/19/06:
  • that (not so) sinking feeling when I flush and realize I've plugged up the toilet
  • people that flake on appointments
  • people that don't return my phone calls

Monday, December 18, 2006

God vs. Science

An article in TIME magazine entitled "God vs. Science" came out a bit ago; actually it was the cover story. It was quite an interesting discussion between outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, and Francis Collins, Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute.

For the most part I found their perspectives remarkably compatible, which could be comforting in some ways, and unfortunately dull in others. Collins has no problem accepting evolution as the means by which God created humans, and Dawkins admits there are profound things in this universe that science cannot (yet) explain. Ho hum.

The one glaring thing I found suspect was Collins' invocation of Occam's razor. The article reads:

COLLINS: ... Barring a theoretical resolution, which I think is unlikely, you either have to say there are zillions of parallel universes out there that we can't observe at present or you have to say there was a plan. I actually find the argument of the existence of a God who did the planning more compelling than the bubbling of all these multiverses. So Occam's razor — Occam says you should choose the explanation that is most simple and straightforward — leads me more to believe in God than in the multiverse, which seems quite a stretch of the imagination.

This just seems silly. If I got that right, Collins is arguing that it's simpler to believe that God exists than that a multitude of universes exist, of which we are just one. What I can't understand is how such an obviously intelligent person cannot see the flaw in that reasoning. By calling the existence of God the "simpler" explanation, he has simply lumped all of the complexity into a different bin and labeled it "God." Which is more complicated – a innumerable number of universes, or some kind of being able to create such universes, at will? One might as well quote Hebrews 3:3:

Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself.

Certainly if the builder deserves greater honor, it is safe to say he is decidedly more complex than the house he built.

One consequence of labeling this complexity "God" is that Collins renders it automatically beyond the reach of human scrutiny, by definition, and thus absolves his responsibility for further study or explanation, because of course such things are "unknowable." This approach is common to all creation/intelligent design arguments and therefore, to me anyway, removes itself from the realm of science. At any rate, I find myself agreeing more with Dawkins than with Collins in this article.

What I really find interesting is the apparent flip in roles between the scientists and creationists/intelligent design proponents. All of a sudden, it is the theists who are saying, "there is no way it could happen" (with regards to life springing spontaneously from non-life), while the scientists are the ones holding out with perseverance and faith, saying, "just because you don't see it doesn't mean it's not there" (with regards to the discovery of some natural process).

Between the two camps I think it's the scientists who have the right approach. To proclaim that there is no way that life can be created spontaneously through random events is tantamount to fortune-telling. Anyone versed in history knows that it is foolish to say "it will never be done" about anything. And to those who would bank their faith on this kind of fragile reasoning, what will you do if someday life is in fact artificially created, or found elsewhere in the universe?