Books are incredible things. They are our best links to the best thoughts that our species has ever had. Oral histories are important, but they tend to root us in our own space. They tell us where we personally came from. That’s important, but it’s so different than what books give us. Books give us forever. Whether E’s Ten Commandments, Plato’s Republic, Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” or Starhawk’s Spiral Dance, books that last save and distill the thoughts of their time so that we don’t have to start all over again. We have a hope at progress because of books. So I read a lot, though I’m a pretty slow reader.
This page lists some of the religion and philosophy section of my library, and my thoughts on them. Some of these I recommend for others who might be on the same path as I am, or would like to know something about it. I highly encourage comments to this page on new books that should be on my reading list.
Current reading list
Here’s what I’m reading right now.
Death by Black Hole and Other Cosmic Quandaies (Neil deGrasse Tyson)
These are books that attempt to demonstrate that the Bible is factually true, or that Christianity is provably correct. Books that study the Bible from a historical, scholarly basis are listed in Christianity (History). In theory, this should cause a problem. If I were to find a book that was both a scholarly analysis of Biblical history (based on cited, modern scholarship), and claimed that the Bible was factually true, it would be confusing which section to put it in. I am constantly searching for this elusive book, so suggestions are welcome as comments on this page. So far, I haven’t found one.
Creation Scientists Answer Their Critics (Duane T. Gish) — Probably the most influential of the Creationist books from the days before “Intelligent Design.” If you’re lucky enough to have access to the original articles of any scientist he cites, make sure to check his quotation. Gish is notorious for wildly quoting out of context (“quote mining”), and this book is no exception. Every scientific quote I was able to double-check had been manipulated to read opposite of what the original original was saying. Often including just the very next sentence would have made this completely clear.
Answers to Tough Questions Skeptics Ask About the Christian Faith (Josh McDowell and Don Stewart) — Another important modern Apologetic. Josh McDowell is from the more charismatic side of the movement than Gish (who tries to maintain an air of scholarliness). Don’t expect actual answers to actual tough questions here. The point of this book is to convince the “half-convinced,” not to set up a path to Christianity through reason. This book is about why it’s OK to believe the Bible, not why you should believe the Bible.
Reinventing Jesus (J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, Daniel B. Wallace)– I had great hope for this book. After reading several books by Bart Ehrman, I really was looking for a scholarly Christian Apology to balance all the rational skepticism of Ehrman. From the reviews, I thought this would be the book. I have seldom found a book that is such a catalogue of logical fallacies. I plan to write a longer review detailing how many ways this book goes wrong. It’s possibly worth reading for the dedicated Seeker, almost as practice. Writers like Gish use so many tricks and misquotes, that they can actually be convincing if you don’t pay attention. This book includes so much non sequitur, that it can be refuted based on it’s own words, without requiring access to the original literature or a background in Biblical scholarship or science that sometimes is needed to refute Gish.
Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe (Steven A. Austin) — If you can get your hands on it, this is an excellent example of a Creationist text book, and a decent introduction to Flood Geology.
The Age of the Earth’s Atmosphere (Larry Vardiman) — I almost consider this a collector’s item. This is one of those wonderful “scientific” explanations for some key piece of Creationism, in this case the age of the Earth. This is one of the “scientific papers” cited by Gish in Creation Scientists Answer Their Critics. It goes like this: By measuring how much helium was in the crust at the beginning of the world, how fast it leaves, and how much there is now, we can work out the age of the Earth. Easy. The paper then acknowledges that we have no idea what any of these three numbers is, but it’s happy to guess. It then gives us gas law equations for rate of Helium leaving the atmosphere. Gas law equations are somewhat complicated, but the author greatly simplifies things by assuming the entire atmosphere, from surface to exosphere, is isothermic. So with a few totally made up numbers, and one staggering simplification, we wind up with an age for the world of just about 10,000 years. Such is the science of creationism. This is the kind of stuff that other creationists cite.
Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code (Bart D. Ehrman) — This is the book that got me interested in Ehrman, and was probably my real introduction to early Christian history. I recommend it for anyone who has read Brown’s books and is looking for that kind of introduction. If you’re familiar with early Christian history, this book is possibly too introductory, and if you haven’t read Brown’s book, it may not be the best structure.
Lost Christianities (Bart D. Ehrman)
Misquoting Jesus (Bart D. Ehrman)
The Secret Origins of the Bible (Tim Callahan)
Jews, God and History (Max I. Dimont)
Abraham (Bruce Feiler)
Reason and Secularism
The Demon-Haunted World (Carl Sagan)
Why People Believe Weird Things (Michael Shermer)
I spend a lot of time either railing against or strongly supporting Ayn Rand. Her philosophy was brilliant, and yet incredibly under-developed and immature. Her writing is fascinating and infuriating. It is difficult for me to actually recommend her works, yet I believe there’s a lot in there to be learned.
The Spiral Dance (Starhawk)
Circle Round (Starhawk, Diane Baker, Anne Hill)
Celebrating the Great Mother (Cait Johnson & Maura D. Shaw)
A Book of Pagan Prayer (Ceisiwr Serith)
The Essential Writings of Mahatma Gandhi (Raghavan Iyer) — Not technically a book on Hinduism, but a good collection of Gandhi’s important writings.
How to Practice (The Dalai Lama)
Zen Speaks (Tsai Chih Chung, translated by Brian Bruya)
The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown)
Stranger in a Strange Land (Robert A. Heinlein)
The Year of Living Biblically (A.J. Jacobs)