Book Review: ‘Evolving Faith’

EvolvingfaithR3Over at Worlds Without End, I’ve reviewed BYU biologist Steven Peck’s forthcoming book Evolving Faith: Wanderings of a Mormon Biologist: the latest in the “Living Faith” series from the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. The book offers both technical works in science and philosophy (largely surrounding evolution and ecology) and personal essays. I conclude,

Beyond merely being a book that speaks positively of evolution that was published through “the Lord’s University” (which may come in handy when discussing it with Mormons skeptical of the theory), it also is an example of what Latter-day Saints should be doing: thinking deeply about science, philosophy, and theology. Peck’s essays could potentially rekindle a sense of connection between Latter-day Saint readers and Creation, binding them to all living beings. The book is a reminder of the strangeness of embodiment and consciousness, an invitation to reflect on the millions of years written into our genetic code, and a call to environmental ethics and proper stewardship. Peck has provided a benchmark in LDS dialogue between science and religion. Not only will this book be helpful for lay readers, but it can serve as a model for future academics seeking to tackle similar subjects. I hope to see insights by Peck and others begin to trickle into class discussions and maybe, just maybe, replace the anti-scientific views found in so much Church curriculum. We will be a better church for it.

Check it out and be sure to pre-order Peck’s book.

Book Review: Authoring the Old Testament

I had the opportunity to read and review David Bokovoy‘s (Ph.D., Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East) new book Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis – Deuteronomy for Greg Kofford Books over at Worlds Without End. The book description is as follows:

For the last two centuries, biblical scholars have made discoveries and insights about the Old Testament that have greatly changed the way in which the authorship of these ancient scriptures has been understood. In the first of three volumes spanning the entire Hebrew Bible, David Bokovoy dives into the Pentateuch, showing how and why textual criticism has led biblical scholars today to understand the first five books of the Bible as an amalgamation of multiple texts into a single, though often complicated narrative; and he discusses what implications those have for Latter-day Saint understandings of the Bible and modern scripture.

This is an incredible book for those interested in biblical studies, especially Latter-day Saints. Check out it out.

Book Review: Darwin

Paul Johnson, Darwin: Portrait of a Genius (New York: Viking, 2012).

Popular historian Paul Johnson’s slim biography/analysis of Charles Darwin and his theory is a surprisingly satisfying read in light of its relatively short length (clocking in under 200 pages). While likely of passing interest to scholars and those already well-acquainted with Darwin’s life, Johnson’s brief, but informative overview will be of value to the general reader. Johnson does a fine job of accurately describing what Darwin actually wrote and distinguishing it from those things that are often placed in his mouth. While he engages in a bit of pop psychology to support some of his sweeping statements, Johnson is nonetheless fresh and thoughtful in his writing. Most important, Johnson is able to paint a vivid picture of the broader context from which Darwin’s ideas emerged. This is consistent with one of Johnson’s major themes: ideas matter and often take on a life of their own. Thus, Darwin’s Malthusian interpretation of the evidence viewed evolutionary life as a vicious, violent struggle for existence. This outlook in turn aided other ideologies and movements that sought to use Darwinism to bolster their own worldviews, including eugenics, Nazism, and Communism. It is this latter portion on which some negative reviewers have focused their attention, despite the fact that it consists of only one chapter (Ch. 7 “Evils of Social Darwinism”). Mark Stern at Slate writes that Johnson’s “discussion of the world’s reaction to The Origin of Species” is “admittedly engaging.” Furthermore, he sees “Johnson’s overview of Darwin’s theory of evolution” as “clear, rich, and accurate.” Yet, the majority of his review is dedicated to explaining that there is “intellectual harm, historical harm, and moral harm” in linking Darwin to any of the 20th-century atrocities. The review’s subtitle describes the book as “the latest effort to smear evolution by natural selection.” Of course, Stern explains that such a book obviously comes from “a conservative, family-values-promoting British intellectual” who “has spoken out against divorce, liberation theology, unions, atheism, the Enlightenment, and even the Beatles.” Another (albeit shorter) review in the New Scientist bluntly states that Johnson’s book is nothing more than “a vendetta, an agenda-driven hatchet-job.” There is some truth to these criticisms. Johnson does emphasize that Darwin was a “poor anthropologist” who “did not bring to his observation of humans the same care, objectivity, acute notation, and calmness he always showed when studying birds and sea creatures, insects, plants, and animals” (pg. 29). For example, Johnson points to Darwin’s opinions of the Fuegan “savages” during his voyage on the Beagle as evidence of his lacking in anthropology. While an important factor, I’m reminded of another scholar’s take on the matter:

When incautious scholars or blinkered fundamentalists accuse Darwin or [German Darwinist Ernst] Haeckel of racism, they simply reveal to an astonished world that these thinkers lived in the nineteenth century.

Read more

Reviews for 2013 Oct 19 (Lots and Lots of Books)

I don’t think I’ve posted a link to my book reviews since way back in August. As a result, I’ve got a lot of books to catch up on. There are ten in this post, and it’s only ’cause I ran out of steam before I got to my review of Elizabeth Smart’s My Story, which I also finished. I’ll add that one on to my next batch. As for the other 10, here goes!

2013-10-19 Steelheart

Steelheart is Brandon Sanderson’s newest book. This one is an intentional split from his usual schtick (epic sci fi) into accessible YA. Is Sanderon angling for a movie deal and a bigger paycut? Given the ridiculous length of his previous works, he might be feeling annoyed at his relatively low salary-per-word, so it’s possible. Read my review to find out more, but the basic take is that the book is fun but shallow. 

Read more

A Wacky, Wonderful Miss Jane: _Austenland_ Both Skewers and Honors the Jane Austen Aficionado

A wonderfully breezy Keri Russell in _Austenland_.

As I looked around the movie theater last weekend in Scottsdale, AZ, it was pristinely clear that Austenland had attracted its target audience. The estrogen in the theater was potent, with only a few sparse men present, attached to girlfriends or husbands. I was definitely the only man there who wasn’t with his female significant other. Despite that fact, I couldn’t have been happier to be there.

Now, granted, my wife Anne was originally supposed to come with me, but she ended up not being able to come (and will instead be attending this weekend with a group of women). But it says something about me that, despite that hiccup, I was still intent to go to the film by myself (not just so I could write the review, but because I was super excited to see it).  Blame it on my seven sisters, but, in my heart of hearts, I’d much rather watch Downton Abbey than the Superbowl. As a result of that brainwashing at the hands of my sisters, I’m very affectionate towards Regency/Victorian literature, BBC period dramas, black and white Jimmy Stewart films, and even a well made rom-com. Thus the new film Austenland, a tongue in cheek love letter to the hordes of Jane Austen fans that span the globe… well, it was right up my alley.

Read more

Jonathan Langford on the God Who Weeps

Godweeps5083070_detailJonathan Langford over at A Motley Vision gave an insightful review of Terryl and Fiona Givens’ The God Who Weeps, perhaps the best book I read this past year (and which quickly leapt up to my all-time favorites list). Check it out by clicking here.

Also, if you’re interested in my own approach to, and appreciation for, the Givenses and their work in the past, here are my thoughts on Terryl Givens in Terryl Givens: The Mormon C.S. Lewis and my interview with Fiona Givens, Nothing Can Separate Us From the Love of God.

And, yes, Difficult Run’s Nathaniel Givens is the son of these two stellar people, which makes me wonder how a single family can deal with so much awesomeness!

Review Roundup for July 20, 2013

As I’ve mentioned recently, I review a lot of books.

2013-07-20 Road to SerfdomThat wasn’t my intention initially. I started my Goodreads account primarily for my own sake. I know that I’ve read hundreds–maybe even thousands–of books that I’ve since forgotten. Most of these are pretty silly, escapist sci fi novels that I read as a young adult. Although I say they are silly and escapist, they are still incredibly nostalgic for me, and not remembering what I’ve read feels like losing a part of myself.

I quickly realized that trying to go back and record all the books I’d read in the past was a monumental undertaking, so I’m not even trying, but I did start keeping track of (most of) the books I’ve read since I joined. And, because writing is what I do, I found that I was writing fairly long reviews. And then I found that other Goodreads members were liking and sometimes even commenting on my reviews.

So I figured if I’m going to do this, I may as well do it all the way.

Read more

Monday Morning Mormon Madness: Embodiment and Killing

2013-07-01 On Killing

This morning’s post at Times And Seasons is live. It’s a review of Lt. Col. Dave Grossman’s epic non-fiction study On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society (which everyone should find interesting) and also how it relates to the distinctly Mormon belief that a spirit + mortal body is a step  up from a spirit alone (which is of narrower interest).

If that piques your interest, give it a read! Leave comments there if you’d like to discuss it. (I’m turning them off on this post.)