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Introduction to the History of Science: Rabbi Ben Ezra to Ibn Rushd

Introduction to the History of Science Volume II From Rabbi Ben Ezra to Roger BaconIntroduction to the History of Science Volume II From Rabbi Ben Ezra to Roger Bacon by George Sarton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sometime in the 1990's I picked up the two books that make parts 1 & 2 of volume 2 of this extensive series when they were withdrawn from OBU's collection. They are quizzical books and last year I decided to peruse them. Here is an encyclopedic introduction to a wide range of topics--Indian logic, Japanese tea, Chinese ceramics, Icelandic sagas, Armenian medicine, Muslim arithmetic, etc.--and situated in the 12th century. I read the book mainly for its introductory and summarizing essays and its discussion of the philosophical background. Sarton, one of the founders of the history of science already had a very broad and rich understanding of that discipline.

The key figures in this particular book are Ibn Rush and Maimonides as they defend the role of reason being challenged by more fundamentalist and mystical elements in their traditions and the lasting influence that their discussions of Aristotle had upon developments in the Christian west.

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The Martian

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been wanting to read this since I first read something about it, for it sounded interesting. A contemporary Robinson Crusoe, an astronaut stranded on Mars who survives through ingenuity and scientific skill. Plus the cover is kick ass. When I saw the book on sale at Target on Friday while shopping for household cleaning supplies, I picked it up and didn't put it down all weekend (don't mean that literally, but I read it every chance I got) until I finished it yesterday.

Hard to imagine that this was originally on the author's blog and then self-published before being picked up by a print publisher and turned into a bestseller, now with a movie deal.

The writing is good and engaging, with fun humor. He is not the most literary of writers, nor is there deep reflection on human nature during the isolation (like there is in the novel Robinson Crusoe), but this is a fun, smart, entertaining book.

Do read it, because the movie will be all about the adventure, I'm sure. The book is all about how smart and adventurous science and good thinking are.

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On Metaphysics

At the NPR Cosmos & Culture blog, Adam Frank writes about "the most dangerous idea in science"--that some cosmologists are now considering the requirement that theories be empirically verifiable to be too limiting for science.  This because it appears that neither String Theory or Multiverse theory can be verified.  It is an interesting post.

My response: Theories about the nature of reality that aren't verifiable or falsifiable are called "metaphysics."

Evolution vs. Creationism

An interesting blog post on the debate between evolution and creationism focusing on the broader issues that arise and why this debate matters for American cultural life.  Here's an excerpt:

Identifying as a creationist or accepting evolution might communicate more than an isolated belief about human origins — it might signal something about a person's approach to the world, including the values and sources of evidence that she thinks should guide public policy, law enforcement, biomedical research, and so on. In fact, those respondents in Hill's survey who said that beliefs about human origins were "very" or "extremely" important frequently raised ideas about evidence and authority in their responses. Among the most common themes were appeals to God and the bible among creationists, and subscribing to facts and reason among those who espoused evolution without godly intervention.

This, I think, is why it really matters who accepts evolution: Questions of human origins aren't uniquely at stake. There's a broader cultural conversation folded into the mix, and it's one that involves some of our deepest and most consequential commitments.

The Religious Naturalist

Over the last few months, anytime I need to fold laundry, I watch an episode or two of the recent Cosmos.  I've been struck by how religious it is.  By that I mean it tells a story that makes sense of our lives and that evokes feelings of awe and wonder.  It also has stunning visuals used to evoke these feelings (not unlike the role visual images historically played in the church).  The opening sequence alone conveys this deep sense of the interconnectedness of all things (it also sounds and looks similar to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine).


COSMOS - Main Title Sequence from BBDG on Vimeo.

Then I read a blog post like this, on Religious Naturalism, and I am intrigued even more.  Is there a newly developing faith group among us?

A Short History of Nearly Everything

A Short History of Nearly EverythingA Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For the last few months this has been my upstairs bathroom reading. The book worked quite well for that. I don't think I would have found it as engaging if I had sat down and tried to read it through.

It is really more a history of science than a science book, and that surprised me. Some of the chapters were filled with interesting characters and anecdotes and others bogged down. I had originally hoped it would give me a reasonably up-to-date understanding of various scientific theories. It did that, but only in the context of telling you the story of past theories and scientists, which isn't what I had expected when I picked up the book.

Bryson writes in an entertaining, non-academic style, so the book was both informative and enjoyable.

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