Teaching Philosophy of Religion to Junior High Kids


Yesterday I spoke in two classes, a 7th-grade class and an 8th-grade class, at Vineyard Christian School in Anaheim. Our topic? The Existence of God. I had a 2-page handout for them, and in 45 minutes we examined the value of evidence for what we believe, what it means to have evidence, and what sort of evidence there might be for the existence of God. This is not my usual audience and my biggest concern was that it would all seem boring and over their heads. I was mistaken. Here are three lessons I learned:

  1. Our kids care about these questions. They want to know what to believe.
  2. Our kids want evidence for the things they’re asked to believe.
  3. Our kids have natural strengths in assessing evidence about things that matter, but these strength need to be cultivated and tutored.

It was with some trepidation that I handed my outline to the office assistant for duplicating. I worried that she would take one look at the detail and sophistication and be hard-pressed not to snicker. She was more confident than I that it would work. The kids proved me wrong. We need to expect more from our young people, urge them to keep the questions coming, and invite them into a vigorous life of the mind. Let us not underestimate their interest and capacity. They are the next generation. And we are responsible for their nurture.

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The Art of the Paragraph | The Smart Set


If you’re a writer, you know you have to take paragraphing seriously. But have you considered your options?

The Art of the Paragraph | The Smart Set.

The Period and the Paragraph

The Period and the Paragraph

Building a Case for Architecture—Part 2 in a Series


My first entry in this series was about my experiences reading science fiction. Readers would naturally have expected a continuation of the series with more on SF. So what’s up with architecture?

Here’s what’s up. I got the idea to reflect on my past and present experiences, with thoughts tossed in about what I’d still like to read (or read again) and why. But I want to zero in on the best of my experiences in categories. These categories may be broad, or they may be very focused.

Image.Book Cover.Alain de Botton.Architecture of HappinessWith this in mind, feel free to read the following interview with myself:

Alias: How did you come by this lame idea?

Doug: To begin, I read a lot. Too much for other people’s good. Most of the books I’ve read I own, and the best ones are a valuable part of my library. Among my treasured books are books about books. One of these is a book called The Reader’s Companion: A Book Lover’s Guide to the Most Important Books in Every Field of Knowledge, as Chosen by the Experts. Now, I’m not expert about very many things, but books have been great companions for me for as long as I can remember.

Alias: What are some books you remember from your youth?

Doug: I may get to that in a separate contribution to this series. But the other day I was reminded of a whole series of books that I read cover-to-cover. I was riding on the Coaster—a train that runs from Oceanside to San Diego—with my extended family. There were about 25 of us. I got to chatting with one of my young nephews and I asked him what books he liked. He said he likes the Sugar Creek books. So bam! out of the blue comes this memory of all The Sugar Creek Gang books. I was reading those about 35 years ago! So my nephew and I have a lot in common. See what happens when you talk about books?

Alias: So this series is about books that have been important to you?

Doug: Important to me in a way that might be of interest to others who care about the things I care about. I’ve spent a lifetime asking people for book suggestions. I want to write about the choices I’ve made along the way, why they mattered then and whether they matter now, and reasons I might recommend them to others. It would be tough to list the most important books in my own field, and impossible for any other field. But I can list books of value, and that’s what matters. If I’m interested in a genre of literature new to me, like science fiction or epic poetry, I want to select from choice offerings. I poke around and ask people for suggestions. Then I jump in. I get a feel for things, and then I move on. Maybe I come back.

Alias: Why don’t you have a classy name for this series?

Doug: Good question. What would you suggest?

Alias: How about “Books of Value”?

Doug: I like it. Maybe my readers will have some great ideas, too. I can go back and change titles to earlier entries in the series to reflect the name of the series. But a series name should be catchy, and it should reveal something about what to expect.

Alias: This entry is called “Building a Case for Architecture”? Why is that if all we’re doing here is conducting an interview?

Doug: Well, we got a little off track. But architecture is an interest of mine. I mean, I’m interested in certain things about architecture—what buildings mean, why one building is beautiful and another isn’t, whether a particular building fits its surroundings or whether it’s poorly located. How long a building has been where it stands, and what the surrounding area was like when construction was completed. There’s no way that Christopher Wren could have imagine how the city of London would eventually gobble up the ornate churches he designed for the city. There are so many angles on architecture. I guess there was a pun in that.

Alias: What are some other interesting issues?

Doug: Whether the purpose of a building has changed over time. For example, this seems to be the case with so many churches in New England, all painted white and adorned with a simple steeple. What are they there for now? What happened there? That question, “What are they there for now?” sort of grabs me. These buildings have been “re-purposed,” as if that purpose they now serve is the purpose they were designed to serve. “They’re so cute. Perfect for a boutique shop, or a tea room.”

I’m interested in changes in architecture over time, and why some forms of ancient architecture have been borrowed many times since their invention. For example, do you know the architectural basis for this nation’s capitol building? Why was this chosen? Who made the decisions? What was this new adoption of classical architecture supposed to mean to a young nation?

Ot this . . . how does a building make you feel when you stand next to it, or when you’re inside? Is it better to view it from a distance? Is it even possible to view it from a distance, or is it too crowded by other buildings? When I see a photo of aerial view of New York City, what do I see? Buildings. I don’t see one building; I see many buildings. But I may not focus on any one of them. My attention may be on the whole that somehow is NYC. How is that possible? What does it say about NY? What does it say about me? Am I different than most people in the ways my attention is attracted when I see a skyline?

What’s more impressive, the Golden Gate Bridge as such or the terrific human accomplishment it represents? Does it really “represent” human achievement? Is it supposed to? Or try this one. How is the Golden Gate Bridge different in kind than the “carvings” of Mount Rushmore? What does Mount Rushmore “mean”? Are there any buildings that mean the same thing? Could there be? What is the limit to what a building can mean? And what may be a related question, what were the great monarchs or the papacy thinking when they commissioned the design and erection of certain buildings?

Many old buildings get bull-dozed, but others are preserved at great expense? What makes the difference? Who decides? Have there been any major regrets about decisions past? And how, exactly, is a building preserved? You can’t tuck them away in an art museum somewhere.

Alias: And there are books that explore such things?

Doug: Yes! My first suggestion is the book The Architecture of Happiness, by Alain de Botton. Start here. If you aren’t turned on about buildings after that, then move on. Read about crocodiles instead. If you’re hooked, then learn a little about types of architecture. For this I suggest the morsel Architecture: A Very Short Introduction, by Andrew Ballantyne. It’s not beautifully crafted, like de Botton’s, but it’s short and it’s educational. There are guidebooks for specific buildings or neighborhoods. There are books with sketches of buildings old and new. And don’t forget about biographies of great or celebrated architects: Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier. And then are biographies, as it were, of buildings themselves, accounts of how they were designed and built, the purposes they served or serve, and so on. Think of the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, the Taj Mahal.

Alias: Are there books on architecture that you hope to get to eventually?

Doug: Yes. Heavenly Mansions and Other Essays on Architecture, by John Summerson; Lewis Mumford’s From the Ground Up, another book of essays. These authors are good at their craft. They are wordsmiths, which makes reading about architecture (or anything, for that matter) more enjoyable. I like the essay style because you can dip into a work at your leisure and take something away in short order. Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space looks interesting to me from this distance. But the style of French philosophy may not be to my liking. We’ll see.

Other Sources for Reading about Architecture (for non-architects):

Readers, do you have suggestions for non-architects reading to understand and appreciate architecture? Leave your suggestions for the rest of us in the comments box.

Robert Heinlein and the Novelty of Science Fiction—Part 1 in a Series


I have no special expertise in science fiction. I’ve read little of it. But what I’ve read I’ve selected carefully and most of it has been a joy to read. The league of SF enthusiasts is intense if not immense. Though the SF genre has attracted a hefty percentage of readers, this result has been hard-won. This is my impression from the sidelines, as it were.

My limited direct experiences with science fiction may be of interest to those fiction readers who have long wondered what all the fuss is about, and to those enthusiasts who care to know what a neophyte like myself might say about what he’s found worthwhile.

So here is the first installment in my recounting of those experiences . . .

Image.Book Cover.Job Comedy of Justice.Robert HeinleinI think the first author I read was Robert A. Heinlein. An excellent choice, I’m sure the experts would agree. (You may know him through some of the films inspired by his work.) The trouble is remembering which book came first—and whether there were others. I’m pretty sure it was Job: A Comedy of Justice. I like sustained, serious comedy, and I’ve always been drawn to the Old Testament book of Job. Putting the two together would be quite a feat. Those who subscribe to my webpages will likely find this novel a tempting entry point for reasons that resemble my own. (Others, who do judge a book by its cover, may be drawn first to his book Friday.)

As a philosopher, I can appreciate Heinlein’s talent as an observer of the human condition and what a future society might look like, if we continue on our present course, or if dramatic changes happen to us (notably through the development of technology). Heinlein had metaphysical and epistemological interests, as well, but his sensibilities were quite different than my own. This is no reason to pass over his ouvre. I’m an advocate for reading outside your comfort zone and conversing with diverse perspectives. It’s an aid to understanding your own worldview, and accepting it more responsibly. And fiction is among the best ways to access alternative perspectives on reality and human experience. Literate science fiction can do that for you. (I think, also, of Robert Pirsig’s book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Not SF, but imaginative and contemplative, a far distance from where I stand intellectually, but by a clever fellow-traveler—on a motorcycle, to boot!)

Heinlein lived to be 80 years old, but his output was comparatively meagre for one with so great a reputation and influence. It shows that quantity is no match for quality. His total cast of significant characters, on the other hand, is almost ridiculously extensive. And you know an author’s influence is substantial when there’s a thriving online society dedicated to his legacy.

So that’s how it all started for me, and for that, I suppose, I’m in debt to Heinlein. But deep as my appreciation goes, I will never be considered a “Heinleiner.”

Note: For an exposition of worldview analysis within literature, I recommend James Sire, the book among his many that had the greatest influence on me. When I read it in the late 1970s, the book was called How to Read Slowly: A Christian Guide to Reading with the Mind. It’s now been adjusted to How to Read Slowly: Reading for Comprehension, which doesn’t quite get at the essence of the book, I feel. It’s a book I wish I had written. But I couldn’t have done so when I was 18. Probably still couldn’t.

It is well that…


English: W. Somerset Maugham early in his career.

English: W. Somerset Maugham early in his career. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is well that a writer should think not only that the book he himself is writing is important, but that the books other people are writing are important too.

From the Preface to W. Somerset Maugham, A Writer’s Notebook

From the Kindle to the iPad?


various e-book readers. From right to left iPa...

Image via Wikipedia

I have a first-generation Kindle and have written about it here before. I bought it when I was about to travel overseas and wanted the convenience of carrying lots of interesting reading without packing any books.

Things have changed pretty dramatically since then. The $400 Kindle of that day has been superseded by the $139 basic Kindle of today. And now there are other models to choose from, featuring 3G and a choice of screen sizes. For details, click here.

Kindle stills rules the world of e-Book technology. But it’s met with vigorous competition. Its greatest competition is the Apple iPad. And the main reason for that is that the iPad is so much more than an e-Book reader.

So I’ve come to the point where I’m tempted to upgrade my Kindle, or else switch over to the iPad. Now’s a good time since Kindle has improved its device, lowered the price point, and garnered my support based on a happy experience. On the other hand, Apple is about to release its iPad 2, and there are rumors of a September release of an iPad 3. (I’ve learned to wait for 2nd-generation products from Apple.) One way or the other, I feel ready to retire my original Kindle—though there’s nothing wrong with it.

If I’ve settled the question of whether to upgrade, I’m not yet settled about which upgrade to go with. I truly like the Kindle and I know I’d like the new versions even better. But what about the iPad? I’m an Apple fan who uses a Powerbook Pro, an iMac, and an iPhone. Why not an iPad, then? It’s far more versatile than a Kindle, and is nearly as compact.

Here’s the best case I can make for sticking with the Kindle and simply upgrading to its latest model:

  1. It has a more attractive price point.
  2. For reading books and documents, the Kindle is still a superior experience. It uses electronic ink technology that is easy on the eyes under all reading conditions.
  3. The iPad is no use for outdoors. The bright natural light washes out the screen. Not so for the Kindle.
  4. The Kindle is very light-weight and compact.
  5. The Kindle battery will hold a charge for an impressive length of time. Not so for the iPad.

Here’s the case for an iPad instead:

  1. For a few more dollars than it costs for the 9-inch Kindle, you get the full versatility of the iPad, with all of its countless apps.
  2. The iPad is good for reading at night, since it’s backlit.
  3. E-books on the iPad can be marked more quickly and conveniently.

Here are the reasons why I lean toward getting both, a new Kindle and the iPad (when it’s been refreshed):

  1. For most reading, I would prefer the Kindle. I do a lot of reading, and I like the convenience of being able to read while on the go. For regular reading that doesn’t require extensive note-taking and highlighting, the kindle is my first choice.
  2. For reading that requires mark-ups, the iPad seems the obvious choice.
  3. While I don’t actually need all the features of an iPad, it would be an improvement over my iPhone for on-the-go email, internet look-ups, working on presentations, etc. I might be able to leave my laptop at home when I travel.
  4. I could justify the added cost of an iPad if Dianne would be interested in using it, too.

The outlay of cash would be greater, of course. So the advantages of a dual approach have to be weighed against the combined price of a new Kindle and an iPad.

But which iPad? If iPad 2 is about to come out in the next few weeks, but an iPad 3 is slated for release as early as September, should I wait it out?

Here are some reasons to jump into the iPad with version 2:

  1. There’s really no telling for sure whether an iPad 3 will come out so soon.
  2. There’s no telling what an iPad 3 will cost if and when it’s released. The iPad 2 is supposed to be priced about like the current iPad.
  3. iPad 2 features may be perfectly adequate for my purposes.
  4. Technology becomes obsolete so quickly that waiting for the iPad 3 probably wouldn’t mean that I would be using a device with a longer shelf life if I waited and got the 3.

Maybe you can help me with this decision. Have you decided between a Kindle and an iPad? How did you make up your mind? Are you happy with your decision? Do you have both? If so, do you use both?

The Adventurous Reader


What is an “adventurous reader”? I’m two chapters into a novel by Jedediah Berry, titled The Manual of Detection. The CIP data on the copyright page indicate that subjects for this work of fiction include (1) private investigators, (2) femmes fatales, and (3) criminals.

Inside the front cover are three pages of accolades, many of them praising the book for its departure from conventions and its playful spirit. The Wall Street Journal says that the author “defies mystery novel conventions, but adventurous readers who stay with his strange and fabulous debut work will be handsomely rewarded.”

I wonder, what is an “adventurous reader”?

Here are some possibilities. An “adventurous reader” is someone who:

  1. reads literature in any genre that contains adventure: fantasy, science fiction, the detective procedural, etc.;
  2. steps outside his normal reading habits or patterns to read beyond “other stuff”;
  3. lives more fully within the pages of books he reads;
  4. reads what others in his field, or in his peer group, or in his circle of friends do not read;
  5. takes on authors who are challenging, difficult, mind-stretching;
  6. devotes much of his reading time to authors with whom he disagrees
  7. reads backwards, starting with the last word on the last page;
  8. reads only every other page.

There must be other possibilities. Is the adventure to be found in the act of reading—its how—or in the object read? Both?

I guess I consider myself an adventurous reader—though I think “adventuresome” might be the better word. But why? I read “broadly.” I’m patient about finding “just the right book.” But I will sometimes take a chance on something with little to go on.

Does the adventuresome reader read slowly, or quickly? Is speed irrelevant? Or has speed got to do with being one kind of adventuresome reader? Wouldn’t it be an adventure to read five novels in a day, allowing only thirty minutes for each? Or to pick slowly through a complex text, in an effort to notice everything worthwhile—what is written, how it is composed, the contribution it makes to our knowledge or a fulfilled life?

Adventure is a pretty pliable concept. Applied to the reader, it has interesting possibilities.

Are you an “adventurous reader”? Why would you say so? Do you know someone how is more adventurous than yourself?

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