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Mini-Pile #6 on Neil Shubin’s Fish and Rocks

26 Feb

This post is an anomaly, in that it features two books, albeit by the same author in the same post.

Your Inner Fish: a journey into the 3.5 billion-year history of the human body / Neil Shubin. NY: Pantheon Books. 2008. ix, 229p ill. : Includes Bibliographic References and Index.


The Universe Within: discovering the common history of rocks, planets, and people / Neil Shubin. NY: Pantheon Books. 2013. x, 213p ill. : Includes Bibliographic References and Index.

This pair of books, published five years apart by Neil Shubin, associate dean at the University of Chicago, paleontologist who specializes in the evolution of fish (paleoichthyology),  and a lecturer in human anatomy for the medical school makes a combined argument about the shared history of the human body -it’s  organs, tissues, and molecules- not just with all over animal life, but indeed stretching to encompass the planet, sun, solar system.

As  works of general science (biology, evolutionary biology, paleontology, geology, astronomy) they provide tantalizing hints and explanations for the existence and origins of our bodies relatively free of bio-technobabble  in a compact package.  Easily readable by anyone in High School. He places notes, references, and suggestions for further reading together at the back for each volume, and sprinkles photographs, figures, and charts throughout the text.

Definitely not a primary source for research (or even a proper secondary source for anything beyond a undergraduate introductory course in Biology), Shubin nonetheless shows himself to be a good and patient teacher. He fills the page with personal examples from his own fossil-collecting expeditions, as well as the results of research from other scientists to make his points.

I feel almost foolish for adding this, but the books are accessible even for those who reject the notion of  evolution as an unguided,  non-directional  and non-progressive, natural (and sexual) selection process that just happens to have budded a self-conscious twig from the vast tree of life, and prefer or accept instead either a 6-Day Creation (with or without a young earth component) or the notion of  evolution as a guided process by intelligent design as providing the best explanation of our origins, and who are at least willing to read arguments in opposition so they will have an educated appreciation of the same.

A more detailed summation and critique for each separate volume will (eventually) reside at The Strange Affair of the Evolutionary Creationist blog


Mini-Pile #4 “Seeing Christ in the Old Testament” by Ervin Hershberger

6 Mar

The original review can be found here  Seeing Christ in the Old Testament by Ervin Hershberger

The second of two related books, that I did not wish to lump together into a single Pile, no matter the brevity of presentation of each work.

An old Latin couplet says: “The New is in the Old concealed, the Old is in the New Revealed”, and Christians and Christianity from the beginning have always seen Christ as the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets.  Ervin Hershberger, in this his second of two Bible studies is no less enthusiastic about reading the Old Testament with understanding by searching for glimpses of Christ Himself in the Old Testament.

Mr. Hershberger wrote out of the Mennonite Christian tradition, and taught for many years at Calvary Bible School (a Beachy Amish Mennonite affiliated. but non-accredited – i.e. non-degree granting institution) in Arkansas. This book, as well as his earlier”Seeing Christ in the Tabernacle”, was written at the behest of colleagues at the school. The tenor of this book, as with his earlier book is a study aid for a High School level course on the Old Testament.

The New in the Old

Hershberger divided his work into four parts: 1) seeing Christ in the beginning as “eternity past” in Creation, 2) seeing Christ in 13 Names of God  3) in major biblical characters -20 characters from the Old Testament (covered in 14 chapters with 6 chapters covering pairs of characters (Adam and Abel, Abraham and Isaac, two Joshuas, Aaron and Eleazar, David and Solomon, and Elijah and Elisha);  and 4) in “eternity future” -in the fulfillment and culmination of all things.

The chapters on the Names of God can be further divided (though not by the author) into Names revealed before the Exodus, Names revealed during the sojourn in the wilderness, and Names revealed in the Promised Land.

As a work written to lead the Christian believer into a deeper awareness and appreciation of the presence of Christ in the Old Testament, by showing how actions, persons, and Names therein foreshadow the more perfect working of Christ, “Seeing Christ in the Old Testament” is a good pointer, and the reader can derive enjoyment from Hershberger’s simple, heartfelt prose. However, readers are advised to use this, not as their primary study guide for understanding Christ and His messiaship in the Old Testament, but as one more tool to crack open the depths of meaning that the Scriptures has for us.

The book as a whole could have benefited from sections that showed Christ in the Psalms and Christ in the Prophets,

The Loss of Language

One weakness of the work as an aid to critical study of the place of Christ in the Old Testament is his admitted lack of familiarity with the biblical languages which prevents careful exegesis of cited passages, as well as his lack of engagement with other authors or commentaries to describe the the Old Testament’s relation to the New Testament and to the One Faith of Israel.

Although in the preface he is praised for his ability to read Luther’s German Bible, which may occasionally enrich his insights, Hershberger admits in his foreword to having no knowledge of Greek or Hebrew, relying totally on Strong’s and on Young’s Concordances, which limits what he can draw from the text, yet he does not feel this is a major handicap to the work he presents. He also suffers from a few blinders in his acceptance of the accuracy of “Jehova” for the Name of God and the reliability of the KJV generally, yet all the same, the reader is encouraged not to judge the work too harshly, as Hershberger wrote it out of a genuine love of the Lord and a desire to share this love. He also wrote, not for scholars, or even necessarily the college educated, but for those who want to know the Lord and His Word a little more closely, without the fetters of academia.

To Love, not Learn the Scriptures

in the end, this short study (like its companion work “Seeing Christ in the Tabernacle) should be seen as a devotional and personal study aid, rather than a systematic, or scholarly commentary on the presence of Christ in the Old Testament/Tanak, written as a simple aid to faith, not a rigorous study of the same. I myself, will undoubtedly return to it to draw wisdom from its well from time to time as a reminder of things I often forget or overlook, while keeping in mind it’s limited purpose.

Mini-Pile #1 “Me of Little Faith” by Lewis Black

7 Jan

Most books I like to read and ponder over..some just leave a bad taste in my mouth, and some I am more or less indifferent to. The sad thing is that most of the “indifferent” books out there rarely, if ever, get exposure, and that is a shame, because the author (usually) invest a great deal of time, effort, resources, and energy to write. And I feel bad for authors that never receive attention. My intention with Piles and Philes is to review what I have read, no matter my reaction to it (good, bad, ugly, indifferent).  So I am introducing a new type of entry the “Mini Piles”

Me of little faith / Lewis Black ; edited by  Hank Gallo.  New York: Riverhead Books. 2008.  237 p.

original review can be found here “Me of Little Faith”

I’m not familiar with Lewis Black. But I found this book in the “Recent Nonfiction” section of my local library more than a few month’s ago (more like a couple years ago at this point), and picked it up, thinking at the time that it would provide insight into how and why a person could loose their faith. Boy was I wrong.

Me of Little Sensitivity

This is a work of satire and comedy that that directs itself to religious faith and practice, and written in a semi-autobiographical vein. In this book he takes on organized religion by poking fun at it, which all good satire does. At the same time, though, he also shows his political bias. It is not a book I would read again. Nor would I read his previous or subsequent books.  Don’t get me wrong -I laughed all the way through it; but like with Bill Mahler, he comes across the wrong way – a way that says he believes what he says in a comic mode should be accepted seriously. I take more than slight offense at the seriousness with which he takes his potshots, because underneath the satire I read his real anger, dislike (call it what you will) toward other subjects, especially [now former-] President George W. Bush. (I only wonder has he done the same concerning President Barack Obama or political and cultural figures on the liberal side of the socio-political spectrum?)

Who is Lewis Black?

Black is a playwright, comedian and entertainer. He speaks and writes from a Reform Jewish cultural background, though he himself is not a practicing Jew. He thus takes on the persona of an outsider criticizing religious practice, yet he is not a sympathetic critic. In his sarcastic, comic way he pokes fun at the notion of absolutes, justifying it by the following appeal: “Because what’s true for you may not be true for the guy standing next to you” (p35) The problem of course,  is that with this philosophy as a guiding light you then have no basis for saying that the guy standing next to you who happens to be a skinhead Neo-Nazi  who believes that Jews are parasites on the body politic and deserve what happened to them in Germany of the 1930’s and 40’s is wrong to hold such beliefs. Of course I could be trying to read too much into a work of humour, but the best humour is built on an element of truth and sympathy, and I don’t find much of either in the background of Black’s writing, at least not in conjunction with each other.

To fall,  perchance to trip

Even though the stated purpose of Me of Little Faith is the application of humor, sarcasm and satire to religion, the work as a whole lacks unity. There is a thin thread of personal narrative, but mostly the chapters read like little vignettes, having little connection to each other, apart from their being a take on religion and public life.  Moreover. His satire is destructive rather than constructive. He seeks only to belittle. That is not the mark of a great book.  Rather, it is an example of what Conrad Hyers in And God Created Laughter: the Bible as Divine Comedy called “fallen humor”, a completely destructive form of discourse.  I wouldn’t go so far as to call his work ‘mean-spirited’ but it comes awfully close. And I would definitely not read anything else Mr. Black chooses to write. His words are too toxic for my peace of mind.

The second Mini-Pile will be Do As I Say (Not As I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy by Peter Schweizer, so until then, keep reading my friends!