A Month (Give or Take) of Nonfiction

Unrelieved grey, above & below? … Look closer, there’s a treat in the middle!

So, just as a personal update here, it’s been an odd six weeks since Christmas. First of all, there was … you know … Christmas, with all that implies when you are the mom and in charge of the festivities. Right before Christmas, I injured my shoulder doing a pushup (don’t laugh … I’ve injured myself by sleeping wrong), and that resulted in several weeks of nerve pain. Then around the time the shoulder/arm injury was becoming less intrusive, I got some sort of bug that wiped me out for about two weeks. Added to all this, it’s been really dark and cold, as it tends to be in the dead of winter. Even with our modern conveniences … heated car, warm house, plenty of groceries, etc., that deep chill can really make it seem like life is against you. (Honestly, how did our ancestors ever survive the Dark Ages? Imagine being sick, and having sick kids, in a hut where it’s not warm if you don’t keep building up the fire.)

With all of this, I haven’t exactly been tearing through the reading material. I do have a sizeable TBR of nonfiction … but even some of that, I wasn’t ready to face. I have a couple of nonfiction books about American Indians that promise to be eye-opening but depressing.

So I punted.

My nonfiction this past six weeks has been a reread, a book about the writing process (which is like candy!), and a journalistic book that goes down easy. Here they are.

The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers

A fantastic book about how the structure of the Trinity is reflected in the creative process. See my review here.

Rigged by Mollie Hemingway

A journalistic book that documents the various things that were done to ensure that T—- was not re-elected in 2020, including things like burying very incriminating evidence of B—–‘s corruption, changing (or ignoring) election laws in Pennsylvania, etc. I actually remember a lot of this stuff happening, because I get my news from the Daily Wire, although of course this book has more details, inside information, sources, etc. If you don’t get your news from the Daily Wire or a similar off-narrative outlet, it’s possible that the contents of this book might shock you. For me, it’s more of an entertaining ride, plus explanations of local election laws that a layperson can understand, plus just seeing that all this stuff is documented for posterity before it gets memory-holed.

I will probably give this book to someone as a gift later, but as per tradition, I must pre-read it first. (I haven’t decided who I will give it to, so if you clamor loudly, there’s chance that person could be you!)

Darwin on Trial by Philip Johnson

Here is the review I posted on Goodreads this week:

This is a reread. The first edition was published in 1991. I’ve read it a number of times over the years. This time, I got it out because my students are getting to the age when we are going to have to start wading in to these debates.

Johnson is a lawyer, so he has a sharp eye for spotting equivocations, ad hominems, and the unexamined philosophical assumptions behind even honestly made arguments. His writing is a pleasure to read. It’s a course in logic as well as a survey of the neo-Darwinian synthesis, or as he calls it, the Blind Watchmaker thesis. Now, on my third or fourth reading, I realize that I missed a lot on previous readings because there is just so much going on in this book. Also, perhaps, because when we are accustomed to hearing a debate framed in one way, it can be difficult to follow, on first reading, when someone frames it differently.

Scientific discoveries have changed a lot since Johnson wrote this book. The changes have not provided more evidence for the Blind Watchmaker thesis; quite the opposite. Soft tissue has been discovered in dinosaur fossils, for example. More and more “hominem” species that were thought to be sub-human have been discovered to have been, in fact, simply human. Stephen Meyer has published his books about the Cambrian explosion and the challenges it poses to the Blind Watchmaker thesis. Genetics gets more, not less, intricate the more closely it is studied. More “living fossils” have been found. However, the amazing thing is that none of this matters much to the thesis of Darwin on Trial. Johnson’s argument is that the Blind Watchmaker thesis is not an empirical claim that its adherents set out to test, but rather a philosophical position: a logical deduction from naturalism, or from strict materialism. To true believers in the Blind Watchmaker thesis, none of the discoveries I have mentioned will look like disconfirming evidence.