|Study Resources for Thoughtful Reading|
On this page, we will offer some recommendations of books that are useful for the reader as thought provoking treatises. They may not even be about apologetics but they will reflect issues and questions important to apologetics.
Mark Bauerlein, The Dumbest Generation
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No one should be surprised by what Bauerlein reveals about the way modern computer technology has been turned into a vast enabler of socially immature persons seeking endless entertainment and self-reflection. I’m sure the ink wasn’t dry on Gutenberg’s first project before it occurred to someone that the printing press would be a great way to also distribute pornography. The conversion of technological advances in communication for the purposes of diversionary activities is just a repeat pattern I’m sure we’ll see again and again after Twitter becomes a fad and the last Facebook page lies dormant.
And yes, it's not like youth of prior generations were universally smarter; that's not the point. There’s a rather critical difference in this cycle. The Internet has many more fingers than Gutenberg ever did. The data can flow faster and more readily than it ever could before. What that means in practical terms is that it’s a great deal easier for the dumbest generation to become, and remain, dumb and self-absorbed.
Just as distressing to me as an information professional is that so many in the dumbest generation refuse to read books, reasoning that if they need information, there’s no need to find or retain it now; they can always find it on the Internet. But as Bauerlein points out, it is the retention of information that allows a person to form connections between seemingly unrelated bits of data and form new conclusions. What may be of no use now may offer insight later when paired with something else. The dumbest generation can’t do original thought like this, because all that’s in their head is the latest news about who is dating whom.
And of course, who can resist a medium in which it is possible to endlessly self-promote 24/7? You don’t need to be a narcissist to appreciate a venue that allows you to draw attention to yourself, to be continually validated by peers.
As Bauerlein points out, democracy can’t thrive on such a badly informed, self-centered citizenry.
Jason Berggren, 10 Things I Hate About Christianity
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Subscribers to the Tekton E-Block know that for about 3/4 of a year I had a dialogue series with the author of this book in which I discussed apologetics "takes" on the 10 things he "hated" about Christianity. If you want more information on the author, he has an excellent siteblog here, and I won't spoil the surprises for you...too much.
Jason's an average Christian who is confronting some of the things that make Christianity difficult to believe or to practice. He has an inordinate amount of insight for a regular guy, though, and any reader can benefit from his contemplations on these matters. You'll see he even gets into apologetics -- but more importantly, he's an earnest learner and seeker who puts his faith into practice. In other words, what was had in mind with the word "disciple" when it came to Christianity.
I was impressed enough that it was this book which encouraged me to start this resource listing in the first place. And that will tell you enough in close.
Nicholas Carr, The Shallows
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This book is more important than you might think. As the subtitle indicates, it's about how the Internet has affected the way we think and act. Carr himself became a victim of the eternal "connectedness" that modern technology offers; the problem: It's also addictive, which means it will end up wasting a lot of your time. If you want to know why I eschew stuff like Facebook and Twitter, this book will tell you why.
It's not only addictive, though: It also distracts us and ruins our ability to do the "deep thinking" we need to be both creative and well-informed. It also gives us a false sense of being well-informed when we are not, keeps us from going after more serious and credible sources of information, and gives place to those who lack qualifications and credentials to displace those who do.
Yes, it does all that and more. And it isn't good.
Andrew Keen, The Cult of the Amateur
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The researcher in me can't help but like this book, which is a harsh critique of the democratization process ongoing that has opened up the field to allow any person to become a "star" by means of blogs, Wikipedia, YouTube, and other online social media devices. An avalanche of mediocrity is obscuring reliable source material and true talent in the arts, forcing the informed and talented to compete with undeserving opponents and also lessening the prospects that reliable and talented source material will be purchased (eg, why buy a credible academic encyclopedia when you can use Wikipedia?). The democratic media is shoving those with talent and credibility aside and putting them out of business. At the same time, the avalanche makes it harder to discern truth from fiction, and adds to a snowball effect in which Net users become less sensitive to (or interested in, for that matter) what is correct and what is not.
Critics dismiss Keen as a curmudgeon, but as a professional information sort of guy, I find him more spot on than not.
William Powers, Hamlet's Blackberry
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As self-centered as we moderns are, we tend to forget that the technology we take for granted came to us in stages and didn't just pop out of Bill Gates' forehead. Powers' book is a thoughtful, historical survey of all sorts of innovations in communications and how they changed the way we think and live, and thus acts as an excellent supplememnt to the books by Carr and Keen that focus on how modern communications technology impacts our life and thinking.
In Shakespeare's play, Halmet owned something that was the Blackberry of his time -- essentially, a writing tablet which allowed him to jot down notes and saved him the need to remember them. We take paper and pencil so much for granted that we might fail to appreciate just how revolutionary this invention was in its time. We certainly would not realize that it and similar inventions reduced our reliance on memory (and in turn, on structures like poetic parallelism that were designed to enhance and train it).
These days, though, the technology has given us information overload -- too much information, not enough time to contemplate it or sort through what is important. Powers' book also serves as a healthy reminder that disconnecting is a mentally healthy practice. (I knew this already, which is why I do not own anything like a Blackberry or a cell phone -- I don't want my email or anything else following me around.)
The relevance to apologetics is obvious as well -- Christianity is an increasingly drowned out voice in an ever-expanding marketplace of ideas (a good amount of it trivia).
The Collected What If?
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Some readers will be aware that one of my favorite fiction authors is Harry Turtledove, who is called the “master of alternate history.” This time I took a plunge into some non-fiction of that genre, in this huge volume which is actually two books in one reaching over 800 pages.
The historians in this book address counterfactual possibilities from all over the chronological spectrum, though the weight is towards 20th century events. In some cases they lay out alternate historical scenarios (eg, what if Pilate had refused to crucify Jesus?). In other cases they lay out the effects of a historical event and leave it to the reader to decide what history would have been like otherwise (eg, what if Pizarro had not discovered potatoes in Peru?). Even such small things as the death of one man (for example, in one essay, Socrates) or a meteorological phenomenon (for example, some fog that once allowed Washington’s troops to escape the British) could have had enormous ripple effects. For example, it is pointed out that without the potato found by Pizarro, Spain could not have fed certain miners who extracted the silver which in turn financed Spanish power in Europe from 1559 to 1640. Also, without the potato, the Irish could not have survived British efforts to displace them. Other crops like wheat didn’t have the potato’s hardiness, and as a result, each of these efforts would have been less effective – and that in turn would have meant a different course of history.
I recommend this book for students of apologetics because I believe that having an understanding of the long-term effects of even the smallest events is important for answering many questions that are raised in apologetics scenarios – especially those of the “couldn’t God have thought of a better way to deal with the Canaanites” variety. Critics frequently have a very narrow view of how history can proceed, and little understanding of cause and effect in the long term. Counterfactual history is an excellent way to expand one’s horizons and thinking processes.