Saturday, June 16, 2007

Always reading

I’ve been an avid reader since I was in the second grade. Every two weeks during the years I was in elementary school, my family drove the 10 miles to the public library, and each of us would check out as many books as we were allowed. Reading is very important to me, because I think I’ve learned more from my reading than from all my years in school.

During the 40+ years I was a Christian, I guess I read close to a hundred books on Christian living and various aspects of Christianity, along with some Christian fiction and many other books, mostly non-fiction. I read a fair amount of science, primarily astronomy and physics, but very little biology. I accepted the theory of evolution, but had little interest in it because it seemed to have little relevance to my life. I was more interested in learning about God, the real force in control of life and nature.

Over the last few years since I went free of religion, I’ve turned the focus of my reading from Christian literature to books on science. Feeling that I had paid little attention to how the world actually works, I’ve tried to catch up a little bit. I’ve added geology, biology, paleontology, psychology, and social history to my list of reading interests.

As I look down the list of what I’ve been reading, I find a focus on books that contribute to an understanding of human nature. Having discovered that my theological concepts of myself and humanity were groundless, I want to gain a more accurate picture of what we are and what I am. Three subjects have been particularly helpful in building this perspective:

1) Two books on human nature by Steven Pinker and Paul Ehrlich, and two on physiological psychology by Antonio Damasio and Gerald Edelman have given me a glimpse of how the complex and extremely sophisticated behaviors of people can be generated by a physical body and brain, without resorting to vague concepts like “soul” or “spirit.”

2) A few books on sociobiology have helped me put together at least a rough image of the origins of moral values and their subsequent adoption by religions.

3) The most fascinating and enlightening books I’ve read are Jared Diamond’s two major works: Guns, Germs & Steel: The Fates of Human Societies and Collapse: Why Societies Choose to Succeed or Fail. Diamond’s sweeping panoramas of social change from prehistoric times to today powerfully depict the forces that molded our history and that will shape our future.

My recommended reading list has more details on these and the other books I’ve read in the last few years.

Time to go to the library…

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