Oct 31

A Sand County Almanac And Sketches Here and There, by Aldo Leopold ★★★

This book is very popular among environmental groups as it offers a strong case for the current environmental movement, and is often quoted by environmentalists. I became interested in the book only after reading another environmental book, Another Shade of Green, also recently reviewed by me.

This edition is divided into 4 parts; 1) a fairly lengthy introduction by Robert Finch, which I’ll not review, 2) A Sand County Almanac, which is observations Leopold made on his farm in central Wisconsin for each month of a certain year. 3) Sketches Here and There, which are brief observations from various states of the USA and Mexico. 4) Leopold attempting to lay a philosophical basis for the environmental movement. Section 2 and 3 are very similar in their style detailing Leopold’s observations of nature, but are organized first chronologically, and then location-wise.

First, I found it challenging to stomach the arrogance of Aldo Leopold. He is constantly making statements suggesting that he sees things in nature that other people callously don’t pause to notice. But, are you surprised? That is what Aldo is supposed to be doing. He has been trained to observe nature, and that was his occupation. He knows the names of minute plants and organisms. I scarcely am able to differentiate the names of various common trees. But, I am a trained surgeon and notice physical characteristics of the human body that go unnoticed by everybody else. Yet, I don’t insult or condescend to my patients for not noticing things that I have been trained to notice. That one does not quickly identify subtle changes in nature, or take note of obscure plants that wax and wane over the year, does not reflect on one’s absence of appreciation for nature. Similarly, my patients appreciate good health, even though they are not always cognizant of subtle signs and symptoms that reflect a loss of that good health.

Leopold appeals most to the irrational emotions of people by creating a Disneyesque nature to our world. Animals talk and think rationally. Animals think out a rationality to nature that simply doesn’t exist. In the process, Leopold turns our world into a giant version of Disneyland. The technique of personalizing beasts of the field and birds of the air leaves for delightful reading. Doesn’t one often have curiosity as to what animals are thinking about? It’s ok to be creating scenarios of sentient creatures, but don’t sell it as a plea to protect our world.

Leopold is often hypocritical about protecting nature. He loves to hunt but laments how hunting has altered the ecosphere. He loves nature but complains when others get out into nature in a different style than him, such as through the use of RVs and motorhomes, etc. He bemoans over-population but doesn’t volunteer to help reduce human population by eliminating himself. Clearly, he lives in a solipsistic world that has reduced tolerance to those different from himself.

The greatest thing I noticed in reading this book is that Leopold remains entire blind to the most obvious fact observable in nature, that of a Creator. Leopold will frequently refer to Biblical stories, though they are treated more in a fairytale fashion than actual history. His god is evolution which created his beloved environment through time and chance from the primordial slime. Yet, the heavens and firmament are screaming at deafening volumes as to a loving, wonderful God who gave us a beautiful earth. It is sad that Leopold doesn’t see the forest because of the trees, and fails to realize that there is a connectivity, and moral rationale for protecting nature based on a desire to care and nurture the world God has given to us.

I found part 4 of this book the most interesting, but also the most muddled in thinking. He agonizes about a “land ethic” but never defines it completely. Then, he details the two types of environmentalists, those that are mostly hunters/RV campers/occasional participants in the outdoors, and those that have a strong interest in going as natural as possible and preserving wilderness as a natural phenomenon. He could have picked two names, Gifford Pinchot and John Muir, to make his point, but he didn’t. His idea was that the more “natural” we keep nature, the higher good is obtained. Now, I have my repulsion for hunters and RV campers, but that doesn’t make me establish a superior attitude to them. We all enjoy nature in different ways. I tend to side with the later (John Muir) camp, but also realize that we have a responsibility to care for nature. I also have a very difficult time identifying that the more natural things are, the better off they are. A perfect example is the California forests, which are burning up because of the absence of forest management. Another example is the rise of Lyme disease in the Northeast because of the return of farmed lands to “nature”. It is difficult for me to grasp exactly what the most proper natural state of the biosphere would be. I also have difficulty seeing the moral superiority of a burned-out piece of wilderness over a carefully managed piece of wilderness. The most aggressive environmental pundits long wistfully for wilderness in the Daniel Boone sense, but that is a wish that is similar to wishing that one could again believe in Santa Claus or the tooth fairy. An expansive wilderness that covers half a continent simply will never again happen.

Aldo Leopold paints a very fancy picture of the outdoors and longs wistfully for the wild untouched land of yesteryear, but that doesn’t help when attempting to create a rational policy toward wilderness and natural sites management. The environment remains an emotional issue for all. Who is there that cannot gaze upon a majestic mountain scene or a stately elk in its native environment, and not be overwhelmed with emotion. These emotions don’t help when attempting to formulate public policy. Leopold worked in the public sector all his life and should have known better. In my opinion, wilderness speaks for itself. Most people agree that we must not destroy the natural beauty of our world. How we go about saving our natural areas, and exactly what is meant by saving our natural areas remains a topic of discussion. Overmanagement might be a grave evil, but so is undermanagement. This is our earth, and we must care for it diligently but cautiously.

I can appreciate the witness that Leopold gives to the beauty and majesty of our natural world. I don’t appreciate that he fails to discuss the most obvious conclusion of his observations, that…

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.

…yet, there remain so many folk, especially educated elitists like Leopold, that close their eyes and remain deaf to the obvious, that we live in our Father’s world, and because it is His, we darn well better take good care of it!

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Sep 01

A Different Shade of Green, A Biblical Approach to Environmentalism and the Dominion Mandate, by Gordon Wilson★★★★

This is a book I received recently direct from Canon Press, and chosen because of my avid interest in a Biblical approach to environmentalism, ecology, and wilderness ethics. Gordon Wilson has a degree in Environmental Science and Public Policy and lives in Moscow, Idaho. It was suggested in the book that he is the brother of Douglas Wilson. The text is easily readable, which I did in about 4 hours, and geared for the early high school level.

I don’t have any serious criticisms of the book, save for the book being moderately non-academic and not complete in its thinking. I mostly agree whole heartedly with the thesis and conclusions of Gordon, yet I have many questions which I would seriously love to sit down with him tête-à-tête and ask him in regard to issues he left unspoken of in the book. Maybe he’ll take me up on that, and I’ll leave a few of these questions at the end of this review. He heavily quotes two people, Aldo Leopold and his Sand County Almanac and Francis Schaeffer in Pollution and the Death of Man, written in conjunction with Schaeffer’s son-in-law Udo Middelmann. I have not read Leopold’s book but perhaps will. I have read and re-read Schaeffer’s text many times, and it has been formative in my thinking on the environment. This current book tends to support Schaeffer’s theses, and thus I would stand in whole-hearted agreement with all that Wilson has to say. New in Wilson’s thought that I especially picked up on and appreciated was his emphasis on the biosphere operating analogically as a giant machine, and each part of the biosphere (and physical earth I presume) being an integral part of that machine. Thus, all species and subspecies play a role in the overall and necessary function for the best operation of the total biosphere.

So, what are the questions and comments I would make if I could meet with Dr. Wilson? 1. He definitely overuses a few words without defining them, such as the word “dominion”. He quotes the word as used in Gen 1:28, where the text really doesn’t give a strong clue as to precisely what is meant as “dominion”. Perhaps the overplay of the word orients around a possible adherence to Dominion Theology. While Dr. Wilson may adhere to Dominion Theology (I don’t), I don’t find Dominion Theology as necessary in building a Christian stance for the environment. Certainly, Francis Schaeffer and Udo Middelmann did not feel that way! 2. Wilson focuses heavily on the animal kingdom, giving the plant kingdom only passing mention, and the physical earth as almost no mention. This is problematic. To what extent is it ok to “remodel” the earth? Is dynamite sinful? What about the preservation of beauty? How would he lean in the (still ongoing) Hetch Hetchy controversy? Would he lean with Pinchot or with (the probably more Christian) Muir? Waffling on the question in NOT an option. What about the state preserving areas such as wilderness? Wilson in the book not once (that I could find) even mentions the word “wilderness”. This leaves a giant lacuna for the book. Can he form a wilderness ethic? Does he have any comments on the wilderness act of 1963? Is it good or bad? How would he change it? He suggests leaving some areas “natural”, yet that is NOT Biblical, as “dominion” suggests caring for all the earth in a fashion to groom, control, contain it. Another giant lacuna is discussion of bioengineering, the production of genetically modified organisms, and its role in ecology. Is GMO a good or a bad thing from an environmentalist perspective? I would reiterate a question, how would Wilson lean in the Pinchot versus Muir debate? How do we balance utility of the biosphere with preservation of the native state of nature? Is logging ok? How much logging? What about grazing of sheep and cattle? Is it simply a question of “sustainability” (i.e., over-grazing”) or are there aesthetic issues involved? What about the preservation of exotic subspecies? Part of my recent hike was detoured because biologists felt that the sound of human steps disturbed the sex life of the yellow legged frog. I felt that this was misdirected thinking. How would Wilson weigh in on this? The last few years had an unprecedented number of west coast forest fires, and at least a few of these were the result of poor forest management or laissez faire attitudes toward forest upkeep. Does Wilson have any comments on this? Should we manage forests in a way to limit the amount of forest fires, or should we allow natural fires to have their way? He quoted briefly Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, yet this book has come under serious attack for being being very bad science, and perhaps completely inaccurate as to the affects of DDT. How would Wilson respond? I have been engaged numerous times with libertarians who contend that a libertarian approach to the environment would have the most salutary effect at preserving wild places. Experience and time has shown that the libertarians are dead wrong on this issue. I believe that there is a role for the state in preserving wild areas and maintaining laws that prevent the destruction of the environment, maintaining necessary areas such as wet lands, fields, forest and other habitats for members of the plant and animal kingdom to survive. How much control of our land does Wilson feel the state should have? Any form of development of the land intrinsically leads to habitat destruction. Clearing out land for a house or housing development, flattening a large parcel for a shopping mall, diverting rivers for flood control, putting in roads across natural ranges for animals (bison!!!), and even the development of hiking trails leads to habitat destruction. How does one balance the good and bad of human activity in this world? Which ultimately leads to the most fundamental issue, and that pertains to the orientation of the universe. Wilson and I both believe that the universe was created for man, for both sustaining man but also for man’s enjoyment and pleasure. This makes both Wilson and I side toward an anthropocentric universe. This seems to be the fundamental difference between us and the secular environmentalists who do not believe the world is anthropocentric, and that man is an often unwelcome invader in this world. I wonder why he didn’t develop this thinking further, as any discussion of wilderness focuses on man’s role in this universe?

Enough questions. With time, I could draw more that I think are vital to answer in any form of engagement of Christians with non-Christians in their discussion of environmental issues. The book is a good read, and I strongly recommend it, even to those with a passing interest in environmental issues. It will soon be offered on Amazon.com, or can be ordered directly from canon press.com.

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Aug 04

A History of Western Philosophy and Theology, by John Frame ★★★★

Habe nun, ach! Philosophie,
Juristerei und Medizin,
Und leider auch Theologie
Durchaus studiert, mit heißem Bemühn.
Da steh ich nun, ich armer Tor!
Und bin so klug als wie zuvor…

from Faust, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Goethe perhaps best summarizes my feeble investigations into philosophy, law, medicine, and theology, all studied with great zeal, and yet still left feeling like a fool. I thoroughly appreciate Frame’s approach to the history of western philosophy and his merger with theology, as they both breech similar questions and topics of thought. Oftentimes Frame is verbose, oftentimes terse on a subject in discussion. It is impossible to provide a thorough single-volume text to match the magisterial works of Copleston or Windelband. Frame is a philosopher in the school of Kuyper/van Til, though he makes it clear that he is not a rigid vanTilian. For that reason, I have a deep respect for Frame. Frame offers a fly-over view of western philosophy, starting a usual with the Milesians of ancient Greece and ending with modern deconstruction. Frame is always most kind, sometimes too kind when someone deserves to be attacked, such as the modern deconstructionists. Yet, perhaps Frame feels (as I do) that modern philosophy is more a passing fad than a system of thought to be taken seriously.

Frame takes and runs with the vanTil notion that all thought ultimately is defended by circular reasoning, and thus a defense of Christianity demands a position of Scripture as a presupposition and not as a possibility to be explored and argued as true simply through the use of reason. Yet, all belief systems are circular. The rationalists will use reason to defend their case. Like vanTil, the creator/creature distinction must constantly be held, and that the idea of God speaking to man (through Scripture) is a starting point and a given, and not something that you reason into.

More than 40% of the book is added on at the end in the form of multiple appendices, essays that Frame has written over time and now waiting to be published in a philosophical context. Frame might have served the reader better by offering an explanation before each essay as to setting in which the paper was written.

Frame is very kind. As an example, Frame has many disagreements with Gordon Clark, yet emphasizes what Clark truly got right, and how Clark was perhaps misjudged in the vanTil/Clark controversy. After each chapter of text, there is a review of terms and names, as well as questions to stimulate thought; these questions would be invaluable if one were reading the text for a course. I happen to have read it mostly for my own enjoyment and pleasure, and thus did not constipate myself with deeper philosophical ruminations. I also have this book given as a set of lectures in a course given by Dr. Frame. I will soon be applying myself to listening to Frame philosophize. So far, I find that he is easier to listen to than to read.

Do I recommend this book? Yes of course! John Frame has a brilliant mind and thinks well. I appreciate Frame’s perspectives on philosophy and theology. I would hope that the reader interested in philosophy will also find this text thought-provoking and a delight to read.

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Aug 01

Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs, by JI Packer ★★★★

I have now reviewed a number of Packer texts, and this will probably be the last for a while. Why would I read this book, a very toned down, brief summary of theology themes, when I have already took Packer’s in-depth course on systematic theology? Simple. It’s one of Packer’s texts that I haven’t read yet, and plan on using it as a book that I could refer other to in seeking for texts in classic Reformed theology. Packer is Anglican, ordained in the Anglican church, yet whose theology was formed by the Puritans and the Westminster Confession, of which he freely admits in the preface of this text. In 94 very short chapters, Packer offers a summary of many of the themes of theology. Packer’s skill is that of taking very complex theological issues and making them very simple. His longest two chapters are only 5 pages long, and they are on the church and on baptism. The book summarizes Packer’s thinking quite nicely, while also giving the reader a sense of how Packer handles hot (controversial) issues, which is, in a very gracious fashion. Thus, even Arminians might read this text and find disagreement but will feel that Packer is hard to disagree with. Throughout are little theological gems that make JI shine. It’s a book worth reading, even if you know your theology.

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Jul 29

Praying, by JI Packer with Carolyn Nystrom ★★★★★

I started reading this book in March 2019, stalled because of my PCT hike, and recently resumed and completed reading it. Like its companion volume God’s Will, they were written with the help of Carolyn Nystrom. Both are intended to be both instructional and devotional.

The book reads in a relaxed fashion, as though JI were sitting with you, and giving you his thoughts on prayer. The various chapters include 1) discussion of who we are praying to, 2) encouragement for a life that is patterned in prayer, 3) spending time dwelling/meditating in prayer, 4) using prayer to praise God 5) searching the self for sin / bad attitudes when approaching God, 6) advice of asking in prayer, 7) advice on complaining to God in prayer, 8) perseverance in prayer, 9) necessity of corporate prayer and 10) praying with your whole heart and sincerely. The postscript is a delightful little statement on gaining the habit of a prayerful life.

My dear readers by now should be aware of how deeply I admire and respect JI Packer and his writings. This book is yet another example of how you cannot go wrong by reading Packer. It is Packer at his mature best.

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Jul 10

18 Words: The most Important Words You Will Ever Know, by JI Packer ★★★★★

Those of you who have followed my posts and book reviews should be aware that I am a fan of the writings of JI Packer. I took a class in Systematic Theology from him, and have deeply appreciated his insights, style of teaching, and way that he writes. JI Packer, more than anybody that I know, writes exactly like he teaches, the same style, vocabulary, and manner of presentation. Exceptional about Packer is how he can tackle very complex theological topics, like that of election, and make it extremely simple. This book is an example of how Packer will take theological topics and turn those topics into a lengthy lesson in practical theology. That has been JI Packer’s first statement on teaching theology, that right theology (orthodoxy) should evoke right living (orthopraxy) and worship. Each of the 18 words above comprise the 17 chapters of this book, with a preface explaining in more technical language exactly what he is up to. Only 17 chapters? Well, sanctification and holiness are both from the exact root in both Hebrew and Greek. There is no verbal form “holiness”, but there is the word “sanctification”, just as there is no adjectival form of sanctification, but holiness is the word that fits that category. So, from a Greek and Hebrew point of view, they are just different forms of the same word. How do all these technical theological words have significance for the Christian? That is best explained by reading this book by Packer. I’ve read many of the books that Packer has written, and certainly this text is one of his best. He shows insights from a lifetime of living and walking and teaching the Christian faith that are true gems in this book. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy to read. You won’t regret it.

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Apr 03

Nature’s Case for God: A Brief Biblical Argument, by John Frame ***

This is a very short book which I was able to start and finish on the train from Tacoma to Kelli (on the way to San Diego). The book is divided into three parts, the first being the witness of the physical world, the second the conscience and the third part a discussion of natural law by the use of several letters that Frame wrote. The case of the physical world argues for the vastness, the perceived unity, the goodness, the wisdom, and God’s presence in the world. Arguing from a presuppositional basis, his arguments are that the world gives strong support for a creator God of the description found in Scripture. Regarding the argument for conscience, Frame demonstrates how conscience in its various modes truly attests to God.

A book of this sort suffers from the problem of its briefness. None of the arguments were as well developed as they should of been. I didn’t find the book in toto to be a compelling case for God save for the person who believes and needs no case for God.

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Apr 02

Pilgrim’s Progress, by John Bunyan, modern revision ****

I have read this book several times before on the original language, but decide to read this highly recommended edition in contemporary Sprache. This new edition reads very similar to Bunyan’s original text, and was a delight. Modern color illustrations were also added.

The story is that of the journey of pilgrims from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. During the journey the main character, Christian, encounters multiple obstacles on the way, makes wrong turns to get him into trouble, but also encounters friendships, joys, and soft paths to help him on the way. Bunyan offers encouragement, advice, warnings, and admonition to the pilgrim, as relevant today as is was 400 years or so ago.

For many years, this book was the most read book Ever, outside of the Bible. Written while he was in prison for his faith, Bunyan bares his soul about the nature of the Christian faith from an allegorical perspective. It is a wonderful tale to be read while preparing to start a long journey. This was read on my iPhone on the train from between Eugene, Oregon and San Jose, California.

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Apr 01

Nature’s Case for God: A Brief Biblical Argument, by John Frame ***

This is a very short book which I was able to start and finish on the train from Tacoma to Kelli (on the way to San Diego). The book is divided into three parts, the first being the witness of the physical world, the second the conscience and the third part a discussion of natural law by the use of several letters that Frame wrote. The case of the physical world argues for the vastness, the perceived unity, the goodness, the wisdom, and God’s presence in the world. Arguing from a presuppositional basis, his arguments are that the world gives strong support for a creator God of the description found in Scripture. Regarding the argument for conscience, Frame demonstrates how conscience in its various modes truly attests to God.
A book of this sort suffers from the problem of its briefness. None of the arguments were as well developed as they should of been. I didn’t find the book in toto to be a compelling case for God save for the person who believes and needs no case for God.


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Apr 01

Nature’s Case for God: A Brief Biblical Argument, by John Frame ***

This is a very short book which I was able to start and finish on the train from Tacoma to Kelli (on the way to San Diego). The book is divided into three parts, the first being the witness of the physical world, the second the conscience and the third part a discussion of natural law by the use of several letters that Frame wrote. The case of the physical world argues for the vastness, the perceived unity, the goodness, the wisdom, and God’s presence in the world. Arguing from a presuppositional basis, his arguments are that the world gives strong support for a creator God of the description found in Scripture. Regarding the argument for conscience, Frame demonstrates how conscience in its various modes truly attests to God.

A book of this sort suffers from the problem of its briefness. None of the arguments were as well developed as they should have been. I didn’t find the book in toto to be a compelling case for God save for the person who believes and needs no case for God.

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