Guest Posting and a New Year’s Challenge

Two exciting new developments for this interholiday week:

Early on in the Eight Questions series, three commenters got into a long, detailed arguments about why there is regularity or law in nature and how well equipped humans are to detect order in the first place.  They’re at 91 comments and counting, but I imagine the discussion slipped off the radar of most readers.  Therefore, after January first, I’ll be kicking off the new year with guest posts from Eli, Lukas, and possibly March Hare.  I look forward to posting their arguments and getting to engage their ideas in a better format.

Don’t forget, if you ever have a strong response to something written on this blog and you’d like the opportunity to guest blog, contact me at leah (dot) libresco (at) yale (dot) edu.

I’m also looking for advice for New Year’s Resolutions.  In the past year, I’ve attended Mass almost every week, read a number of apologetic works, and argued about Christianity with a priest, a deacon, all of you, and, of course, my Catholic boyfriend.  So if you have suggestions for books, interlocutors, or experiences that ought to change my mind, post them in in the comments.  I’ll take a look at all suggestions and pick a couple to add this year.

Similarly, if anyone has any suggestions of books I should recommend to my boyfriend, I’d appreciate it.

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • Michael Haycock

    Well, if you're seriously interested in engaging the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints specifically (I can't determine if you are or not, frankly), I'd recommend you read our additional scriptures – The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price, which can be found here: http://lds.org/scriptures?lang=engIf you'd like more, I could ask friends for any books they would suggest. The pertinent "Very Short Introduction" books – on Mormonism by Richard Bushman of Columbia and on the Book of Mormon by Terryl Givens of the University of Richmond – are great for a truly VERY short overview. One good book about the Book of Mormon itself is "By the Hand of Mormon" by Terryl Givens, which explores the history of the Book of Mormon (which might be intriguing, given discussions of historical evidence and such) and its unique messages that have informed LDS thought, amongst other things. Though it doesn't directly address your questions as its primary topic, I'm sure you could glean from it.I'll offer more suggestions of actions and activities if you're interested.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10845051786114528609 Julie Robison

    Hm, what kind of new years resolutions? It looks like you are doing a lot, which I really admire in you Leah. (I'm really glad you attend Mass, too! It's one of my favorite parts of the week.) But perhaps the motions are not enough? This might be a dumb question, but do Atheists pray? I think you are missing the most crucial part of faith– the conversation with God. I know you don't believe in him, so this might sound fruitless, but a big part of Catholicism is prayer. When we're struggling, we talk to him about it. When we're happy, we thank him. Sometimes there is silence, and that means we need to be quiet and listen to him. It's different for each person, but maybe try to cultivate a prayer life? Books ideas: I just bought 'In Soft Garments' by Ronald Knox and have really enjoyed reading it. Evelyn Waugh-endorsed! There is even an essay entitled "If God Exists." :) You also might consider reading about Edith Stein as well! She is fascinating. OH and 'Salt of the Earth'– it is an interview with Pope Benedict XVI when he was Cardinal Ratzinger at the turn of the century. He really is brilliant!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02425971347341617089 Eldnar

    Instead of reading the volumes and volumes and volumes of Mormon doctrines. You can cut right to the heart of the matter with the first two links. These two videos (which contain Mormon scientists and apologists) will help determine if Mormonism is worth pursuing. Enjoy.DNA vs The Book of Mormonhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=svfxSscxh8oThe Bible vs The Book of Mormonhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTtq62XQ4jwAs you can see, the evidence doesn't bode well for Mormonism.Anyway, here are two book recommendations:I don't have enough Faith to be an atheisthttp://www.amazon.com/Dont-Have-Enough-Faith-Atheist/dp/1581345615Case for the Resurrectionhttp://www.amazon.com/Case-Resurrection-Jesus-Gary-Habermas/dp/0825427886/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie;=UTF8&qid;=1293519233&sr;=1-1

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    Wow – you've been attending Mass almost every week? That's an awfully large sacrifice of time! I sincerely hope your boyfriend has done something in return that indicates an equal willingness on his part to consider your point of view.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    @Ebonmuse: Actually, the deal was that I go to Mass in exchange for him going to Ballroom Dance classes with me. That deal's worked out pretty well in my favor.

  • http://groups.yahoo.com/group/catholicspitfiregrill/ Sister Spitfire

    How about 5-10 minutes a day in prayer? You could investigate some Christian prayer traditions and even if you end up not being convinced 5-10 minutes a day in quiet meditation do wonders for you anyway. I highly recommend Thomas Merton and Thomas Dubay, particularly his book The Fire Within.

  • Michael Haycock

    Eldnar: Yes, because if you're studying a faith you only pay attention to its detractors. I'm sure Living Hope Ministries has similar videos about the Catholicism on which Leah's been focusing her investigations unless it – like so many other churches – seems to base a major pillar of its practice in professional opposition to Mormons (as is often done with Catholics, for that matter). Such debates say very little about the nuance of doctrine and practice and often butt one relatively extreme view against a straw man from the accused faith tradition's past.What I was proposing is that those books would be the best source from which to gain an understanding of the LDS conception of communication with God and the reception of spiritual knowledge, because that's what Leah's been exploring (to my knowledge), and particularly the only context in which she has attempted to engage the LDS church. Could you skip the Bible completely if you're trying to understand Christianity, relying solely on anti-Christian sources instead? That would be absurd.

  • orgostrich

    I just wanted to comment to introduce myself. I found your blog a few weeks ago (through a link on John Loftus' blog) and was really excited to find someone else in my sitation. I'm a geeky atheist who likes to pick fights with my (non-denominational) Christian boyfriend. I also started attending church with him every week in exchange for him taking ballroom dancing lessons with me. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02425971347341617089 Eldnar

    Yes, because if you're studying a faith you only pay attention to its detractors.While that may be the way you study a faith, I certainly don't, and based on Leah's booklist it doesn't look like she does either. To study atheism, one must read the best they have to offer, Russell, Nietchze, Hume, etc. When studying Mormonism, Islam, etc. you must read their proponents, detractors, and watch debates where both sides have ample time to present their case. (Although, it's very difficult to find Mormon apologists in public debate.) Anyone who "studies" a faith by only paying attention to the detractors isn't studying at all, they are looking for confirmation to what they already believe.I'm sure Living Hope Ministries has similar videos about the Catholicism on which Leah's been focusing her investigationsYou're sure? You'd be incorrect.so many other churches – seems to base a major pillar of its practice in professional opposition to Mormons (as is often done with Catholics, for that matter). Such debates say very little about the nuance of doctrine and practice and often butt one relatively extreme view against a straw man from the accused faith tradition's past.Christianity invites people to examine their truth claims and challenge them. Christianity welcomes opposition and will defend itself vigorously in public debates whether written, on TV, in universities, etc. Christians say, "Bring your A game!" Mormonism on the other hand, when you investigate their truth claims and say, "Hey this is a *SERIOUS* problem" tend to cry foul and use terms like, "you are professionally opposing us" as if Mormonism should be exempt from the same investigation as any other religion. Unfortunately investigations into Mormonism have uncovered very significant (almost irreconcilable) problems for the claims of Joseph Smith. If Mormon doctrines are true, then Mormonism has nothing to worry about and should welcome inquiry. The top apologists should engage in public discourse, but where are they? Unfortunately, as demonstrated in the videos, there is demonstrable scientific evidence that many claims of Mormonism are blatantly false. DNA evidence, archeological evidence, Joseph Smith directly conflicting the Bible, did you actually watch the videos? The Mormons in the video didn't consider themselves "professionally opposed".

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02425971347341617089 Eldnar

    What I was proposing is that those books would be the best source from which to gain an understanding of the LDS conception of communication with God and the reception of spiritual knowledge, because that's what Leah's been exploring (to my knowledge), and particularly the only context in which she has attempted to engage the LDS church.My point was, that one doesn't need a mastery of the volumes of LDS doctrine to examine many of its truth claims. For example, do you need to read all the documents from the "Flat Earth Society" to evaluate their basic truth claims? Not at all. You can look for satellite earth photos first, then adjudicate whether further investigation is warranted. The same with Mormonism. Joseph Smith made claims about where civilizations exists, what ethnicity of their people, where colossal wars took place, certain prophecies that have not come true, etc. If all those have been demonstrated false, why go and read any further by reading volumes of teachings? If the basic truth claims can't be substantiated, what is the foundation for the rest of the doctrine?Could you skip the Bible completely if you're trying to understand Christianity, relying solely on anti-Christian sources instead? That would be absurd.No. But to investigate Christianity you can check out certain truth claims first to see if it's worth further inquiry. Does archeology align with Christian teachings? Check. Does Christianity accurately record ancient civilizations? Check. Once the big tests pass, then one can look into doctrinal specifics… Unfortunately Mormonism has failed every single one the big tests.

  • A Philosopher

    I have a somewhat contrarian suggestion. Frankly, the entire field of apologetics, on all sides, is basically crap, intellectually speaking. On the other hand, you've got one of the best philosophy departments in the world there at Yale. I'd junk the apologetics reading and go take a good metaphysics, epistemology, or ethics course. I particularly highly recommend Bealer, Darwall, DeRose, Gendler, and Szabo, but there are a lot of other great people in the department there.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    @Philosopher: I took Directed Studies and one or two other phil classes at Yale, but for the most part, they've been frustrating. Several of my professors taught and assigned papers with a book report focus. The focus was on being able to accurately summarize the philosophies rather than talking at all about whether they were true or how one ought to live. Andre Willis, who I had for my first semester in DS, always left time to talk about how we should live differently based on the readings, but few others did.That said, I do have a Gendler class on my shopping list.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05377685250633624137 Tristyn Bloom

    Hold up a sec- "one of the best philosophy departments in the world"? I needed a laugh today.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02425971347341617089 Eldnar

    I have a somewhat contrarian suggestion. Frankly, the entire field of apologetics, on all sides, is basically crap, intellectually speaking. On the other hand, you've got one of the best philosophy departments in the world there at Yale. I'd junk the apologetics reading and go take a good metaphysics, epistemology, or ethics course. I particularly highly recommend Bealer, Darwall, DeRose, Gendler, and Szabo, but there are a lot of other great people in the department there. Wow, coming from "A Philosopher" I was floored by this statement. I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you have absolutely no clue what the word apologetics means. Apologetics is providing a "reasoned defense" for a position held. What you've just said is that "The entire field of providing reasons for positions held, on all sides, is basically crap, intellectually speaking". That's a perversely anti-intellectual statement (and in fact encourages blind faith).If what you say is true, that means we can throw out our justice system's entire legal enterprise out the window, because no reasoned defenses are necessary and are…crap. We can also throw all politics out the window, there's no reasons to be affiliated with one political party over another. In fact let's throw all forms of logical argumentation out the window (which would include philosophy), after all logical argumentation is about providing "reasoned defenses for held positions". One of the largest bodies of apologists in the university system today are…philosophers. We might as well go all the way and throw out a great majority of human discourse; after all, no one should defend any position with reason, baseless assertions should rule the day!You initial suggestion of "junking" the apologetics reading includes the "junking" of your next suggestion of taking philosophy courses; because of all the apologetics reading that will occur in those classes. After all, the philosophers (aka apologists) are providing reasoned defenses for why their view of metaphysics, epistemology, or ethics are correct; and that's crap. I apologize that you will be unable to reply to me, to defend yourself, because that would entail using reason to defend your previous statement. Being "a philosopher" you should be intimately familiar with your initial self-refuting statement.I'm just sayin…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00096273666451765269 Stephen Marsh

    Keith DeRose doesn't believe in Bernoulli's Principle.Anyways, Leah, I want to see you spending serious time actually confronting relativism next year. As you said, it seems to me like the biggest hole in your moral / philosophical system is sourcing it and justifying it, and it seems like coming to a better resolution on that question is going to come more from the critique on the opposite side of where you've been focusing your energies thus far. I'd like to see you read / write about Wittgenstein (Philosophical Investigations) and Kierkegaard specifically, though a lot of 20th Century philosophy points in that direction (Zizek, Derrida, Foucault, Barthes, Adorno / Horkheimer, Nietzsche…)

  • A Philosopher

    Leah: Tamar is fantastic, and I highly recommend her course. I don't know if she'll talk about any of her own work on belief and alief, but I think there are interesting potential connections between it and the nature of religious commitment.I can understand your frustration with philosophy courses. Teaching philosophy on the undergraduate level is a tricky and delicate thing. The students typically want to leap straight into the big issues (well, other than the 50% of them who don't seem to care about the course at all), but part of the discipline of philosophy involves learning to slow down and get good at the fine details of the thinking. Philosophical thought is a strangely specific mode of thinking, and I find that even very intelligent students often struggle with it.Tristyn: NYU, Rutgers, and Oxford are all clearly better, and I can think of a half-dozen that are on a par with Yale. That works out to "one of the best in the world" in my idiolect.Eldnar: This is the sort of thing that makes teaching philosophy to undergraduates so frustrating. Look, the word "apologetics" has a clear meaning in which it refers to a specific genre of religious writing. And the stuff that's written in that genre is just reliably intellectually sub-par.Stephen: I'll have to ask Keith about that next time I see him. Citation on that? For what it's worth, I'd recommend to Leah (a) spending more time coming up with a decent definition of relativism than defending it, and (b) avoiding every single philosopher (and "philosopher") on your list.

  • Anonymous

    I recommend Richard Rorty's "Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity." I'm sure it will pique your interest, even if you disagree with its conclusions.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02425971347341617089 Eldnar

    It's funny that it always turns out to be hyperbole when someone is a "self proclaimed" philosopher. Your frustration lies in the exposure of your own lack of understanding, not in the ability of others to understand you. What you said was clear and what you said was as silly as the undergrads who vex you. As if all the philosophers in the entire field of philosophy of religion, including the ones in the Ivy League Schools; which by necessity largely deals in apologetics, are "intellectually sub par". I say this in the kindest way that can be conveyed over a blog comment, but you really need to get over yourself. I suggest you go re-read Plato's Apology.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11932634709731892125 Ben Crosby

    I'm, unsurprisingly, with Stephen on this one: not only would I enjoy seeing you do some reading on relativism/subjectivism, I would also love to see you delve into non-apologetic theology – we on the Christian side of things aren't all presuppositionalists…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    Forgive my ignorance, Ben: What readings would I be looking at for non-apologetic theology? I had to look up presuppositionalism on Wikipedia, and I don't think that describes Chris's theology or C.S. Lewis's or several other authors/blogs I've been reading.

  • A Philosopher

    Leah: on relativism/subjectivism, I would start with the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy online entry on Moral Relativism. (The SEP is a good resource of first resort on philosophical issues.) From there, you might try the 1996 Gil Harman/Philippa Foot volume "Moral Relativism, Moral Objectivism", and then perhaps Allan Gibbard's 1992 book "Wise Choices, Apt Feelings".On theology, as opposed to apologetics, you might try Hans Urs von Balthasar's "Dare We Hope (That All Men Be Saved)", or his "Explorations in Theology".

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11932634709731892125 Ben Crosby

    Let's see: Paul Tillich's "Dynamics of Faith" is a fascinating read – not that long, either. Jean-Luc Marion's "God Without Being" was brilliant, but frankly you need a pretty good immersion in the continental tradition to make sense of it (especially Nietzsche and Heidegger) – I don't think I understood most of it. Um. Kierkegaard. His "Fear and Trembling" is pretty fantastic. What else…Terry Eagleton's LRB essay "Lunging, Mispunching, Flailing" is short and sweet. I'd also encourage you to read some political theology, at least if you want to understand things that Matt and I believe. Walter Wink comes to mind as a good read, and there are lot of great Catholic liberation theologians.That's a lot, sorry…P.S. You can never go wrong with Augustine, either.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11932634709731892125 Ben Crosby

    Oh! Also Luther's Preface to the Book of Romans!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05377685250633624137 Tristyn Bloom

    Kierkegaard is salaciously depressing.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17394136098594570091 Timothy

    "Introduction to Christianity" by Joseph Ratzinger. Good overview of Catholicism and the problems it's place in a secularized world.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05652108975753144347 Mary S.

    Looks to me like you might be studying a bit too much. Try getting a Catholic calendar from your boyfriend's church (usually free) and CELEBRATING the feasts and observing the seasons. If you aren't familiar with the saints, Catholic Online has a nice indexed list with little biographies. You'll find something to celebrate every day.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00382486804381369375 Robert

    New reader, sent here from Mark Shea's blog.I notice that neither the Catechism of the Catholic Church nor Augustine of Hippo are on your "Bookshelf."For Augustine, the obvious place to start is his "Confessions." I strongly recommend Rex Warner's very readable translation. You might also try "On Christian Doctrine." If you get into him, you might try "On the Trinity" or "On the City of God," though both of those are major commitments.The Catechism is a reference book, or at best a textbook; it's not going to lay out the whole history of and argument for any given teaching or custom. But it will tell you in no uncertain terms what the Catholic Church teaches on almost any subject. It's authoritative (so there's no wondering "is this what they really believe?"), and it's usually crystal clear. It's also fairly well footnoted, so you can trace the history yourself if you want.One final recommendation: John Henry Newman. I'd especially recommend, "A Grammar of Assent" and "On the Development of Doctrine." The first is an exploration of logic and how it is we come to know and assent to a proposition. The latter is an explanation of why and how things change – and don't change – in Christian doctrine.

  • CompassRose

    Given the intellectual approach your writings seem to suggest you are taking, I submit your first route (other than honest prayer, which can give a wonderful short-cut) is to first address your concern about the existence of a Creator, be It Catholic or not. So, in addressing THAT, I recommend the Handbook of Christian Apologetics by Kreeft and Tacelli. This will provide numerous, logical and reasoned insights calling for the existence of a God outside of our direct, empirical experience.I highly recommend it.

  • http://www.guiltnomore.blogspot.com sibyl

    I know I'm awfully late to this discussion, and I am new to this site, but thought I'd just send you my small recommendations. Haven't seen them here yet.First, if you are serious in your quest to explore Christianity, then by all means read. Reading and thinking are indispensible. But how about committing some significant time and energy serving the poor, which since I don't know you may already be doing? And when you do, try to keep it as little known as possible, so that you will avoid the good feelings of being admired and complimented for your charity. In fact, the best would be to do some direct work of mercy for the poor in such a way that you would receive no thanks. This is a key Gospel command, and a really good way of gaining knowledge "from the inside" insofar as you are able, not actually being "inside."My other idea for a resolution would be for you to spend some time reflecting on the idea of sin. For example, is there objective right and wrong in the moral sphere? Can I know them without the gift of faith? How can I be sure I got them right? Also, think back to the worst thing you ever deliberately did. Can you undo it? Can you erase its bad effects? Is there anyone, including its victims, who can really undo its evil? (If there is such a thing…)It seems so clear to me that without really grappling with the concept of sin, you can't really grasp how GOOD the good news is.I am new to your blog, having come here from Mark Shea. Friendship and best wishes to you as you continue your exploration.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05282128995443204747 Bob

    Hello Leah, I'm a fan of Peter Kreeft, a philosophy professor at Boston College.I've a playlist of a talk he gave (about an hour long): http://www.youtube.com/user/agapasme#p/c/5536DB6A492F5426/4/ld3sHUUikm0In addition to his talks, he's published several books. The Handbook of Catholic Apologetics should useful. He also has a few books on ethics: A Refutation of Moral Relativism, and Making Choices.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05282128995443204747 Bob

    Oops, I goofed on the prior link which points to the last link of the playlist. Here's a link which should point to the start of the talk.http://www.youtube.com/user/agapasme#p/c/5536DB6A492F5426/0/W27w4ROc4CE

  • brian

    Hey Leah,I'd recommend listening to the talk at the attached link. Basically, it is a sustained argument that believing in the Resurrection of Jesus is perhaps the most rational thing someone can do.http://frjohnriccardo.libsyn.com/rcia_for_catholics_session_2_jesus_god_or_a_bad_man_

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05770115249740948307 For The Sake Of Him

    Leah,The best book I would recommend to you was written by two philosophy professors at my alma mater, the University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul, MN, and addressed specifically to inquiring nonbelievers like yourself. The title of the book is "The Agnostic Inquirer: Revelation from a Philosophical Perspective" by Sandra Menssen and Thomas Sullivan. You can get it from Amazon.comI would also recommend reading "The Everlasting Man", "Orthodoxy", and "Heretics" by G.K. Chesterton.

  • Michael Haycock

    By the way, if you want LDS apologetics (with no theological seminaries and an entirely lay ministry, Mormon apologietics are hard to find because it's primarily a hobby in addition to actually paying work) this would probably be the best place to find them:http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/Including articles specifically rebutting the videos mentioned earlier in this thread:http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/review/?reviewed_author&vol;=18#=1&id;=598http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/display/topical.php?cat_id=488Then again, I don't think you're looking for truth claims, so I stand by my previous reading suggestions! :)

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