Presidential Biographies: Grover Cleveland #22 and #24

My quest to read (at least) one biography per President continues with Grover Cleveland, the twenty-second and (!!) twenty-fourth President of the United States. The biography I chose with my selectio n process (reading reviews online and utilizing and this website- My Journey Through the Best Presidential Biographies) is The Presidencies of Grover Cleveland by Richard E. Welch, Jr.

Here, I’ll offer my thoughts on that biography, and proceed to present my official ranking for the DEFINITIVE RANKING OF PRESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES!!!!!! The full list of the rankings with all the Presidents as well as comments on their careers, updated as I read through this list, may be found here.

The Presidencies of Grover Cleveland by Richard E. Welch, Jr.

The Presidenceis of Grover Cleveland is a dry, condensed look specifically at Cleveland’s presidencies. It doesn’t give a fuller account of his life beyond a few details of his early life, so, like the biography, we’ll focus here on his actual presidencies.

Cleveland was essentially an example of political conservatism of his time writ large. How this was applied, however, can appear somewhat inconsistent and even callous from the outside. Perhaps the most extreme example of the latter is his veto of a bill to provide starving Texas farmers with free seed to replant after a severe drought. Welch, Jr. notes that the reason for this was Cleveland consistently held to blocking any use of the government and its money for private gains. He was worried about the possibility of the government becoming something for individuals to rely on rather than pulling themselves up by their bootstrings (80-81, see also 14). So whether it was big lumber barons trying to get tax subsidies or private farmers trying to avoid starvation or bankruptcy, Cleveland blocked all assistance. It is difficult to see how this is a decent or laudable policy, though some today would hold it is, but it is one of the consistencies of Cleveland throughout his career.

There is no question Cleveland was a racist when it came to his feelings and dealings with both the newly freed African Americans and the Native Americans. Regarding the former, he made numerous racist comments in which he reveals his (common at the time) belief that Afircan Americans would not be efficient or effective. He did appoint a few black Americans to public offices, but did so in a condescending and inconsistent fashion, and even held the belief that it was the former enslavers who would “take care of” the freed black Americans rather than having the government intervene to do so. He did the bare minimum to defend African Americans in voting rights or getting appointments, and no more. Regarding Native Americans, Cleveland heavily favored an assimilation which would force Native peoples to give up their rights and practices in favor of conforming to the cultural standards of the white Americans. Though this was a more moderate approach than direct, active genocide, nonetheless it was an attempt to continue cultural genocide and forced assimilation–a policy that would continue well beyond Cleveland.

Cleveland also demonstrated the tendency of virtually everyone who claims to affirm “state’s rights” to do so inconsistently. Though he gave lip service to state’s rights, he also ignored state governments when it came to strike breaking, unsurprisingly sending federal troops in to force strikes to end, taking the side of the corporations and train industries over the workers and even over the protests of state governors (147).  This and other examples (such as his fight over the silver/gold standard) demonstrate Cleveland’s strange legacy of disavowing the power of the government while actively expanding it beyond what it had been.

Regarding foreign policy, Cleveland approached it with the same attitude he felt in other areas, essentially seeing the United States as morally superior to other countries, which then meant that he distrusted the representatives of other, less ethically superior countries (199). This led to any number of poor policy decisions in foreign policy as well as alienating people in South America and beyond (see, eg, 67).

Cleveland’s legacy is somewhat difficult to evaluate due to the radical divergence in historical analysis of his Presidencies. Welch, Jr. manages to sort through some of the fog surrounding his legacy in his The Presidencies of Grover Cleveland, which I would rate as a fair, but not excellent biography.

Grover Cleveland’s Original Ranking in THE DEFINITIVE RANKING OF PRESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES (Full and Updated List Here)

Grover Cleveland (22nd and 24th President – Original Ranking #12)- Grover Cleveland was an ambitious politician who largely stuck to his conservatism, despite his apparent inconsistency looking in from the outside. His apparent callousness might be seen by some as consistency of conservative principles. His attempts to continue reform of the public offices stirred up vicious opposition to his presidencies. Ever a friend of the status quo, it is difficult to see how this may have harmed or benefited the United States even more than a hundred years later. His legacy is uneven, but also largely free of the worst of all moral failings, despite some examples. His intense belief in the superiority of America and Americanism is another part of his legacy, whether that includes the attempts to forcibly assimilate Native Americans (seen by many at the time as a reform–and it was, compared to actively genocidal policies) or his relations with other countries, Cleveland was an example of a President who truly tried to put America First, for better or ill, and to do so in a way that left each person to themselves. Additionally, Cleveland essentially expanded government authority despite his disavowal of the same.

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Reading the Horus Heresy, Book 5: “Fulgrim”

I know I’m late to the party, but I finally decided to start reading the “Horus Heresy,” a huge series of novels set in the universe of Warhammer 40,000 (though it is set much earlier than the year 40,000). I thought it would be awesome to blog the series as I go. With more than 50 novels and many, many short stories, there will be a lot of posts in this series (I doubt I’ll get to all the short stories). I’m reading the series in publication order unless otherwise noted. There will be SPOILERS from the books discussed as well as previous books in the series. Please DO NOT SPOIL later books in the series.

Fulgrim

Boom. Boom. Boom! This book was awesome. It has some serious tones of dark fantasy and horror melded into the relentless metal action I have come to expect from the setting.

The plot is a story of the fall of Fulgrim, along with his Remembrancers, into the hands of Slaanesh, the Chaos god of extravagance, lust, and various evils. Fulgrim has tried to make his legions pursue perfection over all other things, and in the novel he comes to a turning point in which, while fighting some Xenos (aliens), he turns to the aliens’ means of self-perfection through genetic modification. In doing so, he corrupts the plans of the Emperor and begins a path from which he seemingly cannot turn, believing the whole time that he is perfecting his Legion.

There are some pretty gross scenes here, though, so fair warning. The violence is really over the top in parts, including sexual violence and the like. Pretty gruesome. A lot of it centers around the fall of the Remembrancers as they experience the corruption of Daemons as well. The elements of horror are really woven into the foreboding sense that I got as a reader observing how the artists and historians included in the party also fell into the clutches of the daemonic. This is a dark sci-fi novel through and through.

What makes Fulgrim great is that it demonstrates how easy a fall from moral and ethical heights is–justified by a pursuit, a dream, a vision, those who should remain most loyal to the Emperor instead continue to fall away and into the worst of corruptions. It’s an excellent entry in the series.

Links

Reading the Horus Heresy– Read along with me in the Horus Heresy and see all my reviews of the books.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

“Samurai Jack” – Review of Season 1

I watched Samurai Jack when I was a kid and absolutely adored it. In fact, my family watched it together for at least the first season. But after that, sports and other things caught up to me and, like many kids, I couldn’t keep track of when a show was supposed to be on, so I didn’t watch all of it. Then, I later found out it never truly finished and was sad. But after that, they came back and finished off the series with a 5th season, and I was all in on watching it all. I used some Christmas money a year or two ago to grab the complete series and have been watching it while working out. I just finished Season 1 and wanted to share my thoughts and hopefully hear your own on this great series. There will be SPOILERS for season 1 in this post.

The Premise

Samurai Jack watched his country get destroyed by the evil Aku, an extremely powerful sorceror who had been banished for many years. This time around, after much training, Samurai Jack brings Aku to the brink of defeat, only to be tricked by the wicked creature and sent far into the future–a future in which Aku rules everything with an iron fist. The question in the show is–can Jack get back to the past and stop Aku’s evil before it happens?

Review of Season 1

Season 1 is filled with fantastic episodes and absolutely stunning beauty. The first episode, “The Beginning” has a lengthy montage of scenes showing Samurai Jack training with many different traditions around the world. There is no dialogue, just beautiful scenery and music. It’s stunning.

The fourth episode is another major highlight. In “Jack, the Woolies, and the Chritchellites,” Jack is welcomed by the Chritchellites, who appear to be a somewhat rude but otherwise harmless species. They use creatures called the Woolies to get around and do basically all of the work. But one of the Woolies reaches out to Jack in its pain and fear, seeing someone who might help their plight. It turns out the Critchellites have been using the achievements of the Woolies, and they have been oppressing the Woolies ever since. Jack joins forces with the Woolies to free them from the wicked Critchellites and send them away.

The very next episode, “Jack in Space,” has a delightfully retro feel. It’s like Jack meets the Jetsons, and he trains as an astronaut to defend a group of renegade spacers who promise to help him shift back in time. Unfortunately, Jack gets to a point where he must choose between their escape and his own ends, and Jack chooses to save his newfound friends. He watches his hope for going back to the past fly away, but he has accomplished another good in the here and now. Frankly, this is a recurring theme of the whole series so far–Jack is forced to choose between his own fight with Aku and saving or helping people now. Time and again, he chooses to help those in need now. But is that the best choice? Should he instead commit everything to going back to the past and stopping all the evil before it gets the chance to begin? The show is short on dialogue so it, at least in this season, doesn’t tell us much about what will happen. But it’s interesting to wonder about the ethical situation Jack is in.

This is probably fine. – From “Jack Under the Sea”

“Jack and the Warrior Woman” is another fantastic episode with great music, wonderful art, and a predictable but fun plot twist. Jack appears to be falling for the Warrior Woman on their quest together to claim a jewel, but it turns out the woman is in fact Aku, who has manipulated Jack in aiding him in his nefarious gains. In “Jack and the Three Blind Archers,” Jack faces a formidable, seemingly impossible foe, but he manages to defeat them only to discover they’ve been cursed by the very wishing well Jack sought to use to get back home. Instead of using a wish to get back to the past, he defeats the well itself, breaking the curse. “Jack Under the Sea” has stunning vistas of the underwater realms, and features more moral dilemmas both for Jack and the people of the ocean. “Jack and the Lava Monster” sees Jack’s inner peace tested like never before (okay, well maybe in “Jack vs. Mad Jack”) as he is forced to battle a Viking Warrior’s trapped soul. The scene of release for the warrior is emotionally impactful in ways you would not expect from a cartoon. “Jack and the Gangsters” is a funny take on a kind of mob scene with Jack.

The other episodes I haven’t mentioned are good as well, though maybe not quite as good. Overall, Season 1 is stunning viewing, though occasionally repetitive. The art blew me away time and again, but there were a few other times where it felt like the same background rehashed with robots getting slashed to bits. Nevertheless, I would rate this season very highly. It’s fantastic viewing, and great for working out to!

Links

Television– Read all my posts on television series.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Star Trek: DS9– For more episode reviews, follow this site and also click this link to read more (scroll down as needed)! Drop me a comment to let me know what you thought!

SDG.

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1962

I’ve almost completed my read-through of the top science fiction books of all time and was casting about for something else to do. I decided that reading through the list of Hugo award winners and nominees wasn’t a bad way to spend my time. Here are the nominees and the winner of the 1962 Hugo Awards. I’ve marked the winner as well as my own choice for which novel would win, had I the choice among the nominees.

Dark Universe by Daniel F. Galouye (My Winner) Grade: A-
Have you read about Plato’s cave? Okay, now that you’ve searched it and done so if you haven’t we’re on the same page. This book is a science fiction exploration of Plato’s cave. It’s done extremely well, combining elements of nuclear scare/red scare with world building that make a whole culture that lives purely in darkness. It’s fascinating all the way through, with how Galouye thought to even drop common sayings like “I see what you mean” out of the vocabulary of a culture that cannot see. The downside in the book is that the characterization is a little on the lighter end. Overall, a must-read, especially for those philosophically-minded science fiction fans.

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein (Winner) Grade: B-
Stranger in a Strange Land manages to capture the feeling of ‘alien-ness’ utterly, but stumbles slightly at the end, when Heinlein allows his own time period to take control of the plot too completely. It takes some digesting. It is clear that Heinlein wants to push his own view of the world, and that takes the reader out of engagement with the haunting story, at times.  Nevertheless, it is an interesting, engaging work. One of Heinlein’s better works. Though, like every Heinlein book I’ve read, it loses its luster the more I think about it. Yes, there was too much preaching from Heinlein about sex and drugs. Yes, it was hopelessly enamored with Heinlein’s favorite ideas. No, its characters aren’t three dimensional outside of the main character. It has serious issues all the way through, such that my initial largely favorable thoughts (I initially graded this one an A- on my first read-through) become more and more negative as I think about it. I also dislike it more the more I think about it in context of his overall body of work, though that’s hardly a fair measure. As a single book, standing alone, read in the right mood, this is excellent.

Planet of the Damned aka Sense of Obligation by Harry Harrison Grade: D+
I’ve enjoyed a few Harrison books, but this one was cliche in almost every regard. The characters were utterly predictable. The “surprise” discoveries were projected far in advance. The sexism was blatant, like when it is casually stated that women could not compete with men in a decathlon because women would “never” beat men at chess. It’s campy, but not in an endearing way as can happen. It’s just not a very well-written book in any regard.

The Fisherman aka Time is the Simplest Thing by Clifford Simak Grade: C
Clifford Simak is one of those names that looms large in classic sci-fi, but whose works, in my opinion at least, haven’t aged particularly well. Time is the Simplest Thing finds the protagonist engaged in a rather lengthy road trip basically trying to do… what? Having read the book rather carefully, I’m still not entirely sure why Shep Blaine decides he needs to flee when he encounters an alien that gets inside his mind. Is there some protocol of torturing information out of human hosts? Is there some way the alien is leading him? Kind of maybe. But the way it all plays out is written in a rather ho-hum, just the facts approach that doesn’t engage with the reader. Moreover, there is very little background for any character, making it difficult to really care at all about what’s happening. On the positive side, there is the occasional interesting exploration of themes like power, intelligence, and prejudice. My feelings after reading the book mirror the narrative style: ambivalence.

Second Ending by James White Grade: B-
James White is quickly becoming an author for whom I have a deep appreciation. The thing that makes him stand out, particularly for his time, is his almost total commitment to peaceful or even pacifist type solutions to problems. I have only read this book and the first of his Sector General novels, but I look forward to more. Anyway, Second Ending‘s biggest flaw is that it is too short for the story to really get off the ground. Yes, it is certainly possible for a short work to have a complete feeling to it, but this felt more of an amalgam of ideas than a deep plot. That’s okay, though, because the ideas–while somewhat dated–are interesting. White doesn’t have “red scare” in the traditional sense. Again, it’s all about what we–all of humanity–are doing to ourselves. If we destroy the world, what next? I enjoyed this pithy read, but it left me wanting more. Perhaps it’s time to dive into the next Sector General novel!

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

My Read-Through of the Hugos– Read more posts in this series and follow me on the journey! Let me know your own thoughts on the books.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Guest Post: “Seeing Our Present Through the Lens of the Past” – Vintage Sci-Fi

Pluto- Inspiration of many a sci-fi work, photo from NASA (Public Domain)

I’m very excited to offer up a guest post about Vintage Sci-Fi in anticipation of Vintage Sci-Fi Month (January). I hope you will join me an many others in dedicating a month of reading to vintage sci-fi (the loose definition of “vintage” that has been adopted is anything written before the year of your birth). I’m hosting this post as part of a blog tour for Vintage Sci-Fi Month!

Jacob of RedStarReviews is a lifelong reader who found out about #VintageSciFiMonth after it had been around for a few years and immediately joined in and now January is his favorite month of the year for reading.

Seeing Our Present Through The Lens Of The Past

We are almost in the year 2020. When we go back and read Vintage SciFi stories it’s quickly apparent that a lot of the authors guessed wrongly on how their future would turn out because we’ve bypassed several dates covered in these books and not left the solar system or met aliens or have personal jet packs in every household for ease of transportation. So why would we want to read stories that are seemingly outdated? Or even problematic in their views? That’s a question I’ve asked and been asked so I’ve invested some thought into this and would love sharing my answer with y’all!

I think there is great value (and fun) in seeing our present/near future through the eyes of the creative minds of our past. Some you’ll read and see they weren’t too far off, others are so far off it’s like you’re reading alternative histories, while others you read and you wonder if the author was a time traveler. However when you’re reading words directed towards the future from the past you’re also seeing the hopes, bias, dreams, fears, and thought processes from an earlier age and there is value in that. You can be reminded of how far we’ve come as a species and have hope that we’ll continue to grow; or maybe see where we’ve failed to grow and start addressing that. You get to see what dangers inspired concern in the hearts of those writers and consider if we’ve moved past those fears or if we still need to address those issues. You get to see us through their eyes and see if we measure up, fall short, or exceed their thoughts on the future of humanity.

Seeing ourselves through the eyes of others is a challenging and much needed experience! It is a worthwhile thought experiment and a good way to discover personal and societal growth. Vintage SciFi allows us the opportunity to do this and it’s one of the reasons why I love #VintageSciFiMonth and eagerly await January every year! I hope you’ll consider joining us this year and gain some new perspectives from older works.

 

Donald R. Prothero’s “The Story of Life in 25 Fossils” and the evidence for evolution

Credit: Wikimedia Commons- H. Raab (User: Vesta)

I come from a background that was young earth creationist and have gone on a very lengthy journey that went from young earth creationist to theistic evolutionist to old earth creationist (a long time) to tentative endorsement of Intelligent Design and back to theistic evolution/evolutionary creation. In other words, I’ve thought about this a lot. I have several shelves dedicated to books on the topic, and have cycled my share of them through the shelf as well, updating to the latest or most interesting ones as I discovered them. I’m very thankful that I had friends who, despite being creationists themselves, spoke kindly to me as I began to explore this issue and were able to help me out of my crisis of faith when I became convinced geological history could not be contained in 6-10,000 years. So yes, I remain a Christian, and yes, I am convinced of the truth of evolution. One question I get asked about this “Why? Why believe that evolution is true?” I present here one of the several reasons I changed my mind. I write this with the caveat that I am not an expert in this field and am presenting the evidence as well as I can.

Interpreting Fossil Evidence

One of the most famous photographs of a fossil is that of archaeopteryx. Its strange shape captures the eye. The way its neck is twisted in death. The pronounced, clawed “fingers” coming from wings. Wings? Yes, there they are, writ plain in stone: feathers on this clearly dinosuar-looking specimen. Now, some will immediately scoff. After all, haven’t some scientists said that archaeopteryx is not a transitional form between birds and dinosaurs? Yes, so far as I can tell, some have said that. But what such a reaction does not account for is that what this means is that some scientists are saying that archaeopteryx cannot be established as the ancestor of living birds today. That does not mean that it is not a transitional form. Indeed, looking at such a fossil, one can’t help but see it as a pretty powerful example of a bird-dinosaur. I use this example because it illustrates a few of the errors I myself fell into. The first is overconfidence. It was pretty remarkable for me to think that just because I read that some scientists disagree with one interpretation of the significance of a fossil, I could reject the significance of it altogether. Second, it shows the kind of whack-a-mole strategy I and others use(d) to interact with evidence for evolution. Rather than viewing the evidence as a totality, it was much easier to dissect individual pieces and try to poke holes in specific, single strands of evidence. Third, and perhaps most importantly, it illustrates the error of thinking that if a series of steps A through Z cannot be known to the extent that every letter is put in exacting order, the series itself is rejected. That is, not being able to say with certainty whether D came before or after E along that chain of evidences does not entail that there is no chain. It simply means we may have uncertainty regarding specific steps along the chain.

Specific Fossil Evidence

Enter Prothero, and others. Donald R. Prothero’s book, The Story of Life in 25 Fossils is a powerful, accessible account of how 25 famous fossils illustrate the truth of evolution throughout life’s history. Each of the 25 stories of fossils, their discoveries, and how they can be shown to be in a web of life is fascinating. Here, I’d like to highlight a few that I think serve to illustrate the powerful evidence for evolution.

Archaeopteryx 

Yeah, that’s right. I’m going back to the one I already mentioned. Why? Because Archaeopteryx is really just the first of the many, many examples we have of feathered fossils that help illustrate the steps along the way from dinosaur to bird. It would be one thing if that famous bird-reptile were all we had to go on, but the fact is that there are many, many other fossils that have been discovered. Archaeopteryx is just the most famous. But when you start to put these fossils alongside each toher, and line them up with a skeleton of a modern pigeon, for example, you can observe the clear anatomical features that each illustrates. It’s not just feathers, but the elongated fingers of the archaeopteryx and the way they appear to be just a longer version of those same features on dinosaurs like orintholestes. But these are not the only examples, Sinosauropteryx is another example of a feathered dinosaur that exhibits features that would later be found on birds. Yutyrannus has direct evidence of feathers, but also has indirect evidence for a tongue like that of modern birds. The stunning images of preserved Confuciusornis can’t help but call to mind crows and other bids, despite it still having dinosaur-like forelimbs. The more and more fossils are found, and modern technology can analyze their feathers and compare them to modern birds, demonstrating several stages to get to the feathers birds use to fly in the skies of our own time.

Indeed, looking at modern birds, one sees the scales on their feet. Look at the talons of raptors today, and one can see the evidence of transition on their feet, the scales that cover them and their shape, and then look at fossilized dinosaur skin or the way theropod dinosaur feet are shaped. I once wrote this off as God using a good design multiple times, but that again illustrates the error of trying to explain individual features rather than looking at a holistic picture. Looking at the whole, and observing the many fossils that have been found since the famous archaeopteryx, one cannot help but see the evidence for a series of life forms that transitioned from dinosaur to bird.

Odontochelys

Some of the most striking evidence for evolution requires a literal digging (har har). This kind of evidence isn’t flashy; it isn’t the kind of fossil photograph you’ll see on the news, but it is significant, convincing evidence nonetheless. Think about the turtle. It’s not that exciting, but there are a lot of (slow-)moving parts that have to get pieced together to make the turtle work. A retractable neck, a shell for protection, a way to eat–these are just some of them. But how did turtles get a shell? It’s the kind of absurdist story creationists put forward to try to discredit evolution. One day, a reptile of some sort lays an egg, and out pops a creature with a shell! Impossible! Yes, of course it is. But that doesn’t mean a number of gradual steps could not have gotten from shell-less creature to one with a shell. And that is the kind of evidence we do have.

Odontochelys is not going to win beauty pageants. It looks like roadkill in fossil form, and artist depictions don’t make it look that much better. But when you look at the bone structure you can see it there as plain as day: a prototype shell, but one that only covers the bottom of the creature. It is something like a halfway point to the turtle. Prothero notes that the creature provides the answer to the question “How could turtles have evolved from no shell to a full shell?” (148). The way this happened, scientists think, is through the expansion of ribs on the back of the proto-turtle into a shell to protect from predators. Odontochelys essentially shows this in process and mostly settled the debate over where the shell came from. Indeed, tying it together with Eunotosaurus, one can see the same back ribs in transition at an earlier stage. Another fascinating feature of Odo (sorry, had to sneak a Star Trek reference in somewhere) is that it has teeth in the beak still, showing both features of a turtle (beak) and earlier creatures (teeth). It truly is a remarkable discovery because it appears to be a real transitional halfway point between earlier reptiles and turtles. Just think about it abstractly. Strip away the knee-jerk reaction to try to explain away fossils and really look at it. It would be hard to ask for a better transitional fossil.

Ambulocetus

The evolution of whales from walking relatives is one that I fought against intellectually for a while. It just seemed like an absurdist story: life emerged from the water, dominated the land, and then decides to crawl back into the oceans? Ridiculous! I spent quite a while looking over creationist literature on this and laughing about the silliness of evolutionary explanations. Then, I decided to read “the other side” because I wanted to write about it myself. I was astonished. The pictures of a walking mammal gradually lengthening a snout, shifting to flippers, elongating the tail, etc. weren’t just conjured out of nothing. They were based on actual fossil evidence scientists have found. And that fossil evidence shows significant evidence for the lineage of whales over time.

Ambulocetus is special because it shows the increase in size from the earlier specimens, the long toothy snout similar to early whales, ears more suited to being in the water, long fingers and toes that possibly had webbing, and a spine that was able to undulate up and down similar to some whales (275-277). These features place it fairly well between earlier walking creatures and later swimming creatures. It shows features of both, and is a kind of halfway point between the walking mammals earlier and the later whales. Discoveries like Rodhocetus helped solidify that evidence, showing the elongation of the snout that continued towards what whales had/have as well as a tail that was better suited to helping steer in the water. It is just the kind of step-by-step process that is often challenged to be presented in creationist literature, but it has been found! Again, I doubted this sequence very much, in part because I was assured by some creationist literature that such a sequence was purely speculative (with the implication that the fossils didn’t exist) and in part because it just seemed kind of silly (creatures emerged from the water only to return?). But the fossil evidence is quite strong on this lineage and it’s astonishing to see creatures like Gaviocetus that continue the trend. Creationist literature disparages the fossil evidence due to some aspects of it being inference, but the fossils that have been found demonstrate the features in a convincing line of change from walking to swimming. It’s a fascinating look at the evidence for evolution.

Now What?

Okay, so I affirm evolution and I have presented some evidence I think is convincing. But why am I a Christian still? There are many, many answers for that and they’d largely center around theological reasons, but speaking specifically on this issue, the fact is that from before evolution was ever a theory through its earliest genesis in intellectual circles and beyond, Christians have struggled with and debated the topic. It is just false to think no Christians immediately embraced evolution, as many did and saw it as evidence for God’s sustaining providence in all things. George Frederick Wright (1838-1921) is one who noted this synergy and argued against those who charged him with affirming deism, for example. Christianity and evolution are not enemies. Each has evidence to support it and reasons to believe it, and together they form a powerful way of understanding the world.

Reading the Classics: “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens

I have decided to mix in some classics with my constant reading of sci-fi/fantasy, philosophy, theology, and biographies. In order to pick which classics to read, I have largely crowdsourced recommendations of which classic literature they have enjoyed, combining this with lists of major classic works. So yeah, pretty subjective, but we can deal. As I read through the classics, there will be SPOILERS, because I want to actually talk about them. Maybe it will encourage you to read them, or, if you have read them already, you can join in a deeper discussion of these great works. Feel free to recommend your favorites, as well.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

I chose Great Expectations next because I have been wanting to re-read it for many years. I read it in High School and was struck very deeply by both the major plot twist in the novel and its conclusion. I remember it being one of those books I clutched to my chest once I’d finished, thrilled by its depth and beauty. But by now, that was about all I remembered of it. I chose to listen to it this time because I wanted to really absorb it slowly.

Slowly, I did absorb it. Dickens is an author I’ve heard lambasted before for drawing out his novels well beyond what they need to be. Writing in an era where novels were published serially at times, he made sure he got paid to write for as long as possible. There are other authors who did the same, of course. Alexandre Dumas wrote The Count of Monte Cristo (link to my review) serially, and that book is more than 1000 pages in print! But Dumas’s classic doesn’t feel as though every single word was pondered over to add to its length. Great Expectations is much shorter, but still slows at times to an absolute crawl as the verbosity of its prose drags it on. Now, Dickens is a truly skilled artist, so even when you can tell he’s dragging something out, it is still enjoyable to read.

The plot itself is much simpler than I remember. Boy falls in love with girl when they’re young. The girl has been purposely raised to be unkind. He rises above his station unexpectedly. Girl, now a woman, turns him down pretty hard.  Sorrow. Later, they meet and her station seems to have changed. She seems to have feelings now, but it appears to be too late. The end. Of course, there’s much more to it than that, but those are the basics. It’s a tough story that, on reflection, seems to have few if any redeeming characters in it. Pip is mostly carried along by the events surrounding him. The convict, Magwitch, who brings him into wealth and “expectations” has only paper thin motivations. Other characters are just about as narrowly made.

With all of that, I still enjoyed the book immensely. Dickens’s prose is fantastic, and he somehow manages to draw you into the story even without very sympathetic characters on the whole. It’s a great book, but perhaps not as great as I thought it was in high school.

Links 

Reading the Classics– Read more posts in this series as I work my way through classic literature.  Let me know what you think of them! (Scroll down for more.)

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SDG.