Episodes

Episode 8 – George Gilder on the Cryptocosm and Life After Google

Today's guest is George Gilder, a prolific author, economist, investor, and techno-futurist.

In the 1970s Gilder wrote a controversial book about gender roles in society, originally titled Sexual Suicide, but later revised and reissued under the title Men and Marriage.

In the 1980s, as an articulator and defender of Supply-Side Economics, he became known as President Ronald Reagan's most frequently quoted living author.

In the early 90s Gilder foresaw the broadband internet revolution and also predicted the development of the smart phone. There is some evidence that he even influenced Steve Jobs. Gilder hosts the annual Telecosm Conference with Steve Forbes, which draws tech leaders, inventors, entrepreneurs and investors from around the world. He also co-founded the Discovery Institute, which is the leading think tank of the Intelligent Design movement.

For over 30 years Gilder has contributed to various publications, including The Economist, Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, Wired, and National Review.

The philosophical framework that unifies much of Gilder's thinking on science and technology is known as Information Theory, which he unpacks and applies in his 2013 book, Knowledge & Power: The Information Theory of Capitalism and How it is Revolutionizing Our World.

His most recent book is 2018's Life After Google: The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy, and is our primary focus in this episode. Gilder is a fascinating character, and I really enjoyed this one.

Before I reached out to George about doing an interview, I posted a written book review of Life After Google as a blog post here. He told me he had read it and enjoyed it, so that was pretty cool.

Links related to our conversation:

Books by Gilder (all Amazon URLs are affiliate links):

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Thanks to LEVV and David Ramirez for the intro/outro music.

Episode 7: Dr. Robbie Castleman on Parenting in the Pew

Today's guest is Dr. Robbie Castleman. She is a professor emeritus of Biblical studies at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, AR, where she has taught for 17 years.

Dr. Castleman is the author of the book Parenting in the Pew: Guiding Your Children Into the Joys of Worship. She first published it back in 1993, building it around seminars she gave (and still gives) in local congregations to help parents be intentional in training their kids how to worship. We discuss some of the theological foundations of worship and why kids need to be in the service instead of being shuttled off to other programming, and we also cover tips and strategies to help you succeed while you parent in the pew. This is truly evergreen material and valuable for any parent of grandparent.

I know that my audience contains a mixture of Christians and non-believers. If you are not a follower of Jesus, I encourage you to reflect on the idea that we all worship something, and that we as parents will train our kids to worship also. It's not a matter of whether we'll teach them to worship, but what that something is.

If you are a Christian and a parent or grandparent, you will definitely enjoy hearing from Dr. Castleman. Although she retains her own theological home base in Presbyterianism, virtually all of her material is applicable to any denomination or worship service.

One note of housekeeping: a few times the audio gets a bit faint; we were dealing with a loud furnace in the background, and occasionally Dr. Castleman spoke softly. As an amateur audio engineer I did my best to remove as much noise as possible and boost her voice, so hang in there.

Also joining our conversation is my good friend Josh, who was last seen on episode 1 and episode 3.

Books by Dr. Castleman:

Parenting in the Pew: Guiding Your Children Into the Joys of Worship
Story-Shaped Worship: Following Patterns from the Bible and History
Interpreting the God-Breathed Word: How to Read the Study the Bible

Other books mentioned in the show:

You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit by James K. A. Smith

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Thanks to LEVV and David Ramirez for the intro/outro music.


Episode 6: Pat Flynn on How to Be Better at (Almost) Everything

book cover - How to Be Better at (Almost) Everything by Pat Flynn

[Make sure and listen to the podcast episode with Pat, and don't forget to scroll down for details on how to WIN a copy of the book!]

Pat Flynn is one of the most interesting people I've ever met, and that fact alone is sufficient proof of the potency of his philosophy–after all, such a response is exactly what one would expect from a person pursuing a lifestyle of generalism.

So what is generalism? It's the idea that you should develop a wide variety of skills–not expert-level, but somewhere in the range of proficient to great–and combine them into something unique to the world. Generalism is better understood as a contrast to its opposite approach: specialization. According to Flynn, you should NOT focus on being the world's best guitarist, weight lifter, accountant, mechanic, or whatever your chosen discipline is. The main problem with specializing is that it sets you up for failure, since success at specialization relies upon comparison to others, and success is either impossible to achieve or, once achieved, extremely difficult to maintain. Specialists, writes Flynn, have “built unhappiness into the system.”

On the other hand, with generalism you are free to pursue many different skills to a point of basic proficiency (or even greatness), without your success depending on comparison to others. You can pursue skills for their own sake, of course (maybe you simply enjoy playing piano but have no need to be the best at it), but the real power comes with “skill stacking”–combining multiple skills into something unique, valuable, and monetizable.

Pat dives deeply into his 5 Key Principles of Generalism:

  1. Skill Stacking > Specialization
  2. Short-Term Specialization | “Good generalists are really just short-term specialists in the sense that they focus on one or two things at a time.”
  3. The Rule of 80 Percent | If 100% is perfection, the greatest in the world, then don't ever attempt to develop a skill beyond 80%.
  4. Integration > Isolation | “Practice only the things you need to get good at, as they pertain to the task at hand.”
  5. Repetition and Resistance | Practice, and “find ways to make it harder on yourself.”

“Skills in combination are more powerful than individual skills by themselves, even if they aren't as fully developed.”

Pat Flynn
Scroll down for details on how to win.

There is a lot here, and Pat's funny and whimsical personality shines through his writing. He really does want to help get you started on the road to success. Peppered throughout the book are some helpful and practical guides: a one-page program for developing physical preparedness, a checklist for practicing daily discipline, a cheat sheet for maintaining focus and meditation, and a one-page spiritual practice plan.

In How To Be Better At (Almost) Everything, Pat Flynn has delivered a philosophically rigorous (yet utterly readable) and intensely practical exhortation to generalize rather than specialize, and I found it enriching, stimulating, challenging and convincing.

Make sure and listen to my conversation with Pat on the podcast!
Subscribe here in your favorite podcast app or use the play controls at the top of this post.

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Books mentioned in the episode:

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Want to WIN a FREE copy of Pat's book?

CLICK HERE TO ENTER

Follow the instructions for ways to earn extra entries!
(You'll be subscribed to my email list, but you can leave at any time after the giveaway.)

If you pre-order the book, go here to get lots of goodies from Pat: www.howtobebetterbook.com

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Thanks to LEVV and David Ramirez for the intro/outro music.

Episode 5 – Darwin’s House of Cards: A Journalist’s Odyssey Through the Darwin Debates by Tom Bethell

We're going to dive right into a really fascinating book that I think you'll find very stimulating and enriching.

Darwinism is a fascinating topic on many levels. On one hand, it's recognized throughout the world as the leading–perhaps the only acceptable–theory of how earth and its inhabitants came to be. Its assumptions permeate the media, popular culture, and the scientific community. Yet at the same time millions of people remain unconvinced of its explanatory power; some even reject it outright–for reasons theological, philosophical, and even scientific.

Evolution. Natural Selection. Common Descent: the press write stories on hundreds of topics in ways that assume a monolithic consensus on these issues among the scientific community. This is often totally innocuous–the media needs a basic canvas of shared assumptions on which to paint, and so a boring and uncontroversial scientific consensus provides that for the story at hand. Yet the truth is thankfully far more interesting and intricate. The scientific conversation over these issues is not like a peaceful pool of undisturbed water, but rather a roiling cauldron of critique and counterattack, not always friendly and certainly not always intellectually honest.

And so I highly recommend Darwin's House of Cards by Tom Bethell. With the eye of an investigator and the explanatory prose of a seasoned journalist, Bethell takes a look at Darwinism from multiple vantage points. He packages a very readable and engaging overview of the battle fronts in the scientific community–past and present–regarding multiple facets of the Darwinian paradigm. What follows is a brief overview of some of the topics he covers, the inconsistencies he points out, and the conclusions we both draw.

The Origin of Life Question

Natural selection, commonly referred to as “survival of the fittest,” is often used to explain the origin of life, but the reality is that the concept assumes self-replicating entities, so it is necessarily downstream of the origin question. Logically, there must be some other explanation for life's origin other than Darwin's signature concept. It's also unequivocally true that nobody has yet to observe natural selection resulting in one species transforming into another. This is immensely significant but often overlooked or outright ignored. More on this later.

Common Descent

This is the idea that all living things descended from a common ancestor. In other words, we're all in a massive family tree, and at the very top is the very first organism. We are all tangentially related. I won't go into the details, but Bethell cites a variety of problems with this view and writes that “…the verdict on common descent must be: ‘unproven.’ The evidence for it is weak. The genetic code is not universal.” (56)

Natural Selection

This is used as the one-size-fits-all solution for literally any problem posed to Darwinism, but modern research continues to show that natural selection–or minor genetic mutations that accumulate over time–is far more likely to be destructive to cellular organisms that to construct new functionality. One way we've been able to test this is with studying bacteria, which have such a short life cycle and replicate so quickly that we have observed millions of generations and monitored genetic mutation in action. Genetic mutation is how bacteria develop antibiotic resistance, for example. Bethell quotes biochemist Michael Behe, who argues that bacterial resistance is “good evidence that mutations can do little more than break things. And occasionally those breaks have a beneficial side effect.” But this process “certainly isn’t building anything.” (76)

As I mentioned a moment ago, natural selection is pulled out to explain away virtually every objection to evolution. It's the skeleton key of Darwinians. Here is Bethel:

“Has any researcher ever been able to show such ‘indefinite departure from the original type’? [sidebar: this means a shift from one species to another.] If not, what reason do we have for accepting Darwin’s theory is true? Meanwhile, natural selection is perpetually affirmed by proponents as the mechanism built into nature that can account for whatever is observed to exist. Its details do not have to be observed. Whatever exists, natural selection explains it. Darwin continues to be the hero of materialism because he ‘discovered’ an unguided mechanism that can be brought on stage to explain everything that exists in biology, without having to resort to the supernatural. So far, however, there is no evidence to show that this process is actually responsible for the fantastically diverse array of species that populate our world. [and here's the money quote:] Natural selection functions in the realm of philosophy, not science. (80-81)

Extinction of Species

Natural selection is the trouble-maker again. The way it's used amounts to circular reasoning. Here is Bethell quoting public intellectual Norman Macbeth: “It is all too easy to say that a species becomes extinct because it failed to adapt, while establishing its failure to adapt only by its becoming extinct.” (86)

Variation Within Species

We've all heard about the Galapagos finches, right? Or the moths that changed colors to match the polluted climate. Or the wolves who evolved to be white in order to blend in with the snow and thus survive. The problem is that these examples are used to make a leap into assertions that this process of minor variations within species also creates new species. But the existing research clearly indicates that species adapt to conditions within a specific range of their “mean” (or benchmark) state, and never go beyond those bounds and become something new. Even when human intervention prompts and guides variation–i.e. animal breeding–it has failed to exceed inherent boundaries. This is more evidence of the classic–and still unanswered–distinction between microevolution, which virtually nobody denies, and macroevolution (or jumps between species). As the environments change, the species inevitably revert back to their starting point.

The scientific term for this is unlimited variation (or indefinite departure). Bethell writes that this “has not yet been observed. If it had been, we would never stop hearing about it. It has been deduced by assuming the truth of the theory that it is meant to confirm. The continued advocacy of indefinite departure by biology department amounts to the triumph of ideology over science; or perhaps, we might say, to the triumph of hope over experience.” (102)

And later he notes that “What the evidence shows us is not indefinite departure but oscillation about a mean.” (105)

Other Topics

Bethell dives into convergence, homology, the fossil record, objections from Intelligent Design Theory, and problems posed to evolution by information theory and what the experts call “complex specified data.” For example, the mathematical probabilities involved with randomly generating even one of the proteins required for life boggle the mind and immediately create hurdles that the average person would identify as insurmountable.

Here's a quick summary of information types. Complex information is something that is statistically unlikely but not necessarily designed, such as a particular hand of cards that gets dealt, or 20 letters arranged in a particular order. Specified information actually contains meaning, or real content in a message. Specified complexity, information that is both statistically unlikely on its face AND which contains meaning, is so unlikely to arise randomly that it should be considered statistically impossible. Or, you might say, to believe it happened due to unguided natural processes requires a certain measure of….faith.

Methodological Naturalism

Finally, Bethell gets to a topic that I've read a lot about over the years and wrestled with where to land on: Does science, by logical necessity, have to be tied to philosophical or methodological naturalism, or can they be extricated from each other? Theologians like John Walton have argued that one can and must embrace methodological naturalism in order to “do science,” all the while keeping it separate from the philosophical variety (indeed, Walton rejects that kind). But I have long worried that this simply cedes too much ground to the secular evolutionists.

There are many outspoken and viciously anti-theistic Darwinists out there. One has to ask: are they that way because they hold to evolution? Or do they hold to evolution because they are anti-theists?

For Darwinists, once the materialist philosophy is assumed and moved past, then of course evolution is true, and natural selection is the default answer to any objection, no matter how strong. Evidence doesn't even matter, because any other answers are dismissed out of hand, a priori. Here's Bethel: “At this point Darwinism becomes little more than a deduction from a philosophy. The science is redundant. There is no need to bother with information theory, enumerate mutations, whether favorable or unfavorable, or fuss about fossils. Darwin’s theory is embedded in its underlying materialism.”

Listen to Francis Crick, one of the discoverers of DNA:

“Your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules… You are nothing but a pack of neurons.” (169)

To me, the main reason Darwinism continues to resist the critiques brought on by reason and evidence is that it’s fundamentally grounded in philosophical naturalism and materialism, not observable phenomena. The fight is not over evidence but epistemology.

As new research in biochemistry and genetics continues to pile up mountain of counter-evidence against natural selection, the responses of fully committed Darwinians have become increasingly ridiculous. They will grasp at any straw, no matter how unlikely, to avoid any explanation that might undermine their secularism. Francis Crick and Richard Dawkins both posited what amounts to an “aliens seeded our planet” explanation, which simply kicks the can that is the original of life dilemma further back in time. Biologists initially scoffed at the supposed “junk DNA” that fills up most of our cells, claiming vindication of natural selection, only to be embarrassed as further research continues to reveal its complex function and incredible value to cellular life.

I'll close with one final observation. It's really fascinating to note that later in his life Darwin appealed to theological justifications for the correctness of his theory. They were standard theodicy-type objections–you know, “problem of evil” stuff. It was clear that Darwin was looking for a reason NOT to believe in God. But the key point is that teleology–or purpose–was there in his theory from the very beginning. It was never purely about science, following the evidence wherever it led. Some Christians, like the BioLogos crowd or theologian John Walton, attempt to separate the science from teleology and from the philosophical naturalism and materialism that too often accompanies it among mainstream secular scientists. As I noted above, I've wrestled with whether I think that separation can actually happen, or whether natural selection is inextricable from materialism. For a while I was open to being convinced they could be kept separate, but I am increasingly convinced they cannot.

Why should we cede epistemology to the Darwinists when their edifice is crumbling? There is no reason to give away the store. We should continue to critique Darwinism–even on its own terms and according to its own premises–and wait for the dominoes to fall. It's only a matter of time.

Bethell's book provides a very straightforward, readable account of the major flaws inherent to Darwin's theory and the significant challenges posed from without. I highly recommend it to skeptics and adherents of Darwinism alike–indeed, to anyone interested in science or philosophy.

Buy it on Amazon.

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Thanks to LEVV and David Ramirez for the intro/outro music.

Episode 4 – Are You A Loser If You Still Read Kids’ Books? (Plus a FREE Customized Booklist)

Does children's literature have any value? Should adults even bother to read it? Jake Nuckolls believes so strongly in the value and power of kid lit that he started a free service to provide customized book recommendations to his friends–and anyone else on the web who manages to find his site. Click the image below to request a personalized book list!

In this episode Jake and I explore our mutual love of kid lit, discuss how we read aloud to our large families, and shamefully admit to some of the classics we never got around to reading.

Here is a list of books and authors that came up in our discussion. Enjoy!

Newberry Medal Winners
Caldecott Medal Winners
C.S. Lewis | The Chronicles of Narnia
J.R.R. Tolkien | The Lord of the Rings
J.R.R. Tolkien | The Hobbit
J.K. Rowling | Harry Potter series
N.D. Wilson | Leepike Ridge
N.D. Wilson | 100 Cupboards Trilogy
N.D. Wilson | Ashtown Burials Trilogy
N.D. Wilson | Boys of Blur
N.D. Wilson | Outlaws of Time
N.D. Wilson | Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl
N.D. Wilson | Death By Living
Kenneth Grahame | The Wind in the Willows
Kij Johnson | The River Bank
Jacqueline Kelly | Return to the Willows
William Horwood | The Willows in Winter
William Horwood | Toad Triumphant
William Horwood | The Willows and Beyond
William Horwood | The Willows at Christmas
Lloyd Alexander | Chronicles of Prydain
Dan Gemeinhart | Some Kind of Courage
Matthew J. Kirby | The Clockwork Three
Susan Cooper | The Dark Is Rising Sequence
Brian Jacques | Redwall
Roald Dahl | Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Roald Dahl | Danny, the Champion of the World
George MacDonald | The Princess and the Goblin
George MacDonald | At the Back of the North Wind
Andrew Peterson | The Wingfeather Saga
Kazu Kibuishi | Amulet series (graphic novel)
Royden Lepp | Rust series (graphic novel)
Matt Phelan | A Storm in the Barn
Matt Phelan | Around the World
Matt Phelan | Bluffton
Matt Phelan | Snow White
Eoin Colfer | Artemis Fowl series
L.M. Montgomery | Anne of Green Gables
John R. Erickson | Hank the Cowdog series
Steve Augarde | The Various
Richard Peck | A Long Way from Chicago
Richard Peck | A Year Down Yonder
Jean Lee Latham | Carry On, Mr. Bowditch
Kimberly Brubaker Bradley | The War that Saved My Life
Kimberly Brubaker Bradley | The War I Finally Won

[This site uses affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you.]

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Thanks to LEVV and David Ramirez for the intro/outro music.

Episode 3 – On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder

The twentieth century was one of the bloodiest and most violent in human history. Looking back at totalitarianism, fascism, and the banality of evil in a time expected to achieve the pinnacle of human progress, what lessons can we learn as we enter the era of Trump, Brexit, Calexit, the rise of new authoritarians like Putin, and the new social pressures imposed on us in the Internet Age?

Check out our discussion of this fascinating, pithy, and brief collection of reflections by Yale professor Timothy Snyder.

Buy it on Amazon.

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Thanks to LEVV and David Ramirez for the bumper music.

Episode 2 – Tom Nelson and The Economics of Neighborly Love

Dr. Tom Nelson is president of Made to Flourish, a non-profit organization focused on helping pastors connect orthodox faith, work, and economics.

Tom is also the senior pastor of Christ Community Church in Kansas City. He has served on the Board of Regents of Trinity International University and is on the leadership team of the Oikonomia Network. He graduated with a master’s of theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary and received his doctorate from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Tom and his wife Liz have two grown children and reside in Leawood, KS.

Join me as I interview Tom about his new book.

Other books/resources mentioned in the show

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Intro music courtesy of LEVV.
Outro music courtesy of David Ramirez.

Episode 1 – How to Think by Alan Jacobs

In this episode Seth and Josh discuss Alan Jacobs' recent book, “How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds.”

Jacobs is Distinguished Professor of Humanities in the Honors Program at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and a Resident Fellow of Baylor's Institute for the Studies of Religion.

He has written widely on the intersection of technology and theology, the pleasures of reading in an age of distraction, a cultural history of the doctrine of original sin, Christians in the academic world, a biography of C.S. Lewis' imagination, and much more.

In describing “How to Think”, Jacobs notes the following:

Thinking is hard, really hard, and there are a thousand forces at work preventing us from doing it. But we can all think better. And if we learn to think together, then maybe we can learn to live together too.

Here are some of my key themes:

  • the dangers of thinking against others
  • the need to find the best people to think with
  • the error of believing that we can think for ourselves
  • how thinking can be in conflict with belonging
  • the dangers of words that do our thinking for us

If you enjoy the show, please subscribe!

Bonus Content: A Conversation on the Imagination of C.S. Lewis – Alan Jacobs, N.D. Wilson, and Doug Wilson

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Intro music courtesy of LEVV.
Outro music courtesy of David Ramirez.

Episode 0 – Intro to the Close Minded Podcast

We are readers. Avid readers of wide-ranging works. Readers who cultivate what Tolkien called “the leaf mold” of the mind, the topsoil of our moral imagination and creativity.

We aren't embarrassed to enjoy “kid lit” and YA fiction, or afraid to read sociological & political works that challenge our assumptions. We enjoy classic novels, hard-boiled crime thrillers, controversial works of theology & culture, economics, productivity & personal development. We are not bound by social or political convention.

We “read for pleasure in an age of distraction.” We consume and engage books for stimulation, conviction & enrichment. We want to stretch our minds, grow in empathy, & experience the joys & challenges of reading good books.

We read with an open mind in order to close it on something.

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Intro music courtesy of LEVV.
Outro music courtesy of David Ramirez.