Podcast Recommendations

Podcasting is like radio for the 21st century, and after initial skepticism, I have become a big fan. Some podcasts I especially enjoy are:

Bible for Normal People

Pete Enns and Jared Byas discuss the Bible with open and inquiring minds. Guests have included Rachel Held Evans, Austen Hartke, Miguel de la Torre, Xavier Ramey, Wil Gafney, and dozens of other Biblical and theological scholars, writers, bloggers, preachers, and speakers. Highly recommended for anyone who is on a faith journey but who also appreciates intellectual rigor.

Queerology 

This is another religion-related podcast. The tagline is “A podcast about faith and being.” Matthias Roberts begins every episode by asking his guest(s) this question: “How would you say you identify, and how has your faith helped shape that identity?” It’s a great way to get the conversation rolling! Matthias and his guests primarily talk about faith and queerness with intelligence and compassion.

Clear+Vivid

For the past twenty or so years, Alan Alda’s focus has been on science communication, and that is the primary theme of his podcast. His guests include an array of scientists, professors, actors, communicators, and of course som appearances by his co-actors from M*A*S*H. Enjoyable, informative, and frequently quite humorous.

Dear Hank & John

This is a collaborative venture between Complexly (makers of educational YouTube content like Crash Course, SciShow, and Healthcare Triage, just to name a few) and WNYC (New York Public Radio). Brothers Hank and John Green “answer your questions, give you dubious advice, and bring you all the latest news from Mars and AFC Wimbledon.” How many others podcasts bring you all that? Mostly light-hearted and sometimes very silly. Even though entertainment is the main goal, there is a lot of genuinely good information here. Oh, and Hank likes to talk about poop.

The Anthropocene Reviewed

Another Complexly production, this one is considerably more serious than Dear Hank & John. Author John Green reviews “facets of the human-centered planet on a five-star scale.” In every episode, John brings together two different (and I mean REALLY different) things to review. Examples: Hot Dog Eating Contest and Chemotherapy, Prom and the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment, Tetris and the Seed Potatoes of Leningrad. Be forewarned: John can make you cry. The episode “QWERTY Keyboard and the Kauaʻi ʻōʻō” really had me in tears for both its strange beauty and its sadness.

Foundation or Federation

Sal Khan, of Khan Academy, has been doing daily “homeroom” live streams to help students and their parents manage during the coronavirus pandemic and its attendant school closures. Though I’m neither a parent nor a student (not officially anyway; I like to think I’m always a student because I always love learning), I have listened to some of the homeroom sessions because I respect Sal and appreciate the advice he dispenses. Today someone asked him about his favorite books, and the first thing Sal mentioned was Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. This is a favorite of mine too, and at least in part for the same reason Sal gave: The series paints a distant future in which an age of darkness looms. Though this new dark age is inevitable, one man, Hari Seldon, believes its length and impact can be greatly lessened if a group of scientists, inventors, etc. can come together to forge a Foundation which will serve as a warehouse of knowledge. (This is a conceit also explored in other science fiction works such as Neal Stephenson’s Anathem, Walter M. Miller’s  Canticle for Leibowitz, and others.) Asimov doesn’t gloss over the coming dark age, but his vision is optimistic nonetheless.

As I have mentioned elsewhere, I see Star Trek’s Federation as another optimistic picture of the future. I have also mentioned how impossible it seems, given the current tenor of discourse on nearly any topic both here in America and abroad. This is nothing new; our optimistic Mr. Asimov many years ago said:

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’ (Isaac Asimov, Newsweek, January 21, 1980)

The fear of society’s devolution into dystopia is a mainstay of science fiction. The possibility of it actually happening feels truer today than ever, however—at least more than at any other point in my lifetime to date. Maybe that explains my obsession with ongoing learning. I may not ever zoom around the galaxy on a mission “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before,” but I can do my part to help bring about the Federation…or the Foundation.

Science and Theology

bible and sci-fi

Here are two books I’m currently reading: The Common English Bible Study Bible (With Apocrypha) and The Big Book of Science Fiction. I realize this pairing of books lends itself to jokes, and I didn’t put them together this morning by accident. They highlight a problem that has baffled humankind for centuries, if not millennia. What we are taught to believe does not always mesh with what our minds tell us.

I was raised in a Christian environment, and like many other people, there came a point in my childhood when I noticed a divergence between what I heard in church and what I heard at school. I remember feeling a great sense of relief when our church pastor’s sermon one Sunday promised to resolve the disparity. He told a story about a student not unlike myself who had approached his own pastor with a science textbook and a Bible, demanding to know how to resolve the two. The pastor in the story said, “The Bible is God’s word; the textbook is man’s word. We use the Bible in church to learn about God’s world, and we use the textbook in school to learn about man’s world.”

I was not happy with this answer. It was cleverly said, but resolved nothing. The pastor’s response skirted around the question in an effort to please both sides, but did not do justice to either. I have no satisfactory solution, but I know that asking the questions and searching diligently with open minds for the answers is a worthwhile pursuit. So I will continue to study theology AND science.

Here are two websites that are good places to start: