Considering a Peaceful Science Book Club

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #1

So, as our community continues to grow, it is important think about ways to go deeper. I have a suggestion, but wanted your advice.

Would anyone be interested in a book club?

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(George) #2


(Andy Walsh) #3

What sort of format did you have in mind? The ongoing discussion here is a little hard for me to keep up with, but if there were focused times of conversation that would be more manageable. Would you consider a video chat format, perhaps as a complement or supplement to the forum?

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #4

Great questions. For some people (perhaps you!) I think might be a more manageable and deeper way to engage. It also gives a way to extend into the real world.

I would suggestion we do (in no particular order)

  1. Identify at least 2 people to lead this effort.

  2. Decide if we want to make this either:
    a. an exclusively online / decentralized reading group.
    b. (better) a real world reading group, where you invite people from church, campus, etc.

  3. Pick a book. At the moment, I would suggest one of:
    a. Ishmael, to hear a telepathic gorilla’s take on Genesis (which is remarkably close to mine)
    b. To Change the World, to understand our approach to cultural change, and to understand why political populism fails.
    c. Faith Across the Multiverse (by @AndyWalsh) to see what confident and creative engagement could look like in a scientific world, spanning the language of math, physics, biology, and computer science.

  4. Set a schedule, with milestones in reading and dates to meet (perhaps once a month).

  5. Schedule online conversations here to discuss, even if it is going to be real world reading groups. These would be specified days where a thread would be started, and the goal would be for participants to explain what they are learning, and do some of this “virtually.”

That is all just suggestions. In the end, we’ll trust the two or three people who want to make this happen. I think this would be a good way for some of us to go deeper.

What do you think @AndyWalsh and @gbrooks9 ? Is anyone else up for this?

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(S. Joshua Swamidass) #5

@AndyWalsh, I wonder if this would work to do with ESN and GCF?

(Charles Edward Miller) #6

I would have to say that this is a fantastic idea. Many of you have written fine books and know there are others that have. I hope that others feel as I do. May God bless this project. The books would not only produce fine theology and science but also fine English and perhaps other language texts in time.

(Andy Walsh) #7

I’ve attempted a decentralized book club via ESN in the past, with mixed results. I’d be happy to try again, with (1) an infusion of additional folks via partnership with Peaceful Science and (2) perhaps a different format. I suspect others at ESN would also be supportive.

I attempted a weekly format, but I think that was too ambitious. Monthly might be worth trying, especially if the schedule was clear in advance.

I’m curious how you imagine blending real-world groups with an online component. Would the real world groups meet more frequently, and then the participants of those groups would all convene here once a month for a big chat? Or did you have a different structure in mind?

(George) #8


Can you describe what you did “via ESN”? What was the part of that approach that worked the best?

(Andy Walsh) #9

Sure. I’d pick a book and go through it one chapter per week. I’d post some initial thoughts and discussion questions as a blog post, which would sometimes generate conversation in the comments section. Then every couple of weeks I’d host a Google Hangout for folks to discuss the book face-to-face.

The first book I chose, The War on Science by Shawn Otto, generated the most discussion, possibly because it made the strongest and most controversial claims. The video chats were the most successful; we’d get a small but engaged group and have a lively conversation. Subsequent books generated less interest.

You can see the blog posts here:

Incidentally, ESN stands for Emerging Scholars Network, a ministry of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship to students considering academic careers and those in academic careers. It’s how I met Dr. Swamidass.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #10

I like this model. I also like that you have experience with this.

One thing different this time around could be this forum. I think it works a lot better for engaging people, and can even include “dropins” into the larger conversation.

I say we do just one book first, and and see how that goes.

I’d just imagine it as additional way people could participate. Some people are not going to want to engage with an online forum, and will want the face to face. This also is a good way to get some of us out from behind the keyboard.

Logistically, we’d make a schedule for reading, and around that build a schedule for google-hangouts, forum discussions, and real-world groups. People would participate in what they want to.

Sounds like @gbrooks9, @AndyWalsh, @Charles_Miller are indicating interest. I think we advertise at ESN (perhaps even at the BioLogos forums), there will be more people who are interested.

Given @AndyWalsh’s interest, experience, and recent book, perhaps that suggests one option. I’m sure he wouldn’t suggest this, but I will. What if we do this on his book, Faith Across the Multiverse? Here is a tentative reading schedule:

  1. One chapter each week. Four languages, with four chapters each week, so that would be about 4 months.
  2. @AndyWalsh, author of the book, can master mind it.
  3. For each week, we can kick of a forum post with an excerpt from the relevant chapter. This could either be done directly on the forum, or through an ESN post. Either way works. Even though the whole chapter will be free game, that will give “drop-ins” something to work with. I’d suggest having a designated 24hr window where people would plan to engage.
  4. Once a month, after each language, we’ll have a Google Hangout with the author (@AndyWalsh) to discuss more.

As for why @AndyWalsh’s book, let me give a few reasons. I’ve just skimmed it and was really impressed by its breadth and depth.

  1. It is a fun book, that interacts a lot with comic books and scifi.
  2. There is real depth in the scientific details here, including mathematical formulas. It even gets the basic of information theory right. There will be several opportunities to learn about science on a deeper level, especially if there is discussion with scientists participating too (and there will be!).
  3. This expands the conversation here beyond merely questions about Adam. Though he will come up here, there will be much more talked about here.
  4. We are really lucky to have the author here to engage directly. Also he has experience in this, so he can

What do you guys think? Is this a good plan? If so, I’d suggest a schedule be made, and we do some advertising for a bit, and see who is willing to join up.

(Charles Edward Miller) #11

I believe you have a very good idea, and I like the plan. Edward

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #12

Will right more later, but I think there will be a group of students (HS and college) interested in this. So picking a schedule that fits the academic calendar might be good. Perhaps 2 parts in Fall, and 2 parts in Winter.

What are you thinking @AndyWalsh?

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #13

So I do have a quick update. There is interest from ESN (@hannaheag) in facilitating this among graduate students.

Also, I spoke at two high school camps this week. The staff from one of them was very excited about offering this to the high school students. Still has to be approved.

I wonder if the other high school camp might be interested in including their students too (@Philosurfer?).

There could be a few “real world” groups meeting around the country. This could be fun…

Those that are interested, please start weighing in on the format and details.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #14

So here is a proposed schedule, around @AndyWalsh’s book:


  1. Chapter 0, October 1

Language of Mathematics

  1. Chapter 1, October 8
  2. Chapter 2, October 15
  3. Chapter 3, October 22

Language of Physics

  1. Chapter 4, October 28
  2. Chapter 5, November 4
  3. Chapter 6, November 11

Winter Break: Urbana Mission Conference

Re-Introduction (for add-ons)

  1. Chapter 0, January 28

Language of Biology

  1. Chapter 7, February 3
  2. Chapter 8, February 10
  3. Chapter 9, February 17

Language of Computer Science

  1. Chapter 10, February 24
  2. Chapter 11, March 3
  3. Chapter 12, March 10

Groups could plan on going for all 4 modules, but if needed people can drop in our drop out for the modules that they have time for. If a lot of people join after Urbana, we can redo the first two modules in Spring.

Basic rhythm would be (1) the week starting on the noted date (Monday) to that (Friday) there would be book groups that meet in person (or online). (2) the end of the week, over the weekend, we’d have a forum topic associated with the chapter for people discuss. (3) end of each month, we’d schedule a google chat with Andy to discuss and answer any questions that arise.

This should work great for most school schedules, and gives a large amount of time to get details and participants lined up. There were be several points of engagement, and people can do what works best for them personally. No requirement to be in a real-world group to participate in the conversation.

How does that sound as a starting point?

(Andy Walsh) #15

Well, this escalated quickly. :slight_smile:

You’re right. Still, now that you have suggested it, I am happy to support it.

I am glad to hear that there are already real-world groups who are interested. I think having such buy-in up front will be key to sustaining such a project. I suspect one of the issues with my previous attempts at online book discussions was trying to forge ahead on my own without making sure I had enough fellow travelers alongside me.

The proposed schedule simultaneously makes a lot of sense to me and also seems a little daunting. A chapter a week is a natural format; I’m not sure I’d want to go any faster. And I like the weekly rhythm of excerpt and discussion, and the monthly rhythm of a video chat. And yet the resulting schedule spans nearly 6 months of total elapsed time; that seems like a long time to ask anyone to stay engaged with a single book. The winter break in particular strikes me as a possible point of significant attrition. That’s not necessarily a problem, since as you said folks can pick and choose a subset of modules. Could we start earlier in 2019 perhaps? I do like the symmetry of a module a month, but perhaps pragmatism trumps elegance.

I also have questions about the logistics of posting excerpts. I’m happy to see posting/cross-promotion via ESN. I’m a little concerned that if my weekly blog post turns into a regular book excerpt, that might become tedious for non-participants. Maybe the excerpt could be its own separate post series? Or maybe we find some other way for ESN to draw attention to the conversation. I will probably also need to talk to the publisher about posting that many excerpts.

While we’re in brainstorming mode, I will add that I am coming up on a sabbatical from my day job. The timing has shifted to next spring, and could overlap with the 3rd and 4th proposed modules. My intention for the sabbatical is to do some speaking related to the book. Perhaps some of the real-world groups would be interested in hosting an in-person event of some sort as a tie-in? File that under tenuous proposal and feel free to tell me I am being too bold.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #16

This is currently our tentative plan.

Yes they are. A group of High School students were really excited about it today.

Except I screwed it up the first time. You only have three chapters per section, not four. So the whole schedule is much more reduced.

We’ll talk about this later. But it would usually be a forum post, not a blog post. Blog posts will be used much more sparingly. I have an idea in my mind the best way to do this. i’ll explain to you later.

It will be just one section per chapter (same size as the last one you did). Go talk to them. It will sell a lot of books. They should have no problem with this.

Sounds great. I know we’ll want that in STL. Once again, we’ll talk soon about that. I’ll think about timing.

It’s not too bold. It’s a great book. I want to help you get the word out. When you get famous, pay it forward to help @sygarte get the word about his book, Finding My Faith. Also, look at our nascent manifesto (The @Swamidass Model? What is “seeking peace.”). If you buy into these values, help us make Peace Science a reality. Help us grow this community.

It’s your turn now @AndyWalsh but it will be someone else soon enough =).

It is reduce now. It is just 4 months, and we’ll design it so that people can join half way through (after I talk about it at Urbana). If a lot of people join half way through, we can redo the first two modules in spring.

This is all tentative still. Let’s see how people respond to this. I’ll talk to you soon too.

(Andy Walsh) #17

You’d think since I wrote the book I would have noticed that. Alas, I was too enamored of the elegance of a module a month. Also, the hour is late.

With that in mind, while I have looked at your Swamidass model post, I shall reflect on it further before replying.

(Daniel Deen) #18

I could send an email out to the Crosswise group. I’ll run it by the team and get the word out.

Regardless, I’m definitely interested in reading the book more carefully and I’m sure that I could wrangle a few other faculty members and students for a Concordia Irvine group. Looking forward to it.

(Andy Walsh) #19

OK, sounds good. I look forward to the full explanation.

I appreciate the vote of confidence. Whatever comes from this endeavor, I am happy to pay it backwards, forwards and sideways. I am sure @sygarte’s book will be one worth sharing.

Thanks for getting all of this rolling!

(Taylor Reynolds) #20

Super excited about this! Especially for the potential of having high school students, undergrads, grad students, and profs all interacting over the same topic. Lots of possibilities. Totally down to help facilitate a group around WashU.