A World on Fire by Joe Jackson

A World On Fire tells the story of Antoine Lavoisier and Joseph Priestly. Both men, one an aristocrat and the other a heretic, raced to discover oxygen. It was the middle of the eighteenth century and an incredible number of changes were on the horizon. The last half of the century would see anarchy, war, and multiple revolutions – both scientific and political. Jackson brings this era to life for the reader.

These two scientists are a study in contrast. Priestley was a poor theologian and a Unitarian pastor who studied science, while Lavoisier was a rich atheistic aristocrat who devoted most of his life to science. Priestley studied science to understand God’s grand designs and Lavoisier searched to explain the world without God’s help. Lavoisier schemed and connived in an effort to boost the acceptance of his research and continuously plagiarized other scientists. Priestley sought to give credit to others and did not particularly care about the fame. Priestley followed traditional thought and procedures; Lavoisier overturned the ideas of the past in an effort to make a name for himself.

The most intriguing contrast was in their approach to scientific investigation. Priestley followed Newton’s approach, which dictated that a scientist should gather all of the data and watch for patterns to emerge. Lavoisier approached science from the more modern idea of hypothesis testing. Together, their two methods clashed and intertwined simultaneously to create the chemical revolution. Priestley discovered and isolated oxygen without really comprehending what he had done. After sharing the experiments with Lavoisier, Lavoisier took the next step and quantified the discovery of oxygen. These two bitter rivals needed each other: one to spark the discovery and the other to finish it.

The lives of Lavoisier and Priestley mirrored their times. The world was in upheaval and revolutions were the thing to do. The USA was formed, France revolted, Britain almost revolted over religious oppression and the rest of Europe was filled with massacres and revolts as monarchies toppled throughout the world. Men realized that they could be free with rights and liberties. Priestley and Lavoisier both ended up on the wrong side of revolutions. Lavoisier was executed during the Great Terror and Priestley was forced to flee Britain to avoid an ignominious death at the hands of riotous mobs. Ironically, Priestley fled England the day before Lavoisier was executed at the guillotine.

While Joe Jackson is an unabashed evolutionist, he treats the religious ideologies and teachings with fairness. More interesting than even the two main characters was Jackson’s portrayal of the world in which they lived. If for no other reason, I recommend that you read this book for that alone. At one point in his life, Priestley was to travel from northern Britain to London. He traveled by boat to avoid the highways as it was safer. Shortly before the French Revolution, Lavoisier built a wall around Paris to prevent smuggling of untaxed goods into the city. Britain was a land of drunks: gin was the most common drink. Paris dabbled in every sort of pseudo-science. Jackson paints a lively picture of science and culture at the formation of the chemical revolution.

Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings by Charles Hapgood

I can tell you one branch of science that never interested me: cartography (i.e. the science of map making). Maybe I never cared for cartography because I have a dysfunctional sense of direction. Whatever the reason, a book about maps would not have struck me as fascinating reading. Then I came across Charles Hapgood’s work Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings. This is not your typical book in that Hapgood does not seem to be much of a writer. Rather, he is a professor and researcher who has written about the discoveries that he made with the help of his students. This book is full of facts, figures and diagrams – many of which, I did not understand, but what kept me moving through the book was the point that Hapgood was attempting to make. More on that point later.

Scientific theory dictates that a scientist formulates a hypothesis and then attempt to prove or disprove said hypothesis through controlled and repeatable experiments. Sadly, though, most scientists do not realize that this approach to science is faulty. The fault is not in the methodology but in the assumptions behind the hypothesis. A scientist only creates a hypothesis that fits his worldview (i.e. an evolutionist would never create a hypothesis that had dinosaurs living in the last ten thousand years because it is contrary to his basic assumptions about life). Woe to the scientist who challenges the basic beliefs of science for that challenge is an attack on the very foundations of the systems beliefs.

Hapgood has challenged the scientific community in this incredible book. He decided to study the map of Piri Reis a Turkish Admiral in 1513 AD. Hapgood found the accurate detail on the map fascinating and decided to study the map in class as a tool to teach his students how to research. There were many interesting facts to be found, but most interesting was the level of accuracy in the map. When compared to a modern map, many of the cities were relatively close their actual locations. Further, there were interesting lines and circles drawn on the map to assist the cartographer in placing the locations. Hapgood decided to focus on the circles and attempted to figure out the mathematics used. Hapgood spends quite a bit of detail explaining the reasoning that he and his students used in the study as well as many of the dead ends that they hit. (This is used to give credence to the fantastic claims that Hapgood was planning to make.) No one can accuse Hapgood of faulty research as he has well documented the process that they used. In the end, it was discovered that the cartographer used geometry to draw the map. Not even the Greek maps were this accurate, and we know this since the Grecian maps are extant. How did a Turkish admiral come to use maps that were based on geometry?

Since the geometry the Hapgood overlaid on the map was close but not quite the same as what was used on the map, he investigated further. Then Hapgood discovered that this map was based on a spherical geometry that wasn’t developed until the late 1800’s. How could this map have existed more than three hundred years earlier? Apparently, some race had known and used advanced geometry centuries or millennia ago. None of our archaeology can currently answer this question. The Babylonians might be the source of the base maps and the science, but that seems to be a stretch.

Hapgood ran into a problem though. The usual scientists and historians that studied these maps assumed that they were developed very recently. There were many excuses as to the accuracies of Piri Reis map. So, Hapgood continued to research various maps and discovered a trend. Quite a few ancient maps (even a map carved into stone in China) were far more accurate then they appeared at a glance and they were all made with a similar approach to cartography. When one considered the map carefully, the mathematics could be discovered and they were usually built on advanced math. Even more exciting, as the research continued, Hapgood discovered that many of these maps accurately placed lines of longitude and latitude. Western civilization has only been able to do this for the last two hundred years. How could this be? The icebreaker was the discovery of an ancient map of Antarctica. This map showed a continent that was only half covered in ice. Who could have mapped the southern pole before glaciers had completely engulfed it?

Today, some groups would argue that this proves aliens visited the earth millennia ago. Yeah right. Hapgood is correct in his assumption that an advanced civilization lived on the earth around ten thousand years ago. The modern scientific community cannot accept this conclusion. This runs contrary to the fundamental beliefs of science. According to the established scientific community, men were just leaving their caves ten thousand years ago. They couldn’t have mapped the earth. You see, science treats man’s history through the paradigm of evolution: man began primitive and has advanced steadily to the advanced position he now holds. Hapgood turns that idea on its head.

As a Christian, I find Hapgood’s conclusion to be acceptable. I read this book and see evidence that the earth was mapped either just before or just after the Tower of Babble incident in Genesis 11. This is a challenging read, but worth your time.

Skipping Christmas by John Grisham

Every once in a while, Christmas annoys me. Don’t misunderstand me, I love Christmas. It is a wonderful time of the year. I enjoy the quality time with my family, I enjoy presents and food, but mostly I love giving gifts to my wife and my family. Still, the secularism of Christmas and the stress of increased schedules can be quite frustrating.

In this short novel, Grisham mixes an extremely plausible reality with some over-the-top events. Luther and Nora Krank celebrate Christmas every year with parties, decorations, lots of cards and gifts. With their only daughter in Central America for this Christmas season, Luther Krank has decided to skip the festivities this year. Understand, Luther Krank isn’t really a cranky person, rather the stress of the season (and its associated financial burden) has caused him to forget the point of Christmas.

In an effort to convince his wife to go along with his plan, Luther books a trip for two on a Caribbean cruise. Once they are committed to skipping Christmas, the fun begins…. How do you explain to your friends that you won’t be inviting them to the usual Christmas frivolities? So how do you explain to your neighbors, that you won’t be participating in the usual Christmas activities? And how do you tell your family that you won’t be sending gifts?

The Krank’s neighbors are a bit excessive in their attempts to coerce socially acceptable Christmas behaviors out of the cranks. The peer pressure is enormous. From the neighborhood decorating plans to the Christmas Eve party, the Kranks have become social outcasts due to their refusal to participate – they even make headline news. This drives Luther wild – he doesn’t care about the choices that others make. He just wants to be left alone. Understandable.

Then the Krank’s daughter announced on the morning of Christmas Eve that she was bringing her new fiancée (a foreign gentleman) home that very night. Their daughter has promised her new fiancée that he would get to see how Christmas is “really” celebrated…. Now, they have six hours to make Christmas happen….

In a manner similar to Dicken’s Scrooge, Luther Krank learns the meaning of Christmas. This is an enjoyable read at any time of the year. Fast paced and believable, you will spend the book laughing.