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Official, professional site for author, speaker and blogger Karl Giberson. 



Filtering by Category: Writing

Better Things to Do

Karl Giberson

Writer’s Log: Stardate 9/10-2-12

I finished up at Hope International University today. Hope is a tiny school with 500 traditional students, literally across the street from Cal State Fullerton with a zillion students. I was unfamiliar with the school but had a really nice time there and met some great faculty and engaging students.  The school has a really interesting infrastructure that was once an upscale multi-level mall, with expansive outdoor walkways, lots of glass, and interesting venues.  My talks were in an old theatre that could seat 600. 

The theatre was full for my chapel address this morning.  I used my “God Saw that it was Good,” presentation again and it was well received.  A student afterwards told me she thought I had a good “documentary” voice.  I am wondering if I should try to make a short video to promote the book when it comes out--to try out my "documentary" voice.

Tomorrow I start moving again, after being happily ensconced at the Henck’s for 3 days. I am at Westmont for the afternoon, then back to LA to visit my friend Sam Jean (Wyclef’s brother) in Hollywood, and then Sunday I fly to Seattle.

So far this trip has been great, but I miss my wife.  Despite the great opportunity to hear me speak again and again, she somehow had better things to do.


Chilling in CA

Karl Giberson

Writer’s Log: Stardate 7-2-12

I spoke tonight at Azusa Pacific University on Darwin’s embrace of a naturalistic scientific method. It is a potentially controversial topic, but it went really well. I used some material I had developed for the class Epoch Making Events in Science that I had refined over the years. It is interesting that a university has flown me to CA to deliver a lecture that I have given many times to students at Eastern Nazarene College.

Carl Crauthamel came out to hear me. Carl is someone I have developed a relationship with over the past few years. He is remarkable in being one of the last living scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project. He was at Argonne Labs with Enrico Fermi figuring out how to make uranium into bomb material. At aged 92 he is engaged and enthusiastic about issues of science and faith.  He has thought a lot about the relationship between his Christian faith and his work on the Bomb.  I did a piece on him in Science & Spirit years ago titled "Bombs without Qualms."  I thought that title was rather clever at the time.

I have now been in CA for a week. I am over my jetlag and cooling my heels for a while at the home of Bill and Anita Henck, good friends—and gracious hosts--from a few years ago at ENC.  Anita is an administrator at APU and loves it out here.  (I can see why—I am writing these words on her patio in 70 degree weather, listening to birds chirp and admiring a small mountain range that seems to wrap around the development where she lives.)

Meanwhile, the orderly suitcase my wife prepared so carefully has become a wreck. I am not sure what to do about that. Maybe I should fed ex it back to Hingham for repacking. 

Planting Seeds

Karl Giberson

Writer’s Log: Stardate 5-2-12

I got so distracted last night I forgot to put up a blog. I was distracted chatting for several hours with Dean Nelson about future book projects.  We have two ideas for future collaborative projects and were trying to get them clarified to see if there  actually was a book proposal hidden inside them.

The gestation process for books can take a long, long time. It starts with an idea—let’s write a biography of John Polkinghorne, I said several years ago—but that is just the beginning.  All kinds of other questions immediately emerge: Who is the audience? What level will it be written at? How long will it be?  How will you approach the subject? An “idea” for a book is a long ways from a book proposal and very different books can emerge from the same idea.  Thinking all these thngs through is important groundwork.

One of our book ideas—which we are calling Looking for God in all the Right Places—is over a year old but we  haven’t had the time to get started, partly because I have had too many other projects underway.  The other one—a biography of another interesting science and religion personality—is relatively new.

I wonder how long it will take until either of these projects gets underway…

The Joys of Anonymity

Karl Giberson

Writer’s Log: Stardate 4-2-12 

One of the most draining aspects of speaking tours is the pressure of being constantly “on” for hours at a time. For most of the past few days I have been either lecturing, running workshops, answering questions, signing books for people, talking to prospective authors about the publishing world, or checking my calendar to see if I am available for some event somebody wants me to speak at.  (And I am just so sure that I am available for the engagement in Paris, even though it doesn’t have a date just yet.)

This is exhilarating, of course, and I consider myself fortunate to be able to have these experiences. There are few things as gratifying as have someone tell you that your book helped them with some difficult questions or your talk really got them thinking. 

I have been thinking about this for the past hour or so as I sit in the San Francisco Airport for a three-hour layover, en route from Chico to San Diego.  I am sitting at a little table in a busy part of the airport; people are hustling back and forth around me.  A father just came and got a high chair from beside my table. I can see—and hear—the two kids across the way, occasionally screaming for no reason. I hear snippets of conversations from people around me. Some guy with hair to his waist is speaking with an accent to a bald guy—he sounds German.

But nobody is talking to me. I am just some disheveled guy with his hands stuck to his keyboard and a charger plugged into his laptop. I am “off” for a while and it is so relaxing.   In 4 hours I will be having dinner with Dean Nelson and I will be on again. But I think my battery, like that in my laptop, will be at least partially recharged by then.

Part One Ends

Karl Giberson

Writer’s Log: Stardate 3-2-12

Part one of my trip is complete.  I gave a plenary talk in the sanctuary of the Bidwell Presbyterian Church tonight, as the final event of their conference here, and the kickoff of another conference.  It was the first time I was able to do the full presentation of the talk I gave at St. Chrysostom’s: And God Saw that it was Good.  I was able to project my images, take all the time I needed and have a Q & A with the audience afterward.  I love Q & A with audiences and always find that is the best place to see what they think. If there are no questions, they were bored and just want you to let them go home.  If there are lots of hostile questions, they didn’t like you but want to persecute you before they leave. But, if there are lots of thoughtful questions pushing for elaboration of key points then you know the presentation went well.

My presentation went well. The audience stayed for 45 minutes and, after they were dismissed, several came and got me to sign books or answer more questions.  A couple people said they could hardly wait for the book, which is coming out from Paraclete in September.

Tomorrow morning I head off to the gigantic Chico airport, fly to San Francisco for a long layover, then fly to San Diego and rent a car. If all goes well I will have dinner with Dean Nelson, one of my most entertaining friends, tomorrow.

The Man in Chico

Karl Giberson

Writer’s Log: Stardate 2-2-12

Some days I earn my keep.

I am in Chico, CA at a really interesting conference called “Scientists in Congregations.” I am feeling quite jet-lagged. The conference has about 80 people from 36 churches across the country, all of which have embarked on projects to try and help their congregations engage science at a meaningful level.  The typical church has sent a pastor and a scientist to this conference, so there is a really interesting mix of people.

My day started with a plenary talk to the group, which went very well and got me a few invitations to speak at churches around the country—in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Nebraska.  I haven’t been to Colorado for ages so I hope that works out.  And then I ran four 45 workshops in the afternoon. Although draining, the conversation was most engaging. It was particularly encouraging that every single participant was strongly committed to addressing anti-science in the church. None of them were inclined to just ignore the problem of creationism, as most evangelical churches do.  These Christian leaders understand that ignoring the problem of creationism is one of the reasons why bright young people are leaving evangelical churches.

I was particularly encouraged by several people who sought me out to tell me how much they enjoyed Saving Darwin. They had all received a signed copy of the book as a part of the project and some of them have just finished reading it.  That remains my favorite of the books I have written and there is nothing quite so satisfying as having appreciative readers. More than one person talked to me for quite a while about writing and one aspiring writer had dinner with me.

(I had a short break before dinner when I responded to editorial comments about my piece for the Harvard Icthyus, got the ball rolling for a book signing for my forthcoming book, The Wonder of the Universe, and got a few details ironed out for my upcoming talks.)



Jamee's blog

Karl Giberson

Writer's Log: Stardate: 2-1-12

Several of my students in the writing workshop have started blogs about their work in the class. This one went up today, and it is really nice.  Here is the opening and you can to the link below to see the rest, together with a disturbing photograph.

"There is a line in my town, and it goes straight across the middle. Unlike most lines in most towns–ones dividing sides of the road, ones graffitied through stop signs by some restless delinquent–you cannot see this line. Visitors wouldn’t stop and wonder at its existence, absentminded teens wouldn’t walk one foot in front of the other on it to test their balance. Most people, especially those who call my city their home, would deny its existence to anyone who asks.

There is a line in my town, and even if you can’t see it, you know immediately when you’ve reached the other side. Things are less flashy and brand-name. No more malls, movie theaters or chain restaurants. The houses lack fresh paint and the streets aren’t clean. Depending on where you’ve crossed, everything might be solely in Spanish. There isn’t a white person in sight, except one or two homeless men walking with cigarettes hanging from chapped lips. You wouldn’t recognize this half of Tyler, Texas in the slightest if you’ve only been on the other side.

Writer's Log Supplemental: Stardate: 2-1-12

I am in Chico, CA. It is 1:30 in the morning by my clock.  I am exhausted.

The Joy (and work) of Writing

Karl Giberson

Writer's Log: Stardate 31-1-12

Tonight in my writing workshop, we are going to talk about writing. Last week, between the syllabus, minutia of various sorts, and a  visit from a great journalist, we didn't get to it. Writing is both a joy and a chore and I hope I can help my students see that the latter is just the work you do to get to the former.

This piece was in the Chronicle of Higher Ed today.  I plan to use this for the "chore" part.

Having Trouble Getting Yourself to Write? 9 Tips

by Gretchen Rubin

The most challenging aspect of being a writer? Writing. When I find myself struggling to be productive or creative, I remind myself of these nine tips.

1. Write every day. Staying inside a project keeps me engaged, keeps my mind working, and keeps ideas flowing. Also, I find, perhaps surprisingly, it's easier to do something every day than to do it some days. (This may be related to the abstainer/moderator split.) "You're just grinding out material," a friend protested. "But that's when I have my best ideas," I answered.

2. Even 15 minutes is long enough to write. For years I told myself, "If I don't have three or four hours clear, there's no point in starting." Now I realize that if I'm deep in a project (see #1), even a short bit of time is long enough to get something done.

3. Remember that good ideas often come during the revision stage. I've found, for myself, that I need to get a beginning, middle and an end in place, and then the more creative and complex ideas begin to form. So I try not to be discouraged by first drafts.

4. Don't binge-write. Pulling all-nighters, wearing pajamas for days, abandoning all other priorities to finish a project -- these habits lead to burn-out. Also, if you do all your writing at the last minute, you don't get the benefit of #3.

5. Keep a commonplace book, inspiration board, scrapbook or catch-all box to keep track of ideas and images. Not only do such collections help you remember thoughts, they create juxtapositions that stimulate creativity. My catch-all document for happiness is 500 pages long, single-spaced. When I need a mental jolt, I just skip around and read random sections. It always helps.

6. Consider physical comfort. Do you have a decent desk and chair? Are you hungry? Too hot or too cold? (I now wear fingertipless gloves at my desk, because my hands are always so cold; they make me so happy.) Do you jam your shoulders up to your ears as you write? Is the light too dim or too bright? Make a salute: If you feel relief when your hand is shading your eyes, your desk is too brightly lit. Being physically uncomfortable tires you out and makes work seem harder.

7. Down with boredom. When my college roommate was writing her Ph.D. thesis, she kept a sticky note on her computer that read, "Down with boredom." She'd vowed to construct her thesis in a way that eliminated everything she found boring. When I'm working on a book, I repeat that mantra. If something's boring to me, I probably can't write about it in an interesting way. I need to find a way to make that subject interesting (Secret of Adulthood: If you can't get out of it, get into it), or find a way to leave it out altogether.

8. Stuck? Go for a walk and read a good book. Virginia Woolf noted in her diary: "The way to rock oneself back into writing is this. First gentle exercise in the air. Second the reading of good literature. It is a mistake to think that literature can be produced from the raw."

 9. At least in my experience, the most important tip for getting writing done? Have something to say! This sounds obvious, but it's a lot easier to write when you're trying to tell a story, explain an idea, convey an impression, give a review or whatever. If you're having trouble writing, forget about the writing and focus on what you want to communicate. For example, I remember flailing desperately as I tried to write my college and law school application essays. It was horrible -- until in both cases I realized I had something I really wanted to say. Then the writing came easily, and those two essays are among my favorites of things I've ever written.

To Write or Not to Write

Karl Giberson

Writer’s Log: Stardate 30-1-12

Once upon a time, just over ten years ago, I had to seek out writing opportunities. Because I wanted to write I said “yes” to every opportunity. I reviewed books and wrote essays for journals with circulations measured in the hundreds; I wrote science columns for the local newspaper, and contributed to edited volumes that nobody was ever going to read. I wrote extended encyclopedia pieces for Salem Press, the only thing that actually paid. I remember getting my first check for $125 and wondering if that made me a professional writer.

I have to be more selective now, and I turn down a lot of writing opportunities today that I would have grabbed with enthusiasm 20 years ago.

This morning I finished a piece for Harvard's Icthyus magazine. This is a Christian journal that seems to be staffed by undergraduates. (I have a soft spot for undergraduates who work this hard.) They sent me a diplomatic inquiry and offered a lot of flexibility on my topic so I said yes, despite feeling too busy to take on more assignments. My piece was 3000 words long and distilled from a series of shorter pieces chronicling some of my adventures on the battlefields of science and religion. The extra length let me put a lot of things together in a fresh treatment that I hope they like. I took this assignment because of the audience, a consideration that I pay more attention to these days. I am hoping that this might build a bit of a bridge to Harvard.  I have never been invited to speak there.  And they turned me down when I applied for a job.

I have another assignment I am pondering. Christian Century has asked me to review Alvin Plantinga’s important new book: Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism.  I should accept this assignment but I am behind on my Adam book, so I am not sure. I have never done anything for Christian Century and it is always fun to have a new prestigious publication on your cv.  I have written just one piece for the NY Times but that is enough to say on my bio that I have “written for many leading publications, including the NY Times.”  I did turn down a book review for Christian Scholar’s Review last month. I did several things for them in the 90's.

Getting used to fielding these sorts of requests is a part of being a writer. I can’t accept every offer I get any more. I like this problem better than my old one--who can I write for?

Launching a New Project

Karl Giberson

Writer’s Log: Stardate 29-1-12

Today was the official launch of our "Scientists in Congregations" project at St. Chrysostom's Episcopal Church. I actually had to preach--no laughing or rolling of eyes. I used the introduction to my forthcoming book with Paraclete Press: Seven Glorious Days.  I am really excited about this book, which comes out in September. It grows out of the final chapter of The Language of Science and Faith.

We also started a "Sunday School Class" at St. Chrysostom's, discussing science and religion. I was nervous about this and unsure of how many people would come. We were expecting 7 or 8 and had set up a table around which we would gather.  We had 23 people, including a former student of mine from ENC (Go Jack Keller!). Talking about science and religion in a more moderate Christian community is so much more relaxed. In the 27 years I aattended a Nazarene church I was never asked once to speak on science and religion, although my various pastors were consistently supportive of my work. But they knew that even a whiff of evolution in a Sunday sermon would send some parishioners to the exits or—even worse—to the nearest Baptist church.  It is no wonder that evangelicalism continues to struggle with modern science, when even discussing it is perceived as threatening.  

In a later blog I will tell the story of how the sequel to The Language of Science & Faith, which has been a very successful InterVarsity book, is being published by Paraclete Press, a Catholic publisher.




Loving my enemies (writing that is)

Karl Giberson

Writer’s Log: Stardate 28-1-12

I have to share this “review of a review” that I found today by accident. PZ Myers is a popular, articulate, bombastic and irreverent science blogger with a loyal following. He is a also a biologist although, as near as I can tell, hasn’t made any real contribution to that field beyond teaching at a university (which is an important contribution, of course.)

Myers is an enthusiastic atheist who thinks everyone who believes in God is out of their mind. He lumps NIH director Francis Collins together with the crazy creationist jailbird Kent Hovind.  Like so many of the outspoken atheists he intensely dislikes people like me, who suggest that there is a middle ground between the science-rejecting nonsense of Ken Ham and the sola scientia of Richard Dawkins.

This particular piece was titled “Ken Ham versus Karl Giberson—should I care who wins?”

Here are PZ’s comments on the NY Times review of our book, The Anointed:

What made me laugh was that both the book and the review have infuriated Ken Ham, one of the chief targets of the argument against these evangelical know-nothings. Oh, Ken Ham is spitting mad.

Recently, two AiG staff members reviewed a book entitled The Anointed, co-authored by a writer who is well known for compromising the pagan religion of millions of years and evolution with God’s infallible Word.

If you follow the creationist movement at all, one of the clear messages is that atheists like me might be the imps of Satan, but we’re mostly irrelevant to their concerns. We offer no serious temptations to Real Christians™. No, the real dangers are those heretics who still promise all of the good rewards of Christianity — eternal life, paradise, good buddy Jesus, that sort of thing — yet do so without demanding the rigors and trials of pure Biblical literalism and fundamentalism. They offer an easy route out of their specific sect, and the fear is that they will substantially erode the faithful away.

You can read the rest of it here. It’s quite entertaining.


Contractual Obligations III

Karl Giberson

Writer’s Log: Stardate 27-1-12

The book proposal I created for Saving Adam—then called Creating Adam—was 80 pages long.  My agent encouraged me to find a cool picture for the front and make it into a real presentation. It was a literary masterpiece, a work of art...

The first version came back to me though—and this is one of the valuable things an agent can do for you—needing more work. Despite my best efforts I had sprinkled a few grammatical mistakes throughout--a really bad thing to do in a book proposal; I had repeated myself--another bad thing; and I had done some other clunky things. I was told to “do it over.”  And by now my agent had figured out that I can write and edit really fast so he said “And I don’t want it back in just a couple days.”  Absent that warning I would have sped thru it and just fixed the most glaring mistakes.

So I polished it again, working in gazebo in the warm summer, until it was ready. But, at 80 pages, it was too hefty. So we decided not to include the chapter I had written, keeping just the Introduction. which was pretty long and did a good job of laying out the plan of the book. My agent was nervous that an editor might look askance at such a weighty tome and maybe not want to read it.

So off it went. To Simon & Shuster and De Capo; to HarperCollins and Alfred Knopf; to Palgrave-Macmillan and Beacon Press; to Doubleday and Basic and Norton and Free Press and other publishers that I would never have thought to sent it to.

We crossed our fingers and waited, hoping that all these big publishing houses would soon be in a bidding war to offer Karl Giberson a contract.


More silence.

Normally, silence would be nerve-wracking, but I was finishing two other book projects and was actually OK with the delay.  But in the back of my head, I was getting  worried. What if nobody wants to publish my book?

Odds and Ends

Karl Giberson

Writer’s Log: Stardate 26-1-12

Writing has so many small pleasures and today was full of them.

My day started by returning an op-ed to David Hicks, one of my writing students at Gordon College. He wrote a thoughtful piece about leadership that he is submitting to a contest run by the Washington Post. Gordon is, I believe, the only Christian college in the country invited to participate in the contest, thanks to the connections of the new president, Michael Lindsay.  David’s piece, which I edited just a bit for him, was an interesting speculation about the power of juxtaposing the resources and know-how of his father’s generation, with the passion and idealism of his own.

Then Carolyn Meckbach, another of my students, sent me an animated email message about getting an op-ed accepted at her hometown newspaper. I had nothing to do with that but I love watching my students get excited about writing.

My day ended with an email from Dean Nelson, alerting me to some great comments that Scot McKnight made about our book Quantum Leap, on his popular blog, Jesus Creed.

Here is a snippet of his review:

"Last year when I was speaking at Point Loma in San Diego — an incredible campus — I spent a little time with Dean Nelson and he told me his book on John Polkinghorne was coming out. I had not read much Polkinghorne at the time, I had read about him, I had read snippets, and what Dean was describing was just the sort of book I was interested in reading. Dean and Karl Giberson have written just the book: Quantum Leap: How John Polkinghorne Found God in Science and Religion (Monarch, 2011). I really enjoyed this well-written, engaging book and commend it heartily to you if you care to probe science and faith through the lens of one person’s life."

My thoughts did turn to Adam and Eve briefly today, while I was watching Misrepresentation tonight at Eastern Nazarene College. The most offensive part of that disturbing documentary about female images was a anti-feminist quote from Pat Robertson. It got me thinking about the role that Christianity plays in this complex and very serious social issue. Robertson is from the lunatic fringe of Christianity, of course, so I know he does not speak for many Christians. My intuition tells me that Christianity, on balance, is probably more a force for good in addressing the exploitation of women.  The Christian West, for all its flaws, seems have done better historically than some other cultural traditions. But I am not sure, especially as we enter the third millennium.

Everyone should go see this film though.  

Living in a no-man's land

Karl Giberson

Writer’s Log: Stardate 25-1-12

I just received an email from the Templeton Foundation with some news about the book I published last year with my  good friend and journalist par excellence Dean Nelson: Quantum Leap: How John Polkinghorne Found God in Science and Religion. The Templeton Foundation provided a modest grant that supported the writing of the book, some of which covered Dean’s expenses when he spent time in England, hanging out with Polkinghorne.  We also got five thousand dollars apiece for our efforts in writing.

The Templeton officer in charge of our grant added an incentive to our grant: for each short piece that Dean or I placed in a major media outlet—up to ten total—we would receive $1000.00. So Dean and I went on a writing race to see who could get the most incentive money.

I lost the writing race—but I did get $4000 of the incentive money which is pretty good considering that Dean is a much more talented journalist than I am. The news today was that my last piece about Polkinghorne in the Huffington Post was approved for the final incentive in the grant.  (

The goal of the incentives was, of course, to promote the book. Unfortunately there is no simple way to connect cause and effect to see how the popular pieces helped sales. I am convinced that the widely read short pieces Dean and I published were significant, however.  Right now, for example, Quantum Leap has an amazon ranking of 40,000, which is respectable and indicates steady sales (there are millions of books on the list). Polkinghorne's recent book, Testing Scripture, which came out around the same time, has a ranking of 340,000, in contrast.

The first printing of Quantum Leap has sold out in less than a year and I think sales have surpassed 4000 copies--indicating that the publisher is pleasantly surprised.  This is more copies than my books Oracles of Science or Species or Origins sold, after a decade.  I think, however, that Oracles of Science could have sold more copies if we would have promoted it in this way.

After years in this business I am convinced that many, probably most, and possibly almost everybody who writes scholarly books does not understand the value of the popular media. If every project had this kind of promotion the general awareness of the science and religion dialog would increase dramatically. There is a sort of "no-man's land" in between traditional journalism and scholarly writing.

And that is where I live now.

Contractual Obligations II

Karl Giberson

Writer’s Log: Stardate 24-1-12

My friend Robert Wright, who is a way more successful author than I am, once described a book proposal to me as a “ten minute argument made to a publisher explaining why they should give you $50,000 to write a book for them.”  The editors who read book proposals are very busy and most proposals they see are discarded. The goal is to make sure they read enough of your proposal that they get to see why your book is interesting. You have to be paranoid about doing something up front on the proposal that leads them to throw it away—make a grammar mistake, sound boring, show you have no idea how the publishing industry works.

A book proposal has several elements: You have to explain why this is a great topic and show that other books that are similar—but not too similar—have been successful. My agent was helpful here, because some of the books I compared to Saving Adam had not done well. You don’t want to remind your potential publisher that there seems to be no audience for your topic.  So I took those books out of my proposal.

You have to make an argument that you are the right person to write this book. This is a combination of showing that you have a “platform,” which is basically a ready-made audience already interested in what you might have to say. You have to show that you know enough to pursue the topic respectably. (This was always a concern of mine. My Ph.D in physics didn’t really prepare me to write science & religion books, but no publisher ever seemed to make a fuss about that.) You have to show why this is a book and not an article, which you do with an elaborate table of contents that provides an abstract for every chapter.  And finally, and most importantly, you have to give them a written introduction and one chapter.

The written materials you submit establish that you can write so they need to be polished—as polished as a final draft. I worked my butt off on the sample chapters.  On the upside, however, these are materials that will go into your book. I had 15,000 words or so ready before I got word that I had a publisher for Saving Adam.

My book proposal ended up being 80 pages long.

Writer’s Log Supplemental: 24-1-12

I just opened a letter from InterVarsity Press informing me that my book The Language of Science & Faith (with Francis Collins), has been purchased for printing, in English, in both the UK and India.  This is in addition to a Korean language version that was launched a few months ago.


Contractual Obligations

Karl Giberson

Writer’s Log: Stardate 23-112

I just signed my contract(s) for my book Creating Adam, now titled Saving Adam. It’s amazing how long it takes to dot the “i’s” and cross the “t’s.”

Signing this contract is the final step in a long process that, for me, is actually the first time I have gotten a contract in a “regular” way. My previous 8 books all had some oddball path—usually a shortcut— to their respective contracts. Here is the route that Saving Adam took from “idea in my head” to “contract on my desk.”

I decided in the spring of 2011 that I wanted to get a literary agent, to help me with my writing career. I recommend this for everyone, whether you are an aspiring or seasoned writer. The agent takes a commission from your royalties—typically 15%—but I think it is worth it. 

I made some inquiries and found two agents who were interested in me. The rule of thumb is that you don’t want to be your agent’s biggest or smallest client. If you are the biggest client you should get a more high-powered agent. If you are the smallest client, you might not get much attention. But this is just a rule of thumb. There is no reason why a powerful agent would not take a small client, if she or he thought the small client would soon be a big client.  John Grisham was once a small client and his first book—A Time to Kill—sold just 5000 copies until his second book—The Firm—took off and made him a household name.

I gave each of my two potential agents a description of where I wanted my writing career to go and a list of book projects that interested me. Both agents were interested but I decided to sign with David Patterson of Foundry Media. When we chatted on the phone, I felt comfortable and very much on the same wavelength with him. There is no magic formula for choosing an agent.

David recommended Saving Adam as my next book. (I was kind of hoping he would go for the book patterned after The Screwtape Letters—where the devil undermines Christianity by making Christians stupid, rather than immoral—but he thought that should wait.)  So I started working on a book proposal for Saving Adam.

And that ended up being a lot of work…

I Can't Resist...

Karl Giberson

Writer's Log Stardate 22-1-12

Like most writers, I cannot resist checking the amazon sales ranking of my books every so often--like every day. I remember the day the op-ed I wrote with Randall Stephens about The Anointed came out in the NY Times. It was great watching the Amazon ranking rise from 20,000 to better than 1000.  (There are more than four million books ranked so getting a scholarly work that high is a big deal.)

Today I noticed that Quantum Leap had jumped from its normally sedate ranking of 200,000 to 10,000.  Such a jump usually indicates some news has just come out, like a review or a mention on a prominent blog. I googled a bit to see if I could find something and found the following comments about the book. I doubt this blog caused the ranking increase, but I must say I was quite flattered by the comments.  Here they are, from a blog called "The Dawg Run."

There are few books that you read and can remember clear as day 20 years later. Dr. Karl Giberson's Worlds Apart: The Unholy War Between Religion and Science is one of those books for me. So when I found out that Giberson was working with my personal friend and hero Dr. Dean Nelson on a book about world-renowned physicist-turned-Anglican-priest Sir John Polkinghorne, I marked the release date on my calendar. As anyone who has read Nelson or Giberson's work would expect, it is wonderful.

This is a great book for those, like me, who sometimes feel as if they are caught between the scientific ignorance of the faith community and the philosophical arrogance of the scientific community. Quantum Leap examines not only the spiritual and scientific thoughts and beliefs of Sir John Polkinghorne but the man himself as well.

In typical Nelson / Giberson fashion, the book takes head on the hard questions of the existence of God, the purpose of prayer, miracles and the afterlife while leaving plenty of room for detractors such as Stephen Weinberg, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan, and E. O. Wilson.

It is a great read for anyone interested in approaching the issue of a scientifically informed spirituality and/or a spiritually informed view of science.

Do scientists understand science journalism?

Karl Giberson

Writer's Log Supplemental: 21-1-12

This is worth reading twice.

Over at the Guardian, Ananyo Bhattacharya, the chief online editor of Nature, answers some common criticisms that scientists have of science journalism.  His piece, called ”Nine ways scientists demonstrate that they don’t understand journalism,” is pretty tame, though, and I think a lot of us would agree that science journalists must write their stories using certain conventions.  Bhattacharya defends the following conventions that, he says, are criticized by scientists (go to his piece to see some others):

  • Starting a story with the important results
  • Using limited space because of readers’ limited attention spans
  • Using headlines that will draw attention to the study
  • Quoting scientists who disagree with the highlighted research
And so on.  I have a beef with one of his responses, though:

The story didn’t contain this or that “essential” caveat.

Was the caveat really essential to someone’s understanding of the story? Are you sure? In my experience, it’s rare that it is. Research papers contain all the caveats that are essential for a complete understanding of the science. They are also seldom read. Even by scientists.

Yes, journalists don’t need to put in every caveat that we’re required to add in the discussion, but some of them are important.  Take the use of limited sample sizes to demonstrate the existence of “gay genes” or “depression genes” for example, or the fact that early reports of these genes (later found to be bogus) were limited to single lineages, or used associated markers that were reported by the press to be the genes themselves. These are important problems, not trivial caveats.  And the caveats weren’t seen in most of the breathless news stories about “genes for gayness” of “genes for depression.”

Second, highlighting potential problems brings home to the reader that science is an ongoing enterprise, that no study is perfect, and, most important, all scientific truths are provisional. Too many journalists accepted the “arsenic bacteria” story, or the existence of the Darwinius masillae fossil as a missing link between the two major groups of primates.  A finding can be wrong, or can be revised.

Why aren’t such caveats, or such dissent, presented more often? Well, yes, they could bog down a story, but often I think that journalists aren’t sufficiently trained in science to recognize when a problem is serious. Also, though Bhattacharya rightly emphasizes the need for science journalists to summon dissenting voices in their stories, many journalists are either too lazy to do this or don’t know who to call.  There are some notable counterexamples.  Carl Zimmer does a good job of this at The New York Times, and Faye Flam at The Philadelphia Inquirer.  When reporting a new discovery, scientists should routinely search for dissent,  and should know enough to determine whether that dissent is significant.

So my main complaint about science journalists is fourfold.  First, they often aren’t trained sufficiently to write about science in a meaningful way.  It would be nice if the journalist had a degree in the subject described, preferably an advanced degree.  A journalist should be able to read the paper under consideration and understand it well.

Second, lazy science journlists often just reproduce press releases produced by universities instead of reading a paper and dissecting it themselves. Press releases are not journalism, but puffery.

Third, science journalists are often too lazy to do a proper job of vetting a story (this is related to the preceding beef).

Fourth, journalists often don’t seek out dissent, or make do with a token and meaningless dissent.

On Being a Public Figure

Karl Giberson

Writer's Log: Stardate 21-1-12

I just responded to this interesting query from Iran:

"I am a PHD student in Iran. My field is philosophy of religion. I am going to choose a subject for my thesis. After consulting with my professors, I decided to set my thesis in the domain of your thoughts. So I would feel honored if you recommend me a topic."

I would love to know the back story of this request.  I have, over the years, had some positive interactions with Islamic scholars, but those have been few and far between and I wonder how my work is on the radar of this graduate student. A book published in Iran titled Can Science Dispense with Religion? has a contribution from me. And when I was the editor of Science & Theology News I actively sought contributions from Islamic scholars. I even co-wrote an editorial with a fellow Islamic academic immediately after 9-11 to make a small statement that our cultures were not at war with each other, regardless of what was happening in the airport security lines.  I also have seen my work quoted in some publications in Iran. But these are hardly enough to explain this inquiry.  I really can't imagine this grad student saying to his advisor "I want to write a dissertation on science & religion" and his advisor telling him "Email Karl Giberson." 

Perhaps the best explanation is that this grad student has emailed 35 scholars in Western countries and I am merely the first one that has responded.






New Adventures

Karl Giberson

Writer’s Log Stardate 20-1-12

I finished my syllabus today for my writing workshop that starts next Tuesday. Since this is the first time I have taught a writing class I feel like I am going to have to make it up as I go along. I must confess to some nervousness about doing this. Most people who teach writing majored in something that required them to take writing classes. The last writing class I had was in 1974, when I was in the 11th grade. I tested out of college composition and, because I was in physics, there was no suggestion of any sort that I should take a writing course in college.  I shouldn’t have done that.

My belief that I might not be a disaster at teaching writing comes from some of my colleagues, who have assured me that becoming a successful writer myself has required that I learn the writing techniques I will have to teach. I certainly hope this is true!  In particular, I have to thank my friend Mark Sargent, the outgoing provost at Gordon and an accomplished writer himself, for having the confidence in me to invite me to get involved with Gordon’s very strong writing program.  And I should thank Jo Kadlecek, herself a successful author of more than ten books and the energy behind much of the journalism at Gordon. Jo was quite impatient with my concerns about how I would make out teaching writing, pointing out that I was actively doing the very things I needed to teach, which would give me the background to help students with their writing. She knows more than I do about teaching writing, so I am going with her assessment for now.