Friday, February 28, 2014

Faith II

In my occupation I am surrounded by well-educated people in a variety of disciplines.  Many of these are scientists, most of these esteem "facts over faith".  I find this to be a very curious claim.

What is a "fact"?  In the dictionary a fact is something that is "indisputable" or a "certainty".  In science, facts are used as bricks to assemble a hypothesis, and if that structure is strong enough, the bricks are sufficnet to create a theory, and if this structure is so strong to withstand all assaults it becomes a "law".

But what things around us are indisputable?  I contend that only the simplest of things, typically the mundane things, are indisputable.

I am here in this world. pretty mundane, but indisputable?  Ever see the movie, "The Matrix"?

"Don't be silly!"  you say.  "There are lots of scientific constants!"

Hmm, like the speed of light?  Well, possibly, but the speed of light may well vary, say some scientists who are quick to claim that their personal philosophy is firmly anchored in... facts.

My field is physiology, a part of human biology.  The chemists and physicists have some impressive assemblages of facts, despite the pesky speed of light stuff.  We have plenty of facts, and quite a few hypotheses, and even a few theories, but precious few laws.  About the only physiological "Law" I can think of, after 33 years of study, is the Frank-Starling Law of the heart.  This "Law" says that the amount of blood the heart pumps is increased if the heart receives a bigger volume to pump (assuming all other factors remain constant).


Well, it is a bit more intricate than it sounds, but my point is that there aren't very many "Science Laws" outside of simple chemistry and physics, and even those "Laws" have exceptions in certain situations (e.g. Newton's Laws of motion do NOT apply on the micro level).

"So what's your point?"  you ask with some exasperation.

My point is, those people in the world who claim to prefer fact over faith have very few facts on which to build.  Instead of putting their faith in some deity, instead they put their faith in the PROMISE that eventually they will have more facts on which to reside.

My point is that every person I have ever met put their faith in something that they cannot KNOW, only suspect.  So the religious person and the atheistic scientist have much MORE in COMMON than they are willing to admit.  The scientist may not have a satisfying answer to some small scientific conundrum, but she certainly has faith that:
  • Someone knows,
  • or someone is about to find out,
  • or one day we will know.

It is an interesting position, and scientists would claim it is entirely logical because, "Just look at all our scientific discoveries in even the last 100 years!"

But honest scientists will tell you that many hypotheses, and occasionally  theories, and from time to time even laws, get thrown out.  So, we have faith in something that is MOSTLY true, but we never know, but we are faithful that this faith position is clearly superior to the religious faith position.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Faith I

The riddle does not exist. If a question can be put at all, then it can also be answered. ” said Ludwig Wittgenstein, who some consider the greatest philosopher of the 20th century.

Well, here is a riddle:  How would we possibly know that every question can be answered?

Philosopher Wittgenstein was doubtlessly a man of great faith.  He had apparently great faith in man's ability to answer questions, despite that every question begets more questions, in what seems an expansion of ignorance rather than knowledge.

Think about it.  Before there was knowledge of molecules and atoms, we knew a lot.  As soon as the atom is identified, we immediately have questions about its structure.  Then we identify protons, neutrons, and electrons, which beget yet more questions.  Let me assure you, particle physicists are NOT about to learn themselves out of a job.  There are more physics questions than ever before.

I am NOT a philosopher.  I have never even HAD a course in philosophy.  Who am I to question the statement of one of the world's most learned men?

I guess that is just a riddle, eh?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Pillow Talk

We were on the horns of a cape buffalo, but perhaps I exaggerate.  We were on the horns of a major dilemma.  We had our bedroom repainted after a long time.  My wife says 10-15 years, but we all know how much she exaggerates.  Probably not much over 12 years ago, maybe even 11.5.

New paint calls for a new choice in color.  A friend invited us to come look at her bedroom color, and Brenda found a color she really liked.  I also saw a color of some type.

Of course the newly colored walls clearly and energetically ridiculed the old bed spread, coverlet, comforter, pillow shams, and probably some other parts of which I am unaware.  Apparently the duvet (pronounced "do vay" for you unwashed heathens), escaped the ridicule by sheer good luck.

I was mentally calculating the cost, when I discovered my mental can only count so high, whereupon I broke out the Excel spreadsheet, then also discovered its spreadsheet count also only goes so high.

As I was recovering from having sold another kidney (how many do we have, anyway?) Brenda announced that we would need more pillows.

"That can't be so bad" I thought.

"And we will need new shams!"

The Excel had cooled off a bit, so I put in the estimates for new shams.

Then there was the great debate.  Should we include all 9 pillows or just 7?

"You gotta be kidding!"  I thought, but then cooler heads prevailed and I said, "Let's take a look dear!"

Clearly the 9-pillow arrangement was FAR, FAR superior to the 7-pillow "disaster", as you can clearly see in the photos below.

Of course I insisted that we get some MORE pillow shams. I mean, we can't live like Neanderthals!!  Good grief!

Here's the new look:

Brenda's disclaimer:  No new items were bought in the making of this new bedroom look... except for the coverlet and two new shams.
She switched her afghan at the bottom of the bed... for now.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Southern Cold

Our friends in Sweden will find the concept of "cold" in the southern USA to be a humorous topic.  What do we know about cold?  Good question.  We lived in Sweden when we started this blog.  The day after we arrived there it was -22 C (-8 F) and we wanted to get out and see the country so we went to Are (more like Ore in English), which is a famous ski mountain in that part of Sverige.

But it has been particularly cold here in Alabama this winter.   I have written about the snow, and even the Swedish snow we had fall here a couple of weeks back.  I mentioned then that it was Swedish snow because it was so cold the snow was very dry.  It has been remarkably cold since that time too.  when I say that we have cold here, I am talking about temps in the high 20's F (-2 to -3 C).  Doesn't sound that cold, eh?

I mentioned earlier the Swedish saying, "There is no bad weather, only bad clothing".  Well, there is bad weather when your houses are largely built for warm weather.  Our 1920's bungalow-style heart pine home was built originally with a big central hallway from the front door to the back.  Each end of the hall opened into a large porch.  When the weather was hot, opening the doors at the ends of the hallway provided a large cross-breeze cooling the home in the pre-airconditioning era.  The house has an abundance of double-hung windows, great for fighting the heat.  We also have high ceilings, which allows the hot air to rise up and keeps the lower part of the room cooler.  But, of course, those don't turn off all that well in winter.  The things that help keep us cool in summer also keep us cool in winter.

Last winter in Botswana, we lived on the thrid floor and had no central heat in our apartment.  It got a bit chilly at night, and some days were pretty cool too.  We enjoyed the respite from the usual high heat, but, we had to buy a few space heaters to stay comfortable.  I recall heating up a plastic bottle filled with water to make a "hot water bottle" that warmed out feet.

We asked our local friends how they stayed warm, and they told us they just wore their down vest inside.  We did the same and stayed reasonably warm.  We also have adopted that in Alabama.  Our big, high-ceilinged clap-board house with 30-something windows is drafty and a bit cold.  In Sweden the windows were very tight and double- or triple-paned.  The houses, like the clothing, were great for the cold weather.

But the good news in Alabama is that soon enough the hot weather will be back and we will enjoy the delicious spring, and we'll use our whole-house attic fan until the end of June.  We look to the spring.

We also look to the "spring" of the return of the Christ.  We put no stock in investments, in retirement, in government, in the future.  We put our hope instead in G^d alone.  The winter may linger a bit longer, but spring is on its way.  Come quickly L^rd!

Monday, February 17, 2014

How does this work?

Our University is closed this morning. I have the place pretty much to myself.  No students are visible anywhere.  I know my 0800 Measurement students are grieving the loss of today's knowledge.  we are closed because the nighttime temperatures were near freezing and we had precipitation off and on all night and this morning.  Out my window I see the large flat puddles in the grass indicating the soil is saturated.

When I arrived before 0800 this morning I notice the grass in front of our building had at least a couple dozen robins scattered across it, like crumbs on an empty cornbread plate.  Now as I look out I can see a robin bathing in a large puddle of what has to be coooold water! How can they do that?  How can they live through the night, summer and winter, hot and cold, with just one set of clothing?

Seeing this reminds me of being in Goosebay, Labrador, early one spring, or maybe the end of winter.  The snow was melting in places but only during the warmest part of the day.  there was mud and puddles everywhere.  There in the street, sitting in a puddle, was about a 2-3 year old boy... wearing nothing but a diaper.  he was playing away, oblivious to the cold and to my shock.  He was just like that robin.

Another time I was deer hunting in below-freezing temperatures and a "wintry-mix" was falling in the woods.  Out walks this doe right in front of me, with ice covering the hair on her back.  She was feeding along in total comfort!

William Cowper wrote it this way in a famous hymn:

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

Though I am a thermophysiologist, though I understand the powers of metabolic heat and insulation, though I can explain how deer and robins stay warm; yet still I marvel at "His bright designs", and "...scan His work in vain".

I do look forward to the day when, "He will make it plain."

Come quickly L^rd!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Tu Blave

Aficionados of the movie, Princess Bride, which I highly recommend, will recognize the title of this post as coming form that movie.  If you haven't figured it out, it means "True Love" and it is uttered, in "speech impediment style" by the priest at the wedding ceremony.

Here on Valentine's day, what could be a better topic than true love.  If you have not experienced true love, I hope you will someday.  I am not necessarily talking about romantic love for your sweetheart, but true, bona fide love of some other person (though perhaps we should include pets, I choose to leave that for another day).

What is the most common theme for books, plays, movies, songs?  I would guess that it is indeed, "True Love".  Even the most action-packed thriller, say "Star Wars", often has a "true love" theme interwoven.

Why is this? 

I have a hypothesis, as you might anticipate.

My hypothesis is that, true love, human love, rattles around deep within our soul as the highest thing imaginable for humans.  As you might anticipate, my argument is that "true love" has best been expressed in G^d's love for mankind, evidenced in many ways.  The greatest example being the sending of his Own Beloved SON to reconcile man to G^d in a love relationship. 

But why did G^d allow man to fall?  The short simple answer is that "true love" must always be voluntary, never compelled, never predetermined.  We won't chance down that rabbit trail now.

But on our deepest level we realize that "true love" is our highest longing.  Religion (as opposed to a deep relationship with G^d) doesn't always convey this message ion the clearest terms.  Some people, typically those who think themselves especially clever, reject this notion publicly, but deep down, I suspect that most of them know that "true love" is the pinnacle, and everything else is a cheap substitute.

That's partly why Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, and many others vehemently attack this notion that G^d so loved the world that He gave his only Son...  They are fighting a deep internal truth, and they are uncomfortable fighting agasint such a pwoerful foe alone and isolated.  They want to recruit mroe toops.

That is why they are to be pitied, they go along trying tio deny the deepest truth.  How sad to try to fight against "true love".

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Routine Routine

Routine has it's upsides and its downs.  Routines can make life humdrum and boring, or make life comfortable and contemplative.  I have settled into the routine of the spring semester.

Most days involve an early wakeup to get to the UA campus in time to park within a couple of miles of my building.  Monday AM I could take my time, but every other day I either have class or a meeting.  It is good to get up early and get the day started.  I like the early AM quietness.

The week is consumed by classes, meetings, and sitting at my desk, trying to stay a bit ahead of the game.  We have had more classes canceled this term than I can recall in my almost 30 years here.  This really doesn't impact me that much, as a lot of my work can be done from any place with a computer and WWW access.

I have a hypothesis that routine is a mental energy conserving strategy.  We don't have to think so much, we don't have to  figure out what to do, if we simply do what we did yesterday, or last weekend.

And life is pretty much this way.  We fall into a work routine.  Weekends are a bit less structured, but have their own general rhythm.  It's easy to get in this type of cycle... and find that your whole life as slipped by unawares.  How sad for us, and it can happen to any of us, that we lose our life to our routines.

Tempus fugit, as we have observed here before.  What is life but a vapor...

How sad it must be, to reach the end of your life, and look back upon nothing but routine.  But maybe there is another way.  Maybe we should look to the future instead.   No not that future.  The "looking  to the future" game is not a good strategy, just look around.  I think it is never a bad idea to look ahead to our future in eternity.

We can invest short term or long term, or eternal term.  But what does that mean?  I guess that's another post for another day.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Southern Snow (last snow post for a while)

As I explained earlier, snow is a rare occurrence for us US southerners.  Soooo, when we get a snooooow, we make the most of it.

First, of course, everything grinds to an absolute halt.  We carefully planned our trip yesterday from work to home to avoid the big snow-rush-hour.  We made it home without any undue delay or problem.  We didn't even skid.  Which brings our first southern tradition.  One of my favorite... never mind.  One of the favorite snow pastimes of young men in this part of the world is finding an empty parking lot and sliding around in our cars.  You get going and then you suddenly cut your wheel and have a blast.  Although this is quite juvenile, it doesn't sound as bad if you explain that you are just experimenting with ways to get out of a skid.

Another favorite is sledding.  I am guessing we are one of the few families in Alabama to have a genuine sled.  Our dates from 1997 when we lived at USMA, West Point, NY.  It still has the writing on it showing our address.  Even since yesterday and despite the very low overnight temperatures (15 F), a substantial portion of the snow had already evaporated (that's right, in dry air snow can evaporate without going through a liquid phase (called sublimation).  Our grandson Jem was close by, so we dusted off (literally) the old sled and gave him a thrill.
He enjoyed it almost as much as the adults.

The most unusual southern tradition to those accustomed to snwo is snow cream.  Yep, snow cream.  You take clean snow, mix in sugar, milk, and vanilla, and voila' you have something remotely similar to vanilla ice cream.  It's pretty good, but mostly a tradition.  We were surprised to learn that the Swedes never do this and most had never even heard of it. 

Alas, all that snow going to waste!

But that's not the saddest thing going to waste.  I think of all the potential in Christians that goes to waste.  I think of all the lives of my loist friends that are going to waste.

I guess wasting a little snow, and the pleasure it could bring ain't worth mentioning.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Swedish Snow

Last blog i wrote about our snow fall in Alabama.  At that point, all I had done was sit in my second-story office and wathced the snow fall on campus.  I saw hordes of students out on the huge quad having a major snowball fight.

My daughter Anna and our grandson Jem struggle to get home, so they stop by the office to let the traffic clear a bit.  Apparently EVERYONE sent their workforce home at about the same time.

It's no problem for me. I can work at my computer regardless of the snow.  After a couple of hours, Anna and Jem want to head for home, so we all head for our cars.  It really hasn't dawned on me that my car was parked with NO snow, and now it has a couple of inches covering every flat surface.

Now let me tell you about typical southeastern USA snow.  Here are a few descriptors:

  • Usually comes in later Spring- March is popular
  • Usually comes at night due to the lower temperatures
  • Usually melts very quickly
  • Usually is very wet  snow.

Most of these are due to the warm temperatures that characterize this section of the country, even in late January.  Today is different, and I notice it as soon as I get to my car.  The snow is dry!  Go figure.  Never seen this... in Alabama.  This is Swedish snow.  I am guessing it didn't make good snowballs.

When I get home, I am able to sweep all the snow off both our cars using a broom!  Go figure.  Dry snow.  Dry snow means cold snow.  We have had an unusually long run of unusually cold weather.  Dry snow.

This global warming is freezing me. (Before you take the time to explain to me that weather and climate are two different things, go sweep your sidewalk.)

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Snow in... Alabama

When we lived in Sweden we started this blog.  Hence the url.  In Sweden we got lots of beautiful snow on a frequent basis.  It was beautiful.. and ordinary.  It was new to us though, and yuo may recall some of the pictures we took and posted.

In Sverige, snow is part of life and they were very well prepared.  Remember, even the bike tires had metal studs.  We learned to cope with it rather quickly and came to enjoy it.

At the moment it is snowing nicely in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  Snow is NOT part of life here, and that makes a huge difference.  Most of the schools here closed down JUST in ANTICIPATION of the snow.  For those in other countries let me highlight.   We have NO:
  • Snow removal equipment
  • Sand spreading equipment
  • Auto snow tires, or bicycle snow tires
  • Ice cleats for our shoes
  • Warming fires in the parks
  • And worst we have no brullars (delicious pastry).

But, the excitement that snow engenders here is remarkable and likely unbelievable to those of you accustomed to snow.  But it is the novelty that makes it more interesting for us here.

There are only a few one-time, genuinely novel, events. I can only think of a few:
  • Creation of the world
  • Fall of mankind
  • Redemption of mankind on the cross
  • Resurrection of The Christ defeating death
  • Coming again of The Christ in Glory.

I'm guessing that last one will be considerably more exciting than Snow in Alabama!

Monday, February 3, 2014

The last Deer Hunt Blog (for a while anyway)

You will have to forgive me for getting off track last blog post.  Let’s get serious and talk about WHY deer hunting has such appeal, at least to about 11 million US hunters.

Deer hunting presents a terrific challenge.  The whitetail deer is one of the most cautious and well-equipped animals in the Americas.  A mature whitetail has:

  • A terrific sense of smell that is their first line of defense,
  • A 310 degree field of view for their vision,
  • Huge ears that can rotate to pinpoint the slightest sound,
  • A cautiousness that makes getting close to one for very long, a great challenge.

I mentioned two blogs back that the quiet solitude is terrific.  That quiet solitude not only gives time to meditate, but also time to read.  I read more during deer season than any other time of the year, except the beach, which is probably a close second.

I love the tastes of deer woods.  Early in the season there are muscadines galore where we hunt.  Muscadines have a special meaning for me, because my Dad introduced them to me, and I think of him when I taste that sweetness.  From beginning to end, sugar berries, also called “bush huckleberries” by some folks, are another time honored tradition from my youth, and recalls long walks along the river with my Pop and brothers.

Next to the taste are the sights and smells of the woods.  The fall leaves contribute both.  The leaves of the tulip poplars, the hickories, the various oaks, and one of my favorites, the beeches decorate the forest first, then the forest floor.  The woods has its own smell, which varies from time to time and place to place.

The weather presents its own challenge.  Really cold, like 21 F calls for real insulation.  A few years ago I figured out somehow that I could pack in an old, light, cheap sleeping bag and stay warm under every cold we have here.  If it is under 32 F, I’m probably packing my bag.

There’s more I could tell you, but you probably can’t handle it now.  Suffice it to say, that there is a lot of pleasure to be had in hunting. 

Will there would be deer hunting in heaven?  Sure, someone has to furnish the venison.