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Monday, December 26, 2011

Ghosts of Christmas Future: Mr. Scrooge and I Share an Experience


Christmas is awesome. There are so many things to love about it - the list of course goes on and on, but one of the things I love the most is it seems to lend itself to reflection. Perhaps it's the cool air and seemingly innate instinct to kind of hunker down in Winter that encourages one to pause, and respond to the most-recent year's (or at least some past-years') events.


I spent the better part of an hour last night lying in bed just sitting, thinking, remembering, and replaying some of the thoughts that surround Christmas in my mind. Primarily, I was trying to pin-point why Christmas is so special. For some odd reason, during this process, my thoughts fixated on some of my favorite Christmas movies. The one film that stood out in particular was the disney version of "A Christmas Carrol." I would assume that most people are at least vaguely familiar with the character of Ebenezer Scrooge (from what was originally a Charles Dickens novel). I was struck because it seems the "spirits" which visit Scrooge in the story were in fact similar to what was happening to me - I was remembering the pleasantries of Christmases past, glowing in the joy of Christmas present, and wondering what kind of traditions and memories do I want to make a part of my Christmases future.


That was cool.


Taking that thought process a bit further, I realized that the conversion that Scrooge experiences in the story is one not unlike a conversion I know I could benefit from. Although I (at least) hope I am not as completely self-absorbed as Mr. Scrooge, I am certainly willing to admit that self-absorption is a tendency that I am enticed by. I certainly would not mean to suggest that doing things in one's own best interest would be inappropriate. However, I do mean to suggest that self-absorption does not have to begin and end those who are poor/less-fortunate (as it is in the story), but I can easily be self-absorbed with regard to all of those people with whom I interact daily.


No, I don't think I ever will have that Scrooge-like dramatic journey which leads to my repentance for years of cruelty, but the profound catharsis through which Ebenezer Scrooge learned how to live for others and not only for himself is one to consider. By simply breaking the circle of his ego, he had enabled the light of the message of Christmas to invade his soul and change him into a new man filled with joy and hope.


That message of conversion in itself if one worth contemplating. However, since Christmas is traditionally a Christian Holiday, I encouraged myself to take the message delivered by Mr. Scrooge one step further. His conversion, and hopefully the many small ones which I will undergo throughout my life, are modeled most poignantly by what Christmas was at its inception. It was a God who in the most pragmatic of ways deflected Her ego and had at Her interest the needs of all of us. James Farfaglia wrote...


- "... if our greatest need had been knowledge, God would have sent us an educator. Had that greatest need been technology, God would have sent us a scientist. So too had our greatest need been for money, God would have sent us an economist. Had our greatest need been for pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer. Because our greatest need was for forgiveness, God sent us a Savior."


... and through this, demonstrated the exact type of love that we need most and the type we are called to by the Christian celebration of Christmas. And thus it is with this understanding of Scrooge's conversion that I will look forward to the "Christmases future" with hope. That I will be able to continue to recognize that I do have a tendency to be self consuming, but that I will also know to continually remind myself how to direct my love and outward.


As always, thanks for reading :) A very special Merry Christmas to you all. AMDG

Sunday, July 24, 2011

My Next 30 Years


Cool. I had my 30th birthday a couple weeks back. So now what? Keep living like I have been? Pull a Tim McGraw and eat a few more salads and not stay up too late? Eh, I am looking for a little more perhaps.

There are a million things I'd like to do - but what is the one thing that really stands out?

I think after much thought that the thing that I really want to do over the next thirty birthdays is continue in my search for meaning and purpose. Not that my first most recent thirty have been meaning/purposeless - it's just that it took me nearly a quarter century to determine and begin to understand what the more important things are in life.

So yeah, where do I intend to go and how do I intend to accomplish this ongoing search? Well, I guess I can't be too sure, but there is a semi-dated yet pertinent example from the movie City Slickers that is worth reading. In the scene, Billy Crystal opens into a cynical monologue in front of his son's grade-school class about the mundane - the mundane that is so easy to let become a part of life -

"Value this time in your life, kids, because this is the time in your life when you still have your choices. It goes by fast. When you're a teenager, you think you can do anything and you do. Your twenties are a blur. Thirties you raise your family, you make a little money, and you think to yourself, "What happened to my twenties?" Forties, you grow a little pot belly, you grow another chin. The music starts to get too loud; one of your old girlfriends from high school becomes a grandmother. Fifties, you have a minor surgery -- you'll call it a procedure, but it's a surgery. Sixties, you'll have a major surgery, the music is still loud, but it doesn't matter because you can't hear it anyway. Seventies, you and the wife retire to Fort Lauderdale. You start eating dinner at 2:00 in the afternoon, you have lunch around 10:00, breakfast the night before, spend most of your time wandering around malls looking for the ultimate soft yogurt and muttering, "How come the kids don't call? How come the kids don't call?" The eighties, you'll have a major stroke, and you end up babbling with some Jamaican nurse who your wife can't stand, but who you call mama. Any questions?"

Comical, but here's to hoping that is the opposite of what I'm looking for. For, from my green 30-year old perspective, there seems to be very little meaning in that existence at all. As adequately describe above, chasing other people's dreams is a trip to dissatisfaction - and it certainly doesn't yield an understanding of life's meaning and personal purpose.

Throughout the reading years of my life-time I have come across some shorter quotations that that do describe the meaning which I think I'm looking for -

- "In these bodies we will live, and in these bodies we will die, but where you invest your love is where you invest your life!" - Mumford and Sons band

- "There is nothing in the world that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst of conditions, as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one's life... For he who has a why to live can bear almost any how." - Victor Frankl

- "There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning." - Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey

- "We'll all be forgotten anyway, so we might as well be effective... and the only thing that finally matters is to be effective in the way we love." - Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia

Yeah, that should be it - a big investment in love. Just like my boy J.C., simply the best example there is of living a life of simple, practical love - I want to continue to expand my understanding and practice of a love that is ever expanding... "that is always patient, always kind, and never boastful."

If I do that, I hope to instead of "find(ing) a world of happiness without the hate and fear" that Tim McGraw describe, I'll help create one.

As always, thanks for reading :)
AMDG

Friday, May 27, 2011

Life in the Ordinary: A follow-up consideration to my recent hike on the AT


So while I was reading what I had written recently about the my AT hike - specifically about it being something other than ordinary, I had the odd realization that paradoxically there was also something about the ordinary nature of the trip that was so neat.

Again, let me explain.

Upon consideration, there was much about this hiking experience which was oddly similar to nearly all other 'new' things I do in my life - meaning that it was (like most other new experiences) at the start understandably exciting, interesting, and invigorating. For example, each oddly placed and sharply jutting rock, each uniquely colored plant, every lunge over a downed tree, and of course the panoramic views – everything really just made you feel in some way stronger or more enthused than you were previously.

Like other things though, these 'new' attractions lost their luster after a day or so - those same rocks and downed trees now had become much less than ‘invigorating.’

However, I do not mean to imply that the experiential nature of the hike was somehow diminished. In fact, in retrospect I think it actually got better. This is because I began to realize where the actual memorable experiences could be found – ironically in the ordinary events.

Sure, the ‘Kodak’ moments continued to be the panoramic views and the unique rock formations, but the things I remember most without having to pull up a photo are that which took place during the steps between the breath-taking views. I can clearly recall the simplicity and joy of making breakfast in the tent and bumbling over the ‘misplaced’ rocks and cracking jokes or sharing views on life with my friend.

Yes, it’s true – it is these unremarkable moments where the memories lie.

And so, again after some consideration, my understanding of the experience on the AT is translatable to life in general… Perhaps it is the ‘other than ordinary’ events in life that provide the framework for meaning and memory to be found in the ordinary.

As always, thanks for reading. :)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Other Than Ordinary: Short Thoughts On A Long Hike

"The core of mans' spirit comes from new experiences."

— Chris McCandless


Every year, thousands of folks from Maine to Georgia set out on hikes along the Appalachian Trail. The length of planned hikes span the entire spectrum of a couple hours to a couple months – and that is just the way it should be. This is because one of the coolest things about the trail is that it is as long as (if not longer than) you want it to be and just as short – with everything in between. A wilderness experience exactly fitting to your comfort level is at your ‘toe’tips, and does not have to be limited by your age, physical condition, or prior experience.


So, just like all those other folks, I too just returned from an ‘extended stay’ hiking trip on the AT myself – and decided to write a little reflection on the experience. (I love writing in this regard because it seems to enrich my experience by contemplating it and then trying to describe it to other people.)


Not to worry, this won’t be another treatise decrying the materialistic nature of today’s society, the information overload that we experience daily, or some self-pining for the ‘simple life.’ Those kinds of comments are too common and in my opinion obvious and alienating.

On the last day of the hike, in the rain and wet, I kept asking myself one simple question, “why hike at all?” Seriously, why do people anywhere go out and seek solitude, remove themselves from the comforts of home, and push their own personal envelope to challenge themselves?

I could only come up with one answer: because it’s something other than what is ordinary.

Let me explain.

I read an inspiring book quite a while back by Donald Miller called A Million Miles In A Thousand Years. Like most books, it seems your brain remembers a couple key points (if you are lucky) and then also whether or not you enjoyed the reading. Well, I definitely did, and the point which I remember was the encouragement the author expresses to live your life as a story – one that is worth telling. So, in my own words - don’t be satisfied with the ordinary.


There are so many things in my life which I do because they make sense and they are comfortable – and I’d be surprised if I was alone in this regard. Now don’t get me wrong, I think most comforts we seek daily are good, it is just sometimes nice to push yourself in the opposite direction, to purposely test your mettle and ‘man-up’ to your own little challenges here and there. To add some flare to your story!


I think this quote from the book kind of sums it up:

- “Part of me wonders if our stories aren’t being stolen by the easy life.”


Well a hike on the AT is anything but the easy life!


So that’s it. As you are out on the trail smelling like bad Chinese food, your legs are feeling like you just completed a marathon, you are sweating as if you were sitting in a sauna, you are also all the while smiling because you are challenging yourself in ways that will certainly kick your story up a notch.


And so, just like I realized on this particular long hike, I will continue to search for ways to something other than ordinary – and I hope anyone who reads this will do just the same.


As always, thanks for reading. AMDG J

Monday, May 2, 2011

An Hour Late, But Right On Time: Considering My First Marathon Experience


Yesterday, I finished my first marathon. 26.2 whole miles traversed in one attempt in nothing but a pair of shoes (well, and a few other choice pieces of clothing of course). I could go on and on about the rigors of the training or the hours spent doing something other than what I ‘wanted to be doing,’ but I want to focus on one aspect of my experience that was so impactful for me.

A modest estimate of how late I finished after my ‘time-goal’ is about 1 hour. If you had asked me at mile 13 how I felt about this, I’d probably have given you a terse censorable response about how pissed I was that I wasn’t performing at the level ‘I felt I was capable.’ What happened over the course of the next 2 miles, and then thankfully carried over for the rest of the race, was something very special for me indeed.

I got over myself.

I somehow was humbled by 13 or so miles of self-induced pain and realized that I needed an attitude adjustment – or I don’t think I would have made it the next 13.

I realized that just finishing in a reasonable time would be just as fulfilling because the only person who was really concerned about such issues was me. I thought to myself, “Come on Joe, this is your first marathon, RELAX! There will be many opportunities to get a better ‘finish time.”

This realization allowed me to focus on so much more, on the truly incredible things that were going on around me. I realized that there are many more people than I can count who would do many (if not anything) to be able to even compete in such an event. I also realized that just participating afforded me a profound lens into human nature that one doesn’t normally get to use - that thousands of people around me were all willing to work toward a difficult goal and really push themselves - going beyond a reasonable concept of effort to reach said goal. And then thirdly, the amazing nature of support that so many volunteers exhibited, who could have otherwise enjoyed a very pleasant Sunday – but instead came out to perform such undeniably important yet small things to assist strangers/runners/athletes accomplish ‘something.’

In retrospect, if I had been too focused on 'keeping my pace' to finish on time, I am sure I would have missed all of these things. Recognizing these and more allowed me to enjoy the rest of the race more than I thought possible – all except about the last 1.5 miles when I was really hurting – and do so with a smile on my face at the wonder all around.

I could go on and on about how this experience transcends the actual nature of the race itself… but I’m sure you can do that just as well as I can.

On Friday, I quoted Emil Zatopek – a famous Czech runner – on my facebook page who said:

- … If you want to experience something, run a marathon.”

At that time I skeptically hoped he was right. One day later, I am happy to say that he was right on.

As always, thanks for reading :) A.M.D.G.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Is there anything enjoyable about training for a marathon?


What’s the best part of running?

Yeah, I know… that’s a loaded question. I bet most people, upon reading that will answer the same way I did for so many years: nothing – or perhaps you like the hours of boredom spent putting one foot in front of the other.

I’m kidding of course. I actually really enjoy running these days. Admittedly, I don’t think I ever thought I would write that sentence. However, over the last few months while training for a marathon, I have found there is an odd peace that comes with the rhythm of stepping along down the road with only you and your thoughts to keep you occupied. In this same way, one of the best parts of having this opportunity to train has been listening to the radio.

I’m not talking about # # . # FM or some other music station; I’m talking about radio programs that are specifically produced for the listener’s education and/or entertainment.

Now, I know what you are thinking – the concept of listening to those kinds of radio programs went out of style somewhere around the age of the hippies – probably about the same time TV was developed. I’ll concede that point, yet over this time period I have found there are a few things you just can’t get from TV that oddly enough, these radio programs provide.

Podcasts are where it’s at. These things are so available these days, you can literally download a piece on nearly anything you can imagine. I have listened to a 2 minute parody on Charlie Sheen’s latest antics to 20 minutes on the folly of the BCS to 60 minutes on why cats are such intriguing animals.

Part of the beauty – there are no commercials, it is just listening and thinking from start to finish.

This kind of sheds light on one of the other things that annoys me about TV – you have to sit and watch, w/out the availability to do much else. Sure, people are walking on treadmills at the gym watching TV these days, but you have to be inside a gym and walking on a treadmill.

Lame-oh.

With the radio/mp3 player, it is so easily portable. You can accomplish so much while learning something – you can run outside or do laundry inside, or really whatever it is you do.

However, the most enjoyable aspect of this medium of information versus TV has been the engaging nature of the radio. It’s the same reason that we get so much more out of “reading a book over merely watching the movie.”

I know in my mind that I am not really having a 2-person conversation while listening to these podcasts, but the nature of not being able to see the presenter – only listen – invites one to use their imagination to construct that scenario in your mind.

I can’t really remember that last time I left the couch after watching something on TV where I actually felt like that really had an impact on me – it seems that since with TV you aren’t required to use your imagination at all, you just don’t remember things nearly as well. I feel like I can remember nearly everything I have listened to over this training period, and with minimal effort.

I no longer dread the 3+ hour long runs which are required during the training regimen that I dreaded before I started this program. Crazily, they are almost enjoyable now…

Relax, I said almost.

Thanks for reading J

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What is the deal with Ash Wednesday?


As most of you know by now by getting “ashed” or seeing a bunch of folks walking around with black marks on their heads, today was Ash Wednesday. I’m certain that this tradition goes back thousands of years, yet it seems that many of those who participate and then also many of those who don’t seem to misunderstand the purpose of the day and the tradition itself. As one of those who were “ashed,” I had a few questions (and puzzled looks thrown my way) today at the hospital. In honor of those questions, I thought I’d write a quick reflection on my understanding of the tradition and why I choose to be a part of the celebration.

The questions were:

- Why do you feel like you have to demonstrate a “holier than thou” sign all day?

- Who needs those ashes or Ash Wednesday anyway?

I assure you, over the many years of participating in this tradition and then also quite a few of not; I have often thought of these same questions myself. Yet today, I am excited about this season of Lent.

First of all, I will admit - there is a certain comfort I feel when I see others with the same sign on their heads. However, this comfort is largely outweighed the simple fact I don’t put ashes on my head so others can be comforted or so I can demonstrate that I am a Christian.

In fact, I celebrate Ash Wednesday because of what it does for me.

Wearing the ashes gives me an opportunity to admit to all of those around me that I am a sinner – or if discussion of sin is foreign to you – that I am not perfect and I am not special. This is difficult to admit over and over throughout the day, but at the same time, it is incredibly liberating and humbling. I am making an outward sign that I commit myself to as much reflection/prayer/repentance in the next 40 days as I can handle.

I am excited for Lent because this yearly season gives me an incredible opportunity to reflect on life as an ongoing conversion – that I must continue to evaluate myself and my actions if I truly wish to model myself after the person I claim to model myself after.

We are constantly bombarded with messages these days that encourage us to seek titles and degrees and money, we have all the bells and whistles to achieve our wildest hopes and dreams. These are all good things. However, I wish to not lose site of the fact that no matter what I achieve in this lifetime, I am ultimately a natural being – and one day my body will be lying in a casket – and return to dust or ash.

That is an overwhelmingly sobering thought; I better not get wrapped up in myself.

Thus I accept to have this mark placed right on my head, coincidentally the same location where the thoughts that spawn good and even bad develop. I believe that if I commit myself to construct these thoughts after the person represented by this cross, I can’t go wrong.

Thus, in response to the second question of who needs Ash Wednesday or even Lent for that matter – the answer is simple…

I do J

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Science of God - Personal Conclusions

Having written all of those thoughts regarding Dr. Schroeder’s book, I don’t think my understanding of them would have been complete without at least trying to explore my own faith on these matters.

First, it seems clear to me that I was obviously impressed with Dr. Schroeder’s attempt to take his expertise in mathematics and physics and try to apply them to his apparent firmly held faith system. Based on my reading, I will surely look at conflict between believers and nonbelievers in a different light from now on. One thing I did note though after having finished the book a few weeks ago now, is that perhaps the science he uses is not as soundly supported as he claims – this is alluded to many times by the author of the response website linked in the third post. Although perhaps unfortunate, it is the truth. Even still, I’d say the key for me having read all of these thoughts is that the book of Genesis is not clear cut when describing the origins of our universe, and there is much room on both sides of the line for virtually infinite discussion and understanding. However, this is also not a problem for me as a believer because the detailed description of the natural world does not impact the message of Jesus, nor does it impact my hope for Salvation. As Christians or as whatever we are – we can’t have fear of science, science discovery, or scientific thought.

I was actually comforted in a similar way when doing a bit of research on the Catholic Church’s teaching on these matters when I found this from Pope Leo XIII:

- “No real disagreement can exist between the theologian and the scientist provided each keeps within his own limits. . . . If nevertheless there is a disagreement . . . it should be remembered that the sacred writers, or more truly ‘the Spirit of God who spoke through them, did not wish to teach men such truths (as the inner structure of visible objects) which do not help anyone to salvation’; and that, for this reason, rather than trying to provide a scientific exposition of nature, they sometimes describe and treat these matters either in a somewhat figurative language or as the common manner of speech those times required, and indeed still requires nowadays in everyday life, even amongst most learned people" (Leo XIII,Providentissimus Deus 18).

And as the Catechism states it:

- “Methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things the of the faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are" (CCC 159).

It is with this framework in mind that I will continue to hope that the two sides continue to converge to some similarly shared wisdom. In fact, here is a passage from the Catechism which describes how that convergence will occur:

- "Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth" (Catechism of the Catholic Church 159).

And continuing with my understanding of Faith through the Catholic Christian lens, I often wondered throughout my reading if the Church actually had at some point specifically addressed the origins of the universe. I was again very happy to have found that the Catholic Church actually encourages this type of research:

- "The question about the origins of the world and of man has been the object of many scientific studies which have splendidly enriched our knowledge of the age and dimensions of the cosmos, the development of life-forms and the appearance of man. These discoveries invite us to even greater admiration for the greatness of the Creator, prompting us to give him thanks for all his works and for the understanding and wisdom he gives to scholars and researchers" (Catechism of the Catholic Church 283).

I find it even more interesting that the first person to propose the Big Bang theory was actually a Catholic priest.

It seems that the Church does not require too much from its believers with regard to these nebulous matters. However, the Church does require that we maintain that no matter what one believes, it is only through the power of God that it occurred. Concerning human evolution, the Church concedes that our bodies could have been evolved from some previous form (through God’s guidance) and inherited from our parents, it is not a question that whether or not there was special creation of his soul. Pope Pius XII addressed this specifically:

- The teaching authority of the Church does not forbid that, in conformity with the present state of human sciences and sacred theology, research and discussions . . . take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter—[but] the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God" (Pius XII, Humani Generis 36).

I am most excited by the discoveries of these supports of Catholic Church’s teaching because it is clear that the Church has no fear of science or scientific discovery – my hope all along.

So that concludes my exploration of the book The Science of God and my search for understanding as a Catholic Christian. As I have oft quoted experts throughout these words, I felt it would be appropriate to quote a few of the people who I have had conversations with regarding the different matters since beginning this writing.

MS:

- “Just goes to show that with any belief system, it's necessary to ascribe to a number of relatively arbitrary assertions, such as those outlined above. You simply need to walk into the "faith store", a la Baskin-Robbins, and decide what flavor you like.”

AP:

- “The more I think about it, the more I feel that in order to prove/disprove the existence of God, you would have to understand the entire workings of the "Universe". When it began, how it began, what was before it (if anything), the true extent of the Universe (what is past the edge of it), if it is really a Universe or is it a Multiverse, why is the speed of light the Universal speed limit, what dark matter is, how rare or common life is, what the purpose of the Universe is, etc… ad infinitum. Basically, you would have to be omniscient. Therefore, I believe only someone with the power or knowledge of God could prove/disprove his existence.

AM:

- “These concepts get at something I have felt for quite a while as a Christian - It is how an individual acts that determines the clarity by which that individual realizes the unifying base of existence. In fact God explicitly tells the Israelites that their being chosen is not b/c they have inherently superior virtues as a people, prayer and sacrifices to the JudeoChristian God are not to induce changes in the deity as in other religions, but in the offerer. As Christians are now the “new Israel,” I think that I would be wise to keep this in mind – I am not better than anyone because of my Faith.”

Amen to all of that. Thanks for reading. AMDG J

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Science of God - V

And as a final entry, this would be the 5th regarding Dr. Schroeder’s book The Science of God. I hope you have enjoyed reading (that is if you have been reading) and I also hope these thoughts spark introspection in your own life as they have certainly done in mine.

In Genesis, chapter 26 describes God as creating humans, yet chapter 27 goes further and describes God infusing the human soul w/in humankind. My first thought on reading this was “wait, I never read that in the Bible.” Comparatively based on the original Hebrew text, he states that the heavens and earth were “made” but humans were “created.” This is interesting because according to their etymology, “create” is to generate something from nothing – a contrast to “make” which means to fashion from some sort of raw material. In as much, the universe was first created… and then made. However, in the case of the Biblical person Adam, the reverse order is true – he was made (Ch 26) and then created (Ch 27). Through this translation, there was perhaps some unknown time period between the completion of him being made and then at which time his body was infused with the soul. Schroeder draws a connection between this ambiguous timeline and cave drawings that pre-date Adam – making them understandable from a Biblical perspective. According to Dr. Schroeder and his supporters, there quite easily (and the Bible does not discount this possibility) could have human like beings on the earth doing human like things, yet, they had no soul, or human spirituality.

Schroeder states that scientists date the beginning of history (as opposed to prehistory) at the beginning of time when writing was established – not writing with an alphabet but with writing in the form of pictographs and other forms/symbols. There is little doubt that this took place in ancient Mesopotamia – there is also little doubt that this is the part of the planet that was the home of the Biblical person Abraham. The bible also says that Adam was created (soul infusion variety) 5-6 thousand years before Abraham, the exact range of dates at which writing in the form of these pictographs were first started. This is all according to Dr. Schroeder’s book, yet I have not been able to find a website which discounts this support.

Transitioning now to the concept of free will, I know from discussions over the years that at the very least, some Christian denominations believe in predestination – however, it is interesting to me that some scientists believe the same thing. Dr. Schroeder however points out some flaws in this understanding. First, he concedes that free will is difficult to understand from a cursory glance using the physics we experience daily… that experiential physics is deterministic – in that if you toss up a ball, you can be certain it will fall back down. The question that one has to ask is whether or not this experience transcends all levels of existence?

The answer is no. There are in fact physics observations that occur on a daily basis that in fact do not follow this pattern. In college physics, we studied the wave-particle duality principle of light. Basically, this principle shows that light travels in packets of energy called photons which exhibit the normal pattern of motion in waves – the predictable motion that is easy to conceptualize. However, at the exact same time, these same packets of energy act as individual particles as well, and will unpredictably interfere with each other if sent through a tiny opening. We don’t experience this principle of light on a daily basis, but just like this puzzling observation, there are many subatomic forces impacting our daily life that we don’t assume b/c we don’t “experience” them. In the same way, it is conceivable to argue that this unpredictability is present in our understanding of human biology, physiology, and genetics because the observations made in those fields of study are governed by the laws of physics.

One aspect of God that I have always had trouble understanding is the passage that states that God knew me before I even existed – this doesn’t exactly jive with my experiential understanding of time. However, Dr. Schroeder addresses just such a concept in a similar way to his understanding of the first six days of creation – using Einstein’s theory of relativity. When God says “I was, I am, and I will be,” God is stating that he is Eternal and the creator of the universe, therefore also in existence outside of time as we know it. To understand this using relativity, Schroeder describes a beam of light that was shot out at the big bang – and well, traveling at the speed of light. Now imagine that you high-jacked that energy and were speeding along with that light. Immediately you decide to slow down in order to read this blog post. According to the generally accepted theory, virtually no time would have elapsed – you would be living in nearly the same instant now as when you started out. This is hard to imagine, but relativity states that speed and time are constant – the faster speed the slower the time, and vice versa. By this line of reasoning, it would thus be possible that to God everything has already happened yet at the same time has yet to take place. There is no difference in the absolute quantity of time, only a difference in the quality of time (or in how one experiences it).

There are two more points Dr. Schroeder makes in his book that I would like to explore. The first is the often said/heard phrase “if God is so good, why do such bad things happen in the world?”

Perhaps if something really terrible happened to me, I may express this same sentiment. However, I hope that I would be able to reason and perhaps understand it on a level that Dr. Schroeder discusses. He first quotes the Bible in that “it is for us to learn how to react to the bad as well as the good even if we can not understand its purpose.” Thus, it is our challenge to figure out justice and truth in all events. It is interesting to note that the natural capacity of the human brain can store nearly the information contained in a 50 million volume encyclopedia – if that is true, it can probably handle the understanding necessary to overcome these types of challenges. Dr. Schroeder states that it is the randomness of the universe that allows for sanity – for if it were not for the randomness in our experience of the world, everything would be predetermined by unyielding laws of nature. This would be a world no one would wish for, a world where we would be mere robots to our body’s chemistry and the condition of our environment.

And finally Dr. Schroeder discusses what is so unique about the planet Earth, why is it such a special place for life to exist? According to him, the universe is somewhere between 10 to 18 billion light years in scale, and our galaxy is just a tiny blip on that large map. There are millions of large cosmic bodies orbiting and hurtling through space out there somewhere, yet one aspect of our galaxy that is so special is that the Milky Way’s planets and moons have virtually swept clean most of the space through which Earth must travel – literally giving us a clear path to orbit in without the daily risk of slamming in to some wayward cosmic mass. And in the same way, Earth unexpectedly does not fall into the normal exponential distribution of distance from the Sun which each of the other planets in our universe ascribe to. In fact, each of the planets is roughly 2x further away from the preceding planet than that planet was from its predecessor. The Earth is the only planet in the solar system that disobeys this distribution, yet it is clearly to our benefit.

And then there is the miracle of the sun. It is precisely the right size to consume its supply of hydrogen and produce energy at a rate that provided the time and conditions for life to form. Earth’s orbit around the sun is more circular than most of the other planets, but it is still 3% off of being a true circle – this is important because had it been a bit more elliptical like many of the other Milky-Way planets, we would be experiencing drastic alternations between baking and then freezing depending on where we were in relation to the solar body.

Even more, our planet’s core is made of molten iron – the effects of which are drastically important yet go unnoticed by most of us. The molten iron ensures that the center of the earth contains just enough internal radioactivity to produce a virtual magnetic umbrella that deflects an otherwise lethal dose of solar wind. Not only does it provide this protection, but it also has given rise to the volcanic activity present on Earth that has been responsible for the release of the subterranean waters necessary for life – however, it has been so well balanced as to not shroud the planet with dust.

The force of Gravity is so perfectly balanced so as to hold on to the needed gases of our atmosphere but weak enough to allow lighter noxious gases to escape into space. Not only this, but we are so perfectly spaced from the Sun that the battle between evaporation of those water vapors and gravitational return of the same vapors ever so gently favors the gravitational return.

These and much more facts about how we exist within the universe really make living in our world so much more special. Dr. Roger Penrose, a well respected physicist and mathematician has stated that the odds of all of these cosmic realities occurring in the way they have in order to sustain life as they do is a number nearly to difficult to grasp – 1 in 1010^123 . To speak this number aloud would take longer to say than there has been time since the big bang. In light of all these delicately yet imperatively important facts about our world, we are truly not dependent on the Earth alone, but we are certainly children of the cosmos.

So that’s about it with regard to Dr. Schroeder’s book. I hope you have enjoyed reading all of these thought as much as I have enjoyed typing and exploring them on my end. I look forward to possibly talking about these things again sometime, but until then…

AMDG J

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Science of God - IV

This would be the 4th entry regarding Dr. Schroeder’s book, The Science of God. Very interesting stuff to me here… of course as I mentioned in the most recent entry, there are many responses to his work and opinions litter the web with ideas contrary and in support of similar ideas. I would encourage a quick google search of those pages if one might be interested.

One of the underlying themes that Dr. Schroeder keeps coming back to is the issue of time – could the complexity of current life forms have arisen by random genetic events in the 70 million years during which all phyla appear based on our fossil record. According to his mathematics, he says the answer is simple – no.

In this way, he discusses one of the most commonly heard supports from the creationist camp as to proof that evolution in the Darwinian sense is false. Dr. Schroeder’s effort has been the only thoughtful argument to that effect I have yet heard – and I am at least willing to concede that he may be partially correct. This argument is based on the fact that there are functionally similar components found in different species within different phyla – specifically the eye/complex visual systems which are present in 5 different body systems. According to Dr. Schroeder’s calculations, the chances of the correct amino acids arranging themselves in the correct pattern 5 different times to produce this similar functionality is 1 in 10127 ^ 5 – this number is really just not conceptual.

Dr. Schroeder does concede however that the chances are greatly enhanced if in fact the functional components were the result of a common ancestor. The problem lies in the fact that they don’t have a common ancestor – at least evidence of one has never been found. He discusses for example the octopus eye vs the vertebrae eye. Though the respective eyes are nearly the same in function, the octopus eye comes from optically sensitive skin cells and the vertebrae eye comes from optically sensitive brain cells. This seemingly small difference actually establishes a whole host of structural and genetic differences – without compromising function. Dr. Schroeder again assimilates the chances of amino acids aligning themselves in such a way in two different genetic lines to produce such complex and efficient function would be similar to the probability of randomly producing a Shakespearian sonnet by random typing.

Moreover, consider the 2nd law of thermodynamics – which states that everything in nature has pressure to move from a state of order to a state of disorder. This is the “chaos theory” (i.e. why a cup of tea cools when sitting on a table by itself or why the same cup when it falls on the floor and breaks does not and will not reassemble). By that reasoning, the progression of life from simple organisms to more complex organisms has been an upstream battle the whole time. Dr. Schroeder states that if biology is governed by the laws of physics – which is certainly is – the process becomes even more unlikely. However, as Schroeder also notes, just like in our daily experience, the transition from disorder to order is not impossible if the system has direction or management. Just like the understanding of the word “day” in the book of Genesis, if one were to go back to Hebrew writing, apparently the transition from “night to day” can actually be translated “order to disorder.” The following website describes how this translation is possible better than I can here:

http://www.accuracyingenesis.com/day.html

Since biology is governed by the laws of physics, nearly (if not) everything – and especially evolution by random mutation – can be boiled down to probability. The result of this fact would be that these processes would not have an ultimate goal – they come about by chance, like flipping a coin. I think Dr. Schroeder has a good point when he states that our current level of order w/in human beings and other complex life-form is rather improbable if not impossible when considered with the 70 million year timeline and the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

As always, thanks for reading. J AMDG

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Science of God - III

This is the 3rd post regarding Dr. Gerald Schroeder’s book on The Science of God, but if you haven’t read any of the others, please note that this is not an intention to proselytize.

I have to begin at the outset of this section with a disclaimer of sorts. As I was writing these thoughts, I began to kind of question the substance of their truth as well. Since I certainly can’t speak as an expert on quantum physics or the theory of relativity, I began to consider if I could be perhaps being somewhat persuaded and impressed not only by Schroeder’s thoughts but also his presentation of complex math. I consequently spent some time with Google and found that indeed, there are many web-pages which discuss these same topics – all running the gambit as to which viewpoint they espouse. There was one however, which reasoned from a similar mathematical viewpoint. I have included the link below. I encourage all interested to read that author’s response – he/she does not does not discount the that science can be used to discuss the existence of God, however, does attempt to discount the particular points of reason as presented by Dr. Schroeder.

http://www.talkreason.org/articles/schroeder.cfm

Nonetheless, as I have quoted before, Medieval philosopher Maimonides: “A superficial understanding of astronomy and physics leads to a superficial understanding of God’s management of it.”

In this section of the book, I was particularly interested in Dr. Schroeder’s discussion on the well known six-day creation story – specifically that it may not actually be six days as you and I might think of them. This argument rests on the understanding that those debated six days are not in fact written from an Earth based perspective of time – that is, the perspective which we share with each other. This difference has many implications.

According to Schroeder, if the ‘time’ described by one of these ‘days’ is written from the perception of the singularity at which the creation of the universe was occurring, time would be moving at a much more rapid pace. Moreover, based on laboratory data recorded by scientists in the present day, the rate of radiation taking place during this “creation period” is in fact 1012 times faster than the radiation waves of today – this would in effect result in time passing at a rate of million-million x faster than the current concept of time. Thus, one minute to us would be million-million minutes from this cosmic perspective, the Dinosaurs presence on the Earth for 120 million years would have only been about 1 hour. What is doubly interesting is that according to Schroeder, if you divide the 15 billion years of the universe’s history by the cosmic quotient of million-million, you get an age of about 6 days.

What is the Biblical basis for such an understanding? In the book of Genesis, Dr. Schroeder points out the clue which says that before this six day period, “the Earth was unformed.” This makes it plausible to reason that it would be difficult to base and understanding of time from our human Earth based perspective if in fact during this six ‘day’ period there were no real one location from which to reference time.

The other Biblical support for such a viewpoint is surrounded by much more controversy – the understanding of the length of time intended to describe when the original authors used the word ‘day.’ To get the true meaning, one must go to the source - the original Hebrew text as it was written (before anything may have been lost in translation). I can’t read Hebrew, so I have to rely on the work of others. Upon reading the most accurate translation I could find, it does seem like Genesis presents the day as the 24 hour cycle.

As a Catholic Christian, I was curious as to what the Church’s response was to such possibility. I found this quote from Pope Pious XII:

- "What is the literal sense of a passage is not always as obvious in the speeches and writings of the ancient authors of the East, as it is in the works of our own time. For what they wished to express is not to be determined by the rules of grammar and philology alone, nor solely by the context; the interpreter must, as it were, go back wholly in spirit to those remote centuries of the East and with the aid of history, archaeology, ethnology, and other sciences, accurately determine what modes of writing, so to speak, the authors of that ancient period would be likely to use, and in fact did use. For the ancient peoples of the East, in order to express their ideas, did not always employ those forms or kinds of speech which we use today; but rather those used by the men of their times and countries. What those exactly were the commentator cannot determine as it were in advance, but only after a careful examination of the ancient literature of the East" (Divino Afflante Spiritu 35–36).

I have basically come to the conclusion after much thought that there is ambiguity surrounding this point of contention and much more room for research and introspection – like so many other things though, it will probably still come down to a matter of faith.

Either way you go, thanks for reading at least… that’s all I got for now.

:-) AMDG