Of Museums and Video Games

What is it about art that arrests our attention? Classical art attempts to capture for all time something that is good, beautiful and true by presenting it as it really is. We try to give modern art the benefit of the doubt by assuming that it captures the same thing and asks that we search for it in the chaos. Possibly the search for truth, goodness and beauty has value in and of itself.

The Bible presents us with some of the loftiest images we will ever behold painted with words instead of acrylics or watercolors. The Beatitudes, Gethsemane, the Psalms, Creation all do precisely what great art does to us. We respond with “That’s really something. I’d like to look at this again someday and perhaps value it even more.”

That may be a suitable reaction to Renoir, Monet or van Gogh, but is that really how we should regard the word paintings of God? Surely, we desire to visit the scenes from the Bible again and again and we hope to have a deeper appreciation for the truth they contain, but can that really be the end purpose of our encounters with the word of God?

Might we not do better to regard God’s word as a video game rather than a museum filled with inspirational artwork? A video game demands some sort of reaction on our part or the game will end quickly. And it cannot be some haphazard reaction but must be one that is specific and appropriate to the situation.

The only instruction received in a museum is to not touch the artwork. A video game says to get involved, to affect the virtual world it presents on the screen. The Bible exhorts us to do the same thing in the real world. Does our experience with God have the feel of a museum or of a video game?

James 1:22- “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”

What do you want? Now badly do you want it?

We call them cool/Those hearts that have no scars to show
The ones that never do let go/ And risk the tables being turned

We call them fools/ Who have to dance within the flame
Who chance the sorrow and the shame/ That always come with getting burned

But you got to be tough when consumed by desire/ ‘Cause it’s not enough just to stand outside the fire.

We call them strong/ Those who can face this world alone
Who seem to get by on their own/ Those who will never take the fall
We call them weak/ Who are unable to resist
The slightest chance love might exist/ And for that forsake it all.

They’re so hell bent on giving, walking a wire
Convinced it’s not living if you stand outside the fire

Standing outside the fire/ Standing outside the fire
Life is not tried if it’s merely survived/ If you’re standing outside the fire
There’s this love that is burning/ Deep in my soul
Constantly yearning to get out of control
Wanting to fly higher and higher
I can’t abide standing outside the fire

Standing outside the fire/Standing outside the fire
Life is not tried if it’s merely survived
If you’re standing outside the fire
Standing outside the fire
Standing outside the fire
Life is not tried if it’s merely survived
If you’re standing outside the fire

Garth Brooks/ Jenny Yates

I begin this exploration of odd territory with the lyrics from a not so young country tune that addresses the heart of what I would like to discuss in this offering. In a word, desire. How do we as followers of Jesus tend to react to the word? In a positive or in a negative direction? My first thought would be we react somewhat negatively to the notion of desire, mainly because we are all familiar with it and we know what it is capable of doing to us. It can take us in directions we wouldn’t normally consider going. And then the questions start. Because we tend to be skeptical of desire, we will also be suspicious of it when it presents itself because we likely know from our own experience that desire can easily get out of control with little or no encouragement. What happens if I allow my desire to get ahead of me and it leads me somewhere I ought not to go and by rights never would go otherwise? What if I let myself desire something I shouldn’t have or that I know is not good for me? Or what if I desire what I cannot possibly have? That is a very real possibility. Then you must consider a life lived with unfulfilled desires. What are the coping mechanisms necessary to deal with such a situation? The skills required are not ones you can acquire before you need them and wind up being something you develop only after the need for them presents and you are forced into on the job training.

There is one situation that everyone who has ever deeply loved another person has had to deal with at some point. I remember asking God to help me through this portion of the building of a relationship that has been underway since August of 1984. Eventually a good relationship will arrive at this point. Someone must take a mighty step requiring both great courage and great faith. This was perhaps my first and most memorable leap of faith that did not happen with a Bible in my hand. Step off the ledge and trust that the airbag three stories down is where you think it is and perhaps even have the audacious faith to believe that you won’t need that air bag anyway. I informed Kim that the relationship we had been working toward for the latter half of 1984 and into 1985 was important enough to me and that the relationship had reached a point where both our friendship and she mattered enough to me to say I was putting my heart on the line for the sake of this friendship. Here I is, both ready and willing to move in the direction of greater intimacy with her, uncertain what the words “greater intimacy” might portend, or what I intended them to indicate. But there, I had done all I could do; I had presented myself as being willing to go into the deep end of the pool with her. From this point on, it was up to her. I would do the only thing I could and wait to see if she was comfortable in the deeper waters. It is a scary place to be, at the edge of the shallow end, mainly because I knew from the pool at our house that the drop off was quick and steep. But it is also an essential place to spend at least a little bit of time. What happens when that edge is slippery because of an accumulation of algae that is not yet thick enough to be green in appearance but even a layer of algae a few cells thick can be plenty slippery and make for a swift descent into deeper water if you are not careful. And yes, desire can have an effect like an undercurrent that pulls you in directions unanticipated. I will not say that there were no close calls, but we did move in a direction of greater intimacy, tempered by a desire to not disappoint a thus far very gracious Father, and built on a well-established foundation until a covenant was established and finally ratified the evening of February 21, 1987.

Now to the reason I began this discussion. Is it possible that desire could also prove to be a servant in addition to being a lanyard that will lead us around by whichever vice our desires hope to feed? How often have we taken the leap of faith I took with the woman who has been my wife for over half my life now with the God whom we worship and want to love better as we move forward in our journey with Jesus? Have we ever even taken this leap? In order to make progress along these lines Paul admonishes us in Romans 12 to be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. By the renewing of our minds. What exactly serves as fuel for the mind? What does the mind run on, what powers it? First, what serves as fuel for the body? Food, broken down into its component parts first by the act of chewing, then chemically by digestive fluids, this slurry of chemicals them combines with catalysts to form specific molecule chains that the body can process into whatever is needed at the moment or stores for use in either the near or distant future. ATP, the energy-carrying molecule found in every cell of all living things, captures chemical energy obtained from the breakdown of food molecules and releases it to fuel other cellular processes. Adenosine triphosphate. This is comparatively easy to understand because chemicals react in known ways based upon known reactions between different chemicals because they must react in certain ways in the presence of complimentary chemicals. But the mind is not physical and doesn’t react to anything that can be examined under a microscope. I submit that the mind operates based upon our desires. You are thirsty and you desire a glass of water. Or it is well into November and you notice a chill in the house. You would like to feel warmer than you currently do. Your mind initiates a cascade of reactions within your body that result in you moving to the thermostat and making whatever adjustments to the device that will cause the furnace to engage in heat mode and start cranking warm air into the living space that you felt was not warm enough. A completely different set of reactions causes you to move toward the kitchen, locate a clean glass, get some ice out of the freezer and fill a glass with both the ice and some water. Did you somehow analyze the proportion of fluids to electrolytes in your bloodstream and determine that water was likely the best way to end the sensation of thirst that caused you to go into the kitchen in the first place? No, you just wanted a drink. Desire, in a case like this, serves our well being.

Just as desire causes us to fulfill our physical needs, desire is the engine upon which our spiritual journey runs. We desire to be closer to God than we are or than we have been. I said something earlier about desiring things we cannot have, but this is not one of those things because God tells us in His Word that he wants to know us and be known by us. So there ought to be a way for us to place ourselves in a position where we can come to know God as He wants to be known. What hint does He drop in Psalm 46:10? “Be still and know that I am God.” Be still. How does that work in day to day living? We often speak of the quiet time. Really, how quiet is it ever? Our mind tends to be preoccupied by the Bible verses we intend to read during this time, (or are preoccupied by events of the day or by nothing at all) hopefully to urge our mind into a more devotional mode of thought.

How do we foster this type of stillness, one in which we invite God to become real to us in a new way? What right do we have to even consider asking for such a blessing? I’m willing to risk asking because of an underlying lack of satisfaction. Yes we serve a great and powerful God who has worked many miracles in our midst and continues to do so, meaning any dissatisfaction cannot be laid at God’s feet. In some way the fault lies in me, that I have not managed to sense a deeper degree of transformation in myself since 1982, when I finally made the faith that my parents had displayed to me since early childhood my own. Here I am, almost forty years down that road of faith and I can oftentimes feel like I am barely begun down that road or that I am very much the same person who began this journey in June of 1982. Yet I am doing all this stuff that is supposed to result in real and lasting change. Maybe I am doing it all somewhat imperfectly, but doesn’t the effort count for anything? I probably realize that seeking answers to such questions means I am likely to discover more about myself than I really want to know, but like the question of developing greater intimacy with Kim, it is a question that must be asked and then pursued only insofar as the object of intimacy is willing to allow its exploration. Then how does one wait upon God in such a quest, because in a sense, it really is a quest, just like those stories we have read or had told to us by able storytellers like Mom or Grandma or Grandpa when he got us alone for long enough and at the right geographical location to tell the proverbial Granddad story. “See that round barn over there? A man went crazy in that barn…” and then let you stew for ten minutes trying to guess what about the barn had caused the man to lose his sanity. You didn’t think I was going to tell, didya? But I suppose such questions must be both asked and answered in order for transformation to happen. I can imagine me being the one asking, but the answer will likely come from another source. and since that source is the one with whom I hope to connect with a deeper degree of intimacy, it is an endeavor I need not shy away from, as it could result in exactly what I want, or desire. So desire has the potential to spur me on to transformation such as Paul discusses in Romans 12.




20/20 vision

20/20 Vision

 

This year we can expect to see many allusions to the year, 2020, and vision, so here is your first.

Strictly speaking, the term 2020 vision is a statement regarding visual acuity. Visual acuity is measured by your ability to identify letters or numbers on a standardized eye chart from a specific viewing distance. Visual acuity is a static measurement, meaning you are sitting still during the testing and the letters or numbers you are viewing also are stationary. Visual acuity also is tested under high contrast conditions — typically, the letters or numbers on the eye chart are black, and the background of the chart is white. Although visual acuity testing is very useful to determine the relative clarity of your eyesight in standardized conditions, it isn’t predictive of the quality of your vision in all situations. For example, it can’t predict how well you would see objects that are similar in brightness to their background, colored objects, moving objects.

Three major physical and neurological factors determine visual acuity: how accurately the cornea and lens of the eye focus light onto the retina. The sensitivity of the nerves in the retina and vision centers in the brain, the ability of the brain to interpret information received from the eyes. Only light that is focused on a very small and highly sensitive portion of the central retina (called the macula) influences visual acuity measurements obtained during an eye exam.

The term “20/20” and similar fractions (such as 20/40, 20/60, etc.) are visual acuity measurements. They are also called Snellen fractions, named after Herman Snellen, the Dutch ophthalmologist who developed this measurement system in 1862.

In the Snellen visual acuity system, the top number of the Snellen fraction is the viewing distance between the patient and the eye chart. In the United States, this distance typically is 20 feet; in other countries, it is 6 meters.

At this testing distance, the size of the letters on one of the smaller lines near the bottom of the eye chart has been standardized to correspond to “normal” visual acuity” this is the “20/20” line. If you can identify the letters on this line but none smaller, you have normal (20/20) visual acuity.

The increasingly larger letter sizes on the lines on the Snellen chart above the 20/20 line correspond to worse visual acuity measurements (20/40, 20/60, etc.); the lines with smaller letters below the 20/20 line on the chart correspond to visual acuity measurements that are even better than 20/20 vision (e.g., 20/15, 20/12, 20/10).

The single big “E” at the top of most Snellen eye charts corresponds to 20/200 visual acuity. If this is the smallest letter size you can discern with your best corrective lenses in front of your eyes, you are legally blind.

Is it possible to see better than 20/20?

Yes, it’s indeed possible to have sharper than 20/20 vision. In fact, most people with young, healthy eyes are capable of identifying at least some of the letters on the 20/15 line or even smaller letters on the Snellen chart.

On most Snellen charts, the smallest letters correspond to 20/10 visual acuity. If you have 20/10 visual acuity, your eyesight is twice as sharp as that of a person with normal (20/20) vision.

But as amazing as your eyes are, they have one significant limitation. Every single eye in this world has a fatal flaw. Your eyes can only see physical reality. Every eye is limited to seeing physical things: cars, people, buildings, planes, dogs, grass, pollution, microbes, trees, books, computers. These things are all physical, and they are the only part of reality accessible to our eyes. Our eyes are completely useless when it comes to perceiving spiritual reality. The spiritual side of life is just as real as the physical side; we just can’t see it. Oh, don’t make the mistake of thinking that the spiritual is less real than the physical. It is not. It is just as real, only we can’t see it. But it’s there and as real as eyes in your head.

Paul tells us to fix our eyes on the things that cannot be seen. “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor 4:18). We are to focus on the thing things that cannot be seen, because they are eternal, whereas the physical world that we see with our limited vision is temporary.

An example I have seen of this comes from a song by a gentleman named Dan Fogelberg. The name of the song is Longer. This was a song that a friend from school planned on using in her wedding should she ever get married. It ended up being the song for the couple’s dance. The lyrics go as follows:

Longer than there’ve been fishes in the ocean
Higher than any bird ever flew
Longer than there’ve been stars up in the heavens
I’ve been in love with you

Stronger than any mountain cathedral
Truer than any tree ever grew
Deeper than any forest primeval
I am in love with you

I’ll bring fire in the winters’
You’ll send showers in the springs
We’ll fly through the falls and summers with love on our wings

Through the years as the fire starts to mellow
Burning lines in the book of our lives
Though the binding cracks
And the pages start to yellow
I’ll be in love with you
I’ll be in love with you

Longer than there’ve been fishes in the ocean
Higher than any bird ever flew
Longer than there’ve been stars up in the heavens
I’ve been in love with you
I am in love with you.

 

For the longest time I viewed these lyrics as nice but not terribly realistic. It was ridiculous in my mind to make the kind of claims the songwriter was making. Longer than there have been stars in the heavens. That would be, from a young Earth creationist point of view around 6000 years. How is it possible to love someone before either of you were born? But then if we existed in the mind of God since before the creation of the world to the point of being predestined for inclusion in His family, then perhaps the relationships we develop during the course of our lives also existed in God’s mind so that in a de facto sense, we have loved our earthly object of affection since God knew of these connections in eternity past, meaning that we can, in a poetic sense, love that one person since before there were stars in the heavens.

So how do we gauge the acuity of our spiritual eyes? The Spirit uses Scripture, fellowship and devotional practices to develop in us the spiritual eyes to see what God is doing. (This is what Paul meant in his letter to the Ephesians by mentioning the ‘eyes of understanding‘. “the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His” Eph 1:8.) You become freer to break out of the neat boxes in which your behavior is packaged. You can stop trying to package God (or yourself) as some sort of Captain Nice or Joe Cool or Heather Hip. You become less afraid to ask questions, for those can act as spiritual icebreakers in a oft-icy world. You don’t have to act super-pious, or stay stolid and formal, or strictly orderly and in place, or do all the right things. Or perhaps you’ll stop boxing God in with limits to divine authority (as if we have any power to do so). Without the insight that the Spirit supplies, such freedom leads to anarchy and self-obsession. Without ‘spiritual eyes‘, you force God to confront you and your way of life rather than let God share with you the pleasures of His divine company. With spiritual vision, you can see some part of where God is headed and where you belong in it. You can then act accordingly, and not think about the boxes. This is the kind of vision that allows you to love the most important person in your life as though you have known them for a thousand years and have loved them more for each one of those years.

Is it right to be satisfied with 20/20 spiritual vision or should and can we see with greater spiritual acuity? Or are we satisfied when we look at how God is working around us to just see the fuzzy edges of what He is doing and not see clearly what His motivations are behind His actions? If so, then how do we manage to see the sharper edges of what God is intending to do in the vicinity of our lives so that we might move with Him as He invites us to be the agents through whom He breaks His kingdom in upon a resistant world in a way that causes that world to notice just who it is that is bringing something wondrous into the world around them? Or is it wrong to try to see with greater clarity? Would it be more appropriate to move with faith where we see God clearly operating and in the process see more clearly what God is accomplishing? That is certainly one way to become more adept at seeing God operating in our sphere.

What does it look like to listen when God speaks? God speaks to each of us as each individual is able to hear. How God speaks plainly to you may be very different from how I happen to hear Him speak. But however that still, small voice manifests itself in your ears, there are probably a few baseline requirements to hearing effectively. So how do we best prepare ourselves to hear from God? Let us begin by not setting goals. When we approach this particular topic with expectations, we are in a sense attempting to be in control of the conversation. We need to allow God to set the agenda. It is important that we accept that we don’t have the answers, we don’t know what is needed. We are learning to listen so that God can redirect our attention. Secondly, success is not measured by God delivering a message. The aim is for us to learn what it means to be attentive. God will speak what He wills, when He wills and in the manner that He deems best. We are not aiming for perfect silence as we listen for God to speak. God invites us simply to make room for Him, nothing more. The perfection is His. Part of the reason for this is that we tend to set goals that are unrealistic.

How do we listen to God? Part of the reason for the Protestant Reformation was that believers were seeking to retake control of their walk of faith, which had been wrested from their hands by a class of priests. They sought to forge a deeper connection directly between themselves and their Lord. They developed a group of common practices that were called at the time spiritual disciplines. Among these were prayer, study of scriptures, tithing, and listening to God. Prayer is the act of speaking with God, the discipline of listening was the act of making ready to pray. We don’t stop praying because our prayers are not perfect. The same is true for the discipline of listening. We take the first step, do what we can and  trust our Father to reach across the divide and bring us the rest of the way home.

How to begin? Since the moment we first gave our hearts to Jesus our souls have hungered for a deeper connection to our Lord. We yearn for the wisdom that might come if we listened more closely and we heard God speak into our lives. Could we make a pledge as a body of believers that we try something? Could we for the next 40 days set aside a small portion of our day to listen to God? Twenty minutes, ten minutes, five minutes. We don’t seek perfection or intend to completely separate ourselves from the pressures and noise of our lives, but we will commit to taking that one small step each day and in the process we may learn what our fellow believers have known for centuries, that the act of listening can be a place of both peace and arrival. This is a combination of determination and grace, us determining to focus in a particular direction and God extending grace to us as we listen for His voice.

Think with me about this maybe. How do we do this? Read one Bible verse and listen for God?  Set the distractions that come during these attempts to listen for God’s voice on the figurative or actual altar somewhere near where we are doing our listening. Give the distraction to God and ask for His peace over this matter. And continue. Don’t give up because you are distracted. God knows that our thoughts can be intrusive and he understands this.

 

 

 

Limits

Mankind is a curious creature. We establish limits just so we can break free of those limits. The sound barrier. Col. Chuck Yeager broke this one and for a few years of my life spent not too far from an Air Force base in southern Illinois, I would be party to sonic booms that shook the house and all the breakable things in it. I do not recall anything breaking as the result of any sonic boom, but evidence that another barrier had been broken had to be announced by overly eager pilots.

And then there was that limit established by Albert Einstein that has yet to be successfully assaulted. Light speed. Yes, nothing in nature is supposed to be able to exceed the speed of light. But for a bit more than twenty years now it has been mathematically possible to exceed the last speed limit out there thanks to a gentleman named Miguel Accubierre. There are practical considerations which make breaking this limitation daunting because negative energy is required and there is no practical way of generating such energy currently, though at the end of the work week I seem to be in possession of a heck of a lot of it.

Just as a thought exercise, what is the relationship between limits and freedom? This is, after all, America where we take great pride in our God given freedoms. But what exactly is freedom? Is it a license to engage in any activity we choose at any given moment for whatever reason we decide? Are there and should there be limits on freedom? Is it right and possibly necessary for freedom to take place within limited boundaries? I think so.

Tell me, how much freedom does the opiate addict exercise with respect to his habit? He is free to misuse medications to achieve the desired feeling from the medications, but is he free, or is he in fact enslaved to a master making false promises. I would suggest that real freedom moves us away from disordered affections and towards that which does us good. Can we agree that disordered affections lead us away from that which does us good and ordered affections lead to our own good? Then if we place limitations on our pursuit of the affections which lead to our good, then we are free within those limits.

Thirty years ago I made a promise to forsake all others and keep myself only unto my wife. That limitation I placed upon myself opened up a whole world of really good experiences within the limits of the one man/one woman for life paradigm of marriage.

Paying Attention

Selah. This word is used as punctuation after a fashion in 39 of the Psalms. But what does it mean? I’ve seen it most of my life in the psalms and finally decided to look it up and see why it is used so regularly in Hebrew poetry.

There is much latitude given to this word. It may be a directorial note indicating a change in tempo, rhythm, or melody at this point in the song, or a change in literary thought or theme, and there is some truth in this interpretation if you read before and after the selah notation in any of the psalms in which the word occurs because a definite change in the flow of the song takes place close to its use.

The primary Hebrew root word [calah] which means ‘to hang,’ and by implication to measure (weigh). This is readily understood because, in Biblical history, money, food, and other valuables were ‘weighed’ by hanging or suspending them on a type of balance (the equivalent of our measuring scale) to determine their value. This implies a possible meaning is an instruction to measure carefully and reflect upon the preceding statements. Always a wise thing to do when considering God’s words and/or thoughts.

A more colloquial rendering of the term might go something like “shut up and pay attention”. This is fundamental to moving from a depth measured in molecules to a depth of 4000 miles. How do we do this in our soundbite culture? Turn OFF the phone (don’t just switch it to vibrate). Turn OFF the television, even if Independence Day is on. Because Independence Day is ALWAYS on somewhere. And NCIS is on every day. CSI is on every day. Given time the reboot of MacGyver will eventually be on every day as well. Our culture has made it impossible to miss out on anything that encourages a lack of depth. Sorry, Angus.

To what ought we to pay attention? The things that matter. And the things that you never thought mattered. Might I suggest reading A Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek by Annie Dillard sometime? Miss Dillard turned observing nature into an exercise by which she began to apprehend the spiritual realm all around her. Look up the term Golden Ratio, its place in the natural world, and then begin counting the petals on a blooming flower, any flower, any species, the seeds that make up a pine cone, and notice the mathematical ordering that takes place in nature. DON’T do this to your wife’s rose bush. Use common sense. Wildflowers, daisies. Pay attention to the precision. Wonder at the exactitude of the natural world and consider the likelihood that this didn’t require direction. This is a good start. Once you have learned to pay attention to nature, consider approaching the natural world that inhabits your home. If you have a spouse, study them by paying attention to them, their makeup, spend time examining the iris in both eyes. Are there differences between them? Does this change how you perceive your mate? Probably not. But how will they be affected by the knowledge that you are paying close attention to them?

Tempus Fugit

I finally got back to perusing this blog after way too long a time away from it. Yes, I had many other things to say, but you get busy plus I had a stroke 1/23/16 and some things you intended to remain important fall by the wayside.

As I was considering what angle to observe the universe from I stopped to think about the enormity of the thing and reduce it to something whose size I could comfortably manipulate in my head. A gallon of water. Such a mass of liquid weighs 36/1000ths of a pound per cubic inch of the stuff while a gallon of it weighs 8.33 pounds. These are sizes I can work with. But as I think about these facts and some other minutiae I have uncovered about water while helping my wife discover how to use the specific gravity of water to calculate needed quantities of various grades of high-density polyethylene for some oddly shaped pieces of plastic that are produced by various machines at her place of employment, the subject of the discussion is changing direction all by itself.

For example, if you poured out that gallon of water on a really large really flat surface, and squeegeed it out as far as possible you could cover an area of about five square miles with that gallon of water.  Admittedly the puddle of water you produced would only be a few molecules thick, but you can get an enormous amount of breadth out of a gallon of water. However, if you poured that gallon into a straw whose inside diameter was the size of a human hair, it would reach to the center of the earth some 4000 miles beneath our feet. If you hadn’t already guessed, I am moving from cosmology to cultural commentary. Just like our universe, which supposedly began as an infinitely dense point which then expanded to its current size, we, with our gadgets intended to keep us connected to all the most important people in our lives, are discovering that we have become like that gallon of water stretched out over five square miles. We have enormous breadth but we are only a few molecules deep. Instead of multitasking, what if we chose a single task and went 4000 miles deep with it? Might we not then discover something that has lasting value and meaning? Maybe we will look into this possibility in the future. But right now the dogs are making noises like I should be taking them outside. I guess that would be me attempting to keep from having to mop up a puddle. Drawing meaning from taking the dogs outside for the final evening constitutional prior to bedtime. A bit of a reach there, but you have to start somewhere.

What Are The Odds?

A unique G type yellow dwarf capable of warming a planet and providing it with exactly what it needs to sustain all manner of life. Whodathunkit?
A unique G type yellow dwarf capable of warming a planet and providing it with exactly what it needs to sustain all manner of life. Whodathunkit?

Last time out I talked a little about the striking dissimilarity between planets that the Standard Model tells us were all birthed from the same materials. Let’s take that line of thinking from Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria so to speak. We’ll talk about the neighborhood within say eleven light years of our own solar system.

All the stellar bodies within that little bubble of space presumably formed from related materials of an enormous gas nebula. Being in the same neighborhood, you can expect similarities, right? In neighborhoods on Earth, architectural similarities often run in developed areas. A lot of split levels with a smattering of ranch and two story homes, or some other combination of home styles. But this disbursal of styles can be explained by personal taste or preference, meaning a mind is required. But in the designing of a universe, there is no mind, just irrevocable natural laws, so we shouldn’t get this kind of variety, right?

Our sun, Sol, is a G type main sequence star that puts out predominantly white light. Proxima Centauri, our nearest neighbor, is a red dwarf. A red dwarf emits in the red phase of the visible spectrum, and red dwarves tend not to be visible to the naked eye. They don’t put out a lot of light or heat, meaning a planet would have to be much closer to the star to get much of either. Centauri A is a star similar to our own. Centauri B is a K type star, putting out an orange light burning cooler than our sun. Sirius A is an A type star, burning hotter and closer to the ultraviolet end of the spectrum. Each of these stars would present their own sort of issues to the potential for life on local planets. We know that the light our sun produces has all that plants need in order to grow. One must wonder how vegetation would fare in a cooler, redder, oranger, or more ultraviolet environment.

So why all the variety if it all came from the same place? But beyond that, most of these stars are less massive than the sun. This means they put out more and more dangerous radiation. Some of them, like the Alpha Centauri and Sirius solar systems, are composed of more than one star. Sirius A, a star like ours, and Sirius B, a white dwarf. How would the gravity of a pair of stars affect life on any planets in their vicinity?

Our sun is located in a relatively sparsely populated portion of space between the spiral arms of the Milky Way galaxy. This means life on our planet does not need to concern itself with radiation from nearby stars. Had our sun been in one of the spiral arms or closer to the galactic core, any life on our world would have had to develop a sunscreen with an SPF of several million long before it developed the wheel.

I suppose where all of this is headed is a discussion of the Anthropic Principle, the notion that the natural laws that exist in the universe and the conditions to which our solar system in particular is subject have been finely tuned to allow for the existence of complex life forms on our planet. Do we really only have chance to thank for all this? When design is apparent, should we not at least investigate the possibility of a designer?

I have always appreciated Robert Jastrow’s disarming honesty in his book God and the Astronomers: “This is an exceedingly strange development, unexpected by all but the theologians. They have always accepted the word of the Bible: In the beginning God created heaven and earth… But for the scientist who has lived his life by the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; and as he pulls himself over the final rock he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.” (Jastrow, Robert 2000 God and the Astronomers 2nd ed. Readers’ Library p. 109)

How Lucky For Us! (The role luck plays in the formation of worlds…evidently.)

Last time out I discussed my observations regarding how an explosion, something that by its very nature results in a state of disorder where there had previously been order, might somehow blossom into a universe of immense complexity and the necessary conditions for highly ordered forms of life to exist. The more I think about it, it seems like I should expect that if our president calls for a drone strike on a factory geared up to produce a million pocket watches of the gem and gear type, not something with quartz movement, after the drone hits its mark when sifting through the resulting debris I should find several hundred thousand fully assembled watches. Incongruous with how we know explosions tend to operate, right?

To date, the best explanation I have found from numerous sources can be boiled down to a three word explanation: “We got lucky.” This is unsatisfying for several reasons, but my chief complaint is that science should know better than to offer such a lame explanation. Science purports to show us reality, not supposition, and should be held to that standard or else it should stop using the phrase “according to science”, for if all science is is convincing sounding stories about how things might have happened, then it has no business dictating how we ought to be living our lives.

Anyway, other issues with the standard model, the first stemming from my recent discussion of explosions. Remember that a star presumably forms when gases compress from the affect of gravity from a non-specific source upon them. The hydrogen and helium compress to the point of fusion and if the gravity of the star balances out the force of the fusion explosion we will get a source of heat and light that can warm a planet the right distance away from the star. Unfortunately, gravity is a weak force and the folks responsible for the standard model knew that this weakness was a sticking point in their model. So it was suggested that pressure waves from locally exploding supernovae helped to compress gas nebulae into tighter masses of gas, hence triggering a gravity well to form once the gas was sufficiently compressed. This is possible maybe because the universe was still expanding and at this time stars were closer together and an exploding supernova might be able to affect a nearby (comparatively) gas nebula.

Anyone recall what a supernova is? It is a star at the end of its life cycle. It has used up its fuel, the fusion process has gone somewhat awry and this instability resulting from having spent its fuel eventually causes it to explode. So, the question is: How did the first star which eventually became our exploding supernova come to be if it needed the force of another, much older star exploding to cause it to form? To me, this argument is as silly as the panspermia argument made by folks like Stephen Hawking suggesting life on Earth was placed here by aliens. This is a variation on the “The aliens caused it to happen” argument, again not hard science but a nice little story which absorbs all the unknowns and causes you to forget that you just walked through a hole in the logic large enough to navigate the Hindenburg through without being close enough to the edges to generate a static spark.

Oh, and when the pressure wave from the exploding star reaches our nebula/ soon to be star, what keeps the nebula from disbursing like talcum powder sprinkled in front of a fan?

And we haven’t even gotten to the silly part yet. Presumably the planets that eventually formed around this star formed from material that was cast off our fledgling proto-star. How did this material manage to avoid being drawn back into the star’s gravity well? Escape velocity from Earth’s gravity is 17,000 miles per hour. A coronal mass ejection from the sun can make the 93-million-mile journey to Earth in just three to four days. This implies an average speed of about one million miles per hour, but these are charged particles being ejected from the sun, which is not the same class of matter as what might have formed planets somewhere down the road. These particles have very little mass which makes it easier to escape the sun’s gravity. Planet building material would have considerably more mass and therefore be less apt to escape the sun.

If all this matter came from the same source, why do our planets have such different make-ups? I mean, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars and the asteroid belt are composed of rocky, solid, sturdy stuff. Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune and Uranus are gas giants. And here things get even sillier. Earth’s moon and the moons of Mars are made of cast off material from the formation of each planet. If that is true of these planets, would it not be true of the others? If so, then why are the moons of the gas giants decidedly rocky in their composition?

If the planets formed from the same materials from the same source traveling in the same direction as the object from which the materials came, wouldn’t we expect them all to rotate in the same direction once they coalesced into planets. Yet Venus, Uranus, and Pluto, formerly a planet, rotate clockwise around their axis, completely ignoring the law of angular momentum. I’ve looked for explanations for this oddity and there are speculative answers(maybe something really large collided with Uranus to cause it to spin backwards), none of which can be proved.

Maybe I’m being overly sensitive to non-issues, but that’s my prerogative. It’s my blog.

How To Build A Universe

spacekablooey

As much as I respect Calvin and Hobbes, I deg to biffer. As a boy, I, much like Calvin, was enthralled by the notion of things blowing up. And as time went by and I was actually party to things being blown up, be they model rockets whose payloads included gunpowder found in long forgotten shotgun shells or a limp balloon filled with hydrogen from a sixth grade experiment with electrolysis (remember that, Tom?), I was taken by how things were reduced to bits in the process. Several decades later this reality hit me during a discussion of how the big bang theory might fit in with the story of creation. Yes, the big bang theory supports the idea of the universe beginning at a definite moment in time, but from there the theory has lost its luster over time.

In theory, what eventually constitutes the universe we all know and love existed in a point smaller than an atom (though it is mathematically impossible for this much matter and energy to occupy a space that tiny even if the matter within that point consisted of nothing but neutrons) which in a trillionth of a second exploded and expanded to nearly its current size. At this point in time the universe is roughly 91 billion light years from edge to edge, but it is expanding. To have reached the size it did after the initial expansion, it must have expanded at a speed well above that of light, a speed which General Relativity insists cannot be exceeded. So there, take that, Einstein!

Then in a flash of light and energy the universe exploded into being. But it took a while for things to settle out and start to look familiar. The accepted explanation for how things shook out is called The Standard Model, which explains the universe as we see it as the product of natural forces. These natural forces took the shape of an enormous nebula that was 97% hydrogen and 3% helium. This gas nebula, in accordance with the Ideal Gas Law, disbursed and broke up into smaller nebulae. The Ideal Law states that gas in a vacuum will dissipate rather than join together. This point takes on greater meaning at the formation of stars and such.

While nebulae are pretty to look at, colorful and of interesting shapes and all, they aren’t of much use when trying to find a place to build a house. In that case, how do we arrive at solid matter?

It begins with gravity, but there are issues even with this first presumption as gravity, of the four forces at work in the universe (the others being electromagnetic forces and the strong and weak forces that hold atoms together), is easily the weakest of the four. Odd that the weakest force in the universe gets credit for accomplishing so much work in the universe. Anyway, gravity, centered in the middle of a nebula, begins to consolidate the hydrogen and helium of the nebula, compressing it into something more solid, or at the very least less gaseous. The source of this gravity, which we experience only on something as massive as say a planet, is not explained in this model. It is merely assumed to be the force at work. As things continue to coalesce in the middle of the nebula, mass increases and gravity increases, causing the outer portion of the nebula to be pulled into the mixture. As this process, called accretion, continues, friction between atoms results in a buildup of static energy causing microscopic dust and ice to cluster together. Now ice implies water, which requires more electrons than the number available from either hydrogen or helium. And how do we get dust from such limited resources? Notice how they toss in tidbits to make the story sound plausible or at the very least more interesting? Robert Heinlein referred to this as the unexpected detail which made his stories so interesting. My favorite example was “The door dilated”, a detail deftly offered that gave you the sense you are in a work of science fiction because doors in our time and place do not dilate as the iris of a camera does to open. If it sounds interesting,, suspension of disbelief kicks in with ease.

I suppose a detailed discussion of the subject of dark matter is in order, but then no one knows what or even if it is. This matter would act as a sort of cosmological missing link that would explain gravity and allow the standard model to operate as is presumed, but because we don’t have a beaker of the stuff to examine empirically, all dark matter is is a place-holder until someone comes up with a better vehicle to explain all the incongruities of the Standard Model.

As compression continues, this mass of swirling gas begins to rotate at ever-increasing speeds. The gas consists mainly of hydrogen protons. So how were they able to determine they were hydrogen protons and not protons from livermorium (http://www.privatehand.com/flash/elements.html )? Protons have a positive charge, and as any kid who has ever played with two magnets knows, like charges repel. Not a good scenario for the formation of worlds. But as things compress and heat up (rub your hands rapidly together to get a sense of how this works), the protons move fast enough to overcome that repelling force. When protons collide at a high enough rate of speed under sufficient pressure, fusion occurs. When two protons fuse, they eject a positron, a photon and a neutrino, which combine to form helium. This process results in a release of a lot of heat, which leads to more such fusion and creation of helium, and helium combining with hydrogen is what is thought to be the engine our sun runs on. After a million years of such reactions the fusion reaches the surface of the swirling mass and both light and heat are produced.

At this point we merely have a proto-star. If the proto-star’s gravity pulling toward the core balances out with the forces of fusion reactions pushing outward, you may end up with a star. If they don’t balance out, things may merely fall apart.

This is the recipe for a star under The Standard Model. Next time out I will share my ‘issues’ with this commonly accepted scenario.

A Little “light” Reading

I suppose this qualifies as my first real post; the first post pursuant to the title of the blog at any rate. My interests range widely and I have learned odd bits over the years that have caused me to question conventional wisdom on a number of fronts, primarily those fronts which seem dedicated to remove all mention of God from serious discussions. So rather than delve into weighty matters right off the bat, I’ll discuss something light. In fact, let’s talk about light.

Now because my background is in English, both the language and literature written in that language, I tend to automatically notice grammar in things I read and when the original text of something I read is in a language other than English, I typically look into the grammar of that language to see how meanings might shift as the text moves into English. Modern translations of the Bible adapt the text to Western tensed languages and ideas regarding the flow of time.  For example, most translations of Genesis 1:3 say “God said let there be light, and there was light” using the perfect tense to denote a completed action, as though He said it once and from that point on light existed in the universe. In Hebrew, the verbs show continuing or ongoing actions. In Hebrew, He continued to command light to continue to be, hence an ongoing act of creation.

Interesting from a grammatical point of view, but so what? Well, one of the arguments made to discount the Bible as a reliable source of information goes something like “Creation happens all wrong in the Bible. You can’t create plants which require light to survive on the day before you create the sun.” By understanding the verb tenses involved, you can see that light was constantly being created, so any plants created before the sun and moon were in place were well illuminated.

Another thing that an obsession with English does to you is, when considering any text, you notice not only what the text says but also what it doesn’t say. On day four of creation in Genesis 1 we are told:

14 Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; 15 and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. 16 Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also.”

What would we call the great light that rules the day? The Sun maybe? And the light that rules the night? Perhaps the Moon? Why doesn’t Moses refer to them as the sun and moon or their Hebrew equivalents, shemesh and yareach? I mean, he was writing Genesis in the mid-15th century BC and folks had been calling them the sun and moon for a really long time by that point in history. There is a possible explanation found in Deuteronomy 4:19-

19 And take heed, lest you lift your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, you feel driven to worship them and serve them, which the Lord your God has given to all the peoples under the whole heaven as a heritage.

At this point in the exodus story commands are being given to the children of Israel not to worship the created realm as the folks whom they will displace when God gives them Canaan did. Perhaps Moses is taking pains to reinforce this truth by not naming the celestial bodies in question, as if to say ‘they are just lights’. And for anyone who might care to mis-presume, I am not suggesting that the moon shines of its own accord. That’s the kind of thing folks programmed to sneer at young earth creationist types might latch onto as a straw man argument to disqualify me from any serious future discussion on this topic.

I would really like to continue this discussion about light and our local light source the sun, but I’m not sure how long these blog posts ought to be so as not to lose people’s attention so I’ll end this one and pick up the discussion again with some observations about the Horrendous Space Kablooey and what my experience tells me about explosions, gravity, and the general characteristics of hydrogen and helium. Now to see if anyone reads this. I wonder how you publicize these things…?

Thoughts, comments, general disagreements welcome.