Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Thoughts on Divinity: Part 2 of ?

This is the second post in a series about God and the evidence that He exists. The first can be read here.

All living things are comprised of cells -- other than microscopic germs that consist of just a single cell, such as bacteria.

To get an idea of how incomprehensibly small cells are, consider that one teaspoon of soil is home to 40 million bacteria, and despite being so numerous in such a tiny space, they are invisible to the naked eye, even in their aggregate.

The average-sized human body is built of 37.2 trillion cells, and to put that number into perspective, consider that in order to travel 37.2 trillion miles you would need to make the journey to the sun and back more than 200,000 times, with every one of those 200,000+ journeys being 186 million miles round-trip.

Living things exist and function because all of their infinitesimally tiny cells do their jobs and work in concert. Each cell is made up of component parts which include (but are not limited to) the membrane that protects it from invasion; the ribosomes that manufacture protein; the endoplasmic reticulum through which protein is transported; and deoxyribonucleic acid, also known as DNA, that double-helix-shaped molecule which determines the color of our eyes, the color of our hair, whether we can curl our tongues, whether we can wiggle our ears, ad infinitum.

If you were a bear in western Canada belonging to the species known as black bear, the DNA in your cells would determine whether your fur was in fact black, or whether it was one of the other colors your species sports in that part of the world: brown, cinnamon, or white.

If you were a dachshund living with your owner in Munich, the DNA in your cells would determine whether your hair was smooth and dapple or wiry and brown.

Each of our eyes consists of millions of cells (six million in the cones alone) and receives light through the cornea, which bends it upon entry... the pupil then controls the intensity of that bended light, which proceeds to strike the lens, which in turn focuses it to the retina through a gelatinous substance... then, having received that focused light, the retina transforms it into an electrical impulse and sends it to the brain along the optic nerve, and the brain takes that electrical impulse and translates it into an image... and all of that happening, unfathomably fast, is how we see.

But of course, our eyes are neither the only nor the best to be found. Whereas human eyes have some 30,000 cones in the fovea, which is the most sensitive part of the retina, falcon eyes have around 1,000,000... and whereas we have one fovea per eye, falcons have two... and whereas our brains cannot perceive more than 20 events per second from the information sent by our eyes, falcons can perceive 70 to 80 per second from the information sent by their eyes -- which, in the words of British naturalist Helen Macdonald, means that "events in time that we perceive as a blur, like a dragonfly zipping past our eyes, are much slower to them...allow(ing) them to stretch out a foot at full speed to grab a bird or a dragonfly from the air."

And on the opposite end of the predator-prey spectrum is the common house fly, whose eye has not one lens but thousands. Their eyes do not enable them to see far, but do enable them to detect the slightest of movements so quickly that it is almost impossible for us to swat them (or predators to snatch them) before they dash away.

All of which brings me to the words penned by William Peter Blatty in his pilosophical novel Legion: "Someone had created the world. Made sense. For why would an eye want to form? To see? And why should it see? In order to survive? And why should it survive? And why? And why? The child's question haunted the nebulae, a thought in search of its maker that cornered reason in a dead-end maze and made Kinderman certain the materialist universe was the greatest superstition of his age."

The secularists of our age -- the God deniers, if you will -- would have you believe that this all occurred by random.

They would have you believe that after the big bang 14 billion years ago, random dust and particles coalesced to accidentally form stars and planets... and some of those dust and particles accidentally formed our sun... and some of them accidentally formed Earth at the precise distance from the sun that its heat, vitamins, etc., arrive at Earth in exactly the right amounts to make life possible... and some of the particles coalesced to accidentally wrap Earth in an atmosphere that accidentally includes oxygen, which is necessary for life.

They would have you believe that as dust and particles coalesced to accidentally form Earth, a googoplex of indescribably miniature (to the point of being invisible) bits of matter collided together in just such a way that they accidentally created cells and accidentally arranged those cells just how they needed to be arranged to form eyes that could see and lungs that could breathe and ears that could hear and tongues that could taste... and et cetera and et cetera, from the deepest seas to the highest peaks, from the driest deserts to the wettest jungles, with each accidentally created organism just happening to be perfectly designed to survive in whatever its accidentally created habitat happens to be.

The number of things that had to happen just so and fall into place just so for all this to occur is so large that it is impossible to calculate. What are the odds that all these things could randomly happen precisely as they needed to, and in the exact order they needed to? The odds are so small they can not be measured or even conceived, which, mathematically speaking, means the odds are zero. This is a very inconvenient truth for secularists, particularly atheists, many of whom remain oddly unaware of it, while those who are aware of it tend to ignore rather than address it -- and yet they would have you believe that their scientific acumen is superior to that of people who comprehend the math and ask them to stop ignoring and start addressing.

The secularists would have you think you are nuts for concluding that the infinitely interconnected complexity of the world and universe must be by design. But what makes more sense: Concluding that it occurred by design, or believing that it occurred by mathematically impossible happenstance?

To be continued...

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Off To See The Wizard

It's hard to believe how much time has flown by, but it was six years ago to today that Sarah and I watched "The Wizard Oz" on the big screen. On this anniversary of that great Daddy-Daughter Day, I figured I would go ahead and republish the piece I wrote about it at the time:

It is somehow reassuring that today's children are just as familiar with The Wizard of Oz as prior generations were, even though it has been 72 years since the movie was released. I file it under the category of "The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same." And I file yesterday afternoon, when Sarah and I went to watch it on the big screen, under the category of "Great Daddy-Daughter Memories."

Downtown Tampa is home to one of America's best examples of a movie theater from Hollywood's golden age, back when they all had one auditorium and were often extravagant in their decor. Designed by John Eberson and opened in 1926, the Tampa Theater is bedecked with red upholstery and Greco-Roman statues, and its auditorium evokes a Mediterranean courtyard at dusk: The screen is surrounded by castle walls, while the ceiling is painted dark blue like the twilight sky, fitted with tiny lights reminiscent of stars.

I took advantage of my cell phone camera while we were there. Here is a view of the floor level, taken beneath the balcony after the movie was over and almost everyone had left:

Here is one taken from our seats in the balcony, when the organist was providing pre-show entertainment:

And here is another one taken from our seats, looking into the corner to give a sense of how high the walls go. To add to the perspective, keep in mind that we were sitting in the lower third of the balcony:

As part of its Summer Classics Series, the theater broke out Oz for matinee screenings this weekend. Sarah was fascinated with the opulence and I appreciated being able to watch a cinema classic while sitting inside a classic cinema. Even if you have seen a movie before, there is something different about seeing it on the big screen.

The event was touted as a singalong, and as you can tell from the following picture, the lyrics appeared on screen. I certainly didn't sing, nor did the bare majority of people in the audience, but quite a few did.

There were other examples of audience participation that, um, you just wouldn't get at home. Every time the Wicked Witch appeared (or Miss Gultch, her Kansas incarnation) large numbers of people hissed at her. And they applauded when she melted and whenever Toto made an escape.

Yes, some people came in costume, and not all of them were kids. One trio of folks who -- well, I will just say they probably got the senior's discount -- dressed up like the Lollipop Guild.

Yesterday was far from Sarah's first time watching The Wizard of Oz, but it was the first time she realized it was all a dream. She has already asked to go again next summer.

I can't believe that with all the pictures I took, I failed to take any of us. I (or Erika) will make up for that next time, but for now I leave you with the photo that turned out to be yesterday's coolest by far. I was taking one of the Scarecrow on screen and apparently my shutter snapped just as the next frame, of Dorothy, was coming round -- because you can see both their images on the screen, with hers fainter:

Note: "Movie palace" (or "picture palace" in the U.K.) was the name given to the style of theaters designed by Eberson and other cinema architects of his time. For a list of 150 of his creations, most of which are now closed and not all of which were in the U.S., go here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Thoughts On Divinity: Part 1 of ?

Talking about your belief in God is uncomfortable because it leads to people questioning your intelligence. However, this present age might be the most important one in history for believers to talk about God and explain why they believe in Him.

G.K. Chesterton is said to have remarked that "when a man stops believing in God he doesn't then believe in nothing, he believes anything." Evidence that those words are true litters every corner of modern America, and comes in the form of everything from social pathologies run amok to flaky nonsense being considered deep thinking.

The social pathologies I'm talking about -- fatherlessness, substance abuse, welfare dependency, obtaining your sense of belonging from gang members and ideologues rather than family members and mentors, etc. -- are not new, but their commonness is, and I do not believe it's a coincidence that they have grown to their highest levels at the precise moment in history that our belief in God has shrunk to its lowest level.

The American ideal -- indeed, the human ideal -- is based not on people having (in the words of P.J. O'Rourke) "the freedom to put anything into their mouths, to say bad words and to expose their private parts in art museums," but on people knowing (in the words of Pope John Paul II) "that freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought." It is tragic that so many Americans have lost sight of this, but then again, when massive numbers of Americans believe there is no God, it's inevitable that massive numbers of Americans will have a self-centered worldview in which everything revolves around them and whatever their whims and desires of the moment happen to be.

*     *     *     *     *

Life and its many problems are complex and sometimes the answers are too, but oftentimes the answers are not complex. After all, simple causes frequently have far-reaching effects, and an increase in the number of people who believe in God would go a long way toward curing our earthly ills -- and note that I am not even talking about following a religion or joining a church, but simply believing in God.

For those of us who do believe, one of the annoying things about contemporary culture is how quick and eager its vanguards are to call us ignorant and stupid, when they themselves are ignorant and they themselves usually operate on emotion rather than intellect.

Most of the vanguards couldn't pass an elementary school science test, yet they toss the word "science" around like a shibboleth because they are under the false impression that science and religion are at odds -- and based on that false impression, they assume that by pretending to be aligned with science they are somehow confirming they're smarter than those who logically believe that the infinitely complex, intricately connected, and supremely balanced wonders of nature are not some accidental result of an origin-free firecracker that went bang for no reason.

But of course, the irritation I just displayed is unbecoming. There is nothing wrong with skepticism -- I myself have a skeptical nature -- and there is no denying that the people I called cultural vanguards have a reason for their skepticism.

In many of their minds, people who believe in God have no reason for doing so other than an unsophisticated desire to cling to childhood fantasies about an invisible friend. Many of them see believers as people who live their lives hoping/assuming that at some moment a deus ex machina will magically appear and solve all their problems with no effort on their own part. And the vanguards' skepticism is given wings by the undeniable fact that God has never sat down on their couches looking like Charlton Heston or Morgan Freeman and talked to them.

On top of that, add the fact that the vanguards rarely if ever engage in conversations with believers, and their skepticism becomes a self-sustaining fire: They are of the earnest opinion that believers come to their faith by ignoring evidence and refusing to grow up, and so they portray believers that way without ever hearing (much less understanding) that the overwhelming majority of believers arrive at their faith after contemplating the world's facts and enigmas through agonizing periods of doubt and reflection.

They automatically reject the idea of God without entertaining the abundant evidence that He exists (often not even realizing that there is such evidence), yet they portray as fools anyone who unautomatically accepts the idea of God after having scrutinized both the evidence of His existence and the evidence of His non-existence. This means that they reject the Scientific Method while acting as if they are science's avatar, and because they hold massive sway in the popular culture, their bogus portrayals of believers (and equally bogus portrayals of non-believers) have become accepted as a reality they are not.

As a result, living, breathing human beings suffer because the vanguards' rejection of God fuels a socially domineering rejection of God, which in turn renders people uninformed and leads them astray.

It is far past time for the logical -- and yes, scientific -- reasons for believing in God to be explained and understood.

*     *     *     *     *

So what am I to do as a 46-year-old father of two and husband of one, who leads an ordinary and unremarkable life and whose blog is read by dozens, maybe scores, but definitely not by hundreds or thousands or millions?

I do not seem like much of a messenger for any "come to God!" post, for I swear like a sailor and am too fond of beer and often disdain the way I was designed by the God whose existence I feel driven to affirm.

But I do feel driven to affirm His existence, and do feel qualified to do so. Maybe "what am I to do?" amounts to laying out my reasons for believing and publishing them and hoping that each individual who reads them will consider them fairly and without prejudgment.

In my Easter post this year I wrote that "I believe in God not on faith alone but also on evidence (though that's a whole other blog post)..." Well, it's time for that whole other blog post to get written, but it is going to be several posts, not one, because the subject matter is too important and too large to be limited to a handful of paragraphs.

Consider this piece to be the first in a series, as I will start "making my case" for God in the next one, which I hope to publish soon.

The series will probably be intermittent, as I might write posts about other topics in between writing posts about this one, but I consider this topic to be transcendent and I hope you will follow along.

Until next time, take care.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Mankind's Greatest Hour

Today, as we fire up our grills and crack open our beers, let us remember why we even have a July 4th holiday: to commemorate the greatest act of shared, selfless courage the world has ever seen.

Everybody should know that Thomas Jefferson authored the Declaration of Independence. Most people know the names of a handful of the 56 men who signed it, such as John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin, and of course Jefferson himself. But few people seem to realize that when those men signed their names, they were committing what was considered an act of treason against the British crown, punishable by death. Those men were property owners who were successful in their lives and businesses. Their lives were comfortable and they stood to lose everything by signing the Declaration -- yet they chose to sign it anyway, because they knew that casting off the crown and forming a new government based on individual liberty was the right thing to do, not only for their own descendants but for all of humanity. And here is what happened to some of those men after they signed the Declaration:

Five of them became prisoners of war.

Nearly one-sixth of them died before the war ended.

British forces burned, and/or looted, the homes and properties of nearly one-third of them.

When the British did that to the property of William Floyd, he and his family fled and spent the next seven years living as refugees without income. His wife died two years before the war ended.

After being forced into the wilderness by British forces, John Hart struggled to make his way home. When he finally got there, he found that his wife was dead and his 13 children were missing. He died without ever seeing them again.

Richard Stockton was dragged from his bed and sent to prison while his property was ravaged. From the day of his release from prison until the day he died, he had to rely on charity from others to feed his family.

Francis Lewis’s wife was imprisoned and beaten. Meanwhile, his wealth was plundered. His last years were spent as a widower living in poverty.

Thomas Nelson Jr.’s home was captured and occupied by British General Cornwallis, who used it as what we would now call an operations center. Therefore, Nelson ordered his troops to destroy his own home with cannon fire during the Battle of Yorktown. To assist in funding the war, he used his own credit to borrow 2 million dollars, which today would equal more than 25 billion dollars. Repaying that debt bankrupted him, and when he died he was buried in an unmarked grave.

It is a safe bet that fewer than one percent of our citizens have ever heard of these people, much less know anything about the devastating sacrifices they made so that future generations could have the freedom necessary to build the kind of upwardly-mobile, always-progressing society we would come to take for granted.

The Founding Fathers bequeathed to us a wonderful gift called America, and we owe it to our children to make sure we don’t allow that gift to be destroyed. We should never hear the words “Fourth of July” without feeling a skip in our heart and a tear in our eye.

Much thanks to Jeff Jacoby, the late Paul Harvey, and all the others who have written and spoken about the fates of the signers, to keep their story alive.