Saturday, March 23, 2013

We wait it out.

      After a Winter of above normal temperatures these past two weeks here in N.WI have been about 10 degrees below normal. We will be patient.

      These flowers went in the second week of February. They are on a big leak proof pad that is meant for underneath a washing machine. They should be ready to bake in the greenhouse by April.  They should be ready to provide a feast of color by end of May.  Although, the sun has got a lot of snow removal to do soon.

      Last year at this time (third week in March) was a freakishly hot couple of days.  The reason I remember so well is that at the Bell Tower in Merrill, where I worked, they had to turn the air-conditioning on for two consecutive days.  It was just over 90 degrees (50 degrees above normal).  And Winter did not come back.  It was the beginning of the warmest year on record.  The trees all just stood there for a few weeks not knowing what to do with springlike weather coming that soon.  Spring was interrupted eventually by a killing frost which wiped out a large part of the apple season, among other things, but the leaves went on later that Autumn, after all of that, to turn color right on schedule during the last week of September.  Well, so they do go by hours of daylight.  Sure enough.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

The World Is No Longer Just Changing, It's Changed.

      My 13 1/2-year-old daughter is not amazed.  She was born in 1999 when technology was suddenly changing very rapidly.  The internet was born 10 years earlier out of the ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency).  The ARPAnet came into being during the 1960's when the Cold War was at its peak.  It was not only a way to link computers at laboratories across the country for the purposes of sharing computing resources, but also decentralized potential wartime command and control to various places throughout the country in the event of a nuclear attack.  It went public in 1989.  Trying to prevent an explosion of one thing had caused what was going to lead to an explosion of another sort.  It would not even be until she was four years old that Web 2.0 would come into being and blogging would be born. That makes my daughter old (I am happy to inform her) -- even older than blogging.

      Some of us in middle age and late middle aged (40-65) are amazed more-so than others.  We have seen much more change in this world (three and a half channels of fuzzy black and white t.v.). Many of us never imagined the machinery of technology would take us so far so quickly.  Some of us are amazed.

       My daughter, today, is not amazed.  Partly because she is only an early teenager, and partly because she has never known anything different.  But what she is discovering is that she is also subject to becoming outdated very quickly. She can already know what it feels like to be me (53-years-old). Things are developing exponentially every two years.  In other words, consider this horseshoer's pricing schedule. 

      The farmer asks the horseshoer how much he will charge him to put four new shoes on his horse?  The horseshoer responds, "How about if I charge you 2 cents for the first nail, 4 cents for the second, and keep on doubling the cost of each nail until I have finished all four shoes with eight nails per shoe?"  That sounded fair enough to the farmer, who had long since gotten pretty rusty at his math.  After putting eight nails in four shoes each, you wouldn't think the farmer would owe the horseshoer $4,294,967,296.00?  That is what technology has been doing, Ray Kurzweil would argue, since the beginning of time, and continues to do every two years.  It doubles, which results in very rapid exponential growth.  Even since my daughter has been born, technology has changed unimaginably fast, and will continue to do so.

-Here is a 2005 lecture by inventor Ray Kurzweil:

    - And then another from 2009:


-And finally an interesting piece by Kevin Kelly:

       Kevin Kelly: The next 5,000 days of the web.  Executive editor of WIRED Magazine. Filmed Dec 2007 
(The "5000 days" is the 13 1/2 years before 2007 - since then we are half-way through the next 5000)
 “It is amazing and we’re not amazed” - Kevin Kelly

The date of the most recent video link above (which is more than several years old) is probably where most of us are now in our present "datedness".  Since then we have progressed exponentially quite a ways farther than that in both the advancements of technology, and in our perspective of it as well.  Below is another batch of slightly more guarded forecasts of the technological impact on both our present and our future.

Here is a recent link to an NPR story (3/16/2013) containing the most recent TEDtalks. which is current.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

A Biblical 13 Billion-Year-Old Earth

      The Pope -- the highest ranking official in the Catholic denomination -- has lead the catholic church down the road to reject Genesis in explaining creationism (the article is further down the page).  This is not breaking news, it happened a while ago.

      Just about the time I could literally interpret the creation account in Genesis chapters 1 & 2 as allowing for a 13.5 billion-year-old planet as the basis for the future earth, the Pope declares that he considers it to be an "allegory".  Does it being an allegory rule out that it is also literally true?  I don't believe it does. I believe that the Spirit of God came to a 13.5 billion-year-old planet roughly 12 thousand years ago, and in a week's time, indeed, made a whole new creation.  The Genesis creation account is sparse enough in details to appear to be an allegory.  Perhaps looking at the creation account in Genesis as a sort of 'literal allegory' helps. Except that "literal allegory" may be oxymoron. But, what is wrong with a literal description of a past account using some symbolism, for the sake of explaining some complicated event for which we do not need to know every detail?  Can you bear with me here?  Perhaps creation was one such event, that requires one such  explanation?    

      About three years ago, when I began reading Genesis in the German language (this Pope is German), I first saw the 13 billion-year-old planet of ours being given form in Genesis 1:3-4 and becoming the earth. It had nothing to do with the German, but rather in at last seeing "heaven" and "earth" being created on the second and third day (Gen. 1:6-10), instead of all at once on the first day ("In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" is a title sentence" - he had not yet created the heavens or the earth. He does that in Gen. 1:6-10).  Yet, in all of that, I can still teach creationism --  the belief that God created the world in six days, as described in the Bible.   But... the Catholic Church no longer teaches creationism.  Poor them.  The Pope describes the creation account in Genesis as an "allegory".  And it seems like an apt label.  Allegories are used throughout the bible to express important truths.  So what kind of allegory is the account of creation?  One based on truth, or one being reassembled into symbolism to the point where it is no longer true? It is one that can be understood as literally true.  An allegory would be a 'true symbolic generalization', or a 'true symbolic representation' of the actual event, would it not?  Jesus uses both parables and allegories to explain truth.    

 Definition of ALLEGORY
1: the expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations about human existence; also : an instance (as in a story or painting) of such expression
2: a symbolic representation : emblem 2

     That fits.  'Parable' and 'allegory' are synonyms.  They illustrate truth.  They remain symbolically true to that which they are being used to explain.  I have a college logic class coming up in about 4 months.  I think I'm going to wait to dissect the actual mechanics of allegory until then.

     The Genesis account of creation, I believe, serves to treat a complex literal event in allegory form.  I have to admit this is the first time I've felt comfortable claiming to have the same position as the Pope in most anything. God uses the stylistic tool to provide an accurate account of an event while still reserving the privilege to be vague on details which He chooses to keep to Himself.  And as a vague outline, the Genesis account is literally true.

      Here is what is hard about the Genesis account.  An atheist person says the account in Genesis 'chapter two' conflicts with the account in 'chapter one'. "Things", he says, "were created in a different order in separate accounts".  And he is proud of himself because now he believes he has found a contradiction in our infallible word of God.  But he hasn't.  The two accounts describe the same event from different angles.  He has only found a contradiction in the way it is often approached by certain Christians;  because there was already something there in chapter one, and it is the same thing that is there in chapter two - a mist covered orb (planet).  God took what was already there and made a whole new creation out of it.  No contradictions involved.  And it can be understood when looked at literally as well.  The only hard part left for some folks is, "He made the stars also".  Well, exactly when, and which ones?  Does that mean all of the stars in the universe?  Did eternity, then, begin 6-12 thousand years ago?   We need to let the context be a part of the meaning.  If everything else was made out of things that were already there, then so were the stars. Reading it as an allegory, if need be, fits. If it is not an allegory, then the first two chapters of Genesis have to answer for several contradictions.

      I believe when He says,"He made the stars also", He's making them what they needed to be for His new creation.  You then have a consistent allegory, in my view, from start to finish.  All through the rest of the bible the Lord speaks to us at length in both parables and allegories. Why could this not be treated as one?

      But starting at the beginning, this is how I understand the passage...

      Genesis 1:1 is the title sentence.
       In the Beginning God Created the Heavens and the Earth

      The heavens themselves were not yet created until day two (or so it says).  He has not yet created what he refers to as, 'earth', until verse 10 of day three.  On day one, first mentioned, is this vast planet being visited by the Spirit of its creator.  The sort of place without intelligent life --  neither minds created in the image of the Creator, nor, hitherto, God's Spirit itself.  It had neither modern animals nor flora. Without those things it would be described as formless, void, and dark - not non-existent.  But something that 'was here' did have shape, substance and depth.  There was something here.  What?  Just another planet?  Why not?  Probably one out of the quintillions of planets known to exist.  A planet without God's personal presence, without God's Spirit, yet with the ingredients for whatever God ordained.  He arrives during 1:1, and His creative presence gives off its own light. The entire solar system was not yet set in its perfect position until day four;  but still, on day one, creation had morning and evening -- day and night -- with no sun.

Genesis 1:7 God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse ; and it was so. 8 God called the expanse heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day. 9 Then God said, "Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear "; and it was so. 10 God called the dry land earth, and the gathering of the waters He called seas ; and God saw that it was good.

      The above describes a heaven and the earth made on days two and three of the creation account.  Why are these called "heaven" and "earth"?  Because they are heaven and earth.

      Paul speaks of three heavens in particular.  I think it is safe to say that there are many parts to heaven.  None of them are a physical place, but rather places where nothing exists accept God's Spirit. His own sovereign creative substance. And it is everywhere as well -- I believe;  and somewhere in the heavens is God's throne.

      We look around us and we see a 13.5 billion-year-old Earth -- give or take a few billion, I suppose.  Have we been given eyes that deceive us?
             "The hearing ear and the seeing eye, The LORD has made both of them". Proverbs 20:12

      He created and made available perfect words, perfect mechanisms-of-knowing (eyes, ears, etc.) , perfect tools and methods for both understanding and explaining His infallible revelation as well as understanding and explaining the elemental things of His creation.  From an infallible God we received infallible tools science (often used too speculatively).  It is God's Science.  We rely on it to make even our bible (the science of Literary Criticism).  Without science we would have a very different bible;  one put together by mere men which, without God's provision of sound scientific methods, would fall short.

       Without referring to the bible, science cannot explain what happened to man at some point around 12 thousand years ago when he changed from a barely higher form of animal life to a person (man-male and female).  Science can document and test but cannot explain that period. It can theorize as to what actually happened during that period but those theories do not satisfy even many atheistic scientists.  We know all about the progression of creatures for billions of years but the one closest to the surface of the ground, a mere few thousand years ago, does not explain what many wish it would explain.  Only God's creative intervention is available as an explanation.  Yes, God created agriculture at the same time he created the 'person'.  But the complex intelligence did not evolve, per se, but rather, it appeared suddenly, along with the highly complex languages, technologies, and civilizations, at God's timely prompting.

      And even none of that matters to the Christian.  Christ was here, and said, "I tell you these things now, so that when I am gone, you will believe that I am He".  That He is who?  God on His earth.  God, having come in Jesus -- in the flesh -- to reconcile the world to Himself (2Co 5:19) .  To call His creation back to Himself. That is all we need to know.  It was Him!  God proves this for our benefit  by raising him from the dead, and allowing him to continue to teach and be here for 40 days after he was publically executed.  That makes the rest much easier.  And Jesus affirmed the Genesis account of creation in the Bible.  And unlike other parables and allegories which He did explain, He thought it was sufficient not to explain more of the beginnings of creation, and instead, explain to us that He and the Father are one, and he Himself will raise us up on the last day.

          In my view -- by a literal reading of our book of Genesis -- the Lord came to His planet earth 6-12 thousand years ago and in 7 days, one literal week, made a whole new miraculous creation, on a 13.5 billion-year-old planet.  A whole new creation -- Man (male and female) the "person", now in His own image, His attributes, able to share in His divine nature, and be led by the free gift of His Spirit.

        As Christians, we accept that man, "the person", was created as Adam, and then Eve, with the rest of creation in the beginning.  The details of all of that we have not been given.  All that matters is that our simple understanding matches the simple literal portrayal given to us in Genesis.

      Now for some more pontification.     

God was behind Big Bang, universe no accident: Pope

Pope Benedict XVI delivers a Christmas Day message from the central balcony of Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican, December 25, 2010. REUTERS/Osservatore Romano

VATICAN CITY | Thu Jan 6, 2011 10:05am EST
(Reuters) - God's mind was behind complex scientific theories such as the Big Bang, and Christians should reject the idea that the universe came into being by accident, Pope Benedict said on Thursday.
"The universe is not the result of chance, as some would want to make us believe," Benedict said on the day Christians mark the Epiphany, the day the Bible says the three kings reached the site where Jesus was born by following a star.
"Contemplating it (the universe) we are invited to read something profound into it: the wisdom of the creator, the inexhaustible creativity of God," he said in a sermon to some 10,000 people in St Peter's Basilica on the feast day.
While the pope has spoken before about evolution, he has rarely delved back in time to discuss specific concepts such as the Big Bang, which scientists believe led to the formation of the universe some 13.7 billion years ago.
Researchers at CERN, the nuclear research center in Geneva, have been smashing protons together at near the speed of light to simulate conditions that they believe brought into existence the primordial universe from which stars, planets and life on earth -- and perhaps elsewhere -- eventually emerged.
Some atheists say science can prove that God does not exist, but Benedict said that some scientific theories were "mind limiting" because "they only arrive at a certain point ... and do not manage to explain the ultimate sense of reality ..."
He said scientific theories on the origin and development of the universe and humans, while not in conflict with faith, left many questions unanswered.
"In the beauty of the world, in its mystery, in its greatness and in its rationality ... we can only let ourselves be guided toward God, creator of heaven and earth," he said.
Benedict and his predecessor John Paul have been trying to shed the Church's image of being anti-science, a label that stuck when it condemned Galileo for teaching that the earth revolves around the sun, challenging the words of the Bible.
Galileo was rehabilitated and the Church now also accepts evolution as a scientific theory and sees no reason why God could not have used a natural evolutionary process in the forming of the human species.
The Catholic Church no longer teaches creationism -- the belief that God created the world in six days as described in the Bible -- and says that the account in the book of Genesis is an allegory for the way God created the world.
But it objects to using evolution to back an atheist philosophy that denies God's existence or any divine role in creation. It also objects to using Genesis as a scientific text.

Reuters 1/6/2011

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Big Data Becomes "Little" When God is in the Room.

F.A.Z.-Column by Emanuel Derman

Little Big Data

Von Emanuel Derman

Foto: Kat Menschik
Seventy years ago cybernetics was a hot field; thirty years ago, it was catastrophe theory. Those Greek-inspired words for disciplines that once brought hope of explaining human behavior now evoke a quaint nostalgia, like Polaroids of long-haired young people in bell-bottomed jeans and tie-dyed T-shirts. The new buzzword nowadays is Big Data, the fashionable term for capturing and analyzing the vast collections of information that people reveal about themselves when shopping on Amazon, Travelocity, and Netflix, or when writing about themselves on Facebook and Twitter. Big Data utilizes a mix of computer science, information technology, mathematics, and applied statistics. It is increasingly used to sell you products or persuade you to vote for politicians by tailoring the product’s or politician’s image to your particular data-generated persona. Some talking heads like to say that computer-aided analysis of patterns will soon replace our traditional methods of discovering the truth, in medicine and the social sciences as well as in physics.

What are the classic ways of knowing? Recall the great triumph at the dawn of modern science, the understanding of gravitation and motion. How did that come about?

For millenia after the Greeks, scientists’ prejudices led them describe all planetary movements in terms of circles about a stationary earth. But the motion of a planet, as seen from the orbiting earth itself, is too complicated for a single circle -- sometimes it seems to move backwards relative to the earth -- and so it needs circles moving on circles moving on circles, i.e. epicycles. Eventually, Galileo pointed out that the earth wasn’t stationary, that the earth and planets orbited the sun, and that the planets’ weird apparently retrograde motions were not intrinsically theirs but rather a consequence of their being observed from the moving earth.

Intuition, followed by checking the data

In the early 1600s Kepler examined the data on planetary positions and formulated his three astonishing laws of planetary motion: planets move in ellipses (not circles) about the sun, the line between the Sun and a planet sweeps out equal areas in equal times, and the square of the orbital period is proportional to the cube of the distance from the sun.

If you want to glimpse the miracle of discovery, think about Kepler’s second law: the line between the Sun and a planet sweeps out equal areas in equal times. This deep symmetry of planetary motion implies that the closer the planet to the sun, the more rapidly it moves, as shown below.

The astonishing thing is that there is no line between a planet and the sun for Kepler to observe. His data consisted of planetary positions in the night sky. How then did he decide to describe the motion of the planets in terms of an invisible imaginary line? No one knows exactly, but it involved long immersion, struggle, and strange associative thinking that arose from somewhere inside him, and then - Aha! - intuition, followed by checking the data.

How to discover theories

Intuition is the first means of knowing. The observer becomes so close to the object (or person) observed that he begins to experience their existence from both outside and inside them. Intuition is a merging of the observer with the observed. It’s almost quantum-like, the ability to be in two places at the same time.
Kepler’s laws described the patterns of the planets, but not their causes. Newton found a cause; he showed that Kepler’s laws were a mathematical consequence of Newton’s own theories of gravitation (the inverse square law of attraction) and motion (Force = mass times acceleration).

How did Newton discover his theories? For sure, the orbiting planets and falling apples didn’t announce the laws that drove them. Wrote John Maynard Keynes about Newton: I fancy his pre-eminence is due to his muscles of intuition being the strongest and most enduring with which a man has ever been gifted. Keynes understood something about the discovery of truth which many of his more formal economist disciples have never learned.

Useful, picturesque, but not entirely true

Theories are descriptions of the laws of the world; they can be right, partially right or totally wrong. What all theories have in common is that, like God’s voice to Moses in the desert, they proclaim: I am what I am. Theories stand on their own feet.
Newton’s laws have been supplanted by Einstein’s, but that doesn’t mean that Newton is an approximation to Einstein. Newton is to Einstein as cursive is to typing, or as navigation by the stars is to the Global Positioning System. Two different approaches reach the same end by different means, with different accuracies. One doesn’t approximate the other. Both are theories that describe facts.

The final mode of understanding is a model. A model compare something we don’t understand to something we do. So, for example, the famous liquid drop model of the atomic nucles pretends that the nucleus is a drop of water that can vibrate and rotate and even fission into two. Useful, picturesque, but not entirely true. Similarly, the Black-Scholes financial option model compares the uncertain movement of stock prices to the diffusion of smoke from a cigarette tip. Useful, up to a point -- but not fact. Models are metaphors, graven images of reality but not reality itself, analogies whose incautious use can unleash all the dangers of idolatry that God warned against in the second of his commandments.

Against the bewitchment

There’s one final mode of understanding: statistics, the statistical analysis that lies behind Big Data. Statistics seeks to find past tendencies and correlations in data, and assumes they will persist. But, in a famous unattributed phrase, correlation does not imply causation.
Big Data is useful, but is not a replacement for the classic ways of understanding the world. Data has no voice. There is no “raw” data. Choosing what data to collect takes insight; making good sense of it requires the classic methods: you still need a model, a theory, or intuition to find a cause.
“Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language,” wrote Wittgenstein. I take that to mean that language can deceive our natural intuition, and we need philosophy to reclaim it.
In a similar sense, I would argue, science is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by data.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Whom Do We Pray to -- God or Jesus?

      Here is a good question I've been seeking a clear answer to.  The church I had been attending never prayed specifically to Jesus, and, they seldom mention the Holy Spirit.  That eventually got me thinking and feeling like they were missing out on something important.  Here are two links I found that do a really good job reasoning through the issue.  The first is Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, and the second is .  Very edifying articles overall.  There are many others, but these are some of the first ones I came to.  Here also one that is not so good by

Friday, March 01, 2013

Same-Sex Marriage?

     Isn't "same-sex marriage" an oxymoron (or, a combination of incongruous, contradictory words)? And isn't "civil union" more fitting -- and more accurate?  I think that presenting the additional marital option of same-sex marriage in our society is at best going to be confusing, and I think, at worst, make something arguably unethical and mutated, into a marriage -- making the whole idea of marriage in general, into more of a confusing option.  Did you know that in the majority of Europe, except for parts of the middle class, marriage is out of fashion, and that "civil unions" are in?  Bye-bye marriage.  Bye-bye personal commitment.  Bye-bye inseparable union between husband and wife.  To say nothing of putting children in our society in a steadily worsening position than they are already in, of multiple divorce and remarriage, causing the erosion of the popularity of the nuclear family (or any predictable family).  The standard of marital and family permanence itself is now gone.  And under the stewardship of a so-called Christian nation no less.  What is left of our once so-called Christian nation has even made itself an irrelevant bystander in this national issue.

      We cannot make ourselves irrelevant in the same-sex marriage debate by letting ourselves as Christians be swept into the "religious" category with all of the rest of the world's religions, as having only a religious argument that detractors quickly label as coming from "oppressive religion".  Because nature itself, which even people lacking in the Spirit of Christ can understand, argues against same-sex marriage.  Nature itself -- God's nature --, that He is the author of, argues against a marriage between people of the same-sex.   Because the primary ingredients are missing -- the two totally different organisms it was first based on.

      Marriage is not simply a loving, legal, politically correct co-habitation; that would simply be a civil union.  A marriage is the union of a man and a woman that produces something which neither of them, man nor woman, can produce alone, nor with someone of their same sex.  And we are not talking about children. A marriage contains potential that two men marrying, or two women marrying does not posses.  A man and a woman are two very different types of organisms.  They have a potential to produce a type of union that is unique in Nature. A system larger than the two of them combined.  A miracle of a sort that has been used by God, and His Nature, to balance and harmonize, perpetuate and color His earth.  It is unique.  And it has been called marriage.

      The methodology of Semantics, the building blocks of language, which produced the word that names this unique unit potential, marriage, argues against altering the words definition.  Christ's semantics, the perfect language that He and the Father made in the beginning to express His Word -- His message to us -- does not allow for the denial that, "same-sex marriage", is an oxymoron.  It is a contradiction in terms.  A semantic mess.  The established definition of "marriage" was that union which is undertaken by a man and a woman, and can only be poorly imitated two creatures of any other sort, and cannot apply to anything else.  Anything else, "Has to get its own word"! (One would think anyway). I thought the science of semantics would resist the dilution of such a unique word.  However, it seems more like the definition of any word, as time marches on, will be, as always, subject to the whims of man.  In a very real way, once a word is born the way in which a word continues to be used depends on "how men want to use it".  As well as the law of the land. 

      Marriage has always been a legal term.  Even in the bible.  As we speak, Merriam-Webster has already expanded the definition of marriage to include both men and women of the same sex, but, the law of the land still does not yet permit it.  Shouldn't they have to call it "the illegal state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage"?  Well for what little it is worth, for a little while anyway, they have the definition wrong until the law of the land finally changes.  Until then there should be an asterisk included.  A few small regions recently and tenuously legalizing same-sex marriage (possibly temporarily, as America sleeps, but likely not) does not yet warrant a dictionary change.

      The marriage, so to speak, of "computers", to "intelligence", was a marriage resulting in what we now call "artificial intelligence".  That will never change. Intelligence came first, before its by-product -- the machine.  Raw intelligence will always have it's own unique place in the dictionary.  The marriage of a man to a man (what?... can you even do that?), or woman to a woman, is likewise an "artificial product" or "artificial marriage".  The word "marriage", was created to denote something unique and specific -- a legal union between a male and a female. Correct me if I'm wrong.  And Lord help us if I am.