Book Review: “Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation” by Bill Nye

Many of you may remember watching Mr. Wizard while growing up. The cheerful grandpa figure spent years showing us how learning about science could be fun, using clever experiments and demonstrations that could keep a child mesmerized for a half-hour (the length of his typical television program). As Mr. Wizard retired from the business we were introduced to a new, bow-tied individual who had an unsurpassed interest in science and shared the same ability to present the wonders of this fabulous subject to children of all ages. His name was Bill Nye and, if you will forgive the pun, represented the evolution of science programming for children. Bill Nye the Science Guy aired from 1993-1998 and solidified Nye as a scientist who could take complex ideas and break them down so that they could be understood by laymen of all ages. It was this ability, attached with a contagiously enthusiastic personality, which ultimately launched Nye into the general public at large.

This book stems from his foray into the masses and his near evangelistic tone regarding the dangers of climate change and other scientific causes that often receive little attention. While leading his crusade for the need to improve scientific literacy, especially among young people, he found that some schools were teaching creationism as science, which it is undoubtedly not.   The fear that the most basic concept of our natural sciences, evolution, was not being taught, or taught in tandem with non-scientific dogma, made Nye very concerned about the state of science education as a whole. He decided to take this issue head on and eventually found himself at the Creation Museum for a heavily publicized debate with its curator, Ken Ham. While Ham and his followers built the event as science versus religion, which was never the point, Nye was there to speak to scientific fact, while Ham relied on religious dogma. Since Ham has a literalist view of The Holy Bible this was ultimately his one and only source to disprove evolution. Ham unfortunately brought a knife to a gun fight, or more accurately, he brought an ancient relic of stories that were never meant to be used as literal fact to a debate regarding how the world actually works. Nye spent the night explaining why the literal interpretations of many of the stories in The Bible were not scientifically possible (a six-thousand year old earth, an ark carrying two of every species during a worldwide flood, etc.) and providing evidence for why the science of evolution delivers a more accurate picture of earth’s creations.

The book chronicles pieces of the debate but its overarching theme revolves around the dangers of teaching dogma and/or non-scientific research in a science setting. Nye doesn’t spend his time bashing religion or belittling people of faith, he simply provides large quantities of information on why evolution is the genesis (yes, another pun) for much of our scientific thought. Ultimately, the same science that has provided all of the wonderful innovations that are allowing you to view this post, at this moment, is the same science that brings us evolution. People of faith and non-believers alike can both accept scientific theories like evolution, gravity, and relativity. Bill Nye is not asking you to leave your faith, he is simply asking you to believe in science.

When in the stall, don’t take the call.

An observation I have noticed recently is the obsessive nature of some individuals to take phone calls while they are in public restrooms. Now with hands free devices becoming much more common the situation is getting out of control. Outside of emergencies, what need do you have to talk to someone while doing your business? Can’t it wait? Does the person you are talking to realize where their conversation is taking place?

In the past I’ve had an individual put their phone on speaker (obviously he left his hands-free device in the car) to take the call. I’ve also had the incredibly awkward situation where I have answered a question of the person standing beside me at the urinal, only to find out the question wasn’t for me. Do you realize how embarrassing that is? I’m trying to be cordial and yet end up feeling extremely awkward.

Here’s the bottom line, if you need to have something to do while taking care of business, do what the rest of us do and use the apps on your phone. I mean, seriously, how else could a game about flying birds crashing into pigs become a worldwide phenomenon? It must have been played millions of times, in bathrooms all across the world, by people minding their own business.

In closing, if you ever feel the urge to answer that call popping up on your cell phone while in the restroom, send it to voicemail and start up your favorite app. Always remember, when in the stall, don’t take the call.

Does Prayer Change Things?

When I was a little boy I remember sitting on a stool at the small bar in my grandparent’s kitchen, eating breakfast or helping put a puzzle together. I spent many hours on that stool, and I always noticed a plaque on the wall, tucked in between the Grandmother and Grandfather of the year awards I had proudly given them in previous years. On this plaque was an outline of praying hands and the words “Prayer Changes Things” running down the right side. I must have read those words a thousand times through the years. As I got older, I would read those same words and wonder, “…does prayer change things?” This was not a cynical argument, I truly believed in an ever-knowing and ever-powerful God who watched over us all. The problem I had was how did this quote coexist with an all-knowing God? If God knows everything, then he must know the future and what will transpire. The logical next step was that God hears our prayers and if we pray hard enough, long enough, correctly, etc. then we would be able to change God’s mind.

Here is where the paradoxical loop came into play for me. If God changes his mind, then he doesn’t know the future, because what he had planned will now be different based on the influence of our prayers. But hold on a second, God is all-knowing and all-powerful, how can we dictate God’s plan? The thought that God’s plan is changing because of a human request seems quite pompous on our part doesn’t it? We have the ability to lobby the creator of the universe, the maker of all things?

After much thought, it seemed to me that the only way I could reconcile this was to give in on prayer…at least the changing God’s mind piece. Now my brain could wrap around this conundrum – God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and prayer doesn’t “change” anything, it happens to be the vehicle we use to thank God for what he has created and the path he has picked for us. The issue with this route though is two-fold: why pray at all and why do people keep asking for things?

Why pray at all? God knows what we are thinking at all times, he knows that we are grateful (or ungrateful, I don’t believe we can trick God) and he knows what lies in front of us. Doesn’t this make prayer redundant?

Secondly, if we know that God already has his plan, why do we continue to lobby him and ask him to change it? Even if we are praying for the health of a family member who is very ill, God knows when that person is going to die, so what are we praying for? Some would say we are praying that the family has peace…but doesn’t God already know if they will or will not have peace with the outcome. Also, God has laid out our feelings and reactions long before this moment. This would have to be the case if you believe in an all-powerful and all-knowing God. If the person survives and a miracle occurs, well that is what God had planned in the first place. What good did your prayers have?

Note: If you’ve made it this far, I thank you, and once again ask for your understanding that I’m not posing these questions to be cynical, I’m posing these questions in a logical framework to better understand the power, the need, and the effectiveness of prayer. I’m not asking questions to be blasphemous, I’m asking questions to better understand a relationship with God.

There is one answer that I believe is the closest thing you’ll ever come to answering these questions: our human brains can’t understand or comprehend this apparent paradox. We just don’t have the mental capacity to understand, and the void that’s left is filled with what we call faith. The example above is one of many that you could have and ultimately end up at the same place, right back here, filling the void with faith. Whether or not an individual is able to accept that faith is what separates believers from non-believers. Besides, at some point, hasn’t it always come down to faith?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Book Review: “A Full Life – Reflections at Ninety” by Jimmy Carter

I recently finished Jimmy Carter’s newest book, “A Full Life – Reflections at Ninety”. The book ranges in time from his days as a boy growing up in rural Georgia to his current work with The Carter Center in Atlanta. Though Carter has written many books in his lifetime, most of them have revolved around a specific topic. This book however is more of a journey into the life of our thirty-ninth president, with Carter as our tour guide; highlighting experiences along the way while providing further detail to those stories of particular interest to the author. I particularly liked the format because it gave me the opportunity to take a glimpse into the many phases of his life and not be so focused on any particular topic or time period.

We all know Carter was President of the United States and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, but the sheer volume of diverse experiences this man has had is mind-boggling. As an admirer of the former president I have spent time learning about Jimmy Carter The President as well as Jimmy Carter the man, but this book blew the doors off for me. In one chapter he talks about building furniture for his family’s home and in the next about nuclear powered submarines. I learned a tremendous amount about Carter, and his wife Rosalynn, that I never knew before. It is for this reason that I believe those who have read his books in the past, as well as those who know little of the man, will enjoy this book and gain a better understanding of Jimmy Carter.

One parting note on President Carter:

Jimmy Carter, the man, is second to none. Jimmy Carter the president has been dismissed and underrated for quite some time. This is understandable to some extent because of his membership in the unflattering fraternity of defeated incumbent presidents. He was also defeated by an average actor who has grown into a mythical figure built on lies, manipulation, and his party’s current desperation to construct a “savior”. It’s a shame, but I think Steve Kornacki from MSNBC put it best recently while talking about President Carter:

“Jimmy Carter is 90 years old now and we learned this week that he’s sick. But he’s still here and as long as he is, maybe now we can put aside all those decades of caricaturing and salute the goodness and decency that’s always been right there in front of us. Whatever you think of his politics, of his presidency, of any provocative pronouncement he’s made, Jimmy Carter is an honest man who loves his country and his family, who speaks his mind, who believes in peace and lives the biblical edict to serve the least among us. There have been better presidents and there have been worse. But we’d be a better nation if all of them were as decent people as Jimmy Carter”.

Charlie Update: All Clear

We are so excited that Charlie has officially gotten the “All Clear” from the vet.  Doctor says he’s looking good and doesn’t need to see him anymore about his eye.

Thanks to everyone who sent positive puppy vibes and well wishes to Charlie.  They were much appreciated.

Here’s a pic of Charlie’s new look…prettiest little wink I’ve ever seen.  

Lion-killing dentist is getting all the shame he deserves on the Internet

I had been planning on writing a post about Cecil the lion but stumbled upon this post which sums up my thoughts, and more, in a well written piece.
The interesting thing about this whole story is the fact that it’s a microcosm of the much larger problem of our apparent political impasse on issues facing our nation. Actually, just like in this case, the vast majority of people all agree that in some form or another this was wrong. However, there are crazies who see no problem with how Cecil was treated, just like we have crazies who stand up on stage and talk about how all Mexicans are rapists and/or that the earth is 6,000 years old. In both cases, I think the vast majority are no doubt on the correct side of a particular issue, yet there’s always the angry “get off my lawn” grandpa who would rather keep their minds closed, their guns loaded, and their facts placed nicely in the trash.

A (or One) Skeptic

As has been widely reported in the media by now, Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer is a big-time game hunter, and he travels around the world to shoot big game with a bow and arrow. He can, of course, do whatever he wants as long as he can afford it. But now, in conjunction with his big game guides, to whom he paid more than $50,000, Palmer lured a lion named Cecil, the “star attraction” in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, out of the game reserve in which he was living to shoot him with a bow and arrow. The lion did not die immediately, so they had to track him for 40 hours before finishing him off.

Unfortunately for them, Cecil also had a GPS collar, which they were unable to remove. Two people are now under arrest — Theo Bronchorst, the guide who helped lure Cecil out of…

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