Reader feedback

The original purpose for building this website was to create an internet platform to advertise the fact I’d become an author, and to promote my books.

The idea was that my writing would eventually provide me some level of income, but there’s only one small problem — I haven’t written enough material in any particular genre to draw and sustain a large audience, and there’s a lot of competition in this new age of digital publishing.

Long ago the decision was made to sacrifice quantity for quality, so I haven’t tried to produce a steady stream of content on one particular subject. I have tried to focus on writing well, rather than publishing more frequently. Naturally, it was a very rewarding feeling in 2013 when not one or two, but three of my books won awards, but the problem is that awards don’t automatically produce income. The market has been flooded with competition, and not enough people know who I am. I’m no genius when it comes to marketing myself as a writer, but I know that I don’t have enough readers, book reviews, and my work hasn’t gotten much publicity.

This is somewhat difficult to write without sounding like I’m pleading for money, but in order for my work to earn income, I need to sell books and short stories. I have resisted the idea of buttons soliciting donations to support the website, and Patreon accounts. But on the other hand, I don’t have an agent, or a book deal. I don’t get paid six or seven-figure advances on work that hasn’t even been written yet. The two small, independent publishers who have published my work paid fair royalties, but those are based on book sales. To be brutally blunt, if my family depended on my income as a writer to survive, we’d have starved to death about nine years ago.

Fortunately my wife believes in my talent as a writer, and I believe in myself.  The problem is largely one of my own making, I do believe.  Because my six published works range from nonfiction books about religion and philosophy (Divine Evolution and Counterargument for God), a collection of short stories about animal rescue called Always a Next One, plus three detective novels, I haven’t built an audience base that impatiently waits on my next book.

My first novel, Coastal Empire, introduced private detective Robert Mercer and his canine partner, Ox, as they tried to solve the mystery of why someone might steal a person’s identity without stealing their money. Premonition is the sequel to Coastal Empire, and Secondhand Sight is an amateur sleuth novel featuring Dan Harper as the main character. The next Mercer novel, which will be published in 2017, will be called Atheist’s Prayer.

I know from comments that people enjoy reading my blog, or so they claim, but do those same people read my books? If not, why not?

What do you like about my website, and what don’t you like? 

Like anyone else with an ego, of course I enjoy a complimentary review, especially when it is published at Amazon. However, I must admit that I crave constructive criticism, and I pay closer attention to those one and two-star book reviews, especially when it is obvious the person actually read my book. After all, if we fail to learn from our mistakes, we never stop making them. If my next novel isn’t better than anything I’ve written before, I’m not learning enough from my mistakes.

If you read one of my books, did you publish a short review on Amazon? Don’t worry about hurting my feelings, if you didn’t like what you read. Trust me, I’ll get over it.

I’ve been thinking about ways of monetizing the website, but the only thing I’ve decided to do so far is to publish here more often, and ask for your feedback on my writing. Having Atheist’s Prayer published later this year ought to help. Yes, I am committed to seeing that project completed in 2017, and then moving on to Devil’s Breath. I’m committed to working on Atheist’s Prayer every day, until published. Less time squandered on social media, and more time devoted to real work. If I simply went by Google Analytics, I’d write about Georgia Bulldog football every day, but I think there are enough websites already dedicated to that subject.

So…what do I do right? What am I doing wrong? What should I be doing differently?

Your feedback is greatly appreciated.

The polymath Emanuel Swedenborg

Emanuel Swedenborg didn’t simply use microscopes and telescopes in his pursuit of scientific knowledge; he made his own. He even ground his own lens. A true polymath comparable to Leonardo Da Vinci and Sir Isaac Newton, Swedenborg devoured virtually every resource about the known sciences he could find. He created new fields of study as he compiled, organized and then documented and published the information he gleaned from the books he read. Not content to be a jack of all trades, Swedenborg became expert in practically any skill, craft or scientific endeavor he undertook.

Astronomer, inventor, scientist, philosopher and mystic, Swedenborg spoke nine languages fluently.  He even learned Hebrew in order to personally translate the ancient texts of the Bible. By his early fifties, Swedenborg had mastered every known branch of science and invented or designed a number of innovative devices well ahead of his time, including the first fire extinguisher, submarine, airplane, air gun, home heater, and a music machine.  He designed what was at the time the world’s largest dry dock, then supervised the movement of a fleet of warships over a mountain range that resulted in a huge naval victory for Sweden. He bound books, made watches, cabinets, and as previously mentioned, even built his own scientific instruments.

No published reports have been discovered suggesting that he was able to leap small buildings with a single bound, however. Swedenborg studied geology, anatomy, mechanics, physiology.  He was one of the first people to study and began to understand the nervous system and the purpose of the pituitary gland. He compiled at least 150 publications that conveyed the body of scientific knowledge he accumulated. To describe Emanuel Swedenborg as merely pretty smart would be grossly understating his intellect, to the point of absurdity.

As early as 1735, Swedenborg wrote and published de Infinito (On the Infinite), his first foray into the study of spiritual phenomena.  In that book he proposed the soul originated from material substances. His unquenchable thirst for scientific knowledge finally sated by the early 1740s, Swedenborg turned his attention to a new, bold endeavor.  He decided to write a set of books that gave an anatomical explanation for the existence of the human soul. However, Swedenborg changed his mind dramatically after a personal experience he claimed to have one night as he lay in bed.  He was praying for a divine revelation in his effort to understand the soul. Swedenborg wrote,

Immediately there came over me a powerful tremor….together with a resounding noise like great winds clashing.  I found that something holy had encompassed me; it shook me and prostrated me on my face.  I saw that I was thrown down and I found the words put into my mouth.  “Oh, thou almighty Jesus Christ, who of thy great mercy deignest to come to so great a sinner, make me worthy of this grace.

The experience profoundly changed him.  Swedenborg became more humble for the remainder of his life.  His pursuit of scientific knowledge ceased abruptly. He devoted his remaining years to the pursuit and propagation of spiritual knowledge through his writing. In the process of his spiritual awakening, Swedenborg became a well known mystic. When Swedenborg earnestly pursued his quest for spiritual understanding, he faced ridicule from many people who once respected him.  This included some prominent clergymen. They openly questioned the source of inspiration for his works Heaven and Hell and Arcana Coelestia.

Yet as he studied the Bible, Swedenborg claimed to find even deeper meanings even in seemingly trivial passages. As he spent more time searching for God, Swedenborg’s faith grew more profound. Although he was raised Lutheran, Swedenborg’s rather unconventional religious beliefs laid the formation of two future religions: a Swedenborgian Christian Church; Mormonism is also based in part on his teachings. Church founder Joseph Smith was heavily influenced by Swedenborg’s theological writing.

One rarely, if ever, got the best of Swedenborg in a battle of wits. One famous verbal exchange between Swedenborg occurred between him and an archbishop named Troilus revealed the degree of contempt the polymath held for organized religion. Archbishop Troilus was a notorious gambler, but one of his regular playing partners in the three player card game called Tresett had died. At a party Troilus teased Swedenborg about his interest in the afterlife by asking “By the way, Assessor, tell us about the spirit world.  How does my friend Broman spend his time there?”

Swedenborg quipped, “I saw him but a few hours ago shuffling his cards in the company of the Evil One, and he was only waiting for your worship to make up a game of Tresett.”

His critics argued but failed to make the case that Swedenborg had gone insane or suffered a nervous breakdown that caused his transformation from scientist to spiritualist. The Swedish Scientific Association conducted a study and concluded he was sane. However, his theological writings still led to heresy charges against two of his supporters.  Afterward, the Swedish Royal Council issued a statement in 1771 that “there is much that is true and useful in Swedenborg’s writings,” ruling in their favor. Through numerous dreams, Swedenborg gained insights to mystical experiences and spiritual knowledge.  The final thirty years of his life were spent in pursuit of spiritual insights, which he documented by writing 36 different books.

Before Swedenborg achieved enlightenment, he encountered what he called his “shadow” persona, and battled against the dark side of his personality, which he claimed had been manifested as impure spirit and arrogant pride. Years later, Karl Jung would benefited from Swedenborg’s writings, applying knowledge gained from reading Swedenborg to his pioneering work in Psychology.

Now as far as Swedenborg’s alleged psychic abilities are concerned, at least four separate events were witnessed by others and rather well documented.  These accounts include:

  1. Queen Louisa of Sweden once asked Emanuel Swedenborg to communicate with her dead brother. The message relayed by Swedenborg shocked the queen so badly that she left court immediately, “pale and shaking” as witnesses reported.  Later Queen Louisa claimed that Swedenborg had communicated intimate and private information to her no living person could have possibly known.
  2. During a dinner party at the house of prominent merchant William Casteel in Gothenburg, Swedenborg suddenly became agitated and told other guests that a fire had just broken out near his home in Stockholm, 300 miles away.  Messengers arrived several days later to confirm the details Swedenborg had provided about the fire were accurate.
  3. At another dinner party, Swedenborg went into a trance and gave a detailed account of the murder of Emperor Peter III of Russia being strangled in prison.  Once again, reports arrived days later that confirmed Swedenborg’s account of the murder.
  4. Most amazingly, Emanuel Swedenborg predicted his own death accurately to the year, day and even the hour. Witnesses reportedly that Swedenborg’s mood became increasingly joyous as his anticipated time of death approached.

While Swedenborg believed he was able to communicate with spirits in another realm, he cautioned against believing everything they told him. He was appropriately skeptical. Swedenborg apparently figured out that these spirits weren’t always being truthful. Considering the fact some of these spirits said they were from other planets such as Mars, Venus, and Mercury, he was apparently wise not to trust them.

On his deathbed, his friend Pastor Ferelious gave Emanuel Swedenborg one final opportunity to recant his spiritual writings, if they had not been sincere. The dying polymath summoned enough strength to sit up in bed long enough to say these last words”

As truly as you see me before your eyes, so true is everything that I have written; and I could have said more had it been permitted. When you enter eternity you will see everything, and then you and I shall have much to talk about.

I’d like to meet Emanuel Swedenborg when my time to enter eternity has come. I doubt I’d have much to say that might interest him, which is perfectly okay.

I’d be content to simply shut up, listen, and learn.

 

Have you heard the one about the college professor?

Professor Olga Perez Stable Cox

When someone gets on a roll telling jokes, sometimes you’ll hear one like “Have you heard the one about the Darwin award winner who put a JATO (Jet Assisted Take Off) unit normally attached to solid rockets on his car?”

What normally follows is some disturbing story about a lethal lapse in judgment that culminated in the death of some poor fool, apparently so that others might be entertained.

Fortunately, more often than not, these stories turn out to be nothing more than myths and urban legends, or plot filler for a movie that nobody watched.

Okay, so have you heard the one about the gay college professor recorded by a student, lecturing her class on human sexuality that President Donald Trump was a white supremacist whose election was an act of terrorism and the potential start of a new civil war?

The student who taped and released the video has been suspended for the remainder of the semester, ordered to apologize to the professor and write an essay explaining how sharing the video had damaged the students, faculty, and staff of Orange Coast College.

Well, okay…but what’s the punch line?

That her comments were way off topic for a college course on human sexuality?

That such a college course even exists in the first place, when the purpose of college is supposed to be acquiring tools and skills that might help the student find a job after graduation? On the other hand, the pornography industry is big business in California, so maybe that’s not so crazy.

Or was the punch line to ask whether the class was part of the core curriculum or an elective, since we are talking about events taking place in California?

Nope. None of the above. Unfortunately, this is no joke.

The problem with higher education

Tucker Carlson

According to Matthew W. Hughey, sociology professor at the University of Connecticut, Donald Trump won the recent presidential election because of rampant white supremacy among Americans.

In his interview with Tucker Carlson, Professor Hughey claimed that a “huge factor” in Donald Trump’s win was because of “a social, political, and economic commitment to white supremacy”, which he somewhat redundantly defined as “a social, political, and economic commitment to the promotion of people who pass as white.”

To be fair, Professor Hughey sounds quite intelligent. He casually throws around phrases and words such as “gender dynamics” and “heteronormativity” while attempting to justify his claims that white supremacy played a significant role in the recent election, reminding me of something my late father used to say: if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with B.S.

Naturally, Dad used the more colorful word in lieu of the abbreviation.

Carlson pointed out one of the more obvious flaws in Hughey’s claim. He cited the statistical fact that during the last 50 years, 60 million immigrants have settled in the United States. Only 12 percent of those immigrants came from “white” European countries.

And Professor Hughey’s response was: “your point makes sense if you don’t think about it.”

Dr. Matthew W. Hughey
(image from Amazon)

That seemed both evasive and unnecessarily rude. Hughey went on to explain that he believes what is happening today is no different than forced immigration and slavery.

Now personally believing something so preposterous is one thing, but please remember that Professor Hughey teaches this nonsense. He is perceived to be an authority because he “studies” racism. Asked by Carlson to justify his claim that a white supremacist nation would tolerate the voluntary immigration of millions of nonwhite immigrants, Hughey rather haughtily replied:

Well, I think that it is (the behavior of a white supremacist nation), and since I study that, that is the behavior of a white supremacist country. You also fail to treat race as a variable that changes over time. One hundred years ago the Irish, Italians, other groups that we now think of as white, didn’t count as white.

Challenged once again by Tucker on the veracity of his claims, Hughey said, “You can read books on it. I’ve written quite a few.”

Indeed, he has. And in the classroom, he has a captive audience.

Apparently Professor Hughey must make a comfortable living out of blaming all of the problems in the world on what he calls “hegemonic whiteness.”

While I was initially disappointed when Carlson failed to ask what I considered would be an obvious followup question: how was President Obama elected, and reelected, in an overwhelmingly racist “white America.”

But I should have realized that it wouldn’t have mattered. Professor Hughey thinks he’s got the answer for everything, and that answer is: white supremacy.

Now I won’t blame everything that’s wrong with higher education on Professor Hughey because that wouldn’t be fair. He’s not the only academic who thinks he knows everything.

On the other hand, Hughey does provide an excellent example of most of what’s wrong with most ultra left-wing extremists…he’s a smug, condescending, and a know-it-all immune to logic and reason. He wouldn’t last a week in the real world, outside of his ivory tower.

He wasn’t speaking with Tucker Carlson; he was talking down to him.

But the real problem is that Professor Hughey earns his living by fomenting racial hatred while positioning himself as the authority on the subject. Because he’s written books, and says so. And has tenure. So he’ll be teaching his sociology students this nonsense, that all white people are racists and white supremacists, for decades to come.

Which led me to wonder, what does someone do with a degree in sociology, anyway? When in doubt, ask Google. And according to the search results, our options include: child care, rehabilitation, urban planning, and law enforcement. Truly those aren’t useless jobs, but I suspect a degree in English would offer similar opportunities.

Now I have another question, but I’m sure Google won’t be able to answer it: why do we even need sociology professors?

Okay, so maybe some sociology professors are worth their salary, but I can certainly think of one from whom nobody needs a lecture.

 

Computers versus bee brains

The Holy Grail for computer programming in terms of developing artificial intelligence is known as neural networking, which strives to program computers to mimic the capabilities of the human brain.

This always struck me as a lofty but probably an unrealistic goal, to say the least.

A more realistic aspiration might be to develop computer software that successfully emulates the capability of a bee’s brain, which has only a handful of neurons and a brain mass approximately the size of a pinhead. Yet bees somehow effortlessly manage to solve problems humans consider to be incredibly difficult and complex.

Are you familiar with “The Traveling Salesman Problem?”

Basically, it goes like this: Given a list of cities and the distances between each pair of cities, what is the shortest possible route that visits each city exactly once and returns to the origin city?

Consider this story found in the UK Daily Mail:  “Bees’ tiny brains able to beat computer at complex mathematical problems,” the headline reads. Brutal!

For those critical minds prone to “shoot the messenger” by challenging the source, please note that CBS News relied on different experts to reach the same conclusion — bees are a lot more intelligent than one might naturally assume, given the size of their brain.

Okay, so they’re a little smaller these days…

To be fair (to the inanimate object) the computer cannot be blamed for struggling to calculate the best way to do what a bee does every day, because humans programmed the code for the computer, and humans are, well, human.

We make mistakes. Lots of them.

The creator of bees apparently wrote much more efficient and elegant code into its DNA than humans could ever hope to have programmed into our personal computers.

Dr Nigel Raine, from Royal Holloway’s school of biological sciences, used computer-controlled artificial flowers to determine bee behavior.  He said,

Foraging bees solve travelling salesman problems every day. They visit flowers at multiple locations and, because bees use lots of energy to fly, they find a route which keeps flying to a minimum.  Despite their tiny brains bees are capable of extraordinary feats of behaviour.  We need to understand how they can solve the travelling salesman problem without a computer.

This logistics research can potentially benefit human networks in activity such as traffic flows, internet information and business supply chains.

Though it possesses a brain that would be difficult to see with the naked eye, apparently the honeybee could teach FedEx or UPS a thing or two about efficiency.

Before we assume that the intelligence of a human being can be matched or even surpassed by artificial intelligence, researchers should focus on a more realistic goal — to only be as smart as a bee.

Fibonacci’s spirals

Mathematician Arthur Benjamin said, “Mathematics is the science of patterns, and we study it to learn how to think logically, critically, and creatively.”

Not only do patterns exist in nature, they are clearly ubiquitous. Mandelbrot’s fractals (often called the thumbprint of God) are but one example of a mathematical pattern repeated on a scale ranging from the micro world to the cosmos. Another extraordinary pattern is known as the Fibonacci sequence, which graphically translates into Fibonacci’s spirals (often referred to as the fingerprints of God.)

Leonardo Bonacci (a.k.a. Leonardo of Pisa and Fibonacci) was an Italian mathematician most famous for his discovery of what has been called the “golden sequence” of numbers. The famous Fibonacci sequence is simply the following, repeated to infinity. The next number in the sequence is always the sum of the previous two numbers:

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987, 1597, 2584, 4181…

This reasonably short video demonstrates how the pattern can be found everywhere from DNA to clouds in the sky. This slightly longer documentary claims to find the golden sequence everywhere in nature, art, music, and even the Mandelbrot set.

Of course, not everyone agrees with mathematicians who claim the Fibonacci sequence can be found in virtually everything in the universe. For example, physicist Donald Simanek offers harsh criticism of Fibonacci on a page at his website called the “Fibonacci Flim-Flam.”

Professor Simanek described people (like me) who found the pro-Fibonacci video interesting as “the lunatic fringe who look for mysticism in numbers.” However, he is mistaken to assume that I have any sort of unusual fascination with numerology — I don’t even play the lottery except on the rare occasion that my wife asks me to buy her a ticket, and I don’t think that counts.

I’ve always relied on hard work, not luck, to earn income. I seriously doubt I could plot a Fibonacci spiral on graph paper myself — even if my life depended on it. In other words, I’m really not qualified to arbitrate the dispute between a physicist and all of these mathematicians. My choice to accept the consensus of math experts over the dissenting opinion of the physicist may very well be an example of the bandwagon fallacy, no different than belief in global warming.

If you assume that I’m an ordinary person who watches a few YouTube videos (yes, Fibonacci merited several) and accepts everything there on face value, you’d be wrong — I watch a lot of videos. Also, Google the name “Fibonacci” and just about every link on the first page or two talks about how important Leonardo Bonacci was. The guy is allegedly responsible for getting replacing Roman numerals with Arabic symbols, which makes him a hero in my book. Can you imagine trying to work through calculus problems using Roman numerals?

It appears inarguable that some sort of pattern can be found in every created thing. We may see the effect, but don’t seem to understand the cause.

Some people will assert that these patterns are governed by the laws of mathematics, which is a fine argument until you realize these laws of mathematics must have existed prior to the universe and origin of matter, which is irrational. Mathematics is the study of quantity, structure, space, and change — how can we study something before it exists?

Nor can the so-called “laws of physics” begin to explain how (or why) a universe could come from nothing because of complex order when nothing existed?

Patterns can be found in grains of sand and living cells, as well as galaxies in the cosmos — and according to the mathematicians, all of them bear these spectacular “fingerprints of God” known as Fibonacci’s spirals.

God’s plan for nature is complex and delicate, as this beautiful video about the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park illustrates. The restoration of a missing link in the food chain literally changed the landscape.

Which brings this question to mind: can design exist, without a Designer?

 

Mandelbrot’s fractals

Patterns are models, or plans, used to produce nearly perfect copies of a specific design. In fact, the ability to discern a pattern from raw data is usually considered an indicator of advanced intelligence.

Some scientists (who happen to be avowed atheists, and curiously not agnostic) will argue that when words like “models”, “plans”, and “design” are used to describe an organic, natural process, those words don’t mean what they would ordinarily mean.  These experts also claim the appearance of design in a living organism is nothing more than an overwhelmingly convincing optical illusion.

In his book The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, biologist (and renowned atheist) Richard Dawkins wrote,

Perhaps it was religious indoctrination that held us back (from believing in evolution). Or perhaps it was the daunting complexity of a living organ such as an eye, freighted as it is with the beguiling illusion of design by a master engineer.

Why does Mr. Dawkins believe that our eyes have deceived us, and the intuitively obvious appearance of design in our bodies only an illusion? It’s because he perceives design flaws in the human eye, probably due to the fact that the photoreceptor cells in the retina are allegedly placed backward. Dawkins has also been quite adamant about his belief that the vas deferens tube in humans and the laryngeal nerve in a giraffe are also examples of  “poor” design which, as this website suggests, commits the logical fallacy of personal incredulity.

This argument of Dawkins depends upon our making the assumption that a creator God could not, or would not, create an imperfect organism. We must trust that his ideas about “improving” the current design of a human being or a giraffe would actually be an improvement over what ordinarily works pretty well as-is, because he said so. We should trust that any personal bias toward atheism will not affect his “careful conjecture” and conclusions reached after studying the available evidence: the fossil record, comparative anatomy, and DNA analysis.

Dawkins suggests that any previously-held strong beliefs in creationism should be shattered by his “overwhelming” evidence for evolution, conveniently ignoring this one very important and obvious fact: creation (by God or good luck) must precede evolution, even if we assume that all of his claims about evolution are true.

Simply stated, life cannot evolve until it exists.

Do patterns exist that are the product of “unintentional” design? Some would say yes. But isn’t the very idea of an “accidental design” an oxymoron? Does the inference of “bad” design actually prove that no design was involved at all?

Born in Poland, French-American mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot discovered that geometric patterns occurred in nature which could be expressed in mathematical terms, regardless of scale that he called fractals.

While discussing Mandelbrot’s work, Dr. Ian Stewart said:

The same mathematics is generating chaotic behavior and pattern behavior. This changes completely how you think about all of this. The idea that there are regularities in nature and then totally separate from them are irregularities is just not true. These are two ends of one spectrum of behavior which can be generated by the same kind of mathematics. And it’s the closest thing we have at the moment to the kind of true mathematics of nature.

The “Thumbprint of God”

Of course, Mandelbrot’s fractals aren’t the only repetitive patterns seen ubiquitously throughout nature.

There are also Fibonacci’s spirals, sometimes called the “fingerprints of God”, found in things as small as a human fingerprint (and smaller) up to the formation of galaxies.

The Mandelbrot set has also been called “the thumbprint of God” because with Fibonacci’s spirals, the repeated patterns across a broad spectrum of natural objects strongly imply the work of an intelligent designer.

Dr. Andrea Sella said,

I think one of the great take-home messages from Turing’s work and from the discoveries in chemistry and biology and so on, is that ultimately pattern behavior seems to be woven very, very deeply into the fabric of the universe.  And it actually takes some very simple and familiar processes like diffusion, like the rates of chemical reactions, and the interplay between them naturally gives rise to pattern. So pattern is everywhere, just waiting to happen.

Does order emerge from chaos by accident, and not by design? Did the universe have a choice except to exist, and to create life from inanimate matter?

To see what I’ve called “the Big Picture” in my book Counterargument for God, we must look at everything from the Big Bang to natural selection. We must learn what the experts think they know about abiogenesis and speciation, and to contemplate the significance of Fibonacci’s spirals, Mandelbrot’s fractals, and the incredible complexity of DNA.

Cosmology, chemistry, genetics and geometry will all factor in the development of a better understanding of how we came to exist, leaving us to contemplate the question of why we came to be. The evidence for design begins with the precise values of cosmological factors necessary for the success of the Big Bang and the anthropic universe, as well as inflation. The chemical elixir that facilitated the origin of life did not brew itself in a warm, shallow pond, as advocates of Darwin believe — cells cannot be formed without enzymes, so the existence of enzymes had to precede the first cell.

Too many things must “accidentally” happen with perfect timing in proper sequence in order to answer an existential question without invoking a supernatural creator even remotely plausible: the origin of matter via the Big Bang, after an unbelievably precise calibration of cosmological factors, followed by a perfectly timed period of accelerated expansion (called inflation) that together allowed the universe that exists today, to exist today. For this “fine-tuned” universe to exist without divine intervention of any sort, the perfect blend of chemicals had to have coalesced and reacted until enzymes and cell membrane formed in preparation for the self-organization of LUCA, the first living single-celled organism.

Even grains of sand are fractals.

beach sand from Maui, magnified 300x (photograph by Dr. Gary Greenberg)

Have you ever looked at sand under a microscope? Nothing to be ashamed about, I haven’t either — but Dr. Gary Greenberg has, and he took photographs, which can be seen in this amazing TED talk video.

You can see an individual heart cell beat, and watch as an immune cell consumes bacteria. Those two cells look nothing alike, but if both come from the same organism, they have the same DNA. Watching live cells in action is even more impressive than looking at beach sand from Maui under a microscope.

The primary reason for my interest in Mandelbrot’s work on fractals is the idea that complex structures may develop from a simple set of rules. My personal belief is that DNA can be viewed as organic source code which uses a very simple pattern of a four value sequence in rigidly structured and organized patterns. Obviously, patterns exist. They are ubiquitous. Order is in everything. You only have to see it.

Unless (as atheists often claim about intelligent design) patterns and order are nothing but an illusion.

 

Miracle at Cokeville

If someone said “Cokeville” here in north Georgia, the listener might think the speaker was making a joke about living the city of Atlanta, home of the Coca Cola company — even home of the World of Coke.

But Cokeville is a real place, a small town in Wyoming not much bigger than the World of Coke, with a population of a little more than 500 people.

Five times more people visit the World of Coke in Atlanta on an average day than live in Cokeville, Wyoming. But why haven’t we heard of Cokeville before?

Columbine

If our hypothetical speaker were to say “Columbine” instead, most listeners will immediately be reminded of the horrible massacre planned and executed by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold that took place at Columbine High School in Colorado, not the flower.

Twelve innocent high school students and one heroic teacher were murdered by two deranged teenagers, and twenty-four more people wounded.

Then Michael Moore’s movie Bowling for Columbine famously took advantage of the tragedy to advocate for stricter gun control, making sure we never forget the horrific massacre that took place on April 20, 1999.

What we’ve learned from modern terrorists is that if you take away all the guns, the lunatics will learn how to make bombs. Or they’ll steal a truck or bus, and run over people. If someone wants to commit murder and create terror and mayhem, they will find a way.

Back to Cokeville — what makes Cokeville, Wyoming so special? It’s special because of the tragedy that didn’t happen there. On May 16, 1986, David and Doris Young took as hostages more than 150 children and teachers at the Cokeville Elementary School. The Youngs were armed with a massive gasoline bomb, plus a small arsenal of firearms. According to reports, David and Doris intended to demand ransom of $300 million from the small community.

However, once the money had been collected, they planned to blow up the bomb anyway, killing all the hostages and themselves as well as destroying all the money. David’s diary actually revealed that the ransom demand was only a ruse. His real goal was to inflict the maximum possible financial and emotional pain on the entire town of Cokeville. But they failed.

The bomb was detonated, and the Youngs both killed, but none of the hostages died. About half of the hostages were wounded. None of the injuries were life-threatening, though.

David Young hated the people of Cokeville so badly that he wanted every last one of them to suffer heartache. His own suicidal plan and the death of his wife meant nothing to him. As long as he could destroy the hope of the whole town in one fell swoop, he would die a happy man.

David’s plan left nothing to chance. He built a test bomb to make sure the triggering device worked and it would explode, and it did. So did the real bomb. Yet, none of the hostages were killed.

How is this possible?

Observers claimed that David Young became very agitated when some of the schoolteachers led their students in prayer, trying to calm the children down. Their prayers agitated David Young, so he decided to step outside. Before exiting the classroom, David detached the bomb detonator from his wrist and put it on his wife’s. All of the children were huddled together against the far wall, near the windows.

This is where their story gets really interesting.

Quite a few of these children claimed a “beautiful lady” had appeared and told them to go there. For example, first grader Nathan Hartley said that he saw an angel he recognized as his great grandmother. Travis Walker claims that he heard an angel tell him to take his younger sisters to the window and keep them there.   His sisters Rachel and Katie described beings that shone like light bulbs hovering over the heads of each hostage. Then the inexplicable happened.

Doris Young set off the bomb prematurely, apparently by accident.  She staggered out of the classroom, engulfed in flames. David shot his wife to end her agony, and then turned the gun on himself.

Most of the townspeople had gathered outside the school because their children, or someone they knew was inside. They watched in horror as the school burst into flames. Children jumped from the windows as teachers crawled on the floor and helped others evacuate the burning building.

One teacher had been shot and one student struck by a stray bullet.  More than thirty students and teachers were treated for second degree burns. But an entire generation in the small town of Cokeville had been spared, by some kind of miracle. Bomb expert Richard Haskell testified, “I can’t tell you how lucky they were. When you look at the classroom—when you see all that charred furniture and burnt walls—it’s amazing that there weren’t 150 kids lying in there dead. To call it a miracle would be the understatement of the century.”

On the 20th anniversary of the incident, a group called the Cokeville Miracle Foundation (CMF) released a book titled Witness to Miracles, which included 187 firsthand descriptions of the events of that fateful day. Apparently many residents who collaborated with the CMF agree with Mr. Haskell’s professional opinion.

Given the name of the group and their book, it may come as no surprise to learn the words “In God We Trust” fill the entire background of the front cover.

These people would be fools if they didn’t.  They are convinced that they know what really happened — nothing less than divine intervention.

Skeptics and critics may rightfully ask, why didn’t God protect the innocent people at Columbine? My answer provides them no comfort — I don’t know.

But here’s something I do know…I wasn’t there that day, at Columbine High School. Or at Cokeville. So I cannot say what happened, or why.

As Carl Jung suggested, I can say that I’ve never had an experience in which I was saved from certain, imminent death by divine intervention, but I cannot say with any degree of confidence that these children were not.

No one can know what another person has experienced, unless they were present to witness the event in question.

Did God love the children at Cokeville more than the victims at Columbine? Of course not. Were those children spared because they had the opportunity to pray for divine intervention?

Again, to answer is to suggest that I am privy to the thoughts of God. And I’m not.

The question is, do miracles really occur? Absolutely. Did a miracle occur in Cokeville, Wyoming on May 16, 1986?

Clearly, the answer is unequivocally “yes.”

But was it a miracle that merely involved some extraordinary luck, or did some form of divine intervention truly occur?

Don’t ask me. I wouldn’t know. Ask someone who was there.

Ask a witness who actually saw what happened.

 

 

[Sources]

[Elaine Jarvik, Deseret News, May 15, 2006, article “Cokeville recollects miracle of 1986“]

[Dan Millman and Doug Childers, Divine Interventions, St. Martin’s Press]

 

Do miracles really occur?

[SPOILER ALERT: if you haven’t seen the movie Miracles from Heaven and don’t know the story but want to see it, this article will spoil the ending, so you might not want to read it yet.]

Some people don’t believe in miracles, because they don’t believe in a supernatural God.

However, only the first dictionary definition of “miracle” refers to divine intervention; it offers a more secular alternate definition that describes miracles merely as any extremely unusual event or accomplishment. Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. “Mark Twain”) wrote:

Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn’t.

And what is the truth? Quid est veritas?

As the author of three novels and three nonfiction books and articles, let me assure you that writing non-ficton is considerably easier than creating the plot of a novel from scratch.

The fictional story must appear to be plausible enough to the reader that he or she becomes willing to suspend his or her disbelief. The same isn’t the case for stories purported to be true — they simply require verifiable evidence to support any claims being made in the account.

Take the plot of the movie Miracles from Heaven, for example.

The main story simply sounds ludicrous —  a young girl suffering terribly from a rare, incurable stomach disease falls thirty feet inside a rotted tree, landing on her head.

But the fall that should have killed young Anna Beam allegedly cured her. Though her neck should have been broken, and her skull smashed in pieces, not only does she survive with only minor injuries, landing on her head appears to have somehow caused her devastating, potentially fatal disease known as pseudo-obstruction motility disorder to go into remission.

Anna’s doctor suggested that the fall had somehow jump-started her immune system so that her lower intestines began to function normally…a child surviving on pain medication and feeding tubes resumed a normal life of playing soccer and eating pizza.

The medical term for Anna’s miracle cure is spontaneous remission, which simply means a diagnosed and confirmed affliction was cured due to unknown causes, without treatment or surgery.

Anna’s story sounds utterly preposterous, right? The problem is that documentation and other evidence exists. Photographs are shown during the credits of the people in real life who had been portrayed by the actors in the movie.

Anna Beam is an actual person.

Most of the facts asserted in her incredible story can be rather easily verified — for example, there are hospital and other medical records documenting her illness, the filmed news reports of her fall, etc. But not all of Anna’s story is supported by evidence and documentation.

She also claims that when she fell, she died and left her body. Anna says that Jesus told her that she must return to Earth, and that her body would be healed.

The only evidence supporting that specific claim is the fact that her body has been healed of its horrible affliction — she makes no other assertions of any corroborated veridical information learned during her alleged NDE.

So, do miracles really occur? By the second definition, absolutely. But what about the first?

The film plays up the mother’s loss of faith when Anna becomes sick. She stops going to church. Her faith is shaken. And in truth, many people must be asking themselves, why would God let a young child like Anna suffer such horrible pain, to go through such a horrible ordeal?

Is it because God wanted a great movie made about Him in Hollywood, or was the reason much more subtle? Is there even a reason at all?

The movie doesn’t explicitly say, but it seems to give us a hint. While in the hospital, Anna befriended a young girl dying from bone cancer. Her father became upset when Anna gave his daughter her necklace, a small crucifix. He subsequently found out that Anna had shared her faith with his daughter through facing her own mortality, and it upset him.

Though he was portrayed as agitated during the hospital scenes, at the end of the movie when Anna’s mother shares her testimony in church and someone in the crowd questions whether Anna had really been near death from her illness, the now grieving father of the cancer victim announces he has traveled from Massachusetts to Texas at his own expense, to corroborate her story. He claimed that Anna’s faith had given his daughter hope, and the courage to meet her imminent death.

Did Hollywood make up that last bit? How much of Anna’s story is true?

What if all of it is true?

The enigma of Abraham and Isaac

In my opinion, there is only so much one can learn from simply reading the Bible alone. To get real value out of the Bible, you have to participate in a Bible study.

Otherwise, it’s too easy to cheat. For example, for years I simply ignored verses or whole chapters in the Bible that didn’t make sense to me. I didn’t want to think about a God who wanted blood rituals or human sacrifices.

In fact, I tended to avoid the Old Testament, preferring the personification of God as being the loving, kind, and forgiving Jesus, not the apparently cruel and  vacillating Yahweh of the Old Testament. Once upon a time, I was kicked out of one Bible study group after saying that Yahweh and Jesus almost seemed to be two different Gods.

But later, in a different, much smaller group that studied the book of Genesis painstakingly line by line, I was forced to confront a chapter than had always bothered me. Bible study inspired me to turn the story into a chapter in my first published book.

In Divine Evolution there is a chapter called “Misunderstanding God”, which begins by quoting the first verse of Bob Dylan’s masterpiece Highway 61 Revisited, which reinterprets the story from Genesis 22:

Ah, God said to Abraham, Kill me a son
Abe say "Man, you must be puttin' me on."
God say, "No." Abe say, "What?"
God say, "You can do what you want, Abe, but 
The next time you see me comin' you'd better run.
Well Abe say, "Where you want this killin' done?"
God says, "Out on Highway 61."

The song gives Dylan’s colorful interpretation of the story of Abraham and Isaac — but the central fact remains unchanged. It was a great honor that the future Nobel Prize winner in Literature would so graciously grant me permission to quote him in my book for the nominal fee of $100 — well worth the price, in my opinion. Mick Jagger and Keith Richard charged me $5 more to quote a verse from one of their songs, and I won’t complain about that, either.

Loosely translated, the song describes what Genesis 22 says. No one can deny the obvious, which is that God ordered Abraham to go to the land of Moriah and offer his only son Isaac, as a human sacrifice. Now, why would Yahweh, assuming He exists and is a benevolent creator, make such a deplorable demand?

As literally told, the story seems horrific. Yahweh appears to be capricious and unimaginably cruel. And Abraham acts somewhat doltish. Why doesn’t Abraham protest, or even question whether or not God really wants Isaac to be killed and burned as an offering?

Keep in mind that later, in the book of Judges, Gideon asks for multiple signs with dew and fleece to confirm that he’s actually received God’s command. But with far more at stake Abraham is told to kill his son in a murder ritual, and he gets up early the next morning, without a word of protest, determined to follow those incomprehensible instructions from Yahweh without hesitation.

Why? It seems that at least these five possibilities exist, and maybe more.

  1. The story is false.  God, Abraham and Isaac could be fictional characters. We may safely assume that the incident never occurred.
  2. The story isn’t meant to be read literally, but is allegorical.
  3. The story is true, but nonsensical. God is both creator and destroyer.
  4. The story is (sort of) true and accurate. Abraham was delusional, and had murderous intent toward his own son. Only through divine intervention was a tragedy averted.
  5. The story is true, accurate, and extraordinarily concise. Only by reading previous chapters, and making a few logical assumptions, can we have the story make sense and be true.

Atheists and secular readers usually gravitate toward the first alternative as the most plausible and consider the last option as least likely.

Option #1 is the simplest, and therefore the easiest explanation to believe on face value. Did the author believe the story was true or know the story was false because he was making it up? As the published author of three novels as well as three nonfiction books, I can attest to the fact that writing nonfiction is much easier. Research is not hard. Making up a plausible story from one’s imagination is much more difficult. The third and fourth options are both problematic because they acknowledge the existence of a creator, but offer no explanatory value. Neither the story itself nor the subject make any sense.

And Christians ought to be troubled by all five of these options, shouldn’t they?

Not in my opinion. According to my theory (that originated in Bible study) the fifth and final option is the reasonable answer, and therefore is probably correct.

Of course that would mean the story is essentially true and accurate, but extremely concise because the author doesn’t want to say things that paint Abraham, the father of Israel. in a negative light.

The key to this interpretation lies in what isn’t there — any sort of justification or detailed explanation of why God would test Abraham this way.

After all, isn’t this the same Yahweh who abhors the worshipers of Baal for their child sacrifices?  Is it safe to assume Yahweh only loathes child sacrifices to other gods? Interestingly, the Bible prefaces its description of the incident found in Genesis Chapter 22 with these words: “Some time later God tested Abraham.”

Some time later than what? Herein lies the beauty of Bible study, chapter by chapter, line by line.

Read the last section of Genesis 21.  It tells the seemingly banal story of a treaty made between Abraham and Abimelech the Philistine, at the well called Beersheba. The account includes one rather odd detail. Abraham accuses some of Abimelech’s people of stealing a well he claims to have dug, and demands return of the well as part of the treaty. Abimelech denies any knowledge of the issue. Then for no apparent reason, to placate Abimilech and sweeten the deal (while swearing that he was being truthful) Abraham sets aside seven ewe lambs to give Abimilech as part of the deal.

Did Abraham rightfully own the well?  If so, why would he offer to pay for a well that he already owned?

It’s also very interesting to note what the author of Genesis 21 says about Abimilech’s reaction to the last minute inclusion of the well into the treaty — he was afraid of Abraham’s God, so he didn’t argue the facts. With the application of deductive reasoning, it seems that Abraham may not have only been the patriarch of the Hebrew tribes, he may have also been the father of tough negotiations and driving the hard bargain.  Genesis 21:33 doesn’t elaborate. It simply reads, “Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called upon the name of the LORD, the eternal God.”

A plethora of questions spring into mind, such as….why were these two stories included in the Bible? What is the significance of the treaty with Abimelech?  Why mention the added detail of the disputed well? Could this be the reason God decided to test Abraham? 

And what the heck is a tamarisk tree?

Tamarisk tree, but not Abraham

My theory, which is sheer speculation based not on what’s in the Bible, but what isn’t there, nevertheless seems to provide the only rational explanation that might tie these two accounts together and “justify” the near sacrifice of Isaac.

If we ever do agree that my theory to explain the enigma of Abraham and Isaac is reasonable, there will be plenty of other stories need that need to be studied in order to gain some measure of understanding. The Bible is a mysterious book that describes a mysterious creator God. It is an indispensable tool in our search for truth, and answer to the existential questions.

Why were we created?  Is there a reason we exist? Does humanity serve some unknown purpose?  

Inquiring minds want to know…