Posts by Denny Henke

YouTube Channel

I set up a YouTube channel a few years ago but never made it a point to post much. A couple months back it was pointed out to me that one of my YouTube videos had gotten quite a few views, 29,000+, and that perhaps I should invest more time in developing my channel. so, this is me putting in some time creating more video updates.

The funny thing is that I actually enjoy putting them together, its just something I need to work into my routine. I'm hoping to assemble 2 - 3 each month. Here are the first two, both are gardening updates. We've been busy with baby goats, spring gardening as well as putting up a raspberry trellis and a small duck pond.

Atheist Morality

It’s a fairly common opinion in the U.S., which is predominately Christian, that religion or a belief in a god is a requirement of morality. A recent Pew poll continues to support this notion.

Of course this is not the case. No, not even close. But it is what believers tend to believe and it IS an interesting question: where do we get our morality? For the religious, it comes from a holy book such as the Bible and is often presented along with a threat of hell for the sinner or a promise of eternal life for the repentant. Of course it gets a bit confusing as most Christians also believe in the forgiveness of sins in the act of accepting Jesus - so go ahead and behave badly, just accept Jesus before you die and you’re good to go. Makes for some pretty loose morality I’d say. Now, I’m just speaking here of Christians. Other faiths do not necessarily provide such an easy ticket into whatever version of an afterlife they are promoting.

Before we go any further let’s have a look at the definition of how morality is defined:
According to the New Oxford American Dictionary:
morality |məˈralətē, mô-| - noun (pl. moralities) principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior. 
• a particular system of values and principles of conduct, esp. one held by a specified person or society: a bourgeois morality. 
• the extent to which an action is right or wrong: behind all the arguments lies the issue of the morality of the possession of nuclear weapons.
I see no mention here of religion as a requirement for morality. From Wikipedia:
Morality (from the Latin moralitas “manner, character, proper behavior”) is the differentiation of intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are “good” (or right) and those that are “bad” (or wrong). The philosophy of morality is ethics. A moral code is a system of morality (according to a particular philosophy, religion, culture, etc.) and a moral is any one practice or teaching within a moral code. Morality may also be specifically synonymous with “goodness” or “rightness.” Immorality is the active opposition to morality (i.e. opposition to that which is good or right), while amorality is variously defined as an unawareness of, indifference toward, or disbelief in any set of moral standards or principles. An example of a moral code is the Golden Rule which states that, “One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself.”
I think it is fairly obvious that morality is relative depending on different sources as well as interpretations. But we’re not just talking about the source or framework of morality are we? We are also talking about actual human behavior and the notion that only those that believe in a higher power can or will behave in a moral way. One aspect of this seems to be that the threat of eternal damnation should serve as a deterant even as the promise of an eternal heaven serves as an enticement. Of course, for many Christians, actual conduct is irrelevant as long as one accepts Jesus before dying. As an atheist I’d suggest that human morality, both the structure of recommended behavior as well as the actual behavior, is far too important to leave to religion. I would suggest that our morality requires a level of rational thought and understanding of evolving complex systems and that to rely on outdated and unproven religious beliefs rooted in confused texts and superstition is nothing short of folly.

Let me put it another way. Any morality rooted in contradictory and confused texts written by men worshiping an unproven supernatural power should not be the basis for a modern morality that guides human behavior in era of science and rationality. Such texts are, simply, not up to the task. What is needed today (and what has been needed for a very long time) is a living morality that is being actively questioned and fine tuned by the humans of today. In this regard I would suggest that it is to atheists that we might look for a new, updated morality that is based on an understanding of reality as informed by the best minds of our times. This is not to say that such a morality is to be the sole province of atheists but that it is past the time that we stop pretending that superstitious belief systems can be the primary foundation for what is considered good human behavior. In fact, the longer we cater to such belief systems the more likely we are to cause irreparable damage to our planet. Let’s explore some examples.

A common emphasis of faith-based belief systems is the idea of eternal life after death. Depending on which interpretation of the New Testament you might prefer, such eternal life takes place in heaven or on a new earth. Regardless of that, in such a worldview long-term life on Earth becomes far less important.   Our dealings with our environment, with the ecological systems of our planet, are one area of morality that might be considered not only important but critical to our survival. What kind of morality do we get from religions that not only emphasize an unproven afterlife but which explicitly state that that life is more important than the current one? What kind of relationship can we expect with our planet’s life support systems when the guiding morality explicitly states that a new Earth will be provided?

The problem of faith-based belief systems is the resistance they provide against critical, rational thought. In the U.S. there is a long standing conflict between many Christians and those that advocate science literacy. It manifests in a variety of ways, most notably in the “debate” over evolution and creationism. The “Big Bang” theory of the origin of the Universe is another. On the issue of human-caused climate change and what might need to be done to address the problem, we see a situation in which the public, lacking the scientific literacy needed to understand the available information, has demonstrated a very confused reaction. While this confusion is not the direct result of any specific religious influence, it might well be presented as an example of what happens when a superstitious population, lacking in basic scientifc literacy, is presented with a very serious and complex social-ecological problem that can only be understood in scientific terms. Without the skills and knowledge needed to evaluate the quality of information (and the sources) being presented on the internet and in the corporate media, public opinion has swayed back and forth year to year.

Ask a few adults you know about the cause of seasons on Earth and many will not know the correct answer. This is basic science knowledge and yet many do not understand. According to a recent National Science Foundation poll, 25% of Americans do not know that the Earth orbits the Sun but think the opposite is true. These are just the basics of scientific knowledge. Unfortunately we also see a general lack of understanding of the scientific method or of how science works on a larger scale via peer reviewed publishing. Unfortunately it’s not just average citizens that are ignorant of basic scientific knowledge and process but also many elected representatives that make important decisions on funding and regulation. Currently less than 2% of U.S. Congressman have a background in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Perhaps this helps to explain why so little has been done to solve problems such as climate change?

A society which has the capability of sending spacecraft to the edges of its solar system is one which is obviously capable of leaving behind superstition and embracing complex, rational thought. A society which has remotely landed a variety of rovers on other planets is a society which is capable of developing advanced technology and has, at the very least, some portion of the population which is dedicated to scientific endeavors. Of course it is also true that science is the tool that is often used for ethically questionable ends. Asking how we might develop this or that technology is not enough. We should also be asking why we should be developing such technologies. Bioengeneering is one area of scientific development which has met with a great deal of resistance across the planet. Whether the issue is the genetic engineering of the food supply or some other application of the technology, the ethics are not yet settled. Who do we turn to when we are uncertain of the ethics of certain technological development or the ethics of the goals of some areas of scientific pursuit? Is there a difference between science that is conducted by a corporation such as Monsanto and that conducted by a publicly funded university? Science is a tool and can be used in many ways. Are we to turn to the religious texts of history to guide us in such discussion and decision making?

I propose that there really is no need for debate on this topic. Human society has outgrown moral frameworks based on unproven historical texts that are little more than superstition. Such frameworks are not just a hinderance to our understanding of the Universe around us but also an obstacle to our ability to adjust to new social ecological problems. What is needed today is a living, rational morality which is informed by reasoned discussion and debate guided by the most current information provided by peer reviewed science.
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Cosmic Dance

A few weeks back I wrote about viewing the supernova in M82. It was first observed around the same time that an article was circulating about the continuing and drastic decline of Monarch butterfly populations. I had both the supernova and the threat to the Monarch on my mind when I sat down to write about my observation of M82 but I couldn't quite make the connection I wanted to make. A few days ago the Bad Astronomer, Phil Plait, in describing the earlier generations of star birth and death, comes close to articulating what it was I was pondering:

This happened in the Milky Way billions of years ago, and those elements from some long-dead star made their way into you. Your bones, your teeth, your blood, your very DNA have elements in them forged in the heart of a mighty star that violently tore itself to bits so that eventually you may live. It is a transformation on a literally cosmic scale.

I should hope the metaphorical metamorphosis is obvious enough. The only constant in the Universe is change, and much of it is a cycle. Birth, life, death, restructuring, and rebirth. That is also the theme of much of human art, from paintings and movies to myths and great novels.

Some say science is cold, dealing unemotionally with hard data. But that’s far from the reality. Humanity and life are reflected in the stars, and the Universe itself is poetry.

The thoughts I'd had were specific to the harsh reality of extinction on Earth. The Monarch is not there yet but it's numbers have declined drastically. Other species are also in decline and extinctions happen every day. In fact, according to the Center for Biological Diversity we are now experiencing the 6th mass exctinction event of the planet, loosing dozens of species a day:

It’s frightening but true: Our planet is now in the midst of its sixth mass extinction of plants and animals — the sixth wave of extinctions in the past half-billion years. We’re currently experiencing the worst spate of species die-offs since the loss of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Although extinction is a natural phenomenon, it occurs at a natural “background” rate of about one to five species per year. Scientists estimate we’re now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate, with literally dozens going extinct every day. It could be a scary future indeed, with as many as 30 to 50 percent of all species possibly heading toward extinction by mid-century .

Unlike past mass extinctions, caused by events like asteroid strikes, volcanic eruptions, and natural climate shifts, the current crisis is almost entirely caused by us — humans. In fact, 99 percent of currently threatened species are at risk from human activities, primarily those driving habitat loss, introduction of exotic species, and global warming. Because the rate of change in our biosphere is increasing, and because every species’ extinction potentially leads to the extinction of others bound to that species in a complex ecological web, numbers of extinctions are likely to snowball in the coming decades as ecosystems unravel.

For most of my adult life I've gone through a cycle of depression connected to or caused by my awareness of what we are doing to the planet and our fellow species. I will never accept what our species has done, is doing, to our planet but I have found a certain peace in the understanding that the Universe will go on regardless. Our fragile planet and the life on it has an end date. In 600 million years our sun will have have increased in luminosity significantly and the carbon cycle plants depend on will shift causing mass die-off of plant life and animal life. By the time the sun transitions from a main sequence star (4.5 bililon years from now) life on the planet will have long since disappeared. Such is the case for all life supporting planetary systems in the Universe. All stars have a limited lifespan.

The Monarchs will end. Humanity will end. Our planet, our solar system and our Sun will all have an end. So it goes. The cosmic dance will continue... for awhile anyway. What can we do but live our lives in the best possible way? I for one will try to live with a respect for the fragility of life on this Pale Blue Dot and with an understanding that the star stuff that makes up my body and this planet will one day be pushed forth into the Cosmos.

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Supernova!

Animation showing SN 2014J

Around January 19th a new supernova was detected in the night sky. Dubbed SN 2014J, the supernova is visible from the northern hemisphere in M82, a galaxy in the constellation Ursa Major. Consider, M82 is 12 million light years away so this explosion actually happened 12 million years ago but it has taken the light that long to travel the distance between our galaxies. 12 million years ago our Earth was in what is now called the Serravallian stage of the Miocene geological epoch. While humans did not yet exist at the time of the explosion the Earth was populated by a diversity of life including apes which were widespread.

I set out to observe the new-to-us supernova the first clear night after it's announcement. I've looked at M82, also called Bode's Nebulae or the Cigar Galaxy, many times. It's one of my favorites and I am familiar with it. It is an elongated galaxy with more visual definition than most galaxies. In dark skies with a telescope of 8" or greater it is possible to see the mottling of dust and gas. I saw the supernova immediately as it appeared to be a tiny star in the lower part of the galaxy. To a casual observer it would not appear to be much other than a small and faint star not unlike many of the smaller and fainter stars in our own Milky Way galaxy. But this is not a star in our galaxy.

Let me offer some perspective. Our Milky Way is an estimated 100,000 light years in diameter. Most of the stars we see with the unaided eye are 10,000 light years or less in distance. The most distant we can see unaided is about 15,000 light years away. Most of what we see is a good deal closer than that. Now, to reiterate, this supernova is 12 MILLION light years away and yet we can see it as a distinct point of light. That must have been one magnificent event and when it happend humans did not yet exist on Earth. But our curious species does exist today and we have been around long enough that we have telescopes to observe as well as the science needed to understand it. When the light from this event reached us we were ready for it.

Astronomers classify this kind of supernova as a type Ia. Essentially, when stars the size of our sun have exhausted their hydrogen and helium fuel (after 10 billion years or so) they collapse in on themselves to something much smaller and more dense. We call this kind of collapsed star a white dwarf and they have a mass comparable to that of the Sun, but a volume comparable to that of the Earth. At this point the star is no longer undergoing the nuclear fusion of gas but is just radiating lots of heat into space and will do so for trillions of years. However, if the white dwarf had a companion star it might, thanks to gravitation, begin pulling off gas from that star. If this goes on long enough the white dwarf will form an accretion disk of gas around itself and as the gas accumulates it builds in pressure and density due to the increasing weight which raises the temperature of the core. When the star nears a size of about 1.44 solar masses a period of convection begins and then ignition. Because white dwarfs do not regulate the fusion process as normal stars do, ignition results in runaway fusion reaction. Much more detail about the process is available via this page at Wikipedia.

 

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Something Decidedly Different

It is December 25. Christmas. I sit here this morning enjoying my coffee and the sounds of children happily playing with toys in the other room. Mostly giggling and excited play talk though there is the occasional shriek or tense raised voice. Mostly though, all is well. What’s different about these kids and their toys is that they did not open them up this morning and these are not new toys. These are the same toys they’ve been playing with for years. There is no tree in the house with presents underneath. We do have lights strung up for decoration though they remain up all year long as they provide a soft, cozy and yet festive atmosphere. We enjoy them, why take them down?

These are children who have never believed in Santa nor have they ever celebrated Christmas. Their mother, now an atheist was, for 14 years, a Bible believer that actually read the Bible and came to the conclusion that the Christmas holiday was nothing more than a creation by Constantine to emulate a pagan holiday for the purpose of conversion. In any case, last year, as she says, she studied her way right out of the Bible to deism which then, after a few more months of consideration, was replaced with atheism.

And so, here we are, a happy and content family enjoying a beautiful winter day. Sure, we have some homemade cookies but those are made all year long not just around the holidays and we enjoy some of the holiday music as well. We’ll enjoy this day as any other with three healthy meals, chopping wood, playing blocks, doing a bit of homeschool, maybe some crafts later.

Do our kids lack? Do they feel they are missing out because they’re not getting a roomful of new toys? No, I don’t think so and I’ll illustrate with a little story which is fairly typical. Recently we had a couple birthdays and the girls were asked for a list of things they wanted. The list? Empty. When pushed to come up with a list one shrugged and suggested a coloring book. When pushed further they agreed that they could use some fabric, paint and a few other art supplies. This is the rule, not the exception around here. In general these are kids that are very happy that seem to be living very full lives. For the most part the kids here spend their freetime reading, playing, crafting or watching a couple movies on weekends. In general, they’re not staring at screens, not texting and not partaking of the mainstream culture.

I’d guess that were I to take at a look at the wish-lists of random children living in the U.S., be they birthday or Christmas, the lists would, in general be quite long. I’d also guess that the kids with fairly long lists would already possess a great abundance of fairly new toys and gadgets. This isn’t about proclaiming some sort of right or wrong way to live or raise kids. Not about a right or wrong way of spending December 25 or any other day of the year. Rather, it is suggestion that it is entirely possible to live a life which does not revolve around the hyper-consumption that seems to have become the norm in today’s America. It is also to ask questions: Are we and our children happier as a result of this greatly increased consumption? Are we even aware that this seems to have become the new norm? What is the relationship of our identity and sense of happiness to our consumption of material goods? Have we come to believe that such consumption, as a distraction, can serve as a solution to our problems?

Really, the questions around consumption and hyper-consumption are not new. There are many more questions that could be asked regarding the effects of a way of life based on hyper-consumption on our personal and cultural health. There’s nothing fresh here and many others have been asking the questions for a long time. Nevertheless we seem stuck in this cultural and behavioral rut and I don’t see it as something that is making us happy or as something which can be sustained on a planet which has reached its limit.
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Carl’s Birthday

Dr Carl Sagan


Yesterday was Carl Sagan’s birthday. I really should have celebrated with a night of star gazing but I was exhausted from a full day and a full week so I stayed inside. It seems fitting though that sometime around 3 am I awoke with thoughts of Carl, the Universe and my place in it. As my mind often does at those early hours (If I’ve been asleep in bed but stir from slumber) I began mulling over a variety of thoughts. Perhaps that’s why long nights at the telescope with views of distant galaxies or Milky Way globular clusters and nebulae are often such an interesting exercise in quiet contemplation. In any case, I was awake and pondering some time outside under the stars. Laying next to Kaleesha I caressed her neck, her back and her hips enjoying the warm coziness of the moment and her sweet sighs as she stirred to my touch. After a little while I decided I would get an early start to the day with a view of the stars, planets and the sunrise.

I layered up with clothes and ventured outside with my iPad and quietly walked up the hill with Murphy at my side. There’s something entirely comfortable about walking up a woodland trail with the stars peeping through the breaks in the trees above and a big dog like Murphy keeping you company. The stars this morning were not a disappointment. They never are. The sky could not have been clearer and in this part of Missouri they are very dark. Orion took my breath away as it hovered in the southern sky. It is in moments such as this that I am overcome with a blissful mix of emotions and thoughts, feeling a joy of being connected to the Earth as I look up with an understanding that I am from the stars. That we, that all of this, is of a Universe which is bound together even as it is expanding further apart.

One of my thoughts this morning, in bed and now carried with me as I walked up the hill pertained to how it is that so much of our lives, in the America of 2013, are spent in pursuit of the next big thing and in particular, then next big shiny thing. Shiny things. It seems we modern humans, at least those of us who live in the “wealthy” nations, have become obsessed with trivial entertainments. From the Super Bowl to sitcoms to eating out to shopping, all the while dutifilly posting Facebook “Status” updates, we keep ourselves busy with our various forms of consumption and our “sharing” of it. How much of our mental and emotional energy is bound up in the aquisition of wealth and material objects. Bigger homes with nicer furnishings, name brand clothes covering overly cleaned and perfumed people driving new cars to jobs which may or may not be satisfying but which are required to maintain the lifestyle and the seeking of status that often comes with it. iPhones and iPads, texting while driving to the next afterschool sporting event, in the presence of others but rarely actually communicating with them.

This morning I think of Carl and his efforts to push humanity forward in its exploration of the Universe and it’s understanding of that Universe. I think of his warnings about our behaviour towards one another and towards the planet we share with not just other humans but with a great multitude of other species. I’ve spent most of my adult life concerned about problems such as climate change and have made a fairly consistent effort to communicate those concerns with others. I’ve made many of my life decisions based upon my understanding (limited though it is) of humanity’s effects on our planet and so this morning as I looked at our Milky Way neighbors I could not help but ponder Carl and what he sought to communicate.

If we humans are ever able to leave our planet for the purposes of living elsewhere it is a long way off. For the forseable future the Earth is our home and we are not doing a very good job of taking care of it. In this past year of looking up at the night sky I have, more than any other time of my life, come to appreciate the beatuy of the Universe. I have also developed a new-to-me understanding or perspective of our home planet in the context of the Universe. With each day the evidence grows that there are likely billions of planets in just our own Milky Way galaxy that might support life, planets that inhabit the “goldilocks” zone around their respective stars. There are billions of galaxies and, in light of these numbers, my doubt about life elsewhere in the Universe continues to shrink. And though we know that life on Earth has an expiration date based upon the life cycle of our sun I can’t help but wish that we humans might make the effort to live as though what we do matters. Perhaps our existence is meaningful because of this known expiration not in spite of it. Our species’ existence is likely to be ephemeral in the grand scheme of things but is that any reason to live without care?

Before the sun began to lighten the sky I pointed the telescope to the north, to Ursa Major and there I found the two galaxies, M81 and M82, collectively known as Bode’s Nebulae. The photons from these distant galaxies traveled for more than 12 million years before finding their way to my eyes. I spent a good long while looking at these two as they are fairly close and offer more detail than more distant galaxies. What life might exist there on the billions of planets that likely orbit billions of stars? Next I looked at Jupiter and then Mars, just a stone throw away by comparison. The sunlight reflected from these two planets traveled to us in just minutes. Current missions to Mars are looking for evidence of past life there. Jupiter’s moon Europa has an atmosphere which consists primarily of oxygen and a smooth icey surface which may well have liquid oceans beneath. Oceans that may support life. As the sun began to brighten the sky I aimed the telescope at the Orion Nebula for one last look.

After putting the scope away I stood for a few minutes on the soft layer of cedar mulch that covers the boulders that overlook the shut-ins of Tucker Creek. I spent a few minutes observing the rushing water and rich textures of the landscape. The trees of this south-facing hill are now nearly shed of all their leaves but are covered in thick layers of lichen. The rocks too are covered in patches of lichen and moss. Even in the chill of a fall morning life is abundant.

As I walked down the path, Murphy again at my side, I could not help but overflow with joy at the crunching of leaves underfoot and the gold light of our sun filtering through the mostly bare branches. There is something very enjoyable about acknowledging and being mindful of the sun not just as the sun but as OUR STAR. At the bottom of the hill our little homestead was stiring with the morning. Chickens, ducks and a goose were all awake and begining their business as were the goats. Soon I would sit in the warmth of the house and write at the kitchen table to the sounds of children pitterpattering above.

Tucker Creek Observatory

I've been here at Make-It-Do Farm for almost four months and I'm happy to say that we now have a fantastic observatory site. It took a bit of work but we got started a couple weeks ago cutting down a few trees. Most of them were cedars and not the healthiest trees so I don't feel too terrible for cutting them down. We've got a couple more on the north side to take down. As of now the view from the northwest all the way around to the northeast is pretty fantastic. We've got a great view of the southern horizon which allows for easy viewing of Sagitarius in the summer. When we're finished I expect that our view of the skies will be as clear as those I had at the lake but even better as the skies are even darker here! The observation deck is nearly finished and then I'll build the telescope shed.

In the few nights I had up on the hill before the moon and cloudy weather returned I had some fantastic views of the Ring Nebula, Andromeda, Perseus Double Cluster, Messier 2, Eagle Nebula and Lagoon Nebula. Quite a few others too but those are the highlights. Not only is the hill a great viewing site but it sits within just a hundred feet of the shut-ins of Tucker Creek. Just as the lake offered an amazing night-time symphony of geese and other life, so too does this site offer the sounds of frogs, insects and running water. The skyline is framed in trees and the rock bluffs all around are barely visible in the pale starlight. Beautiful. I didn't think I could have a better site than the lake but I think this is it.

 

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Accepting Complexity

A few days ago we had a visit from the Johavah’s Witnesses. We glanced out the window and didn’t recognize the van. When I saw them get out I guessed pretty quickly who they were and excitedly put on my shoes. By the time I got out to the car they were already in conversation with Kaleesha. She didn’t see me approach from behind. She was being very polite, letting them talk for quite an extended period. I wasn’t sure if she was going to quietly listen and let them leave or confront them. I piped up from behind when they produced an article titled “Should you trust religion?”
“Oh, no, we’re atheists.” I wasn’t interested in anything but being blunt and to the point. I’m happy to engage with them but it will be on my terms if they’ve come to my house. So, I happily let that cat out of the bag. I won’t really bother recounting the conversation as they didn’t have much to offer. My basic suggestion was that we relied on and believed in science and that the Universe was plenty amazing without an imaginary god. But they did leave a few things and agreed to come back next week for more conversation.
So, what was it they left? Well, let me sum it up as useless. Not that I’d expect anything of use from them. One of the “publications” was about science: “The Origin of Life: Five Questions Worth Asking”. Essentially, it can easily be summed up as this: Life and the Universe are far too complex to be anything but the result of intelligent design. That’s it, just their assertion. We’re supposed to take their word. While they actually do a pretty commendable job of introducing some actual science, giving credit and acknowledgement (in a minimal way) to the progress made by various fields of science, they end each section with a sort of “God of the Gaps” argument. Essentially, they’ve taken some big steps backwards from progress made 60 years ago. At least according to this humble non-believer. During World War II German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:
“…how wrong it is to use God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed further and further back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat. We are to find God in what we know, not in what we don’t know.”
Charles Alfred Coulson, in his 1955 book Science and Christian Belief wrote:
“There is no ‘God of the gaps’ to take over at those strategic places where science fails; and the reason is that gaps of this sort have the unpreventable habit of shrinking.”
The problem is that science continues the march onward, making fantastic progress across the many fields. From microbiology to astrophysics, the gaps in data, the gaps in knowledge, are being closed at an amazing rate. The writing on the wall. God is no longer needed and is being handed his hat. Thanks but no thanks, we can use the scientific method to explore and understand the Universe.
Some of them seem to think that the meager offerings of the Bible are sufficient but it is far from that. It is a religious document written over a thousand years ago that does not deal with a scientific exploration of the Universe. It explains nothing. Our visitors the other day seemed to think that they could point to a passage here and there to somehow prove the Bible’s accuracy. Nevermind the contradictions that exist, a passage here and there do little to explain the mysteries that the scientific method has been used with such efficacy to explain.
“The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what’s true.” – Carl Sagan
Of course science is just a method, a tool used by humans to learn. But we recognize that mistakes can be made and the method is design to confront the mistakes. Nothing in science is sacred or above challenge. New data can confirm our understanding or might be used to challenge it. That is the beauty, resiliance and utility of science and what makes it such a valuable tool.
Addendum: As planned, we were revisited by the JW folks and had a nice conversation. I expect it was pointless but who can predict. To put it simply I shared with them everything I’ve written here. Whether they will consider my thoughts and criticisms or not I do not know.

Bringing Permaculture to Make-It-Do

Hugelculture herb spiral in
construction. Leaves and wood used
as organic filler, topped with soil
and compost.

Let me start by saying that Permaculture is not a new concept for Kaleesha and she's been putting various elements of it into practice for several years. What is new though is having me around and my thoughts on how to go about things.

Probably the biggest change is going to be a change in goat management which is both a permaculture driven change as well as a very practical need. Essentially the goat fencing was never quite finished and with a bit of effort they were able to free-range which is not a good thing with a road nearby. Nor is it a good thing if one wants to grow berry and fruit trees and bushes or any kind of flower garden. If you dont already know, goats eat practically every kind of growing thing so growing a garden or food forest is difficult, probably impossible if goats have open access to growing areas.

Last week we finished the fencing and the goats are mostly contained. They will do their best to get past it and will find a few week points (already have!) so we'll have to get out and do a bit of troubleshooting. But as of now, it is a big improvement and they are behind the fencing most of the time which means we are now free begin landscaping areas around the house which had previously been left as grass or gravel.

After the goats the priority has been to improve the aesthetics of the north, driveway side of the house is poorly defined with two doors that confuse visitors about the actual entrance. The first door goes to the laundry room is more a utility entry but is usually the first door seen by visitors. The real entryway is not marked in anyway. That entire face of the house was used as storage with a heating unit, doors, windows and other items leaned against the wall. The rocks of the driveway were steadily migrating down into the gravel mulch that served as a yard. Most of this area is heavily shaded by the house and two large trees. The northeast side of the yard has a bit of grass and gets a good bit of sunlight.

Well rotted log from my hugelculture beds. The logs
and soil are full of fungi and micro organisms.

We started by getting all the items along the house moved to the shed. Once we cleared the space we wanted to bring some life and usefulness to the area. We built a hugelculture shade bed against the house and to the west side of the main entrance to the house. The bed has been planted with a mix of shade tolerant plants such as ferns, hostas and native columbine. A smaller bed on the other side of the door will also be built and planted with shade plants. The concrete pad in front of the door will also be getting some attention. Currently it gathers a good bit of small gravel which makes its way into the house. To help draw attention to this door as the primary entrance and to reduce the amount of gravel coming inside we are repurposing some concrete paver stones mixed with various stones found around the property which are being laid in as an extension of the pad forming a sort of patio.

Much of the focus thus far is working on moving extra plants over from my efforts at the lake. I've gotten some of the kitchen herbs and Missouri natives moved over with many more to go. My folks will be taking over my cabin and have no interest in gardening so I'm also bringing over soil from the two year old hugelculture bed. The logs are rotting up nicely and the resulting soil, previously enriched with manured straw from the chicken coop, is fantastic. Thus far the herb spiral and hugelculture beds around the mature trees in the yard have been planted with Oregano, Skullcap, Lavendar, Garlic Chives, and Purple Coneflowers.

This fall I'll move the serviceberry bushes, blackberries, and raspberries and possibly a few others. In the longterm I'd like to put the hill that the house is built on to use. It is a south-facing hill and an excellent opportunity for water harvesting with swales. Another longterm project is improving the goat forage. Currently they forage a diverse area with a fairly good mix of food but it could be improved. Yet another long term project that we'll get started in the spring of next year we will be several food forests. We'll obtain low-cost nut trees from the Missouri Department of Conservation as well as a few fruit trees from other sources.

This is a great site with fantastic potential and I look forward to becoming a part of it.

 

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Building a Partnership With Kaleesha

Living in the cabin these past 5 years I’ve gotten very good at being single and alone most of the time. I’ve not had a serious long term relationship since 2001. But I’m good at being a partner, I enjoy it greatly and find the cooperative process a very rewarding one. Connecting with someone of like mind with whom we can work and learn and share, well, isn’t that what we all look for in a relationship? The core of such a partnership, in my view, is communication.

So, here I am building a new relationship with Kaleesha. Really, we’re just getting started. We’ve been friends since January but, as I mentioned recently, that friendship took on a new direction in recent months. What I’ve found in Kaleesha is a beautiful human being that has a relentless desire to explore life in the Universe and to communicate those explorations. Now, I should probably clarify what I mean by explore. As a homesteader with a variety of animals and seven kids, she is not skipping willy nilly across the globe. Her exploration is a bit closer to home.

As I explained previously I met Kaleesha when she and her family took an interest in astronomy. I did not share that she had, in the late summer of 2012, quit the Bible and Christianity. As she puts it, she “read herself right out of it”. That got my attention. A serious Christian of many years who reasoned her way right out of religion. A person not content with faith and courageous enough to confront a lifetime of self-deception was a person I wanted to know better.

Upon her initial departure from Christianity she considered herself a deist but soon began to question that as well. As of this writing she considers herself an agnostic with atheist leanings. As she says, “I’m fairly confident that in a couple of months I’ll consider myself an atheist”. She’s currently reading Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” and Gandhi’s autobiography which brings me to her habit of constant reading which I greatly appreciate and admire. I’ve always thought that reading is the base of intelligence… Or, rather, a primary tool required if one is to have any chance of intellectual development. A lifetime of reading exclusively romance novels is not likely to lead to much in the way of personal intellectual growth. Fortunately her reading materials are substantative.

By circumstance our friendship evolved via a mix of face-to-face conversation blended with many Facebook conversations and email exchanges. These direct communications were supplemented with our explorations of one another’s blogs. From the beginning ours was a process largely based on the sharing of our written words, our ideas about the world and our experiences in it. To put it simply, it was intellectual exchange rather than emotional exchange and I think it set the foundation for what we have been developing since. I consider her one of the more interesting people I’ve met in my time on the planet.

Kaleesha is the first writer with whom I’ve been involved romantically and it was immediately obvious that her being a writer added something of great value to our relationship. I’ve not known many writers in my life but those I have known seem to share a common trait of experiencing life more fully. A more developed vocabulary and ability to use language (oral or written) seem to correlate with a generally deeper appreciation of the Universe and a curiosity about its workings.

I have greatly enjoyed her fondness for reading aloud to the kids and often as we lay in bed she will share quotes from her current read which often leads to a bit of conversation. This is a woman who loves words and the expression of ideas. She loves to dig into the current subject of her curiosity, roll it over and examine it from a variety of angles and chew on her observations. When she gets around to writing about it (as she inevitably does if it is worth writing about) she is thoughtful and deliberate in her craft. In fact, this is yet another aspect of her which I greatly appreciate and admire: her willingness to take her time and do it right. Whether she is writing for her blog (or upcoming book), making a pizza, sewing or working with the kids, she is careful to take her time, to be deliberate and mindful of the task at hand.

Partnership with Kaleesha is both a comfort and a challenge. Comfort when it is needed, say at the end of a long day or even just a general sort of comfort that comes with having a close confidant. There is the comfort that comes with her bringing me a cup of coffee or her sweet smile from across the room or the sight of her confidently rolling out a loaf of bread that will soon be in the oven. There is the challenge she puts forth by just working so hard everyday. Gone are my days of lax activity living alone in the cabin. Not to say I didn’t get done what I needed to (usually), just that it was a very relaxed life with accountability only to myself. I could get away with my laid-back day-to-day efforts. Life with Kaleesha requires that I rise to the occasion, that I put forth greater effort. Whether it is time with the kids and giving them my thoughtful attention or some chore such as moving a goat fence, there is more to do here. Kaleesha has been the primary caregiver to her seven children and it’s not left her with much time to write or to engage in other projects. My intent is to take over some of these responsibilities and general household responsibilities so that she has more time to develop herself in other areas.

Of course there is the passion that comes with real partnership. Such passion manifests in many ways. It might be shared passions such as astronomy and gardening. While viewing the stars with friends like Russ and Mark is always a very enjoyable experience and my solitary time at the scope too is very rewarding, time shared with Kaleesha at the scope adds a new flavor to the experience. Sometimes we are focused on what we are viewing, sharing in the beauty of a globular cluster or nebula, other times the experience wanders to the holding of hands, conversation or warm embrace. Spending time in the garden together is equally beautiful and greatly enriched over time spent gardening alone. Occasionally all the passions come together and blur such as the night we started observing the stars and moon in the yard. We wandered into the garden as we searched around trees and clouds for a particular patch of sky. There we enjoyed an awareness of all the elements merging; of being in our garden, surrounded by growing things as we looked to the heavens. There is no better place to be.

This post would not be complete without some mention of our daily communications which start every morning in bed. There is nothing as sweet as starting a day with a gentle conversation in bed with the person one loves. We might jump into a conversation about the day’s plans or we might mull over an event from the previous day. Sometimes we start with a bit of silliness, sometimes it is a meaningful discussion. Regardless of the start, our day is marked by consistent communication with each other and with the kids. She is very skilled and deliberate in her management of the home and much of this manifests as a sort of conversational tone of respect which makes for a very pleasant environment.

This is a partnership I will deeply enjoy.