Boiling it Down

Boiling it Down

Greetings friends,

In Russell’s post introducing the Ask an Atheist (or Christian) series Howie posed the following:

What group (denomination, organization, etc.), person, book, podcast, and/or video would you pick that comes closest to describing your own way of seeing reality?

I replied that the most influential non-biblical text in my life is The Call, by Os Guinness.  It is.  I gave my last annotated copy to a dear friend who was struggling with faith.  I have another copy.  I’ll read it again and write more, probably different notes in the margins.  That book is probably why I’m here.  I’m 42 years old and I still ask, “what should I be when I grow up?”  The thesis of that book:  be and do what you are.  I think that my life calling may be to reach out to the skeptical in my generation and to reach in to my precious brothers and sisters in faith so that we don’t lose compassion or leave others behind.

But, despite sharing a part of my bliss with Howie, did I answer the question well?  I tend to be less thorough in my answers than Russell.  Did that book come closest to my own way of seeing reality, or did this?

Durants Lessons of History


Meet the Durants.  Then, if you can spare 5 hours in aggregate (I listened for the third time in 6 months in the car), listen to  this summary of their life work.  Although I prefer hardback books with a pen in my hand, this is one experience where listening is superior.  In the edition linked above, you’ll hear the delightful voices of Will and Ariel interviewed at the end of every chapter.

I bought the Story of Civilization in a yard sale for a dollar a book.  It was on the top shelf, waiting for retirement.  I’m not waiting any more.  I just finished volume 2 and will begin volume 3 after an interlude with Sean Carroll.

Why does this work represent my way of seeing reality most closely?  Probably because I am remediating a liberal arts education.  My education in STEM and subsequent teaching career required reams of technical reading with little time for arts and history.  That’s not true.  I had the same amount of time that I have now – – 24 hours a day with an average of 6 off for sleep.  My priorities on how to spend that time were different.  That’s true.

I’ll discuss science to the best of my capability and honestly, my capability is higher than the average blog reader or writer in that space.  Russell’s capacity in that domain surpasses mine.  But there is more.  That’s my argument.  There are different kinds of evidence that should be considered in the search for truth.  The integrated experience of billions over thousands of years seems a good place to start.  I’m making the 11 volume journey with the Durants.  If you’d like to meet them and understand how I think (it is plastic) then the digest above in Lessons is a great place to start.

Would other readers care to answer Howie’s question?  It was a good one.



photo credit:  SuSanA Secretariat [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

The King of Tyre


This is Tyre of the Phoenicians, in modern Lebanon.  Ancient, proud, and strong.


This is Tyre of the Truck, in modern America, early yesterday morning on a remote country road.

photo 4

This is the beginning of King of Tyre, the gladiatorial sport that began after an attempt at changing the tyre ended in a fallen jack and before our friend from roadside assistance arrived.

photo 3

These are the combatants at play, fierce and strong – – arrows in my quiver.  If they are bruised today, call not CPS – – I’m bruised too.

You can’t buy this type of time with your children.  The opportunity to put the phones away, play with a rock, or violently push each other off a tyre.  What began as a frustrating interruption to our morning excursion, quickly became a memory that I will cherish for decades.  I suspect they will too.

Long live the King of Tyre.  And remember – –  the only thing Pascal likes better than a good chili cheese dog is a bad pun.




“TyreAlMina”. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons –

“King of Tyre Photo Series”.  Pascal.  My own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 via  Generously donated to those who have had or will have a flat.


Between You & Me: What is Calculus?

Calculus Symbol

Of all the things we talked about yesterday at breakfast, what could I choose to expand?  Would it be the deep thoughts about the morality penumbra?  No – – but that’s too good for us to leave alone forever.  Would it be about a wristwatch made by a fruit company that changes your very life?  No – – that is for the first world masses.  We can do better than that here.  No – – it must be about calculus.

I heard you say:  I don’t know calculus.

You actually said:  I’ve never taken a class in calculus.

There are two types of people in the world:  those who divide the world into two groups, and those who don’t.  But, in a nod to our binary friends, there are those who instantly comprehend the equation above (you and my oldest son) and those who find the greek letter mysterious and head on over to wikipedia trying to either learn or remember. Non-binary minority report:  or ignore it and go on reading.

I took two semesters of college calculus and a physical chemistry class which required differential equations.  What do I remember from those classes?  There was a man named Schrodinger (my apologies for the excluded umlaut).  He had a very strange cat in a very special box.  That, my friends, is why I took p-chem.  To name this man’s cat.

ADA&Neagoe CC 3.0

ADA&Neagoe CC 3.0

So – – with three semesters of mathematics beyond arithmetic, algebra and Euclidean geometry I have a useful metaphor for thinking and writing.  The same applies to:  derivation, integration, summation, and asymptote. Cool Greek symbols – – cooler life metaphors.

integral                                       asymptote                    derivative

I don’t know calculus.  You most certainly do.  Just as one should not assume that formal education ensures learning – – calculus was only a means to an end for me – – we should be equally cautious in equating no formal class to not learning.  You know calculus.

I suppose I could say the same thing about reading and writing for me.  No formal classes, but in twenty years I’ve read over 100,000 pages and written over 5,000 pages in my journal.  I’m excited by the resources a curious mind can access today – – Wikipedia, YouTube, and the Khan Academy to name only  three sites contain the teaching and learning potential of millenia.  The library of Alexandria could fit on a thumbdrive.  If I am exaggerating, it is not by much.

Dear readers:  don’t ever put yourself down for a lack of formal education.  Russell loves calculus and sees the beauty intertwined with the type of thought it allows.  If formal education is required to satiate your curiosity, then go for it.  But we are not young forever and life’s responsibilities intervene – – what a pleasure to pursue education as an adult!