Why Faith Goes Beyond Mere Reason

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”  – Matt. 6:34 ESV

I spent some of last night’s wee hours struggling with such cares concerning what are the best subjects (if any) to learn.  Since my chief interests are in the sciences, but include many other areas as well, I thought, concerning the ideas of practicality and usefulness of such knowledge, could be totally beyond use.

But as I have observed many times in the past, much of my knowledge will pay good dividends.  For example, why does bird excrement contain white and dark portions?  (Urinary products, primarily uric acid, are excreted in a combination with the actual feces.) Or, speaking of white and dark, the “white” breasts and the other, “dark” poultry portions (i.e., drum, thigh, and wing) represent differing rates of metabolism in the muscles (which, basically, is the meat before slaughter).

Physics is the reason why a Volvo commercial is false if it was to stop suddenly in the face of an obstacle.  Good for the rescued kid crossing the streets, bad for the driver with her inertia paced on her by a sudden stop.  And another ill-advised product I actually own:  an alarm clock that projects on the ceiling in the dark.  But here’s the catch:  in dark enough conditions, the center of the retina dominated by cones, will not respond in darkness.  The certain portions of the alarm clock numbers cannot be seen directly, so unless you skim around, you may get the wrong picture.  Likewise, you can’t see a dim star looking directly at it,  but you can when you look next to it.

I could go on and on about these things, but knowledge of any kind is a good investment no matter what it is used for.  After all, may come in handy in various situations.  For example, two botanical words:  “pinnate” and “palmate” refer to leaves concerning the veins of the leaf, compounding (when leaflets, while isolated, are really one subdivided leaf), and even the pattern of lobes on certain leaf margins.  (Thank you, Britannica.  But sorry, I can’t infringe your copyright, so no picture here!) Together with many other traits that are useful for identification, it may led a nice hobby to observe properties of plants.

And reason is a gift from God, despite many secular claims otherwise.  But all these unbelievers:  atheists, agnostics, deists, secular humanists, freethinkers, whatever, consider reason superior to religious doctrine (which is obvious by their disbelief of God).  Reason is good, but if it gets to an excess, it could take it into a powerhouse of planning and worrying about what could happen, rather than trusting a loving God and His providence.

And that was my very antidote, around 2:30 this morning, I put such matters in the hands of God, and immediately saw a better insight of the information.  Now I am much happier, and was asleep just after about 3 AM (and slept till 8 or even 8:30)

So, if you get anxious or frustrated from excessive reasoning, especially when it deals with personal problems (as opposed to appropriate uses of reason, such as asking questions and observing what happens as say, in scientific research or financial planning), turn it to prayer!

Bottom line:  Focus on learning for now, then you’ll have a arsenal of knowledge to use for different needs.  As always, one day at a time!

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How to Make Non-Fiction Reading Productive and Fun

Most people don’t have photographic memories, so we must face it.  Nonfiction books aren’t there to be memorized verbatim.  They’re about concepts, not minute details.

Such details come in countless varieties:  names, dates, places, you name it.  Also, there are forms pertaining to particular fields.  Examples of scientific cases should be treated less seriously than the overall scientific ideas themselves.  For example, in a Britannica article on vision across the animal kingdom, I do my best to extract the key principles, using a Macintosh note taking tool.  Also, tools like highlighters (to be used only on your own printouts/copies!), are of avail.  Unimportant details, just to give examples, are such things as animals that may bear a structure or function to work in their habitat, or mathematical reasoning or equations.  My ultimate goal in researching topics of any kind  is to obtain a “take-home message” (of course, I’m typically already at home, but you most likely get the metaphor).

And some sources are just not for everybody.  Some are too easy for one, others too hard, still others not satisfying.  I typically use Britannica (and is wonderfully sufficient for me), though I am not endorsing nor condemning it and I leave it up to you to decide which are the best resources for you.

In any case, you could tediously memorize an entire unit of text, whether a paragraph, chapter, or entire book.  But I’d prefer just to understand a book or other source of info yielding a take-home message.  While the existing knowledge quantity grows, the capacity of the inquiring mind does not.  So don’t be too tenacious about learning.  It may backfire.

Okay, I’ve Had It With Textbooks Used as Self-Study Aids!

The text on invertebrates is (physically and mentally) falling apart, not to mention my tendency against regular order in reading textbooks “for fun” as well as factors in past posts.

I’m not condemning college texts themselves.  They serve as the compass for college (or other) instruction.  But they certainly aren’t light reading, and certainly things you wouldn’t take to the beach.  Moreover, essentially being scholastic course manuals, they are to be read in order, or how your professor would organize it.  He may even add important topics not included!  But without a course to follow it?  It’s just like oil and water!

And yes, there are alternatives.  General-subject encyclopedias, like the immortal Encyclopedia Britannica as well as specialized ones (in this case, a single main subject yet geared to the lay public), let you pick and choose what you want to learn.  Confused on a topic?  Cross-reference! And with today’s Internet technology, that is a simple as a click.  Many of them, if not in print, are unfortunately either part of your county library system, or your own bill.

While textbooks, on the other hand, give a more thorough understanding of an entire subject, and do walk you through the subject in sequence, may not always provide you with the appropriate breadth and/or depth you are seeking.  From a perspective of a textbook, if you are strictly looking for a given topic, for instance, transpiration, you may be perplexed due to inadequate knowledge on plant vascular structure.  And due to the fact they intend such a book for students, the author will put substantial detail that is not-so-practical to your “average Joe”

And of course, there’s Google.  But you must be prudent, especially when it comes to the site’s domain.  “.edu” and “.gov” are the best, “.org” can be iffy (after all, Wikipedia uses such a domain), and “.com,” while generally suspicious, can have nice morsels of fact.  There are exceptions to all.

So entire textbooks may not be the best way.  But I am fervent for learning, always have been and always will be.  After all, since much of your knowledge in college becomes useless, perhaps except for a relevant course or two for your current job, you’ll likely forget most of it.

The next post will be a sequel to this.  Until then, enjoy any learning you may encounter for its process — and product.

Some Ways To Power Your Learning Potential

Here are some interesting ways that you can learn things quicker, and sharper.  Indeed, it attests to the modern theory of “neuroplasticity,” which is very comforting, for even as brain cells die (at least from what I’ve heard) they can re-route easily.  Moreover, in the real world, people young and old alike can learn by awesome tricks.

One method is known as the mnemonic.  For example, “HOMES” represents the Great Lakes of North America (i.e., Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior).  Another is “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally,” namely, the order of math operations, comprising parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction.  Mnemonics are everywhere, and can even be cleverly invented.

Moreover, an even more powerful memory trick is to associate concepts using a “bridge.”  This is known as associative learning, and the method is known as conditioning.  In fact, this can be used just as appropriately (and perhaps more so) on behavioral research.  You may have heard of Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov’s immortal experiment on the dog that connected a two-step process into one (i.e., the dog no longer needs the powdered meat for a salivation response, as it has been overridden by a bell, which was earlier rung almost simultaneously, and now the bell is sufficient).

To place this concept in the human race, I will give you a few facts I know by using this method (and perhaps any close kin):

-Muhammad, the top Islamic prophet, was born in AD 570.  I know this thanks to a Pennsylvania telephone area code.  See?  That’s the power of associationfor Muhammad had nothing to do with phones or Pennsylvania.
-The very date (May 18th) of writing this post in 1980 was when the first “true” eruption of Washington State’s Mt. St. Helens.  Its dress rehearsal, a steam eruption, was actually on my birthday (March 27th) that same year.  (I was not born until 1988, not to mention I live on the US East Coast).
-When dialing phone numbers (and to help memorize them), I dissect them into the three parts:  area code, exchange (the first three digits of the phone number proper), and the last four digits, a number of ways can be useful (no pun intended).  Among them are the geometric pattern your finger traverses on the keypad, or comparing actual numeric details such as digit order, etc.  Of course, this is the case only in the US, Canada, and most Caribbean islands.
-Same thing with any scholastic procedure, whether through the grades, in college, grad school, whatever, one level is preparing you for the next, often known as a prerequisite.

There are also many reverse cases, wherein knowledge learned elsewhere may have a golden opportunity for application.  Especially in fiction.

-A few years ago, on the long-running American TV crime drama “CSI:  Crime Scene Investigation” (2000-2015)  In one scene of an episode I noticed the mention of an opening in the rear eye socket.  This right there, shows you that you’ll never know when an application of a previous fact may sneak out at you.
The Genesis Code, a novel I am trying to read but have been displaced from (as it is with many books) involves a Roman Catholic office in the Vatican, which is a remnant of the atrocious Inquisition many centuries ago.
Eaters of the Dead, by the late, great Michael Crichton concerns Arab encounters with the Swedish Vikings.  (Crichton’s overall style is quite compatible with the scientifically-conscious, including me.)

One more comment I should make is that even if you are encountering the same facts you have before, with knowledge input between then and now, it can truly enrich the original knowledge.  Yet, more than anything else, this dynamic concerns Christians and the Bible, especially because its intent is more than information, but transformation.  In other words, not just knowledge, but wisdom.

I could go on and on, but, long story short, using your existing knowledge, you can easily enrich and compound on it.  And as everyone’s situation is different (e.g., intelligence, age, areas of expertise), be kind to help others depending on their needs.  This includes controlling breadth and depth to keep them interested.

“Long live MacGyver”

The Worth of One’s Knowledge Base

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.  (Prov 1:7, ESV)

Unbelievers, while being just as able as believers to obtain knowledge, do not thoroughly understand what something means in the long run.  Based on this, Christians have a higher purpose for this, as cited in Phil 2:4 (ESV):

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Fundamentally, we can all use our knowledge bases for the common good, and to advance the kingdom of God.  Whatever your area of expertise is, there is somewhere you can fulfill the needs and demands of whom you serve.

On a personal level, knowledge compounds and inter-plays with previously learned knowledge prior to the newer information.  Whether its a mere pronunciation difference or a topic that builds on something you learned 20 years ago (making for a great review LOL), knowledge is always useful to some extent.

But first of all, let’s discuss what this thing called “wisdom.”  Basically, it is living within God’s parameters of earthly existence to survive and thrive.  This is not the same as actual “earthly” wisdom.  James describes the difference like this:

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:13-18)

“Heavenly” wisdom comes only through the Holy Spirit, through prayer, Scripture reading, preaching, and other means of grace.  Thus Christians have a fuller awareness of doing what is best as their clock on earth ticks.

And as in all things, moderation.  Ecclesiastes (a Biblical wisdom book, which, like Proverbs, is attributed to Solomon) illustrates when you should draw the line on certain things, such as pleasure, work, and learning.  Yes, we share this terrestrial ball.  But not forever.  So while you should enjoy things on this earth, don’t get too absorbed in them.  For example, Eccl. 12:12 puts secular study like this:

Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

Learning is good, and is something we do whether we like it or not.  But if you study with selfish ambition, that is basically folly.  Yet when done in moderation (as with all your tasks), understanding our natural world (or any other area(s) of knowledge) can bear great benefit.  By the way, since Solomon’s time, “books” have met their rival distant cousin: the Internet.  Gutenberg sure helped, though.

Wow, now we have made a bridge between a number of areas of thought!  Would you like to buy it?  (It’s far cheaper than Brooklyn’s for sure!)

Teach What You’ve Just Learned

At CCP, I am doing a public speaking class.  While I am near flunking this course, I have learned some valuable tips and tricks to use to present facts, for the good of both speaker and listener.

When I endeavor to learn material with substantial, if not overwhelming, detail (for example, stuff from Cronodon), a few reads and especially a pleasant “lecture” with a friend, can power learning.

  1.  Read the material until you have a “working” comprehension of the material.
  2. Copy various ideas, whether small details or major facts, onto index cards.
  3. Practice a little by speaking, first in your own mind, then to your listener(s)

It is also good to test yourself on your newly-acquired knowledge.  So by teaching others and testing yourself on this material, you’ll get a grasp on whatever information that is second to none!

Putting God In Charge of All Intellectual Pursuits

Our individual lives are a tiny fragment of all time.  Yet God gave us a mind to learn, reason, analyze, and create.  We must therefore come to terms with certain areas of our transient lifetime, and let our intellect follow suit.

1.  Unlike God, knowledge always changes.

Consider great minds like Newton, Descartes, Franklin, Jefferson, Pasteur, Einstein, and sundry others.  Some were Christians, some were not, the important thing to remember is that we have moved far beyond the potential of their time.  Yet they never got to see this later activity and development.  Not to get too morbid, but all people should consider what they have achieved and leave the achievement of future generations to God.  In the case of Christians, we could care less what happens on earth once we enter and eternally enjoy the overwhelming and magnificent heavenly fellowship with God and his people.  That’s at least how I see it.

For practical consideration on this earth today, we must accept the fact that we will never know everything.  As a budding scientist (and most likely a biologist of some sort), I understand that people in my bunch may make discoveries (or at least participate in such activity), but those discoveries always change.  A college textbook used when one is say, age 20, will be a dinosaur (no pun intended) when one is 50.  Yet people aren’t chasing after newer editions.  Instead, they keep up to date with scholarly periodicals focused on their field.  While some people love holding onto their textbooks, others would rather limit it to those books that are relevant as a reference, especially in the courses most pertinent to your current job.  The rest might as well be rubbish.

2.  Only God is omniscient and only He knows the “exact truth”

Earthly information is not only subject to change, it is also really only a shadow of the exact truth.  Whether antiquated or cutting-edge, all human knowledge is fallible.  Even the Bible, God’s Word, is subject to interpretation.  (This causes splits in churches, but that’s for another post.)  In any case, what is quite commonsense today was highly arcane at one time.  Newton was quite intrigued by the falling apple, which we now know as the law of gravity, which is now a mere staple (unless you wanted to study it in detail).  Same thing with living cells (the name came from the resemblance to a prison “cell”).  And let’s not forget Franklin’s kite, which could have put his life in jeopardy.  Copernicus and Galileo were the first heliocentric proponents, yet they got some pretty nasty treatment from the Inquisition, etc.

Whatever it is, science is an interpretation.  Hypotheses and theories change over time, and they are the backbone of science.  Another type of scientific statement, the law, is a more stable, observational principle, e.g., Newton’s three laws.  Even they could occasionally be modified.

Conclusion

All human endeavors (including science and many others) are imperfect.  Thanks to Jesus, we now enjoy the freedom of exploring our world, sometimes to a scientific extent.  And that includes people like me.  As Thomas Aquinas put it, if faith or reason need to be chosen, pick faith.  There is nothing wrong with reason, but it is always secondary to faith.  God created our minds, not vice versa.

Because knowledge is a creation of the Creator, it should never be worshiped.  It may very well be fruitful to detach from books that it would be time to move on from, as you have learned many of the main principles, though perhaps not all the details, and certainly not verbatim (hardly anyone can do that!)  I think God is in action when “pruning” the knowledge that is not needed.