Rejoicing Anyway

If I thought my faith depended on feeling cheerful, I’d be worried.

Since I’m a Catholic, I think faith is willingly and consciously embracing “the whole truth that God has revealed.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 142150)

Faith is easier when my emotions are in sync with my reason. So is acting as if what I believe matters. Emotions can tell me that something needs attention, but “…conscience is a law of the mind….” (Catechism, 17771782)

Believing won’t do much good unless I love God and my neighbor, and see everyone as my neighbor. As Jesus said, it’s “the whole law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:3740)

Feelings and Quirks

I haven’t been feeling all that cheerful lately: hardly surprising since I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in over a week.

Last night was as close an approximation as I’ve achieved. Maybe tonight will be better.

The good news is that the family hasn’t had a major medical incident over the last week or so. Stress can help folks experience insomnia. “Help?” Never mind.

I’m still dealing with habits and response patterns developed during decades of depression. That gets me back to faith, feelings, and making sense. Sort of.

Depression, the sort I still deal with, is a disorder; not a choice. There’s a ‘spiritual’ angle to it, but ‘exorcising demon depression’ doesn’t make sense.

Taking care of my health, within reason, does. (November 26, 2017; November 19, 2017; October 8, 2017; May 7, 2017)

Depression isn’t my only psychiatric issue. PTSD has been part of the mix since I was 12, and today’s parents or family doctors often spot signs of autism spectrum long before kids reach their teens.

Add congenital hip dysplasia, and by some standards I’m a mess. (November 19, 2017; March 19, 2017; October 16, 2016)

“Rejoice Always”

This Sunday’s second reading has good advice: more like an instruction, actually.

“Brothers and sisters:
Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.
In all circumstances give thanks,
for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus….”
(Thessalonians 5:1624)

I quoted the first part in September. (September 24, 2017)

Psalms 118:24 and Philippians 4:4 say that rejoicing is a good idea, too.

I don’t feel like it sometimes. Physical and psychiatric issues could seem like excuses for griping, grousing and grumbling. But I can remember reasons for rejoicing, no matter where my emotions are at the moment.

Living in this wonder-packed universe is near the top of my list. So is the best news humanity’s ever had. God loves each of us, and wants to adopt us. (John 3:17; Ephesians 1:35; Catechism, 52, 1825)

“Pray Without Ceasing”

I’ll probably get back to prayer and all that, but not today. That may wait until I’m more nearly awake.

I can, however, say something about prayer. It’s a gift of grace, and something I can’t do unless I decide it’s worth the effort. (Catechism, 2725)

Prayer is also a battle against attitudes I’ve learned from snags and snares dating from when time did not yet exist. My own shortcomings, too. (Catechism, 391395, 27252728)

More-or-less-related posts:

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California Fires, 2017

The good news is that only a small fraction of California is on fire or incinerated.

The bad news is that this year’s California wildfires have been big, destructive, and aren’t over yet.

I’ll be talking about a few of the fires, why I think troubles aren’t over for folks living in California, a little about wildfires in general. Also how I see disasters, God, nature and beliefs: sensible and otherwise.


Rain and Fires


(From Phoenix7777, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Top: 2017 Northern California wildfires from January 1 to October 11. Bottom left: California wildfires in October 2017; bottom right: California wildfires, December 2017.)

It’s been a bad year for wildfires in California. Oddly enough, getting adequate rain early on helped — if that’s the right word — keep the fires going.

More than the usual year’s growth of grass dried up later in the year. Sparks from poorly-maintained power lines or other tech we weren’t using wisely probably weren’t only cause.

Lightning, volcanic eruptions, or other natural events start fires, too. With acres of tinder-dry grass, it wouldn’t take much.

Nature Preserves in Perspective


(From Getty Images, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“The wildfire has devastated acres of land in Ventura and Santa Paula”
(BBC News))

I had a chance to talk with someone who lives in California at a holiday family get-together.

Their house is well away from any fires, which is good. Air in their part of the state, however, is foul.

Smoke from a small wildfire can dissipate pretty rapidly. Months of smoke from a whole lot of huge fires is another matter. I’m quite sure life on Earth will endure, but effluvia from those fires is a real problem. I’ll get back to that.

I gather that a significant number of the fires have started because the State of California hasn’t been taking care of the state’s infrastructure.

I haven’t researched the assertion, but it seems plausible. Not getting around to spending money on routine maintenance happens.

Back in 2007, an Interstate bridge here in Minnesota collapsed. Apparently the official explanation is that the problem was a design flaw.

That’s likely enough a factor, but at the time there was a fuss being raised over not-entirely-adequate maintenance. On the ‘up’ side, the bridge held for four decades before breaking. Death toll was 13, with 145 injured. It could have been worse.

Controlled Burns

Wildfires can be a real problem for us. But they’re not all bad.

We’ve learned quite a bit since my school days. Between Smoky the Bear’s “only you can prevent forest fires” and a growing desire to not ‘spoil’ nature, most folks figured fires were always bad news.

Then some folks noticed that vegetation grows back after a fire.

Scientists and conservationists had records from before we started suppressing fires.

Just as important, we’d been preventing most fires in nature preserves for years, decades. Most fires, that is. A few started and spread a bit anyway. That let us compare places with no fires and comparable spots that had burned and recovered.

The recovered forests and grasslands looked more like they had when we started keeping records. Lesson learned. Now controlled burns are part of routine maintenance in many nature preserves.

Controlled burns are just that: controlled. They’re carefully set, watched, and kept from spreading into areas that we want to keep. Most of the time. That’s when they get in the news, more often than not.

Wildfires: They’re Not New

A bit upwards of 200,000,000 years back, something killed a whole lot of critters.

It happened in what we’ve been calling the Petrified Forest Formation of the Chinle Group, in north-central New Mexico.

Some scientists recently looked at fossils from the area. From the condition of the fossilized bones and wood, they figure that most likely they died in a wildfire.

The point of that paleontological digression is that wildfires didn’t start when we started making power lines and barbecue grills. They’ve been part of life here for a very long time.1

That doesn’t make California wildfires less of a problem. But I think remembering that humans don’t cause everything makes sense.


Southern California


(From NASA/ESA, used w/o permission.)
(False-color image of the Ventura County burn scar on December 5, 2017, using data from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-2 satellite. Active fires are orange, the burn scar is brown. Unburned vegetation is green, developed areas are gray.)

California’s Thomas Fire scorches area larger than New York City
BBC News (December 11, 2017)

The most destructive wildfire raging in southern California has expanded significantly, scorching an area larger than New York City.

“The Thomas Fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties has consumed 230,000 acres (930 sq km) in the past week.

“Fanned by strong winds, it has become the fifth largest wildfire in recorded state history after it grew by more than 50,000 acres in a day.

“Residents in coastal beach communities have been ordered to leave….”

I’m not going to add up how big this year’s fires are — not this week. That’s partly because the numbers keep changing.

A recent total was around 245,000 acres. That’s 990 square kilometers, 382.24 square miles.

If they’d all been in one place, the area would be around 19 and a half miles on a side.

The fires have destroyed about $9,400,000,000 of insured property so far. Insurance can’t cover everything, though. I think it’ll take years for businesses and people to recover from time spent cleaning up and rebuilding. Those able to rebuild, that is.


California Wildfires: Comparisons and Health


(From The New York Times, used w/o permission.)
(Wildfires near Los Angeles, around December 7, 2017)

Where the Fires Are Spreading in Southern California”
K.K. Rebecca Lai, Derek Watkins, Tim Wallace; The New York Times (December 8, 2017)

“Several wildfires continued to blaze in the Los Angeles and San Diego areas on Friday, burning more than 100,000 acres and forcing nearly 200,000 people to evacuate….”

The good news is that the Los Angeles metropolitan area didn’t catch fire. Just parts of it.

The bad news is that fires are still burning.

News services based in America’s east coast comparing the burned and burning areas to New York City, BBC compared them to London’s footprint. Either way, these are big fires.

After the Fires: What I Expect

Losing your home is bad, but stuff can be replaced. Except for family photos and other one-of-a kind things.

I haven’t seen numbers, but I’m guessing that many folks don’t have a place to work now. Losing a job or business hurts, too; although it can be less personal than losing a house.

But like I said, stuff can be replaced. People can’t.

At least 44 folks have died so far, 192 or more others have been injured. My guess is that the toll in lives and health will keep growing over the next few decades.

There are probably smoke-free spots in California, but a whole lot of folks who aren’t anywhere near a wildfire downwind of one.

Breathing wood and grass smoke isn’t particularly healthy. When more-or-less-new buildings burn, things get complicated. And toxic.

There are good reasons for using PVC pipes, and polybrominated diphenyl ethers make pretty good fire retardant. But sometimes structures burn anyway. Smoke from today’s building fires has some distinctly-unhealthy stuff in it.2

My guess is that folks in many parts of California today will have more than their share of health problems over the next several decades.


To Sleep, Perchance to Think

One of these days I’ll probably talk about St. Francis of Assisi. But not today.

Last night I enjoyed a full night’s sleep — for the first time in about a week. That’s made focusing — my mind, eyes, or pretty much anything else — more challenging than usual.

We need sleep, and it’s better if we do it while the sun is down.

Taking care of my health, within reason, is a good idea.

I don’t know why Medieval and Victorian pop religious literature made such a big deal of swooning Saints. But stories about them sold quite a few books over the centuries. I’ve talked about Saints and ham sandwiches before. (July 2, 2017)

Some Saints, and certainly not all, really did do very unhealthy things to themselves. But it’s not why they’re Saints. And that’s another topic.

Dominion and Doing Our Job

My culture had a badly-distorted notion of our “dominion” over this world for entirely too long.

More of us started realizing that nature was beautiful, important, and not immune to stupid behavior while I was in my teens.

I think the change in attitude made sense. Today’s notion that a core Christian value is destroying nature is distorted: putting it very mildly.

As I keep saying, the part of God’s creation we can see is “very good.” We do have”dominion” here, but we don’t own the universe. It’s God’s property. Taking care of the place is part of our job. (Genesis 1:128, 2:15; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 216, 373)

Our job description includes making reasoned use of its resources for ourselves and future generations, and keeping our home in good working order. (Catechism, 24022406, 2415)

Faith and Getting a Grip

That reminded me of the durable notion that using post-pharaonic Egyptian medical tech isn’t ‘Christian.’

I think trusting God makes sense. But taking care of ourselves is a good idea, too. Again, within reason. (October 8, 2017)

I still run across folks who don’t ‘believe in’ vaccinations. I figure they really believe that God doesn’t like vaccines because they’re not mentioned in the Bible.

I read and study the Bible. It’s part of being Catholic, or should be. (Catechism, 101133)

But movable type isn’t in the Bible either. Even so, I’ve never run into an ‘it’s not in the Bible’ enthusiast who will only read hand-copied Bibles. And that’s yet another topic.

Getting and staying healthy is a good idea. Within reason. Prayer is important too, and so is science. (Catechism, 15061510, 2288, 2289, 2292)

The notion that there’s virtue in being sick isn’t going away any time soon. Neither is assuming that folks get sick because God is smiting them. I don’t think either makes sense. (July 21, 2017; August 21, 2016)

The same goes for disasters. Assuming that God smites sinners and rewards ‘good people’ may be comforting to healthy folks who still have their homes. That doesn’t make it true.

“‘Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem?'”
(Luke 13:4)

More of what I think about faith, health, disasters and making sense:


1 More than you may want to know about wildfires:

2 New materials and health:

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Prepare the Way

Denouncing sin and sinful influences was a favorite activity in my youth, at least for many radio preachers and the more outraged Christian folks. I think they were sincere.

Their antics started me thinking, which eventually led me to become a Catholic.

I don’t think they’d have approved, since a ‘sinful’ influence they denounced fairly often was the Catholic Church. More accurately, what they thought was the Church. Like the fellow said:

“There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing.”
(“Radio Replies Vol. 1,” Forward, page ix, Fulton J. Sheen (1938) via Wikiquote

My parents, happily, were with a Protestant denomination that wasn’t on the same page as the ‘denouncers.’ Protestant churches weren’t and aren’t all alike, and that’s another topic.

I had something else in mind for today’s post, a train of thought that started with Monday’s Gospel reading.

Then last week happened, including a special Mass on Friday: the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

It’s a pretty big deal, but not because we worship Mary. Putting anyone or anything where God belongs in our hearts and minds is a bad idea and we shouldn’t do it. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 21122114)

Where was I? ‘Sinful’ influences, thinking, becoming a Catholic, Advent. Right.

About the picture up there. It illustrated Mary’s interview with Gabriel. We’ll be reading about that on Christmas Eve. Gabriel had a message for Zachariah, too. I talked about those folks last year. (December 18, 2016)

There’s a family get-together this weekend, so I’ll have even less time than I thought. Family is a good idea, within reason, and that’s yet another topic.

What I had to say about centurions will wait. A quick look at Sunday’s Bible readings gave me an idea which I figured would take a whole lot less time to put together.

Getting Ready

Today’s Old Testament reading is from Isaiah 40, the part that includes “…In the desert prepare the way of the LORD!….”

Next is “…with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day…” in Second Peter. I was going to say something about that, too: which will also have to wait.

Sunday’s Gospel reading talks about John the Baptist.

I suggest reading all three: Isaiah 50:15, 911; 2 Peter 3:814; Mark 1:18.

All three readings talk about getting ready for the messiah, or repentance, or both. Explaining why I think repentance is a good idea means talking about sin.

First off, sin does not mean having personal preferences that aren’t just like mine.

I got the impression that radio preachers I heard didn’t quite see a difference between unchanging commandments of God and their taste in music and politics. That sort of thing seems to be much less popular now, and I don’t mind a bit.

Sinners

I could try kidding myself into believing that I’m not a sinner because I haven’t robbed a bank or killed someone. Or assume that “sinners” are folks who have the good sense to not go moping around, trying to make everyone else as miserable as they are.

Both seem like bad ideas. But there’s a (tiny) element of truth in both.

Blatantly obvious high-profile bad behavior like stealing from an outfit that holds the fortunes of many folks is a bad idea. I shouldn’t do it. But I should also avoid less obvious lapses in judgment.

There’s more to life than avoiding sin, happily. Realizing that we live in a world filled with beauty and wonders is a good idea. I talk about that quite a bit. (October 20, 2017; December 9, 2016)

But indulging in smug self-congratulation, or seeing misery as virtue? Not good ideas. (June 18, 2017; July 10, 2016)

Sin

Sin is what happens when I offend reason, truth, and God. (Catechism, 18491851)

That happens much more often than I like. I don’t consistently do what I know is good for me, and avoid what’s bad; so I’m a sinner. (Catechism, 1706, 1776, 1955)

Feeling bad that I did something wrong is okay. Cherishing that feeling isn’t. Emotions can tell me that there’s something I need to do. Deciding what to do should involve thinking, and that’s yet again another topic. (October 5, 2016)

Feeling bad about sinning won’t do much good unless I notice what it was that I did. Then I should then decide to at least try not doing it again, and have a shot at correcting the harm I’ve caused. There’s a sacramental angle, too. (Catechism, 14221470)

Instead of focusing on what I shouldn’t do, I’ll touch briefly on what I should be doing.

I should love God, love my neighbor, see everybody as my neighbor, and act like I believe it. Matthew 5:4344, 22:3640; Mark 12:2831; Luke 6:31, 10:2537; Catechism, 1789)

Treating others the way I want them to treat me is a good idea, too. (Matthew 7:12)

It’s quite simple, and pretty much the opposite of easy.

More, mostly why I think acting like God and love matter makes sense:

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No More Sunspots?

Sunspots come and go in an 11-year cycle. Our sun has acted that way for centuries. With a few exceptions.

The sunspot cycle changed about 23 years back. I think we’ll learn a great deal by studying what’s happening, but at this point scientists aren’t quite sure what to make of the new ‘normal.’


The Story So Far

We’ve been studying the great light in our sky and the lesser lights for a very long time. Then, a few centuries back, natural philosophers became scientists.

We’re learning that what we had discovered is just part of a vast cosmos.

That seems to bother some folks. I’m not one of them. I like living in an era where much of what I learned in my youth is either outdated or simply wrong.

I’ll be talking about sunspots, stars, and what we’re learning about them. A great deal of that is being uncovered ‘now,’ in the years since I was born. But like I said, the basics we’ve known for much longer.

How long we’ve known about sunspots depends partly on where you look.

Folks in Korea and China may have observed dark spots on the sun about 28 centuries back. Some scholars think that’s how we can read what’s in I Ching.

How folks living before today’s filters and other tech would examine our sun’s surface with comparative safety, I don’t know. Maybe something along the lines of a camera obscura.

The trick with observing our sun isn’t getting an image big enough to see. It’s blocking most of the light so we can see without blinding ourselves.

Theophrastus recorded sunspot observations a few centuries later. He studied with Plato and then Aristotle.

Apparently Theophrastus was more into Aristotle’s preference for observation and less attached to Plato’s theory of forms. That may help explain why his works were standard references until the Renaissance.

Jumping ahead about a millennium, Adelmus noticed a sunspot, but thought it was Mercury crossing the sun’s face. That was in March of 807. I’m pretty sure he’s Athelm, a monk who was Archbishop of Canterbury. Or maybe someone else.

John of Worcester, another monk, made the first drawing we have of a sunspot in 1128.

Fast-forward to the 1600s. A bunch of folks observed sunspots during that century, too.

Galileo and Christoph Scheiner both said they saw them first. Both apparently missed that honor by a few millennia, but didn’t have today’s information storage and retrieval tech. If they’d read I Ching, I like to think they’d have claimed something else as an achievement.

Galileo argued that sunspots were on our sun’s surface in his 1613 Letters on Sunspots.

I suspect that helped inspired later accounts of the Church seeing science as a threat. I’ve talked about Galileo’s less-than-winsome personality and 17th century politics before.1

Also why I think this universe is billions, not thousands, of years old; Earth isn’t flat; Adam and Eve aren’t German; and thinking is not a sin. And that’s another topic. (September 23, 2016; August 28, 2016; July 22, 2016)


Our Inconstant Sun


(From NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(A solar flare erupting on August 31, 2012)

Is the Sun Changing?
Monica Broba, Sky and Telescope (January 2018)

“About 290 million years ago, a volcano erupted in what is now eastern Germany. The blast lifted trees straight out of the ground and coated them with liquid rock. Beneath this debris, an entire forest fossilized. Last year, scientists studied tree rings from these ancient trees — but not to learn about Earth. They wanted to learn about the Sun.

“To the naked eye, the Sun looks like a uniform whitish sphere. But the solar surface is often mottled with dark spots, like the peel of a ripe banana. These sunspots emerge, live for a few hours or days (or longer), and then decay. Occasionally, 150 or more spots dot the solar surface. During these times, we observe many eruptions of high-energy radiation and, sometimes, superheated material, which can blast through space and hit the planets. At other times, hardly any spots show up at all, and the Sun stays fairly quiet. The Sun smoothly cycles between these two states, ramping the number of sunspots up and down every 11 years….”

Those eruptions of superheated material hit earth’s magnetosphere on occasion. We started calling them coronal mass ejections, CMEs, recently.

They didn’t affect us directly, apart from lighting up the aurora. Not that we know of, anyway. That changed in 1859. Folks had started using telegraphs.

Electrical telegraphs made long-distance communication a whole lot faster than anything we’d had before.

Nearly-instantaneous data transmission helped turn meteorology from a study of past weather to a predictive science. (August 11, 2017)

Telegraphs used a growing web of telegraph lines. Wires and changing magnetic fields interact, and — I am not going to get distracted by the Biot–Savart and Ampère’s circuital laws. The point is that when a wire and/or magnetic field move, we get electrical current.

Science and Jobs For Humans

On September 1, 1859, astronomers noticed an unusually bright flare on our sun. Auroras that night were spectacular, and seen as far south as the Caribbean.

Scientists noticed a “magnetic crochet,” some telegraph operators got shocked and miners in the Rocky Mountains mistook the aurora for dawn.

Maxwell published a set of his differential equations around 1860. Röntgen won the 1901 Nobel Prize for discovering X-rays.

The Orbiting Solar Observatory 7’s SEC caught a 256 × 256 pixel image on December 14, 1971. A human, David Roberts, eventually noticed it. He figured it was a glitch. Then he saw another one, farther out.

Roberts was an electronics technician, so he had scientists look at the data. They confirmed that it wasn’t a glitch. Roberts had spotted the first clear evidence of a CME. (February 17, 2017)

Humans are pretty good at solving ‘what’s wrong with this picture’ puzzles. But AI is getting pretty good at that sort of thing, too. Some AI systems ‘look’ through the flood of data coming from today’s observing tech.

That doesn’t mean that folks like Roberts will become obsolete.

Their jobs may, but not the people. I think there’ll always be room in science and other fields for our sort of ‘smart.’

Robotic road vehicles recently moved from research and development to product design. And that’s yet another topic, for another post.

Our jobs, what we do to help others, will keep changing. Some will disappear, or become recreational options. We will keep changing, too: more slowly. But we’ll still be ‘human,’ with the kind of ‘smart’ that’s kept us alive during one of Earth’s ice ages.

I think the fellow was right.

‘Computers are designed to get correct answers based on huge amounts of information, all of which is right. Human brains are designed to get correct answers based on almost no information, most of which is wrong.’

Forests, Mountains, and Change

About that German volcano, another eruption won’t threaten Chemnitz.

My guess is that the Zeisigwald volcano was in a mountain range separating most of Europe from an equatorial ocean, but haven’t confirmed that.

The volcano is long since gone, along with the mountain range. The Pyrenees and Alps formed much more recently, and that’s yet again another topic.

Earth wasn’t quite the way it is today. The atmosphere had about 115% more oxygen. The Great Dying wouldn’t happen for another 39,000,000 or so years. Pangea wouldn’t break apart until tens of millions of years after that. (June 23, 2017)

The territory we call Germany, along with the rest of Europe, was in northern Pangea. Some critters living in the area, like Palaeohatteria, would have seemed familiar. It was about 60 centimeters, two feet, long and looked quite a bit like today’s lizards.

The forest itself had trees and undergrowth, like today’s woodlands. But forests have changed as the ages rolled past. A lot.2


A Spotless Sun


(From NASA/SDO/HMI, via Sky and Telescope, used w/o permission.)
(“The spotless Sun of July 21, 2017.”
Sky and Telescope)

Is Our Sun Slowing Down in Its Middle Age?
Monica Bobr, Sky and Telescope (July 21, 2017)

The Sun, now halfway through its life, might be slowing its magnetic activity, researchers say, which could lead to permanent changes in the sunspots and auroras we see.

“The Sun has changed its figure, researchers say, and might keep it that way.

“The structure of the Sun’s surface, where sunspots live, appears to have changed markedly 23 years ago. That’s when solar magnetic activity might have started slowing down, Rachel Howe (University of Birmingham, UK, and Aarhaus University, Denmark) and collaborators speculate in paper to appear in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (full text here)….”

I’m quite sure this isn’t a sign in the sky, portending End Times, a somewhat-tardy Mayan Apocalypse, or cancellation of next year’s Super Bowl. I figure it’s the start of another Grand solar minimum, or something else. Right now we don’t know.

I also figure that “permanent” changes in sunspots aren’t likely. Permanent changes in how sunspots change, maybe.

Sunspots have disappeared before. Somewhere along the line we started calling that sort of thing Grand solar minima.

Grand solar minima happen at apparently-irregular intervals. I’m guessing that they’re not “random,” but have more complex cycles than the sine-wave-like 11 year maxima and minima we’re familiar with. But like I said, right now we don’t know.

Sunspots and Grand Solar Minima

We’ve noticed that Grand solar minima happen at about the same time as regional or global climate changes.

That could be a string of coincidences.

I’d be less surprised if we learn that solar activity affects Earth’s climate. It wouldn’t be the only factor. I’ve talked about science, climate change, attitudes, and getting a grip before; and probably will again. But not to day. Not so much.

I put links to a little background near the end of this post. In case you want to read about the the Oort, Wolf, Spörer, Maunder, and Dalton Minima; or Aristotelian physics.3

One of these days I’ll revisit why I think Earth’s climate changes and that we should find out more before monkeying with the controls. Not panicking seems like a very good idea — particularly since we’ve survived some fairly major changes already.4

We didn’t know about solar minima and maxima, Grand or otherwise, until fairly recently.

They’re not mentioned in the Bible, although I wouldn’t put it past someone to come up with a ‘Biblical’ reason for saying they’re not real. Maybe Ecclesiastes 1:10. Joel 2:10 might work, too; although that’s used more by ‘End Times Bible Prophecy’ folks.

I’ll get back to that, sort of.

I don’t see a point in saying that Grand solar minima can’t or shouldn’t exist. That makes about as much sense to me as believing other worlds can’t exist because Aristotle said so, or that we knew everything there is to know about this universe at some arbitrary date.

A Sense of Scale

I also don’t see a point in desperately trying to believe that a 17th-century Calvinist’s Bible study proved that this universe started in 4004 BC.

Some folks try, and seem to feel that it’s an indispensable aspect of Christian belief.

I think and hope they are sincere. But I am convinced they are wrong.

Even if I preferred a tidy little cosmos that was new when Tiān Qiāng sān was Earth’s north star, it wouldn’t change reality.

Like Psalms 115:3 says, God’s large and in charge. I’m okay with that.

Getting back to stars, science, and what we’re learning — Emanuel Swedenborg published “The Principia” in 1734.

His ideas about science, intuition, reason, and religion were colorful, putting it mildly. But he also got scientists thinking about what we now call the nebular hypothesis.

Immanuel Kant, Pierre-Simon Laplace and a whole mess of other folks added to the mix. The nebular hypotheses is still the model that best fits what we’ve been observing. (December 9, 2016)

Fast-forwarding to the mid-20th century, scientists were getting an increasingly-exact idea of when this universe started. Some scientists, anyway. Hoyle, who thought a steady-state universe made more sense, called Lemaître’s hypothèse de l’atome primitif a “big bang.”

There’s a story behind that, but I’m running short on time. I’ll leave it for another post.

How We Know What We Know


(From Efbrazil, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Big bang, 13,800,000,000 years later: mapped onto a 12-month calendar.)

We’ve been observing our sun and the stars for a long time: long in comparison America’s election cycle, anyway.

Looking at time elapsed since this universe started as one year, it’s not so long. We didn’t show up until “today.”

Folks started building cities about 22 seconds back, Copernicus said Earth orbits our sun a second ago — and we’ve been studying stellar evolution for a fraction of a second.

I don’t think we’d have gotten far if our sun was the only star we could observe. Based on what we’ve seen over the last few centuries, we might conclude that our star didn’t change, apart from more-or-less-regular cycles.

Happily, we can see thousands of stars each night: given clear skies and no street lights. More recently we’ve started studying myriad upon myriad more distant stars. That, and a lot of analysis, lets scientists learn how stars form and change.

Quite recently we’ve started watching stars that aren’t stars yet. We’re even pretty sure we’ve spotted nascent planetary systems.

If I’m going to get this ready in time, I’ll have to put off most of what I wanted to say about stars in general, and ours in particular. Also how our star’s younger years may have affected life on Earth.


Seeking Truth

I said I’ll talk about reality, the Bible, and ‘End Times Bible Prophecy’ folks.

But like I said, I’m running late. I’ll mostly talk about the first two, and give the last a ‘once over lightly’ treatment.

I fine-tuned some of what I thought was so after becoming a Catholic. That’s an ongoing process.

But I didn’t change anything basic, including how I see truth and reality. For starters, I think reality is real. And that I’m not a figment of your imagination, or vice versa.

That may be hard-to-impossible to demonstrate.

In principle I could convince myself that every argument was an illusion. Or that I’m something you’re imagining, and you’re the one thinking my thoughts. Overly farfetched? Maybe, but I’ve seen some rather odd notions. (August 13, 2017; February 10, 2017)

Part of my job is seeking truth and God. Since all truth points toward God, preserving ignorance isn’t a virtue. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 27, 3135, 41, 74, 2500)

I’ll find truth in the Bible, sacred scriptures. That’s why reading the Bible often is one of my happier obligations. (Catechism, 101133)

The Whole Truth

The Bible is important, but it’s not all that’s important. I’m a Catholic, so I think faith means willingly and consciously embracing “the whole truth that God has revealed.” (Catechism, 142150)

The Bible has God’s revealed truth. So does everything we can observe. I’ll find truth in the natural world’s order and beauty, if I’m paying attention. Appreciating the world’s wonders is a good idea. (Catechism, 32, 41, 74, 283, 341, 2500)

I thought learning how this universe works was a good idea before I became a Catholic, and still do. An interest in science isn’t required for our faith, but it sure doesn’t hurt.

Each time we learn something new about this wonder-filled creation, it’s an opportunity for greater admiration of God’s work. (Catechism, 283, 341)

Doing My Job

Folks who seriously believe the “rapt-cha stuff” aren’t necessarily bumpkins like Non Sequitur’s Eddie.

I don’t know why otherwise-sensible folks occasionally fall for a current ‘End Times Bible Prophecy.’ They pop up fairly often, keep fizzling, and follow pretty much the same script. (August 23, 2017)

I think Jesus is coming back, and that we’ve got work to do in the meantime. Lots of work. (December 3, 2017)

I also take what Jesus said very seriously, including what our Lord said in Matthew 24:3644, 25:13, and Mark 13:3233.

The way I see it, the timetable for our Lord’s return is available on a ‘need to know’ basis. If Jesus didn’t need to know, I sure don’t.

I don’t mind. That sort of thing strikes me as being a very high-level command decision. I’ve got my hands full, just trying to do my job here; ‘working out my salvation.’ And that’s still another topic.

Some of what we’re learning about this wonder-filled universe:


1 Faith, science, and Galileo:

2 Paleontology and a little stellar physics:

3 Old physics, new knowledge:

4 Looking at facts, and thinking:

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