Tuesday, September 12, 2017

DIY Summer III: Demolition I

Having explained the concept in part II of this series, I now move on to demolition.  Demo is many people's favorite part of a construction project.  It's where you get to let loose with a sledge hammer and take out some of your frustrations.  Well, that is all well and good if you don't actually plan on living in and using your home during the remodel.  Unfortunately, my home needed to stay usable during the demo, so, I had to go a bit slower, be a bit cleaner, and avoid destroying the still-in-use kitchen.

I began by removing the walls concealing the chimney, the back entrance cavern, and the strange refrigerator cubby.  Here is before the demo began.

 The first picture is from the back entrance looking toward the small pantry.  The wall to the right of the pantry conceals the chimney.  The second picture looks from the kitchen toward the back entrance, the wall concealing the chimney, and the refrigerator cutout. .  All of this would have to go. \

 Taking off the wall plaster reveals the chimney.  This chimney had already been removed below the roofline, so at least this project would not include roofing.  But I still had to take the chimney down in the attic and then work in the kitchen.  Plaster walls are a bear.  Mine did not use the common wood lath with plaster on top.  Instead, my walls were constructed of 2'x3' plaster boards (a predecessor to drywall) with a layer of plaster on top.  All in all, the walls were 1" thick of plaster, making them hard to break and heavy to carry.



 At this point we hit the first major snag in the plan.  In the picture above, you can see the black pipe.  That is the main sewer exhaust pipe, and it is made of cast iron.  I could try and move it, or leave it in place.  If left in place, it would constrict my plans to push the kitchen wall all the way back to the left.  Add to this, the fact that the wall in line with the sewer pipe turned out to be load bearing. Ugh.  In the end, I decided to leave the sewer pipe and most of the load bearing section of the wall, which would mean holding the kitchen wall out about 2 feet from the left.



Taking down the chimney was absolutely the dirtiest job I have ever done.  I had help from my colleague, Dr. Ed Snyder.  Because I did not want to have to redo the tile floor, we had to be very careful.  I put down pads and blankets to protect the tile, then we basically removed the chimney brick by brick with a 4lb. hammer and pry bar. There was who knows how many years of grimy soot baked in to all the bricks and by the end of the day, both Ed and I were quite a sight.  After the chimney was removed below the floor line, I placed a couple pieces of plywood over the hole to avoid late night accidents. 

Next: Demo 2, openings in load bearing walls.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

DIY Summer II: The Concept

Our cape cod style home has a pretty traditional layout.  Approximately 1/2 of the square footage is dedicated to three bedrooms, two baths and a hallway.  The other 1/2 is made up of a decent sized living room, and modest sized kitchen and dining room. Each of these rooms is completely enclosed with walls and small doorways. We cook a lot, and I do mean we.  Both Brooke and I share the cooking and now our four year old is getting into the mix.  The kitchen, which was redone shortly before we bought the house, has become the most crowded room in the home.  There is not enough counter space, so we are always running into each other.

Our first ideas about how to remedy this small kitchen was to take down virtually all walls between kitchen, dining room, and living room, creating a great room that would only be partitioned by furniture. This dream quickly died due to practicality and cost. But, we still wanted to make improvements.  Therefore, we came up with several scaled back versions of the project.

First, let's look at the before layout and pictures.
The layout is in 1/4 scale.  First one can see the cramped entrance.  Next, to get from the kitchen to the living room one either hast to walk through the dining room or walk into the hallway and make a U turn into the living room. Looking at the pictures, the first photo is the back door entrance to a very small vestibule with a small door to our minuscule pantry.  This always felt like coming into a small cavern.  The next photo is looking into the kitchen from the vestibule.

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Continuing into the kitchen, one can see the slightly dated appliances and the entrance into the dining room.



If we move toward the dining room and shoot back into the kitchen, one can see many problems.  First, is the cramped nature of the back entrance.  The second is the awkward cutout for the refrigerator.  To the left of the refrigerator is a wall (also you can see this area to the right of the small pantry from the back entrance and the X on the layout drawing).  The reason that wall is there is that, behind it is an old, unused chimney.  My best guess is that it was for an old wood burning stove.  It has long since been walled in. That chimney really eats up usable space in the kitchen and its removal will be a major part of the remodel.



Looking back from the Hallway, one can again see the outdated appliances and the slightly cramped nature of the kitchen due to the wall along the right hand side that encompasses the chimney.




This was the plan we came up with. There are several improvements included in this plan.  First and most extensive, is along the left hand side of the kitchen as you enter from the back. The plan calls for the removal of the small pantry, the walled-in chimney, and the refrigerator nook.  It also involves building a new pantry where the entry to the hallway was. We would have to make a new opening between the kitchen and living room. Then, along the left wall, we would install new cabinets and move the oven to this wall along with a overhead exhaust hood. We would move the refrigerator against the back wall and get all new cabinets and countertops throughout. It also includes removing the top half of the wall between the kitchen and dining room, making a peninsula and providing a more open feel.  Finally, we wanted to enlarge the 4 foot opening between the living room and dining room into an 8 foot opening. And, of course, what is a new kitchen without new appliances? So, that was part of the plan as well.

We were planning all of this during my spring semester and as the end of the semester drew nearer we were having a really hard time deciding on cabinets and countertops.  We just didn't want to rush the choice, so we decided to defer on the new cabinets and countertops and split the project into two phases.  We would make all of the previously named changes this summer (phase 1) except the cabinets, countertops, removing the top half of the wall between kitchen and dining room, and moving the oven to the left wall.  We will make all of those changes in Phase 2.

Stay tuned as I blog through the rest of the project!

Friday, August 18, 2017

DIY Summer

Ironically, the most popular post, by a wide margin, that I have ever published on this blog has nothing to do with my expertise or the topics that I usually post on, namely Religion and the New Testament.  The post "Doctor Handyman and the Horse Shelter," published in June of 2010 has had over 16,000 page views over the life of the blog.  It was a post about building a horse shelter near Waco, TX.

Well, that was before I got a full time teaching job, and I have not done much construction since, but this Summer I undertook a kitchen remodeling project.  It was a difficult but fulfilling project and took nearly all three months of my Summer break.  I think most aspects of the project came out very well and we love our new kitchen.  Over the next several posts, I am going to recount this project for anyone who might be interested.  If you read this blog for New Testament/Religion topics, you will not find for a bit and can skip any posts with DIY in the title.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Finding Darwin's God IX

Miller, Ken. Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground between God and Evolution.New York: Harper Perennial, 2007. ISBN: 978-0061233500.

Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart VPart VIPart VII, Part VIII.

In his final chapter, titled "Finding Darwin's God," Miller sets out to do three things. First, he rejects the common path of finding in the natural world something apparently unexplainable by scientists and assigning the explanation to God. He notes that theists have often hung their hopes on science's unsolved mysteries as the unique domain of God's work, God's fingerprints on creation.  Yet, for Miller, this is a losing hand for theists to play.  Sure, science has not yet been able to explain everything.  Yet, they have explained a lot, and they are finding new answers every day.  The minute that a theist draws a line in the sand and says that some unexplained mystery must be the domain of God's work, a scientist comes along and explains that mystery. Then, the case for theism is damaged.  This view has often been called the God of the gaps theory because it places God into the gaps of scientific knowledge.  The problem is that as time goes by, those gaps continue to shrink, as does the supposed domain of God's work.  Instead, Miller claims, one should expect the natural world to have natural, scientific explanations, and to be confident that scientists will continue to find explanations for the previously unexplained mysteries of the universe. 

Second, Miller argues that a common refrain of anti-theist scientists, that science proves that the universe has no meaning or purpose, is not a scientific claim at all.  He says that when these scientists make these claims, they are using their credibility as scientists, and claiming the backing of science, but that they have wandered outside of the bounds of science in these proclamations.  Science does not assign purpose or meaning to the universe.  It cannot.  So, in the same vein, it cannot assign purposelessness or meaninglessness to the universe. 

Finally, Miller wants to answer the question of what kind of God science and evolution has led him to believe in.  He answers with a quote from the last sentence of Darwin's Origin as follows:
"There is a grandeur in this view of life; with its several powers having been originally breathed by the Creator into new forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most wonderful and most beautiful have been, and are being evolved." What kind of God do I believe in? The answer is in those words.  I believe in Darwin's God. (292). 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Finding Darwin's God VIII

Miller, Ken. Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground between God and Evolution.New York: Harper Perennial, 2007. ISBN: 978-0061233500.

Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart VPart VI, Part VII

In chapter eight, titled "The Road Back Home," Miller discusses some of the implications of the findings of science on a religious person's faith in God.  Or, to put it another way, he goes into a theological discussion of what kind of God can be seen as compatible with the findings of modern science.  In short, his answer is that the findings of modern science do not at all contradict the traditional God of the western monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam).  This chapter seems to be a catch-all chapter for discussing some of the religious objections to evolution.

First, he lays out three foundational beliefs about God shared by all three western monotheistic religions. These are: 1) the primacy of God in the universe, 2) we exist as the direct result of God's will, and 3) God has revealed himself to us.

Miller then walks the reader through some of the findings of modern science to demonstrate that science does not contradict these core beliefs of theists.  He begins with the scientific findings that the universe did in fact have a beginning.  If the universe had no beginning, then perhaps the view of God as creator would become untenable.  Yet, the universe did have a beginning in the so-called big bang, and science has discovered when it was.

Next, Miller discusses what has been called the anthropic principle.  In short, the anthropic principle states that the universe, and specifically a few constants (constant physical forces) in the universe: gravity, strong nuclear force, and electromagnetism, for example, make possible the development of life.  If any one of these constants were just slightly higher or lower, then life would not be possible.  Miller, quoting Stephen Hawking, writes: "'If the rate of expansion one second after the big bang had been smaller by even one part in a hundred thousand million million it would have recollapsed before it reached its present size.' Conversely, if g were smaller, the dust from the big bang would just have continued to expand, never coalescing into galaxies, stars, planets, or us" (227-228).

Miller notes that these constants by no means prove the existence of God, they also speak to how wonderfully hospitable this universe is to life, such that even strong atheists, such as Daniel Dennet note the danger of the anthropic principle.  Miller quotes Dennet as follows:
Believers in any of the proposed strong versions of the Anthropic Principle think they can deduce something wonderful and surprising from the fact the we conscious observers are here--for instance, that in some sense the universe exists for us, or that perhaps we exist so that the universe as a whole can exist, ore even that God created the universe the way He did so that we would be possible (228).
 The next issue that Miller tackles is the notion of luck or chance.  Many religionists object to evolution on the ground that, they say, God would not have left creation to chance, as evolution holds.  Yes, Miller concedes, evolution does rely on chance, especially in the appearance of mutations.  Yet, for him, the existence of chance in no way nullifies the existence of God.  Miller compares evolutionary chance to historical chance.  If chance can play a part in history, determining the rise and fall of human empires and the like, then of course it can play a part in evolution.  Neither discounts the existence of God.  Moreover, without the element of chance, there can be no free will, no free creatures, and no true love of God.

Miller moves on to discussing the role of God in a self-sufficient universe as described by modern science.  First of all, Miller does not discount miracles.  He claims no philosophical worldview that would deny the possibility of miracles.  That said, he says that natural phenomena have natural, scientific explanations. Miller also claims that God can be seen at work through natural, scientific phenomena. For example, he explains that the very existence of the universe cannot be explained through science alone.  God, according to Miller is responsible for the existence of the universe.

In short sections, Miller refutes the idea that God would not have taken so long to get to his crowning achievement, humans; and the idea that evolution is too cruel to be the process by which humans were created.  His refutation of the first is simply that God is patient and not bound by time as humans are.  His answer to the second is twofold.  First, cruelty is relative and nature can be seen as cruel, or beautiful.  Second, the real surprise in life is not that nature can be cruel, but that something like altruism exists at all.

In the end, I found this the weakest chapter in the book so far.  There are some great insights in this chapter, but as a whole, the organization was a little weak and slipshod.  Some of Miller's generalizations about religion were not nuanced enough.  In the end though, Miller does present plausible reasons why evolution need not be a threat to traditional belief in God.




Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Finding Darwin's God VII


Miller, Ken. Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground between God and Evolution.New York: Harper Perennial, 2007. ISBN: 978-0061233500.

Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart V, Part VI
In chapter seven, titled “Beyond Materialism,” Miller questions whether materialism spells the end of God.  First, he notes, that with the increasing knowledge of humans, which got dramatic boost with the rise of modern science, the place of gods and goddesses in the universe began to shrink. Miller puts it this way:
Then something happened. Something wonderful. A few of our ancestors began to learn the rules by which nature worked, and after a while, we no longer needed Apollo to pull the sun’s chariot across the sky.  We no longer needed Ceres to waken seeds from winter sleep. The movements of the sun and moon became part of a mechanism, a celestial machine in which each motion could be calculated and explained (p. 193).
Thus began the retreat of the gods in the natural world, and it has not stopped.  Science has continually filled gaps in human understanding of nature and the gods have lost their everyday role.  This situation naturally led to Deism, the idea that God was the great architect who designed the natural world.  Or, to use another more common view, God was the master watchmaker who constructed the natural world and its natural laws, then wound up the clock and let it go. Yet, Miller notes, Deism failed on two counts.  First, it failed because it did not line up with the view of God in the great western religions which views God as personal and involved in the world. The Deistic watchmaker has no interaction with the natural world on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps more significantly, Deism did not line up with the progression of scientific knowledge.  Deism might have persisted if scientific knowledge ended with a Newtonian universe of cause and effect dictated by concrete unbreakable laws.  Yet, science did progress, putting an end to the Newtonian, deterministic universe.  Enter quantum physics.

Max Planck, a German physicist, came up with quantum theory in the early 1900s.  Without getting too deep into the science, which frankly is beyond me, he theorized that light, which we knew behaved like a wave, also behaved like a particle.  He came up with a unit of light called a photon. Others noticed that these photons of light behaved rather strangely. These subatomic particles of light do not always behave according to fixed physical laws in a Newtonian way such that we can absolutely predict the results.  For example, Miller explains, a common household mirror reflects about 95% of the light hitting it. The other 5% passes right through the mirror.  The strange behavior of the photons occurs in that it is completely unpredictable which 5% of the photons will be reflected and which will pass through. Miller writes,
If we rig up an experiment in which we fire a single photon at our mirror, we cannot predict in advance what will happen, no matter how precise our knowledge of the system might be. Most of the time, that photon is going to come bouncing off; but one time out of twenty, on average, it’s going to go right through the mirror.  There is nothing we can do, not even in principle, to figure out when that one chance in twenty is going to come up.  It means that the outcome of each individual experiment is unpredictable in principle (p. 200). 
Take this further, and Werner Heisenberg came up which his “uncertainty principle,” in which he stated that the nature of subatomic particles is inherently unpredictable. What is the upshot of these developments in quantum physics, according to Miller?  It is that the universe is not a deterministic physical system that obeys physical laws in a Newtonian fashion.  Yes, on the macro level, this quantum indeterminacy behaves according to statistical averages, which allows scientific predictions on a large scale. This is why science works, and why the physical world largely behaves according to physical laws.  Yet, at its core, the system has a built-in uncertainty.  According to Miller, it is this quantum indeterminacy that allows for true freedom and frees us from a deterministic physical system. It frees us from a Deistic god who designs and winds up the watch and then leaves it to its own devices.  It leaves room for the workings of God in the world, while not impinging on a self-sufficient material universe.  Miller ends his chapter this way:
But the tools of science itself have discovered that scientific materialism has a curious, inherent limitation.  And we certainly left to wonder what to make of that.  It could be just a puzzling, curious fact about the nature of the universe.  Or it could be the clue that allows us to bind everything, including evolution, into a worldview in which science and religion are partners, not rivals, in extending human understanding a step beyond the bounds of mere materialism (219).

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Finding Darwin's God VI

Miller, Ken. Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground between God and Evolution.New York: Harper Perennial, 2007. ISBN: 978-0061233500.

Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IV, Part V

In chapter six, entitled “The Gods of Disbelief,” Miller takes on several interlocutors at once with regard to a philosophical outlook called materialism.  Materialism is the philosophical outlook that says that the material/physical universe is all that exists.  If materialism is the correct philosophical outlook, then perhaps there truly is no room for God.  Miller does not take this stance, but instead, looks to question it. 

Materialism is the outlook taken by most of Miller’s opponents in this chapter such as biologists Richard Dawkins and William Provine, Sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson, Geneticist Richard Lewontin, and Philosopher Daniel Dennet, among others.  In their view, Darwinian evolution is the death knell of the antiquated notion of God.  Since they subscribe to philosophical materialism, and the material universe is all that exists, then there is no longer any place for God since science and evolution by natural selection have been able to explain the material causes of the universe, and even of life itself. There is no place left for a God if all things can be explained through natural cause and effect. 

It is this extreme view, taken by some evolutionary biologists and other scientists, that Miller believes is at the heart of Christian opposition to evolution.  It is not lack of education about the processes of evolution and its lack of explanatory power that accounts for opposition to Darwinism, rather, it is the militantly anti-religious nature of some of the proponents of evolution.  Believers are led to believe that an acceptance of Darwinian evolution necessarily entails a rejection of God.  Yet Miller questions this assumption.  He states that it is an unprovable assumption that lies at the heart of philosophical materialism, namely, that the material world is all there is.  By making this assumption, Dawkins, Dennet, Wilson et. al., have wandered away from science into philosophy. In the same way, religious reactionaries have also fallen into the same assumption, assuming that if Darwinian evolution is true, then philosophical materialism must also be true.  Yet miller questions this assumption.  He claims that there is no necessary logical connection between being able to explain the natural world through science and making the philosophical leap to proclaiming that the natural world is all that there is.  He will set out to question materialism in chapter seven.  Stay tuned.