Maintain A Healthy Skepticism of Science

When I was seven, I visited my grandparents and found a science textbook in the attic. The dated text belonged to my uncle, and I found it fascinating. My favorite chapter was about the future, and it included predictions of what “scientists” expected humans and our environment to be like in the year 2000. Scientists in the 40s and 50s, or at least the authors of this science textbook, believed that by 2000, science would solve most of the world’s problems. The book had drawings of people driving flying cars, standing on moving sidewalks, and harvesting food from hydroponics labs in our homes. They predicted we would all have a Dick Tracy watch. For you young folks, Dick Tracy was a futuristic comic strip detective with a cell phone watch. I think the latest Apple watches surpass the vision of Dick Tracy’s creator Chester Gould.Dick Tracy Watch

I found most of the textbook’s predictions fascinating, especially the phone watch, but one prediction shook me to the core. The textbook’s authors believed that as humans evolved, we would have less and less hair. There was a cartoon-like drawing where the entire family was bald. Wow, that was terrifying. I did not want to be bald and was not interested in having a bald wife. I began to warn all the adults in my life about this impending tragedy, but none seemed too concerned. Then it hit me; none of them worried about this because they would be gone, and I was going to be the one stuck with a bald wife.

Something happened in the late 1960s, and the attitudes of scientists changed. The scientists of the 40s, 50s, and much of the 60s had an overly optimistic belief that science would solve any problem faced by man. By 1970, many scientists became whiny doomsday prophets. Some came to believe man is the problem and not the solution. I was eleven when we celebrated the first earth day, and every school kid in America was bombarded with terrifying predictions about our environment. It was up to us kids; we had to save spaceship Earth. The predictions of a coming ice age and worldwide mass starvations were terrifying. That is right; when I was in school in the 1970s, scientists believed we were headed into an ice age and not facing global warming. In the 70s, scientists claimed the evidence was clear. If we did not take drastic measures, we would all freeze or starve in the coming ice age. I remember dreaming about how I planned to survive with my bald wife and two bald kids. Later, in school, I was taught that almost all scientists agree that we would use up fossil fuels in 20-25 years.

When I was about ten, I told my Papaw, “Papaw, did you know scientists have proven that we evolved from chimpanzees?” He looked at me, grinned, and said, “I know they think they have.” My Papaw loved science and history, just like me. Papaw did not have a formal education, but he read every Reader’s Digest cover to cover and read all the condensed books they published. What he knew about the world was amazing for a man with very little formal education. He loved science but he was also skeptical. In any conversation about science, he often said, “well, we will just have to wait and see.”  

Some in society now demand we accept science as absolute truth. It might be okay if these people would distinguish between scientific knowledge and theory. Today, much of what is passed off as scientific knowledge is simply the prevailing scientific theory. People who question the dominant theory and say, “let’s wait and see,” are painted by society as ignorant fools. If you can say, “most scientists believe…” then whatever comes after that must be true.

This blind faith in prevailing scientific theory completely ignores the fact that throughout history, the prevailing scientific theory has been proven wrong repeatedly. Every new generation of scientists believes they have finally figured out a host of mysteries, only to have their theories shattered or at least rewritten by the next. In the 1700s, doctors thought bloodletting was a good idea, and in the early 1900s, many believed lobotomies might be the cure for some forms of mental illness. When I was in High School, I was taught dinosaurs were killed by a volcano; it was unlikely there were planets like ours in space, and Pluto was a planet. We were taught evolution just like today, but virtually all the factual details have changed. Forget anything you learned in school about Neanderthals before 2000. It was all wrong. Oh, and get this, DNA has also proven that we did not evolve from Chimpanzees. Yes, most scientists still believe in evolution and that we have a common ancestor with Chimps, but DNA evidence has forced text to be rewritten. We did not evolve from Chimps. Neanderthals were not dumb; they did live and breed with humans, and many humans from Europe carry the DNA of Neanderthals.

5-25-23 Update: The Hubble telescope was named for Edwin Hubble. Hubble spent his life trying to prove the Big Bang theory. Early reports indicate that the Hubble telescope has found old galaxies on the outer edge of what we can now see. This discovery is exciting, but based on the current big bang theory, these mature, fully developed galaxies should not be where they are. I suspect a lot of textbooks may need to be “adjusted.” I doubt the Big Bang Theory will be abandoned; it, after all, has its own TV show.

I am now the Papaw in my family, and like my Papaw before me, life has taught me to be skeptical of new scientific theories. In time, many scientific theories and conclusions our children are being taught in school today will be proven partially or entirely wrong. Why do I think that? Because that is the history of science. It is more than that, it is the scientific process at work. It is the very nature of science to challenge and test the prevailing view. Every new generation of humankind believes they have got it all figured out, only to have the next generation come along and prove much of what they thought was only partially correct, or in some cases, just plain wrong. If you don’t believe me, well, let’s just wait and see.

You Are Who Your Friends Are off?

It was 1976, the first day of my junior year in high school and my first day at a new school. My mom was dropping me off in front of the school and just as I am about to shut the door my mom hits me with one of her old sayings, “you are who your friends are.”  She was waiting for me to respond but I was now a junior in high school and I was hip to her game. That’s what she wanted me to do. She wanted me to ask what are you talking about so she could give me one of her little mini-lectures. I wasn’t going to bite. I shouted, “love you mom” and headed toward the school.

Unfortunately her words kept floating around in my head all day long. That’s the way all of the best old sayings are they stick in your head whether you want them to or not. This one was a doozy.  Eventually I decided this old saying meant I would have the same reputation as the friends I decide to hang out with, and therefore, at least in the minds of other people I would be the same as the people I hung out with.  Thinking I had it worked out I told my mom and she said I had part of it right and then she explained that not only will you have the same reputation as your friends but in most cases you will make the same choices.

This is of course the kind of old people saying that young people hate. Young people want to believe they can run with any group they want but maintain their separate identity and more importantly make their own decisions.  I didn’t care much for this saying and my mother had other sayings that were also designed it seemed to limit my freedom to associate with other people. Have you ever heard someone say “one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch.”  Again, according to my mother’s way of thinking this means if there is one bad person in my peer group that could destroy all of us. Man that is harsh stuff and hard for a teenager to accept. My school was teaching tolerance and saying treat everyone the same, don’t be prejudice but my mama was saying “guard your heart.”   That one she drug straight out of the Bible, now that is really getting old school.

This really is one of the more difficult things we have to learn in life.  Freedom of association is after all enshrined in the first amendment of the Bill of Rights and some of these old sayings have been used as a means of maintaining inappropriate class or racial barriers. On the other hand birds of a feather do in deed flock together.  Deciding who to be friends with is not easy and sometimes we are not in a position to pick our friends.  Sometimes events seem to conspire to place us together with other people.

I think all of these sayings serve to remind us that we are responsible for making positive decisions about our associations. We can be tolerant and open minded but we must also learn to say no and when to get up and leave. Not easy for an adult and perhaps impossible for a teen. The best we can probably hope for is to make our children stop and think about what they are doing and make deliberate and thoughtful decisions about whom they associate and under what circumstances.

Proverbs 4:23 says, “above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”

“There is no rewind on that movie.”

The Stebbins Family

The Stebbins Family

The picture above is of my cousin, Heather Armand Stebbin’s and her family. I love all my cousins and their families but I get a special joy watching the Stebbins.  I grew up in a family of two boys and a girl with very similar age differences. Watching her family brings back so many memories of my childhood. With three young children in the house there is constant motion. Just getting a picture with everyone happy and looking at the camera can be a challenge. Heather and her husband Ted always take whatever happens in stride.

Recently Heather posted on her Facebook a quote from a devotional by Jen Haymaker that she came across during her morning quiet time. “You will never have this day with your children again. Tomorrow, they’ll be a little older than they were today. This day is a gift. Breathe and notice. Smell and touch them; study their faces and little feet and pay attention. Relish the charms of the present. Enjoy today, mama. It will be over before you know it.” —

This quote struck a nerve with Heather as it did with my wife who immediately responded. Within a few minutes a number of other young mothers also expressed how moved they were by this quote and more importantly the reality of the very short time they have with their children.

Now my Papaw Warford had his own way of teaching this same lesson to my mother and other young parents. His words lacked the elegance of Jen Haymaker’s but he could always make his point. With a soft grin and a wink of his eye, Papaw would tell young parents “there is no rewind on that movie.” He encouraged them to make the time to invest themselves in their children and to enjoy every minute of their childhood.

The old King James Version of the Bible said “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”  The English Standard Version says “making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”  This biblical charge found at Ephesians 5:16 is not just for mothers it is for all of us. We are all to make the best of every day but these words have a special implication for parents. A childhood is but a fraction of a lifetime and some of the stages of a child’s life can be calculated in hours. Like scenes in a movie the events in a child’s life flash before our eyes and they are gone. First words, first steps, first cookie, first day of school, first car and so on. Every day with a child really is a one shot affair, there is after all, “no rewind on that movie.”

“I have seen whole families like that.”

1968-73 Album - 056 From L to R Lloyd Warford (me), Papaw Elmer Warford and David Warford (brother) Taken in 1968 after a deep sea fishing trip off the Coast of North Carolina on a boat called the Danco.

When I was a kid and I would say, “Papaw, I am hungry,” my Papaw would say “I have seen whole families like that.”  My Papaw was a walking encyclopedia of old sayings and I love most of them but when I was a kid I never like this one very much.  He used it all the time.  Papaw I’m thirsty. “I have seen whole families like that.” Papaw I need some money. “I have seen whole families like that.” Papaw I need a new fishing pole. “I have seen whole families like that.” This little old saying was the ultimate kid block. That saying was my Papaw’s way of telling you that you didn’t really need that and you can make do without it. He was not being unkind; he never had much money and he wanted us kids to understand the difference in wants and needs.  If Papaw got you a Safeway soda water and a moon pie for a fishing trip it was a big deal.  Most of the time before you got your moon pie and a trip to the pond there was work to be done and my Papaw never worried about child labor laws. We built fence, plowed fields, fed hogs, bailed hay and so on and so forth.

Here is the thing; every one of my Papaw’s grandkids will tell you that Papaw Warford spoiled all of us rotten.   He spoiled us with his time, his attention and his unwavering support.  When it came to his grandkids Papaw Warford was the most easygoing man I have ever known.  It didn’t matter what you did Papaw was okay with it as long as you were doing the best you could. If the field was plowed a little crooked he wasn’t worried about it.  I remember looking at a field I had plowed one time and it was a mess.  All Papaw said was “Lloyd that lower end of the field is a little catawampus but I think we can make it work.” On another occasion one of my cousins, Shane Warford, ran the tractor into a row of fence.  Papaw said “Shane, you need to be more careful next time” and that was the end of it.  There was fence to repair and nothing else needed to be said.

I now have an fourteen year old son, Noah. Of all of my Papaw’s sayings the one I hear coming out of my mouth the most is “I have seen whole families like that.” I don’t think Noah appreciates that saying any more than I did when I was a kid but I know he will someday when he has a son of his own.

Parenting and The Old Sayings

I want to introduce a couple of new categories to my blog, Parenting and Old Sayings. These categories will probably become chapters in the book when I put this all together for my kids.

I first became a parent more than 30 years ago.  By the time my youngest graduates from High School I will have had a child under eighteen for more than forty years.  My parenting style is to try to talk to my children as much as they can stand it about life’s hard choices and dangerous pitfalls. Now kids are incredibly impatient with parents trying to parent them and most of them have the ability to turn you off in a matter of minutes. My strategy has always been to keep my little talks short but to be intentionally redundant.  In writing being redundant is a bad thing but I am convinced that being redundant as a parent can make the difference in a child who gets it and one that doesn’t.  I was so redundant with my oldest, Melissa, that when she was a teenager she claimed she had started numbering my old sayings and lectures.  When the situation permits I always try to add a little humor to the lesson and I have found the old saying to be a helpful tool.

For years I have said to one of my three children “there is an old saying…”  The old saying was of course intended to teach a lesson or impart some wisdom. Once they learn the old saying then I look for chances to reinforce it.  When I see one of them or another young person violating one of the old sayings, I would say, “did you forget the old saying” or ask, “that kid didn’t know the old sayings did they?”  Now that I am thinking about it, it has become something of an old saying for me to say, “They didn’t learn the old sayings did they?”

Since old sayings are a big part of my parenting style these two categories will often overlap. Some of the old sayings are not about imparting wisdom they are just fun ways to say the everyday things parents are forced to say. I got most of my sayings from my Parents and Grandparents. Not that they made them up, most have been around for generations. Some came from the Bible. A few I sort of came up with myself. When I say I came up with a saying I usually mean I found a modern way of communicating and old concept. My blog post on the old sayings and parenting stories will usually be shorter than my other post but I hope you find them entertaining.

The Trouble with Trouble is it Starts out like Fun

This picture was taken in the summer of 1963 at our home in Star City Arkansas. My little brother, David, on the right, has somehow managed to get himself cover in mud. That is me on the left and as you can see I am still pretty clean. For years I have been accused of somehow getting David muddy without getting myself muddy. Nobody knows how a four year old might have pulled this off but there is a generally held belief in my family that the grin on my face is strong circumstantial evidence that I was responsible.

I don’t know for sure but this may have been the day I first heard my mom say that “the trouble with trouble is it starts out like fun.” I heard her say that at least once a week when I was growing up. My brother and I were always into something and when she got old enough my younger sister was right there with us. One thing I can say about my childhood is we had fun, and yes, we often ended up in one kind of trouble or another. Fortunately the trouble we got into was usually the kind you could wash off. That is important.

The saying “the trouble with trouble is it starts out like fun” applies to all sorts of behaviors with drastically different consequences. It certainly applies to little boys and mud holes but it also applies to many more dangerous behaviors such as driving too fast, drinking excessively, and inappropriate relationships. The list of dangerous behaviors that seem fun at first but can quickly go bad is endless. We are all going to make mistakes but it is important we avoid those mistakes that cannot be undone. The goal is to teach our kids to measure risk and to know when it is time to walk away from a challenge, a dare, a fight, an unhealthy relationship or destructive friendship. The goal is to teach them to recognize for themselves that sometimes a few minutes of fun can result in a life time of consequences. The trouble with trouble, really is, that it starts out like fun.