Category Archives: Faith

But Tell Me, What of Your Teachers

(Presented by Dr. Wallace Davis at the Centennial Heritage Chapel at Wayland Baptist University, with possibly original elements and some from anonymous sources)

While some Universities may boast of their age, of their ivied walls,
Of their great endowments, their marble halls,
Of their vast curricular scope and reach,
And of all the wonderful things they teach

Tell me, tell me of their teachers

For no printed word nor spoken plea
Can teach a heart what men should be,
Not all the books on all the shelves.
Oh no, it’s what the teachers are themselves.

First Week of New Term (pt. 1)

About a week and half ago, classes began at Wayland.  I have also started my one day a week position at Texas Tech.  For those who may not know, I took a bit of a sabbatical from teaching, without knowing at the time that it was a sabbatical.  It had been my intention to try my hand at full time research.  A few of things motivated my leave from Wayland last May:

  1. I enjoyed research both as a graduate student and during my two summer post-doc positions so it seemed natural that I would enjoy more research. I was often frustrated during the school year by constantly having to put my “deep thinking” on hold for class, lecture development, one-on-one student tutorials, exam grading, etc.  If I wanted to do “real” research I was going to need a full-time position to commit the necessary time.
  2. I had never had a full-time research position before so I didn’t know if it was something I would truly enjoy.  Having started my full-time position at Wayland just after the completion of my Master’s, I lacked any experience as a researcher other than, again, part time research with the constant interruption of my teaching responsibilities.
  3. The time was now.  If I was going to move my career in the direction of research, I needed to try it now.  Nobody would hire a Ph.D. who hadn’t been doing research for years and who hadn’t taken the opportunity to pursue a post-doc position immediately after graduation.  I didn’t want to look back later, perhaps during a mid-life crisis, and wonder, “What If?”

I took a position as a Bioinformacist at the level of a Post-Doctoral Research Associate in a new lab at Texas Tech University.  The lab was set up by Dr. Thea A. Wilkins who had recently been hired by Tech and who has a pretty significant standing in the world of cotton genetics research.  I took the position expecting to be a part of her lab for two to three years.  At the end of that time, I would evaluate my career options and determine if research was for me, if I ought to return to teaching, or if I should seek a position with a mix of the two. As is now obvious since I am back a Wayland, I learned a few interesting things about research and about myself during the 6 months in this position, things that have rekindled my passion for mathematics education.

  1. Bioinformatics research, particularly data mining and database construction, do not motivate novel research, at least not for me.  I honestly believe that the skills of using statistical analysis for obtaining biological knowledge from the current high-throughput technologies is not an area that will remain as a primary research field for long.  As I have read more than once, this kind of bioinformaticist will soon be relegated to the position of technician, perhaps as a microscopist has become.  It will be a specialized set of skills that fit within the larger context of molecular biology and functional genomics, but not as an active field of research in its own right.
  2. Successful research demands passion complete with a time commitment beyond my capacity as a family man.  I’m sure there are a few select individuals that manage to build successful research programs will maintaining their familial responsibilities but they are indeed an exception.  The stress of publishing, obtaining grants and finding the next big idea commands a mental focus that one cannot honestly say they are putting their family and faith before their career.  Even if one can successfully balance this career with their family, that individual must be strongly motivated in both arenas of life.  I am passionately motivated to be a Christian father and a Christian husband, but cannot say the same thing of bioinformatics research.
  3. I am passionate about teaching.  If a career in education held the same demands as research, I would actually be motivated to balance this career with my family.  Fortunately, while it still requires commitment and an enormous amount of work, undergraduate mathematics education gives me much more freedom to commit time and mental focus to needs of my wife and rearing of my children.  Sitting in front of a computer screen writing code, building spreadsheets, developing databases, writing proposals, at 10+ hours a day, 5-6 days a week, only made me long for the classroom and for my office hours where I could teach, respond to questions, and just interact with people.  In the first week at Wayland, I had in-depth conversations with more people than in 6 months at Tech.
  4. The work environment at this particular lab at Texas Tech is not conducive to productive research.  I’ll not say more than that other than to say that I am not the first or the second person to leave the lab prematurely within the last six months.  At least a part of the reason for this exodus is the management of the lab.  Enough said.

This post was originally intended to discuss my first week at Wayland but it looks like that will be forthcoming.  I’ll draw this post to close and conclude that God let me follow a path of self-discovery.  I would even go so far as to say that He wanted me at Tech.  He also left a place for me at Wayland so I could return. 

I still must confess to doubt myself at times, wondering if I am just make excuses for not wanting to work hard. I remember a bad decision  I made during the summer following my junior year at Wayland.  I was living with my grandparents in Amarillo and completing an English course at Amarillo college.  I was trying my hand as a temp.  I had a job with a firm doing data entry.  I was asked if I wanted to take it as a full time summer position. After my first day, which was tedious and gave me a serious migraine, I convinced myself that I wasn’t cut out for data entry.  I convinced myself that it just not worth the challenge of monotony that it would inevitably provide.  Looking back (hindsight is 20-20) I really think I should have kept the job, saved up my earnings for an upcoming wedding, honeymoon and down payment on a house.  I needed to learn the responsibility of a “real” job outside the world of academia.  There are things that I learned at my first full time, non-teaching job this past 6 months, that I should have learned a long time ago.

Didn’t I say I was drawing this post to a close?  Well, I will, saying this: God is at work in our lives and we can trust his plan to work itself out in us.  We simply must give him the reigns to our life and make Jesus our Lord, master, boss, chair, dean, and all-around head honcho.  (Easier said than done.)

Resisting Experience (corrected)

Sometimes Jesus us calls us to do things to accomplish his plan for which we must resist our human experience. This lesson can be seen as a principle in John 15:1-11. Jesus calls us Peter to cast the nets into waters that have been fished, unsuccessfully. Peter knew it wouldn’t work and yet, Jesus used his obedience to teach him to trust.

In mathematics, there are countless examples of steps that seem counter intuitive and yet the end result is that by going in the opposite direction, we can greatly simplify the problem. The simplest example that comes to mind is in algebra where you are simplifying either rational expressions or fractional expressions that have roots in the numerator or denominator. To simplify, you start making things more complicated by multiplying in terms in the numerator or denominator. The end result is a simpler expression.

I have always felt that proofs by contradiction contrapositive fit in this category as well. When one first starts learning proof techniques this especially seems counter-intuitive. Of course, most of us math guys feel the direct proof, when available, is a “better” proof, even if it’s clumsier. But it’s still logically equivalent.

[tex]p \Rightarrow q \Longleftrightarrow \neg q \Rightarrow \neg p[/tex]

Updated (10/02/06): I readily admit my mistakes, especially since I make them so rarely :). The last paragraph above should have referred to proof by contrapositive, not contradiction. Although, proofs by contradiction also seem counter-intuitive. At least, I know someone is reading.

[tex]p \Rightarrow q \Longleftrightarrow \ p \ \wedge \ \neg q \Rightarrow C [/tex] where [tex]C[/tex] is a contradiction.

Sermon: Well Ordered Life

This past Sunday, I had the opportunity to fill in at First Baptist Church, Muleshoe, TX. Both the pastor, Dr. Stacy Conners, and the music minister had left town to go to the state convention in Austin. Dr. Sadler, of the religion department at Wayland, had been contacted by the church and he gave them my name. It has been a long time since I had the chance to go and preach somewhere, so I was a little nervous. But overall, the morning went very well. I was a little shaky on the ending of my sermon mainly from nerves. I was asked just before the service to be completely in charge of the invitation and I’ve not done that before.

The biggest surprise of the morning came as the music leader was inviting everyone to come back that evening and hear Dr. Franklin again. Again??? Nobody told me about being needed for Sunday night! So, I got to spend the afternoon preparing another sermon. But this entry is about the morning service, so I’ll give you the Sunday night sermon in the next blog entry.

Below is the sermon I preached in Muleshoe on Sunday morning. It is in mostly manuscript form with a little bit of outline in places where I was extemporaneous.

TITLE: The Well-Ordered Life
SCRIPTURE: Luke 12:22-34

Continue reading

Back to the Mission Statement

WARNING: This is a fairly long post. And my apologies to anyone who received multiple notices, I kept accidentally posting, prematurely.

It is a continuation of an earlier post, Mission Statement. In that post, as well as this one, I am attempting to set a direction for my life. The problem is that as of May this year, my family goals (at least of having one), my education goals and my career goals had been met. So, the question is, where do I go from here. There are obvious responsibilities that come with my present position in life, such as leading my family and performing on the job, but much more generally, “what is my life to accomplish and what does God have as a plan for my life and my family’s future?”

To start with I am developing a mission statement or a vision statement for my life over then next ten years. My goals will all be directly stemming from that vision. Here was the first draft as of the last posting on this topic:

I live my life in fellowship with Christ to draw others to him and to minister to those around me. I am a husband, a father, and a mathematician. My life is lived to serve others with the gifts that God has given me.

Since my goal is not brevity but completeness, I would like to expand it. Let me identify the necessary components of the vision statement at this point:

  1. My relationship with God
    • His priority over all else.
    • My dedication to follow his plan for my life and fully confessing that I believe he has a plan for me
    • Everything in my mission statement is done out of my devotion to Him.
    • My involvement in the development of my own faith as well as the faith of others, both in evangelism and discipleship.
    • Church fellowship and worship.
  2. My role as a husband to honor my wife and lead my family, spiritually.
  3. My role as a father to raise my children to love the Lord and follow his commands.
  4. My role as an educator, both to pass on lessons in mathematics but also to live a role model for integrating faith in daily life and to minister to students needs beyond the classroom.
  5. My role as a mathematics researcher, to further the development of my own intellect through the development of areas in Applied Mathematics, such as finite elements, curve fitting and stochastic modeling.
  6. Enjoyment of the life God has given me, through my hobbies and research and just playing with my family.

Now, consider the following edits:

Above all else, I live my life in fellowship with Christ. I know that God has a plan for my life and I seek to follow that plan. I live to draw others to him, to aid in the development of the faith of my brothers and sisters in Christ through a New Testament Church, and to minister to those around me. I am a as a husband, a father, an educator, and a mathematician. My life is lived to serve others with the gifts that God has given me.

  1. As a husband, I will honor my wife and lead my family, spiritually.
  2. As a father, I will raise my children to love the Lord and follow his commands.
  3. As an educator, I will teach mathematics with passion, live as a role model for integrating faith in daily life and minister to students’ needs beyond the classroom
  4. As a mathematician, I will further the development of my own intellect through the development of areas in Applied Mathematics, such as finite elements, curve fitting and stochastic modeling.

When it does not conflict with the above responsibilities, I will enjoy life through playtime.

I’ll chew on that for a while, but it looks pretty good to me. I am doing this publicly because I hope that anyone that reads this will feel free to point out things that might seem a bit out of place or anything I might have left out. I also recommend this as a good practice for anyone who is wondering what God’s will is. It is to develop an idea of what God’s vision is for your life. Answer the questions, “When you boil it all down to the bare essentials, who are you in God’s eyes?” And realize that is much more specific than we might first expect, after all, he knit us together in our mother’s womb, with a specific design in mind.

It might seem that for me to develop these plans is like the fool who built larger barns to house all his grain and then the next day his life was demanded from him. I view it much more in line with the servant who was given some of the master’s money (talents) and when the master returned, there was an accounting of what the servant had done with the master’s possessions. I am attempting to be a good steward of those talents and I hope that by laying out this vision, and ultimately the goals that follow, I may be found faithful when it is all said and done.

I’m done preaching, now. Sorry for seeming to get on my soapbox, but I am really preaching at myself so I’ll remember all this later on.

ID Media Bias

HughHewitt does interesting review of the intelligent design article posted to the Washington Post. There are several good links included in his post as he does a quite convincing analysis of the bias therein.

UPDATE: Just read over a portion of an update posted by Hugh Hewitt to the above article. In an email to Hewitt by Daffyd, a self proclaimed “secular Jew, a true agnostic (not an atheist in drag), a trained mathematician, a published novelist, and politically non-Euclidean”, made a most enlightening comment with which I would like to verify with some research of my own.

I have always been fascinated by the Bible, and have read the King James version cover to cover, as well as having read fairly extensively in the current Catholic Bible and the best current translation of Tanakh, the Jewish Bible. In addition, I have read various creation myths from other cultures — Norse, Greek, many African and South Pacific cultures, and so forth. One fact has always struck me forcibly… the astonishing parallels between the Biblical account of creation and the current understanding of EB, parallels which do not exist in the creation stories of those other cultures. The order in which Genesis describes creation as occurring is almost exactly the same as the order in which EB envisions the evolution of life — indeed, going back before life to the creation of the solar system itself.

True? If so, does this say anything about a link between “special revelation” (the specific word from God concerning his relationship to his people) and “general revelation” (the presentation that God made concerning himself through his creation event)?