Monday, December 8, 2008

The Life of an Antarctica Archipelago redux

The universe of the New York Times is a narrow one. It might not be quite as narrow as Cosmopolitan or the Bloomfield Life, but it's not "all that" either.

In 1920, the Times made history by bashing Robert Goddard's concept of rocketry, arguing that a rocket could not operate in space, having nothing to push against.
That Professor Goddard, with his "chair" in Clark College and the countenancing of the Smithsonian Institution, does not know the relation of action to reaction, and of the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react -- to say that would be absurd. Of course he only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.
The Times, of course, was spectacularly wrong, and almost 50 years later printed a retraction shortly after a couple of men landed on the moon.

Last Thursday, the Times pulled a Goddard:
Life on this planet always surprises us. Animals turn out to be smarter than humans expect. Biological interrelationships turn out to be more intricate and more finely tuned than we had predicted.
If by "us" the Times means highly educated western Europeans, well, enough said. The next sentence, however, suggests that the Times thinks it speaks for all humans.

Once you step out of a mechanized view of the universe, a view that requires more faith than I have, "biological interrelationships" transcend predictions. To believe otherwise is hubris.

I'd like to send the editorial staff a drop of pond water and a decent microscope. I'd like one of the staff to sit on the beach in July, watching the hole of a ghost crab. I'd like one to follow a garden slug at midnight.

We have too narrow a view of the universe. If we did not, we would not be half as destructive as we are.

Leslie wondered (reasonably) whether yesterday's post had wandered beyond the, um, jurisdiction of science teacher talk. She is the sane one in the clan, the one who remembers we are accountable for our actions, and who remembers we have a mortgage to pay.

She is famous here for her response to "I didn't mean to do it."

You have to mean not to do it!

She knows I'm prone to tickling sleeping dogs, but I did have my reasons.

We live in a culture that believes in magic, and magical thinking. We believe technology can fix things. We believe we know what we are doing.

It was not my intent to demean Christianity, at least not the sort found in the Gospels (yes, I read them).

It was my intent, however, to counter magical thinking, to encourage critical reading (even of sources like the Bible, which endures critical reading unless consistency is your bag), and to help untangle faith from dogma.

Still, if any Bill Rogers' fan wants to take me on, I like tickling sleeping dogs, too.

I just came home from a wake. I'm feeling feisty, which is how I usually feel after a wake.


Louise Maine said...

I did not take any offense to the other post, but then I believe as you. Blind faith in religion has led to horrible actions, and it is still possible to be a christian and question. I think you stopped before pushing too much philosophy and I considered it food for thought.

Leslie said...

Just for the record, I enjoy playing straight man as much as the next guy (or woman), but I was definitely not questioning the questioning!

Love ya!

doyle said...


Don't worry, I'll be pushing plenty of philosophy before I'm through with this blog, good Lord willing.

Being a Christian requires that we question. If we do not question, we do not have faith, we have nonsense.

Dear Leslie,
Too, and three, and four....

Sean Nash said...

We believe we know what we are doing.

This reminds me of the day... yes, the very day... I became an "adult."

In lieu of a formal boy-becomes-man ritual, few of us can have a conversation about when this really happens for us. I remember the day. it was precipitous.

It was after a day in my very early 20's when working with some really uninspiring folk... it just hit me. It just hit me that no one is "in charge."

When you are a kid, little bothers you if you are fortunate enough to grow up in a loving, supportive home. When things seem scary or wrong, you just lean on the fact that the "adults" will straighten things out and fix them up.

Well, that day... that day I realized that no one was "in charge." That was the day that I knew I too was in the group who took the red pill.

Being a conscious adult is so... humbling most days.

doyle said...


I can never remember which pill is which, but it is amazing how many "adults" have a blind faith in some external system guiding our lives.

I imagine that would be quite comforting if I believed it.

Maybe I can blue pill.