Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Biggest Puzzles about the World #1

There are many things I do not understand about the world. Higher math is fascinating, but the frontiers are beyond my comprehension. I once met a gentleman at a party who was a mathematician at Dartmouth College. I asked him what part of mathematics he was studying, and he looked at me sidelong and said, "Do you want the mathematical answer, or the analogy I give to non-mathematicians?" "Oh, the mathematical answer," I said. "I know a bit of math, teach calculus and all that." "Okay," he said, and proceeded to open his mouth and for two solid minutes utter sounds that were no more meaningful to me than the average cow moo. "Wait," I said. "Back up. Give me the analogy." I half-understood the analogy.

So I'm aware of the size - not just in space but in concepts and in laws and in natures - of the universe. But what I don't understand is why this has any bearing on the existence of God. The ancient Hebrews, long before Newton, Hubble, and Einstein, were awed by the massive size and complexity of the universe they knew and overwhelmed by the understanding that God "measured the waters in the palm of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span." You have to have a weirdly literal mind to think that an increase in natural scale somehow makes a difference to that literary metaphor. Do modern men think that the Hebrews would have looked at pictures from the Hubble Telescope and gone, "Damn. God is big, but this is 17 point 846 times bigger than God. Phew. Thank you, Mr. Scientist, because I almost wasted my life learning how to read f***ing backwards."

But people, including the wonderful Richard Feynman, seem to think this way. I don't get it. Moreover, they keep pressing it as an argument to me and my ilk: their modern, believing interlocutors. I have never once read any science book or anything in a science book that made me doubt the existence of God. Not in mathematics, physics, biology, chemistry, or anything. I don't understand how it could. Once you accept that God created everything, then every time a scientist delightedly yells "Eureka!" and shows you the cool thing he's found, you think, "Whoa. One more cool thing God created. This is a good world."

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Father’s Day Is Lucky It’s in the Summer

With the demise of marriage in this country as one man and one woman - which basically means the demise in our society of the recognized right of a child to have both a mother and a father - I suspect that Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day will become less celebrated. Particularly among children, it will be impossible for a secular institution, like a school, to celebrate Mothers’ Day while some of its charges lack a mother. Furthermore, while a child may desire a mother, may wish he or she had a mother, society can no longer affirm that desire. We can’t say, “Yes, you should have had a mother. You were gipped,” because we were the ones who gipped him. We’re the ones who said, essentially, “Two fathers are just as good as a mother and a father. There’s no essential difference, and society has no responsibility to do what it can to supply them both.”

As a result, any public celebration of either Mothers’ Day or Fathers’ Day will necessarily exclude those whom we have deliberately deprived of one or the other.

Please note that this same dynamic doesn’t apply to those who have lost a mother or a father to tragic circumstances. We can say to such a child, “Yes, it is a tragedy that you have lost a father or a mother. You deserve our compassion and help.” But we can’t say that to a child who lacks one or the other a the result of our deliberate policy. That child, we think, has suffered no injustice, no tragedy. We cannot admit that he has, for to admit this is to admit we deliberately committed an injustice.

Science, Politics, Metaphysics, and Method

The history of science and politics of that last 300 years or so has been largely one of a triumph of method. Both modern science and liberal politics are, at bottom, primarily methods for ascertaining truth and establishing justice, respectively, but both methods by which they work have been improperly absolutized for the ironic purpose of denying the existence of that for which they were originally devised.

Somehow, the use of the method seemed to imply to people a certain metaphysical foundationalism: as though they were, in the end, the only truth things.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Dignity: a definition

Dignity: to be called to, or set aside for, that which is higher, greater, more noble.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Necessary Clarification about Intelligent Design

Intelligent Design (capital I, capital D) is not, absolutely not - let me say it again: not - about the inference from natural laws that the universe was designed by a Creator. Intelligent Design (capital I, capital D) is the positive assertion that the laws of the universe do not allow for the natural evolution of life as we know it.

Which means that in order to make their case, the Intelligent Design (capital I, capital D) proponents need to do more than make an inference of design. They need to establish that 1. we know all the laws of the universe, and 2. those laws do not entail naturally evolved life.