Monday, December 03, 2007

Civil Eyes

Because Dawn is nice and kind, we spent time at Barnes and Noble this morning. A berry tart, a blueberry spice scone, and a breakfast pannini with coffee and tea, sitting at a table for two on a raised dais overlooking the bookstore--it just felt like a nice, non-trashy thing to do. We made lists of Christmas shopping and home improvement work that Has To Be Done, and looked at leather journals.

So I liked that. In the past fifteen years I've pulled alternators and redone foundation piers and balanced other people's checkbooks and climbed 8,500-foot mountains with a 45-pound pack. So I feel like it isn't terminally pretentious of me to really enjoy some aspects of a humane and literary lifestyle for a bit from time to time. I know it fits the stereotype of the middle-aged academic, and I hate fitting stereotypes. But if I at least listen to cool stuff, to Mark Knopfler and Medieval Babes and the Chieftains rather than opera and Schoenberg, surely I still have not utterly descended ("ascended"?) into ivory towerhood?

For Dawn's birthday in May, I'm starting to think of themes. How about, "Bringing the Crunch for over Twenty Years"?

I'll be 48 tomorrow.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Is It Fitting to Adapt Intellectually to Darwinism?

I'm basically agnostic about some of the issues in the evolution debates. My pantyhose remain unknotted at many points. As far as I'm concerned, I'm a theist on good grounds, already. So to whatever extent it eventually turns out that biological adaptation occurs, I think we will find it to occur under the hand of, if not directly because of, God. And to whatever extent it doesn't occur, then what does occur is under the hand of God, and we might find some (other) way of gaining insight into and describing that. I use technology, and I pray, so clearly there is, I believe, substance to both. But I can get my prayers wrong--mistaking the character of God, the nature of prayer, or my own needs or role in the world--and scientists get their efforts to encounter reality effectively wrong, too. So I think of scientific theories, like religious interpretations, as tending towards realism but fallible, generally reliable but always slightly and sometimes significantly revisable (people convert; science undergoes paradigm shifts).

But while it rarely makes me angry, I do have to say, reading things like David Sloan Wilson's evangelistic tract on behalf of Darwinism as a surrogate religion, "Evolution for Everyone," that, as friend Maggie and I once discussed, sometimes the evolutionists' explanations get out of hand. In reading again how yes, evolution explains that, too--whatever 'that' is--begins to sound to me more and more to me like pre-Copernican Ptolomaic astronomy: epicycles upon epicycles of explanations, doing whatever you have to do to save the theory no matter what. Which either is TINAism--the belief that There Is No Alternative, and the sky will fall if the theory doesn't account for EVERYTHING, or indicates that your reasons for holding the theory have to do with other considerations than the theory and its actual supporting evidence and arguments.

In Book VII, Chapter 19, of "City of God," Augustine, in reviewing Marcus Varro, the leading pagan theologian of Rome, says "But what shall men do who cannot find anything wise to say, because they are interpreting foolish things?" He concludes that "even the acutest men are so perplexed that we are compelled to grieve for their folly, also." He isn't chucking rocks; he admires their intellect and their effort, and genuinely regrets that such integrity and skill is being put to use in the service of a cause not worthy of such an effort. Because dis-real beliefs and ideas fall of their own weight, eventually: "Thus, those things which come not out of the truth, do very often, without being impelled by anyone, themselves overthrow one another."

So for me I get the adaptive "fittedness" of cooperation, the survival value of altruism, and so forth, but the way the enterprise of coming up with these explanations is something I watch with a just-slightly raised eyebrow, since in those convolutions all the purpose and meaning in human life are attributed to the correct (whatever this might mean, really) functioning of what they never fail to insist must be a meaningless and purposeless process. Until they come up with an anthropology that meets a bare minimum standard of what we already know human life to be like--symbolic as much or more than behavioral, internally as much or more than externally purposeful, existentially and cosmically meaningful, first-personal and so phenomenal and qualitative, second-personal and so communicative and relational, semiotic and not merely instrumental, mentally causal, and personal--all metaphysical terms that are anathema to them--I will be amused, curious--and wary.

Mawwiage and Us

This week was twentyfive weeks till our twentyfifth anniversary. That's weird, in a happy way. In the circles in which I run, 25th anniversaries are so rare that it makes us oddities of a sort, weirdos in a presumably admirable sense. But it is all due to God's patience with us.

I think a wedding is a visible symbol of a marriage, and a marriage is a visible symbol of human love, and human love is a visible symbol of God's love for us and for, if one may put it this way, himself. So a wedding is not an inturned event, where the couple curve in on themselves to the exclusion of the rest of us, any more than a marriage should be inwardly turned, ostensibly self-sufficient and excluding others. Because God, whom all these things symbolize at some remove, is not inwardly turned. Aristotle was wrong; God does not sit around, smiling in a self-satisfied way and saying, My, I certainly am satisfied with myself just the way I am. God is turned out, towards (among others) us.

As artists living in isolation from community find that the self is an inadequate source of meaning and creativity, so relationships. Dawn and I could not be where we are without the great cloud of witnesses, gadflies, advisers, chief cooks and bottlewashers, babysitters, prayer partners, movie watchers, and all the rest. We don't do acquaintances that well; love doesn't fear friends (as potential romantic rivals) or envy them (as robbers of time and attention), nearly so much as it needs them.

We are us. That's kind of it. We--Dawn and I--are us: the Thameses. We--Dawn and I and our circles of friends and care and prayer--are us: a colony of the Kingdom. That's how we--I anyway--get through. And that's a good thing.