The Terms of Debate in Kansas

S,C & A  posted a quote today by Albert Schweitzer that ends,

" None of us knows what he accomplishes
and what he gives to humanity. That is hidden from us, and should
remain so. Sometimes we are allowed to see just a little of it, so we
will not be discouraged. The effects of energy are mysterious in all

Schweitzer was a remarkable humanitarian, philosopher and theologian. He had an extraordinary appreciation for all of Creation and the reading I have done by him and about him lead me to believe that he didn’t see himself as necessarily better than any other particular life form although, clearly, he believed that as man, he had a higher level of responsibility to care for nature. If you read his Reverence for Life  including the chapters on "Feeling for Animal Life" and "Riddles of Existence" you begin to feel that, devote Christian that he was, he was also a man before his time as he thought about how we all fell into our respective places from a scientific viewpoint. Also, Schweitzer’s way up on my list because he had a pet pelican. Keywestpelican

Each Spring as new life is zooming about on my radar, whether it arrives in the form of ducklings or Cedar Apple Rust, I am puzzled anew about how it all works. I’m not satisfied to just leave it at the ‘7 Day Plan, He Rules’  doorstep. But I also struggle with Methodological Naturalism, the philosophy of
mainstream science that nature has its own method, without the
possibility of supernatural influence on, say, how DNA is sequenced. Abby’s been reading Origin of the Species, a real dirge on the one hand and pretty darn interesting in some spots. I’ve picked it up a few times on my way to the bathroom. More to my liking on this issue is Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything  where he explains it all (in terms I can understand) and still ends up with THE big question.

Right now in Kansas the huge debate over how children should be taught about the origins of life has people racing to their respective corners and slapping definitive labels on their respective philosophies that are sure to box them in. This week’s NYTs Week in Review  had a good brief bit about this. And, in all likelihood, most people feel safer in a box, surrounded by the four walls of their beliefs. But to me, that just feels so rigid.

I much prefer to feel that total sense of wonder and disbelief when I pull in my driveway and see the Cedar covered with orange tentacles that look like something out of bad science fiction- glop that appeared literally over night. I know there’s an explanation. And I do look at this stuff under Abby’s microscope to watch it replicate, cell by scientific cell. But I just love that sense of amazement.

I pick up one of those baby ducklings and snuffle the smell of dirt and fuzz and I’m dumbstruck with delight. I know about DNA and how life in eggs begins and grows: we candled eggs and watched the transition from red vein to soggy hatchling. And I hope I never lose a feeling of gratitude.

This debate in Kansas is in some ways not dissimilar to the struggle we’ve had figuring out how to teach our children about sex. It’s been a critical time to teach them the nitty gritty of conception, contraception and disease. However, in the process, I believe we’ve lost a lot of the wonder and beauty and magic and relationship of sex. Our children will suffer that loss.

The good news is we can talk to our children and teach them about the wonder of both good sex and life itself. And I’m thankful that there are skilled teachers who can explain things down to the smallest quark because that’s powerful knowledge, a lot of which I don’t have.

I just know I always want to be able to lie under the night sky in August and feel so dwarfed, so overwhelmed and so blessed. The fact that I still have questions doesn’t bother me and I don’t feel compelled to supply my children with one particular answer.

9 responses to “The Terms of Debate in Kansas

  1. Good post- really good post.

  2. WOW…this is EXACTLY the way I feel. Recently on the blog called “No Religion Now”, I commented that “I don’t know” is a perfectly legitimate answer to the difficult life questions that religion attempts to sort out. However, it would have made for a very short Catechism class:

    Q: Who made me?
    A: I don’t know.

    Class dismissed.

  3. That was a really really good post.

    It bothers me at times that I don’t have answers about the meaning of life because at one time in my life, I did have those answers, and I believed them.

    Now, I don’t.

    I feel adrift, and I don’t always like it, but boxes make me claustrophobic, so there you go.

  4. Is it too weird that a conservative Lutheran (not the same as a right-wing religious nut, by the way!) agrees, as well?

    Congratulations on your well-deserved Blogging 4 Books win! Today’s post is a perfect example of why you won!

  5. “I just know I always want to be able to lie under the night sky in August and feel so dwarfed, so overwhelmed and so blessed. The fact that I still have questions doesn’t bother me and I don’t feel compelled to supply my children with one particular answer.”


  6. Cedar Apple Rust is a perfect example of how odd and wonderful nature is; a fungus that only develops in the proximity of both a fruit tree and a cedar?!? What incredible specialization!

    One of the Buddha’s Eight Unanswerable Questions was, “Is there a God?” Tne Buddha refused to answer because he felt thinking about it only distracted us from enlightement. When people find out I have a Philosophy degree one of the first questions I’m invariably asked is, “Do you believe in God?”

    My answer is that I never spend any time thinking about it, that how I live matters more than what I believe.

    If there is a God or Intelligent Designer or whatever, doesn’t it make sense that the infinite complexity and diversity exemplified by natural selection gives that designer much more credit than a simple-minded fairy tale?

    Personally, I see no need to include an intelligent designer in nature. Then again, I’m always reminded of the wisdom of another God:
    “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

    –Hamlet (I, v)

  7. I should like to have a pet pelican. Perhaps the pelican has the answer.

  8. As parents, this wonder and respect of life is something Roy and I strive for – with some days being significantly more successful than others. In our limited experience, balance has become a important lesson. So they go to Sunday School, (most Sunday mornings) and they learn about the science of things, BUT they also just go outside to play. And that’s when a particular rock from the driveway becomes something from when dinosaurs roamed. And that’s when the night stars hold alien races. And that’s when an afternoon by the pond reveals fish stories and grass whistles and the bond between brothers.

    So while we may not be able to give our children the answers, we’re hoping to give them the tools they need to figure things out for themselves and to supply them with the continuing respect and wonder of life.

    And the glimpses we get (which keep us from being discouraged), well, they’re nothing short of amazing.

  9. This is why we like Audrey for more than her chocolate air cake. Thanks for this lovely comment, Audrey (and this is exactly what I obeserve when I come to your farm and family).

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