“We’re not a fragile country. Trust us to have that conversation.”

So, I was pretty excited when I learned Bill Moyers was coming back to PBS with a new interview program, Bill Moyers Journal. And I was even more excited when I learned that it would be podcast, so I can listen to it even though my TV gets nothing but snow and the input from my DVD player. But the icing on the cake? The first interviewee is Jon Stewart.

I love Public Broadcasting.

Beady little eye contact

The first half of the walk between my apartment and campus goes downhill through a slightly shabby, crowded college-town residential neighborhood that is much improved by the presence of large, shady trees lining the sidewalk. Almost at the bottom of the hill, my walk takes me past a tree whose owner has decided to feed squirrels. The tree is close to the sidewalk on the left as I walk toward campus, and it has two trunks that diverge almost at the ground; nailed to each of these at about the height of my chin is a wooden box about ten inches by ten inches, with an open face looking across the sidewalk to the house of the probable squirrel-feeder and the bottom surface forming a tray, which usually contains seeds or nuts or such. Many times I’ve forgotten that I’m nearing this tree as I walk to campus in the morning, and many times I’ve been jolted by the explosive scutter of squirrels evacuating the feeder as I approached.

Yesterday this didn’t happen. Yesterday, I didn’t think about the approaching feeder until I was right on beside it. Remembering it, I turned left for a glancing look as I passed. And I came eye to eye with a squirrel.

It was sitting atop the farther of the two boxes, right about at my eye level, frozen in that twitchy way that largish rodents sometimes freeze when they’re threatened, as though you might go away if they don’t do anything cute. It was a fox squirrel, I think, rusty gray above and just rusty below, fixing me with a pair of black, shining eyes.

I stood still and looked at it. It twitched its tail.

Then, incredibly, it jumped to the other box, just a foot or so from my face. I could see its handlike little paws gripping the edge of the box, paws that called to mind words like “cunning” and “clever”. The black little eyes stared at me, blank and shiny as freshly-washed chalkboards. The squirrel made a twitchy advance, then backed off, then advanced again. I tried not to move; but this was unnerving.

It advanced again, and I must have stepped back a fraction – the squirrel made an instant U-turn and scuttered up the tree trunk. I was left blinking at the feeder box, listening to the sounds of traffic on the street at the end of the block.

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Till we can become divine we must be content to be human, lest in our hurry for change we sink to something lower.

–Anthony Trollope, Barchester Towers

Collins versus Dawkins

NPR’s Fresh Air ran two major interviews on faith and science last week: Richard Dawkins (last Wednesday) followed by Francis Collins (Thursday). Dawkins, of course, made his name as an evolutionary biologist and has recently published The God Delusion, an atheist’s manifesto for the 21st century. Collins is an evangelical Christian who headed the Human Genome Project, now working with the NIH, who has himself just released a defense of scientific Christianity titled The Language of God. The contrasts between the two are informative.

Dawkins comes across as more moderate than I’ve heard him in other interviews; his argument is basically that science explains the physical world better than religion, religion comes with a built-in danger of extremism, and we can find all the meaning we need in science’s explanations of the world. Quoting Douglas Adams, he says that his teenage discovery of evolutionary theory “about wrapped it up for God.”

Collins makes a (to me) highly familiar defense of a theistic scientist’s worldview, making much of his awe before the wonder of the human genome. He points out that science is not necessarily equipped to prove (or disprove) the existence of God, but also persists in talking about “evidence” for the Divine. Citing C. S. Lewis, he argues that faith and evidence are not only compatible, but actually pretty close to the same thing.

My conclusion, after listening to them back to back: they’re both wrong. In this exchange, Dawkins is the more lucid of the two, but his argument founders on his absurd insistence that science’s explanations of the physical world are also adequate to provide that world with meaning. Just because I know why the world is the way it is doesn’t tell me how it should be, especially as regards the best ways for human beings to live together.

Although I’m more in agreement with Collins, his argument feels mushy to me. I can’t agree with his (and Lewis’s) assertion that faith is somehow ultimately based on reasoning from scientific evidence. My judgments of what is (and is not) in accordance with the example of Jesus Christ are far more aesthetic than logical. I can’t quantify why a given behavior is Christly – but I trust that, with prayer, I can make that decision. Likewise, my “evidence” for belief in the Divine is so different from scientific evidence that it probably doesn’t deserve the name. What I have are feelings that are evoked by my experience of Creation and the people in it – this, not scientific fact, is the substance of things hoped for, and the conviction of things unseen.