Dad’s Bathroom, The Pulitzer Prize, and Why I’m a Monkey’s Uncle

remington LOTR 250

Middle Earth

Let me divert from our narrative here for a moment to clear something up. When I posted my Defense of Creationism the other day, I started getting traffic and even feedback from fundamentalists who thought I was one of them; and then from Darwinists who also assumed I was a fundamentalist.  Both groups made me uncomfortable.  In either case I got the impression that these representatives from the two sides had started off with conclusions; they have never questioned what they believe, or rather, what they know.  My beef is not with either creationism or Darwinism.  My beef is with the intolerance of those who arrive with conclusions, who refuse to examine those conclusions, but who nevertheless still insist that anyone who disagrees is wrong.

To my mind that is the largest problem humanity faces.  Nuclear holocaust, global pollution, war, famine, and persecution all require the sort of us-vs-them closed mindedness we see everywhere.

So to clear the air, let me say that I seriously doubt creationism is true, and that I believe evolution is probably correct.  Note that I said ‘probably.’  Thereby hangs an interesting tale.

From time to time I would pick up my dad’s copy of Time magazine (he kept it in the bathroom, long story). It exposed me to events and ideas that I probably wouldn’t have come across otherwise.  When I was around 12, I began to realize that just about the only people I ever read about in his magazines were in NY, DC or LA (which are among the few cities that are known simply by their initials, unless you want to include NI).  I started wondering why I never read about anyone from my neck of the woods.

Which is interesting; a friend of mine at the time was Tony Kushner, who moved off to NY (of course) and won a Pulitzer for his play Angels in America.

Tony’s parents were professional classical musicians who met while working in New York, and their home was a revelation to me.  It was a bit of cosmopolis in southern Louisiana. There were musical instruments (including a grand piano), serious stereo equipment, objets d’art, stylish furniture, exotic cuisine (to me, at least), and lots and lots of books. (They also had a very sweet basset hound, Azucena, named for a character in Verdi’s Il Trovatore.  The dog was absolutely lethal, he could take out dining furniture with his tail.)

I also encountered a lot of different ideas there.  Tony and his diverse interests had a large impact on a small town kid like me. From him I learned about Tolkien before most anyone else ever heard of him (a copy of the poster at the top of this page hung on his wall) and many other topics of which I remember only a few:  James Thurber, Atlantis,1)Cretan civilization was wiped out by the explosion of Santorini around 1600 BC, and there is some speculation that Crete or Santorini may have been Atlantis.  The Phaistos Disc, found in Crete, certainly supports the conjecture of a highly advanced civilization.  It suggests that either the Cretans, or possibly one of the civilizations with whom the Cretans traded but which also disappeared in the explosion, were imprinting clay with character type 3,000 years before Gutenberg.  I am certainly no expert but the finding of a lone disc makes me wonder if the source might have been Santorini.  That sort of printing technology suggests a well-developed, long-standing technique that was used to distribute information to many people.  After stone, fired clay is the most durable substance the ancients left us.  Given those starting points, if Crete were the source we might have expected to see many such discs, particularly in the Minoan palace where the first was found.  Unless, perhaps, the source was Santorini, which left far fewer artifacts than Crete.  If any of you know more about this than I do, please feel free to weigh in below. BTW, another thing I learned about from Tony was a dish I call ‘the heresy.’  Toasted bagels, butter, creme cheese. And bacon.  If your dietary regulations don’t prohibit such things, try it. Camille Saint-Saëns, Bullfinch’s Mythology.

And Darwin.  Once Tony told me that humans were descended from apes.  That one, I thought, I needed to run past my parents.  So when I got home, I asked my dad if we were descended from apes.

“Probably,” he said.

At the time, I took that as simply permission to look at unorthodox things (kids are hopelessly neurotic, or at least I was).  Over the years however, I have come to realize that dad’s answer was much better than I could have gotten from a professional biologist.  Granted, a trained biologists would have noted that we believe apes and humans have a common ancestor, so we’re more like cousins. But that’s OK.

Because beyond that, the biologist would have simply said, “Yes.”

Not “We think so,” nor “A lot of evidence suggests we do,” both of which are accurate.  Just “Yes.”  Which as I noted, is an answer that can’t be verified, at least not with the scientific method.  If you were to bet that humans and apes are related, you wouldn’t lose your money.

But you wouldn’t get your money back, either.  There is simply no way to prove it one way or the other.  True, almost all the evidence we have points one way.  But first we all, scientists included, have a tendency to simply gloss over anything that does not support our preordained conclusions.

And second, we have become consumed with the scientific method, which is only one way of viewing life.  I have come to believe that the scientific method represents a very clerical, bureaucratic mindset, and that it begins to fall apart when we examine the complexity of life.  And when we consider what is most important to us, it becomes near useless.

So some may think I am splitting hairs here.  I am not.  I intend for this topic to lead to discussions about confusion in the way we approach many problems in life.

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Next:  Why did God Create the Fossil Record? or, Mommy, Where Did You Put My Tail & Gills?


Picture: Barbara Remington, Lord of the Rings, courtesy of 2 Warps to Neptune. Click here for an interesting history of the poster. © 1968, Ballantine Books.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Cretan civilization was wiped out by the explosion of Santorini around 1600 BC, and there is some speculation that Crete or Santorini may have been Atlantis.  The Phaistos Disc, found in Crete, certainly supports the conjecture of a highly advanced civilization.  It suggests that either the Cretans, or possibly one of the civilizations with whom the Cretans traded but which also disappeared in the explosion, were imprinting clay with character type 3,000 years before Gutenberg.  I am certainly no expert but the finding of a lone disc makes me wonder if the source might have been Santorini.  That sort of printing technology suggests a well-developed, long-standing technique that was used to distribute information to many people.  After stone, fired clay is the most durable substance the ancients left us.  Given those starting points, if Crete were the source we might have expected to see many such discs, particularly in the Minoan palace where the first was found.  Unless, perhaps, the source was Santorini, which left far fewer artifacts than Crete.  If any of you know more about this than I do, please feel free to weigh in below. BTW, another thing I learned about from Tony was a dish I call ‘the heresy.’  Toasted bagels, butter, creme cheese. And bacon.  If your dietary regulations don’t prohibit such things, try it.

4 Comments

  1. Vaughan

    Many, many years ago when the Woods Hole Oceanic Institute in Massachussetts was just starting to look seriously at Santorini and the huge volcanic eruption that created its modern shape, I wrote a term paper arguing that the Minoan city there was indeed Atlantis, remembered dimly in the minds of the Egyptians who reported the tale to Herodotus. I am still convinced by the abundance of evidence now much greater than it was then that is was the source of the Mediterranean memory. If you take Plato’s description and compare it to the known facts of pre-volcanic Minoan Santorini it is very convincing. And I am in complete agreement with your argument about closeminded a priori certainties. There are way, way too many squint-minded self-appointed authorities on everything today–voting their ignorance and self-rightousness. Very scary.

    • Bookscrounger

      I agree, but only sheepishly.

      My memory is filled with too many instances in which I was the squint-minded one…

      😉

      • Robin Tanner

        Kinda funny Joe, but I remember only one exchange between you and Tony at the Program. I can’t remember what position you were defending but you held forth as evidence that Jesus was the most perfect man who ever lived. Tony retorted “Oh Joe, what a thing to say to a Jew”.

        Funny what sticks with us over the years!

        • Bookscrounger

          Oh Lord. Oh hope I’m not held accountable for anything I said as a kid.

          Or yesterday, for that matter…
          😉

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