Tuesday, April 26, 2011

So much of what we think we know is really all in how we look at it.

When I was at Penn State, I took this Astronomy class that I loved and hated.  I hated the lectures.  It was a man who was about 60 with dyed-black hair, pale skin, Woody Allen glasses, plump midsection, cheeseburger mustache and ABSOLUTELY NO CHARISMA.  Now to be fair, I am sure he was a very nice man, good husband and father.  But seriously ------ flatline.  Someone could have literally stood on their chair, lit their hair on fire and sang "God Save the Queen" and he would have kept right on teaching.

Now contrast that with the labs that we had on Tuesday nights.  The Teaching Assistant had dreadlocks, multiple piercings on his face, pajama (yes pajama) pants and the distinct odor of rotting wood (otherwise known as pachouli).  He was the most interesting visual persona - and he made astronomy exciting.  I loved coming to the lab to learn what I didn't in class.

One thing that my T.A. Andrew taught me was that your view of the universe was a matter of perspective. You see, I was determined in my lab project to show that the perfect balance in the universe (perfect ratio of oxygen in our atmosphere, perfect density of the Earth's core to have the perfect balance of gravity for the size of our bodies, etc.) was testimony to the fact that it was divinely enabled.  Andrew, however, countered that perhaps the only reason it appears divinely enabled is because we are alive and able to see it.  In other words, since the universe has come together in such a way as to give rise to sentient beings like ourselves . . . the only way it could be regarded was extraordinary because it did not come about in a way that did not produce us.  By necessity we see it as amazing because we are able to see it.

That kind of deflated my little theory . . .

But wait, doesn't that take away the miracle of the fact that we are here?  I mean, think of it - if you had a pencil point balanced on a table and allowed it to fall, wouldn't the fact that it fell directly on a point that was the perfect spot for all the conditions necessary for life to have started in a huge chain reaction be something to marvel at? Why would we chalk it up to chance and view it as mundane?  Crazy isn't it - that the difference between wonder and skepticism is such a narrow span.

But I guess it is in how you look at it.


  1. Hey John! I have an acquaintance, a self-proclaimed Deist, who wants to talk with me about my faith. I'm reading your book, which seems to have come at just the right time, and I'm encouraged by your perspective. But, boy, am I feeling unprepared for a conversation with a Deist! Any advice for me? I could use a pep talk :)