About Rationally Speaking
Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
Monday, February 02, 2009
Speaking of Faith, the nonsense continues
For instance, the January 29 show featured author Mary Doria Russell on the topic of “The Novelist as God.” Hmm, the link between being an author and being a god seems pretty tenuous (besides the obvious large ego involved), but proceed, please. According to the introductory notes by Tippett: “Our guest has grappled with large moral and religious questions on and off the page. We discover what she discerned — in the act of creating a new universe — about God and about dilemmas of evil, doubt, and free will. The ultimate moral of any life and any event, she believes, only shows itself across generations. And so the novelist, like God, she says, paints with the brush of time.” Whatever. What really caught my attention is Russell’s invocation of cosmology and her twisting it to generate a superficially attractive but in fact entirely nonsensical metaphor regarding god.
Russell said that cosmologists think that the universe is expanding, but that eventually it will contract again, leading to an infinite cycle of expansion and contraction. This is actually not the case. The idea of the “big bang-big crunch” cycle was briefly entertained by theoretical physicists like Stephen Hawking, but abandoned now that it seems clear that the universe’s expansion is actually accelerating.
But what annoyed me is not that Ms. Russell’s cosmology is out of date. After all, she is a novelist, not a cosmologist (though if you are going to talk about science on a nationally broadcasted radio show you might want to make the effort of getting the basic facts straight). It’s what she made of this alleged alternation of expansions and contractions that made me unfavorably contemplate all those who attempt to exploit the prestige of science to propagate their own metaphysical non sequiturs. You see, for Russell this cosmic cycle is nothing less than “God’s breathing”! What on earth could that possibly mean? Surely she doesn’t want to imply that god is an animal-like entity who actually breaths as part of its daily physiological functions. Besides, what would god breath, cosmic dust? And in and out of what, parallel universes?
Ok, I know, she meant this whole thing poetically and metaphorically. Right, but this is a metaphor for what, exactly? Metaphors are supposed to provide us with insight into complex matters. What sort of insight can one derive from thinking of the (false, as it turns out) expanding and contracting cycles of the universe as “God’s breath”? As for poetry, again, the best poetry isn’t made of the gratuitous juxtaposition of imagery, it is meant to let us appreciate beauty and construct meaning in life. I guess I fail to see the beauty of the idea of god’s breathing, and I certainly am not able to derive any meaning from that thought.
I’m sure Ms. Russell was a good paleoanthropologist before retiring, and is now an excellent novelist (including “The Sparrow” and “Children of God”). However, all I got last Saturday morning from listening to her and Krista chatting in my ear before breakfast was irritating fluff. Fortunately, the sound of my espresso machine soon drowned out the nonsense and I resumed my familiar quest of making sense of life rationally while enjoying what it has to offer, beginning with a nice cup of hot cappuccino.