Random Science

Our world is defined by science. Empirical method demonstrates again and again and again that physical properties follow the same tired pattern without any divine intervention. Saturday was Rutgers Day. Instead of our usual visit to College Avenue to sample French cheeses, we went to the Busch Campus of science and engineering. There we were treated to a 90-minute physics lesson that consisted mostly of demonstrations for the kids with things blowing up, glowing, and being broken after being dipped in liquid nitrogen. Outside the building we watched a chaos pendulum which a grad student explained never followed a predictable pattern. Back in the day when I was subjected to religious rules stricter than any laws of physics at Nashotah House, I used to read about chaos theory. It is the most biblical of scientific ideas. As anyone who’s watched Jurassic Park knows, it means that ultimate predictability is futile. Well, there’s more to it than that, but I’m merely an amateur.

Returning home, I read an interview with Matthew Hutson, about his new book The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: How Irrational Beliefs Keep Us Happy, Healthy, and Sane. It is now on my wish-list, but I haven’t read it yet. Despite the fact that Hutson is an atheist, he recognizes that magical thinking is both healthy and unavoidable. A door creeps open for the scholar of religion here. We are able to see that non-rational thought is human, so very human. We don’t often think about how driven we are by our emotions. When we see a friend we ask, “what do you feel like doing today?”, not, “what do you think like doing?”. Visiting someone recovering from hard times we ask how s/he is feeling, not thinking. Emotion is, after all, built on the root of “motion”—it is our motivating factor. Seldom is it scientific.

Not to demean science. I have read science books and magazines on my own since I was a teenager. The truths that have been revealed through science are endlessly fascinating and pragmatic. They work in a way religions seldom do. Nevertheless, I became a scholar of ancient religions, studying them scientifically. In the Middle Ages it was said that philosophy was the handmaid to theology. Truth was revealed, not discovered. Reason, thankfully, began to show the way forward. The epithet Dark Ages gained currency for a reason. Science is our means of comprehending our universe, and yet, superstition is hardwired into our brains. I am glad for the scientific worldview even when the chaos pendulum still swings crazily, unpredictably before me. Seldom do those in my field get to consider themselves Renaissance women and men. The pendulum swings where it will.

George Ioannidis' chaos pendulum

That’s All, Folks

As May is now upon us, in keeping with the spirit of Beltane, we are being warned to make ourselves ready for the end of the world. At Rutgers Day on Saturday, the eBible Fellowship was out in force, handing out tracts declaring in no uncertain terms that this month will see the dissolution of all things. Now is the time to buy things on credit, apparently, but make sure the payments aren’t due at least until next month! I’ve written a few posts on this particular prediction before, but the flyers I received have helped clarify a few things for me. I wondered why the god of eBible Fellowship had chosen this year to end it all. It turns out that this is the 7000th year after the flood! Things have been going swimmingly for seven millennia, so it is time to call it all to a halt.

Reading further, I was amazed at how accurate the reading of the cosmic timeclock has become. According to the pamphlet, the Church Age ended May 21, 1988. At that time I was too busy trying to get into doctoral programs in Bible to notice, I guess. According to eBible, the Bible states that the tribulation began then and would last for 23 years. That does explain my career history. Reading the passages they cite, however, I just don’t see the numbers adding up. eBible claims that God stopped using churches in 1988, so if you’ve been spending your Sundays there, I guess the joke’s on you. It kind of makes me glad that I was never ordained.

Samuel de Champlain does not endorse eBible Fellowship

Intrigued, I decided to look at their website. For a temporary site there do seem to be a number of incomplete pages announcing that more is coming. There are podcasts about what to do in case you are not raptured on the twenty-first, as well as proof that the world is 13,000 years old, unlike the traditional Ussher date (his name is misspelled on the website). The group, which is based in Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania, states: “We are living at a time when the Bible is being highly exalted by God.” A classic statement of bibliolatry – I was not surprised to note that the King James Version is the one the Fellowship approves. I didn’t see that they calculated the fact that 19 days before the end of the world the KJV would become 400 years old. The only significant event I could find for May 21 of 1611 is that Samuel de Champlain returned to Québec from France. I sure I am missing the hidden meaning of that event, since crossing the sea is almost certainly a metaphor for the flood and Samuel is a prophet in the Hebrew Bible.

Dukes and Serfs

Once upon a time in a land far away, a man and woman worked a fertile garden, blessed by God. That garden was in the incredibly rich, black soil of Savoy, Illinois. The zucchinis harvested were of biblical proportions. Some of them miraculously grew to the size of my calves seemingly overnight. The broccoli and carrots my wife and I grew had so much flavor that we couldn’t believe just how much leeched out while vegetables sat in the back of a truck or on a grocery-store refrigerated shelf. Even with their periodic mistings. It was as if Bunnicula had visited them at night. So long ago, the garden. It seemed obvious in those days why the writers of Genesis compared paradise to a garden. Ours was no Eden – it was hard work – but my wife and I had a lot of fun with it.

James Buchanan Duke, namesake of Duke University, owned a considerable estate outside Hillsborough, New Jersey. Having established both a tobacco monopoly and an electric company, Duke was enormously wealthy. He left his Hillsborough farm (not the tobacco farms which were in his native North Carolina) to his daughter Doris, making her one of the wealthiest women in the world. Her estate now consists of a socially conscious Duke Farms Foundation that has offered gardening plots to the plebeians of the region. So yesterday I found myself once again back in the garden. Sharing a plot with a friend, we arrived for opening day and were greeted by one of the organizers of the garden. Her name, of course, is Eve.

New Jersey planting requires more manure than the black earth of the Midwest. Yesterday I found myself shoveling horse manure, not for the first time in my professional life, while Eve supervised the garden. It seemed strangely biblical. Dodging between my summer classes this year, I will be emulating the first profession of our mythic father Adam. In the afternoon, after cleaning up, we headed to Rutgers Day, the university public-relations festival that shows off the tremendous wealth that cannot afford to hire full-time faculty any more. As I kept a weather eye on the clouds, worried about the seeds I’d just planted, the future continued to look stormy to me, even on the campus that has at times been my only source of barely sustainable income. Perhaps I should have changed my shoes, because it seemed to me that the smell of horse manure still hung heavily in the air.

I wonder if this is how Adam got started