Friday, February 13, 2009

Remembering Dee and Darwin

One of the recent media pieces about Charles Darwin said that for twenty years Darwin delayed publishing his ideas about natural selection because his wife Emma was a Christian.
“In her day,” the piece said, “people of her background and class believed in an afterlife.” (As have people of about a zillion other backgrounds and classes and days—but we digress.)
Therefore, we are told, Darwin delayed publishing because of the upset it would cause Emma to think of herself going to heaven whereas he was all set for “the other place.” (Click here to read the piece.)
In a general way the story of Darwin and Emma made me think of my late friend Dee and his wife Doris.
Dee was a small-particle physicist with impressive credentials, and he was a Christian: he believed in God and the Resurrection and other Christian things. He and Doris and their two children attended the same church as we did.
Dee and his family lived on our street, so he and I used to sit on the porch and talk, and I learned that he opposed creationism. He thought it was a pseudo-science put out by people who had never done a particle of original research in their lives but just got everything out of books written by other creationists and put their ideas into other books to be read by other creationists. So one reason he opposed them was that their methodology was flawed.
Their philosophy was flawed, too. One evening I brought up the idea that some people had, that the world was created relatively recently—six thousand years ago—but it was made so as to appear very old. (This idea apparently arose because creationists needed a way to accomodate the evident age of the universe, as well as its size, which is another way of saying the same thing.)
“Then why not say it was created six minutes ago,” Dee said, “and made to appear very old.”
It’s easy to see his point. Once you say the universe was created at some other time than when it appears to have been created, then it ceases to matter when it was created, and you may as well go ahead and say it was created when it appears to have been—that is, that it is exactly as old as it looks.
So Dee and I sat on the porch and talked, not only about these matters but about most things under the sun, and years passed.
Then late one afternoon Dee let it drop somehow that he had composed a manuscript demolishing creationism. He had not told me about his book for all these years, and it was another year before he let me read it. Doris would always stop him. She would sometimes hear what we were talking about and remind us both how unpleasant it could be to upset people when they were settled.
That’s not too much like the story of Darwin and Emma. But like Darwin and Emma, it is another story about how married people have instantaneous access to a second opinion.
Overall this is, I think, a good thing—to work at your job and to raise your children and to live your life with another person with whom you have a fine relationship and whose ideas will serve as a second opinion to your own, just as your ideas will to theirs.
So Darwin delayed publishing his work for twenty years. Yes, and? That is not long, given the scale of the universe. The book was apparently better for it, too—wiser and sadder.
So Dee never tried to publish his book against creationism. Yes, and? Certainly not everything that has been written has to be published. It is also a wonderful thing to write and to talk about what you have written on your own front porch in the afternoon sun.