Friday, February 19, 2016

"Yearning and Learning": Science, Religion, and Fish Hooks

The skeptical science writer, Chet Raymo, wrote, “Why do so many of us see...flying saucers in the sky...
the spinning of the Sun at Fatima,
canals on Mars?"

19th century image of canals of Mars versus modern Hubble photo

"We yearn to be part of something greater than ourselves. We learn by hard experience that miracles don't happen."

"Yearning and learning are integral parts of being human. We can't be fully human without both. Finding the proper balance between yearning and learning can keep us occupied for a lifetime."

"Yearning is curiosity. Yearning is the driving force of science, philosophy, and religion."

"Learning is...reading, going to school, traveling, doing experiments, being skeptical. Learning is looking behind the curtain for the Wizard of Oz..."

"In science, learning means trying as hard to prove that something is wrong as to prove it right, even if that something is a cherished belief."

"Yearning without learning is seeing...the fossilized footprints of humans and dinosaurs together in ancient rocks, weeping statues...and the meaning of life in horoscopes."

"Learning without yearning is pedantry...believing that we know it all...that nothing exists except what can be presently weighed and measured. Learning without yearning is rote science without a heart, without a dream, without a hope of beauty.”


A true story of a family, yearning and learning--

The Nature of Fishhooks

My youngest daughter, Hope, learned-disabled early,
Struggling with the squiggles and numeric symbols

Of unseen realities, of knowing, that set the stars
In motion and our human minds in transition.

How dangerous those fish-hooked praying supplications

Her childish zest died while, as her father and provider,
I practiced disabling late, raised to belief's unreason

In the rigid way of Huck's Miss Watson, so stubborn
In righteous doctrine, ignoring our doctor's suggestion,
Not giving Hope medication, but certain in literal petition.

How dangerous those fish-hooked praying supplications

So I prayed time-round-the-three for my daughter's minded healing,
But just like gullible Finn and his never-gotten fishhooks,

Hope got none, and I— doubt, ill-gotten mishap, and bilge,
Eventually lessening into cynicism, the wounded death
Of an ash-filled, but empty-petitioning/requesting mouth.

How dangerous those fish-hooked praying supplications

Yet unlike Huck, to this day I keep reeling out petitions,
Focusing like the Widow (Huck's other guardian),

On heartened prayer, the learning of spiritual gifts;
But not even the gentle fish lures of patience

And boundless joy ever ripple my faithless way;
I, too, become the lost orphan in the dying of trust.

How dangerous those fish-hooked praying supplications

No longer a fisher of miracles in the doubtful churning,
Of the endless surging views of oceans seven

The world round, I struggle between trust
And reason, earnest but lost in cruel confusion

Fearing those extremes — nihilistic negation
And fishy delusion — doubting all to a hellish end.

How dangerous those fish-hooked praying supplications

Still rises the good news of caring medicine:
Briefly free of false hooks, we gave our dear Hope,

So dead to minded school, the late prescription
And she was upward raised, yes, recovering soon
A zest for learning — early for her, way late for me –

How wondrous thoughtful reason-decided invocations

Except to say the real hook of it all is that
True knowing is not gulping barbs of pious deceit,

Nor being gilled or gulled into the dying of truth,
But yearning and learning — like Descartes and Kant

Of old — finding in humble, reasoned trust
The poetry and prose of spiritual growth,
A Godly way of reasoned becoming,

How wondrous thoughtful reason-based deliberations

--Daniel Wilcox

First published in The Centrifugal Eye
then in the collection, Psalms, Yawps, and Howls

Chet Raymo:
Professor Emeritus at Stonehill College in North Easton, of Skeptics and True Believers

"...more than a dozen books on science and a winner of a 1998 Lannan Literary Award for his nonfiction..."

Science Musings appeared in the Boston Globe for twenty years...informed and provocative meditations on science as a creative human activity and celebrated the grandeur and mystery of the natural world."

" appeal to visitors who value reliable empirical knowledge of the world, yet retain a sense of reverence and awe for the complexity, beauty, and sometimes terror of nature."


From Huck Finn:
“Well I got a good going-over in the morning from old Miss Watson on account of my clothes; but the widow she didn't scold, but only cleaned off the grease and clay, and looked so sorry that I thought I would behave awhile if I could. Then Miss Watson she took me in the closet and prayed, but nothing come of it."

"She told me to pray every day, and whatever I asked for I would get it. But it warn't so I tried it. Once I got a fish-line, but no hooks. It warn't any good to me without hooks."

"I tried for the hooks three or four times, but somehow I couldn't make it work. By and by, one day, I asked Miss Watson to try for me, but she said I was a fool. She never told me why, and I couldn't make it out no way."

"I set down one time back in the woods, and had a long think about it. I says to myself, if a body can get anything they pray for...why can't the widow get back her silver snuffbox that was stole? Why can't Miss Watson fat up?"

"No, says I to myself, there ain't nothing in it. I went and told the widow about it, and she said the thing a body could get by praying for it was "spiritual gifts." This was too many for me, but she told me what she meant -- I must help other people, and do everything I could for other people, and look out for them all the time, and never think about myself."

"This was including Miss Watson, as I took it. I went out in the woods and turned it over in my mind a long time, but I couldn't see no advantage about it -- except for the other people; so at last I reckoned I wouldn't worry about it any more, but just let it go."

"Sometimes the widow would take me one side and talk about Providence in a way to make a body's mouth water; but maybe next day Miss Watson would take hold and knock it all down again."

"I judged I could see that there was two Providences, and a poor chap would stand considerable show with the widow's Providence, but if Miss Watson's got him there warn't no help for him any more."

"I thought it all out, and reckoned I would belong to the widow's if he wanted me, though I couldn't make out how he was a-going to be any better off then than what he was before, seeing I was so ignorant, and so kind of low-down and ornery.”
Wise words of yearning and learning from
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Samuel L. Clemens


In the Light
of Hope and Reason,

Yearning and Learning,
Trust and Skepticism,

Ideals and Science,
Imagination and Fact...

Daniel Wilcox

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