Monday, February 25, 2008

The mountain theologians

For the scientist who has lived by faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.
-Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers

After staying a while to share some stories with the theologians, the scientist begins to explore the surrounding area. Soon he realizes that the mountain goes much higher, but the path is poorly marked and obscured in fog. He points it out to the theologians, but they cannot see the markings.

"How did you get this far?"

"God guided us here."

"Can God guide you further?"

They cannot agree amongst themselves. Some declare they are already at the peak. Others speculate that there is no peak, and thus no reason to continue. Still others say, "Yes, God will guide us," and begin to wander in the direction pointed out by the scientist, to become forever obscured in the mist.

The scientist prepares to leave, bringing only a few theologians with him. He slowly continues to scale the mountain, meticulously checking every rock, and occasionally backtracking for days at a time.

Those would not be the last theologians he would pass by.

[Incidentally, Robert Jastrow died shortly before I wrote this, but I didn't hear about it until afterwards.]


DeralterChemiker said...

Your post inspired me to look up Robert Jastrow in Wikipedia, and that led me to the "moon landing hoax." This reminded me that my own mother, whom I loved dearly and who clearly motivated me to get an education, told me after the first moon landings that she did not believe that men had actually gone to the moon. I was so surprised and saddened, since I worked for the company that had built the Surveyor, and the department that had developed the paint for the Surveyor, and had seen the darkened paint on the sample brought back later from a Surveyor on the moon by one of the moon landing teams. It is my opinion that each generation accepts scientific evidence and scientific progress more readily than the previous generation. Each generation can be characterized by a bell-shaped curve that describes the generation's acceptance of science, and the curve is shifted noticeably toward greater acceptance with each new generation. With this view, it is also humbling to realize that I, too, am a prisoner of my generation, my place and my time, and I am not nearly so perfect as I imagine myself to be.

miller said...

Did they have vaccines for smallpox or polio up there?