Wednesday, June 22, 2011

On Faith and Science: Learning to Listen

Annie Dillard in Teaching a Stone to Talk concludes:

It is difficult to undo our own damage and to recall to our presence that which we have asked to leave. It is hard to desecrate a grove and change your mind. We doused the burning bush and cannot rekindle it. We are lighting matches in vain under every green tree. Did the wind used to cry and the hills shout forth praise? Now speech has perished from among the lifeless things of the earth, and living things say very little to very few... And yet it could be that wherever there is motion there is noise, as when a whale breaches and smacks the water, and wherever there is stillness there is the small, still voice, God's speaking from the whirlwind, nature's old song and dance, the show we drove from town... What have we been doing all these centuries but trying to call God back to the mountain, or, failing that, raise a peep out of anything that isn't us? What is the difference between a cathedral and a physics lab? Are they not both saying: Hello?

I often think of observation as a sighted matter--one conditioned by vision, by seeing.  Perhaps it's because I am an artist I want to think, but even as I am offering up such rhetoric, I know it to be untrue.  Much art, like learning, requires listening.

Some days, I forget what it means to listen and even how to still myself long enough so I can listen, can discern the various layers of sound.  My job often requires me to act.  Some days I wonder if any action would suffice, regardless.

Once in Tuscany I learned to walk taking very small steps: heel to toe for an hour.  I walked about a monastery where I was staying in such a manner, making no attempt to talk and made no images, my camera and sketch pad left behind. 

Each step was a breath. 

Each breath was an act of faith.

Nothing was required, beyond heel to toe. Breathe.

So what might we make of Dillard and her words, especially those of us who reside at schools?  Is science our futile human attempt to call God, like a phoenix rising, from all that we have abandoned?  Do we substitute someone's given definition of "improvement" for learning how to be still enough so we might listen for some local truths being uttered by children? By teachers? By staff members? By parents?  Are we so busy saying hello, that we cannot hear?

Tomorrow when I get to work I'm going to take small steps.

Heel to toe.

Heel to toe.



  1. But what is scientific and what is faith? Paul says straight out in Hebrews that “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear” (Hebr 11:3), in other words he admitted the impact of faith in understanding matters. He said that only by faith can we understand how everything was created out of nothing.
    However, he who believes in a random beginning and evolution also relies fully on faith. This is the fact that cannot be denied. We cannot prove the foundation of the evolution theory, the big bang and spontaneous generation, in a laboratory: they are based on faith in the minds of people. Attempts to generate the latter in a laboratory have been made, but with no success whatsoever. No scientist has been able to get even near to solving the origin of life, i.e. people believe in it even though practical observations do not support it. The belief in the matter is only inside the people. As a matter of fact, many so-called scientific issues are based on faith like is the spiritual life and faith in the supernatural God. The question is which of the alternatives we deem more realistic – the belief in the haphazard origin or creation – because neither of them cannot be properly proven afterwards.
    In this issue one should use his common sense because in that way it is possible to proceed at least a little. So, when you ask an ordinary plain man how possible he considers that a new universe like the present one with dozens of billions galaxies, hundreds of billions stars, a sun like the present one, the planets, sea and water, the rocks, man, the birds, elephants, mosquitoes and so on could be born from, for example, an ordinary chip of a stone (in the big bang theory it is supposed that everything came into being from a pin-sized space), what would he say? How reasonable would he deem the whole issue when holding a chip of stone in his hand? Is it not likely that his answer would be something to the effect:
    - Don’t be crazy, that’s just an impossible idea! Such cannot be born from a small stone. How could anyone believe in such foolishness?

  2. Thanks for sharing your faith and thinking. I'm not sure faith and theory are equivalents, synonyms. I think they are different That doesn't mean that one doesn't (in)form the other at times.


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