Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The Everyday "Miracles“ of Paleontology

"Religion teaches you to be satisfied with non-answers. It's sort of a crime against childhood." Richard Dawkins. In Michael Powell,"A Knack for Bashing Orthodoxy," New York Times, 9/19/2011.

I’m a belated “convert” to that mix of the social and physical sciences that sweetly converge in paleontology. When I picked up the paper today and read that a bagger In Braunschweig had just uncovered the full skeleton of a 175 million year “old” Fish Dinosaur, I was dazzled by the wonder of it all. The etymology of miracle is the Latin verb “mirare—to wonder”.

The contemporary press is replete with such wonders: In India they have just found several new species of frogs, one of which meows like a cat! In South Africa, a cranium found by the aimlessly hiking but alert nine-year-old son of the lucky scientist forces paleontologists to speculate over putative connections of “Homo sapiens” and Neanderthals. Comparing their genomes they “wonder” if they intermarried, to use a term anachronistically.

You have to understand that when I was parked at Holy Rosary Academy, at age three, 81 years ago, I was subjected by German Dominican nuns to ten years of “miracles” that made me ignorant and afraid of life, and all of these alleged “wonders” squeezed into a mere 4,000 years. And almost three years at Sacred Heart, a Catholic minor seminary, didn’t expand my intellectual horizons a whit.

I say “almost” because the rector, one Henry Donnelly, expelled me during Easter vacation after catching me smoking after midnight in the Gothic Tower. We fawned before him because the hometown Detroit Tigers had given him a tryout as a shortstop. Theologically speaking, you cannot glean greater adolescent praise. It’s almost a near secular canonization!

Let me summarize their official “wonders”. God made Adam from the clay of Eden by his miraculous breath. Then He formed Eve with help of an Adamic rib. A mere 4000 years ago. And He temporarily separated the Holy Trinity by making a human out of his only begotten Son, who was dying for forgiveness for our sins. This inbred process saved us from eternal hellfire. But not too long after(33 years)he disappeared back in Heaven. (Did I forget to tell you how the Angel Gabriel told the Virgin Mary not to fret but that she had been chosen to beget Jesus.) This faux miracle story let loose in the Holy Roman Catholic Church a false shame about sex (the true miracle of birth!)that festered two millennia later in the global sexual abuse of children.

This international scandal has been shamefully covered up by the current Pontiff who began as a liberal colleague of Hans Kung in Tübingen but panicked as an effeminate wuss because of “too liberal” seminarians identifying noisily with Liberation Theology—and fled to conservative Regensburg University. Greedy to rise in the hierarchy (don’t believe his smarmy piousness), he blacklisted his former chum Kung from teaching theology. And smashed Vatican II by trying to stamp out Liberation Theology completely, coddling up grossly with ex-Communist fighter Pope John Paul II.

Now Benedict jets around the world smiling affably at what few parishioners are left, as if affability excuses his suppression of Lib Theo. He’s no Miracle Man; he’s a internationally religious Rotarian, taking care of his Big Business—instead of freeing Latin Americans from their North American peonage.

The Church in Germany is right now spending millions of Euros getting crowds to miraculate (a neologism meant to suggest televised knee-scraping to His Holy Wholessness)! What an un-wonderful farce. The latest episode of PR Religion can be traced to Pius IX who fought Darwin and Modernism by declaring that the Pope (meaning, first, hisself) was infallible, whatever that doesn’t miraculously mean.

And his first miraculous declaration was the Immaculate Conception of the future Virgin Mary! God had arbitrarily condemned all humanity to the gratuitously lethal Original Sin, tough punishment for a “Loving God” for one bite of the Edenic apple. Would you believe that these unmiraculous fantasies are threatening to complicate the 2012 presidential election with Rick Perry’s fatuous fatwas about pushing Divine Design and mocking Evolution in mandatory Texas curricula?

It wasn’t until I was 19 that I confronted an intelligent allegation about miracles. In my first American Lit class. That voice from the Here and Now After was Walt Whitman: "The mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels.” My theology in a nutshell. I’d rather rot for eternity in hell than bow a knee to the contemptibly contentious Old Testament God or the neurotically greedy floggers of Indulgences that Luther went to a just war against. Those grossly irreligious sacrileges—buying one’s way out of Purgatory! A stupid invention of a soulless clergy. As dead-ended as a Popemobile.

The way to modern thoughtfulness (our Reasoning is the greatest everyday miracle there ever was) is handicapped as never before, in America of all places! Emptyheaded Tea Party twitterers blather at each other, thrilling insanely when Pat Robertson blames earthquakes on respect for Godforsaken gays. Last night as I watched Charlie Rose on Bloomberg TV interrogate Lisa Sherman, brilliant and gorgeous Harvard physicist, on her ways and means, I was relieved. We haven’t lost yet. But it’s getting closer and closer.

Richard Dawkins has just published his first children's book, "The Magic of Reality: How We Know What Is Really True."

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