Hitchens’ Childhood Epiphany
Christopher Hitchens begins his screed against God and religion by recounting his awakening, as a 9-year old “insufferable little intellectual,” to the “overreaching” comment of his grade school teacher, Mrs. Watts. The statement that is burned into Hitchens’ memory from that day is this: In an attempt to …
fuse her two roles as nature instructor and Bible teacher, she said, ‘So you see, children, how powerful and generous God is. He has made all the trees and grass to be green, which is exactly the color that is most restful to the eyes. Imagine if instead, the vegetation was all purple, or orange, how awful that would be.’
Assertion: I have to note that Hitchens is charitable in his assessment of Mrs. Watts. His only description of her is as a kind and loving woman with sincere motives. But Hitchens’ memory of this incident is that he was “appalled” by what she said. Knowing nothing of the argument from design, the claims of Darwinian Evolution, or any of the related issues, Hitchens remembers that he “simply knew, almost as if [he] had privileged access to a higher authority, that [his] teacher had managed to get everything wrong in just two sentences. The eyes were adjusted to nature, and not the other way around.”
This epiphany led him to notice other “oddities” over the next few years, such as:
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When the ancient astronomer Ptolemy (100-175 AD) woke up every morning, the Sun was coming up in the east. As his day wore on, the Sun moved across the sky and set in the west. All the stars and planets followed suit. It was perfectly obvious to Ptolemy and his contemporaries that the Earth was the pivot point around which the rest of the cosmos revolved. Copernicus’s so-called “revolution” (so-called because it wasn’t really the revolution it’s been made out to be – but that’s a whole different story) stemmed from his claim that Ptolemy was mistaken and that the Earth actually revolved around the Sun. Later confirmation by Galileo proved the Copernican theory to be correct. But both Copernicus and Galileo were considered nutcases for challenging the “obvious,” expert-supported understanding of The Way Things Were. The idea that the Earth is the center of things was so ingrained in the minds of people it took a violent brain-shaking to overcome it.
I was reminded of the Ptolemy thing as I read a new book I would highly recommend to anyone interested in the topics discussed here – Benjamin Wiker & Jonathan Witt’s, A Meaningful World. The book is packed with scientific and historical insights about the abject failure of Naturalism/Materialism to account for the intricacy and wonder that exists in even the simplest forms of biological life. Their book is captivatingly successful in its mission to show “how the arts and sciences reveal the genius of nature,” but I particularly enjoyed the historical parallel they drew between previously accepted scientific “facts” and the presumptive acceptance of the Darwinist paradigm that pervades scientific inquiry today. Take phlogiston for instance.
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We just buried our family’s pet cockatiel, Larry. He was not an extraordinarily bright or talented bird – he thought he had a twin brother who matched his every dance move when he stood in front of a mirror or even in front of the shiny faucet of our kitchen sink. But he could whistle approvingly at you when you walked into a room, or offer his rendition of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” 716 times in a row while you were trying to watch a television show. He could hiss at you when you tried to take him out of his cage at a time when he preferred to be taking a nap, or try to peck holes in your fingers when you tried to put him back in. He spent many a day alone and ignored in his 2′ by 3′ birdcage. Larry was a hit attraction four years ago when he first graced our family room on Christmas morning. He was well taken care of. But Larry had long since lost his status as the center of attention and popularity at the Perry house.
And that’s why I was surprised at the outpouring of grief and volume of tears that flowed following his unexpected death a few days ago. My boys – two of which are tough-guy, too-cool (by that I mean “typical”) teenagers – were devastated when the found Larry lying lifeless in the bottom of his cage. Their sobbing returned when we buried him in the backyard the next day.
Why would a silly, annoyingly loud, exceptionally messy little bird bring about such a reaction from the boys for whom Larry’s novelty had long worn off?
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