Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Thoughts while staring at a limestone wall

Wednesdays at St. Boniface, we have an evening Mass, at six; starting at five, the priest hears confessions in the sacristy. Except for the "school Mass," daily Mass is in our chapel, in the basement of the church. This is practical (it saves money on utilities) ; because it's a perpetual exposition chapel, it allows adorers to be at Mass; and it is customary. So--confessions in the sacristy.

As this is all in the basement, part of the foundation of the church--built of limestone rock -- is exposed in the sacristy. So, as I sat, waiting for penitents, and prayed my office, I sometimes found myself staring at the limestone rock.

As a boy, I was fascinated by the limestone walls of the house in which I grew up, and also, the limestone rock my parents used to make a patio, out back. If you've looked at limestone rock, you know what I mean: not only does it produce interesting fuzzy stuff that any kid would find curious, it is often, also chock-full of fossils. (As a boy, I one time ran into the house, alerting my mother to the need to call the Natural History Museum, because surely they would be amazed at the treasure-trove of fossils in our back yard! I don't recall what she said, but my mother was diplomatic in her response.)

Well, I still find limestone rock curious, and so I was contemplating it. And lo! something moved! It was some sort of bug; far too small to be a water bug, and it had lots of legs. I thought about killing it; I am not cruel, but my first thought is, "it's a pest, it must be killed." My next thought was, "what if there's a nest of them?" and I did not enjoy the thought of getting an exterminator in. Then I realized, no, it's just a miscellaneous bug. Could it know how close it came to death?

As I waited for someone to come to confession, I watched that bug make it's way down the wall. Where was it headed? What possible analogue to thought went on in it's "brain"? I saw it heading toward a cobweb, and I found myself not wanting it to get caught, but figured it might all the same, and then: what would that be like? It can't be capable of anything like thought and sensation as we know it--so I doubt it would "know terror" or despair anything -- it would just be caught, and sit there, until it's life ended.

Well, for whatever reason, I found myself thinking about evolution. Just to let you know, I tend to be skeptical about the "macro" theory -- I know I'm free to believe it, as a Catholic, but I'm also free not to believe it (I mean, theologically); and unlike a lot of folks, I don't care a whole lot, either way. But if I had my druthers, I'd rather it weren't true -- it may sound funny to put it that way, but on balance, I'd rather the theory were all a crock of ****. At least the macro theory, the business about us once upon a time being all amoebae. Yep, if it were up to me, I'd prefer the Lord God created man as he is, and there you have it.

I'm fully aware of the very smart people who purport to tear the macro-evolutionary theory all to ribbons; and I'm well aware of the very smart people who make those other smart people look like idiots. And maybe someday I'll sort it all out and take sides; but every time I try to read their arguments (usually late at night), my head hurts, my eyes glaze over and I think of something else I'd rather do. Meanwhile, I'll just wait for them to fight it all out. (Remember when someone used to have a funny, animated thing called "Celebrity Showdown"? They'd have two people, like Jessica Simpson and Al Sharpton square off, and it was hilarious, until it got really gory. That's what we need: a "Celebrity Showdown" between the ID folks and the Evolution folks. What fun!)

Well, unlike the bug, I can communicate to you the purpose in my meandering. As I considered evolution (yes, I really was praying! It takes awhile to write this, but not to have thought it.), my question formed in my mind: if macro-evolution is true, why would God do it that way?

You see, many who support the theory, and many who oppose it, do so because it seems to eliminate the need for God. And I do have to admit, it does invite that thought. But I asked myself: OK, let's say it's true--suppose God did do it that way; he had a choice--why was that his choice?

And it occured to me that God would have known that somewhere along the line, humanity would do precisely the investigating we've done, into the world around us. And we'd find the fossils, we'd observe the likenesses in animals, the vestigial organs, the whole shebang. And with that marvelous intellect the Almighty endowed us with, we'd think, and think and think. And what would we come up with?

There are some who want God to have created the world in such a way that, at some point, the facts compel us to believe in him. Our intellects work that way: when facts are presented to it, reason demands our assent. They'd like the existence of God to work that way, too.

But does God want that? Seems not! Rather, I think God wants to keep belief in him a matter of choice, notwithstanding the fact that it appeals to us on so many other levels. We are not compelled to assent to his existence, although there is so much, in all realms of knowledge, that invites and woos our belief.

The theory of macroevolution--whatever else one may say about it--does seem to preserve that choice. (I.e., rightly understood, as compatible with the postulates of the Faith.)

Now, before I close this post, I am well aware that this sort of talk works on some folks the way a bell worked on Pavlov's dog; and my comment box may soon be filled with esoteric, urgent prose about the dire crisis of evolutionary theory.

Please don't! You'll make my head hurt, and my eyes glaze over. If you really are smart, you'll have noted I never endorsed the theory, I simply entertained a thought-experiment about it. So you needn't preach at me like Savaronola converting a heretic.

P.S. After hearing someone's confession, I looked back for the bug's latest progress; I couldn't find him on the limestone wall. His fate is still unknown.

15 comments:

IR said...

Oddly enough, I find the evolutionary theory I was taught in school, starting with microsheres and spontaneous organic compund and culminating in us, the best proof for the existance of God--it's so unlikely that I would be the end result of such a process that God had to do it!

Something like myself would never have survived the process.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the bug was a centipede, such as are often found in cellars with stone walls. It may have hitched a ride on the hem of your penitent's skirt or pantsleg and traveled home with him or her, where it will suddenly appear on a bedroom wall at 3 a.m. and a loud scream be heard throughout the midwest.
I've heard of confessionals being
bugged before (only in mystery novels) but this takes the cake.
Julia

Rachel Gray said...

I grew up thinking the Big Bang was anti-Christian. I can't remember why; it's so perfectly in accord with the Bible account that God brought the world into being out of nothing. Apparently materialists of a century ago favored an infinitely large, infinitely old universe, so the universe itself could be like God and evolution would have lots of chances to work.

I know some really good arguments against macro evolution and some really good arguments for it, and I don't have quite enough time and intelligence to sort it all out. :)

I do wonder what analogue to thought occurs in animals' brains. In my job we work with sea urchins-- we shake them up, inject them, vortex them, and finally bag them and freeze them. It's a comfort to me that urchins lack brains and the few scattered nerve cells they possess could not be capable of anything approaching consciousness. I'd feel bad about killing anything with a face, though it may be for a good cause.

Anonymous said...

Re evolution - I often wonder if it is a great idea to obsess (as some in the news seem to do) over where we came from, rather than where we are now and where we are going. There is so much we need to do re the latter two categories.
Julia

Kasia said...

As long as you weren't fixated on the bug DURING a confession... :-)

Anonymous said...

Father,

Very interesting reflection. I side with you when it comes to this topic. To be on the safe side, you may want to avoid looking at that limestone wall for a couple of days . . . to avoid your brains going limey on us!! Especially with the weekend Eucharistic Celebrations comin up.

Hope you don't have sherbert ice cream for dessert.

Ohevin

Sharon said...

....Meanwhile, I'll just wait for them to fight it all out.

I feel exactly the same about Global Warming! Experts demolishing other experts and I'm the non scientific person in the middle trying to come to an objective opinion.

I'm so glad that I'm not the only one who feels like this about this type of issue.

Jane M said...

Alice von Hildebrand said to someone once, that most people like to boast of their great ancestors and if she thought she was descended from an ape frankly she'd keep quiet about it. (I know that current evolutionary theory says we weren't but it is still a funny comment.)

Diane said...

Setting aside the bug and the evolution discussion....

It's kind of sad that only one person showed up for confession.

Don't give up on sitting there, Padre. If you are ever looking for a group of priests to get your confessional full of people, by all means I can highly recommend these guys who work out of my parish. (Don't confuse them with the OSC - these are the ORC and they are quite orthodox and faithful to the magisterium).

They are very big on confession and they seem to know how to convince people to go. They are retreat masters and do excellent "Days of Recollection" and parish missions. They also hold a retreat for priests in September (even though this schedule is old).

At my parish it is not uncommon for one priest to hear 80-120 confessions on a Sunday between Masses. He makes himself available about 45 minutes before our 9:30am Latin Novus Ordo, then will go back about 45 minutes before the Noon Mass, then come back after that Mass where people continue to stream in.

It absolutely struck me when I first went there and the sight of such long lines for confession was a big draw for me to start using this sacrament again after neglecting it for 2 years. They encourage confession just to build virtue even when there is no serious sin and they never rush anyone. Kids, altar boys, and people of all ages go frequently. They've got me coming between 2-4 times monthly and it has done wonders for me spiritually. Most do not comprehend the graces that come with it, along with the benefits of spiritual advice on working through everything from a serious habit to taming the will (or body) to rise each morning a little earlier for prayer.

My latest blog post is covering another one of their Days of Recollection which in July drew about 120 people.

Anonymous said...

This is a relatively calm com-box for the topic you've brought up, Father. I'm also tired of the arguments.

I love your point about having Faith as a choice and not as an obvious scientific fact. It reminds me of a St. Thomas Aquinas quote I came across recently: "For those with faith, no explanation is necessary. For those without faith, no explanation is possible."

Diane said...

You know, this reminded me of a similar experience I had with a bug in my house.

I always use to kill spiders on sight, but one day as I went to kill a common house spider sitting next to the mirror in my bathroom, I paused and thought - who's he hurting - he'll probably disappear into some abyss in the house and I'll never knew he existed. So, I lived and let live.

The next day, he was still in that spot and remained there for yet another day. Then, he was gone - nowhere to be seen. Three days later, he showed up in the same exact spot for another three days. This pattern repeated itself until one day, I just never saw him again.

I won't tell anyone that I actually had conversations with the little fella. I lost my fear of spiders in the house, realizing all he was doing was giving God glory by his very existence and doing what God made him to do - whatever that is.

Anonymous said...

Diane, what a wonderful story - with enough hidden depth for a good meditation. You are an outstanding person, to think this way. I'm glad it was in God's plan
to have you in the world!
Julia

diane said...

Someone has shit on the coats!

Adoro Te Devote said...

Hmmm...observing bugs and how that leads to the pondering of evolutionary theory. Isn't it wonderful how the mind works?

As I read about your unknown bug approaching the cobweb, I was reminded once again of the horrors that live in the bushes outside my townhome each summer. I live in holy fear of them as they are large, ghastly, and spin funnel webs which cause the bushes to almost turn into one large web.

Well, in the spring I happened upon a type of "barrier" spray and decided to use that first, rather than tear out the bushes to rid myself of the spiders.

Well, it worked very well, and one night, I heard this strange noise...chirping! And I realized that it was the first time in my three years in this house that I have EVER heard a cricket in those bushes, and the sound was nearly a lullabye. Why? Because every other cricket had become dinner in previous years, and thus the sound of this creature chirping happily away told me that the predators that usually haunted the place were really gone.


How does this relate to evolution? Simple. Whether it is true or not (my eyes glaze over, too), I am higher on the food chain, and I like crickets better than spiders...thus it felt good to create a habitat for a favored bug.

Wow. I never thought I'd post an ode to a bug of any kind!

See where your meanderings have lead?

Anonymous said...

ONe question.

If the universe sprang into being from a Big Bang, who/what set off the "Bomb"