Does Location Equal Importance?

NASA recently celebrated the end of the unlikely long run of the Kepler spacecraft. Sent up in 2009, this marvelous flying telescope lasted well beyond its projected mission terminus and slipped off to sleep, and out of communication with Earth, just last month.

Kepler’s main task was to look for exoplanets—planets outside our galaxy. And it found evidence of hundreds, from gas giants (like our Jupiter) to rocky planets orbiting at possibly life-sustaining distances from their suns.

So far, so wondrous.

But increasingly, it seems, journalists feel free to indulge in metaphysics and ethics when they are reporting…science. One sees such amateurish philosophizing all the time nowadays in National Geographic, Discovery, and other popular science journals, and one sees it here, too, in the pages of The Atlantic:

“The Kepler mission was named for Johannes Kepler, the 17th-century German astronomer who proposed three laws that govern the motion of planets around the sun. Kepler’s work relied on the theories of Nicolaus Copernicus, the 16th-century Polish astronomer who determined, much to the chagrin of religious leaders, that the Earth was not the center of the universe, but orbited the sun. Centuries later, the Kepler mission continued in these scientists’ footsteps in its own way. With each discovery of a planet around a distant star, the telescope seemed to scream, Here’s yet another reminder that we’re not the center of the universe, not even a little” (emphasis in original).

There is more than a little irony here in a paragraph featuring two Christians, Johannes Kepler and Nicolaus Copernicus. Kepler and Copernicus certainly did not believe that humanity was unimportant simply because we are far away from the physical centre of the universe.

[For the rest, please click HERE.]

Immortality Will Be . . . Boring?

It is astonishing, and depressing, to encounter again the blithe arrogance of certain members of my class: the highly educated pundits who assume that all right-thinking people agree with them.

In a recent article in the very interesting journal Aeon, Paul Sagar, a junior professor (“lecturer” in British terms) at the estimable King’s College, London, confesses that he finds the whole idea of immortality to be…dull. Moreover, he asserts that the infinite extension of life would invalidate the meaning we attach to each element of life.

Here’s how he makes these disconcerting claims. First, “because death is a fixed fact, everything that human beings value makes sense only in light of our time being finite, our choices being limited, and our each getting only so many goes before it’s all over.”

His main argument is the second one, however, that immortality would be dull. How interesting could life possibly be if you had to do the same thing over and over for 300 years, let alone 300 more, and 300 more, world without end?

Finally, in a kind of horrific flourish, he asks about life spent in constant, incremental decay. How horrible would that be, becoming more zombie-like every day?

C. S. Lewis famously upbraided us for our attitude toward this world and the next. Our problem, he said, is not that our desires are too extravagant, but that they are too small. And the argumentation to justify those desires apparently can be puny, too.

Let’s take the three arguments in order. First, life has value only because it ends. But is that so? Why is help someone gives to me today—with my homework, with my flat tire, with my heart attack—somehow rendered meaningless because there will be more kindnesses to follow, even many kindnesses to follow? Why is any act of loyalty, courage, forbearance, affection, admiration, thrift, or generosity rendered less meaningful by the idea that there will be many more such acts to come?

[For the rest, please click HERE.]

Are You Checking All the Ingredients?

My wife and I once enjoyed a fabulous vacation in France. It was our 25th wedding anniversary and we had saved carefully for three glorious weeks in that amazing land.

Food, of course, is one of the great pleasures of France. We quickly discovered, however, that our Ontario secondary school French was utterly unequal to the task of decoding the menus. We finally found a gastronomical French-English dictionary and made sure to bring it with us every time we dined.

Why?

Because you can like six out of the seven ingredients, but the seventh can turn out to be…snails. Or frog legs.

Well, actually, it turned out that I quite enjoyed both the snails and the frog legs I had in France. They are magicians with butter and garlic…

But the point remains: six out of seven isn’t good enough, as anyone with an allergy knows all too well.

Recently, fair spouse and I enjoyed a television program in which an older married couple, both of them highly successful professionals and loving parents, discuss their eldest daughter’s plan to get engaged rather quickly to her college sweetheart. They think well enough of the young man, but they are unnerved by how fast the relationship is moving.

They talk a bit about options, but quickly agree on the only sensible course of action: “Well, of course they should live together first.”

This counsel is simply obvious to them—despite the dismal statistics regarding the relative success of couples who live together before marriage versus those who don’t. And what’s remarkable in this case is that the screenwriters clearly expect the audience immediately to agree as well. The matter is literally beyond debate as the scene ends and the camera cuts away to something else.

There was so much to admire about this couple—but there was questionable advice being packaged along with their glamour and good sense.

[For the rest, please click HERE.]