February 21, 2009

Skeptics and I.D.

The more I study nature, the more I stand amazed at the work of the Creator.
-Louis Pasteur

Friday, December 1, 2006, eight o'clock in the evening.

Thirteen-year-old, Kelen Degnan, has just finished playing "Julie-O," a cello solo piece composed by Mark Summer. The crowd gives him a standing ovation. His bow never once faltered while crossing the strings. Nor did his brow ever furrow, or his forehead and hands dampen. He played so purely, so perfectly, it was as though he was not seated center stage, with young adults seven or more years older than him behind him and hundreds of people before him. No, his body was present, but his soul was in another world entirely. His heart might have been racing, but his expressions and features remained calm. I'm jealous.
Soon, I will stand before the very same audience with five of my musical colleagues and a very reduced orchestra to play J. S. Bach's "Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F Major." My reed isn't working well. Moments before walking on stage, I bumped it into my teeth, and now the tip is mushed. Damn this vexatious, asinine instrument. 
The reed no longer has a clear, sweet sound. It is a hard, airy, difficult sound. My director glances my way to cue me in for my solo. I try, but the reed is simply not cooperating. As I attempt to push my breath through the already too-small gap between the reeds, my face changes to the color of a fire truck. I'm sweating bullets. I'm sure every audience member notices and is embarrassed for me. My fingers forget the keys, forget the music entirely.
At only nineteen years old, I feel the weight of my entire musical career resting on this performance. My soul is not calm. I cannot find the silence, the quiet. Kelen Degnan had more stage presence, more musical dignity at his age, than I, a sophomore in college, have at this moment.

To present Intelligent Design is to stunt student's intellectual growth.
- Ben Stein's movie, "Expelled"

Thursday, January 8, 2009, half past six o'clock in the evening.

Professor announces the assigned seating chart. He explains that we must sit in "our" seat otherwise we will be counted absent. He never bothers to call role, so he can begin to place names with faces. This is an anti-utilitarian exercise -- it wastes time and is completely useless. According to Professor, the Sciences function much differently than any other school of thought on campus. There are assigned, short readings for each class period. 
"But, no one can really understand scientific literature by merely reading it." 
Meaning, class attendance is mandatory. We are required to get our tri-weekly dose of human history, beginning hundreds of thousands of years ago. My classmates and I seem to quietly assent to his indoctrination process. All we want is to fulfill the Natural Science requirement, so we can leave the institution labeled as "liberally educated." 
Our first lecture begins. Professor explains the elegance and simplicity in DNA, whether it be human, plant, animal or bacteria. The organization of every cell is absolutely exquisite. Every living thing contains the same coding mechanisms (genes) for the same proteins. When broken down to the very essential parts, every life form on Earth is the same. So what is so very special about us? 
Nothing, is the answer that resounds through my ears.  

In the deserts of the heart,
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days,
Teach the free man how to praise.
-W. H. Auden

Tuesday, August 26, 2008, quarter til noon in the morning.

I embarked on the greatest academic adventure this morning -- partly out of necessity, partly out of ignorant interest. At times, Twentieth Century Poetry seemed to suck the life out of my heart. At other times, a newfound vigor and excitement came over me. 
The arts, whether music, poetry, photography, fiction, or painting, have an incredible ability to reach into the human soul, and make one beg for mercy. There is a mixed sense of awe and horror when another person creates a piece of art. It captivates me because I did not create it. I slow down and pay attention to the very minor details. 
From every artist that I admire, I have learned something about human nature. I have a greater respect for every person. I stand in awe.

I think God is about as unlikely as fairies, goblins, etc.
-Richard Dawkins

February 19, 2009, seven o'clock in the evening.

"The Bible is a good story, a good allegory... but taken literally... it is... absolutely false." Professor uttered these words in a stumbling, stuttering manner, as though he was afraid of the dire, eternal consequences he might incur upon his soul, should he happen to have cast his lot on the wrong side. He paused, waiting for one brave, fundamentalist child to speak. Surprised by our silence, he wrongly assumes he is surrounded by comrades, and speaks candidly to us, as a group of colleagues. He moves through his lecture on Homo erectus, Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, and Homo sapiens, showing us the evolution in skull sizes, nose shapes and cheekbones.
He reminds us that our very earliest ancestors, about forty thousand years ago, were not only carnivores, but cannibals. We killed off (and ate) the Neanderthal, apparently. Survival of the fittest, I guess.

There is a notion adrift everywhere that imagination, especially mystical imagination, is dangerous to man's mental balance... Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason.
- G. K. Chesterton

Friday, February 20, 2009, half past seven o'clock in the evening.

Cellist, David Machavariani, adjunct professor at the institution, begins his hour and a half long concert with Richard Strauss' "Sonata in F Major Op. 6 for Cello and Piano." Under his direction, the cello produces the sweetest sound known to human ears. It is a child singing to its mother, or a lovesick young man serenading his love's midnight dark window from the candle-lit street. The long, lyrical lines of Strauss' masterpiece come alive under Professor Machavariani's graceful touch.
I am seated near the very back of the small recital hall with two squirming girls on either side. But, my soul is at rest. I sail along the very top of the tenor line, keeping pace and time with the heart-wrenching melody. There is an organization in the musical material, although not immediately apparent in its presentation. It is elegant, graceful and subtle. By our very nature, we are drawn towards organization, like Newton's theory of gravity. It is an intricate, innate and, dare I say, natural part of the the systems of our bodies.
As I drift between this world and a completely separate one, I wonder how the need for the arts developed. How did music begin? Although I no longer play, I still remember the urge, the need for it. It was insatiable. 
I will go back to it one day. It's inevitable. I was created to play music, to play the oboe, as frustrating and tedious an instrument as it is. It is in my nature.

Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows.
-Richard Dawkins

There is no joy in science like there is in the arts. There is only the cold, hard evidence of the laboratory, natural selection and survival of the fittest. The Almighty Scientific Standard does not value the individual over the goal, but the goal over the individual.

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