Archive for April, 2010

CARTOONS FROM THE REV

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

REVIEWS FROM THE REV: “A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

If you’re looking for just one book to read about what we know, when we knew it, who figured it out and how many things we have no idea about at all, then this is that book.

Bryson is an author that decided to fill in the gaps in his own knowledge of science and the natural world.  Apparently his quest led him all over the world and into direct conversations with many of those responsible for our recent (and continuing) scientific discoveries.

This is a great book.  The writing is clean, clear, direct and delightfully readable.  Bryson is wry but never snarky.  He manages the neat trick of clarifying those complex scientific ideas that are amenable to translation into popular writing while acknowledging and leaving alone those that are not (those that even scientists struggle with).  While doing this he tosses in concise biographical sketches of the important characters (and they are characters!) in humanity’s accelerating progression from faith in the fantastical to actual knowledge based on careful observation.  (How he manages to introduce so many characters while allowing them to remain distinct and not a distracting jumble is its own mystery).

There is a lovely flow to the entire book that comfortably carries the reader from one subject to the next.  The pleasure of reading is enhanced by an easy confidence in the science described, to the end that the thickness of the book communicates more a promise of continued discovery than a mark of how much reading is left to get to the end.  There are payoffs on just about every page (forgive me for saying, but it’s a great bathroom read!).

Once again, here is a book with truth in its title.  This is a brief survey of hundreds of years of very hard-won knowledge of our natural world, our own biology and the universe we float in.  Bryson is that rare gift of a writer that enters the world of the dedicated arcane specialist and brings back to us mortals the distilled essence of the scientist’s labors.

The only caveat to my glowing review is this: the book is some 7 or 8 years old, which means you will hit a couple patches where new discoveries have been made since the books publication (an inevitability when it comes to science writing in our current age of seemingly exponentially exploding discovery).  But at most this applies to only a handful of subjects among the many that Bryson tackles (and even in those, the fundamental information is valid and useful).

My buddy Don bought me this book because he loved it so much and wanted to share it with me.  What a fine gift it was — from both my friend and author Bill Bryson.  READ THIS BOOK!

t.n.s.r. bob

SERMON: “Whose Life is it Anyway?” by the not-so-reverend bob

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

One of the stories I tell myself about my life is the one about my (apparent) dedication to personal growth.  Landmarks of this story include my decision to “accept Christ” as a teenager (having no reason to disbelieve the argument for the proposition, I chose to follow that path to God and salvation).  Another is my much later decision to read the entire Bible and compare what was actually written there against the collection of doctrines and beliefs I had been taught in my years of belief.  One more was my willingness to enter into therapy in my twenties (though I had employee insurance at the time, I still had to pay a substantial deductible, which I accepted using the verse from Proverbs: “Get wisdom, though it cost you all you have!”).  Another landmark was facing, in the fall of 1987, the prospect of living in a universe without God when I found myself (unwittingly, I would argue) delivered to just such a state of doubt after a troubling summer of missionary work abroad during which I was endeavoring to get to the true (and defensible) center of my Christianity.  After that there was the therapist who I allowed to water in me a nascent sprout of belief in my own worthiness, which was later built upon by the psychic that told me outright that “There is nothing wrong with you!”.  Most recently, there was the halting courtship of the full ramifications of being a living organism in a purely and completely natural and mechanistic world.

When I look back, I have been able (from time to time) to pause, take stock and give myself credit for consistently making the choice to explore, to step into the dark unknown in the vague hope or belief that I would come out the other side better for it and more grounded in reality than irrationality.  At the same time I could not honestly tell you that my progress and growth over the years has been animated purely by a fearless devotion to truth.  Most of it, I would confess, could as easily have been driven by my own unhappiness, discomfort and discontent.  To the end that I could not quantify how much of my personal growth could be described as a by-product of a basic pain response and how much as the result of a nobler endeavor.

Even now (as I learn more about the current understandings of the human animal that science has brought us) I realize that a good deal of my increasing comfort with myself and my capacity to access my talents and feelings (from a fairly stable state of emotional equilibrium) could also be (with some validity) described as a by-product of my aging and maturing brain.

In short, I will never know how much of my current mental health is the product of natural processes and how much is the result of my own dedicated (if uncomfortably urged-on) efforts.

The human brain, it turns out, takes about 25 years to reach its mature state (in biological terms).  By age 40 parts of it are starting to decay, forming “holes” in the gray matter.  But as this happens new tendrils — new synapses — form that connect the two hemispheres of the brain to compensate for “holes” and in the process foster an increasingly “full brain” approach to whatever we are putting our mind to.  The “aging mind” gains an ability to synthesize.  With age comes wisdom, they say.

So maybe I would have “settled down” without all the effort and the therapy and the psychic sessions: all the reading and the talking and the praying and the writing may have been just things to keep me busy while my brain followed its own path to maturity and calmness.  Who can say?

Of course it’s reasonable to think that my activities (and choices) during those years had some effect on my maturation and development as an individual.  I did, after all, take a bunch of raw talents (that came with the equipment, as it were) and trained them into usable skills and professional abilities (as long as I was going to be unhappy — I seem to have reasoned — I might as well be productive, and now that I’m happy, I’m made happier still by the skills I picked up along the way!).  (NOTE: The paragraph you have just read is an excellent example of an excerpt of my own internal “story of my life”!)

Now as I read about just how much LIFE is driven by DNA and its need to reproduce, my human efforts (as applied to my personal growth above) are once again placed in relief against much larger (or, in this case, smaller) forces over which I have little say.  The question expands until I am thrown upon even larger questions of the kind that I thought I had left behind when I ceased to be a Christian believer.

As a Christian one of the great (and endless) debates is the role of an individual’s “free will”.  There are those of the predestination mind that say that God has chosen each of those whom he will, and has fore-ordained the days of their life.  Others see a world where God allows each individual complete freedom of choice as to whether to believe in God or not (with the minor caveat, as HItchen’s notes, that the wrong choice will result in eternal banishment and torment in Hell).  Christians (and other religious believers no less so) also struggle with whether their choices and actions are being unduly influenced by demons (or the Devil himself), their own sinful natures or even urgings from God, his angels or the Holy Spirit.

I wondered today (as I considered all of this) if all of my learning and personal growth and efforts to abandon irrational religious belief had only served to lead me — via the ironic path of Darwinian evolution and science — right back into the lap of God.  Or, at least, back to the same questions that believers attempt to understand.

There is an unsettling similarity to the questions:  On the one hand, if God knows every word I’m going to say before I say it, am I really making a choice at all (have you ever done that trick where you suddenly say the opposite thing to test if you can outwit God’s script)?; On the other hand, if I really am merely a by-product of my DNA’s drive to reproduce, do even my much-vaunted human mind and its accompanying “free will” add up to anything that can (in any meaningful way) transcend the biological imperatives at the root of my very existence?  Or — to put it another way — “Can I outsmart my DNA?”

Of course this serves to remind one that religion grew out of our first attempts to answer the deeper existential questions that are the inescapable inheritance of every living consciousness.  In that sense I wonder if there isn’t some inchoate understanding of our biological place in the world that pushed these questions to the surface of our forebearers minds.  The reality is that we haven’t yet answered them.  The hope is that we eventually will.  The concern is that we may not be able to…ever.

Just as the early theory Continental Drift hinted at a geological reality but proved to be an insufficient tool for describing the actual geological processes of Plate Tectonics, so the notion of God and our relationship to an all-powerful deity hints at the larger existential questions that science has now allowed us to put into words.

One thing is obvious: our highly evolved animal-level survival minds are embarrassingly limited when faced with the need to comprehend the scale of our universe, or the complexity of the organism made of ever-smaller organisms that is our living body.  One can almost come to feel that we (like a computer or robot in a science-fiction movie) are a biological experiment conducted by our own mindless DNA that has achieved self-awareness.

The reality, of course, is that life goes on whatever we might decide is the case.  The sun will still rise in the morning, and so will we.  Our minds will revert to doing what they are good at: keeping us alive along whatever lines we tend to find most agreeable in the environment where we find ourselves.  In the case of most of us that includes acting as the keepers of the story of our own lives.  This, too, is a natural part of our consciousness.  It indicates a need for meaning and for understanding.  Stories about ourselves — narratives — are like photo albums that help us organize our experiences and make sense out of them.  They are a means to the necessary sense of meaning that is so natural a part of our make up.

So why bother to try to understand, to grow, to learn?  Understanding how an atom works is not essential to a well-lived life, really.  In my case one reason I push for science to be more fully accepted and appreciated is that it helps to shake the foundations of older (and more unnecessarily repressive) religious belief systems.

Religion does not offer the answers that science cannot provide: Religion imagines answers where there are no answers — describing worlds it has never seen with its own eyes.  Just because the ancient questions are the ones we still ask does not mean that the ancient imagined answers to those questions are therefore worthy of resurrection.  Doctors once described the body as made up of various “bodily humors” that could cause madness, moodiness and disease.  I suppose one could argue that there turned out be actual genes and diseases and bacteria and chemical imbalances and a million other discovered elements of the physical world that were behind the idea of “bodily humors”, and therefore those early physicians were right after all.  But today we know about genes and bacteria and viruses, and the term “humors” is out of date (not to mention so fraught with medieval magic and superstition that the term is far too antique and imprecise to be of much use in modern times).  In like manner, I would argue, is religion no longer useful as a descriptive tool of either human consciousness or the natural world.

It may be that we are the playthings of the Gods, but it may be that we have looked to Heaven for the powers that rule us when they have lived quietly inside our cells all of this time.

But then, maybe my DNA knew I was going to say that.  Damn!

t.n.s.r. bob

CARTOONS FROM THE REV

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

Hawk

REVUES FROM THE REV: “The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution” by Richard Dawkins

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

dawkinsFrom the Preface:  “The evidence for  evolution grows by the day, and has never been stronger.  At the same time, paradoxically, ill-informed opposition is also stronger than I can remember.  This book is my personal summary of the evidence that the “theory” of evolution is actually a fact — as incontrovertible a fact as any in science.”

Reading Dawkins is fun.  For one thing he is actually a very adept popularizer of science.  For another, he makes no attempt to conceal his own enthusiasm about his subject when he is fast upon it, and neither is he able to disguise his bewilderment at the persistence of what he calls the “history deniers”.  It is in the latter mode that he imagines a teacher of Latin confronted by a vociferous protest from a student who insists that the Romans never existed, and that all the evidence for this culture is a fabrication.  This, Dawkins explains, is the challenge current teachers of science face from religious students (Christian and Islamic) who insist that the Biblical account of Creation be treated as a valid competing “scientific theory”.

But what, exactly, is a theory?  The definition that applies here is that quoted by Dawkins from the Oxford English Dictionary (emphasis mine):  “A scheme or system of ideas or statements held as an explanation or account of a group of facts or phenomena; a hypothesis that has been confirmed or established by observation or experiment, and is propounded or accepted as accounting for the known facts; a statement of what are held to be the general laws, principles, or causes of something known or observed.”

In short, it is only ignorance and “history denial” that allow anyone to consider “young earth creationism” to be anything approaching a scientific theory.

I’ve personally come to rather cherish the ubiquitous barbs that Dawkin’s critics inevitably throw at him, which boil down to either “Why is he so angry” or a description of his tone as “arrogant”.  From the standpoint of the imagined Latin professor enduring repeated interruptions of “But there’s no real proof the Romans ever existed!”, isn’t a bit of frustration — even exasperation — not understandable?

This book is as Dawkins describes it in his introduction:  it is his own deeply personal (and deeply factual) defense of the scientific theory of evolution.

This book is rich with detail and truly enlightening descriptions of all of the major underpinnings of evolution.  And it is a brand new book and, hence, about as current as a book can be in a realm of constant discovery (I’m now reading a book from about 7 years ago on a very similar subject in which I occasionally run into a passage that has already been rendered out-of-date by subsequent discoveries).

Dawkins does sometimes feel like he’s rhetorically reaching for a certainty more than scientific,  but I can forgive that.  For Dawkins is foremost a scientist and then a storyteller, and the storyteller in him will always follow the scientist.

I’ll close with a couple of extended quotes where Dawkins addresses the twin notions of the “futility” of life, and the claim that Darwin’s theory somehow diminishes the value of human life:

“Futility?  What nonsense.  Sentimental, human nonsense.  Natural selection is all futile.  It is all about the survival of self-replicating instructions for self-replication.  If a variant of DNA survives through an anaconda swallowing me whole, or a variant of RNA survives by making me sneeze, then that is all we need by way of explanation.  Viruses and tigers are both built by coded instructions whose ultimate message is, like a computer virus, ‘Duplicate me.’  In the case of a cold virus, the instruction is executed rather directly.  A tiger’s DNA is also a ‘duplicate me’ program, but it contains as almost fantastically large digression as an essential part of the efficient execution of its fundamental message.  That digression is a tiger, complete with fangs, claws, running muscles, stalking and pouncing instincts.  The tiger’s DNA says, ‘Duplicate me by the round-about route of building a tiger first’.  At the same time, antelope DNA says, ‘Duplicate me by the round-about route of building an antelope first, complete with long legs and fast muscles, complete with timorous instincts and finely honed sense organs tuned to the danger from tigers.'”

“On his (Darwin’s) world-view, everything about the human mind, all our emotions and spiritual pretensions, all arts and mathematics, philosophy and music, all feats of intellect and of spirit, are themselves productions of the same process that delivered the higher animals.  It is not just that without evolved brains spirituality and music would be impossible.  More pointedly, brains were naturally selected to increase in capacity and power for utilitarian reasons, until those higher faculties of intellect and spirit emerged as a by-product, and blossomed in the cultural environment provided by group living and language.  The Darwinian world-view does not denigrate the higher human faculties, does not ‘reduce’ them to a plane of indignity.  It doesn’t even claim to explain them at the sort of level that will seem particularly satisfying, in the way that, say, the Darwinian explanation of a snake-mimicking caterpillar is satisfying.  It does, however, claim to have wiped out the impenetrable — not even worth trying to penetrate — mystery that must have dogged all pre-Darwinian efforts to understand life.”

t.n.s.r. bob

SERMON: “Like I’m Standin’ Still” by the not-so-reverend bob

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

I don’t feel like I’m moving at 880 miles per hour.  Or, to be more precise, I don’t feel like I’m standing on the surface of a spheroidal object that is rotating at that speed.  But neither do I have any kinesthetic sense that I’m doing just that while circling around the sun at 66,000 miles per hour (and there’s not a ruffle in my hair from being dragged around the universe at 483,000 miles per hour by that same sun!).  I mean, it is breezy today (it’s Spring in southern New Mexico, after all — the windy season), but even the windiest days bring gusts nowhere near 483,000 miles per hour (I’d notice THAT).  In short, all of that motion might as well not be happening at all as far as my daily experience of life is concerned.

That’s a silly notion, of course, as all of those un-felt motions have EVERYTHING to do with  the fact that I have an existence to ponder at all.  If any of those barely conceivable motions were not as they are, earth would be a very different place (or perhaps not a place at all).  If we were just a small percentage closer to the sun, the water that makes life possible would be boiled off the planet (and we’d all be human raisins) — a bit further away and we’d be really big popsicles.  (To go further, without the earth’s magnetism, our DNA would be shredded by cosmic rays, and without our atmosphere solar winds would sweep us from the planet).

This morning I took a moment to tug at the skin between my thumb and index finger to see if it felt like a collection of atoms held together by attraction, or a jumble of cells, of proteins, of amino acids.  But it looked and felt like skin, like a solid yet flexible thing.  I clapped my hands, trying to sense the space between the surfaces of my two opposing hands — seeing if I could feel the fact that they aren’t really in contact, but kept apart by the thinnest band of an electrical field.  I rubbed them together, and felt the quickly-building friction, and made a stab at perceiving the friction as excited atoms in near proximity and not really “skin” meeting “skin”.

It was an interesting exercise with no practical effect.  I have no difficulty believing the science about how the earth spins, hurtles and races around the cosmos, or the equally unexpected ways in which a vast collection of mindless atoms make up my own living human body and mind.  But looking for a tactile sense of either the outer or the inner universe is appears destined to be little more than an intellectual exercise.  (Just because we’re the first life forms on this planet to evolve the capacity to scientifically examine our own world and biology doesn’t guarantee that we’ll be able to emotionally grasp the mind-blowing truths we will discover).

Take another perspective: we all learned in school that we are mostly water (sea water, in fact — another hint of our beginnings), but did you know that we are also mostly bacteria?  In a very real sense we live in a world ruled by bacteria, in which we are a sort of Club Med resort for the gazillions of individual bugs that make us able to absorb oxygen or break down foods and utilize their nutrients (bacteria are what make what are really just chemical compounds and elements INTO nutrients in the first place).  As E. O. Wilson puts it, our bodies could most accurately be described as an ecosystem for bacteria!

Of course, the more we understand of biology and evolution, the more this wild picture makes sense.  The bacteria came first in the tree of life, and in the wild profusion and unyielding impulse toward life all manner of critters evolved as, well, by-products of all of that biochemical activity.  The fact that you and I have evolved brains and consciousness are a great boon to us, but of no more consequence to our driven-to-duplicate bacteria than a means to their continued existence.  To push it to a more colloquial extreme: we’re bacterias bitches.

Well thank you, bacteria, I say.  We’re all in this together.  I would like to think that my (personal) bacteria appreciate the care I take to be happy and healthy, though I don’t expect any thank-you notes.

The plain truth of evolution, geology, astronomy, biology and cosmology is this:  the odds against life of the kind that you and I enjoy are so greatly stacked against us that they can fairly be described as “impossible”.  But of course, we know that isn’t true, because we do exist (so reproducing life had to happen at least once!).  And the more we learn about biology, the more inevitable the varied and abundant life we see around us appears once those little bacteria got going!

And so here I sit, a teeming hothouse of microscopic bugs, a constellation of agitated atoms, being spun and whipped around an incomprehensible universe, sipping a cup of coffee and writing this sermon.  You’d think I’d be far more distracted by all that activity than I am.  But as far as my senses go, it’s a warm Spring day, and all is right with the world.

t.n.s.r. bob

QUICKIES: POLITICAL OPINION FROM THE REV: “Squeezed to the Left”

Friday, April 16th, 2010

(NOTE: This piece ran on the Opinion page of the Las Cruces Sun News on Monday, April 12, 2010, and led to the invitation from the president of the local TEA Party to attend their “Tax Day” rally at Young Park — SEE THE FOLLOWING POST FOR THE VIDEO REPORT)

“A man sometimes starts up a patriot, only by disseminating discontent, and propagating reports of secret influence, of dangerous counsels, of violated rights, and encroaching usurpation. This practice is no certain note of patriotism. To instigate the populace with rage beyond the provocation, is to suspend publick happiness, if not to destroy it. He is no lover of his country, that unnecessarily disturbs its peace. Few errours and few faults of government, can justify an appeal to the rabble; who ought not to judge of what they cannot understand, and whose opinions are not propagated by reason, but caught by contagion.” — Samuel Johnson.

As a youth I learned the story of General Israel Putnam.  Standing atop Bunker Hill he looked down upon the approaching Redcoats and shouted: “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes!”  Apocryphal or true, this tale is deeply embedded in our collective American memory.  Much lesser known is the tale I ran across of the same General happening upon a gang of “patriots” about to tar and feather a “loyalist”. General Putnam ordered the crowd to desist.

Putnam’s granddaughter of several generations (my mother) is a registered Republican (and the daughter of an Illinois industrialist who despised Roosevelt).  My father grew up in the coal and steel country of western Pennsylvania during the depression.  A veteran of World War 2, he was a registered Democrat and held a more “liberal” view of life than my mother (whom I heard on more than one election day say: “Your father and I cancelled each other out”).  When I registered to vote (at 18), I marked “Democratic Party” only because the first admirable politician I could bring to mind (I was pretty sure) had been a Democrat.

Over the years, though, I voted for more than a few Republicans and Independents, always endeavoring to vote for the best-qualified person.  I thought of myself as a “moderate”.

But of late I’d been increasingly under the impression that I’d become more of a “Progressive” and had moved a fair bit to the “left”.  That is until I took an online survey conducted by five professors who study morality and ethics (http://www.yourmorals.org/).  Looking at how my views compared to other “liberals” (as well as to self-identifying “conservatives”) in a series of bar graphs, I was surprised to discover that I’m not a wild liberal after all: I’m a moderate!

So how did a (apparently) moderate centrist become convinced he was a Liberal?

Here’s how: The vocal far right (along with the T.E.A. Party and a large swath of American Evangelicals) have staked their unequivocal claim as sole representative of the true heart of America (their morals are “traditional”, their claims historic and their guidance divine): all contrary conceptions of America are conflated into a band so narrow as to allow no discernible distinction between a “liberal”, a “socialist”, a “progressive” or (most incredibly) a “nazi”.  There is no such thing as the “middle” many of us once occupied: they have declared (and, I think, sincerely believe) that they are IT.  They don’t think that they are on the fringes of anything, so sure are they of the rightness of their views.

Another ancestor of mine was an officer in the New Jersey Militia. One night a crowd of “patriots” burned his barn, slaughtered his cows and went after him.  He barely escaped while his wife and five children fled to Philadelphia.  Seething, he offered his services to the British Army (if he wasn’t a loyalist before, he certainly was now).  By the time the war was over, his wife and four of his children were dead.

The “minute men” and “tea party patriots” are enshrined in our National mythology.  Large numbers of the currently discontented among us identify themselves with these “citizen-soldiers” of our history with a depth of emotion that is perhaps not as irrational as I once believed: for among their ranks may indeed be the spiritual descendants of the angry mobs that torched first and asked questions later.

It was their own neighbors that the original “patriots” attacked, burned out and tarred.  Reason and restraint never have been traits associated with angry crowds and as the current assemblies increase in size and vitriolic output, the opportunity for excess and violence (from those at their fringe) grows.

What I see coming is a return to the days of Timothy McVeigh and his kind, when the darker side of our national character acted out the logical end of the ideology that the current T.E.A. Party is expressing, and blew up hundreds of fellow American men, women and children.

In the rush to pounce like claim-jumpers upon our shared historic monikers such as “militia”, “Tea Party” and “Patriot”, our social and political discourse is reduced to a playground game where the quickest to speak gets to choose sides: “We’ll be the real Americans, and you be the Redcoats”.  Well, I’m not a Redcoat, thank you very much.  I’m as American as they come.  And no self-titled “patriot’s” got the right to attack my country in the name of any patriotism that deserves to use that title.  Because violence against ones political opponents is not patriotism, it’s just the terror of a gang.  For yes, my friends, one can be both an American and a terrorist.  And one can be a liberal and an American.  The only thing one can’t be today, it seems, is an American moderate.

The REV is invited to a TEA Party rally (VIDEO)

Friday, April 16th, 2010

TEA Party Bob

The not-so-reverend bob visits the TEA Party Protest on "Tax Day".

The not-so-reverend bob visits the TEA Party Protest on "Tax Day".

CARTOONS FROM THE REV

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

Stocks

REVUES FROM THE REV: “Creation: The true story of Charles Darwin”

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

CREATIONI want to take a moment to recommend a film (instead of a book this week).

I had read in reviews that “Creation” didn’t deal all that much with the actual theory of Darwinian Evolution, and was prepared for a bit of a Hollywood sort of disappointment (the kind that occurs when a beloved subject is over-dramatized and under-analyzed).  In fact I had been asked to be on a discussion panel following the film to talk about the movie and the evolution/creationism “debate”.  But no young-earth creationist could be found willing to take part, so the panel was canceled.  After watching the film, however, I was relieved that I didn’t have to take the stage for a debate over science that would have broken the lovely mood of this quite fine movie.

For “Creation” is a love story first, and it is the possible threat to the bond between Charles Darwin and his wife Emma that the unavoidable truths of Darwin’s theories represent which is the source of untold internal turmoil for Darwin through most of the film.  It plays out as a sort of psychological thriller in the sense that it does not seem at all certain that things will turn out well for anybody in this story.  Of course we know that Darwin was, eventually “forced” to publish (and there is honest debate over the degree to which his famous delay in publishing was rooted more in Darwin’s desire to have sufficient research to back up his theory, or his awareness of the impact his theories would have on his own wife’s devout Christian beliefs, or equally in both).

The film focuses on a marriage brought into crisis more by the death of a beloved daughter, and in this sense it is a drama we recognize.  The addition of Darwin’s own personal “demons” muddies the waters for the scientist, as the external pressures build on him to “publish” his revolutionary theories.  (The story is told — to a high degree — in flashbacks that are not the easiest to navigate, though I will allow that the soft confusion of this is intentionally set to bring us into the troubled mind of Darwin.  He is also in regular conversation with his beloved dead daughter, Annie, who is the voice of his floundering intellectual integrity).

I felt there was a proper degree of attention paid to those theories in overt and creatively illustrative ways (there is a wonderful passage of a most common food chain in action involving a rodent, a rotting animal skull, teeming maggots and a chirping bird).  But most beautifully (and subtly) communicated is the tension between the traditional beliefs of a society (community — family) and the social cost of discovering that there are scientific truths that shake those traditional beliefs to their very roots.  The film also astutely shows Darwin as a man of his times, taking “water cures”, and dealing with the very unscientific medical establishment of his day (for we were still years away from medicine truly moving into the realm of science — “bleeding”, for instance, was still considered a sound medical treatment).

I think the move could have been shortened a bit, but maybe that would have resulted in a bit more “Hollywood” heightening of drama.  I found the film deeply moving, and the casting of the Darwin family perfect — as if they stepped out of a series of daguerreotypes.  I recommend this film.

(For you locals — “Creation” is showing at the Fountain Theater in Mesilla through Thursday, April 15th).

t.n.s.r. bob