Mythgard Movie Club: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

I’m pumped about being on this Mythgard Movie Club panel. We’re beginning with this evocative film that is rich in intertextual conversation and philosophical questions. If you can find a copy of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind–or if it is hardwired into your memory–this is a free online event that will be a lot of fun. Here’s the announcement by another panellist, Kat Sas of the Raving Sanity blog and über pop culture podcaster. Sign up here.

Do you think Clementine’s holding Neil Simon’s plays is accidental?

ravingsanity

eternal-sunshine-of-the-spotless-mindGrab the nearest copy of the collected works of Alexander Pope (or is it Pope Alexander?) and join me for the inaugural session of the Mythgard Movie Club, the brand new (and free!) program from the Mythgard Institute. I and my podcast co-host Curtis Weyant will be spearheading this new program which will meet every 6 weeks or so to discuss the films and TV shows worthy of a deep dive. We’ll be focusing primarily on speculative fiction, but that’s a very broad category and who knows where we might go!

Since we’re doing all the work to get this party going Curtis and I took the liberty of choosing the first two films. First up is my what if I were hard-pressed I would name my favorite movie of all time, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Directed by French filmmaker Michel Gondry and springing from the twisted…

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The Words C.S. Lewis Made Up: Viricidal

We all know C.S. Lewis as the Narnian, but behind the children’s work was his experience as a teacher of English literature, a writer about the history of literary movements, and a tinker in other forms of fiction. In that tinkering, and in his letters and essays, he would sometimes create new turns of phrase when it was needed. This is the seventh in the series on words that C.S. Lewis coined. 

Click here for interactive chart.

Even when Lewis’ made-up words leave a sour taste in our mouths, they still speak to our world in interesting ways. Lewis invents the word “viricidal” in a Nov 27th, 1955 letter to author Dorothy L. Sayers. It should not be confused with words for a virus-killing agent that many hoped would emerge in the wake of the Spanish Flu after WWI. The Latin root is not virus but viri, for men (as in male or husband, not people or humanity), though the older Latin sense of virus as “slime” or “sappy poison” is kind of interesting in this case.

Speaking outside of the medical world–but of a phenomenon that is no less viral–viricides would be “man-hating” or “men-murdering” people. In his letter to Sayers, Lewis actually makes the comment about his father, whom he had caricatured in his memoir, Surprised by Joy. Despite marrying a woman of equal or greater intelligence whom he adored—a woman who received a strong degree in Victorian-era Ireland–Albert Lewis often spoke down to young women. Lewis, who argued that children’s writers should face their audience man to man, not adult to child–found his father’s pedantic attitude as problematic as when adults take on a condescending tone with schoolchildren.

In Lewis’ mind, this culture of misogyny wasn’t innocent. Lewis quips to Sayers,

“It explains not only why some women grew up vapid but also why others grew up almost (if we may coin the word) viricidal.”

Lewis suspected that his father’s sexist attitude–shared by more than a few men of his age, no doubt–was not merely condescending and pedantic, but disrupted the normal patterns of social education and community for young women. The result included at least three pathways:

  1. Women who have no response to men like Papy Lewis; i.e., the “many” inferred by Lewis’ “some” victims of his father’s approach.
  2. Women who grow up “vapid,” apparently stepping out of intellectual life altogether.
  3. Women who grow up with antagonism to men.

If it is pedantic men that created a subculture of vapid women, I would like to know what has created a generation of vapid young men that sits before us, flat and uninterested and terrifyingly incurious (a generation of which I am a part). I don’t think it was condescension, so I wonder if Lewis’ experience here might be too narrow to judge what anesthetizes a generation.

But it is hard to deny, especially now in our #MeToo moment of culture, that the way we speak about women is not innocent. For every Weinsteinian monster, there is an entire system of male dominance fostered by jokes, stereotypes, and expectations in our own little circles, as well as objectification and sexism in all our popular culture. If this year’s Grammy nominations teach us anything, it is that there is a street-battle in play about how women and sex are portrayed in lyrics and videos. With important exceptions, pop music is dominated by women fusing their beauty with musical expression or men reducing women to objects of utility.

I think the recent revelations about powerful men in Hollywood (Kevin Spacey, Harvey Weinstein, and Bill Cosby) and Politics (Al Franken, Roy Moore, and President Trump) show that this is more than mere misogyny or old school attitudes: I think it demonstrates that our most powerful spaces are ruled by phallocrats who organize their spheres according to what gives them a rise. But there is no doubt to me that Lewis is right that our attitude toward girls threatens to narrow their experiences as women.

Where did this comment come from? We don’t have the letter from Sayers that prompted Lewis to coin the term “viricidal,” but it may have come from Sayers’ comment in an Aug 8th, 1955 letter that Pauline Baynes’ illustrations of Narnia were at times too effeminate for her taste. It certainly came from a lost critique Sayers gave of Surprised by Joy—historians of both Sayers and Lewis would wish this letter was extent. Her response to another piece, Lewis’ “On Science Fiction,” may partially explain the context.

Dorothy L. Sayers—a figure of importance in feminist history—seems to have left Lewis’ argument about misogyny-produced misandry without comment. She did go on to tackle the fascinating relationship of realism and fantastic invention–both in memoir writing and in fantasy writing, using Surprised by Joy and The Lord of the Rings as examples. She also bemoans in that Dec 12th, 1955 letter to Lewis that The Last Battle wouldn’t be published until March 1956, begrudging the delayed pleasure. And we must remember that this exchange began Lewis’ letter of praise to Sayers over her translation of Dante‘s Purgatorio–the last translation she would complete on her own. In the end, it seems that Sayers did manage to create a “Mutual Admiration Society” that fits its name, this time by letters and with a comparable intellect and pen-skill, namely C.S. Lewis. Careful reading of her correspondence with Lewis, though, shows that she is not afraid to critique what she sees as problematic.

In any case, this nonce word didn’t catch on. The chart above is probably capturing mostly the medical cases of viricide and virucide. The Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t include an entry on “viricidal” in the sense of man-killing or husband-killing, except as a single use of “viricide”–“For barbarous viricide condemn’d to hell”–in an improvised translation in the mid-1700s.

What is telling about why it hasn’t caught, though, is what I have left off the chart. There are definitely cases of androcide or viricide in history during times of war, but the cases of the murder of women and girls exceed all–whether in the case of missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada, or in sex-selective abortion and infanticide in China, or at just about any time in history.

And on a metaphorical level, it is evident today even with all the powerful women in our world, that women-murdering domains still rule our most powerful spaces. If I include “misogyny” on the Ngram chart above, it dwarfs all the other word occurrences so that they almost become a single line. Lewis did not have the full story, and he was probably too won over by strong, intelligent women like his mother, poet Ruth Pitter, sparring partner Elizabeth Anscombe, his wife Joy Davidman, and Dorothy Sayers herself, who had the audacity to write the essay, “Are Women Human?” But his instinct is right: the expectations that men have of girls will serve to expand or limit their potential. Even as the greatest of emerging artists, writers, teachers, managers, and scholars today are women, revelations in Washington, New York, and Hollywood should keep us aware of stories that don’t always go well.


The Words C.S. Lewis Made Up

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Feature Friday on Cyber Monday: Inklings and Theology Bundles on Christian Audio

Inklings Audiophiles and readers of classic Christian theology will love the Cyber Monday bundles at ChristianAudio.com. They have $15 three-pack of unabridged audiobooks, including:

  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy read by Rob Inglis
  • C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy read by Geoffrey Howard (= Ralph Cosham)–note that http://www.ChristianBook.com has the trilogy omnibus edition for $8.99 on Cyber Monday
  • A Reformed theology pack including Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor read by Simon Vance, and Calvin’s Institutes and an edited The Legacy of Luther, both read by Bob Souer
  • A Puritan bundle with John Owen’s Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers read by Tom Parks, Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress read by the brilliant Nadia May, and Jonathan Edwards’ The Religious Affections read by, again, Simon Vance
  •  A Classic theology bundle with Foxe’s Book of Martyrs read by Nadia May–which I have listened to–and two books read by Simon Vance: Augustine’s Confessions and G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy
  • A Devotional bundle with Bonhoeffer‘s Life Together read by Paul Michael, J.I. Packer’s Knowing God read by Simon Vance, and A.W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy, read by Scott Brick

All male authors, except a husband-wife combo in one of the other bundles, but this is to be expected by the way Christian Audio curates their materials. Still, the list of readers is impressive. Nadia May I have praised, Scott Brick has done dozens of the most important fantasy work, Simon Vance does dozens of theology books and, with Geoffrey Howard, is a critical reader of C.S. Lewis’ work, and Rob Inglis gives a classic LOTR reading.

I assume the sale ends Monday night, though they have a 50% off “Cyber Week Sale,” so take a look. All prices are American and shipping is limited outside the U.S. and Canada.

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You’re a Researcher Without a Library: What Do You Do? by @WikiLibrary

Here is a Friday Feature post for all those who find themselves without a full library at their disposal. The article “You’re a Researcher Without a Library: What Do You Do?” is what you need. You might be:

  • a distance education student;
  • a student or faculty member at a school with slim library resources;
  • a researcher on sabbatical;
  • a study abroad student needing resources;
  • someone studying English topics in a non-English university;
  • an independent researcher; or
  • a curious lover of history, literature, culture, or religion who would like to know more.

In any case, Jake Orlowitz, head of @WikiLibrary, has gathered a huge resource list of possibilities for the researcher stretching for academic sources. A lot of this you will learn after some time in the independent researcher hinterlands, but there are things I hadn’t considered or didn’t know about on this list. The list even includes things you need Harry’s invisibility cloak to find, so beware, and Happy Friday!

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UPEI Wind Symphony presents The Lord of the Rings

I’m pleased to say that my family is attending the University of Prince Edward Island’s Wind Symphony performance tonight. 7 or 8 years ago, the Wind Symphony did elements form the Howard Shore soundtrack of the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings films. This year, the show will include Johan de Meij’s Symphony No. 1 “The Lord of the Rings” from the late 1980s. Johan de Meij’s interpretation includes five movements: Gandalf, Lothlorien, Gollum, Journey in the Dark, and Hobbits, which intriguingly reorders the narrative to highlight two aspects of J.R.R Tolkien’s work: the mythic, personal, and whimsical elements of character and space in the Middle-earth legendarium. As much as I love the LOTR soundtrack, returning to pre-Peter Jackson interpretations take me back to the texts, to think about character choices, landscape, adventure, and the slimmest glimmer of hope in the Fellowship’s plan.

Here is the full announcement followed by the “Hobbits” movement, performed by the Amsterdam Wind Orchestra (which includes themes repeated from the rest of the symphony).

UPEI Wind Symphony presents The Lord of the Rings

Fri, Nov 24, 2017 7:30pm
– Park Royal United Church
$15 Adults and $10 Students

The UPEI Wind Symphony, under the direction of Dr. Karem J. Simon, will be performing a full recital of contemporary wind band music on Friday, November 24 at Park Royal United Church in Charlottetown. With performances in recent years at local Churches – St. Dunstan’s Basilica and Zion Presbyterian – the Wind Symphony is continuing a tradition of performing beyond campus. The exceptional acoustics of Park Royal will make this performance memorable, and the seating capacity will allow for all Wind Symphony supporters to attend.

The center piece of the program is Dutch composer Johan de Meij’s Symphony No. 1 “The Lord of the Rings”. It is based on the trilogy of that name by J.R.R. Tolkien. This book has fascinated many millions of readers since its publication in 1955. The symphony consists of five separate movements, each illustrating a personage or an important episode from the book. The movements include GANDALF (The Wizard); LOTHLORIEN (The Elvenwood); GOLLUM (Sméagol); JOURNEY IN THE DARK; and HOBBITS. The symphony was written in the period between March 1984 and December 1987 and has garnered many awards.

Soloist for this recital is UPEI’s sessional Saxophone Professor, Dr. Nicole Strum. A recipient of numerous Canada Council for the Arts grants and winner of the 2008 Canadian Federation of University Women Creative Arts Award, Nicole’s artistic focus is the interpretation and performance of contemporary repertoire. For her performance with the Wind Symphony, Dr. Strum will be playing Charles Rochester Young’s Concerto, a virtuosic work in three movements – fast, slow, fast – that showcases the saxophone’s technical facility, lyrical qualities, and emotional spectrum.

Vincent Persichetti’s Psalm for Band will also be featured. It is a contemplative work that utilizes the soloistic and corporate colour of the modern wind band. Persichetti, an American, was known for the highly developed contrapuntal writing of his compositions.

Comprised mostly of UPEI music majors, the Wind Symphony has been critically acclaimed for its performance standard and innovative programming. During the past nineteen years the Wind Symphony has produced an annual compact disc featuring selected repertoire from each year’s performances. Cathedrals, released in May 2010 received the 2011 Music PEI Award for Best Classical Recording. In February 2011 the Wind Symphony released its O Canada CD, a project exclusively for PEI public schools. Its most recent compact discs including Freebirds, Lincolnshire Posy, Magnolia Star, and Singularity have been highly acclaimed.

Tickets for this performance at $15 Adults and $10 Students may be acquired at the UPEI Music Department and at the admissions desk the evening of the recital.

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11/22/63: The Day that C.S. Lewis Died

11-22-63_JFK

This is a rewriting of a post from the 50th anniversary of C.S. Lewis’ death in 2013. Lewis died on the same day as American president John F. Kennedy and English public intellectual and dystopian writer, Aldous Huxley. Though Lewis died an hour before the President was assassinated, the Lewises had lived privately and the story was lost in international news. It was a Friday, With the Beatles dropped that morning and the 1st episode of Doctor Who ran that night. Lyndon B. Johnson would later be sworn in as the 36th President of the United States as condolences poured in from around the world. Meanwhile, two of Britain’s voices, including the Narnian himself, quietly slipped out of this world.


Canadians just are not as good as Americans when it comes to iconic days. Let’s be honest: Canada Day isn’t nearly as interesting as Independence Day, though we do have our quaint county fair traditions. The American Civil War is one for history books, family legend, and blockbuster TV, while 10 to 1 odds it is unlikely the reader knows much about our Battle on the Plains of Abraham. From the landing of the Mayflower to 9/11, America sets its days in the hewn stones of history, while Canada plays Youtube reruns of Heritage Minutes that are mostly cool things Canadians did without anyone knowing they were Canadian.

The moment hit home for me on Aug 31, 1997, early in the morning on the East Coast. I can pinpoint where I was when I heard that Lady Diana died. It was a Sunday and I was on my way to church where I was a ministry intern. I was driving down a side road of the little community as my new wife and I were preparing to move to the village the next day. I remember the announcers voice, and the weather, and some sense of loss.

This is all firmly in my mind even though I had no real concern about this celebrity, really. But I still sealed the memory within me in the way people sealed in Nov 22, 1963, the assassination of John F. Kennedy. My memory of Lady Di’s crash is perhaps chiefly due to my grandfather’s wry sense of humour. On the eve of Diana’s epic, international funeral, Mother Teresa quietly passed away. Most people were focussed on other things than a nun in India. My grandfather, a seldom spoken man, commented:

“It really is poor timing on her part,” he said.
“Abominable timing,” I said.
“If she’d have thought it through, she might have waited,” he said.
“A real mistake in marketing,” I said.

911-flagOn Feb 17, 2011, my grandfather died. It was a Thursday.

Though Canadians are lacking in the area of great days, I feel free to borrow UK and, especially, American iconic moments. I remember all the minutes of 9/11. It was a Tuesday. I was in rural Japan when I heard from our American landlords what had happened. My wife and I drove to the top of a mountain to get the English radio station from the American installation at the Yokota Air Base on the Kanto Plains. Then we mourned with the motley crew of ex-patriots under the weepy trees of Karuizawa. It was an international day of grieving, but it was an American day. Though we came from all parts of the world, on 9/11 we were all kind of American.

Then there was 12/22/63.

I am far too young to know the JFK moment as all middle-aged Americans do. I think I remember the death of John Lennon, also an assassination. I don’t remember any details as a five-year-old boy, except a general sense of sadness in the house. Strawberry fields forever and the like. It was a Monday.

In my own life, besides 9/11 and that week in June 1989 when things went bad in Tiananmen Square, there are dates I will never forget: April 16, 1987; Feb 4, 1990; Jul 2, 1990; Jan 3, 1994; May 9, 1997; Nov 25, 2004; Feb 1, 2008. They are mine but they are not the world’s. No children salute as the motorcade of my memory travels by.

Despite the impact of 9/11, which is shaping American culture and politics up to this very minute, the weight of American days in memory is still heaviest on Nov 22, 1963. The death of Kennedy, which keeps appearing in this blog on C.S. Lewis’ death, continues to appear in American consciousness. When he died in Dallas, the news overwhelmed all other news throughout the world.

There were many things that happened that day. A police officer died with Kennedy, didn’t he? The Beatles released their second album, the political tides were shifting in Asia, Americans died in Vietnam as children there lost their homes. Many people in the world died that day, including Aldous Huxley, the author of Brave New World and dozens of other books. This was also the day that Wilhelm Beiglböck died comfortably in his home after having made a career out of doing live human tests on Jews in concentration camps as if they were lab rats, which in his mind they were.

Most eyes were turned away. Perhaps that is best.

My grandfather quipped that Mother Teresa should have planned her death better. It doesn’t surprise me that she slipped away without much fanfare. She may not have thought she was worth the fuss anyway.

I suppose my grandfather would also have criticized C.S. Lewis for his inopportune death. If dying during the week of Lady Di’s memorial was bad, dying on America’s day of days is even worse. But that is what happened. On Nov 22, 1963, while Americans were glued to their television sets and radios, the news that C.S. Lewis died quietly in his bedroom slipped out into the world. Lewis had been recoverying from an episode in the summer when he turned quickly in November. Lewis was one week shy of his sixty-fifth birthday. when he died. It was a Friday.

Almost no one paid attention to the death of one of the most popular authors of a generation. This probably would not have fazed Lewis, though he may have found it disappointing that neither his brother Warren nor his close friend Tolkien attended his funeral. I am not sure he ever really had a true sense of his importance as an author. He knew he was popular because he responded to the fan letters that poured in for years. But the popularity never truly settled within him. According to his step-son, Douglas Gresham, Lewis told his lawyer he didn’t need a literary estate since he would be forgotten in five year’s time. With book sales in the hundreds of millions—The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is steadily moving toward 100,000,000 copies alone—I would suggest Lewis underestimated his impact.

11-22-63If Lewis was forgotten on the day he died, it is no longer the case 50 years later. Four years ago, the semicentenary of Lewis’ passing became a year of jubilee. Beiglböck is mercifully forgotten. The Beatles are as important as ever, though I still miss John Lennon and they still aren’t as big as Jesus. Brave New World is a must-read, even if Aldous Huxley himself is obscured in time. 9/11 began a century—and closed one off, I hope—though I’m not sure Tiananmen Square did either of these things. Mother Teresa is on her way to official sainthood, and Lady Di’s little boy has had little children of his own. Doctor Who has had more than 800 episodes and is on its 13th doctor.

All calendar pages turn, and in the end, all days are just days. 54 years ago, C.S. Lewis finished his last day with tea. J.F.K.’s legacy is Cuba and Vietnam, Marilyn Monroe and the Moon, and the audacious idea that it was an American’s duty to serve, not to be served. Lewis’ legacy is far more modest: Oxford and Narnia, tea stains, smoke rings, and a few good words. I wonder, though, as we pass the few decades, if Lewis’ legacy may not continue to rise, while the days of America’s visionary martyr will prove to have been too short. Perhaps JFK died too soon, or perhaps Lewis simply had more to say.

Only the Ancient of Days can know for certain. The voices of great men and almost all women have passed away, no doubt. All stone turns to sand, I suppose. But I have a feeling that C.S. Lewis’ words are engraved in our human experience. So it is on this day that I think it is worth celebrating the artistic, literary, and spiritual legacy of C.S. Lewis. It is why I have dedicated years to helping American readers see the transformative project that Lewis undertook. And a few Canadians too, I suppose.

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C.S. Lewis’ “Religion and Coventry” in the Saturday Evening Telegraph (Friday Feature)

Dominic Russell (@historytalker) recently posted a couple of pics clipped from the Coventry Evening Telegraph. This included two of C.S. Lewis’ short pieces from 1945, including “Work and Prayer” and this clever piece, “Religion and Science.” In a smoking room dialogue, Lewis challenges the naivety of those who accept a certain imaginative construct of the past and call it “science.” Sort of a “what do they teach them in these schools?” kind of moment. Here Lewis is clearing the table rather than setting it, but a nice short essay.


‘Miracles’, said my friend. ‘Oh, come. Science has knocked the bottom out of all that. We know that Nature is governed by fixed laws.’

‘Didn’t people always know that?’ said I.

‘Good Lord, no,’ said he. ‘For instance, take a Story like the Virgin Birth. We know now that such a thing couldn’t happen. We know there must be a male spermatozoon.’

‘But look here’, said I, ‘St Joseph –‘

‘Who’s he?’ asked my friend.

‘He was the husband of the Virgin Mary. If you’ll read the story in the Bible you’ll find that when he saw his fiancée was going to have a baby he decided to cry oft the marriage. Why did he do that?’

‘Wouldn’t most men?’

‘Any man would’, said I, ‘provided he knew the laws of Nature – in other words, provided he knew that a girl doesn’t ordinarily have a baby unless she’s been sleeping with a man. But according to your theory people in the old days didn’t know that Nature was
governed by fixed laws. I’m pointing out that the story shows that St Joseph knew that law just as well as you do.’

‘But he came to believe in the Virgin Birth afterwards, didn’t he?’

‘Quite. But he didn’t do so because he was under any illusion as to where babies came from in the ordinary course of Nature. He believed in the Virgin Birth as something super-natural. He knew Nature works in fixed, regular ways: but he also believed that there
existed something beyond Nature which could interfere with her workings – from outside, so to speak.’

‘But modern science has shown there’s no such thing.’

‘Really,’ said I. ‘Which of the sciences?’

‘Oh, well, that’s a matter of detail,’ said my friend. ‘I can’t give you chapter and verse from memory.’

‘But, don’t you see’, said I, ‘that science never could show anything of the sort?’

‘Why on earth not?’

‘Because science studies Nature. And the question is whether anything besides Nature exists – anything “outside”. How could youfind that out by studying simply Nature?’

‘But don’t we find out that Nature must work in an absolutely fixed way? I mean, the laws of Nature tell us not merely how things do happen, but how they must happen. No power could possibly alter them.’

‘How do you mean?’ said I.

‘Look here,’ said he. ‘Could this “something outside” that you talk about make two and two five?’

‘Well, no,’ said I.

‘All right,’ said he. ‘Well, I think the laws of Nature are really like two and two making four. The idea of their being altered is as absurd as the idea of altering the laws of arithmetic.’

‘Half a moment,’ said I. ‘Suppose you put sixpence into a drawer today, and sixpence into the same drawer tomorrow. Do the laws of arithmetic make it certain you’ll find a shilling’s worth there the day after?’

‘Of course’, said he, ‘provided no one’s been tampering with your drawer.’

‘Ah, but that’s the whole point,’ said I. ‘The laws of arithmetic can tell you what you’ll find, with absolute certainty, provided that there’s no interference. If a thief has been at the drawer of course you’ll get a different result. But the thief won’t have broken the laws
of arithmetic – only the laws of England. Now, aren’t the laws of Nature much in the same boat? Don’t they all tell you what will happen provided there’s no interference?’

‘How do you mean?’

‘Well, the laws will tell you how a billiard ball will travel on a smooth surface if you hit it in a particular way – but only provided no one interferes. If, after it’s already in motion, someone snatches up a cue and gives it a biff on one side – why, then, you won’t get
what the scientist predicted.’

‘No, of course not. He can’t allow for monkey-tricks like that.’

‘Quite, and in the same way, if there was anything outside Nature, and if it interfered – then the events which the scientist expected wouldn’t follow. That would be what we call a miracle. In one sense it wouldn’t break the laws of Nature. The laws tell you what will happen if nothing interferes. They can’t tell you whether something is going to interfere. I mean, it’s not the expert at arithmetic who can tell you how likely someone is to interfere with the pennies in my drawer; a detective would be more use. It isn’t the physicist who can tell you how likely I am to catch up a cue and spoil his experiment with the billiard ball; you’d better ask a psychologist. And it isn’t the scientist who can tell you how likely
Nature is to be interfered with from outside. You must go to the metaphysician.’

‘These are rather niggling points,’ said my friend. ‘You see, the real objection goes far deeper. The whole picture of the universe which science has given us makes it such rot to believe that the Power at the back of it all could be interested in us tiny little
creatures crawling about on an unimportant planet! It was all so obviously invented by people who believed in a flat earth with the stars only a mile or two away.’

‘When did people believe that?’

‘Why, all those old Christian chaps you’re always telling about did. I mean Boethius and Augustine and Thomas Aquinas and Dante.’

‘Sorry’, said I, ‘but this is one of the few subjects I do know something about.’

I reached out my hand to a bookshelf. ‘You see this book’, I said, ‘Ptolemy’s Almagest. You know what it is?’

‘Yes,’ said he. ‘It’s the standard astronomical handbook used all through the Middle Ages.’

‘Well, just read that,’ I said, pointing to Book I, chapter 5.

‘The earth,’ read out my friend, hesitating a bit as he translated the Latin, ‘the earth, in relation to the distance of the fixed stars, has no appreciable size and must be treated as a mathematical point!’

There was a moment’s silence.

‘Did they really know that then?’ said my friend. ‘But – but none of the histories of science – none of the modern encyclopedias – ever mention the fact.’

‘Exactly,’ said I. ‘I’ll leave you to think out the reason. It almost looks as if someone was anxious to hush it up, doesn’t it? I wonder why’

There was another short silence.

‘At any rate’, said I, ‘we can now state the problem accurately. People usually think the problem is how to reconcile what we now know about the size of the universe with our traditional ideas of religion. That turns out not to be the problem at all. The real
problem is this. The enormous size of the universe and the insignificance of the earth were known for centuries, and no one ever dreamed that they had any bearing on the religious question. Then, less than a hundred years ago, they are suddenly trotted out
as an argument against Christianity. And the people who trot them out carefully hush up the fact that they were known long ago. Don’t you think that all you atheists are strangely unsuspicious people?’

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