…we have to build the Republic of Heaven where we are,
because for us there is no elsewhere.
– from Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass
(Update: The original clip I linked to has been withdrawn due to a copyright claim, and the full debate now hides behind a paywall; apparently the generous Christians at Prestonwood are now charging for Hitchens’ atheist view. Perhaps they’re not feeling so magnanimous now that the consensus is that their side was trounced? For the moment, other versions still exist on YouTube, including this one. I’ve transcribed it below, although it’s worth clicking through to hear Hitchens’ always-impressive delivery.)
Here are Christopher Hitchens’ closing remarks in a debate with William Dembski on the question “Does a Good God Exist?”: Continue reading
from “Mt. Lemmon, Steward Observatory, 1990″
by Alison Hawthorne Deming
What it takes to dazzle us, masters of dazzle,
all of us here together at the top of the world,
is a night without neon or mercury lamps.
Black sheen flowing above,
the stars, unnamed and disorderly –
diamonds, a ruby or sapphire,
scattered and made
more precious for being cut
from whatever strand
once held them together.
The universe is emptiness and dust,
occasional collisions, collapsing zones of gas,
electrical outbursts, and us.
Here is the 60-inch scope where
we struggle to see one pinpoint of light,
each singularity with its timid twinkle
become a city of stars, that trapezoidal
grouping at the end of Orion’s sword,
a cloudy nursery spawning
galactic stuff, lit but not illuminated
by a glassy hot blue star. What is it to see?
A mechanism wired in the brain
that leads to wonder. What is it
to wonder but to say
what we’ve seen and, having said it,
need to see farther.
Daniel Radcliffe sings Tom Lehrer’s “The Elements”:
And for those who, like his audience, don’t remember the original (gasp!), a refresher:
I love it. Via the New York Times:
It has taken four highly qualified engineers and a bunch of integral equations to figure it out, but we now know how cats drink. The answer is: very elegantly, and not at all the way you might suppose.
The best part? To test their findings, the engineers used a robotic “tongue” that precisely imitated the cat’s lapping action. The machine’s provenance:
The project required no financing. The robot that mimicked the cat’s tongue was built for an experiment on the International Space Station, and the engineers simply borrowed it from a neighboring lab.
Yes! Thank you, ISS. This is exactly why we need to continue to fund space technology. Sure, I’d prefer — as Richard Dawkins does — that astrophysical research be funded more out of the “awe and wonder” motive than the “non-stick frying pan” side benefits. But I have to admit: learning how kitties drink is an awesome benefit indeed.
In all seriousness, this is in fact exactly why we need to support science research of all kinds — because you never know when a finding in one field might have some crucial application in another. Strategies or technologies in one discipline may help solve a puzzle for which they were never intended: today, how cats lap; tomorrow — who knows? — perhaps the cure for cancer.
I’d always admired the British Humanist Association’s recent PR campaign — which famously put ads on buses that read “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life” — and wondered if anything like that could ever take off here in the U.S.
The American Humanist Association steps up to the plate:
Brilliant. Short, pithy messages contrasting fundamentalist positions with humanist thought, just to get people started thinking. Obviously much more could be said and written to elaborate on the different shadings of humanism and religion, but these ads can effectively serve as starting points for conversation, which is the important thing. At a time when fundamentalism is on the rise (or at least wielding a very loud and politically influential voice), I think it’s crucial to remind moderate Americans, of all faiths and of no faith, that they have a lot in common with humanist philosophy — and that those who are bound to their Iron Age rulebooks don’t have the final word on morality. Continue reading
Tony Judt muses on the twilight of the great cities, and on what makes New York a “world city”*:
We are experiencing the decline of the American age. But how does national or imperial decay influence the lifecycle of a world city? Modern-day Berlin is a cultural metropolis on the make, despite being the capital of a medium-sized and rather self-absorbed nation. Meanwhile, Paris retained its allure for nearly two centuries after the onset of French national decline.
New York — a city more at home in the world than in its home country — may do better still. As a European, I feel more myself in New York than in the European Union’s semi-detached British satellite, and I have Brazilian and Arab friends here who share the sentiment.
To be sure, we all have our complaints. And while there is no other city where I could imagine living, there are many places that, for different purposes, I would rather be. But this too is a very New York sentiment. Chance made me an American, but I chose to be a New Yorker. I probably always was.
*One puzzling sentence: “And yet, New York remains a world city. It is not the great American city — that will always be Chicago.” How does he define “Americanness,” I wonder? Is there some intangible American essence that Chicago possesses and New York lacks? Inquiring minds want to know.