Tuesday, June 06, 2006

I Would Have Made a Terrible Caveman

Tonight after work I attended an interesting seminar on the theological implications of evolutionary biology; specifically, are science and religion doomed to an eternity of opposition? (The best answer I can give you is, "No, not if you're Episcopalian.") The panel members were biology professors from Harvard, Columbia and Georgetown universities. Lots of interesting things were said, but what struck me the most was an amazing analogy from Professor John Haught of Georgetown.

Imagine, if you will, that the definitive history of the universe, from the instant of the Big Bang until the present moment, has just been published in a 30 volume edition. Each volume contains 450 pages, and each page covers a period of one million years. The first signs of life on Earth would not appear until somewhere in the 21st volume; the dinosaurs would be covered from pages 220-385 in Volume 30, and the complete history of modern man (homo sapiens) would have to be contained entirely within the last paragraph on the final page.


I came home to my apartment to discover a character introduced in the books on page 100 of Volume 30, the cockroach. (Yes, cockroaches showed up more than 100 million years before the dinosaurs, and they're still here. Fuckers.) Not one of the common German cockroaches, but one of the big biatches, aka "water bugs" or "palmetto bugs." I never had a single one of these things in the 10 years I've lived in this apartment until my new neighbor moved in next door. Arrrrrgggh.

I picked up a shoe...and I swear, the thing turned and charged me. It ran straight at me! I wish I could say I stood my ground and squashed it into to the hereafter; but no, I squawked in terror and let the thing chase me into the bedroom. So much for "he's more scared of you than you are of him."

It took refuge between a little garbage pail and the bedroom stereo. I dragged out my old friend the Hoover and prepared to hose him up. Then he did it again! He ran straight for me, and then hid under my bed as I leapt out of the way.

I have a dust ruffle. In my previous apartment, a roach-ridden studio on Broadway that occasionally had running water, I had once lifted up my dust ruffle to retrieve something from under the bed and right there on the underside next to my finger was one of these big roaches. Another time I was asleep in bed and I felt something tickling my leg. I shifted position, but felt it again. I threw back the covers to discover...one of the big roaches crawling up my leg.

So, with those memories in mind, I was not particularly thrilled that I had another giant cockroach under the bed. Clearly, I would not be able to lie down until one of us was dead, and I didn't plan on it being me.

Lifting up the dust ruffle was out, obviously. I picked up a shoe in one hand, and with the other gave the bed a strong push across the room. (Hurray for big, spacious bedrooms, hardwood floors and beds on casters.) And then...well, like you couldn't have predicted this, it charged me, I shrieked, I dropped the shoe, and it ran and hid behind the stereo again.

I began to think about what Professor Mark Kirschner of Harvard had said about the three pillars of evolution, one of which is "survival of the fittest." I was being chased around my apartment by a toothless, clawless, stingless, non-poisonous bug about the size of my big toe. I suddenly had new found respect for our ancient ancestors who lived with real terrors, and didn't have vacuum cleaners or tennis shoes. Or dust ruffles. But you will notice that the roaches are still here, and the cavemen are gone.

This time I had him cornered for good, however, so I got out the Hoover, took a deep breath, prepared myself for the onslaught, and sucked him up as he charged me yet again. I let the vacuum cleaner continue to run while I retrieved some powdered boric acid from the kitchen (it burns their legs off or something), dumped a bunch on the floor, and then sucked that up after him.

If I had been a caveman, I probably would have avoided going out and confronting dangerous animals in order to bring home food. I'd have been in the cave blogging on the wall.


kr said...

Y'know, just about nothing makes me laugh more than an Andy cockroach post :).

At least you can figure your shrieking and thumping and vacuuming is a tiny bit of payback to the neighbor who imported (or karma'd) those big ones.

Luke said...

That lecture sounded interesting. Too bad I missed it.

But hurrah for new profile pictures!

samrocha said...

this is truly funny and insightful in a very wholesome sort of way, no I need to use the bathroom to relive my laughter...

Anthony said...

Ah, if it's not mice, it's cockroaches ...

Glad you figured out a way of dealing with it. The boric acid was a great touch!

dj said...

I must say that this was one of the funniest entries I've ever read. It's funny to picture a grown up man being chased by a tiny bug.

But who am I to say, I'd have probably run out the apartment and let the thing populate it.

Jade said...

eeewww! I can't bring myself to suck up large bugs, I'm afraid they'll survive and crawl back out. We get wolf spiders up here ( http://www.everythingabout.net/articles/biology/animals/arthropods/arachnids/spiders/wolf_spider/wolf_spider.jpg )
I won't squash anything that is large enough to make an audible squish, so I tend to shovel them out the door. Bravo on your victory!

little-cicero said...

On the first part: I recommend "The Case for the Creator" by Lee Strobel if you're interested in a definitive and all-inclusive rebuttal consisting of a multitude of respected Scientists from all fields to the theories expoused at your seminar. Lee is a former-atheist courtroom journalist who asks tough questions to these scientists.

On the last part: I've never come across a roach in my home, but just yesterday a baby deer was camped out on my patio where I was studying and I was somehow paralyzed with fear that Mommy Deer would take my head off in defense of baby deer. At least it was cuter than the cockroach. :)

Andy said...

LC, since you didn't attend the seminar, I'm not sure why you think you can assume what "theories" were "expoused" [sic]. The event was hosted by St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church. This was hardly a rally for secularism. One speaker, Professor Robert Pollack, is a former biology professor from Columbia who is now on the staff at Harvard Divinity School. John Haught of Georgetown is the former chair of the Theology Department and teaches Religion and Ecology. Basically the gist of the evening can be summed up by saying that Intelligent Design is not only wrong, it's dishonest, from both scientific and religious standpoints. All in all, a marvelous evening.

Quinn said...

I've had my share of palmetto bugs through four years in North Carolina and many years in Texas. I still maintain that mashing with a shoe (my big black clog, preferably) is the only way to go. I agree with Jade -- too fearful they'll survive any other form of execution.

little-cicero said...

Well, the point of the book is mostly to disprove the notion that science and religion are destined to be at odds with one another. I don't see why simply declaring that there is no intersection is in any way a solution to the dillemma at hand. Intelligent Design offers a much more comprehensive solution. It is not dishonest, in fact it's not fair to judge it at all, because it is not one single theory. I plan to host this debate very soon, but first must complete my research.

Andy said...

Well, let's put it this way. I am absolutely a supporter of what I could term the "notion" of intelligent design, that we and this world and its amazing systems are the result of a divine "Designer." We look at scientific evidence, and far from being threatened by it because it varies from the Genesis narrative, we perceive the genius and majesty of God in the universe's infinite complexity. As I have often said, the idea that this world is the result of pure random chance, purposeless and meaningless, is to me a less rational belief than faith in a Creator.

However...the people behind Intelligent Design, with capital letters, are undermining the definitions of both science and religion. Science is the study of natural phenomena using testable hypotheses. Regardless of how much "evidence" you or I accumulate that points to the existence of a Creator, we can't test that idea using scientific criteria.

Nor should we be able to, because that would undermine the crucial role of FAITH in the Christian religion. "Evidence" is irrelevant to us, because as Paul told us in 2 Corinthians, "We walk by faith, not by sight."

The people pushing "Intelligent Design" are doing so as an "alternative" to Darwinism, claiming that there is controversy within the scientific community over evolution, and that we are doing students a disservice by not alerting them to dissenting viewpoints.

Where we truly fail students is in undermining good science, gutting millennia of theology and abandoning critical thinking.

little-cicero said...

We fail students if we do not teach both the theory and the flaws in the theory. That is precisely what is happening- the Gospel of Darwin is being shouted from the pulpit.

Andy said...

I don't think there are "flaws" in the theory; there are aspects of evolution and the origin of life which science has yet to explain.

I quoted two biologists in a post on Intelligent Design last August, and I think it bears repeating here.

Kenneth Miller, Brown University (and star witness for the plaintiffs in the recent ID trial in Pennsylvania): "The trouble is that science, given enough time, generally explains even the most baffling things. As a matter of strategy, creationists would be well-advised to avoid telling scientists what they will never be able to figure out. History is against them." (I should mention that Dr. Miller is a Christian who has written extensively about how and where science and faith can appropriately intersect.)

Jerry Coyne, University of Chicago: "If the history of science shows us anything, it is that we get nowhere by labeling our ignorance 'God.'"

little-cicero said...

I agree with Miller's views (he is cited often in the book I mentioned by the way) but what you're talking about doing is more ignorant than anything committed by a creationist: You are denying the possibility of God's role in the Universe. What if God did have a role in, for example, sequencing amino acids before DNA existed? Just as it is ignorant to ignore the possibility of random chance doing so, it is ignorant to ignore the possibility of God doing so. If science is part of the search for Truth, it must explore every path on the map.

Andy said...

Little Cicero, for Pete's sake! How can you say that *I* of all people would try to deny God's role in the creation of the world? That's just bizarre. Have you been reading my blog at all?

I'm sure God sequenced the amino acids. Can I prove it? No. Can you? No. Can anyone test it in a laboratory? No.

It's called Faith, and it's something separate from science, and that's not a judgment, it's just the way it is.