In Which I Argue with William Steig

This perspective from Shrek author William Steig is popping up on some of the Tumblr pages I follow:

Art, including juvenile literature, has the power to make any spot on earth the living center of the universe, and unlike science, which often gives us the illusion of understanding things we really do not understand, it helps us to know life in a way that still keeps before us the mystery of things. It enhances the sense of wonder. And wonder is respect for life.

I would heartily agree with his admiration for the power of art and, yes, children’s literature. But why discredit science by comparison? It might be taken out of context. But if Steig is saying what it sounds like he’s saying, then I must respectfully disagree. Here’s why…

I think that any science, investigated with curiosity, considered with humility, and applied with the kind of responsibility that is ultimately a work of love, will also inspire us with the mystery of things, help us appreciate life, and find in any aspect of creation a testimony of its creator. (See Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek or For the Time Being.)

Unfortunately, most science we hear about is being investigated, considered, and applied in ways that serve ego and greed. The good science goes on quietly in the background, in ways that have a great deal to do with art. And with faith. (See Marilynne Robinson, Absence of Mind.)

But then, I’m a fantasy novelist, so what do I know about the real world?

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet has two passions: writing fiction, and celebrating art — music, cinema, photography, literature — through writing and teaching. He is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” — Through a Screen Darkly. And his four-novel fantasy series, The Auralia Thread, which begins with Auralia's Colors, was published by Random House. He speaks at universities and conferences around the world about understanding art through eyes of faith. He is earning his MFA in Creative Writing at Seattle Pacific University, where he has worked for 11 years as an editor, writer, and communications project manager. His work has been recognized in The New Yorker, TIME, The Seattle Times, IMAGE, Ravi Zacharias International — and Christianity Today, where he served as a film journalist for more than a decade. He recently began a weekly column called "Listening Closer" for Christ and Pop Culture.