Saying grace: Boom-de-yada, boom-de-yada

Here’s a short video by Louie Schwartzburg, narrated by Brother David Steindl-Rast. This is six minutes well-spent:

The theme is gratitude — which is to say paying attention, wondering and appreciating wonder. Ingratitude is an enemy of empathy, of curiosity, of knowledge.

I found that video thanks to Joe Hanson at It’s Okay to Be Smart. I love that blog, along with many other terrific science blogs like Grist or Bad Astronomy or Phenomena or the ones from Smithsonian.

Part of why I read those blogs and enjoy them so much is the same reminder as the one Schwartzburg proves in this video: A call to gratitude for all the astonishing, wonderful world I too often fail to notice, let alone to appreciate.

Science blogs tend to celebrate their heroes, and the heroes they celebrate are often people who are not usually celebrated in the religious blogs I also read and enjoy. People like Neil de Grasse Tyson or Carl Sagan. Those folks are my heroes too because they exemplify gratitude. “In everything give thanks,” St. Paul wrote, and most of us fail to do that. But scientists like Sagan and Tyson show us what that looks like.

Some of my religious friends would object that their gratitude doesn’t count because it’s not specifically directed toward the proper object. That doesn’t bother me much, and I suspect it bothers God even less. I suspect that God is happier with people who are overflowing with gratitude — bursting with an uncontainable sense of wonder, curiosity and boom-de-yada than with those who think its more important that their cramped, incurious ingratitude be properly directed toward God. What’s the point of giving God the glory if at the same time we spend our lives ignoring, avoiding or denying the scope and the splendor of that glory?

Here’s Jess Zimmerman discussing the newly discovered Vietnamese velvet worm:

Scientists actually already knew that there were worms running around in rainforests that are basically built like little waterbeds and spit sticky glue on their prey. All they’ve found is a type that has a different shape of hairs. BUT I DIDN’T KNOW …

I didn’t know either. Now I do. Boom-de-yada. Ad majorem Dei gloriam. 

It has to do with simple awareness, as David Foster Wallace said. “Awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight around us all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves all the time.”

Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.



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  • Nirrti

    This is one thing I never understood about Christians who think science is the enemy. Science makes the world seem so much bigger, fantastic, and at times, just plain strange. If God is so great, why shrink him into such a small, uninspiring package? A look at the Deep Space Field is more indicative of the enormity of creation than all the Psalms in the world.

  • Fusina

    Yup. And evolution is awesome. I was told (by creationists) that it was obviously not a valid theory because systems tend to go from orderly to chaotic, but an examination of evolution shows just that. There were a few kinds of things, then mutations, then lots of things, some of which went extinct for whatever reason. Way cool, IMO.

    But then, I had my Dad for a teacher of wonderment–he found all things in science fascinating.

  • When your faith is based on love and hope, then science is a wonder that makes the creation ever more amazing. When your faith is based on denial and authoritarian control, the most important thing is to put up a wall to shut out anything bigger than you are.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Science also proves that man can survive without any need for a god. God isn’t the one out there curing the sick and injured; doctors are, with treatments discovered by scientists. God isn’t the one out there saving peoples’ lives from natural disasters; emergency responders are, with help from the aforementioned scientists and other groups.

    Edit: Hit post when I was about halfway done. Go me.

    Anyway, the point is, science shows people that believing in a higher power is, while possibly beneficial, unnecessary. Humanity is perfectly capable of taking care of themselves, and of being decent, without someone looking over our shoulder handling the big things for us. Some people don’t like that idea.

    These are the same people who will happily thank god for “saving a person’s life” when it was a doctor who just spent 9 hours doing surgery on that person, but won’t blame god for giving the person the problem in the first place.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    “one thing I never understood about Christians who think science is the enemy.” – Nirrti

    I am a Christian, and I don’t get it either. So many beautiful (and ugly-beautiful, and sometimes horrifying) things to be amazed by. So many fascinating puzzles. Such a big complicated toy of a universe all around us. Who could dislike finding out more and more about it all?

  • FearlessSon

    Hell, a lot of the scientific discoveries in western history come from monks, who studied nature in an attempt to come to a better understanding of God by examining His work. For example, Gregor Mendel, who determined the nature and laws of genetic inheritance, was an Augustianian friar. His contribution to our modern understanding of biology is every bit as important as Darwin’s, and the works of the two of them compliment each other quite well.

  • Mary

    People often don’t understand that the 2nd law of thermodynamics refers to closed systems. We aren’t a closed system because we have the sun giving us energy (and mutations). A simple refutation is that we have plants springing up and babies being born which would not happen if we were becoming more chaotic. Now eventually things will wind down because as far as we know, the universe itself is a closed system. However we are still seeing stars being born so although there is some entropy there is still plenty of energy to run the universe.

    You are right that the evidence is in the fossil layers and if in fact it did contradict current science, then we would have to be looking at the science, rather than disparaging the evidence. It is like saying gravity is impossible because it doesn’t fit our given theory. Since we know gravity is real then it follows that something would be wrong with the theory, not our observations.

    I agree that evolution and nature are pretty amazing.

  • J_Enigma32

    “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny…'” – Isaac Asimov

    “I don’t know” might as well be the unifying mantra of every scientist ever. After all, the whole endeavor of science is about learning. It’s about deepening our existing knowledge – and questioning that existing knowledge – in order to better our position and better understand our position in a universe that really doesn’t seem to care if we live or die one way or another.

    This notion of not only not knowing, but also admitting it, infuriates authoritarians. To them, answers need to be simple. They need to be black and white, and if you’re not willing to give a black and white answer then, by gum, they’ll just make that little sucker up themselves. To authoritarians, “I don’t know” is an admission of weakness; it’s an admission that you’re unsure. And as someone famously said, “the problem with the world is that so many stupid people are full of certainty and intelligent people so full of doubt”. Being absolutely sure in your position makes you appear stronger; it makes appear you absolute, and appearances are everything to them. Even if you’re absolutely wrong. It’s the projection of surety and strength, and being the absolute, that’s more important rather than actually being it.

    Or as Fred has said, it’s the sincerity that counts. And that sincerity is a measure of certainty in those circles.

    There’s really no way to deal with this, either. I’ve seen this happen; whenever you get into a “debate” on evolution, the topic inevitably turns to the Big Bang (not at all related to evolution, but hey…), at which point their question is usually “What happened before it?” They’ve already made up their mind, but they want your admission of “I don’t know” to validate their certainty (Which is why I’ve recently started saying, “Nothing. A prepositon describes a noun’s place in time; how can you have a preposition with neither nouns nor time?”)

  • FearlessSon

    People often don’t understand that the 2nd law of thermodynamics refers to closed systems.

    Hell, people who do not understand the second law of thermodynamics typically do not have strong opinions about what it applies to (and why would they?) Creationists, on the other hand, will try to use that to refute evolution, despite not understanding either thermodynamics or evolution. For the most part, they are just parroting back an argument taught to them.

    An authority (a preacher, family member, prayer group leader, etc) says “This passage in the Bible means this,” and they accept that without analyzing it, then get rewarded with praise when repeating it. Same goes for arguments for and against (and general ideas about) things like evolution, homosexuals, abortion, or whatever the heck else they are worked up about. Trusted figure says “X is a problem because Y and is completely invalidated by Z,” and they just accept it uncritically and repeat it back when prompted.

  • EDIT: Actually ignore this please. :)

  • FearlessSon

    I was about to say, “I didn’t know he was Bonhoeffer’s brother-in-law…”

  • I don’t think Delbruck spent any time as a priest though, contrary to my initial thought. Oh well, I am sure there have in fact been seminary students and the like who have contributed to biology, chemistry and physics. :)

  • P J Evans

    I’d tend to give back something like ‘Every second is brand-new, never been used: time is a continuous creation. Why are you so busy telling God how to do things?’

  • Mary

    “Creationists, on the other hand, will try to use that to refute evolution, despite not understanding either thermodynamics or evolution. For the most part, they are just parroting back an argument taught to them. ”

    Yes I have run into people like that. If you try to engage them in a scientific way then it is quickly evident that they don’t know what they are talking about. According to one person the Bible confirms science and has the theory of relativity in it. When I asked where it was, he didn’t know. Another creationist asked me if I was trying to discredit the bible when I asked him how is it that we can see stars that were formed billions of years ago if in fact the universe is only 6,000 years old. I have news for him, the bible was discredited as a science book hundreds of years ago! At any rate he seemed offended but HE WAS THE ONE who engaged me on creationism, but he wasn’t willing to talk science.

    I am not always sure though that everyone of these people are completely stupid or uninformed. Basically they cling to their beliefs because they want to. My father was an aeorspace engineer and while he is not a physicist he ought to understand the second law of thermodynamics. But he cheerfully says that it is impossible that evolution happened and that is the final word. Existential crisis averted!

  • FearlessSon

    I see it more as a group-dynamic thing. The kind of ideas they have cannot stand on their own because they have no basis, they need to be constantly reinforced by other people who share them. Failing that, they need to have their ideas attacked by members of the “out” group to bolster their own group identity.

    That damn tribal instinct that causes humans to bond together in the face of attack also causes them to cling to baseless ideas.

  • FearlessSon

    “Pseudocertainty” is a term Al Franken coined to describe Rush Limbaugh and his listeners. Stephen Colbert said that George W. Bush’s appearance that he is certain of his decisions was his appeal for a lot of people.

    “I don’t know, but I intend to find out,” is the strongest assertion of intellectual strength that I know of. To be absolutely certain means that you can be proven wrong by a single counter-example. To doubt, to observe, learn, and conclude means that every day you become a little less wrong than the one before it.

  • Mary

    You are probably right, but in my dad’s case, he is just 85 years old and stubborn. He doesn’t care for church although he is a Christian but not fanatically so. But for a lot of people, the idea of evolution is demeaning somehow. I hear people say, “I didn’t evolve from some damn monkey”! Of course strictly speaking that isn’t what evolution says but that illustrates people’s resistence to the idea that we aren’t THAT special and that the universe doesn’t revolve around us human beings.

    It is also true that even if he doesn’t hang out with other Christians that he would feel his faith threatened. After all he expects his wife to be in heaven to greet him. So I think it is a little more complicated than you think.

    Oh and by the way, I learned respect for my elders very early on and so I let my papa believe whatever he wants. I don’t think he would take kindly to the idea that his daughter knows more about a few things than he does. Parents are funny that way (lol)

  • Fusina

    Personally, it doesn’t offend me that I am related to the great apes–it doesn’t make me feel any less special–rather, it makes me feel more special. I mean, how cool is that? Gorillas are fascinating.

    Actually, all animals are fascinating. My daughter and I were watching a tv show and there were some galloping horses–we both sighed at the same moment and agreed that a galloping horse is poetry in the flesh. The workings of the musculature, the mane and tail floating, the flared nostrils, the general feeling of joy in the running–sheer poetry.

    I get the same feeling of joy watching runners of the human variety. Also ice skaters–really any one or animal working its body to the limits of its ability–doing things that I can’t do for whatever reason–glorious!

  • The_L1985

    “I learned respect for my elders very early on and so I let my papa believe whatever he wants.”

    Maybe it’s just my cockeyed set of values, but I don’t consider it at all respectful to encourage error in another individual, regardless of age. People want to be right, and that should involve wanting to know the truth. Sometimes the truth hurts; it makes you feel less important, or it overturns something you’ve believed for so many years you’ve become emotionally invested in it.

    But in my case, the truth set me free. I became a lot less bitter when I finally let go of the fallacies of YEC. I no longer had to cling to the demeaning-to-animals proposition that evolution was somehow worse than being made out of dirt. I no longer had to avoid my lifelong love of dinosaurs, mammoths, and other extinct creatures and my desire to know more about them. I was able to finally celebrate and enjoy the rich tapestry of life, past and present, in ways I hadn’t since I was 7 years old and given my first AiG book from the principal.

  • The_L1985

    I remember always being deeply hurt and offended at the idea that humans were uniquely ensouled. I just don’t understand how anyone can get to know and love an animal while still holding the view, “I have a soul, but Fido doesn’t.” If I have a soul, then I am quite certain my dog does as well.

  • The_L1985

    I consider, “I don’t know; let’s find out!” to be one of the most beautiful sentences in the English language, on par with “I love you” or “Look what a wonderful thing my child just did!”

  • Fusina

    Every cat I’ve ever shared a domicile with has had a soul…or had soul…probably both. I look in their eyes and know that they are just as important in the scheme of things as me–and as a christian, I believe that if God did indeed set this whole thing going as I believe he did, that nothing that exists is without value.

    I appreciate my best friend–she is an atheist, and our conversations cause me to deeply examine my beliefs about God and the universe. Not sure what she gets out of it–but I have gained a deeper understanding of what I think about God and gods and the universe and everything.

  • Mary

    I get what you are saying, it is liberating to get past the dogma and the need to conform. However my dad is not deeply into this to the point that he is suffering about it. He is not particularly interested in the subject, but if it is brought up he will say a few things. He is happy with his life and that is all I want for him. He is 85 years old and you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Old dogs tend to snap a bit too. LOL

  • Isabel C.

    I remember reading a James Herriot story where an older woman was concerned about what would happen to her pets after she died–both materially and spiritually. IIRC, he made sure they had other homes, but then said something like, “I don’t know exactly what I believe, but I’m sure wherever you go, they’ll go too.”

    And: yes, and also d’awwww.

  • Isabel C.

    I’m the same way with my grandparents, or suspect I would be if I knew some of their beliefs.* If it came up, I’d probably say something like “Well, Granddad, I don’t agree with that,” and move on unless they asked further: I’m pretty, er, ardent about most things, but they’re in their nineties, they’re not public figures, and my personal scale swings very far toward the just-let-it-alone scale in that particular circumstance.

    *There’s a reason for the WASP standard of Not Discussing These Things.

  • Kirala

    Lucky you. I got pretty bitter at the Answers in Genesis folk when I ditched YEC in college. Now, the science taught in my public school system was pretty abominable – I had stuck with YEC because I found it intellectually superior (and for those counting, I’m pretty sure that Piltdown Man was used as a viable example of a missing link in my school science textbooks – the YEC might have actually BEEN intellectually superior to what I was taught). I got very, very resentful when I reached a point where I realized that intellectually, I couldn’t accept YEC, and this was somehow supposed to mean I was (or logically must become) opposed to my beloved faith.

    I dislike scenarios where I’m supposed to be a second-rate Christian because I like to be intellectual, or a second-rate intellectual because I’m a Christian. I suspect that it would be better for AiG to have tied a millstone around its neck and been flung into the sea than have this preposterous dichotomy.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    I dislike scenarios where I’m supposed to be a second-rate Christian
    because I like to be intellectual, or a second-rate intellectual because
    I’m a Christian. – Kirala

    THIS. A thousand times this.

  • Matri

    “Look what a wonderful thing my child just did!”

    I dunno. That particular phrase usually makes me either roll my eyes or cringe in fear.

  • arcseconds

    Velvet worms are pretty interesting. They’re in a phylum by themselves (which means they’re classified as being distinct from other animals as much as vertebrates are from molluscs), although they’re considered to be ‘closely’ related to tardigrades (water bears) and arthropods.

    They’re land animals, which is interesting, as presumably the phylum originated in the sea along with everything else, and they have a hydrostatic skeleton, which is rare in creatures this big (I guess there are huge earthworms and such).

    In many ways they have quite simple bodies, and don’t on the face of it seem particularly well adapted for the worm eat worm world out there, but they have quite complex brains, and show reasonably complex social behaviour.

  • Isabel C.

    I agree–although the insect kingdom is a general and fairly Lovecraftian exception.

  • VMink

    Scorpions: Because Nature said, ‘Let’s combine spiders, lobsters, wasps, and nightmares. It’ll be great!’

  • Fusina

    I had lice. Ick, Ugh, and various other expressions of disgust, but the dry scalp and flaking skin problem that ensues was totally taken care of. Not at all advocating this solution to dandruff, just something I noticed.

    Um. Still plan to shave my head if I ever have to deal with lice again. Fast, easy, and gets rid of the problem immediately. Then I’m getting the cute lime green cosplay wig to wear while my hair grows out again.

  • Nick Gotts

    Actually, Mendel’s work did not become widely known for several decades – in part, because he made comparatively little effort to make it known, and ceased his scientific work on becoming abbot – and was not rediscovered until after it had been independently replicated by Hugo de Vries and Carl Correns in the 1890s, although de Vries may well have understood his results only after reading Mendel. In terms of overall impact on science, Darwin’s was orders of magnitude greater: dissemination of results is as crucial a part of science as theory and empirical observation.

  • JRoth95

    If you’ll indulge me a little solipsism:
    1. I’ve had a very good life (with 1 or 2 tragedies). My old GF used to complain that, basically, I’d had it too easy, that I didn’t have her crappy upbringing or her gender or the circumstances of the inner city kids we worked with. All I could really say was, “I know, but I’m thankful. I know I have it good, and I pay it forward the best I can.” I could do more, of course – most of us could, by Christ’s standards – but step one is being grateful, because it’s the enemy of feeling put upon.
    2. Back when I was Christian, I felt incredibly in tune with nature – singing Hosannas in thunderstorms, treating the moon as a sort of gift. As I drifted from Christianity, I actually thought I might approach some sort of paganism or deism or whatever. But it turned out that I could retain wonder at nature without applying any supernatural framework to it.