Friday, July 27, 2007

Talking to the South Pole

Friday, July 27, 2007

It's good to think about ice in the middle of July. Nothing but ice, wind, the startling crunch of boots on snow in -60 degrees, and not one, but three south poles to contemplate, encircled by the flags of many nations - the only spots of color in a landscape of oblivion.

What I love most about being human is the connection I feel in the place where science, art, and religion all come together. Yesterday's program about Project Ice Cube brought me into that place of rare convergence and left me there to contemplate the sublime folly of such projects, both grandiose and preposterous. Will they succeed in capturing neutrinos, those ghostly particles more fictional than fact? Do neutrinos really hold the key to our understanding of dark energy, the Big Bang, and why our universe is expanding so rapidly? Nobody knows.
To do something for its own sake rather than to reach a goal strikes me as the highest form of human endeavor.

After the program was over, the physicists actually admitted that what they most hope to find is nothing at all. That would rule out all the current theories and force them to start all over again. As my husband is so found of saying, "The Messiah must never come."

Friday, July 20, 2007

My Atheist Scientist Husband Chats with Francis Collins

Friday, July 27, 2007

Last Tuesday, Francis Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project, was a guest on Here on Earth, talking about his bestselling book, The Language of God. My husband, who listened to the program, had this email exchange with him the day after the program. They each gave their permission to share this exchange with you:

Dear Dr. Collins,
My wife, Jean Feraca, just interviewed you on Wisconsin Public Radio. She is a religious person. I'm a non-believer/scientist. We have endless conversations about science and religion. I could not resist sharing with you two reactions to your comments.
There were two surprises for me in your comments.
First, you describe God in very anthropomorphic terms. After you said "God wants ..." or "God planned ..." I realized that you were describing a god who is a reflection of yourself; i.e. a god who really loves science and nature and thus laid down a world that a scientist would really enjoy exploring. There is so little ambiguity and wonder in this god; it seems to me a surprisingly limited (and excessively self-oriented) concept for such a big idea as a god. I CERTAINLY ADMIT THAT IF GOD IS REAL, THERE IS NO WAY OUR PUNY MINDS CAN ACCURATELY ENVISION WHAT HE IS LIKE. I THINK OF GOD AS AN UNIMAGINABLY AWESOME INTELLIGENCE, AN UNFATHOMABLY PROFOUND MIND, A PURE AND HOLY TRANSCENDENCE. IF I SOUNDED ANTHROPOMORPHIC IN THE INTERVIEW, THAT WAS NOT MY INTENTION. I CERTAINLY DON'T THINK OF GOD AS A GUY WITH A WHITE BEARD UP IN THE SKY. I THINK YOUR WIFE WANTED TO ASK ME THIS SAME QUESTION AT THE END OF THE FIRST SEGMENT (MAYBE AFTER HER DISCUSSIONS WITH YOU?) BUT THE STATION BREAK GOT IN THE WAY.
Second, you mentioned that the "evidence" that you find compelling for the resurrection is that so many people believed it and wrote it down. I'm amazed that you would consider this any kind of evidence for anything at all. Millions of people believe and write down all kinds of things that you would agree are not at all credible. THAT'S CERTAINLY TRUE. BUT THE PRESENCE OF LOTS OF MYTHS DOWN THROUGH HISTORY DOESN'T PROVE THAT THIS ONE IS TOO. EVEN MANY ATHEISTS ADMIT THAT THE EVIDENCE FOR THE RESURRECTION IS SURPRISINGLY GOOD -- HAVE A LOOK AT "THE RESURRECTION OF THE SON OF GOD", BY N.T. WRIGHT, IF YOU WANT TO LOOK AT THAT EVIDENCE. But, following on Jean's question about compartmentalization, I just don't understand how the scientist in you is silent on this point. For you to believe in a resurrection, you have to abandon nearly all the scientifically-supported ideas you have about nature. It seems like your god would one day flip a switch and turn off natural processes, let this one event get through the door, and then flip the switch again. How does the scientist in you allow the other side of your brain to believe that? A FAIR QUESTION. BUT THE REAL QUESTION IS WHETHER OR NOT TO BELIEVE IN GOD. IF ONE MAKES THAT LEAP (AND IT IS INDEED A LEAP, NO QUESTION), AND ACKNOWLEDGES THAT GOD IS THE CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE AND ALL OF ITS NATURAL LAWS, THEN IT IS ONLY A VERY SHORT STEP TO ACCEPT THE POSSIBILITY THAT GOD MIGHT OCCASIONALLY AT MOMENTS OF GREAT SIGNIFICANCE CHOSEN TO INVADE NATURE AND VIOLATE THOSE LAWS. THAT HAPPENED MOST DRAMATICALLY IN THE PERSON OF CHRIST. AT THE SAME TIME, THAT DOESN'T MEAN THAT I THINK MIRACLES ARE REGULAR EVENTS -- I'VE NEVER SEEN ONE AND I DON'T EXPECT TO.
Alan Attie

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Lisa Bu in China

Lisa Bu, our intrepid and magnificent Here on Earth web producer, was invited by her alma mater, the UW Madison Business School, to guide a group of MBA students on a seven day tour of China last month. She came back with the following report:

"I spent a week in Beijing as translator/guide for a UW-Madison MBA class. The trip is an eye-opening experience for many students and even me, a native Chinese. This is my first real visit of the city since I was five. I know from media that the city has changed tremendously, but seeing it with my own eyes is different. The sheer scale and speed of the development takes my breath away. At the same time it concerns us when we see how serious the pollution is. The sky is almost never blue but gray and fuzzy, even in the mountain area where the Great Wall is. Safe drinking water is another issue. We had to be very careful only to drink bottled water, and buy water from trusted vendors. I joked that bottled water had become my new security blanket -- can't go anywhere without it.

Another unexpected experience I have is how proud I felt being a Chinese when visiting the Temple of Heaven and the Great Wall for the first time. Much larger and taller than seen on TV or photos, they stood in front of me like a magnificent but silent giant. I was in awe, as if having just witnessed the emergence of an ancient hero from a storybook picture to a live figure with flesh and blood. The giant looked so familiar yet so new at the same time. Through my life, I have seen its pictures and read its stories thousands of times. Yet touching its wood and stones and taking in its air and smell, I felt as if I was making acquaintance with this magnificent giant for the very first time. Although it can't speak, it's living and breathing. History has never been so vivid and direct. I could hear its heartbeat. And I knew that's the heartbeat of my ancestors, that's the heartbeat I'm carrying in my body. I felt so proud. "

Lisa and a UW Business School student shopping for clean bottled water in Beijing where the temperature was typically near 100 degrees. Lisa said water became her "security blanket."

After Beijing, Lisa went to visit her family in her hometown of Changsha, a city of 6 million in Hunan Province. Here you can see a remnant of the old city side by side with the ever-present evidence of construction that is so typical of the new China.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Celebrating the Fourth

Friday, July 6, 2007

So we did something pretty gutsy this week, I thought, doing a program on the CIA's "Family Jewels" on the Fourth of July. We worried a lot about it beforehand and went back and forth about whether it was appropriate or not. In the end, we decided to go ahead because, after all, what's more American than the right to dissent, even though it's easy to duck and self-censor in this period in our history when our leaders are trying to label dissent as un-patriotic.

So Patrick Paczerski, our crackshot intern who produced the program, lined up a set of three interesting guests: a Latin American historian who recited a lintany of our transgressions south of the border, veteran newsman Daniel Shorr who reported on the CIA's misdeeds back in the 70's and took a heavy hit as one of the reporters on Nixon's hit list, and a British political philosopher who reminded us that love of country means warts and all. Just as we had anticipated, we got a call from someone who chided us for doing a program critical of America on the Fourth of July. We should have been talking about our war heroes instead, he said. I wanted to say in response that Daniel Shorr is one of my war heroes. But Dan spoke so well for himself. When I asked him how he, as an American who had once been threatened with jail for his investigative journalism, was celebrating the Fourth of July, he said, " ...Just like every other good American!"

Here on Earth began its first broadcast on the Fourth of July weekend four years ago. Happy Birthday, America. Happy Birthday, Here on Earth. May you both live up to your greatest promise. I'm proud to be an American.