Close Encounters of the Arachnid Kind

I glanced sideways as I drove my car to work this morning and saw a spider the size of my thumbnail swinging on a thread.  His silk must have been attached to the ceiling as he swooped back and forth like Tarzan at my eye level.  I waved my hand at him, blew him away from me and saw him land on the top edge of the passenger side door, whence he disappeared.

That set me on edge once again.  Earlier in the morning a wolf spider landed in the shower a few feet away from me as I sat on the toilet.  I had just stumbled out of bed, so his sudden appearance (and initial charge in my direction) startled me.  Wolf spiders can get huge, have long legs, and move very fast.   This one was double the size of a fifty cent piece and covered a yard in half a second. I threw a roll of paper towels at him as he crouched and glowered at me.  I made contact, but Captain Arachnid sped off to a corner of the shower.  I tried once again, failed, and the spider ran into the curtains and hid.  I scrunched the folds together, but couldn’t spot him.  I searched around the toilet, the curtain, the floor of the shower, but finally found him huddled in a corner formed by the bathroom wall and the outer edge of the shower.  I threw a shoe at him and missed, but he didn’t bother to move. He was either exhausted or wounded.  I delivered the coup de grace (juicy and sickening crunch) by pressing down with a piece of paper towel.

My wife and I had watched a PBS science show about memory the evening before.  A psychiatrist in London had figured out a way to disrupt memory reformation in order to cure phobias.  She frequently treated a fear of spiders and took patients to a room with a terrarium holding a tarantula.  Their eyes widened as they confronted the furry beast, and they nearly backed out of the room when the shrink suggested that they touch the edge of the glass.  After they managed to do her bidding, she took them out and gave them a drug that inhibited memory reformation.  The disruption somehow shifted their attitudes toward spiders, and the psychiatrist soon had them petting tarantulas and cooing to them as if they were pets.

I told my wife about the spider after I fled the bathroom and said, “Remember that show last night?  I think I need therapy!  Where’s that drug?!”

Timeline:  see a show about arachnophobia; wolf spider adrenaline fest the next morning; spider swinging at my eye level in an enclosed space an hour later.  Are the gods sending me a message?   Have I offended in some way?  And is it time for me to build an altar, install a spider statue, and offer burnt sacrifices?

Please advise.


Dinosaurs and Heaven: Science vs. Religion

dinosaur angel

When I moved to Orlando I saw decals on cars that carried on a debate between science and religion.  One was a fish, a symbol of Christianity, and letters inside its outlines spelled out “truth”.  Another decal showed the outlines of the same fish, but little feet replaced the fins.  The letters inside spelled “Darwin”.  A third decal came in the form of a “truth” fish eating a “Darwin” fish.  I’m not sure if anyone’s thought up a fourth.

I’ve seen YouTube videos of mothers protesting against public schools teaching boys about dinosaurs.  They believe that a boy’s aggressive tendencies can be awakened by seeing pictures of T-Rexes, that these images “bestialize” their sons.  Some mothers insist that dinosaurs never existed as the Bible does not mention them.  The thunder lizards are a hoax perpetuated by paleontologists to get grant money from the government.

Other groups believe that dinosaurs did exist, but not before Adam.  They ignore evidence provided by carbon dating.   They claim instead that God snapped His fingers, and the earth suddenly teemed with all the creatures that would ever walk, swim, ooze and fly.  (Whoop, there it was!)

The graphics that illustrate this proposition lack imagination.  They usually show kids playing with baby brontosauruses while a volcano puffs benevolently in the distance.  But if you thought about the rampant conditions shortly after this Creation moment, you’d have to conclude that our planet was truly exciting for the species that currently survive.  Elephants would have had to outrun T-Rexes.  Lions and wolves would have  fought velociraptors over kills.  Owls and eagles flew along side pterosaurs, and sharks competed with fifty foot mosasaurs for the rights to seal hunting waters.  (If I were Adam I wouldn’t have lazed about naming this and that creature and pining for a soul mate.  Instead I would have found a dark corner in a cave and hid myself away while the rest of creation sorted things out.)

I once worked with a woman named Mrs. Putterbaugh.  She was deeply religious and did not approve of a coworker, my roommate Dave.  He was a master’s degree student in biology.  Dave believed that science would eventually solve all the mysteries of the universe and that any form of religion was an obsolete superstition.  She complained about his impatient dismissal of her beliefs and said, “The really smart ones have a hard time getting into heaven.”

She smiled at me as she said that, and I knew that she included me in the heaven bound elect.  She assumed two things:  1) I was not as smart as Dave; 2) my faith in scripture outweighed my belief in science.  My roommate was smarter, but my attitude toward religion at that time was almost identical to his.  If he and I had been plastered flat on I75 by a jack-knifing semi, we both would have been consigned to the flames.

I didn’t tell Mrs. Putterbaugh that it’s foolish to cling to myths disproved by science.  And I didn’t explain to her that the earth has existed for 4.5 billion years, that creatures gradually evolved over millions of years, and that T-Rexes never lay down with lambs.  She would have closed her ears and begun leaving Bible tracts at my work station.

Now I might fare better in a discussion with her.  I believe in the ability of science to describe and predict reality, but also believe that the practice has its limits.  We are puny creatures with limited means of exploring the vast reaches of creation.  It’s arrogant to assume that we will know and understand All if given a enough time to smash subatomic particles and balance equations.

Only God knows why He (She, It, The Cosmic Transcendence) bothered to let the universe be in the first place.  Science is good at figuring out what and how, but usually avoids why.  There are no equations that answer this question:  what’s the point of existence?

The Roman Catholic church has overcome it’s past of suppressing science, and generally embraces the idea that religion and science can coexist in harmony.  My fifth grade teacher, a nun named Sister Joseph Marie, commented, “The Catholic Church has no problems with Darwin and the theory of evolution.”  A classmate asked, “But what about Genesis?  Doesn’t it say that everything was created in six days?”  Sister replied, “What is a day to God?”