Sunday, September 6, 2009

SLJ: on writing on Sunday

A bit of autobiography - and a bit of Duhem biography - for your contemplation.
--Dr. Thursday

My life, or rather my lifelong experience concerning the relation of religion and science, has to be told largely in references to my books. In a sense they are my life-story. Ever since I started writing The Relevance I spent much of my working days, including Sundays, for which I beg pardon, in researching and writing, or rather writing and rewriting. That the art of writing is rewriting I learned when I just started writing The Relevance, or shortly after Churchill died. Then a big New York tabloid carried on its front page the facsimile of a passage from one of Churchill's famous wartime speeches. The passage, in neat typewritten form, and perfect as such, was still heavily reworked by Churchill's hand. On seeing this (later on I learned that John Henry Newman, another great master of English, usually rewrote everything three times before sending it to the printer), I got over the psychological hurdle of not being able to write a perfect copy the first try.

After that, writing has gradually become a sort of obsession, made endurable by the fact that the coming of word processors turned the otherwise tiresome business of rewriting into a relatively easy task, compared with the use of ballpoint pens and typewriters. I could not help recalling that Pierre Duhem had to write his 350 publications (including thirty vast books) with pen and ink, and with a right hand that for the last ten years of his life suffered from crampe d'écrivain. Often he had to hold fast his right hand with his left hand in order to continue writing. Lucky we who have lived to see the coming of PCs. They greatly increased my productivity. But, having produced so many pages for a higher purpose, namely, to strengthen those who believe in a Gospel undiluted by a "higher criticism" posing as science, I will not be threatened by that disillusion which overcame Herbert Spencer in his dying days. On seeing that his friends brought to his bedside the many books he had published, he was dismayed that he had no children of his own to stand by. He certainly might have learned a great deal from C. S. Lewis' gripping account, A Grief Observed.

But that productivity needed a surgical intervention to become eventually possible. In late 1953 a difficult tonsillectomy deprived me of the effective use of my voice for at least ten years. I was immediately out of all teaching and preaching. Only by writing could I go on teaching, which for me is always a preaching. I say this with no apologies or embarrassment. After having spent forty years in the academe, I find it to be the chief breeding place of a subspecies, best called spineless vertebrates. They lack intellectual spine because they refuse to admit that they preach by teaching and researching. In fact, every teaching is a sort of plain apologetics. Apologetics is pleading. To claim that one's teaching is free of even a touch of pleading on behalf of something, is to practice the art of not seeing beyond one's very nose.

I kept pleading. After publishing The Relevance, I published a book which was originally meant to be a chapter in it as "Physics and Psychology." It grew into Brain, Mind and Computers. Once this book was out of my hair (by then my hairline was rapidly receding), I could turn to what has been sheer delight to write: monographs on the history of astronomy. All had for their "ulterior" aim the illustration of chronic blindness to the obvious.

[SLJ "Cosmic Rays and Water Spiders" in The Limits of a Limitless Science 231-2]

[Also cf. GKC: "A teacher who is not dogmatic is simply a teacher who is not teaching." What's Wrong With the World, CW4:162]

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