Bigsax spoke querulously. “Why am I not hearing the B and C where they should be?”
He might have had a right to be querulous. He had had to sit in a meeting with me discussing things like emergent and experiential worship, and then when bells were supposed to begin I had slunk off to the sanctuary to run through my solo (I’m subbing for Mlle. Tussaud, down with the flu) with the pianist, so there I was, half an hour late, playing badly.
“I’m playing the B and C,” I explained helpfully, “and I lost my place.”
Once I lose my place in bell music, sometimes I just can’t find it again. In this case, I had to look down while switching from the B to the B flat, and I just wasn’t sure where we were when I got my eyes back on the music. I was guessing, and had apparently guessed wrong.
“Do you need help?” This was not querulous. It was more like elaborate patience.
“Well, yes,” I answered. Not sure what kind of help he had in mind, there, but obviously I wasn’t playing right. I guess I needed help.
“What can we do for you?”
“Calling out the measure numbers would do it.” One of the ringers had brought her husband with her. “You, sir,” I said to him, “would you like to call out the measure numbers?”
“Do you need someone else to play one of the bells for you? Is it insurmountable?”
“Well,” I said, saying “well” a lot, I realize, but I was on the spot, “I wouldn’t say it was insurmountable. This is the first time I’ve tried it. I’ll try to do better.”
I was going for chastened and repentant. I left out the part where I looked around for someone to play the B flat for me, but no one stepped up. They all have four bells. They had been having to imagine my bells while I was gone. They all knew that offer from Bigsax was strictly for effect.
I struggled through the bells. Choir came next. Bigsax made his choice of anthem for Sunday, a flashy baroque arrangement of “Can It Be” which will sound very good with about three more weeks of rehearsals.
“This would sound a lot better if we had another week or two to work on it,” I said, continuing in my role as thorn in Bigsax’s side.
“Take it from the top,” he growled.
“Let’s pray first,” said I. And then, when people laughed, “What? We’re a church. It’s not inappropriate.”
Bigsax led us in prayer. He’s very good at public prayer. He used to work in a Baptist church, and that skill has stuck with him.
We got quite a lot of the fiddly bits better that time, but still ended a bit glumly. I’d like to report that everyone took their music home to work on it in order to have it perfected for Sunday, but that is not the case. Also, only about half the choir was there last night, and the rest will show up on Sunday with no idea what we’re doing, and sing anyway, so last night’s work on the piece will be of limited effect anyway.
Someone mentioned this — not me; I had done enough — and Bigsax told us that we would just have to drag them along with us.
I came home and made a late supper of turkey gyros sandwiches. The boys chopped vegetables for the purpose. I then settled in to finish God and the New Physics. I have really enjoyed that book. Davies sailed through quarks and gravity and black holes, and concluded that what we’ve learned about the physical universe in the past century is simply not in accord with our physical experience. It is surprising and mysterious, and calls up a lot of questions.
Given this fact, we are left with two logical positions.
Since there are two kinds of people in the world: those who believe that there are two kinds of people in the world and those who do not, and since I am one of the latter, I have to mention here that we have a third option. We can follow Kant and say that our perceptions about the physical universe are a product of the way our brains are put together. We naturally look for patterns, and that is therefore what we see. All is illusion. I don’t believe this, myself, because people have set up experiments to check on the surprising observations, and have themselves been further surprised. Planck, Einstein, Hawking, and the rest of the boys very definitely did not see what they expected to see. They saw things that no one could possibly expect to see.
So then we have two logically consistent positions available to us. We can say that there are all kinds of things we don’t yet know, but that once we know them, we will be able to explain the mysteries of the universe entirely through natural laws and processes. We can also try to explain the mysteries through recourse to Big Ideas. Among the Big Ideas, Davies points out, is God.
None of the possible Big Ideas is easy to believe, obvious, or provable. I am okay with God, myself, and I also like the anthropic principle, while you may prefer the multiple parallel universes bit or the Hidden Principle hypothesis or something else. But it is not reasonable to choose one of these Big Ideas and say that it is proven and scientific, while the rest are farfetched and superstitious. All of them require faith. So we have agnosticism, or our choice of faiths.
Here’s what Plato said, having explained all that was at his time known of the universe:
And so now we may say that our account of the universe has
reached its conclusion. This world of ours has received and
teems with living things, mortal and immortal. A visible
living thing containing visible things, and a perceptible
God, the image of the intelligible Living Thing. Its grandness,
goodness, beauty and perfection are unexcelled. Our one
universe, indeed, the only one of its kind, has come to be.
I think that’s quite beautiful, and a nice thing to contemplate. It would make a good hymn, even.