Years of semi-engaging political talk shows have taught me that my people shouldn’t pray.
During our years of study, it was normal for my cohort and I to spend our evenings in front of the TV, watching Stephen Fry and Christopher Hitchens verbally eviscerate clergy members and religious-minded laypeople from all over the world. Sunday mornings found us out on the quad, discussing the nature of reality while the idiots sat in church. We had all the answers; and life was bliss.
Until recently my faith in reason was unshakeable, that is, until I was asked to spearhead the physics curriculum at the high school where I teach. After eighteen months on the job, I’m ashamed to admit that my belief in the scientific cause has wavered—and wavered more times than I care to mention.
I pray every time I set up the Bowling Ball Pendulum Experiment.
I know all about closed systems and the conservation of energy. I know all about momentum and velocity. I know that the experiment makes sense and most importantly, I understand how. But from the moment I attach that ceiling wire to the moment the ball freezes millimetres from some kid’s nose, I silently plea to a man in the sky who created everything but chooses to wear sandals. The basis upon which I have lived my entire life is jeopardized, compromised, and vaporized—and all because of what is, in essence, a trust fall with the ghost of Sir Isaac Newton.
It’s proof that the most devout among us can stray from the path. Proof that those of us most associated with the cause—the people tasked with teaching kids alternatives to burning bushes and Jewish zombies—are not immune to experiencing our own crises of reason. Worse still, our way of communicating such fears within the scientific community leaves much to be desired. Without naming names, I recently confessed my feelings to a friend who works in chemistry research. His advice was only to say fifteen”Thanks Maries” as a gesture of scientific commitment to the late Marie Curie.
And it’s not like I’ve got a plethora of sympathetic siblings and understanding cousins that I can turn to. I grew up in an insanely scientific family. I’m talking Bunsen burners as stocking stuffers during Christmas; I’m talking weekly anti-Scripture classes. Hell, we used to eat fish every Friday after Uncle Albert discovered our family genome’s predisposition for heart disease. The only dissent I ever witnessed was at a civil union reception when my oldest cousin, Theodore, announced proudly his belief in God and his intention to join the priesthood. Aunt Rosa calmly watched him storm away, took a reasonable bite of her salmon and professed evenly:
“Hmm, I wonder how he came to that hypothesis.”
I’m ashamed to say that I’ve tried more than once to have the Bowling Ball Pendulum Experiment wiped from the school’s curriculum; but to no avail. The other teachers find it stimulating and educationally effective. For me, it is an anxious ordeal—an exercise in nerve and worry that finds me wiping the sweat from my palms before I grab that polyurethane orb and release it, releasing too a torrent of personal prayers to the sky. I’m ashamed, also, to admit that my departure from civilized scientific thought is so extreme that I…. Well…
I always start with a kid I dislike.