Sunday, May 18, 2008

Sunday Evening Salon: The Philosopher's Apprentice

The Sunday Salon.comWhen Mason Ambrose's nemesis, a writer of anti-Darwinist screeds, asks him in the middle of his dissertation defense (in the middle of chapter 1 in James Morrow's The Philosopher's Apprentice) if God is dead, Mason knows exactly what he should say to skirt the snare that's been placed before him. Instead he opts to keep his self-respect:

"Why," I said, "do our postrationalist theologians, Dr. Pielmeister among them, expect us to prostrate ourselves before a deity who, by the Darwinian insight he claims to endorse, stands exposed as a kind of cosmic dilettante--"

"That is not the language of philosophy," interrupted Pielmeister, wagging his finger.

"--a kind of cosmic dilettante, idly tinkering plants and animals into existence only to have them go extinct from the very environmental conditions he provided for them?"

Delicate but palpable vibrations filled the stuffy air of Schneider Auditorium. The attendees shifted in their seats, delighted that the gladiator had mysteriously elected to insert his head into the lion's mouth. My committee was likewise astir, wondering what demon had possessed this outwardly rational candidate.

"Why," I continued, "was Dr. Pielmeister's presumably competent God unable to produce the contemporary biosphere through any process other than the systematic creation and equally systematic obliteration of countless species?"

Nervous laughter emerged here and there throughout the audience.

"Why," I persisted, "would this same divine serial killer have begun his career spending thirteen billion years fashioning quadrillions of needless galaxies before
finally starting on his pet project: singling out a minor planet in an obscure precinct of the Milky Way and seeding it with vain bipedal vertebrates condemned to wait indefinitely for the deity in question to disclose himself?"

"Mason, this isn't going anywhere," Carol Eberling asserted.

"Right you are," I said. "The show is over. Time to close the concession stand and sweep up the peanut shells. I would rather teach front-end alignment at an auto-mechanics school in Framingham than continue to cast my lot with higher education. And so, with all humility and a deep appreciation for the effort you've expended in
reading my dissertation, I withdraw my candidacy."

Fortunately for Mason, front-end alignment classes aren't in his immediate future; by the end of chapter 1 he'll have accepted a job as private tutor for a young girl with "no moral center," and he'll be whisked away to a situation on a private island that will bring The Island of Doctor Moreau quickly to mind.

I have a fun evening ahead of me.


  1. I'm eager to hear your opinion on this one. I'm almost finished, but have been stalled for some time...

  2. Oooh... looking forward to your final word on this one! Sounds interesting. I've always wanted to get around to Moreau...


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