Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Chesterton the Anthropologist

I beg to submit a comment before today's selection.

It would be easy to fill a small book with all the sentences GKC wrote which begin "Man is...". Some are so powerful and insightful, though perhaps argumentative, that they ought to be studied by anyone who is trying to find out more about this curious human species... Hee hee. (Ahem!) This reminds me of one of the very best opening sentences of any book I have ever read: "The human race, to which so many of my readers belong, has been playing at children's games from the beginning, and will probably do it till the end, which is a nuisance for the few people who grow up. " [GKC, The Napoleon of Notting Hill CW6:220]

People occasionally wonder how I as a scientist (yes, I can spell DNA, and can even make a computer spell it!) deal with Chesterton the literary guy, the historian-without-dates, the untrained super-philosopher, the lover of things divine and human, the artist, the comic, the mystery-writer (and revealer!) the poet, and so on. And I simply laugh and remind them that Chesterton knew there was really only one subject, and that all subjects must somehow be related to that subject - see the banner at the top of my blogg for more details!

But actually Chesterton dealt with science as well. And there is no more excellent - and succinct - study of Chesterton on Science than the little volume called Chesterton a Seer of Science by S. L. Jaki.

There's a problem, however. Chesterton is often tasty in one-line quips, though one needs to read more if one wishes the full argument. But Jaki's book, being almost in the nature of a review, is so short and chock-full of quotes ... it's hard to isolate a quotable fragment. You see, it's so good, and already condensed, I don't want to break it in chunks then make it longer by explaining...

See what I mean? Look how long this is - and this is just my introduction... Sheesh. So. From time to time, then, I will try to give excerpts from CASOS, but if you are a scientist and want to know more about Chesterton, you ought to read this book.

After all, as Chesterton said, "The rebuilding of this bridge between science and human nature is one of the greatest needs of mankind." [GKC, The Defendant, 75]

Dr. Jaki has given us Chesterton's blueprint. We have the know-how. Now we need to get busy. We need that bridge!

--Dr. Thursday.

The best known and most restrained form of Chesterton's judgement on Darwinism is in his Everlasting Man, one of his great masterworks if not the greatest. Sections of it should long ago have entered anthologies on anthropology and evolutionary theory. Compilers of such books shy away from Chesterton, though he is not a completely unknown entity to them. In fact, in a recent and prestigious textbook on prehistoric anthropology, the chapter on the origins of culture is headed by a Chestertonian parody of the much vaunted transition, also called missing link, from animals to man: "Man is an exception, whatever else he is. If it is not true that a divine being fell, then we can only say that one of the animals went entirely off its head." [GKC ILN Apr 20, 1907 CW27:445, quoted in Wenke, Patterns in Prehistory: Mankind's First Three Million Years, 79]

[Jaki, Chesterton A Seer of Science 56]


At 22 May, 2006 17:56, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, a kind of pontifex scientiae?


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