While reading an Onion article yesterday connecting David Foster Wallace’s suicide with NASCAR, I mixed up two authors and mistakenly thought Stephen Jay Gould had offed himself this fall. In my rush to connect existential dread and suicide to making science our new “God”, I caught myself saying:
“His ultra-scientific worldview gave him no peace, so he killed himself. Makes sense.” (Yes, I can be a jerk sometimes, too.)
I also recalled what a blowhard Yankee fan Gould had been, when interviewed for Ken Burns’ PBS Baseball series. Then I wondered… wait, do I have the right guy? So I did my homework, and found that Gould had died in 2002 of mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos exposure. It was those doggone pretentious three-part names that had confused me.
Asbestos? Hmm… Bad Science wins again.
David Foster Wallace, it turns out, had a mind for science as well (he published essays in Science magazine). However, he made his name mostly as a post-modern novelist and short story writer. I have not read his work, so I can’t comment on his views about evolution, God, or baseball. But as a fellow sufferer of depression (though lesser severity), I mourn the loss of another artist to that insidious disease of faulty brain chemistry.
I suppose I mourn for Gould as well, even though it’s harder to do so as a Christian and a Red Sox fan. Maybe that’s today’s “love thine enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” lesson for me. I even mourn for Charles Darwin, a former seminarian, whose ideas and good scientific work have become so politicized nowadays. In one of the last things he wrote, he made a point of separating his work on natural selection from any theological conjecture about God’s role in the universe.
In a move not unlike Obama’s “that’s above my pay grade” answer regarding abortion, Darwin had the good sense to leave questions about God and the origin of life to philosophers and theologians. I only wish academics on both sides of the debate today would have the same good sense.