A Magnifying Glass, a Sunny Day, and an Anthill

2 November, 2009

Some years back, I went on vacation (with the (((family))), of course) to Yellowstone (same destination described in a much earlier post, but a different year (and without the providential porta-potty))  On the first day, we drove to Janesville, Wisconsin and let the kids enjoy the fantastic city parks there.  Second day, we drove to Bismark, North Dakota.

As we passed through eastern North Dakota, the brilliant blue sky gave way to dark clouds.  And some really impressive thunder heads.  Coming over the high ground to the east of Bismark, we spotted some funnel clouds on the horizon.  We tuned in to the radio and listened to all the warnings.  And kept going into town.

We found our hotel and checked in just in time to hear the sirens go off.  We put the kids in the bathtub and decided that, if worse came to worse, (((Wife))) and I could just lay over the tub to protect them.  The heavy winds passed and we decided it was safe to look outside.  Oh, hail.

Literally.  Hail.  The size of my fist.  Luckily, the hailstones did not break out any windows in (((Wife)))’s minivan (the cyclops light shattered, though), though the roof took on the contours of a golf ball.  In the parking area, the hail piled up.  By the storm drains, the hailstones were a foot deep.

Then the sun came out.  So we piled back into the van and went looking for dinner.  The aftermath of the storm was amazing:  the underpasses in the center of town at the railroad tracks were filled to the bottom of the bridge; in places, the hailstones were three feet deep;  roofs torn off;  trees down.  We ate at a Taco Johns and talked with some of the locals.

Those we talked with had two basic themes:  ‘what did we do wrong to bring on this punsishment’ and ‘thank god no one was killed.’  No, ‘wow, what a cold front.’  No, ‘Wow, NWS did a great job tracking the storms.’  Just goddidit.  Either way, goddidit.

We later learned it was the most expensive storm in the history of the Dakotas.  There was an Airstream camper convention in town (thin aluminum doesn’t stand up too well to fist-sized hailstones).  A hot-rod group was having a meet (five coats of hand-rubbed lacquer doesn’t hold up to well, either).  (((Wife)))’s minivan had to have the roof replaced.

I remembered this delightful vacation episode when a friend’s ex-fiance’s girlfriend’s . . . .  Screw it, that’s too complicated.  A friend was involved in a car accident.  The crumple zones worked to perfection, absorbing huge amounts of energy.  The airbags deployed, keeping him from being impaled on the steering column.  He was trapped in the vehicle, and the volunteer fire company had to use the ‘jaws-of-life’ to remove the roof so he could be removed. 

And the family’s reaction?  Goddidit.  Both ways.

Uncle X wondered what he did to invite such punishment (this is the uncle he will not let in his house, nor will he visit him).  Would this have happened if he and his live-in girlfriend were married?  No mention of the moron who wedged him into the Jersey barrier and caused the accident.  No mention that he was speeding in a work zone at the time of the accident.  God must be punishing him.

Aunt Y wondered at the mercy of god, protecting him in the accident, saving his life, preventing serious injury, saving his life.  No mention of the government safety requirements for the crumple zones and air bags.  No mention of the volunteer rescue workers who pulled his ass out of the diver’s seat.  No mention of the ambulance crew or ER crew who checked him over.  Goddidit.  God must be watching over him.

So does god create the storm, watch the ants scramble around on the anthill, and then save them?  Does god nudge a car into another lane, cause a three-car accident to punish one human and then step in to make sure the punishment is minor?

Doesn’t it make a lot more sense to invoke Okham’s Razor and refuse to multiply entities without necessity?  Maybe the storm up in North Dakota really was just a weather event.  Maybe the lack of a death toll had something to do with probability (chance) and some timely warnings by some government employees.  Maybe the car wreck was just chance influenced by personal choice.  And the safety had a whole lot to do with government regulations.

Yet many people so desperately want to believe that there is an overarching purpose to life (other than reproduction) that they will invoke a deity to explain both the good and the bad.  Big storm?  Goddidit.  No deaths?  Goddidit.  Car wreck?  Goddidit.  No death or major injury?  Goddidit.

I know that not all theists invoke a deity for minor, or even major, life events.  But for those who do, I have to wonder.  Specifically, I have to wonder if they recognize in their god the same level of morality as a kid with a magnifying glass, a sunny day, and an anthill.



  1. Of course not. There’s a purpose, and it’s all so elaborately thought out that our puny, mortal minds can’t possibly comprehend it. That’s why babies die and good people suffer. It’s all part of a greater good which we can’t grasp but rest assured He knows and it’s all for His greater good. I mean if that’s not true then… then… well, then there’d be no reason for babies dying or my aunt Matilda falling down those steps or… oh, that’s just too terrible to think about. Yes, yes, there must be a god, and He’s good, and all this is for some great purpose. Yes, that HAS to be it. Uh huh. Yeah….

  2. The idea that the universe gives a flying fuck one way or the other is either solipsism or narcissism. Or fear.

  3. My experience with goddidit—

    When the Loma Prieta earthquake hit here 20 years ago, my kids were a little less than 3. When we picked them up from day care that day, they were unusually subdued, not talking about the earthquake at all. When we tried to talk to them about it, my little pagan babies started crying and asking, “Is Jesus going to send another earthquake? No! We’ll be GOOD!”

    I hadn’t known their sitter was a religious nutjob, who saw a “teaching opportunity”. She’d had the kids on their knees ever since the earthquake, telling them that Jesus sent earthquakes when little boys misbehaved.

    We had a great discussion of plate techtonics with the boys that evening, kept them home the next day, and had them in an accredited preschool on the following Monday. When the former sitter tried to tell us we owed her two week’s notice or two weeks’ pay, I told her she was lucky she wasn’t being sued for child abuse. I did share all the details with the county child-care licensing board.

    As you may have discerned, I’m still pissed about it.

  4. I’ve always assumed it was down to His ineffable sense of humor. Philly seems to be skirting the edge of heresy by not mentioning that the Divine Purpose has to do with an elaborate, universe-spanning practical joke.
    What’s funnier than starving babies, trichogramma wasps and polio?

  5. Mutzali: And I don’t blame you in the least for being pissed about it. Still.


    What’s funnier than starving babies, trichogramma wasps and polio?

    Have you listened to the GOP lately? It’s fuckin’ hilarious.

    In a scary-as-hell sort of way.

  6. Mutzali:
    What a horrible story. I’d still be pissed too.

    I don’t find the GOP at all hilarious. I do find them scary as hell.

  7. Chappy: I also find them scary as hell. In a ‘it’s fuckin’ hilarious’ way.

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  9. […] In other words, the Doctor as dispassionate child with a magnifying glass and an anthill. […]

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