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Chip Burkitt

Waste Land

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I seldom watch TV, but this week I’ve been away, staying in a hotel in an unfamiliar city without much else to do. So I’ve watched more TV in the past week than I usually watch in six months. I remember now why I don’t watch much TV. The commercials are absurd. There are only four programs on: News, Reality Shows, Comedy, and Drama. The news is by turns monotonous and overhyped. The anchors deliver the most shocking news with deadpan calm and then get worked up about the most trivial nonsense. Reality shows are the worst thing ever to happen to television. They have made us a nation of voyeurs. The comedy shows seem bent on offending every feeling of decency, and the dramas are like a rat’s maze. By the time you get through them you feel exhausted and grateful for the bit of cheese at the end. Why does anyone put up with this stuff? Oh, I left out infomercials. No need to say anything about them. But let me tell you about a product that saved my life….

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Presumed Intelligence

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Suppose you are walking along a beach and you come across these lines scrawled in the sand:

Our vegetable love would grow
Vaster than empires and more slow

What would you think?

  1. That you had received a message from God
  2. That some human had been musing on Andrew Marvell’s poetry
  3. That some random process of wind and sea and sand crabs had accidentally produced marks resembling words

Certainly, it is possible to believe any of these. Yet I think most people would assume that the lines had been written by some human agent.

Now suppose you investigated and found that no one had visited that stretch of beach for days. Suppose you were able to show beyond doubt that the lines could not have been written by a human being. Then what would you believe? If the lines had to have been written by a non-human agent, which is more likely: God or nature?

I confess I don’t know. As a theist, I’m not even sure that a distinction between the two is significant. (In other words, if I were able to witness the words being formed by wind and sea and sand crabs, I don’t think I would find it any less supernatural.) I think I would cling to the notion that a human agent must be involved. After all, why would God quote Marvell?

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