Lizards and Einstein

I’ve been reading Down the River, by novelist and environmental writer Edward Abbey. In the essay titled “Watching the Birds: The Windhover,” Abbey makes what I take to be a theological statement:

The naming of things is a useful mnemonic device, enabling us to distinguish and utilize and remember what otherwise might remain an undifferentiated sensory blur, but I don’t think names tell us much of character, essence, meaning.

Apply that to the old book of Genesis: God lets the first humans name things, not because God thinks humans are specially suited to naming things, but simply so humans can function in the world without things and events turning into a sensory blur. Puts a different spin on things, doesn’t it? Humans are not quite so remarkably unique as it seems at first. Not even Einstein:

Einstein thought that the most mysterious aspect of the universe (if it is, indeed, a uni-verse, not a pluri-verse) is what he called its “comprehensibility.” Being primarily a mathematician and only secondarily a violinist, Einstein saw the world as comprehensible because so many of its properties and so much of its behavior can be described through mathematical formulas. The atomic bomb and Hiroshima make a convincing argument for his point of view…

Take that, Einstein — you’re not quite the perfect scientist-hero that some say you are, and your (human) view of the world was limited….

The lizard sunning itself on a stone would no doubt tell us that time, space, sun, and earth exist to serve the lizard’s interests; the lizard, too, must see the world as perfectly comprehensible, reducible to a rational formula. Relative to the context, the lizard’s metaphysical system seems as complete as Einstein’s.

Neither science nor traditional religion offers a convincing explanation for the world as it truly is; both are ultimately too narrow. As is Edward Abbey when you come down to it– narrow, I mean — but at least he tells you so.