Tuesday, January 30, 2007

G.K.Chesterton's mad scientist


I ran across an interesting story in E. Christian Kopff's 1999 book, The Devil Knows Latin: Why America Needs the Classical Tradition. Kopff is writing about education issues, but the story is also important for present-day Christians who value "the treasures of tradition."
Kopff cites a story from G.K. Chesterton's book The Poet and the Lunatics:
G.K. Chesterton's poet Gabriel Gale meets a brilliant scientist devoted to the cause of emancipation from tradition and social conventions one evening at an informal gathering. Gale and the scientist are discussing with a few friends the scientist' s philosophy when Gale realizes that the scientists is mad. The poet rushes everybody away from the house just before the scientist blows it sky-high. Gale later explains to his bewildered friends that his suspicions were alerterd by seeing three goldfish gasping desperately in a pool of water on a table in the library. In accordance with his philosophy, the scientist had liberated them from their bowl (3).
A bit later, Kopff says the conflict between Gabriel Gale and the mad scientist "represents the most important contest of our age," and he continues:
The intellectual leaders of our age . . . feel that if they can only free themselves from the trammels of tradition in religion, science, art, and politics, true fulfullment will be theirs. For them tradition is merely memorizing what others have accomplished. Fulfillment, in their eyes, comes to those who have rejected the past, the handed-down, the socially constructed, in order the enter into a reality that is individualistic, innovative, and free. There is nothing innovative and free, however, in flopping about on a table in a pool of water. Tradition is not a cage. It is the goldfish bowl that keeps us alive (4).
Best wishes,
Mason Smith

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