My grandfather hunted arrowheads, and he found them, hundreds of them. I was awed by his collection, and one of my most prized possessions is a frame containing 48 of his best specimens that I inherited from him. Nearly two decades after his death that frame is still hanging on the wall in the room where I am typing this post.
Sometimes when I was a kid I went arrowhead hunting with him, but I was not much good at it. Many times I brought a promising specimen to papa for inspection, only to have him cast it aside and say, “Just a rock boy; shah, shah, shah.” To this day I don’t know exactly what “shah” means, but from context I gathered he was not being complimentary of my efforts.
But now I’m not so sure my grandfather was playing it straight with me. You see, my arrowhead hunting adventures came to mind today when I was reading Michael Liccione’s review of John Haught’s new book Is Nature Enough? Truth and Meaning in the Age of Science in this month’s First Things. Liccione writes that agency cannot “show up within the layers of scientific explanation, for to do so would invoke the “rightly dreaded God of the gaps.”
I can’t tell you how relieved I am to find out after all these years that I was right all along and my grandfather was wrong. Papa frequently thought he saw a specific and complex pattern in small stones, and each time he saw this pattern he attributed its presence to the efforts of some unseen and unknown Indian in the distant past and labeled the stone an “arrowhead” and added it to his collection. He said he didn’t see these patterns in my rocks and refused to add them to his collection.
Now, thanks to Liccione, I now know papa was simply deceived. He had succumbed to an illusion of design and was invoking the “rightly dreaded (at least by all right thinking people) “Indian of the gaps” to account for the patterns he thought he saw in his “arrowheads.” This enabled him to favor his stones with special status and arbitrarily reject mine. He didn’t have sense enough to know that natural causes are sufficient to account for these patterns, no matter how specific and complex. The fact that science hasn’t done so yet does not mean science can’t do so; it just needs more time. So now, armed as I am with the latest in materialist philosophy, all I have to say to my grandfather’s unfair (and emotionally damaging I might add) rejection of my perfectly satisfactory stones is “shah, shah, shah.”