I thought I understood my own daughter. You see, Gretchen is a scientist, always has been, observing the world with big open eyes, tests a hypothesis and then tests another. I’m pretty sure it’s my own daughter who taught me the scientific method: observe, hypothesize, test — she wants to see everything tested and she wants to see the proof. She always wants to talk about “examining the evidence” and then she proceeds forward with her “best working hypothesis.” That’s Gretchen. Always marching forward with a hypothesis and a test, and a litany of facts. And you’d better get out of her way if you’re still grasping onto an untested belief; she doesn’t have the patience for that. Like religion: before yesterday, I would have said that Gretchen and religion were like oil and water. I thought I understood. I’m not saying I agreed, but I was used to agreeing with her so that we’d avoid arguments.
“Yes, yes, Gretta …”
“Mother, please call me Gretchen, the name you gave me at birth and at baptism and anytime you’re angry or pleased …”
“Yes, Gretchen, I’m sorry” — she always hated the very thing I loved, the pairing of Marquetta and Gretta; I thought we’d always be like a little rhyming couplet — “Yes, Gretchen, I’m sorry, I just wanted to say that you are right, dear: it’s hard to understand why someone might choose to believe a world promised to them versus a world right in front of them …”
“Hard to understand? They’re loonies, Mother.”
I really think she said, “They’re loonies.” Now don’t get me wrong: I don’t agree with her. I just agree with her on the phone so we won’t argue. But then yesterday she threw me for a loop when I tried to preempt her and stand up for science and she said, “Mother, it’s not like science isn’t its own religion. They’re very similar, functionally speaking, in terms of establishing social norms to help a group of otherwise isolated individuals feel like they belong within a larger cohesive structure that has meaning and gives purpose to their lives. Without science my colleagues would either subscribe to some alternative belief system or be wandering in the deserts of their own inscrutable minds, just like without religion your neighbor Mr. Bellis would be a lonely old man who would have drowned himself in the lake years ago. We all need something to believe in.”
“But Mr. Bellis has … but, Gretta … don’t you …”
“Gretchen, have you found religion?”
And she guffawed at that thought.
“I am not disavowing the logic of science, nor the elegance of well-designed experimentation, nor the benefits of curiosity over dogma and open minds over obedience. I’m not abandoning my belief in the democratizing influence of a commitment to the scientific method, which, unlike religion, doesn’t privilege unprovable claims about communication with a god who seems to be most interested in playing power games with humans. All I’m saying … I’m just saying that science is my chosen belief system.”
“Science is your religion, then?”
I wish she would come home so we could have these conversations in person. It could be like old times when we’d walk around the lake — Marquetta and Gretta — and she’d notice things on the shore that I hadn’t seen, or point out patterns in the pines ….