November 21, 2005

Pat gets a no-prize that rattles alarmingly for bringing us perhaps the very first "faith versus reason" controversy in our country's history:

In the early hours of Nov. 18, 1755, the most destructive earthquake ever recorded in the eastern United States struck at Cape Ann, about 30 miles north of Boston. "It continued near four minutes," wrote John Adams, then a recent Harvard graduate staying at his family home in Braintree, Mass. "The house seemed to rock and reel and crack as if it would fall in ruins about us."
The weeks after Nov. 18 saw an outpouring of sermons preached and articles published on the subject of the quake's divine origin. One strain of faith-based explanation, however, stands apart from the rest, not only for its popularity but also for its downright strangeness. According to a prominent Boston minister, the Rev. Thomas Prince of South Church, and his adherents, one novel practice in particular, together with its originator, was to blame for provoking this act of divine wrath; no, not that unlucky Boston distiller, but the lightning rod and its famous inventor, Benjamin Franklin.

Of course, unlike earlier ages, people did not run around willy-nilly tearing lightning rods from rooftops, mainly because they worked. History has shown time and again that in America people may wail and rend their shirts over one damned fool idea after another, but when it comes down to it what we really care about is what works, and we're not afraid to back-track and change course if it turns out what once worked has stopped, or never worked at all.

I sometimes wonder how many billions of lives would've been saved over the past two centuries if the rest of the world acted this way.

Posted by scott at November 21, 2005 08:26 AM

eMail this entry!
Post a comment

Email Address:



Remember info?