Chapter 10: Belief in gods
...... Sunday morning, as the Amdexter kids tromped to their mandatory service, Kip and Co. played front of the chapel. In cadence to the chapel bells, they tossed around a baseball until all the Amdexter boys had gone in and the bells had stopped. Then, having made their point that they were immune from chapel, they flopped to the ground and killed time until the ethics course.
...... "The chapel has two bells," said Kip, "and they're real and each one is rung independently." He hummed the two bell notes. "The lower one is tuned to A and the higher one to E." He paused, as if waiting for a reaction, and then said "They're the initials of the schools. An Amdexter bell and an ESAP bell."
...... "Come on," said Wolfgang.
...... "No, really," said, Kip. "I'm sure it wasn't on purpose. The A might have been, but the E is a fifth above A. It's a common interval."
...... Wolfgang cocked his head. "How do you know it's A and E?"
...... "I don’t know how I know. Probably from when we all sound an A in orchestra. And for the E, if you know A, then E is obvious."
...... "Obvious," said Paul.
...... After successfully killing forty-five minutes or so, they saw the chapel disgorging kids.
...... "Do they look closer to God?" said Paul.
...... "A couple of inches closer, maybe," said Kip.
...... The three got to their feet.
...... "Hey," said Wolfgang. "Here comes Alex. And he's still wearing your shorts." He waved Alex over, and they went as a grey group to the ethics course.
...... The seats in the rear of the Founders auditorium were already occupied, so they had to sit in the front. Kip slouched in his seat, prepared to snigger and ridicule. But the course turned out to be engaging--despite, or maybe even because of, the sense of hostility that pervaded the room. It was obvious that no one wanted to be there. Brother Wakabyashi--Wakabybaby as Paul referred to him at a whisper--said he was not about to lecture the boys, but instead to engage them in discussion.
...... As the hour went on, Kip was amazed that, even though Wakabyashi seemed to be a really nice guy, he was a fundamentalist who didn't believe in evolution. It seemed paradoxical that you could like someone and at the same time hate their beliefs. And what kind of a screwball school would hire a chaplan who didn't accept evolution? When the opportunity arose, Kip asked a question. "Hasn't science pretty much determined that evolution is a fact?"
...... "It depends on how you define evolution," said Wakabyashi. "Not to mention how you define fact. No. Not everyone believes we're descendent from apes. In fact, most people don't."
...... "Well, sir," said Kip, "Not exactly from apes, but I think most scientists do believe it. And I do, too."
...... Todd, sitting among friends, began scratching under his armpits and made gorilla sounds, at a loud whisper,. At the end of the lecture, Todd's gesture had spread so that subdorm-8, and Alex also, had to run a gauntlet of gorilla grunts and scratching until they reached the safety of Snack Bar.
...... Alex, Kip, Wolfgang, and Paul looked over the vending machine options.
...... "I'll treat you to some unhealthy snacks," said Paul. "Todd's money."
...... "Thanks," said Kip. "I'm not exactly in the mood for of bananas."
...... They got candy bars--all except Paul. He had to run off to his mathematics meeting with Dr. Linda. "Wait for me," he said as he left, holding a notebook. "Shouldn't take long--and I might really need a candy bar when it's over."
...... "Sure, no prob'," said Kip, lightly.--Paul headed for the door--"We'll just sit around and talk ethics and religion."
...... "Not hardly," said Wolfgang.
(To listen in on Paul's meeting with Dr. Linda, click here)
...... When Paul had gone off to his meeting with Dr. Linda, the boys who stayed behind in Snack Bar did talk religion.
...... "Well, I don't believe in god," said Kip. "So I'm not about to make friends with an imaginary playmate."
...... "I'm not so sure," said Alex. "My parents said they'd let me decide if there's a god or not."
...... "Well, have you decided?"
...... "A lot of people believe in god. And a lot of people don't."
...... "I don't think many physicists do," said Kip.
...... "I haven't decided," said Alex. "But to be safe, I think maybe I should worship a god."
...... "A god?"
...... "Well," said Alex, thoughtfully, "there are a lot of different gods around. I sort of like the Greek gods that Mr. Thomas talks about." He paused. "You know...I think I'll worship Zeus."
...... "What?" Kip laughed. "You're kidding, aren't you?"
...... "No. There's a great picture of Zeus in our social studies book. He's holding this thunderbolt and there's an eagle sitting on--"
...... "But Zeus is a myth."
...... "I think it's sort of rude," said Alex, "calling someone else's religion mythology. Anyway, if Paul can believe in mathematics, I can believe in Zeus."
...... "Okay, fine," said Kip, "but why Zeus?"
...... "If one god exists, maybe they all do. And I'd probably be Zeus's only worshiper. I'd have his undivided attention."
...... "I sort of like that," said Wolfgang.
...... During the next half hour, Alex made up a set of prayers and rituals for the worship of Zeus and tried to teach them to Kip and Wolfgang.
...... "Alex, stop," said Kip. "Save it for Brother Wakabybaby."
...... "Hey," said Wolfgang, looking away at the door. "Here comes Paul."
...... Paul walked slowly into Snack Bar. He clutched his notebook and seemed to be talking to himself.
...... "What's with him?" said Wolfgang.
...... "It looks like Dr. Linda beat him up pretty good," said Kip.
...... As Paul drew closer his words became clear--if not comprehensible. "I can't believe it," he said softly into the air. "The set of all non-self-inclusive sets is both self-inclusive and non-self-inclusive. That's insane!"
...... "That's insane?" said Kip.
...... Paul suddenly seemed to notice the others. "It's the Russell Paradox. And boy is it good!" He threw himself down into a chair at the table. "Logic shouldn't have paradoxes." Paul pursed his lips. "I always believed that, like, if we thought about them right, there wouldn't be any. But now, I'm not so sure."
...... "All right, all right," said Kip. "Tell us the paradox."
...... Paul did so.
...... "It does seem to be a paradox," said Kip. "But it's words, logic. That's not the same thing as real mathematics."
...... "But it is," said Paul. "Symbolic logic. Logic reduced to symbols." He opened his notebook and wrote, ~(A ^ B) = ~A v ~B. "Here, for instance."
...... "They look like magic symbols," said Alex.
...... Paul gave a weak smile. "I guess like in a way, they are." He let out a breath. "I might even be able to live with the Russell Paradox. But after dinner, Dr. Linda wants to show me something else. And from the way she talked, I think it's something bad." He pointed with his pencil to his symbolic logic symbols. "This here means, the negation of--"
...... "Later," said Wolfgang. "We're going to be late for lunch."
...... That evening, while Kip took advantage
of being alone in his subdorm and did some homework, Alex walked in. He was
dressed in casual clothes and carried, in addition to his ever-present sketchpad,
a rolled up pair of grey shorts.
...... Alex handed over the shorts. "Thanks," he said in a subdued voice. "It was fun being in ESAP." He turned to leave.
...... "Wait a minute," said Kip. "Look. I'm sure you're smart enough. If Dr. Ralph knew you wanted to be a physicist or even a mathematician, maybe he'd let you in. I mean you already sort of have a bunk here."
...... "I wish." Alex, in a barely conscious quest for a defendable position, squeezed himself in between a bunk and a bookcase. "But actually I don't want to be a physicist or a mathematician."
...... Kip's eyes widened in clear astonishment. "You don't? Why?"
...... "I want to be an artist." Alex gave a bark of a laugh. "Not everyone in the world wants to be a physicist."
...... "I guess maybe they don't."
...... Alex smiled.
...... "But," Kip went on, "But if they'd studied any real physics and had the brains for it, then they'd want to be a physicist--or a mathematician."
...... Alex threw a glance to the ceiling.
...... Just then, Paul came in. He looked somber.
...... "Did Dr. Linda beat you up again?" said Kip.
...... "Math doesn't work," said Paul.
...... "Oh, come on!" said Kip.
...... "I hate that. I really hate it." Paul plopped down at his desk. "It's called Gödel's Proof. It says mathematics can't be both complete and consistent."
...... "What does that mean?" said Kip.
...... "Dr. Linda says that mathematics isn't always consistent--and maybe for the same reason that physics isn't."
...... "What reason is that?" said Alex, coming forward..
...... "Oh, Hi, Alex." Paul waved. "Dr. Linda said she didn't know. Oh, and I ran into Todd. He asked me if I'd talk to the ESAP kids about doing lines for money. Todd wants it to be a business. He'll take fifteen percent as the agent."
...... "He talked to me about it, too," said Kip. "Said he'd pay me eight dollars for a hundred lines."
...... "Todd said all ESAP kids were dirt poor," said Alex. "And they'd be happy for the money."
...... "Todd's a scumbag," said Paul. "But yeah, he like does have lots of money."
...... "Well, I told him to shove it up his nose," said Kip. "And I called him Toddle."
...... Alex laughed. "He hates being called names."
...... "Yeah, I know. He...he tried to punch me out."
...... "You're not the only one." Alex looked Kip up and down. "He's a lot bigger than you. I don't see any bruises."
...... Kip was too embarrassed to tell anyone that Todd had punched him so hard in the stomach that it brought tears to his eyes. So he took some liberties with the truth. "I'm a long-distance runner. He couldn't catch me." That was true, but only after Kip had recovered from the punch. "But I'd hate to have to run like a rabbit whenever I see him." Kip spoke with a smile, as if he were amused by the incident--but he wasn't. He hated Todd now with a vengeance.
...... Alex expressed sympathy and said he had to go. Then, with his hand on the doorknob, he turned to Paul. "What did you say? I mean about talking to ESAP kids about doing lines?"
...... "I told him you talked me out of it."
...... "Great! Wonderful!" Alex opened the door. "Now, he'll just kill me." Alex turned and left the subdorm.