Even though Jean Henri Fabre is best known for his prolific writings and investigations of the insect world, I am enjoying his work on the earth, This Earth of Ours, in which he discusses the entire inanimate world around us.
Fabre has the rare capability of sparking wonder in his readers. Wonder is the name of that desire that children and philosophers share- the desire to know causes for their own sake. Wonder is the beginning of wisdom, and Fabre is indeed childlike in his wonder. I don’t say “childish” but childlike, and I think it is in this very same sense that Our Lord, who is Wisdom incarnate, says “Let the children come to me.”
In his chapter on mountains, Fabre asks
“what kind of world would this be if all the dry land, on emerging from the deep, had taken the form of an uninterrupted plateau … It would be just like the one monotonous stretch of territory on which a sparse population would drag out a languishing and miserable existence…”
He then goes on to brilliantly discuss the very significant functions that mountains perform in the service of life.
He points out that without mountains there could be no proper circulation of water on the globe. Mountains are therefore among the chief causes of the earth’s fertility. They continually enrich the valleys below them with new soil and the uneven surface of the earth effects a variety of food products!
As if this is not enough, Fabre is not afraid, as a scientist, to propose that Mountains also serve to make the earth beautiful! Such an aesthetic consideration is not beneath the scientist to make.
By the end of the chapter a student of Fabre is left with a rather stunning realization that whereas before he had never entertained the question “what is the purpose of a mountain?” he is now filled with the consciousness that mountains are critical for his existence. That is, among things that have a clear and significant purpose, Mountains loom rather large on the scale!
Contrast Fabre’s approach to Mountains with Richard Dawkins (who appears to make a very good living impersonating an atheist)
Obviously Richard Dawkins did not feed his mind in his youth on the wholesome writings of Jean Henri Fabre. What sort of scientific formation did Dawkins have? Could it have been the kind of formation that the pre-Socratic thinkers had before Aristotle discovered his four causes? At least Thales and Anixamander and Anaximenes (and the rest of them) had an excuse for positing only material causes for things. The progress of science had only arrived at a material cause when they walked the earth. What is Richard Dawkins’ excuse?