Shyly, Carol admitted her anguish about the moon.
"I'm so embarrassed," she said. "You know I always thought the moon made its own light, and that, well, it shone from inside."
Then she told me how she had just read that the lunar surface actually reflected light from the sun. We talked for only a few minutes, but I was struck by her emotion and by her need to share her very real disillusion.
Her disappointment was especially interesting to me because I had been thinking about how the authority of astronomers and physicists and naturalists is often intimidating, and how most of what we believe about the universe is based on complex technology and mathematics, and is quite understandably taken on faith.
The result, it seems to me, is that people are becoming more hesitant to think for themselves about what they see around them. They defer to specialists (like peasants to priests) and lose their wonder and curiosity.
And I wanted to reassure Carol and to reassure myself.
There are too many lessons to be learned from the concept of a moon that produces its own light to dismiss it as childish or naïve.
Natural science is only an adjunct to our imagination. The fruit of knowledge does not dangle from a quantifiable tree but rather hides in our imperfect vision. We will not see God another way. We live as you assumed, Carol, in the glow of a benign, accessible, self-sufficient moon.
This is Bill Felker with Poor Will’s Almanack. I’ll be back again next week with notes for the first week of deep winter. In the meantime, watch the last moon of 2013 wane through its final quarter, making way for the first moon of the new year, the Tufted Titmouse Moon.