The Strange and Wonderful Thing

MacIver, Robert M. (Robert Morrison

  • Robert MacIver describes his belief that no matter how thoroughly he pursues knowledge of the world, he realizes that there will always be aspects yet to be explained, leaving room for wonder in his view of the world. This episode is a rebroadcast of an earlier airing.
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And now, This I Believe.
2nd Announcer: This broadcast is the repetition of an earlier performance and is being repeated because of the special interest it aroused. Here is Edward R. Murrow as he first introduced the guest.
This I Believe. As rugged as the hills of his native Scotland, are the beliefs of Professor Robert MacIver, chairman of Columbia University's Sociology Department. Listen now to his honest faith.
When I was a boy, a stone was to me a stone--and that was a bit of worn down rock that could be kicked about or thrown at things. And earth was earth, and that was an inert crumbling stuff in which things crawled and grew. Everything was what it was. Things were just what our senses said they were.
In time, I learned that the stone had a strange history over millions of years. I learned that mighty forces had formed and baked it, buried it and smoothed it. I learned that the dead stone was composed of infinitesimal atoms. I learned then that the inconceivably small atom was itself a system, and that its constituents whirled in their orbits with incredible swiftness. In short, everything turned out to be more and more different from what it seemed to be. It was my ignorance that made me think things common and ordinary, though they are strange and wonderful
What has all this to do with beliefs? It certainly has a lot to do with mine. Let me draw a moral or two, which may explain what I mean. One is that in learning about things, we never learn things, the
causes of things. We learn more about things, and the things change amazingly as we learn, but we never learn to explain their being. We discover the atom, and it becomes another form of energy. But what is energy? And if someday energy turns out to be something else again, we are no nearer explaining it than before.
My beliefs furnish no answer to many of my questions. They do not tell me what immortality means, as imputed to personal existence, what it could mean, or even whether there is any meaning. They tell me only that was has been from the first is immortal. That what was first, and in what manner of being, is beyond my grasp. I believe that everything belongs forever with other things, but how it belongs and
will belong, I cannot comprehend.
What we have in common with all, what we share and do not diminish by sharing--the common pulse, the common life, a common destiny--holds what is richest and deepest in ourselves. And in a sympathetic understanding of it, lies first whatever of divinity we can attain.
A seventeenth century thinker, Sir Thomas Brown, said he loved to pursue his thoughts to a point where he had to stop and cry, "Oh, the far heights." That is about all I can do. The wonder is in me, and encompasses me, and lies forever beyond. And knowing no name for it, I will call it God.
That was the creed of Professor Robert M. MacIver, whose education was begun at Edinburgh and Oxford University and has clearly never ended.