Great questions!  We’re glad you asked.  Besides getting to know Why, gettingtoknowwhy.com is here for the purpose of archiving and exhibiting the fruit of several writing projects, the focal point of which is Getting to Know Why: a monthly column that considers the great questions of meaning by agonizing over the intellectual development of yours truly, “Dr. Why.”  The primary author/editor of the series is my long-time mentor and friend, “Dr. X”; but I contribute quite a lot.  Getting to Know Why is first published in the Norton-Lakeshore Examiner under the direction of visionary editor Cynthia Price and republished here with my assistance.

Unlike most blogs and newspaper columns, Getting to Know Why is a serial: each installment builds on the one that precedes it and leads into the one that follows it.  Maybe that’s the only reason Editor Price classes it with works by Leo Tolstoy, Charles Dickens, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Herman Melville.  In any event, because it’s a serial, Getting to Know Why installments are best read in the order in which they appeared, and they’re numbered for just this reason.  If you’re a newcomer trying to decide whether Getting to Know Why is worth getting to know, however, then I recommend you start with installments #2 and #3.  You can go back to #1 later if you decide you’re interested. Continue reading

#1: Introduction

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* Why, it’s for you! *

Greetings from Firenze, Italy—also known as “Florence.” I’m in a café drinking cappuccino at the moment. It might seem strangely forward of me to start off reporting on my circumstances like this, as we don’t yet know each other; but since this is to be the first in a series of columns, and since you are my target audience, I hope to change that. So please allow me to introduce myself: I’m Dr. X.

Continue reading

#2: Introduction Continued

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* For Our Parents *

Warm groeten from Amsterdam.  I’m in town for a conference—always a good excuse to have some fun.  I enjoyed dinner, conversation, and a tour all at the same time last night on one of the city’s many canal-boat restaurants.  The boat was motorized, but my hosts said that it used to be drawn through these very canals by horses.  Gezellig!

If you read last month’s installment, you know that I’m “Dr. X” and that this is a sort of critical intellectual biography of my friend and dialogue partner, “Dr. Why.”  Rather than bore you with an orderly procession of all the significant moments in Why’s life, however, I’ll share something of his current intellectual position and then zig back and zag forth from that in subsequent installments.  I will thereby prepare the ground from which to examine some of Why’s other—shall we say, more interesting—ideas. Continue reading

#3: The Dead-Head-Eve Scenario

* For The Dead *

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HAPPY 50TH ANNIVERSARY TO THE DEAD! (Click to view image credits.)

Hello everyone.  I’m “Dr. X,” and you’re reading the third installment of a serial biography I’m writing about my good friend and dialogue partner “Dr. Why,” who has some very interesting things to say about science, religion, and their relations—among other things.  Why surprised us with a visit last time, and I’m pleased to report that he’s returned once again to continue our conversation.

We were discussing the importance of founding hypotheses when we concluded our last installment.  Why had illustrated his belief that the historical sciences reason in circles against interventionist theism by pointing out that uniformitarian geological methods assume rather than prove that no God has intervened in Earth history.

Welcome back, Dr. Why.  Is that a fair synopsis?

Y:  Glad to be back, Dr. X.  Fair enough, except what I last remember is discovering the gender-bending implications of the fact that creationists can’t think male nipples were useless back in Eden.  Continue reading

#4: Critique of the Dead-Head-Eve Scenario

* For Rent: To rent a GTKW dedication line, please contact Dr. X.*

If you’ve never joined us before, welcome.  If you have joined us before, welcome back.  I’m “Dr. X,” and the subject and star of this column is my good friend and fellow traveler, “Dr. Why,” who has many very interesting ideas to share with us.

Why has been telling me for years that inquiry of all sorts builds on “founding hypotheses” that may always be doubted and may often be replaced, sometimes with grandly surprising results—conceivably even creationist results.  So last time—challenged by me to render belief in Adam and Eve “even remotely plausible” while accommodating the historical sciences—Why donned his comedian hat and shared an entertaining rendition of the so-called Fall-of-Man story of Genesis 3.  By interpreting the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge as an hallucinogenic mushroom, Why created a scenario showing that the experience of any one person—no matter how much science it includes—is compatible with the hypothesis that s/he’s really Eve dying of a drug overdose in Eden. Continue reading

#5: Caricature of Young-Earth Creationism

* For Ann Reid and Eugenie Scott *

Hello everyone.  I’m “Dr. X,” editor and principal author of this rather unorthodox biography you’re reading about my friend and colleague, “Dr. Why.”  I wrote this paragraph while relaxing in an evergreen-forest campground dotted with electrical boxes disguised as giant  Christmas mushrooms.  Given Why’s appeal to psychoactive fungi in his comedic rendition of the “Fall of Man” story two conversations ago, I couldn’t help but wonder if I really am Eve dying of an overdose in Eden!

(Click to read Dr. Why’s comedic rendition of the “Fall of Man” story in GTKW #3!)

We’ve been revisiting Why’s past to explicate his present thinking on science and religion—a topic about which he has some valuable things to say.  Why is unavailable at the moment, however, so I’ve decided to introduce you to an old friend from his formative years, nicknamed Yec.  Why’s dealings with Yec were mostly extra-curricular, as Yec was expelled from Why’s school when they were both quite young.  The school said the expulsion was justified by Yec’s irrepressible tendency to blurt out ridiculous nonsense in class, and the government concurred with a statement that cited constitutional limits on free speech.  But Yec’s supporters attributed it to a sort of bigotry inspired by Yec’s gross deformities and bizarre mannerisms.  And Yec really is grossly deformed, so I won’t ask you to shake its hand during this introduction, only to stare at it long enough to get a sense of what we’re talking about.  Yec’s full name, after all, is young-Earth creationism. Continue reading

#6: On Miracles in Young-Earth-Creationist Method

* For John Whitmore *

Back in the Precambrian several thousand years ago, coveting culinary adventures beyond the provisions of Paradise and talked by a walking snake into eating the only fruit God strenuously warned them against, our Greatest Great-Grandparents traded everlasting nudist bliss—theirs and ours—for leathers and harsh discipline by a neophyte Grim Reaper, who, mere generations later, in a Flood higher than Everest and a Grave deeper than Grand Canyon, overzealously drowned and then buried everything that breathed save the fortunate residents of a floating zoo called Ark.  Or so we heard last time from an old friend of my usual guest.

Overzealous, Neophyte Grim Reaper

Continue reading

#13: Dr. X’s First Encounter with Why, Part 1

*For Pat McManus*

 I really hope you’ll lend me your ears today, dear readers.  I can promise to repay you by earning your interest, as I’ve a memory that will grow fonder if you fondle it—a memory of my first meeting with the fit subject of this serial: my dear friend and colleague, the hefty-yet-quick—the Olympic—Dr. Why.

I’d like to keep the details of when and where to myself, so I’ll start like this: Once upon a time . . .

I was reclining on the chaise longue in my comfortable office library, on a great campus of a greater university in the middle of everywhere the modern Academy can take you.  The term was done, the students were home, and my staff was gone at last.  I had no task at hand, no plans afoot, neither gleaming typewriter nor blinking computer in sight, and only nothing on my mind.  It was a rare and precious and consummate moment.  I hoped at heart to keep it and resolved to try as I relaxed there—on my long chair, in the great midst—into nix . . . .

But then, as if possessed, my office door spoke to me:

“Knock, knock,” it joked. Continue reading

#16: Dr. X’s First Encounter with Why, Part 2

* For those who pose as gods *

(Continued from #13.)

At long last, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the second half of what we started in #13: my account of meeting Dr. Why for the first time.  What follows is the “clear memory” Why shared when I asked him how “it” started, if you know what I mean.   –Dr. X

“I was about five, maybe six years old?  Certainly no more than eight.  I was at church with my parents like any other Sunday.  And it must have been the morning service, because I was fighting to stay awake.  In fact, it was probably during the sermon, because I wouldn’t have had any trouble if we hadn’t passed the part when we stood up and sat back down constantly—which was basically every part besides the sermon—as if we came to church to do aerobics.  And I remember my father pinched me—which either meant the adults were trying to listen or that I should have been—so it was definitely during the sermon. Continue reading

#17: Grandma and The King

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* For Grandma and The King *

When the man on the radio announced the bad news, my mother, who had been inducting me into The King’s biggest-fan club ever since I was old enough to listen, paused a moment from her work in the kitchen to wipe my face and tell me sadly that he was gone for good.  I was impressed by my mother’s sadness, so I quietly asked questions and felt distressed by what I understood.  And when Grandma came over for dessert that evening, I paused in the middle of an ice-cream headache to tell her that The King was now with Jesus.

“It means no more records or movies or live specials on TV,” I informed her, sadly.

But Grandma thought she was better informed and felt that I should be too.  So after peering over her shoulder at my mother a moment, she shook her head slowly and looked down at me.

“Elvis went to hell,” she said, gently. Continue reading

#18: On Lima Beans

gtkw 18 banner 90 percent* For Ye Royal Piglets *

Boiled mixed vegetables: flaccid wax beans, puckered peas, rubbery carrots, passable corn, and just-plain-evil Lima beans.

For all I know, it really is true that Lima beans (properly pronounced Leemah beans) arrived in Europe back in the mid-16th century as a gift sent to the Dutch Royal Family by a notoriously prodigal, second-born usurper of the rightful child-king of Peru.  I doubt that’s true, but if it is, I know why the kid sent them.

Boil them a little while and Lima beans feel chalky and taste of dust.  Boil them a little longer, and they feel mushy and chalky and taste of dust.  I hate Lima beans, and I’ll bet that little tut-tut of Peru did too.

“No Mother,” I can hear him say in the affected tones of a twelve-year old boy fully convinced of his mother’s love and the divine right of kings, “I will not eat my beans.  In fact, neither I nor any of my good subjects shall ever eat these horrid beans ever again.  I order you—no, not you, Mama; I’m talking to the Admiral—get these revolting things out of my kingdom immediately!  Round up every nasty little bean in Lima, load them onto my three fastest ships, and send them with whomever grows them to The Netherlands; they’ll eat them gladly there if anyone will.  Feed whatever’s left to my royal piglets.  Not my royal ponies!  Or burn them to ash, for all I care.  Only do not boil or bury them or I’ll have your head!  Is this clear?” Continue reading

#19: Out Fishing

*For Dad*

God knows what we had to do to get them sometimes, but we tried hard nonetheless.  After sleepy, rushed breakfasts on foggy, blue-moonlit mornings and dark, rain-clouded mornings and even mornings when we only hoped the rain would pass, slicing in an aluminum craft toward a far shore through insect-rippled glass or battering along atop rolling, broad chop full of weeds and cold and God knows what: we two boys and Dad, a bag of Mom’s sandwiches, three tackle boxes, four rods and a bucket of live bait, out fishing.

If the wind was high, we’d sit and hold our poles out from the sides to bob and drift through whitecaps; if it rained, we’d let our lines way out with flashing spoons in back and motor slowly through the waves.  We rarely caught much on those days, but when we did, they were always of the kind that come with bragging rights and justify small lies.  Someone’s pole would twitch and jerk and suddenly arc as the chosen one jerked back to set the hook.  There’d be such resistance on the other end that we’d worry for several seconds if we’d snagged before the pole lurched again and line buzzed from the reel and the jealous rest of us raised the motor and readied with the net.  Then our slick adversary would leap clear into midair and shake, and we’d all cheer in unison and forget about the cold and wet.  We’d shout in panic when the line zagged under us and angled toward the prop, and we’d worry that the pole might snap.  But on the best of days, after a spectacular fight, we’d haul a slimy lunker in to bang and slap the bottom of the boat while we danced about and took turns loudly recounting our success.

On breezy sunny days, we’d anchor in a weedy hole, weigh our bait down with lead, maybe chum with oatmeal, and wait: jigging our poles from time to time and staring attentively into their eyes, waiting patiently, carefully thumbing our lines to interpret their vibrations.  Sometimes we’d spend the whole day sorting whether weeds or nibbles plagued us, changing depths and locations, praying and swapping sides like hopeful disciples: all for nothing.  On good days, we’d catch enough for dinner.  On the best of days, we’d pull them in as fast as bony mouths can eat, and compete for who could catch the most.

When the sky was blue and the lake flat, we’d park near lilypads or reeds to cast and crank.  Purple rubber crawlers rarely failed us: splashing lightly, sinking slowly, slowly drawing coiled monofilament down, down until it abruptly stretched straight and streamed out toward cover.  But I favored floater-divers for more dramatic catches.  I’d plop one near a drowned stump or in a cove of pads, count to ten and tug my line and count and tug again; my lure would wobble-dive and float in turns to broadcast false distress from top to bottom.  Several predators would glide from their shadows to assess the scene and then race each other to it; the surface would boil and splash, my plug would disappear, and wham!  I’d drag a green-glittered beauty out through tangling yellow stems.

Sometimes we’d talk, or anchor in the middle of the lake to swim if they weren’t biting; but usually not.  Time was never wasted on a whole day of rare moments spent tranquilly peering through reflections on the surface into unknown depths.  Fishing together was our favorite pastime back then, bar none; catching was but its finest flourish.  It was wondering what God knows that made it fun, because not even Dad who knew most everything and could do most anything really knew what monsters lurked within those depths or when persistence and good luck might bring them up.

To rent a dedication line or to comment, write to Dr. X at contactdr.x@gmail.com or to Dr. Why at contact.dr.why@gmail.com.

All rights retained by the authors.


#20: How to Clean Fish

* For Momma Fish *

“I want to do it,” I said, gripping my knife.

“Do what?” my Father asked brightly, as if he didn’t know.

“Come on, Dad,” I said.  “Clean fish.  I want to learn how to clean fish.”

“You want to help clean fish, do you?  Did you bring your knife?”

He knew I had.  I’d begged for weeks and had finally gotten it on my birthday just the day before.  I held it up silently.

“Well, take it out of the sheath and put it up here, and get a fish out of the bucket, and stand here on the stool by the paper.  I’ll show you.”

I looked down into the bucket crowded with marvelous fish.

“Alright then,” my father encouraged.

I plunged with both hands after the largest fish in view, then immediately withdrew, sucking air through my teeth and grimacing, squeezing blood from my palm.

“Stupid fish!” I cursed angrily, suddenly hating it.

“Careful or they stick you!” my father laughed.  “Here, like this.”

He reached smoothly into the bucket after a much smaller fish and took it out briskly.

“You have to lay their spines down and keep them down with your hand.  Like this,” he said, “or they stick you.  And hold tight!  Don’t let them flop around, or they stick you.”  He returned the fish to the bucket.  “Ok, now you try.”

I looked apprehensively into the bucket again.  “Why do they stick you?” I asked.

“So they can get away!” my father laughed.

“Why do they want to get away?”

“Just reach in there and grab a fish,” he said.

So I did.  I held tight and tried not to let it flop around, but it stuck me anyway.  I rushed it to the table and threw it down on the paper, grimacing.

“Get up here quick and hold him or he’ll flop off!” my father said.  I wondered why again but didn’t ask, thinking I already knew; and I got up quickly on the stool.

“Hold him tight!” my father ordered.  “Hold him down with your left hand, like this.  And now pick up your knife.  Good, but like I’m holding mine here.  You have to point your finger along the blade like this, see?  There you go!  And now watch me do it over here.”

I tried to watch, but quickly turned away to look my own fish over—only not in the eye.  The tip of the tail waved me on to witness the rest of its dazzling Sunday-circus suit: a thousand tactfully shimmering, varicolored sequins arrayed into an expanding field of yellowed belly-white grading up through vertical stripes into a sloping surface of green so dark and smooth I wondered if I could see through it, like through sunglasses.  And then its gills flashed red as if alarmed, and its terribly astonished fish-face flashed into view, and the onyx pupil set in it stared into me.

And then I heard my father’s voice calling as if from a distance up above: “Hey there?  Anybody home?”

I smiled and nodded.

“Ok, ready now?  First you stick the point of your knife right here, in the top of the head, behind his eye.”

“His eye?”

“Yep, just beside the backbone.  But no, not like you’re spreading butter: you have to raise your knife up a bit.  Like you’re gonna stab him in the back!  Yep, good.  And now twist the blade a little so it’ll cut right along those spines.  Perfect!  Ok, now push down a little on the knife.”

I hesitated.

“A little more than that.”

I pushed halfheartedly.  My knife slid off the fish’s smooth head and slashed at me.

“Oh!  Hey, you ok?”

“I think so,” I said, looking myself over.

“You have to be careful with knives, you hear?  That knife is razor sharp!  Cut you wide open and hurt you something terrible!  Ok?  Now, let’s try again, but more carefully this time.”

I touched my blade lightly to the top of the fish’s head, just behind the eye.

“Now push like you’re sticking it into a steak,” my father said.

My blade abruptly punctured the skin and the fish jumped in my hand.

“Good!” my father cheered.

I grimaced into my palm and sucked through my teeth again. “Doesn’t it hurt the fish?” I asked.

“Nah,” my father said.  “It’s a fish.”

“Fish don’t feel anything?”

“They’re fish!” he repeated.  “Hey, he’s gonna stick you again if you don’t hold him down tight!  And careful you don’t stick yourself!  Pay attention now!”

“It looks like it hurts,” I suggested.  “He tried to get away twice, and he jumped when I stuck him.”

“Maybe a little,” my father answered.  “Just a little prick.”

“Like at the doctor’s?” I asked, uneasily.

“Like a mosquito bite.”

But that was just what the doctor always said.

I frowned, but my father took my little wannabe filleting hand and held it in his own, big hand: “Here,” he said, “let me help you.  Relax yourself.”  He shook my hand gently.  “Relax.”  I smiled up at him and loosened my grip on the knife.  “Attaboy,” he said, smiling back down at me.  “How about we make the first cut behind the gills instead, like this.  See?  Not too deep though: don’t want the head to come off!  And just down to his tummy, like this.  And then the next cut is down along the backbone, all the way to the tail.  And then the meat just comes off the ribs, like this!  Just peel it away with one hand while the other hand works the knife.  See how I did that?  Isn’t that neat?  And then the fillet comes away like this.  See?  That’s your fillet!”

He smiled down at me and our eyes met, and for just a moment I almost forgot my discomfort.

“And then you skin it,” he continued.  “Just grab a little piece of meat with your fingertips—see?—and bend the blade so it’s flat against the table.  And then caaarefully….  Ah, dang it.”

“Fish have tummies?” I interrupted, staring.

“Just like you!” he said, tossing the fillet into a pot of water nearby and reaching back quickly to tickle me as I flopped away.  “Ok, now you try.”

He turned the fish over and it flopped and shuddered.  Its mouth opened and shut and opened and shut, and it flopped again.  I stared down at it.  It looked like a whole fish turned over like this, and it was still very much alive.  I hadn’t expected that.

I wondered if it was in terrific pain and thought it must be, and I wondered how to make it stop.  I wondered how many stitches the poor thing needed and if it could ever swim again and why it didn’t die already.

Then again, I thought, maybe it isn’t in pain at all: it flopped about the same before we cut it as after.  –Well, except at that first little prick.

I quickly sawed its head off, thinking maybe it should be put out of its misery.

“Don’t do that,” my father said.  “It dulls your knife and makes a mess.  See, now you have fish eggs all over the place.”

“Fish eggs?” I repeated.

“These here,” he said, pointing.

It was a Momma fish!  I saw the tiny yolks spilling from her slit belly across the table, and I wondered if she had a family of minnows, and if they were out there in the lake somewhere staring up at the cracked surface through which she had disappeared, fearing the cracking faces that had peered down after her, hating them, hating me.  Momma fish opened her mouth and quivered, and I looked down at my knife.  It’s wrong, I thought.  It hurts!  The beautiful Momma fish who never hurt anybody!

But then I thought that I liked to go fishing with Dad; that fishing with my Dad is the best thing in the whole wide world; that nobody likes a crybaby; that we were having fish for dinner and I had to help out with my new birthday knife; and that though Dad seemed unclear about whether fish feel pain or not, they sure don’t scream or bleed.  Maybe my fish was about to flop even before I stuck her?  Maybe flopping isn’t to escape but just a twitch?  And it must be ok or Dad wouldn’t do it.  Didn’t Jesus’ disciples even do it?  Maybe fish want us to do it.   Maybe it’s just how things are.  Maybe it doesn’t matter.

So I jabbed my finger down the stabbing blade at the fish, haphazardly hacked her entire right side from her ribs and spine, sawed it into a fillet, and prepared to skin it.

“Need help with that?” my father asked.  “Skinning’s the hard part.”

“I can do it, Dad,” I said as I scraped Momma fish from her hide.

“Attaboy,” Dad said.


That evening we stood fidgeting impatiently around the campfire as Mom seasoned and breaded the fillets.  Then she laid the fillets to rest one at a time into a pot of oil set boiling on the fire, and we all stood in a circle and prayed.  We thanked God for the beautiful place, for good weather, for the good luck we’d had on the lake that day, and for the bountiful harvest of delicious fish we were just about to eat.  We asked God to bless it to our bodies and said, “in Jesus name, Amen.”  And then we dug in.

“Nothing like fresh fish!” my father exclaimed happily, double dipping in the tartar sauce.

“What do you mean, ‘fresh fish,’ Dad?”

“Fresh fish is fish that’s just been caught,” he said.  “Otherwise it’s no good.  The fresher the better!”

“Is that why we keep them alive until we clean them?” I pressed.

My uncle nodded vigorously.  “Mmm-mmm!” he enthused.  “Fresh fish!”

And as I bit into the first of that year’s fresh-filleted, carefully seasoned, lightly breaded, deep-fried, flaky-white Yellow-Perch flesh, I felt sure that I had to agree.

Mmm-mmm!” I exclaimed happily, double dipping in the tartar sauce and exchanging broad grins with my Dad.  “I love fresh fish!”

To rent a dedication line or to comment, write to Dr. X at contactdr.x@gmail.com or to Dr. Why at contact.dr.why@gmail.com.

All rights retained by the authors.