All posts by aterryanderson@gmail.com

About aterryanderson@gmail.com

I'm a professional science writer and editor.

God and Evolution

I studied biology in college, where I learned about evolution and Darwin’s theories. I was also raised in a religious household and went to church almost every Sunday. When I became a young adult I pretty much left the church and its trappings far behind and didn’t look back for many years. About 10 years ago, I started attending church again, and one day had an epiphany that God really did exist, at least in my life. Of course it helped that I was attending Washington National Cathedral where, in such a grand edifice, it’s difficult not to feel the presence of God.

Coming to terms with my belief in both evolution and God came, surprisingly, rather easily. Both require faith. One can’t see or feel or touch evolution, although we can discern its existence through archeology and paleontology. Nor can one see or touch God in a corporeal sense. But let me go out on a limb here: I can feel God. I feel God’s presence in the sky, the wind, the sea, in other people, and in myself.

Both the science of evolution and the spirituality of knowing that God exists both take faith. Faith is fidelity—a quality or state of being faithful. It’s a belief in traditions and tenets that one cannot prove or disprove. Faith is trust in something. I trust that both evolution and God exist.

I am a docent at the Smithsonian Institution. I used to give tours of the National Museum of Natural History. On my tours I spoke about evolution and how we know that it exists. But I was also honest with visitors in saying that I also believed in God. After all, as a good scientist, if I closed myself off to the possible existence of God, then I wouldn’t be a very good scientist because scientists are supposed to keep an open mind about everything.

The wonderful author Agatha Christie gave interesting words to her character Sherlock Holmes when he said (paraphrasing here): “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

It is nearly impossible not to believe in evolution, so what remains—the existence of God, however improbable, must be the truth. By the same token, it is nearly impossible not to believe in God, so what remains—the existence of evolution, however improbable, must also be the truth.

I’m not naïve. I usually reject offers that are too good to be true. But I have to believe in something, and for me, a belief in the existence of both God and evolution are not mutually exclusive. I believe that both exist. I can’t touch or see or feel either one, but I know they both exist.

A Joan Rivers Tribute

How sad I was when I learned that Joan Rivers had died. My husband and were faithful viewers of her television show, Fashion Police. She kept us in the know about modern entertainers. Her observations about what they were wearing and how they were presenting themselves to the public were usually spot on. Invariably, we would bust out laughing at something she said.

In 2010, I had the unexpected pleasure of sitting behind Ms. Rivers on a flight from Sydney to Los Angeles. I had been working in East Timor, had become sick, needed to return home, and cashed in frequent flyer miles to upgrade to first class to be more comfortable. Before takeoff, Ms. Rivers happily posed with me while another passenger took a photo with my camera. In Los Angeles, I stood next to her in the immigration queue. She was gracious, down to earth, funny, and interested in what I did. I was star-struck and tongue-tied, even though 4 days before I had no problem leading a meeting with the Timorese Minister of Health.

Joan said things that made me uncomfortable. She was sarcastic; sometimes biting and mean. But she also made me laugh out loud, which for my money, is the sign of a great comedian.

The Forgotten En Dash

Few people seem to use en dashes these days. My experience is that only professional publishers and people with a detailed knowledge of punctuation know how to use it correctly. The 15th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style offers a few helpful examples of when it should be used.

Use an en dash in place of the word “to,” or to specify a range “up to and including (or through)” (Chicago, page 261). The most common use of this is in a page range, for example: 146–158. Here’s another: New York–Paris flight.

Also use an en dash instead of a hyphen in a compound adjective when one of the elements is an open compound or two or more elements are open compounds. For example: “The condominium–apartment complex proposal.” (OK, I admit this is an awkward example.) Let’s try one directly from Chicago: “a hospital–nursing home connection.”

It gets a little tricky, and no one will accuse you of being a punctuation snob if you stick with the good old hyphen. But I like the en dash, and I don’t want it to die.

Long live the en dash!

Double Spaces

I have a client whose style guide demands that all documents contain double spaces after periods and colons. When I first noticed this, I asked when the style guide had been updated and whether anyone really follows that standard. Although the style guide is updated every few years, new versions assiduously retain the double space edict. I’ve ask people whether they know the history of double spaces, and almost no one does.

Here’s the story as I understand it. Inserting double spaces after a period and colon are holdovers from the days when people used typewriters, and most typewriters used the Courier font, which devoted the same amount of space to small characters, such as periods and colons, as it did to wide characters, such as W and M. In days gone by, typists were instructed to insert two spaces after a period and colon because it gave readers a subtle, visual cue that they had reached the end of a sentence or phrase.

Today’s modern printers use proportional fonts, allotting different amounts of space to characters depending on their width. Thus it’s simply no longer necessary to insert double spaces after periods or colons because it adds more space to a page than is necessary (unless one still occasionally has need to use Courier or one of the older fonts).

Most people look at me blankly when I explain this. They get it, but they can’t or won’t change their typing habits.

Another problem with using double spaces is that one often ends up having three or four spaces between sentences. This may happen when someone cuts a sentence or two from one document and pastes it into another, taking along with it the double spaces before and after the original cut. I’ve seen documents with a strong of five or six spaces, which makes a page especially difficult to read. And it looks messy. It’s easy to clean up by repeatedly searching for two spaces and replacing them with one.

Quite simply, there’s no need to put two spaces after a period. If you were taught to insert two spaces after a period, try and train yourself to stop doing it. In the long run, your documents will look better.