Thursday, November 12, 2009

Poe: More Lewis than Darwin?

One of the talks at this summer's American Scientific Affiliation meeting was Harry Lee Poe, "Edgar Allan Poe's Big Bang Theory and the Power of Imagination." H.L. Poe is a relative of Edgar Allan Poe's who argued that Poe's personal faith trajectory was like C.S. Lewis and opposite to Darwin. The big difference between Poe and Lewis would be that Lewis lived decades after his conversion but Poe died soon after.

At first blush this seems crazy. Just proposing the mash-ups between the two stories is fun: "The Raven, The Witch, and The Wardrobe," or "Surprised by Death" ... but look a little closer at Poe's own story. He was interested in science and known more as a humorist than a horror writer in his time (the horror brought in the money that he lived on, and he was good at it; he would often START with the horrific stuff and work his way out from that). It is established that Poe joined an intense reform movement (the "Sons of Temperance") shortly before his death, and his science book Eureka is very open to the idea of a Creator. The circumstances of his death are contradictory and mysterious -- the newspapers implied he died of alcoholism but several people who knew him denied this -- yet that newspaper explanation was what I had in my mind. The good thing about Wikipedia is it immediately shows the confusion on this account, and that the "conventional wisdom" about Poe's death is confused. His death is just a mystery. But the idea that he was headed in the direction of crediting the creator with existence and following up on what that means ... that "Sons of Temperance" membership is the one solid piece of evidence here, and it points in that direction.

Well, I simply don't know, but there's loose ends here that may never be tied up. I didn't even know such a case could be made. I do have a personal connection to Poe and science: my very first paper that I actually wrote was based on research I did proposing that Poe is actually in an old archival photo of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences. Nothing ever came of that and I had started to assume it was just off base, till this relative comes out talking about Poe's huge interest in science and how it may have led him to understand creator from creation.

Still a mystery, but fascinating possible connections. Who knows?

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