The surprising new science of fatherhood?

That’s the subtitle of a recent New Scientist piece. The surprising new science of fatherhood. How fathers matter — and that fathers matter — became (a) surprising and (b) science before it got noticed. It brings back that line in The West Wing: do you get the sense we’ve let the urgent crowd out the important?

‘Science’ is our password and shibboleth; data is the paradigm. What people have to say is treated as ‘unquantifiable’ and ‘anecdotal’ unless it counts as ‘lived experience’, and until recently, the lived experience of the ‘fathers’ group counted as anecdote because others said so — along with Dad jokes and being ‘authoritarian, traditional, old-fashioned and patriarchal’ (as a colleague who’d known me five minutes once told me I was).

I cite that occasion because that colleague was far from atypical. Young fathers and non-patriarchal fathers may change this. I hope so (though I was one myself once … ). Anyway, Anna Machin is an anthropologist from Oxford and has brought us to your attention like a new species of human being recovered from the genome of a bone.

But religion gets it both ways. The only part of ‘God the Father’ that presents no problems is ‘the’. A father who helps bring a child up helps her in freedom, but an abstract and alien being more powerful than I am is a threat to my freedom. A creator of all time and space could never be measured in time and space, yet people still think that their failure to find a physical quantity for God proves his non-existence and not their wrong approach.

The surprising part of this science of theology (as it used to be thought) is that it is not natural science. The quest for a god like a thing not a person is doomed, but unsurprising at a time that treats people as things. Ironically, the part of ‘God the Father’ which ought to cause problems is ‘the’.

NS article

Proofreader, editor, writer — in Edinburgh, Scotland.

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