Something very exciting happened to my father yesterday. He found out that he was wrong.

My father is a mechanical engineer, and was running some tests in the lab on a subject he had been studying for seventeen years. He was pretty sure that he knew what was going to happen—he had experience, after all, and intuition born of long familiarity. However, the results he got completely surprised him. They were like nothing he could have predicted. When he got home he told the family about this, and told us how refreshing it had been to know that he couldn’t predict the way the world works to perfection. It is refreshing to know that the world is wider than your own preconceptions, that it can jump out at you from behind the bushes, as it were, and shock you into really looking at it.

The structure of graphite--someone was once wrong about this, too

And, as my father pointed out, this is one of the great lessons that the physical sciences have to tell us. It is easier in the physical sciences than in any other realm of life to find enough evidence to really make you knock your preconceptions down and start all over again. Evidence is always staring us in the face, of course, waiting for us to notice it, but in the more humanistic subjects (and in individual life) it is far easier to twist the data around so that it fits comfortably with what we already believe. In the field of economics, for instance, it has taken over a century of failed states and the stubborn refusal of the proletariat to rise to show that Marxism does not work quite as well as its heralds suggested it would. This is because the world has no control; there are always extraneous details to smudge the perfection of the experiment. There are always excuses that can be used for why the offending data do not quite match what you thought. The physical sciences, on the other hand, are harder to fudge, and they can teach us what it feels like to admit that we were wrong and stop crouching in our narrow preconceptions.

This is a skill that we must take to the Christian life, as well, because there is so much that we are wrong about. I don’t mean that we should allow ourselves to be open to every petty argument that comes along against the Incarnation or the Resurrection—I hope and trust that we are not wrong about the fundamental articles of the Christian faith. However, we must admit to both God and ourselves that we are wrong about many other matters. We should continually be open to saying, “I was wrong! God is calling me to do this task in the world, not that one. I was wrong! That unlovely person is worth my love after all. I was wrong! That terrible sin I committed can be forgiven. I was wrong!” When we can joyfully embrace the humility necessary to accept that our favorite picture of the world is full of mistakes and unrealities, we will be fitter to stride forward with gladness to accept the glorious rightness of God.