God of the Flies

Arts gadfly Jonathon Keats tries to map the one true Lord on the genetic tree of life via fruit flies, prayer, and KGO radio

By Lessley Anderson

These results suggested, quite unsatisfyingly, that God was as equally like, or unlike, both fruit flies and cyanobacteria, species at opposite ends of the phylogenetic tree. But if Keats was frustrated, he didn't show it.

"At least we're getting some fundamental response on the behalf of various organisms, which suggest they're mutating to become more God-like," Keats said. "All of this only seems to add to the suspense of the experiment. Excitement is what I'm feeling right now."

Keats' attitude throughout the tediously absurd art project had been relentlessly cheery. It didn't seem as if he was looking for God as much as finding some sort of divine satisfaction in the scientific method, even though (or perhaps because) it was being put to scientifically irrelevant use. His peculiar, solitary undertaking called to mind the words of Rabbi Elliot Dorff, a professor of philosophy at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, whom I asked to comment on Keats' project. The rabbi noted that "people experience God in very different ways." But, Dorff said, that was not to say that experiences of God are completely idiosyncratic: "Each of the three Western religions talk about God ... as loving."

Paolo Vescia
Paolo Vescia

While Keats counted his flies, he was astonished to see a few beginning to stir; apparently, the freezer hadn't killed them. If he didn't dispose of them quickly, they would soon be all over his apartment, breeding and breeding in the annoying way of the fruit fly. Most people would have been horrified at such a prospect. Surprisingly, the meticulously fastidious Keats wasn't. After all, Keats noted, he doesn't "eat a lot of fruit," and with a mixture of pity and affection, he watched the ones that were able to, fly, and fly, and fly away into his well-ordered apartment.

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