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Metaphysical Indignation at the New York Times

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The late William Steig is the author of such popular children's books as Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, The Amazing Bone, and the successful DreamWorks franchise Shrek. He's also author of a lesser known book, Yellow & Pink. Yellow and Pink are two hand painted marionettes who find themselves resting on a grassy heath and pondering their origins. The portly Pink claims that they must have been made by someone. Thin Yellow, on the contrary, thinks they must have been the product of a series of fortunate accidents over millions of years. They go back and forth like this for pages, seeming to end in a standstill. But just then, a marionette maker wanders over, picks them up, inspects them, says, "Nice and dry," and carries them over his shoulder to his house.

Obviously the book is an allegory for the perennial debate about our own origins. Are we here by design, or are we the result of a series of happy accidents? Is there any more fundamental question we can ask? As the dialogue makes clear, though, it's intended as a lighthearted exchange based mostly on competing intuitions. It's hardly a primer on modern evolutionary theory or the contemporary debate over intelligent design.

I've probably read the book to my daughters a hundred times, because they begged for it, and have often wondered why so many officially smart people hadn't noticed it in all these years (it was first released in 1984). Finally, after the book has gone out of print, it has been mentioned in a relevant venue. Writing in Paper Cuts, the New York Times' blog about books, Gregory Cowles complains about stumbling across the book in the library, owing to the fame of its author.

He has nothing to say about the qualities of the book -- its cleverness, the quirky personalities of the characters, the simple drawings that somehow capture rich subtlety and emotional detail -- or the fact that kids love the book. All we get is the boilerplate identification of science with materialism. "It's not the pro-religion stance that bothers me here," he explains, "so much as it is the anti-science one." Yeah right.

He makes clear that he won't be reading the book again to his children. Apparently a children's book that dares to ask the most perennial question in human history is enough to cause metaphysical indignation at the New York Times.