Thursday, September 28, 2006

Economist bias, Dawkins and missing Wright

The Economist last week reported a 40% reduction in Sunday church attendance as “Christianity is collapsing”/”being routed”, when it’s probably largely a reduction in the frequency of church attendance amongst professed believers - each week Churches have far more people going to them than any other communal activity. Then they handed Dawkins’s latest rant (over which most scientists shake their heads sadly) to a gushing uncritical reviewer who ignores the howlers well documented by Alastair McGrath, Dennis Noble and others.

We should be able to expect balance and objectivity from the Economist.

I dipped into said rant in a bookshop today - he does refer to McGrath's critique once, saying that it was an accurate summary of his scientific ideas, but his only answer to McGrath's substantive points is "I find myself writing 'teapot' beside them."

My mother's 75 birthday tomorrow (in Cornwall) which means I shall miss Tom Wright at the Area Conference - a great pity since he's a great man and I'd like to see him again soon.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Brown, and the MegaMosque

Brown wants an 'independent board' for the NHS because he knows that the NHS faces a horrendous squeeze in the next few years. His unstatinable spending without reform has failed, the gusher of public money has to be turned off, the PFI and Pensions deals mean that the real financial situation is much worse than the published figures allow etc. So he hopes that an 'independent board' will take the political heat.

Meanwhile the Telegraph suggest that a huge row is about to erupt about this proposed Mega-mosque. Its backers are the Tablighi Jamaat, a "missionary organisation" that says it is non-political and peaceful but has a very dubious track record. A senior FBI anti-terrorism official has called it a recruiting ground for al-Qa'eda, and the French secret services described it as "an antechamber for fundamentalism". Its current European headquarters are in Dewsbury, home town of Mohammed Siddique Khan, leader of the July 7 suicide bombers, who attended the local mosque. Much of the funding for the Markaz, which will cost about £100 million, is expected to come from Saudi Arabia. It is wholly out of keeping with the area, will attempt to impose its alien sect of Islam on the diverse local community, and should not be allowed.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Cambridge, Trinity, Blair interview, Much Ado

Back on Friday from a trip to Cambridge Mass, meeting a number of Harvard Profs (and one from MIT). Some very interesting and intellectually challenging work. Fascinating to meet Martin Nowak, the world leader in the evolution of altruism. Great guy. Started reading The Language of God on the plane coming back which is very interesting.

Delightful reuion of Trinity graduates from my year and the year above the day I got back from Boston. Decided to sit next to someone I liked but hadn't seen for over 10 years. View expressed, probably right, that Nicky Gumbel has been the most influential person in our two years - great!

Blair interview "when you come to the next election it will be decided on ideas and policy" - no, it will be decided by whom the electrorate trusts! And he repeatedly avoided backing Brown as the next PM. Hmm.. He also says that there will come a later time when he will answer all these questions about leadership in detail!

Daughter doing project on Much Ado - my favourite play. Found out that Sicily was indeed ruled by Aragon. Aslo Daughter points out that Benedict is from Padua - which was rather like saying "from Cambridge" since the U of Padua was founded before 1222 as a break-away from the oldest U in the (western) world, Bolongnia.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Week highlights

Masses been happening. Highlights:
  • Daughter's birthday party last night - delightful male & female friends at our sailing club.
  • Gergayev/Vienna Phil concert at the Barbican. Went with Ruth Palmer and her delightful boyfriend, then went backstage and introduced her to Gergayev.
  • Last sail of the season on our boat. In common with 10 others we missed the first race cos the wind dropped and tide turned and we had to be towed out. 2nd race had reasonable start but still v light airs and finished 10th - would have been 8th but for stupid error of mine. So met objective of not coming last! In decent winds we'd have come in top 3.
  • Getting back into running - still not at 4h Predicted Marathon but getting close.
  • Lots of interesting questions to John Polkinghorne - not yet uploaded. I also discover that there is an approach to Fundamental Physics based on Causal Sets that deals with the fundamental problem that has long been clear to me - that time is not a real line.
  • Very interesting work in preparation to trip to Harvard.
More anon I hope

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Wright, TB and Genetic Determinism

Continuing to gain much from Tom Wright's excellent Simply Christian. On Prayer, for example:
  • At every point the [Lord's] prayer reflects what Jesus himself was doing in his work... The prayer is therefore a way of saying to the father: Jesus has ... caught me in the net of his good news.
  • Christian prayer is at its most characteristic when we find ourselves caught in the overlap of the ages, part of the creation that aches for a new birth.
  • We moderns...are instantly suspicious about using anyone else's prayers. We are like someone who won't feel she's properly dressed unless she has personally designed and made her all own clothes, or ... who feels its artificial to drive a car he hasn't built all by himself.
  • I well remember the sense of relief whne my spiritual director suggested that, faced with a particularly difficult colleague, I should try saying the Lord's Prayer and thinking of each petition as applying to him in particular.
Much comment on the TB/GBs - though I must say Blair was in superb form addressing Progress. Demob-happy?

Someone as intelligent as Nial Ferguson should not be repeating the guff about "genes will determine everything from the colour of their hair to their aptitude for mathematics, maybe even their sexual proclivities in adulthood." Genes influence the probabilities of things, they "determine" almost nothing.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Proms, Wright ,TB/GBs and Islamism

My last Prom of the season - Bruch Violin concerto (saccharine peice, well played in a rather understated way by Joshua Bell) and an excellent performance of Shostakovich 10. Went with Ruth Palmer - when will she be a soloist at the Proms?

Speculative Brown Cabinet in the Guardian. Not a single Cabinet Minister would keep their job!

Article on why Islam-ism will win. There are some grains of truth in this but on balance it is alarmist nonsense. "Isalm" is not a monolithic entity and the vast bulk of the casualties in this "war" are Muslims killed by "fellow-Muslims". Furthermore the author ignores Christianity, a religion of love and truth which is not maintained by violence and fear, which will triumph in the end.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Freewill, "Honour Killings" Poll and the Frontline

E-correspondent very worried about freewill. "if we admit that our thoughts are dependent on the neural substrate, then how can we possibly say that they determine what we ultimately do?" But the basic point is simple: the world is not clock-like (where things happen mechanistically) but cloud-like (where the behaviour of almost all systems is under-determined by energetic considerations) Thus the fact that a higher-order system is composed of lower-order systems does not mean that the lower-order systems determine or replace the level of explanation of the higher-order system.

Astounding (and appalling) detail in the poll of young british asians which found that 8% thought that 'Honour Killings' were sometimes justified. The results are broken down by religion: only 7% of the Muslims thought they could be justified, but 14% of the "Christians".

Libby Purves rightly rubbishes Hazel Blears' idea of ministers doing video diaries of them doing 'ordinary' jobs. But what would be useful to is to emulate Tesco, Mariott and a few world-leaders and insist that everyone who works in Whitehall, whether Parliamentarian or Civil Servant, spent 1 week or more every year actually doing a front-line job. If Sir Terry Lehay can deliver your groceries why can't Gordon Brown work in (say) a call center that handles calls from people confused by his Tax Credit forms? At present the people 'at the top' have literally no idea of what actually happens when the Public Services meet the Public.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Lakes & politics

Back from lovely holiday in Lake District organised by our in-laws who get all their descendants together for a week - this of course includes all our descendants so several 'golden days' as well as walking up mountains (no Monroes this time) and sailing.

One important business call from a CEO - otherwise work free, just checking emails over the web. Finished Sen's brilliant book.

Lots on in coming week: play, 2 Proms etc...

Politics continues to be interesting! Andrew Rawnsley in today's Observer: "I once asked one of the Blairs' oldest family friends why Cherie nurtured such violent animosity towards the Chancellor, a feeling which is, by all accounts, mutual. 'Because,' the friend explained, 'it's to her that Tony comes back every night after the bloody battles with Brown. She's heard him sitting in the living room of the flat pouring out his frustrations, his real feelings about Gordon.' " One source close to New Labour is convinced that GB will never become PM - he'll never strike and it will go to Another - though he wouldn't be drawn on whom.

Taxi driver in Lake District thinks Lab have lost next election.

Bought Anglicanism: The Answer to Modernity. Doubt whether I shall enjoy it - the idea seems great but I suspect that the line is excessively liberal. Also bought Clouds of Witnesses which I have unaccountably failed to read before. No doubt about enjoying that!