Sunday, April 29, 2007

Seminarians, Ordinands and Junior Doctors

Apparently that there has been a rise in the number of entrants to RC seminaries in England & Wales the past few years, from 28 in 2003 to 44 last year. Although my wife met one of them yesterday and he was from Norway, as were 4 of his colleagues. I can't find the up-to-date statistics for the CofE but it seems that in 05-06 there were avout 1,100 in total on courses so say 300 per year, of which 532 are in colleges (so say 180 a year) - the rest are on courses in the community.

I spoke to a running friend who is a junior doctor as is her partner. They and all their friends are in despair and rage about MMC. Although she has got several interviews (and without submitting a photo!) many of her friends have none, people are wholly demoralised and thinking of leaving medicine and/or the country. She and her partner fear that they will have jobs too far apart to live together, and also they have put their all into their training, so have no house at a time when their friends who went into the City are making serious money. At the very least, she says, the govt should make jobs avaialble for 1 year to the 7-10,000 doctors whose lives have been ruined by this fiasco. Strangely enough, if they cancelled NPfIT the money would be there.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Blair's management Skills, Atheism, ABN

MA is dead right about Blair's poor management skills. And we've heard horror-stories of the way he handles leading industrialists.

Some of the WikiPedia Atheists are trying to make out that Socrates was one, thus siding with Meletus against Socrates, which is precisely to side with the ignorance of the majority against the truth of an intellectual giant! Also have they understood, I wonder, that those atheists who want to extend the meaning (in a misguided attempt at intellectual imperialism that often goes with scientism and materialism) to redefine other people as Atheists whether they like it or not. (c/f Islam "redefining" all babies as Muslims) have the consequence of making statements like "The majority of Atheists have given no real thought to whether God exists" true, which is perhaps not what the "extenders" really want.

The ABN/TCI/Barclays/RBS story is really extraordinary. Who would have thought this level of shareholder activism would work in the Netherlands.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Modernising Medical Careers shambles

The appalling shambles of "Modernising Medical Careers" goes on - with a security breach allowing doctors personal details to be read by anyone with the right URL. If this is the havoc that can be wreaked by a small botched computer project, just think of the potential for NPfIT! A point just made on the Today Programme. Strangely I can't find the name of the firm that developed the website!

And as for this story - that a priest who tried to block the appointment of a liberal bishop in Africa was poisoned - well the mind boggles.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Universities, Peer Groups, Weak Atheism

Depressing story about the vast gulf betweeen the level of mathematical knowledge expected from bright Chinese students pre-university and what some first-year UK university students know. Six years ago we had a confidental project on Universities Global Excellence with some major UK Companies and Universities pointing out that the UK Elite Universities played a vital role in the UK economy and that the "anti-etitism" and attempts at social engineering were misplaced. I think this helped a bit in government and industrial circles, but the problem certainly hasn't gone away. In the 2005 rankings and in 2006 Cambridge, Oxford, IC and UCL came 2nd, 10th, 23rd and 26th resp, with the highest-rated U in Euroland (Utrecht) at 40 (+1) and Paris 6 at 45 (+1). This is a severe threat to the competitive staus of Euroland. And the gap between even Cambridge and the top US Universities in terms of Nature and Science papers and Highly Citied arts papers (59.5% and 54% of Harvard's score, resp, putting it 6th and 14th in these measures) is quite alarming.

Interesting article in The Times referring to a Prospect piece on the importance of peer groups in shaping behaviour. Of course the author over-claims, but she has a point. However the claims that research shows that parental environment doesn't matter very much above the genetic aspects is dubious because there are such strong confounding factors.

Trying to persuade my fellow WikiPedia editors that the idea of "weak atheism" should not be espoused uncritically. Because there are so few atheists ITRW some atheists think it a good idea to extend the defintion of Atheism to cover anyone who does not believe in God, ie including Agnostics, newborn babies, people who are completely un-reflective etc.. However the idea that (some) Atheists should label Agnostics who expressly deny that they are Atheists as "Atheists" has a distasteful and intellecually dishonest ring to it. Also I wonder if they have thought though the implications, such as "the majority of Atheists are ignorant about God" ... "have little or no education" etc..

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Writers, Cameron on Civility and Robots "Rights"

To Society of Authors party held on Shakespeare's Birthday, complete with recitation of 2 Sonnets (nos 100 and 106) by Andrew Motion. Met (en passant) Margaret Drabble (discussion about book titles and how agents sometimes have to get authors - even her - to change them) and the great MRD Foot who was unable to shed any light on EM Dealfield's war work but suggested a couple of people who just might. I'd arranged with a novelist friend that we'd go out to supper + anyone we found who we'd like to take along, and so it was that I ended up at the Savoy (upstairs, not the Grill) with 3 novelists, each of whom has, I'm sure, sold more books in Scunthorpe than my book has sold worldwide - and one has had a book filmed with a superstar lead, films quite likely for the other two.

Much fascinating discussion about practical issues of the life of a successful - but not too successful - novelist. The difficulties and dangers of being honest, esp perhaps online; why it is hard to attend Book Clubs because of your very different perspective; the strange experience of watching a customer not buy your book in a bookshop; and the combination of loneliness and engagement that is the novelist's lot. General feeling that the technological shifts will harm booksellers and publishers but in the end people need stories so authors and agents will be all right. But all in all lots of fun, laughter and champagne and I leave with enhanced optimisim about humanity in general and literature in particular.

Outstanding speech yesterday by David Cameron at the RSA - I wish I'd known about the event although it might have clashed with the Society of Authors party or work. Labour think they can damage him as David "hug a hoodie" Cameron but although he never used that phrase the idea the young "feral" people need love - as we all do - is absolutely right

Article panning A Robot Rights report. The wonderful play Aikbourne wrote for Jaine, "Comic Potential" could take one down that road. Of course foolish Dawkinsites think that we are "lumbering robots" and there is much confusion in this area.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Marathon, Bach, Trinity

Disappointing performance in the London Marathon. I had set a 9mm pace which I knew from training I could do, but the heat was terrible and I blew up around Mile 16, had to walk a lot, and finished in 4:20 instead of 3:56 :-(. Of course had I known that I could have set a 9:30mm pace and had a comfortable 4:10, though psychologically there isn't much difference. We went to the club pub afterwards and saw many friends - both runners and supporters. Also the atmosphere both in the race and support was great - I've seldom met an unfriendly distance runner! Ah well, maybe next year I can break 3:45?? And it seems I did OK in relation to my age-group (top 45%) though not of course in relation to my club (bottom 30%, but I am one of the older members!). Played the Goldberg (as is my tradition) that evening, though had to stop at no 22 because our downstairs neighbour asks that we stop playing the piano at 9pm since it is clearly audible in her flat.

Reading Susan Tomes' A Musician's Alphabet and have been generally thinking a bit about the philosophy of music. Understanding how and in what sense music exists seems quite important in unpacking the nonsenses of materialism. Dawkins in the disappointing "Intelligence Squared" debate says that there is no reason why he can't appreciate Schubert. Well yes, he might just get Schubert, but Bach would be beyond him - Bach is steeped from beginning to end in deep theology. I do hope my Daughter has the "St Anne" Prelude and/or Fugue at her wedding. I do think this is the greatest organ music ever written, and the Fugue is the most amazing "sermon" on the Trinity - with the three subject neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

House of Lords on Religion, Entertainer, Golden Flower

Went on Weds to The Entertainer. An excellent central performance from Robert Lindsay (whom I first encountered as Captain Pellew in Hornblower) can not overcome the impression that this is a deeply flawed play, where the premise and the central character are brilliant conceptions but the rest of the people are cardboard. On Friday we saw The Curse of the Golden Flower which is also not exactly cheerful! Can't help feeling that this film is a powerful argument for Christianity: the notions of Servant-Leaders under God and forgiveness are fundamental to a well-functioning society.

Delighted that the attempt to exempt MPs from Freedom of Information Act has been talked out.

Rather under-reported debate in the House of Lords on the position of non-religious people in society called by one Lord Harrison of Chester (a former Labour MEP) - though the snippet I heard on Thurs by the BBC gave no doubt on where their sympathies lie!. The Archbishop of York was very good "For me, religion is a narrative we all inhabit that makes sense to us of what would otherwise be nonsense. Time does not allow me to speak at length, but let us be clear: dogmatic assumptions also underline non-religious world views—Marxism, Darwinism, Freudianism, capitalism, secularism, humanism and so on. Those are clear dogmatic positions..." and quoting the great Lord Denning's dictum that the severance of law from morality and of religion from law has, “gone much too far. Although religion, law and morals can be separated, they are nevertheless still very much dependent on one another. Without religion, there can be no morality, there can be no law

The Atheist Hindu Baroness Flather pointed out "This is a Christian country. We should either accept that or separate the state and Christianity;you cannot have it both ways." The Chairman of the All-Party Humanist Group (which has c 100 members) called on the BBC to update it's approach to Religion and other beliefs. One speaker movingly spoke of her son who "committed suicide in 1999. For him, faith was something that he could not grasp. I am sure that he would never have committed suicide if he could. It was not that help was not there, but, for him, it just was not possible. All I would say to those who will follow me is that we do need to have some faith, some hope for people, because, without that, other people like my son—who could not find it; it was not that he was not used to it, but he could not find it—will not lead fuller lives as they might otherwise do."

Lody Wilcox suggested that "The trouble is that humanism can seem too intellectual or remote. There is also disagreement about the prevailing non-religious philosophy, stretching from Nietzsche’s superman to a vague humanism. By contrast, although religious adherence seems small, surveys show that around 70 per cent of people profess a belief in God. Many people’s morality is still tied to the traditional religious patterns.

We should strive ...to live and let live, not to destroy the structures that have served us so well; to listen to each other, as we have here today. I believe that that will enable us to continue to live and evolve together—60 million of us in these tiny, tolerant Christian islands, with more trying to join us in their thousands day after day."

The minister summing up said that "The Government must aim to let all voices be heard with equal respect" And Lord Harrison noted wryly that "the Bishop of Worcester gave the best speech. It was wise, constructive and helpful and I, too, have puzzled over those Papers for which I request."

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Gunman, Bell, Running

Gunman at Virginia Tech is very worrying. Killed more Americans than Iraqui insurgents do in a fortnight - though there appears at the moment to be no connection.

A different sort of disturbing report that Joshua Bell was ignored busking on a $2M Strad in Washington. A similar fate befel Badly Drawn Boy in London some years ago.

One delightful running friend, with whom I did my 20-miler, acheived an excellent result in the Paris Marathon, in heat conditions that defeated many others. I hope my London is OK, although it won't be as fast as her.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Twilight of Atheism prescient

"Just 40 years after a famous TIME magazine cover asked "Is God Dead?" the answer appears to be a resounding "No!" According to a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life in a recent issue of Foreign Policy magazine, "God is Winning"." Is this some triumphalist theist? No - it's the alarmed atheists of the "Beyond Belief" conference. Alister McGrath's The Twilight of Atheism looks remarkably prescient.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Dumbing down science, Plantinga, Dust

Depressing that science A-levels are being dumbed down more. I do think the progressive decline in the popularity of science at all levels has a lot to do with the "naive scientism" of Dawkins and his like. H Allen Orr is very good on this.

A delightful family lunch seeing everyone except our Son who is working nights at the hospital, and a nephew on a gap year in Africa. Further progress towards the wedding.

Reading Plantinga is such a pleasure - I'm updating the article on EEAN from Plantinga's responses in Naturalism Defeated? His thought is subtle and witty and beautifully expressed. Interesting philosophical discussions with younger Daughter, on the self-refuting nature of the idea that "the only things that exist are things we know exist".

Saw A Handful of Dust for which Janie's friend did the costumes (which were wonderful) with Judi Dench, Alec Guineess, Kirsten Scott Thomas etc.. A lavish adaptation but I think a fundamentally nasty story. Was it done to get the "Brideshead effect" at the time of franchise renewal?

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Teachers, and no good arguments for materialism

I suppose it's depressingly understandable that Teachers Unions would be against any schools that had a strong moral ethos, and that provided competition to a monolithic system. But almost all the best performing state schools are faith schools. And certainly Christian and Jewish schools recieve far less from taxpayers than Christians and Jews pay in tax. As so often, the UK educational establishment doesn't seem to care about quality of education, and sees schools primarily as opportunities for social engineering.

As an obiter dicta in a Wikipedia debate I suggested that "there are no good arguments for materialism". Out of curiosity I have googled and found this list in a philosophy course:
  • "Materialism is the metaphysics of modern science and science has been spectacularly successful. Science needs nothing but physical entities and properties for its explanations and so if we are to accept that the mind or its properties are nonphysical, we had better have very good reasons, but we don’t (the arguments for dualism are bad)
  • The argument from correlation: Mental states of specific types are correlated with physical states of specific types. One simple explanation for these correlations is that the mental state types just are the physical state types. If we deny this then we must explain why the correlations exist.
  • The argument from interaction: Mind and body causally interact. If the mind is nonphysical it takes up no space it, it isn’t in contact with any physical body…what does it mean to say that such a thing causally interacts with physical bodies? That has no meaning. So if there is mind-body interaction, the mind is physical.
  • The argument from the implausibility of causal overdetermination/ epiphenomenalism: There is reason to believe that the physical world is causally closed, i.e. that every physical event has a wholly physical cause/explanation. But if there is mental-to-physical causation, and the mind is nonphysical, then there is rampant causal overdetermination. Rampant overdetermination is implausible, so the mind is physical. A dualist could deny that there is any mental-to-physical causation (this view is known as epiphenomenalism), but this seems to be obviously false.
Which rather proves my point!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Newsnight and Howson

Slightly surreal discussion about whether or not I should have an article on Wikipedia, which a young acquaintance has kindly created for me. It does fish out slightly odd things, such as that I'm apparently a correspondent of Tom Stoppard's with a letter carefully indexed in the Stoppard Archives! One "notable" atheist who has 1 vanity-published book and a self-published(?) website as his main claim to notability has his status boosted by having appeared in a documentary about Atheism.

So perhaps it is relevant to mention when I appeared on high-profile live nationwide TV (Newsnight) back in 1993 (25th May) to be interviewed by the fearsome Jeremy Paxman. The BBC was doing an item about R&D in the UK and they needed a commentator. I was told that I'd be shown a film and then asked to comment, but despite repeated requests they wouldn't send me a transcript of the film. I recall that one of the main points was that they did things much better in Holland where the government supported Fokker as a successful Airplane manufacturer. I was 99% certain that Fokker had just gone into Bankruptcy (it had) but the awful thought of saying that on-air nationwide and then being wrong kept me from making that rather pertinent point.

A very brilliant and beautiful friend from the US had come over and we had dinner with her at a nearby restaurant beforehand. She had lots of TV experience and was an excellent coach. She then came with us to the studio and she and C watched in the hospitality room. Luckily I had met Paxman briefly before at the RSA, which I reminded him of, and I think he knows that he should not treat TV-virgin experts as robustly as he does politicos. Afterwards, our friend and C both congratulated me on being un-phased by the loud bang that occurred during my interview. I was incredulous, and had to see the tape, since I had not noticed it at all. I think some carpenters had dropped something, it was not a deliberate attempt to put me off!

I've got back in touch with Colin Howson and we hope to meet up later this year. It would be interesting to do a joint article in (say) Think re-visiting our Prospect Debate and about how the argument has moved on in the last 9 years.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Polls, Scotland and Center for Naturalism

Education secretary praises Wikipedia but The Times headlines that a co-founder thinks its broken. Has Murdoch been trying to buy it and been rebuffed I wonder? Also appears that Senior Labour figures tried to stop the Electoral Commission from scrutinising the forthcoming leadership election in too much detail. Meanwhile the polls continue to show a Tory lead of c7%.

David Cameron in good form arguing for continuing the union between England and Scotland. But the disasterous results of socialism are clear in many ways - life expectancy in Glasgow City Centre is apparently only 54. And of course their expenditure on the NHS has been at the European average, and much higher than England's for years.

Came across a hilarious organisation called the Center for Naturalism, which claims that "human beings and their behavior are fully caused, entirely natural phenomena" (apparently science tells us this! - O the depths of confusion and ignorance, no conceivable experiment could show this) and hence that "individuals ... are not deserving, in the traditional metaphysical sense, of praise and blame" Amazing really that such "naturalists" bother to get out of bed in the morning, let alone post webistes. If their worldview is right then their decisions and actions make no difference: because no-one has any choice about their actions or beliefs. It's pretty obvious that the concept of performing a scientfic experiment, as opposed to simply making scientific observations, becomes vapid under this worldview, and there seems no reason to believe that the decisions about assenting to a philosophical or scientific theory should be based on truth. Truly such views will collapse under the weight of their own contradictions.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Easter, Sailing, Koons and Howson

Holy Saturday everyone departed except the Grandsons - I did a 6-mi run and then we went to friends to watch the Boat Race. Excellent view from their house and by the end it was clear that Cambridge would win. Then Daughter and I went to see our friend Janie in Pinter's Old Times. She warned us beforehand that it'd be confusing and it was - I'm still not sure whether the 2 women are alter egos, whether they are all ghosts or what. Great to see Janie and we met one of her friends who was costume designer on A Handful of Dust with Judi Dench and Alec Guiness, which we must get.

Easter Sunday - 8:30 communion with excellent sermon on 1Cor 15 from Vicar, 10 mi run, lunch and drinks with neighbours. On Monday D. and I had first sail of the season, 2 races where we finished ahead of 1 boat in the 1st and 5 boats in the 2nd - for us this is a big improvement because although we have in theory a faster boat most of the others sail far more often and for decades. Winds F2-3 really ideal - I forget how much fun sailing can be.

The essays in The Rationality of Theism are very interesting and repay close study. Robert C Koons argues that modern science depends essentially on the Christian culture out of which it grew, citing some interesting points such as the attitude to manual work engendered by Jesus being a carpenter which meant that Christian scholars, unlike their counterparts in almost all other cultures, were quite happy to "get their hands dirty" literally and work in laboratories to perform experiments. Koons also has an argument similar to Plantinga's EEAN that says that Science logically depends on Theism, as well as historically.

Amazingly my debate on God and Science with Colin Howson is the top ghit for ("God and Science" debate UK). I've emailed Howson to see if we could meet up, and perhaps revisit it?

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Good Friday, Moore & Gledhill

Charles Moore in the Telegraph suggests that Dawkins and the other "Militant Atheists" are too clever for their own good. He trots out the "atheists in prison" trope - I have posted my refutation of this on the comment. Whole family stayed last night including Finance, and we had a flying visit from my sister unexpectedly up from Cornwall.

Excellent Good Friday meditation in Church yesterday - about 300 people I'd guess. Bible readings from St Mark, prayers and medidations and classical music. After it finished (1.5hrs) they did "Have Mercy Lord" with a cello playing the voice part. Sadly everyone was talking. Will be fascinating to see how full the churches are on Easter Day. According to Ruth Gledhill the CofE expects record attendances.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Good Friday

Son, wife & grandchildren staying till Sat. Elder Daughter and Fiance coming to dinner. Much excitement about wedding and Elder Grandson also getting keen on piano (as well as chess & football).

Fine article in Telegraph by Alister McGrath responding to a typical AC Grayling trope. Also interetsing piece by Gerard Baker in The Times lamenting the "steadily more secular society" although it is far from clear, at least in London, that this is the case. Our vicar says there were 160 people in church at Palm Sunday (I'd guess that was 60% up on last year), the Maundy Thursday last night at the Catholics was full (300?) in the expanded and refurbished church and all over there are major signs of growth. Long may it continue.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Great news: Wedding Date, Ruth, tapering

Well it's 24 June - wedding in Kings and reception (drinks and canapes) under the cloisters at Trinity (if the College Council gives permission). We've decided against a dinner - it'll be a Sunday and people will want to get away - not least the Bride and Groom.

Great news yesterday, our friend Ruth Palmer has been nominated for a Classical Brit Award, in the Young British Performers section with only 2 other nominees. Considering that she has no paid publicity machine - she makes it through on talent alone - this is stunning. She was asked to perform at the launch, and described by the Brits as "exceptional violinist" - which she is.

Excellent article in the Evening Standard by our new candidate Shaun Bailey. Also some fascinating pieces in the Harvard Business Review about the value of brands in B2B contexts and the connections between shareholder value and consumer satisfaction. Very germane to work.

Taper time for Marathon - ran the "Last Half Half" on Sun - I hope the run leader (young post-doc) was right that this was 15mi. She isn't running London this year - she's doing the Zurich Ironman! Another friend has just (in her 50s) completed the Marathon Des Sables.
One can only be awe-struck.

On Sat we got our boat ready for sailing - too windy to sail alas and we may only get one day this Easter season, but hopefully May.