Tuesday, July 31, 2007
An FRS friend has looked at the early draft of the Prospect article: one of his interesting comments is that "Dawkins and his merry crew have run out of things to say". As Roger Scruton points out in Prospect, there are really no new arguments for Atheism since the "Enlightenment" (Evolution is not an argument for Atheism, it merely makes Atheism cease to be totally incredible, as Dawkins admits).
John Gray's Black Mass is very good. He demonstrates clearly how Stalinism, Maoism and Naziism are the natural consequences of deluded "Enlightenment" thinking which tried to defeat Christian philosophy by propagating their deluded myths whereby "Progress" is blocked by "Dark forces" of Ignorance and Superstition, so that the utopia they envisage can only be ushered in by remaking society, ultimately by the use of violence. He traces the genesis of all these movements to the Jacobins "they were not mistaken in believing that it marked a turning point in history. The era of political mass murder had arrived." He also points out that, although it is now fashionable to decry the excesses of Stalin and Mao as due to the despotic traditions of Russia and China, actually these were attempts to impose "Enlightenment" thinking and that "it is a telling fact that Soviet communism was most popular in the West when terror was at its height. After visiting ... in 1934 - when around 5M people had perished in the Ukranian famine - ... Harold Laski declare 'Never in history has man attained the same level of perfection as in the Soviet regime'" Similar sentiments were expressed by the Webbs in 1935.
Friday, July 27, 2007
Back from a fabulous few days in
This is not to say that the book is worthless – there are some interesting ideas in it. Written in a less arrogant tone it would be immeasurably better. Though I do worry about a book that identifies God with the Omega Point and doesn’t even mention Tehillard de Chardin. I’m sure he overstates the case against Islam and science (pp113-116) but there is undoubtedly disquieting material there: the one Islamic scientist to win a Nobel Prize was from a sect that was declared heretical in his native Pakistan, where people have been murdered for belonging to it.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
- Kenneth Grahame once wrote that 'there is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats'. With that I would agree, yet for a fleeting period in the world's history I think aeroplanes ran boats very close for sheer enjoyment (Nevil Shute: Slide Rule (his autobiography) pp 9-10)
- We are all inclined to think that others can only have our virtues if they also have our vices (Somerset Maugham: his preface to Theatre p viii)
- Never argue with a man with a megaphone (retired headmaster acting as guard on the Bodmin and Wentworth railway, when confronted with unruly girls)
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Weds and Thurs two meetings with very different FTSE 100 Chairmen and I think we have discerned the shape of the next big work project. Also had the quarterly P&L which was, shall we say, satisfactory.
Finished Not Even Wrong which is a fascinating cri de coeur. Certainly the resemblance between M-theory and an esoteric gnostic theology is striking, and his account of how fashion and career presures can shape scientific enterprise is sobering. Of course it may be that M-theory or string theory does produce some of the desired results, but even so it would have been wrong to put all the eggs in one basket. Woit's blog is here - rather technical but pretty interesting.
This causes me further reflections on what "Science" is. To outsiders it seems like "an assured body of results" but to insiders it is more like "a fascinating set of questions" and much of the art of reserach is to ask questions which are hard enough to be interesting and easy enough to answer. But both the history and the philosophy of science shows that even well-supported and widely-accepted scientific theories can tund out later to be based on fundamental misunderstandings about what was really going on. Science produces veridical maps and not Ultimate Reality. Reflecting further on String Theory and Inflation - the genesis of both of these ideas is to try to find explanations for some "untidy" facts about the universe - the number of apparently arbitrary parameters in the Standard Model and the remarkable flatness of the Universe respectively - but they tend to generate far more implausible things in exchange: 12 dimensions and 10^500 universes for example.
As an antidote to all this I have been reading Thurber Country - a 1953 collection of pieces from the immortal James Thurber. Gems include a discussion of the true meaning of The Cocktail Party in which someone delivers the withering put-down "you should either have read a great deal more, or a great deal less, than you have" and a practical joker called Birdey Doggett who "was at Grand Central Station with one roller-skate, which he managed to attach to the shoe of a man sleeping on a bench. When the fellow woke and stood up, he described a brief, desperat semi-circle, clutched a woman shopper about the knees, dragged her and her bundles to the cold floor , and was attacked by her muzzled Scotty. Doggett, as always, was the first to lend a hand, helping the woman to her feet and then turning to the man. 'Where the hell's your other skate?' he damaned sharply. 'That's what's caused all this trouble.' He took his skate off the victim's foot and disappeared into the crowd that he began to gather. 'What's the matter over there?' a small man asked apprehensively. Doggett shrugged, 'Oh, they founda woman with a ticking package,' he said. The other man turned and left the station, missing the train he had told his wife he would take. Doggett's pranks usually have the effect of involving people on their edges, one or two have whom have been divorced as a result "
Sunday, July 15, 2007
There is also a Brown Bounce in the opinion polls. WMA 35:37:18 so it seems to be straight switch from C to Lab - possibly driven by Brown sounding tough and Prime-Ministerial on security issues. It’ll be very interesting to see what happens when his interventionist tendencies and management style are put to the test.
Have been celebrating 30th Wedding Anniversary - quite low key cos of the wedding so no big party, but dinner at Claridges last night, then took Son, DinL and Grandchildren out to lunch today. Monday (the day) we'll have supper at home.
Friday, July 13, 2007
A leading Islamic writer on science has kindly agreed to act as a "reviewer" of our draft article. I've sent a first shot at the first 1.5 sections to Colin - hope it's of some use.
Is the "Surge" working in Iraq? It's far too early to be sure, and so much politics is vested interest. But the coalition casualties levels are the lowest for the last 4 months.
The admirable Martin Stevens makes some telling points about curriculum reform. One of the best pieces of news recently was of Winchester withdrawing from the absurd league tables and piloting Cambridge's Pre-U rather than the increasingly dumbed down A-Levels. I hope Eton and St Paul's follow suit.
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Took most of today off to go to St Benedict's Day at Alton Abbey. A very joyful and uplifting occasion. The chapel was much lighter than the photo appears. Fr Abbot preached about his favourite chapter of the Rule - Chapter 72 of the Good Zeal of Monks (this Chapter sounds even better in Latin, where Benedict urges us to foster this good zeal with ferventissimo love) and how it is in family and community that our rough edges can be ground off, like grinding pebbles to become beautiful polished stones. Saw my old friend and collaborator Bp Geoffrey Rowell who was on the whole pleased with Synod and upbeat about his Diocese (Europe) which is growing rapidly. He was in Moscow for Easter and at the Cathedral for the Easter Vigil - which was attended by Putin and the Mayor of Moscow. The influence of the Patriach is now apparently very considerable - some think him the 3rd most powerful man in Russia.
The brothers are in good heart - but it would be great if a novice stuck. Walked round the grounds as I always do if possible, then bicycled back to the station and into the office just before PA goes.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
When Cameron proposed a "British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities" Labour and their hangers-on rubbished the whole idea. "crazy and wrong-headed", "pointless" etc.. Strangely, now .... ???
Despite journalists repeatedly saying that we are a "secular state" it's worth remembering that we are not. Constitutionally we are a tolerant Christian state, and this appears, according to the census, to be an accurate reflection of the population. We should be recovering this status - whose decay has been the root cause of so many of our deepest problems - not abandoning it.
Saturday, July 07, 2007
Thurs lunch with Colin Howson to discuss our joint article - the first time we had met. A very good guy, it will be a lot of fun doing this. It turns out that the great John Lucas is a mutual friend. Then to the RS for their Soiree which was as usual fascinating and enjoyable, seeing old friends and meeting new people as well as seeing some intriguing science. A team at Imperial College are working on biobricks - a kind of lego for biological engineering. They came second in an international contest organised by MIT (iGem) beating Princeton into 3rd place, but being beaten by - Slovenia.
Yesterday went with some US friends to The Pain and the Itch at the Royal Court, A very clever play - a bit too "clever clever" perhaps at the end, but amusing and somewhat disturbing. We do worry about the child actress - she is meant to be 4 - being exposed to all this foul language though.
Sunday, July 01, 2007
In the end of John, where Jesus asks Peter whether he loves him and Peter affirms it 3 times, the Greek is agapais - philw, agapais - philw, phileis - philw. I asked E.D. who says there are various theories, none accepted. Tom Wright says (in John for Everyone) that it is probably not important. Still I wonder, John does not use words carelessly.
Am enjoying Not Even Wrong not least because much of it is a primer reminding me of the state of physics in the late 70s when I studied it. Indeed Goldstone was one of my supervisors. Haven't got to the string bits yet. But I find it ironic that people like Dawkins suggest that Theology is absurdly counter-intuitive whilst being happy (in principle) to accept the utterly weird world of quantum physics. Does it not occur to them that the deepest truths about the Universe might be just a teeny weeny bit non-obvious. Also enjoying Evolution in Four Dimensions which makes it clear how evolutionary ideas have changed over time in scientific basis, but the willingness of a few brash people to use the current version (whatever that happens to be) as a stick with which to beat religion continues. A perceptive article by John Gray in the FT points out the futility of trying to eliminate religion - indeed there is something in the view that Marxism and Nazism were invented as non-religious pseudo-religions which contrived, of course, to have all the worst aspects of religion and few of the benefits.