Saturday, April 27, 2013

Beijing, Fausto, Dawkins and Welby

Kunming - not typical China!
Back from an amazing trip to Beijing and Kunming (hence lack of posting). Largely un-bloggable I'm afraid though I did give a seminar on strategic leadership at Peking University and it was as always stimulating to interact with the bright Chinese students.

The first Sunday I was there I was again able to join the congregation in the South Cathedral which was as always a delight.

Maggie Thatcher's funeral was shown live on Chinese TV which was interesting in itself - and Richard's Sermon was of course masterly. I'm told that she was by far the best known Brit in China - even people's rural grandmothers had heard of her.

The little play-let that I helped Marcus Miller write is now published by Prospect - though not yet now on the web.  Some of the lines I'm rather pleased with at a technical level, as when "Richard Fausto" - the banker who sells his soul to the Devil, says:
I see it now! We’ll lure into finance
the very best and brightest of the young.
With boasts of bonuses beyond belief,
we’ll take them from their nearest and dearest.
To the music of Morphosa they will dance,
laughing all and forever gambolling;
and Fausto will be the Pied Piper of Hamelin!
(frustratingly the published version leaves out the "the" in the final line).

It seems that Dawkins' fan club have voted him "the world's leading thinker" in the Prospect  poll - pity they didn't also nominate Kim Kardashian who would no doubt have beaten him into second place. However in the real world people are moving on from his simplistic nonsense. "Richard Dawkins has lost" proclaims a Spectator article, whilst in The Guardian we read that:
Richard Dawkins and Twitter make one of the world's great pairings, like face and custard pie. But whereas more accomplished clowns ram custard pies into the faces of their enemies, Dawkins' technique is to ram his own face into the custard pie, repeatedly. I suppose it saves time and it's a lot of fun to watch.
More significantly from the point of view of the scientific community there is a very sensible article in Nature  which specifically criticises Dawkins:
Take evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins' description in Prospect magazine last year of the gene as a replicator with “its own unique status as a unit of Darwinian selection”. It conjures up the decades-old picture of a little, autonomous stretch of DNA intent on getting itself copied, with no hint that selection operates at all levels of the biological hierarchy, including at the supraorganismal level, or that the very idea of 'gene' has become problematic. Why this apparent reluctance to acknowledge the complexity?
Very much the point that Brian Josephson and I made in our article.

Meanwhile as Dawkins becomes increasingly a figure of fun, Justin Welby continues to impress.  I met him at a dinner this week and he is a really good guy. It will be fascinating to see how things develop.

PS Indeed in terms of ghits in the last week Welby is rapidly catching up on Dawkins and in terms of ghits in news sources in the last week he is now level pegging. And whereas what Welby says is almost universally considered a significant and important contribution, what Dawkins says is widely mocked and ridiculed and he offers no new ideas whatsoever ("I don't believe in God" "Religion is Bad" "Down with Islam" "Down with Catholicism" - how original!)

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