Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Bit of a Tuesday Rant!

People often ask me what my hobby is. I have always hated that question cos I hate the word hobby. It immediately conjures up pictures of wild wood shavings and the smell of glue and my desperately failed carving of a sparrow in woodwork at school and my not-much-less of a failed dove-tailed joint for which Woody Birch, the woodwork teacher, generously awarded me a 6 in the end of term exams.

However it has recently occurred to me, in fact 10 minutes ago, that I might just be able to answer the question in future. Could it be that science is a hobby of mine - or is it just an interest? Ah, hobby'll do.

I suppose I got entranced by science through the NASA space programme in the 60s. Following the Gemini and subsequent Apollo missions and trying to work out what it was all about. Why were they putting a seismograph on the moon, what was all this about a laser reflector to measure the distance between Earth and Moon exactly? I avidly read my Tomorrow's World Annual and had a load of astronomy books.

And I just kept on reading this kind of thing: Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Penrose, Sagan, Hawking, Dawkins, etc, etc.

These days they often - but, annoyingly, not always - have a section in decent bookshops called 'popular science'. I love browsing around there.

I have to admit I am still struggling with relativity; quantum physics is basically "huh?" but evolution, for example, now makes wonderful, elegant sense to me thanks to Richard Dawkins.

The strange thing is that the science of my youth, which seemed so clear and bright, has now become something which many people feel the need to attack or at least find boring and my-brain-hurts-Brian complicated. I find if I mention something I have been reading about in these kind of books, I get rolly-eye reactions, as if to say, 'it's not science, it's sigh-ence.'

Ok, it is complicated but so what? I am trying, for about the 20th time, to read 'The Emperor's New Mind' by Roger Penrose and a lot of it is still way above my head and always will be but each time I read it I find something new that clicks into place thanks to reading other books on the same sort of subject. This stuff makes me sit and think, ponder, consider, contemplate... to try and get some sort of better grasp of the subject, try to understand the experiments and what they reveal - and in the background there is always the knowledge that research is going on and that nature's secrets will slowly be further unravelled.

This is why I am constantly shocked by the slow insidious creep of stuff like creationism or 'Intelligent' Design and biblical literalism back into mainstream dialogue. It seems to be rampant in the US at the moment and unfortunately what is rampant over there seems to end up becoming rampant over here, viz. McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, hire and fire, etc.

'Teach creationism as an alternative to natural selection and evolution...' WHAT???

'Use the bible as a reference text for science...' WHA-HA-HAT?????????

I remember how dumbfounded I was the first time I met someone who believed that the bible (the Christian bible, Old Testament, New Testament, eye-for-an-eye, turn-the-other-cheek, etc) was literally true; that every word was the inerrant word of god. This was a woman I had worked with for a few months whom I had considered quite normal.

I was totally shocked, and funnily enough, so was she that I didn't think the same!

Taken to its extreme, this sort of thing just says, 'don't think, don't ponder, etc; if there is something we can't work out, god did it; if you don't understand, god doesn't want you to understand.'

Oh, and all this 'inerrant word of god' cobblers... which words are they which are supposed to be so inerrant? The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and the New Testament in Hellenistic Greek. And when I say written, I mean written... by hand, each copy. Each copy, yes each and every copy, written by hand by some educated/half-educated/who-knows-how-educated slave or monk etc. This is why there are schools of textual critics who spend their lives discussing variations in the various copies of the copies. And then the Hebrew and Greek gets translated into Latin and subsequently English and then the text is edited, revised, abridged...

Among other things, I work as a translator and when I think of some of the mistakes I have made... even in texts where I was being extra careful... ouch!

So which of these copied, garbled, misspelled, mistranslated, edited and revised words are the inerrant ones?

God knows.

Rant over, ta very much!


Anji said...

That was a good rant. You forgot to mention that the translators of the Bible as we know it probably sneaked in their point of view too. The King James version would have been translated by some pretty austere folk .

I spent many happy hours in English conversation with French marine Biologists. They love their work and were fascinating to listen to. I was very fond of asking ‘why?’ and they were always happy to explain. This weekend I was sent some incredibly beautiful photographs from the French base in the Antarctic, I’m going to ask permission to post them onto my blog.

Do you get time to listen to the science programs on BBC radio 4?

MacDuff said...

But isn’t it true that Science cannot prove a negative?
If one man believes in fairies and another dosnt then it is only the man who believes in them that has any chance of seeing his belief proven true. All he has to do is find one. The non believer can never show that his belief is true because he cannot look everywhere. I don’t believe in Dawkin he seems to have made it his life’s work to rail against something he regards as self evidently worthless – what is the point?
As William James says in ‘The Will to Believe’ The greatest empiricists among us are only empiricists on reflection: when left to their instincts, they dogmatise like infallible popes.
I don’t know if you have read the essay of William James which is a good philosophical justification of belief ? Beautifully written and short too!

Doris said...

Wonderful rant. Just wonderful!

Good for you for enjoying reading your science books.

I am soooo with you about the translations of the bible. I am afraid I do not hold with the idea that the bible is the word of god, however, as a yarn of things that have happened - loosely speaking - perhaps there is more than a grain of truth in it. Allowing for the problems with translations.

Oh, and on a spiritual level I do agree with some of the ideas eg. "ask and ye shall receive" etc.

Now.. have you looked into the Electric Universe and Catastrophism theories? They have long turned conventional science on its head but seems that conventional science might be catching up with some of the ideas but still heavily dissing them as psuedo-science.

It could be that NOT having a science degree will allow you to be more open-minded and without a remit to protect your own self-interest.

Doris said...

PS. So funny with your surname you must have an interest in science!

soulMerlin said...

Nice stuff. Thank you.


good luck with your self-publishing