mirrorshard: (Lammas print)
2008-09-15 09:55 pm
Entry tags:

Faith, certainty, and reason

This is something I've had percolating for awhile, sparked off originally by a reader's letter in the Metro, which was (of course) batshit insane. It argued, as far as I can recall, that scientists were right in being more certain and dogmatic than religious leaders. (It isn't a matter of right or wrong; it's down to understanding where certainty comes from and why being certain about anything complicated makes you look like an idiot.)

Since then, I've had a few conversations which have brought new viewpoints to it, most of which ended up with an agreement that the axiom mismatch meant we weren't getting anywhere.
cut for length )
mirrorshard: (Terrella)
2007-02-10 07:19 pm
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Flock of Dodos

I went to UCL yesterday evening, in the delightful company of [livejournal.com profile] midnightmelody, [livejournal.com profile] thalassius, and [livejournal.com profile] fu_manchu12, to see the UK premiere of Randy Olson's documentary. We met up with a not entirely unexpected [livejournal.com profile] owlfish there, and went for a pleasant dinner and discussion. The film purports to be about the Intelligent Design flap in the US, but the real subject is science communication, and the asymmetry between the sides.
Read more... )
mirrorshard: (The Book of Rainbows)
2006-12-25 12:34 am
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Rejoice, for the Son of Man is born!

Of all the aspects of Christmas, the religious one is the only one I seem to be really comfortable with this year. Not that I've been indulging in a great deal of even that, and I still have a few grave theological reservations to work through, but it's the one sense in which I can feel any of the Christmas spirit.

I've been out for a walk with Himself, one of the same aimless, undirected walks that have always been a comfort and a reassurance to me - from scampering around in the Essex woods as a child to long walks in wax jacket and wellingtons along sheep-trails and Roman roads in the uplands of Gwynedd, from night-time wanderings around the city and suburbs of York as a relief from hopeless, frustrating study to a quixotic, joyous walk with a heavy pack from Newport Pagnell back to Cranfield after the last bus had gone and I had only the sketchiest idea of the way back. From two hours enjoying the middle of summer in Central London to a walk back through Edinburgh at chucking-out time made painful and frustrating by disintegrating boots, from a stressed, panicky early-morning expedition to find a supermarket in Glasgow to a trip around Colchester to find a fast-food place still open on a Sunday evening. Fresh air, no walls around me, and sunlight or stars or sheltering cloud.

When I was in York, I used to think of a walk like that as an imram, after the voyage of St Brendan, a trip done for the sake of it without a destination in mind. It occurs to me that I've got out of the habit recently, but then that's partly the season for you. I've spent a lot of time travelling around these Isles in my life, back and forth, and every time I pass a station I want to get on a train. On the 7th of July, when I heard about the London bombings, the first thing I felt was blind rage that they could attack the Tube. Travelling, especially flying, gives me the same feeling as dancing does - no going back, no more second-guessing, do the task that comes to hand with all your heart. The imramha are a lot like that, that moment when you realise you've no idea where you are and no more than the foggiest idea which direction home is in, and you know you'll still get back somehow, and that you'll see new things and meet strangers on the road and have adventures.
mirrorshard: (Default)
2006-08-15 03:39 pm

Edinburgh, part 1

Things I've done in Edinburgh so far, let's see... mostly I've been wandering around and getting to know the city, which of course involves finding the good pubs.
good pubs and Odd chip places )
a good bookshopping )
Quakerism and exotic 1960s vegetables )
street theatre )
shakespeariana )
mirrorshard: (Default)
2006-05-08 06:41 am

Five Books

Five books I fully intend to own SoonTM.

  • Weston Martyr, The Southseaman. Referenced from Gordon's The New Science of Strong Materials which I've adored for years. I know or have tracked down most of the rest of his quotations, but not that one.
  • An English translation of Les Liaisons Dangereuses as recommended by [livejournal.com profile] elettaria in [livejournal.com profile] dracula1897.
  • Liza Picard's Victorian London. Which reminds me, I don't own a copy of Elizabeth's London, but that doesn't count for the list since the library Provided.
  • Sheri S. Tepper's True Game books. I have the Jinian trilogy, but not the others.
  • A good textbook on Dissenting movements in post-Reformation England. Haven't found out what it is yet, and still making my way through The Stripping of the Altars, so possibly not all that soon.
mirrorshard: (Default)
2005-11-03 09:54 am
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Red Poppies

It's that time of year again, with a poppy-seller on each corner[1], and it seems somehow morally wrong not to be supporting the war dead and their survivors. I don't disagree with this in principle, it was - and still is to some extent - a terrible human tragedy. It just makes me feel twitchy to wear something connected to war, even though this one isn't a political statement.

Now, if only they sold white poppies...

[1] http://www.poppy.org/ for those of you who are living Elsewhere and don't understand this traditional British custom of wearing a small paper and plastic poppy on the lapel at this time of year. http://www.poppy.org/About_Poppy_Appeal/History.html explains why a poppy.
mirrorshard: (Default)
2005-04-20 01:11 am
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If I have a religion at all, I am a Quaker, I suppose - and as such, belong to a long tradition of social conscience, independence, good works, and abhorrence of spiritual authority. Indulge me, then, in a few moments' good old-fashioned polemic.

Now, I do not hate the Catholic Church, and I do not think that it is uniformly a bad thing. But I cannot condone dogma, or inflexible assumptions; and I cannot accept received truth.

My dislike, my pity, my contempt, is not based on policy, nor on theology, nor on dogma, nor on social effects. It is not because they oppose measures that save lives and avert epidemics, nor because they institutionalize very restricted social norms, nor because they condone and cover up misdeeds in their own ministry.

It is because they are, in essence and of necessity, the enemy of progress and the common good - implacably opposed to any kind of sensible error-checking mechanism, devoid of humility or of intellectual integrity, cowering inside their own sophist's house of cards, a small, sad structure of cold, uncompromising logic built in a vain effort to hide from the messy, confusing, wonderful, ambiguous world where actions have real human consequences.

You're wise and infallible, you say? And how are we to know this? Ah, yes, it's because you, being wise and infallible, told us so. And if we still doubt, you refer us to your interpretation of a two-thousand-year-old document of dubious provenance and unknown reliability, which can be read as a history, a parable, a metaphor, a work of fiction, or as the drug-inspired ramblings of a series of semi-literate peasants, at your pleasure. And if we're willing to accept the stigma of plebeian tastes and abilities, we can even read it in our own language.

It's a wonderful story, it's a compelling tale, but claiming moral and spiritual authority on the basis of that is laughable. As for being told to have faith and not to question - tsk. Questioning is what we do, it's how our civilization developed to the point it did.

Thank you for listening, ladies & gentlemen. This will almost certainly not appear in the exam.