Blog Latest news and views

We’re all monkeys

ChimpanzeeThe battle for hearts and minds between creationism and Darwinian evolution theory goes on and on. And on.

Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution offers an explanation for the development of modern man, and all life on Earth, over millions of years, by a process of natural selection and mutation. Creationism suggests that, essentially, the world and everything therein was created in between six days and ten thousand years, by God.

Scientists, academics and clerics are all getting involved in the argument as to which is the definitive explanation for the development of life on Earth. The argument is raging on as it has been for years, and it looks like it shows no sign of slowing.

What are the basics of Darwinian evolution theory? What are the creationists’ main arguments, and why is creationism dangerous?

Churchill and manic depression

Churchill statueThe charity Rethink is the largest voluntary provider of mental health support in the UK and conducts many high profile campaigns in a continuing effort to achieve a greater understanding of mental illness.

In March 2006 such a campaign was targeted at the city of Norwich, as explained on the Rethink website:

During March, Rethink is taking the fight against prejudice, ignorance and fear to the streets of Norwich. The campaign will involve ads on buses, bus stops, billboards and on the radio together with a major statue unveiling in the Forum on March 10th. Make sure you put this date in your diary as we need your support on the big day!

Little did they realise just what sort of impact the campaign would have.
The statue mentioned on the website was, as pictured here, one of Winston Churchill in a straitjacket, and on the basis that no publicity is bad publicity, the profile of Rethink was certainly raised several notches.

What do the faiths teach about the environment?

The East of England Faiths Agency arranged and hosted a half-day conference on ‘What do the Faiths teach about the Environment?’ on Sunday March 5th at the University of Essex. The theme was chosen after a consultation on the Faiths and the Environment with staff from the Environmental Agency, who attended the conference. There were contributions from some of the faiths and philosophies in the region, including Baha’is, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Jews, Muslims, Pagans, and Sikhs. Margaret Nelson, supported by Michael Imison and Nathan Nelson, offered a Humanist Perspective.

Happy New Year

In a few days, it will be New Year’s Eve, when Scots like my mother’s family celebrate Hogmanay. The Scots seem to attach more importance to Hogmanay than they do to Christmas, but at one time both were celebrated at the same time – on the shortest day, the 21st December. This was when ancient societies in the northern hemisphere performed rituals to ensure the rebirth of the sun because they depended on it for their survival.

Growing old with attitude

With all the fuss they’ve been making about pensions, you’d think it was news that we’ve got an ageing population. It isn’t. There’s been plenty of evidence for a long time that people like me, born during or soon after the war, are living longer, and that younger people are either not having children, or not having many. It doesn’t take much imagination or arithmetic to work out that there are fewer people to pay tax and National Insurance contributions to keep us in reasonable comfort in our declining years.

Parental rights and wrongs

ChildIf everyone who produced a child became a responsible parent overnight we’d solve a lot of problems, but they don’t, so when I hear that “parents’ rights” are in the news, I anticipate nonsense. There are currently two news stories about “parents’ rights”. The first is about Mrs Axon from Wythenshawe, who’s going to the High Court to try to change Department of Health guidelines stating that girls aged under sixteen can have abortions without their parents’ consent and that doctors should respect their privacy. Mrs A thinks she ought to be told. The second story is about the Children and Adoption Bill being heard in the House of Lords, which will give divorced parents an automatic right of access to their children; a move backed by militant father’s groups.

Oh yes, you might be thinking, and a good thing too, but is it?

Sir Hermann Bondi

Sir Hermann BondiThe funeral of Sir Hermann Bondi takes place at midday today in Cambridge. Sir Hermann was 85. He was a staunch supporter and former President of the British Humanist Association, and was Vice-President when he died.

Sir Hermann came from Vienna to study at Cambridge in the 1930s, just before Hitler took over. There isn’t time to detail his distinguished career now, but his obituaries are worth reading. He’s described as a mathematician, astronomer, civil servant, and teller of homespun jokes. As an astronomer, he worked with Fred Hoyle on the origins of the universe. As a scientist and civil servant, he was responsible for getting the Thames Barrier built. He was Director General of the European Space Agency and Master of Churchill College, among many other roles.

Why?

Socrates

Those who know me probably won’t be surprised to hear that I used to get into trouble at school, not because I was a juvenile delinquent, but for asking so many questions – too many, as far as some of my teachers were concerned. They expected us to absorb all the facts, dates, grammar and maths they taught us, and not to spend too much time questioning where all of these things came from, and what they were for, and whether they were likely to be any use to us. Questions like that tended to hold things up, so that my class might be in danger of failing to cover the whole of a carefully planned syllabus, and risk failing an exam. I’m sure that some of my teachers regarded me as a confounded nuisance.

Terrorism

Since the 7th July, there’s been no shortage of opinion about what we ought to do about terrorism. The official line is that we stand resolutely together against it. The trouble with this is that we don’t know which direction it’s coming from, so we’re not sure where to stand.

Some young Muslim men in Leeds were interviewed in the street by a BBC journalist, and one said something about the silence in remembrance of the dead. He didn’t condone the bombing, he said, but wondered why the deaths of those people in London had warranted a silence, while the deaths of thousands of civilians in Iraq didn’t? It was a fair comment. Within days of the London blasts, a suicide bomber killed 90 people and injured over 150 in Musayyib, south of Baghdad, and the British medical journal the Lancet has just put the Iraqi death count at over 100,000. It’s hardly surprising that many young Muslim men are so angry. That doesn’t make them all potential terrorists, but anger is a potent recruiting tool for terrorism.

Procrastination is the thief of time

BucketI should have been doing all sorts of useful things yesterday, like tidying my office and trying to find all the unpaid bills and unanswered letters. Then there was the usual outbreak of dirty dishes in the kitchen. Dunno who leaves them there, but if I ever catch him or her there’ll be hell to pay.

Anyway, it had been raining, so there were lots of lovely puddles and drips to play with around the garden. Instead of going straight to my desk, I wandered around with the camera, taking pictures. Several are of the ripples and splashes in a bucket of water by the greenhouse as I dropped pebbles into it. Yes, I know. It might sound uninteresting, but I was engrossed. You had to be there – well, no, actually you hadn’t. You’d probably have thought I was barking mad, standing there in my pyjamas and dressing gown, taking photographs of a bucket. The dog was a little perplexed. She came to keep me company but had no idea why we were hanging around the greenhouse for so long.

It’s all very therapeutic, playing, and idleness is an underrated quality. Jerome K Jerome wrote, “It is impossible to idle thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do,” and my all-time favourite procrastination quote is from Douglas Adams; “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

My son suggested that, to illustrate this point, I shouldn’t bother to write anything for today, but come into the studio and ad lib. I said that might unnerve these lovely BBC people, as they know I left my script in the garage a couple of months ago and had to borrow a pencil and paper when I got here. If I do that too often I’ll be deemed unreliable – which I am, but cleverly hide. Then there’s my short-term memory problem; I might forget what I was going to say.

So what’s the point of all this, you may be asking. There isn’t any. Does there have to be? That’s the beauty of procrastination and idleness. It frees us from having to justify what we’re doing, or not doing. If you haven’t already, you should try it sometime.

Anyway, as you can tell, I haven’t been completely idle. After I’d written this script, I felt ready to do some real work – when I’d had a spot of lunch. After all, as the American philosopher George Santayana said, “There is no cure for birth and death, save to enjoy the interval.”