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More science versus religion

I don’t feel like writing this, and I am sure most people won’t want to read it either, but that’s ok. I am going to write it anyway in the hope of finishing a thought, one that’s been hanging around taking up mental space for days. What will probably happen is that it will just lead to another thought or three. Are we ever really done thinking? Really? I think that we’re not, and that’s why meditative practice is essential, just as a brief intervention to stop all those cogs and wheels that constantly whir away wearing themselves out. For years I have ‘meditated’ over a glass of wine, I know others take a moment with a cigarette, but I am realising finally that still, quiet calm is the goal, not slamming on the mental brakes with a depressant. Having said that, I realise that alcohol for me sometimes stands in for my lack of religion and will probably always be with me… my drug of lazy choice one might say.

Back to the thought. I was following the science and religion discourse last week through Jonathan (Chief Rabbi) Sacks’, recent round of media publicity linked to a book he has out. He and Professor Richard Dawkins appear to have been more or less joined at the hip in the last week, appearing on television, on radio and then midweek in a live discussion at a BBC Festival called REthink. It would seem that Professor Dawkins also has a book out too.

I think I find this a little disappointing, as if the public is only being treated to a clash between these two old stags high up on the intellectual crags because they both have book publicity to do. For the record, Lord Sacks’ book is called The Great Partnership: God, Science and the Search for Meaning and Professor Dawkins’ is called the Magic of Reality. I also found the discourse frustrating, because it seems to me that it is ultimately circular in nature.

I am happy to be corrected but what I think I hear is something that goes like this: Yes, we all agree that science works on theory backed up by empirical evidence; and at this point in time there is less than there was, but still plenty in the world, in the universe, in the human experience that has so far defied the reach of science. That was where faith in a God might kick in, if you were that way inclined. Or not. To paraphrase, or even quote, Lord Sacks, ‘science takes things apart to see how they work, religion puts things together to see what they mean.’

So the scientists who seek to explain things up to the point of their evidence-based knowledge are permanently left on the back foot when a religious bod hops in, where the rest of us might fear to tread, to cover the gaps with the all-encompassing reach of a ‘God’, an intelligent designer, a universal force.

Sacks suggested he was not a fan of this ‘God of the Gaps’ approach, he said that his God is a gardener. When he was asked by a scientist something to the effect of is his God a sower of seeds that then allowed the garden to go wild, or an obsessive Sunday lawn mower, Sacks’ answer was inconclusive. He said something about God being currently ‘non-interventionist’. God as a gardener on holiday, a multiverse cruise?

I am agnostic, I suppose. I am not quite brave enough for atheism. Perhaps I aspire to it. I have found the religious position frustrating though, because what can’t be answered directly out of their various interpretations of the various religious books, can always be attributed to the mystery of God and the faith in that of those lucky enough to have worked it all out.

When Lord Sacks ended the Start the Week programme by intoning, ‘Without God we are without hope’ I felt he diminished his argument, possibly irredeemably in my case. I was disappointed because I believe there are alternatives. What really would have helped is for a religious scientist, Sir Robert Winston say, to have jumped in and saved a fascinating question, perhaps the most important of all, from turning those of us trying to engage with the debate into something akin to testy drivers queueing round the circular M25 into infinity (and beyond?).

Creation of Adam, Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo


pre·mem·bered, pre·mem·ber·ing, pre·mem·bers

1. To call to the mind with effort; think of what has not yet occurred
2. To become aware of suddenly or spontaneously a future event or possibility
3. The cognitive processes whereby future experience is remembered


This kind of thing could only belong to the realms of the esoteric, the paranormal, unless…

Unless some neutrinos break the speed of light and turn up where they are not meant to be, because they haven’t actually left where they are.

Which means that Einstein and the Arrow of Time, which can only travel in one direction (linking cause to effect and not the other way round), may sometimes be contradicted.

Which means, which means… that the visionaries and philosophers of this world may have as much to contribute to quantum theory as the scientists.

Professor Stephen ‘Philosophy is Dead’ Hawking won’t much like that, but I am sure Einstein does.

The M-Theory: a beef

Philosophers have been all of a twitter this morning as the new Stephen Hawking book “The Grand Design” is released (or are books launched?).  Of course, I’ve not read it (nor am I likely to certainly not in its entirety), but I have been acquainted with some of the contents on the Today programme.  (OMG I can’t wait until Melyvn gets his mitts on it!)

“Philosophy is dead”  is one of Professor Hawking’s assertions.  As far as I can gather he says this because philosophers can’t do the maths.  They haven’t kept up with the theory of quantum, the string or the superstrings and as such have nothing to contribute on the matter of matter.  Neither does God according to Hawking.  The existence of matter, the universe and even more universe can be explained apparently by a bit of maths and physics and there is no need for us to trifle around with the quaint notion of a “creator”.  It is all just sums.

Of course I am oversimplifying, but that is the curse of being a great big fat brain book writer.  No-one really follows all of what you write, although they pretend they do.  I am not really pretending am I?  Never mind.  The M-theory seeks to pull together all the theories of creation and existence, taking a bit from each of the smorgasbord of Big Bangs, Cheese String, Half-Dead Cats, Apples in Lincolnshire and whatever Einstein was on.  In short, with these ingredients universes can make themselves.  Great isn’t it? 

No-one knows what the M in The Theory stands for either.  Meta, Master, Miracle, Mystery are all contenders.  Personally I think it stands for Mince.  As in Mince Theory: Cottage Pie, Spag Bol, Chilli con carne.   Beef Cattle are being slaughtered all over the country, so that we can cart home record quantities of mince from the supermarket.  For the first time, it’s been reported that sales of mince have outstripped all over cuts of beef.  This is bad for the beef industry and bad for our diet frankly, speaking as someone who last night dined on mince in the form of “Organic Duchy Beefburgers”.  What’s happening to all those steaks and roasting joints?  How much mince can you get off one cow?  Just like my stomach turns slightly when confronted with a packet of  multiple drumsticks (how many chickens are in there and what happened to the rest of them), so the thought of good beef going to mince is depressing.  If we must eat meat (and it seems I must) at least honour the beast you eat by buying a bit more than its cheap bits piled high on a never-ending offer in Tescos.

Don’t bother with the book.  The Makemeadiva Theory is this: the universe is made of mince.

Disclaimer:  I am not against mince or drumsticks I just think (and I have a family to feed on a finite budget too) that for each mince dish we should balance it out with a roast or some ox tail.  Oh, and we don’t have to eat meat every day, nor in the quantity of an American. 

Disclaimer 2: I am not American but I have been there and you guys do eat an awful quantity of processed meat.  Tut.