Friday, May 20, 2005

The feedback form should work now. Do let me know if there are problems with the web site and I'll try and correct them. Even pointing out typos is much appreciated!

I have finished Alister McGrath's Dawkin's God. It is a good book and much more recommended than Roger Steer's Letter to an Influential Atheist, reviewed earlier on. McGrath chooses his ground carefully and attacks Dawkins where he is vulnerable rather than holding any hostages to fortune. For instance, the meme concept is torn to pieces (Dawkins himself has now wisely retreated from it)and various anti-religious rants are analysed and found to be, well, rants. What this books does not do is argue for anything. It is wholly negative and defensive although very effectively so. Steven Carr has objected that McGrath doesn't deal with the problem of evil, which is almost certainly the grounding of Dawkins' atheism. This is true and I expect McGrath deliberately avoided it simply because he knows he can't deal with such a complex problem in such a short book. Perhaps it would make a good follow up work as I would be interested in what he thinks.

McGrath concedes that Dawkins is a great explainer of science. I can vouch for this having enjoyed two of his books despite the wholly explicit atheist agenda. McGrath also reveals Dawkins as an absolutely dreadful philosopher and historian of science who makes so many errors it can reduce his whole argument to an amorphous blob. I don't know if Dawkins will be taking these criticisms on board although it is notable that his latest book, The Ancestor's Tale, is much shorter on the usual anti-religious editorialising. So perhaps he is getting the message after all.

Comments or questions? Post them at Bede's dedicated yahoo group.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Apologies for the time Bede's Library was down today. I have changed my web host (again!) and the move necessitated some reorganisation. The feedback form doesn't work for the moment, although the search facility does (possibly for the first time).

Comments or questions? Post them at Bede's dedicated yahoo group.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

I had a nice email about this article today which explains how the genetic code must be part of the fabric of the universe rather than something that can have evolved. I am also reading Alister McGrath's Dawkin's God, which is a critique of Richard Dawkin's non-scientific thoughts. You may remember I discussed a talk McGrath gave at Cambridge a few months ago. I'll have some more on the book when I've finished it but it looks good for now.

Another thing to consider is the question of mutations. These are random changes to DNA that are then passed on to the next generation. It is the effect these changes have on an organism that provide grist for the mill of natural selection. But are the mutations actually random? They are certainly usually assumed to be although in fact, they have causes such as radiation or chemical reactions. Also, some genes are more prone to change than others which is why some genetic illnesses are quite common and some very rare indeed. A mutation is essentially a chemical reaction and how easily these happen depends on the stability of the molecules involved. Some mutations happen more easily than others because some DNA arrangements are inherently less stable than others.

This raises an interesting point. In the long run, all mutations should tend towards the most stable arrangement of DNA. Even if that arrangement is not genetically viable (and it probably isn't), there will still be a tendency to move in that direction. This might be part of what junk DNA, that has no direct genetic effect, is doing. On the other hand, it might be that the 'higher' animals have more stable DNA than lower ones simply because theirs has mutated further towards the theoretical arrangement of maximum stability. If that is the case, then it would mean that there was a built in tendency in nature towards the higher animals. It would also leave us asking where that tendency might have come from.

I do think it would be worth measuring the relative chemical energies of different types of DNA, or perhaps it has already been done in which case I'd love to see the results.

Comments or questions? Post them at Bede's dedicated yahoo group.

Monday, May 16, 2005

With the release of Kingdom of Heaven, there have been complaints about Hollywood's anti-Christian bias. I haven't seen this movie, but last night we saw King Arthur with Clive Owen and I was staggered by its blatant anti-Christian and specifically anti-Catholic stance. It was actually quite grotesque at times even if the film's battle scenes were a redeeming feature.

In King Arthur, set around 420AD, we learn that Arthur is a friend and follower of one Pelagius, a heretic who we later hear was executed by the Pope. It is the Pope and not the Emperor who is running the show in Rome and all the Christians in the film (except Arthur, who is a heretic as well) are evil beyond belief. We see monks deliberately walling pagans into caves to starve to death, a bishop who is a double crossing scumbag and a Christian aristocrat trying to murder a child. No good Catholic features in the movie at all.

Of course, historically this is codswallop. The Emperor and not the Pope was not in charge at Rome even if the former enjoyed a good deal of influence. Pelagius was a religious fundamentalist who said only the most pious ascetics could get to heaven. He had no time for the grace that the rest of us sinners need to know God, because he thought he was so perfect so as not to need it. Nor was he executed, although he left Rome after his teachings were condemned.

I have to wonder how a movie that portrayed Moslems as entirely made up of unreconstructed psychos would fair in the media. King Arthur proves that anti-Catholicism is still the acceptable bigotry of some of the liberal elite (witness the rantings in the Guardian from the likes of Polly Toynbee). Frankly, it is becoming rather tiresome.

One other thing about King Arthur is that the Saxons (that is, the English) are also portrayed as racist barbarians. But a negative portrayal of the English is something else that Hollywood has long been guilty of.

Comments or questions? Post them at Bede's dedicated yahoo group.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

As we're staying at my parents this weekend, I popped down to a church near them for mass this morning. Like most English Catholic Churches it was quite modern, but still an attractive brick building. It was also full which was lovely to see and filled with as fine a mix of people of all races and ages as you could ever expect to find, certainly in South West London.

But I do have one major gripe. Why is it that Catholic Churches do not hand out an order of service to the congregation? I'm away from home and don't have my missal on me, so could have done with a primer. And what if someone who was not a Catholic at all wandered in. How would they have a clue what was going on? Worse, the service was quite a freewheeling version of the mass with songs and chants substituted for many of the prayers. A good deal of audience participation was expected. I, a convert, was lost. If you attend a Church of England service, you will always be given an order of service but not at a Catholic Church. This is a mistake. If a church wants newcomers to feel welcome then it should not make them have to advertise themselves by asking for an order of service. Not handing them out makes the mass seem to a private club instead of a ritual open for all, even if not all can take communion.

So, if your Church doesn't hand out an order of service, perhaps you should find out why and suggest that it would be a cheap and effective way of reaching out.

Comments or questions? Post them at Bede's dedicated yahoo group.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Today is a general election in the UK. Tony Blair's Labour Party look like they win big again despite the fact that it is impossible to find anyone who is really enthusiastic about them.

But which way should a Christian vote? First, let me say that we have a duty to vote and Christians owe it to society to make sure they get out and do so. Incredibly, some extreme Moslems have been threatening people who vote saying it is against Islam. Luckily, most UK Moslems think these guys are off their rockers.

On specific Christian issues, abortion does not loom large in the UK but its profile is getting bigger. The conservatives will make time to change the law to cut the limit to 20 weeks and for this the Catholic Church has said that its flock should no longer automatically vote Labour. Blair won't change the law and the Liberal Democrats don't know what they'll do.

Poverty and debt relief for the Third World are also big Christian issues. The aim of writing off third world debt and 'making poverty history' is shared by Catholics and Protestants. Here, the vote would have to be the Labour's chancellor, Gordon Brown, who is widely expected to take over from Blair as Prime Minister in the next few years. However, I am suspicious of the practical value to some of the projects in this direction and fear they encourage African dependency and bad government. Free trade in agriculture and raw materials would do the Third World most good but no party I know of is offering the dismantle EU and US subsidies.

On social matters, the Conservatives used to stand up for the family but have dropped most of this to try and become more 'inclusive'. But they are still the better party for civil liberties which Labour seem to want to trample all over (hunting, ID cards, house arrest) and Labour should be applauded for the support they give to children but sadly they don't do enough to make sure children have two parents in a married relationship.

On the Iraq war, Christians have generally been against in the UK and that means a vote for the Liberal Democrats, who were the only main party to stand against the war. For myself, I am not convinced the war was a mistake even though it is clear Blair misled us in the run up.

So, on balance, Christians will just have to decide what matters most to them. As will everyone else. But for God's sake, do vote!

Comments or questions? Post them at Bede's dedicated yahoo group.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

With the release of Ridley Scott's new movie Kingdom of Heaven, the crusades are very much in the news at the moment. The critics seem to be greeting the latest historical epic with all the lack of enthusiasm with which they met Troy, King Arthur and Alexander. Gladiator this is not. Indeed the slew of second rate historical epics can be laid squarely at Ridley Scott's door for giving us such a great movie that everyone has been unsuccessfully trying to emulate.

We have been discussing the crusades at the Bede's Library yahoo group and several interesting links have been suggested. I've read the classic account by Steven Runicman, Edward Gibbon's opus and a few others. Runciman's three volume work is a masterpiece and set the scene for much of today's discussion. His bias is more pro-Byzantine than pro-Islam and it was he who promoted the fall of Constantinople in 1205 to the position of greatest crusader atrocity. He also doesn't like Normans very much either (see also his The Sicilian Vespers) and we should be thankful he never wrote about 1066.

Today we can all agree that war is a bad thing. But this is a radical idea not shared with most of humanity through most of history. The reason, I think, we believe that violence is evil is partly the carnage of the Great War and partly the strongly pacifist colouring of modern Christianity which it passed on to the political left (at least in Europe). As Jonathan Riley Smith points out, the pacifism of Christianity, now well represented by the Catholic Church itself, was not its position in the Middle Ages. To them , violence was morally neutral and what counted was the end to which it was aimed.

The major misunderstanding about the crusades, especially in the Middle East, is to see them as proto-imperialist ventures. Our angst over nineteenth century colonialism is responsible for this anachronism, carried back to the Middle East by the alumni of western universities like the London School of Economics. In fact, the crusades are simply part of a long series of wars between Christendom and Islam that lasted from the eighth to the eighteenth centuries. Interestingly, Islam can justifiably claim to have won the crusades but this tends to be forgotten as they now perceive they have lost the war. But using the crusades as a way of reinforcing the Moslem culture of victimhood is not doing them or anyone else any good.

Comments or questions? Post them at Bede's dedicated yahoo group.