Pseudoscience, creationism and the Mainstream

As usual, Steven Shapin adds something insightful to a faithful book review in the LRB. Looking at the amazingly popular Pseudoscience of “Worlds in Collision” (author Immanuel Velikovksy) through the lens of a new book The Pseudoscience Wars: Immanuel Velikovsky and the Birth of the Modern Fringe by Michael Gordin. But it is not just a review of a review. It is about whether we can even say exactly what Pseudoscience is and a look at how and why it becomes popular.

He kindly does not explore how Creationism (the biggest current Pseudoscience in the West) mirrors and repeats the same pattern – right down to creating a parallel Scientism to the one it parodies. I won’t say more – it would be redundant. Here is the link.


Tony Judt – Social Democracy is the new conservatism

I have just finished reading “Ill fares the Land”, written by Tony Judt. It is the Penguin paperback (ISBN 978-0718191412) obtained through the computer reservation system at my local Idea Store (library, in English).
Ill Fares the Land
It is the work of a dying man (now gone) and it was odd to see the old arguments of “progressive” thought being presented as real conservatism. For quite a while now the progressive, social democratic ideals which grew up in response to the inequalities of the first age of globalisation, the Great War (WW1) and subsequent economic oppression have been denigrated as stale and discredited. Neo-liberal economic thinking rules and the idea of a morally guided politics seems naive in the age of Blair and Cameron.

Judt wants a return to properly state-run natural monopolies (rather than the privatised nonsenses which are our rail and domestic energy “markets”). But, even more, he wants the return of anger, passion and conscience to our political thinking and an active citizenry keeping our value-free politicians on track. it is almost a left-wing version of a “Moral Rearmament” (under-60’s can Google it) tract.

The strange thing about Mrs. Thatcher was that her rhetoric did not match her actions. Contrary to myth, she did not cut hard into public services. Her governments balanced the books by surfing the wave of money provided by North Sea Oil. But what she had managed was to change the tone of discussion. It was Major and Blair who felt the need to privatise everything in sight and implemented the most ludicrous PPI/PFI initiatives.

And now even Politicians talk about “getting politicians out of” things like setting interest rates, running schools etc.. Let us trust the technocrats and spreadsheets, the think-tanks and the social “scientists'” research.

Mr. Judt reminds us that these things ARE political and we need to bring our minds and passions to bear on them.

40 days of Olympic Worship draw to a close


Place of Worship?

Cathedrals have Spires, Mosques have Minarets, Olympus has the Twisted Tower

As the great spasm draws to a close the anticipation of relief is (for me) quite delicious.

For over a month the dream world of the Olympics held us in sway and the infantile obsession with sport became a kind of religious orthodoxy. Millions have worshiped at the Sign of the Twisted Tower and felt part of “something bigger than themselves”. They have shared days of awe and wonder.

Like pilgrims to Mecca they will talk about their “hajj” for years to come. Like returnees from Rome and Santiago they have their souvenirs to remind them for years of their pious journey, the signs of their souls’ devotion.

Perhaps we should be glad that the aesthetics of worship have been commandeered by Coca Cola and the International Olympic Committee. The institutional monstrosities of traditional religion have been outgunned by the humanist celebration of elite excellence. This religion does not demand blood sacrifice or war on unbelievers. It is all harmless fun isn’t it?

Is there a Gospel in the Olympics?

Answer: No

But what about all the references in Paul to running the race, completing the course and fighting the fight?

Firstly, all these are to do with the activity of training, running, fighting. That is real participation.

The Olympics are an elite sport spectacle. They are about spectating, not doing. The technology of Jet Planes, worldwide TV transmission and sponsorship by global brands means a billion couch potatoes can watch a few thousand elite athletes reach extreme levels of competence, speed and endurance (with the help of absurdly expensive specialisation). Throughout the West the rise and rise of elite sport has coincided with a sedentary pacification of the populace.

The most successful Olympic nation is the USA. Which also leads the world in obesity and use of “labour-saving” (i.e. laziness promoting) devices, cars and homes which are heated or cooled using appalling amounts of fossil fuel.

A dozen pitches used by our community for football, rugby etc. were destroyed to make the Olympic park. A pretty parable of what the “Olympic Spirit” does to healthy sport.

This would be a longer post but I am about to spend some time shouting at some pixels dancing on a flat screen while some loudspeakers relay a fatuous commentary and crowd noise to my ears.

No, there is no Gospel in the Olympics. If you want to disagree please listen to (The Gospel and the Olympics) first.

Why I don’t care about “Gay Marriage”

Bordeaux Wedding

I think they were heterosexual, actually.

I am being asked by Christian friends to sign a petition against “Gay Marriage” and I do not want to sign it. Why not?

The argument is “the Government is passing a law to redefine marriage” and this is something I am meant to be excited about. But I am not surprised. The only surprise is that it is a Tory Prime Minister who is so keen to change the law since it does not seem a very conservative thing to do. As for definitions – every marriage is defined by the two partners and their wider family connections and not by a dictionary or an act of Parliament.

I suppose it depends what you expect from governments.

I expect them to represent the “zeitgeist” – the ruling spirit of the age. And I use the word spirit in the old and true meaning of the word. The Prince of the power of the air rules through them to a large extent. They are part of the “principalities and powers in the heavenly realms” and representatives of the world “which lieth under the evil one”.

The fact that Christians in this country expect them to uphold sexual morality amazes me. It seems to date back to the time of the Catholic and Anglican church settlements when the institutional churches had a deal with the Kings of those times. The churches ruled over family matters and spiritual things while the Kings raised taxes, fought wars and tried to extend their territories. So the King would support the “Church” (wrong word of course) and the “Church” would support the King. It was a wicked compromise but could be justified by drawing a false parallel between Britain and Old Testament Israel.

The Partial Reformation of the 16th century just replaced an international “church” with a national one. So kings supported the morality of the National Church while it provided ideological support for the Government of the day.

To this day Christian writers and speakers back the projects of our governments (pro-Democracy wars, our ludicrous monarchy and aristocracy and – the real powers in the land – bankers and the interests of international business). In return they expect the Government to uphold the moral order.

But something has changed. The Government doesn’t need the Church any more. The church tries to catch up with the Government agenda (female bishops, royal weddings, pro-”gay” noises, paeons of praise for any initiative which has a fig-leaf of morality in it) the truth is that the Church (including the non-conformists) just doesn’t matter.

Is this a tragedy? No, it is New Testament normality.

So what about this petition? It will fail, of course. Just as the “Keep Sunday Special” Campaign failed.

But my brothers and sisters did not organise petitions against the wicked war in Iraq or the continuing occupation in Afghanistan or the Bankers’ bailout or the enrichment of our country by wicked means. Just petitions about Sunday and Sex.

So it is “no thanks” from me to this petition. I do not have to marry a “gay” man. I do not have to officiate at such a “marriage” or recognise it. I do not have to attend one (though I wonder if Jesus might have).

I expect my Government to reflect the immorality of my culture and I expect to get in trouble when I do not participate in that immorality.