Monday, January 21, 2008

I'm Back

It’s been a while. The new job has allowed me little time to write anything here. I’ve been very flattered by a few emails imploring my return (very few in fact, but still nice) and have now hit upon a wheeze to re-activate this blog. A new laptop computer that I can use on the long train journey into work means I can finally find some time to write. I am not sure how well this system will work but I am prepared to give it a go. However much anyone missed my thoughts, I have missed inflicting them on the world far more. Apart from the new job and new child, I have little to report. My PhD is still not granted although the final hurdle is in sight. Nor has God’s Philosophers been published. If you have not had a chance to look over the first chapter and sign my register of people wanting to see it published, then do please spare a moment at the web site here.

Before I got the computer, I read on the train. This has meant a substantial number of books on the ‘to read’ list have been knocked off. They include Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct, John Julius Norwich’s A History of Venice, Francis Pryor's Britain in the Middle Ages, business bestseller The World is Flat and Jared Diamond’s Collapse. If anyone is keen on my thoughts about these, let me know. I may eventually get around to writing some brief reviews of them anyway. Of course, ‘to read’ lists never get any shorter. I’ve been adding to mine some big picture economic history – The Wealth and Poverty of Nations by David Landes and The Green History of the World by Clive Ponting among them. I’d like to see if the rumoured link between science and prosperity has been noticed by historians of the dismal as well as of natural science.

Lots of things have happened while I’ve been busy. Richard Dawkins has admitted he likes Christmas carols (although who will be left to sing them if he gets his way, I have no idea. For a tradition to survive, it needs to be alive and not just a quaint museum piece, which is how he views the festival of the Nativity). In Rome, Italian communists have kept the Pope from opening a university year by complaining about a remark he made seventeen years ago about an event nearly four centuries before. In 1990, Benedict XVI had said he agreed with the late Paul Feyerabend that the trial of Galileo was “rational and just.” As the final chapter of my book will make clear, this is true in a narrow sense, but it hardly exonerates the Church from the initial mistake of banning heliocentricism. I expect the Pope acknowledged that too, but he is just going to have to get used to be quoted out of context by troublemakers, whether Muslim or atheist.

The neo-atheist storm shows no signs of blowing itself out but neither has the standard of debate improved. I have now had one email from someone for whom Dawkins’ book has been a disturbing experience. I’m not sure if that is a great return from sales approaching a million, but then it is hardly a great book. Christopher Hitchens’ companion screed, God is Not Great was reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement by none other than Dawkins himself. Needless to say, it was hardly a critical examinations of Hitchins’ arguments. Various other articles have appeared here and there. I’ll note a few of them over the next few posts. Having managed to type this post out, despite the train bouncing around like a revivalist minister, I am confident that there will be some more to come.

Click here to read the first chapter of God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science absolutely free.


Clovis said...

Welcome back.

I have to take issue with your summary of recent events in Rome though. Benedict XVI was invited by the rector of La Sapienza university to address students at the start of the academic year - an invite usually reserved to academics, and one rarely if ever issued to politicians or heads of state (two roles which the Pope exercises).

A protest was led by over 60 of the teaching staff, and various student organisations, unhappy that the 'infallible' head of a religious organisation was invited to set the tone for the Academic year. It might be handy to collectively organise these under the tag 'communists', or 'troublemakers' but it is wrong.

Subsequently the Pope decided not to address the assembly in person, but to send his address to be read out nonetheless. Students who protested the Pope's address were kept out of the University by police.

Since then Italian politicians and journalists have all lamented the situation, suggesting that the Pope was denied his right to free speach. In fact he chose not to attend the assembly - had he wished to, he certainly could have, though not without the spectactle of some of Italy's leading scientists protesting. What has been surpressed has been the legitimate right to protest. For the Pope, it seems, the right to free speach doesn't include the right to disagree.

A number of the protesting academics have clarified that they'd be more than happy to have the Pope visit the University, but on an occasion where the students would be allowed to pose questions after any address. But, given that the pr battle has been won by the Pope already, it's unlikely he'd accept such an invitation.

Arnfinn Pettersen said...

Welcome back. You have been missed.

James said...

Come off it Clovis. There were less than sixty activists out of a faculty of 5000 odd. The campaign was orchestrated by a retired professor called Cini of known marxist leanings who copied his letter to a communist newspaper. The same newspaper received the letter of support from the students. The Italian media are quite open about this being a bog-standard communist campaign even if the BBC are being typically reticent.

So, I'm afraid this is a standard example of paleo-left rabble rousing that has spectacularly backfired. I think you should be a little less gullible and check the facts before swallowing any more anti-clerical propaganda.

Best wishes


Elliot said...

Welcome back, James. I had wondered about sending out search parties but thought it better not to meddle.

Bjørn Are said...

Welcome back, James!

Hopefully you'll get sufficient amounts of train delays and breakdowns to write heaps of stuff, without the bouncing.

Niall said...

Welcome back James!

Has anybody got a link to the Pope's 17 year old address?

I've heard it said that the address was a defense of Galileo and that it amounted to defending the church's actions, so I figure I'll need to check this out.

As for the Pope's decision not to attend, some of the protesters had made it clear that they weren't willing to protest in a dignified manner and that if possible they would prevent the Pope from speaking.

Humphrey said...

I notice that in his book 'The God Delusion' Dawkins uses the following quote from his late friend Douglas Adams:

"imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, 'This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!' This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it's still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything's going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for."

I had thought this was rather clever until I took another look at the water cycle and noticed that following this analogy on to its natural conclusion the puddle will simply condensate and precipitate elsewhere, effectively achieving ressurection. Douglas Adams was a great writer but a crap athiest.