Tag Archives: fred-baker

Dogma: murderous or misunderstood?

I think I’ve been boring and frustrating my old friend, and current domiciliary companion, Fred Baker, with all my talk of religion, spirituality, and how I want to reinvent it for my PhD studies. It’s really good to have a counterpoint, although I do wish I were doing slightly better at convincing Fred that there is some benefit in the research I am conducting. I guess this is the nature of exploratory research though: how will I ever know until its been done! Fred emailed me a link to this article by A C Grayling – Dogma will always lead to murder in the end, scepticism is the only answer – a couple of days ago, I’ve just read it, and thought I would comment a little. I, for the most part, agree with what Grayling says.. but I’d like to add some commentary, as it’s really relevant to the line of research I’m currently embarked upon. Firstly, there is the journalistic caveat. The headline, including “Dogma will always lead to murder”, is just that.. a headline. I’m fairly sure that Grayling isn’t suggesting that the very notion of Dogma is murderous or genocidal, and if he is, he fails to explain why. A more structural criticism of Grayling’s comment however, is the logically one-sided nature of the argument. The rhetorically one-sidedness I can forgive, but there are a couple of issues where I thought that Grayling was doing a disservice to egalitarianism.

Religious apologists are eager to point to the charitable and artistic outcomes of religion either as a palliation or an excuse, but non-religious people do charitable and artistic things, too, and it is hard to detach them from the kindness and creativity, respectively, that are a natural endowment of most human beings no matter what they believe

The main crux of the article is how horrendous religiously motivated violence is. For instance the awful events in Woolwhich last week. The quote above points out that “religious apologists” talk about the good things that religious people do, and fail to acknowledge the good things irreligious people do. The screaming omission is the amount of violence carried out by irreligious people.

Image grab from Independent Article by AC Grayling

I know Grayling is writing to comment, and it seems evident he wants to be provocative based on the title. I also think the piece is beautifully written, with powerful rhetoric. But from where I am (an atheist exploring the potential to use the structure of religion, and the essence of spirituality for good) this discourse is wholly unhelpful. It polarises. It angers those with faith, and it gives an unjustified sense of correctness and confidence to those with anti-faith sentiments.

Dogma is a tricky one. I don’t believe in a god, or an afterlife, and ever since I was a little kid I’ve been smugly confident in the paradoxical belief that there is no such thing as a fact. Isn’t it possible to dogmatically believe in entropy, infinity, milky tea, or smiling? Maybe I’m missing a point.. but wouldn’t it even be possible to have a dogmatic faith in atheism? Or, perhaps a way of putting it on slightly stronger grounding, couldn’t dogma, or even religion, explain a belief system that put absolute faith in evidence-based decisions or discourse? I think so.

I do however entirely agree with the sentiments in Grayling’s piece (even if I slightly disapprove of how he articulates them). I abhor violence. But more importantly when that violence is motivated by revenge, and justified by mythology, it is even more abhorrent. Finally, I agree whole heartedly with Grayling’s conclusion: scepticism, critical thinking, asking for evidence are powerful things, and I believe we should all engage with and be taught to do them profusely. If we did, then maybe, as Grayling puts it, “in a generation or two, what happened on a Woolwich street might become close to impossible.”

The End is Nigh

It feels to me as if something is coming close to an end. I can’t quite figure out what it is, is it the impending hand-in date for this journal? Or is it the now ever-constant coverage of global warming that’s getting me down? Or could it be the ever-dwindling student loan in my bank account combined with a scarily low number of days before the end of my University year. It all seems to have just sneaked into my consciousness without much prior warning.

Ending. Owned by my friend Fred it is memories of this guitar that are my first memories of any guitar. It seems to have been around for ever and I’m sure has inspired many; well at least me and Fred. This is a ritual burning of it, after it was rendered useless by a short drunken Scottish man.

I’m currently on a skiing trip in Vallandry, a small alpine village near Albertville in southern France. I’ve been here a few times before, but not for 3 or 4 years. Nothing has changed though, except here there is, too, a new-found awareness of global warming issues. The risk of the skiing trade disappearing has just jumped from nothing, to everything (in the property investors minds, anyway).

Climate change is a serious issue, but as it is patently clear; we’ve created a big problem. We now have to tackle the problem with gusto – I can’t think how better to put it! Believe it or not, when I phoned up my school friend Lindsay when I was 13, really distressed about the fact the world was “going to fuck up” imminently, I reflected (at the time) that I was overreacting. I guess I wasn’t really.
Unforgiving Mountain.

I just read in a newspaper that British Airways looses 23 bags out of each 1000 they load on to a plane – the worst in Europe.

Compliance. After jumping through hoops, doing obstacle courses, burning enough fuel to power the city for a day and a financial outlay equal to a small country’s national debt; I finally received my valid UK passport. It was ordained with this insightful label.

I’m on holiday with my immediate family – a Christmas present to to us all from my Dad – and also with my auntie, uncle and two of their friends. Its quite a giggle and definitely a stark contrast to my cleshay-ridden and wholly student-like existence. Without going into too much detail describing my friends and family’s background; being on holiday with such a concentration of knowledge and intellect, that is rooted in such different methods and concepts to that of my peer group, is very uplifting. Inspirational in a way.

Last night a conversation arose about sudoku, it turns out my auntie is an avid player, while my uncle doesn’t really play at all. I’m quite a fan of sudoku, despite the huge amount of time it takes me to complete even an easy grid. Its a real art form. Apparently, this is the number of combinations you could have for a 9*9 sudoku grid.

Six sextillion, six hundred and seventy quintillion,
nine hundred and three quadrillion,
seven hundred and fifty two trillion,
twenty one billion, seventy two million,
nine hundred and thirty six thousand,
nine hundred and sixty.

Its definitely one of those things where the actual number doesn’t matter. You just know; its a lot.

I also read an amazing article in the New Scientist last night (New Scientist makes excellent holiday reading, although I forgot this week and had to borrow my brother’s copy!) that talked about number patterns just like sudoku. Mathematicians in the Europe only discovered these magic ways of arranging number in the last few hundred years, even though the Chinese have been aware of them for over 4000 years. Fancy that. It turns out that these magic squares, which are the same as sudoku squares, are actually invaluable tools for writing computer error-checking codes. By utilising these squares, a computer or electronic circuit, can transmit a message over an extremely “noisy” wire and actually decode it at the other end. By using the square, a computer can convert an extremely poorly transmitted message with missing or incorrect characters in, such as; ” e i br n rox he zlay uog” into the correct message “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”.

The same kind of techniques are used already for the Internet, digital TV and CD/DVD drives, but by utilising the sudoku squares scientists can transmit high-bandwidth digital signals over electric power lines – the hardest thing to send a message through because of the extreme high voltage and crudeness of the lines. Its quite an odd thing to write about in the context of art, but for one it gave me that warm feeling I get when I see a movie that I really love, or an inspirational piece of art work, or listen to an amazing piece of music. But secondly, the point that really grabbed me was that mathematicians discovered these number patterns some time ago, but never really understood them and just thought of them as a game. Now they’re being used at the cutting edge of technology to do something truly influential. The article included the sentence “maths can, once again, be seen as an art form.” I think that’s kinda cool.

Origami by Joe Gilardi. This is a dollar bill, creased, folder, cut up and put together again in this form. Another musing I arrived at whilst reading the New Scientist was the crossovers that exist between high-level mathematics, magical illusions and art; they’re rife. I doubt I could be a magician, but it’d be cool to explore any artistic magical possibilities that arise.

During our conversation about Sudoku, however, my uncle (a psychiatrist, psychotherapist and author) raised a question of what it is to guess? Also how to distinguish between this and an estimate. I wish my alcohol-impaired brain could remember the exact context of the question; it was to do with the human way (as opposed to a computer) of completing a sudoku grid- almost everyone makes assumptions that they’re not sure of in order to see if they’re correct. Just like guessing a word in a crossword; you may be wrong but even if it is it may well lead to some other correct answers. I thought it’d be cool to do some work reflecting on humans ability to guess and estimate. I’m sure that most guesses are actually more informed than the “guessee” thinks at the time.

Irrelevant Pomp. I created a WikiPedia page for my Dad… it says it “Lacks Relevance”. In fitting with that sentiment, here is a photo that lacks relevance, but one that I think captures the spirit of an instant in London.