Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Daddy's gonna pay for your crashed car

People interested in U2's prophetic engagement with the world might enjoy this post about the US government giving away over a hundred billion dollars to the population.

(H/T U2 Sermons)

The naturalists' leap of faith

Reacting to David Heddle's post (see my previous post), Rob commented that there was at best nothing to choose between the theist blind leap of faith regarding their presuppositions, and the atheist/naturalist blind leap of faith regarding theirs (namely that empirical observation will be a reliable guide to the universe).

In a sense, there is some mileage in this. I accept that it is the case that ultimately presuppositions are not provable, and indeed I've spent lots of time at least trying to get atheists to recognise that they have presuppositions as much as theists do.

And yet ....

I have quoted Schaeffer's essay on the difference between postmodern faith and Christian faith here. It is worth considering how this relates to science. I would argue that the atheist approach to science is effectively a postmodern leap. In effect, philosophically, they are saying, "I believe that the universe is rational, tractable and comprehensible," in the same way that a person lost in the fog on a mountain might say, "I believe that if I step off this ledge, I will drop onto another ledge a few feet below and there I'll be able to shelter for the night." The theist says, "I believe that the universe is rational, tractable and comprehensible, because it is the product of a creator who is able to express rationality and tractability. Furthermore, I believe in this creator because he has spoken." This isn't a "leap in the dark" in the same way - this is the acceptance of an external witness, one which the atheist claims doesn't exist.

How come the "leap in the dark" atheist approach to science is so effective? I would argue that it is because the atheists are "stepping off the ledge" following theists who have stepped off not with blind faith, but in confidence of the outcome, thanks to their theistic presuppositions. Many great feats of technology, engineering and philosophy were achieved in different cultures throughout human history. But as I have suggested before, modern science - which has incredible levels of abstraction, and has transformed the world in which we live - grew specifically out of the Reformation, where the scientists believed that it was possible to study the universe because God had made it comprehensible. They may have had kooky beliefs in many areas - but the key presupposition that underlay their beliefs concerning science was that the existence of a creator and sustainer God made the pursuit of knowledge about the universe reasonable.

Atheist scientists have continued to follow them onto the safety of the ledge below, even though they have forgotten what it was that led their antecedents to believe the ledge might be there.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Imagine no possessions

I wonder if you can? Yoko Ono apparently can't. She is slighted by the use of something she feels she possesses - exclusive rights to the words and music "Imagine" (she doesn't even want a few seconds or words shown in the film, "Expelled").

In terms of irony, this ranks alongside the reported account of her musing, on collecting a posthumous award for John Lennon's "Imagine" (Channel 4's "Favourite Song of all time", or some such), that she liked to think he would be pleased as he looked down from somewhere.

Imagine there's no heaven? Doh!

I understand that John Lennon was a bit more realistic about things like this. When asked to comment on whether "all you need is love", he wryly said that they did have a lot of money at the time ....

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Primary orchestra - help!

What Britten never mentioned in the "Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" is that frankly it's a miracle that the orchestra was ever invented, as the instruments are fundamentally incompatible. With string instruments whose natural key is something around D or A major (2-3 sharps), and wind instruments transposing in B flat and F (clarinet, French horn) and C (oboe, flute), it's almost inevitable that some part of the orchestra will be playing with a scarily large number of fingers not where they are most comfortable. Perhaps string teachers should go against the habits of centuries and teach players first finger back to start with ....

We're trying to start a mini-orchestra in a primary school, and there is not much music available for a mixed group of instruments where the players are generally pre-grade 1. If anybody knows of any, then please post a comment!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Apocryphal story...

... that somebody wrote in an essay:
Beethoven wrote four symphonies - the third, the fifth, the sixth and the ninth ....

Saturday, April 05, 2008

richarddawkins.net

Amazing.

How can he take himself so seriously? A column on the right pretty much dedicated to the books he has published. His photo featuring heavily. A column on the left full of quotes, largely by him. And such quotes!
We admit that we are like apes, but we seldom realise that we are apes.
Well, actually, we are regularly told that we are apes, but the people who tell us seldom seem to realise that apes don't have the United Nations, architects, literature, music, a space program, VLSI, weapons of mass destruction, pornography, Wikipedia, Tesco's, Oxford University or religion. Biologically we may be apes, but since biology tells us nothing about anything that makes us unusual as a species, it is hardly useful in helping us to understand our identity.
I doubt that religion can survive deep understanding. The shallows are its natural habitat...
How does he know? When has Dawkins ever interacted with any serious theology?! Certainly not in anything he's published. Certainly not in his TV show.

How can he say these absurd things and expect to be taken seriously? How can people take him seriously? Has he never heard of the phrase "cult of personality"? Or just "cult"?

Give me Mike Gene and Telic Thoughts, any day.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Faith schools: a law unto themselves?

Here's a link to an article in the Independent, concerning breaches of the code relating to admission of pupils.

Now firstly, let me say that there is no justification for breaking the code on admissions. Looked-after children should have highest priority; there should be no subtle exclusions on the basis of wealth ("Do you have a place for independent study in your house?" is not a permissible question); there should be no unreasonable refusal to accept special needs children (although I believe ALL schools still can refuse to accept a child if accepting him or her would mean that they were required to make large scale changes to the premises); there should be no hint that parents have to make a donation to be offered a place.

However, this report - or at least, the Independent version of it - to me looks like a witch hunt or mischief-making. Firstly, for most VA schools, the amount of money sought in voluntary donations isn't large, and it is needed for the running of the school. One thing missing from the article is what VA schools are doing with these donations. The answer is that VA schools have to find 10% of the cost of capital works - unlike LEA schools. This money has to be found basically from voluntary donations. In addition, much of the cost of maintaining the school also has to be found by the governors - unlike LEA schools. Again, this money has to be found from voluntary donations. That is how they work. The advantage for parents and children is they get a foundation school. The advantage for the state is that they don't have to pay as much for the school's upkeep. But the upkeep still has to be paid, and effectively by the parents. If the roof falls in at an LEA school, the LEA has to find the money to keep the children in school. Not so at a VA school - it's down to the governors and the foundation body. So for all of the insistence that the donation is voluntary (and we do insist this, in our school), the fact is that if the money doesn't come in, the school can't operate.

I am a governor of a VA school, and we continue to struggle with this issue. The contribution from the parents to the governors' fund is voluntary. However, the governors have to pay the diocese per child for maintenance costs, and if capital works are to be carried out, they have to find 10% of the cost of those works. In the past, the parish church has made up a shortfall - it has been able to carry the financial burden for the most needy children. But parish churches are themselves short of money. We have to think very hard about how we comply with the law concerning the voluntary nature of this donation - but the fact is that if people don't make those donations, the school can't survive. And whilst the school may have been great in terms of facilities in the past, it is now considered barely fit for purpose. The playground and classrooms are too small, and since we have combined an infant and junior school on the same site, we really ought to have one central staff room and admin section, whereas we have two in separate buildings. This is going to require major capital works at some stage - of which we have to find 10% - and the only way we can find it is from those voluntary donations.

In addition to which, don't tell me that the state sector isn't immune from manipulation - and by all sorts of agencies. We managed to get our oldest daughter into our preferred school. Had we applied the following year, we would not have managed to get her into any of the three nearest schools. (We go to the wrong sort of church for her to get into the local VA secondary school!) The LEA offered parents in our road places in a school with a bad reputation 11 miles away. No, we don't live in the middle of the countryside - the three nearest schools are 3, 4 and 5 miles away respectively. The same thing happened this year, in a neighbouring village. The reason? The LEA knows that if it gets concerned parents involved in a school, they will make sure their own children do well, and will hold the staff to account for its failures - resulting in improvements in the apparent standard of the school.

Now, is this parental choice? Is this a fair admissions policy at work? Of course not. It's political manipulation on the part of the LEA. And yet I haven't seen a front page article in the Independent about this.

And then you've got the fact that good schools push up house prices in the vicinity. Which means that only rich parents can live nearby. Which means that the school only ends up having to accept privileged children, because the poor parents don't end up living in the catchment area. Whilst a fair admissions policy may apparently be at work here, the fact is that people have already been excluded, by virtue of economics.

And - back to VA schools - there are the people who manipulate the system. There are the people who rent a house close to their "target" school for six months, or say that they are living at their parents address. There are the people who are "dedicated" enough to go to church every month (!) for two years, or who can talk the vicar into writing a nice letter for them. I think it's fascinating that, although I am a lay preacher, and we get to church 1.5 times a week as a family, and so on, I can't get a foundation place at various local VA schools, when people who are blatantly manipulating the system can.

There may be injustices perpetrated by VA schools, and these need to be rectified. But the fact is that the entire admissions system is a mess, and it is being manipulated by all sorts of individuals and organisations. The Independent is kidding itself if it thinks that VA schools are more guilty than anybody else.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Expelled from Expelled

Richard Dawkins gatecrashed a preview of the movie "Expelled", which apparently features ... er, Richard Dawkins ... and is about the thought control being exercised in US universities. P.Z. Myers didn't manage to.

These two facts have set the blogosphere ablaze over the last week or so, apparently.

I have nothing really to add other than "Why?", so here's a quote from the "Evolution News and Views" commentary instead.
... is limiting the attendance at the pre-screening of an admittedly partisan movie by its creators to invitees only really the same thing as throwing professors out of their academic jobs for having beliefs at odds with the prevailing orthodoxy in their particular discipline--particularly when the institutions engaging in the heave-ho make so much of their respect for academic freedom?

Let's just say the question answers itself