Pharyngulated

Well … I got Pharyngulated. My ‘Above Us Only Sky’ post was featured on PZ Myer’s blog Pharyngula, and five thousand people clicked on the link, many of those subscribed to the blog, and a very interesting discussion has ensued. Thanks to everyone who’s commented, and hello there.

This blog is essentially just me sharing some musings on bits of research or reading I’ve done, and drawing attention to work of mine that’s been published. It’s ‘things I thought were interesting’ kind of place, not one that’s got a specific theme. So, er … sorry about that.

The second-most-visited page after the one Professor Myers linked to was the enigmatic (that is to say dead link) ‘Fixing Jesus’. It’s the title of a science fiction novel I’m working on, I can’t really say much more about it than that. Um, it has a religious theme. You guessed that from the title, though, yes? The first line is ‘I wasn’t sure if I should have the last cookie, so I asked Jesus and He told me it was OK, so I had the last cookie’, and if you want to read the second sentence, and you happen to be a publisher, then my agent’s contact details are to the right of this paragraph.

OK … well, I wasn’t really expecting to write about theology, but I have been reading up on the subject. Mainly for Fixing Jesus research, and for the latest version of a novel that’s been on the backburner so long it was originally pitched as a Virgin Worlds back in 1997, which is called Anything Except Paluxy, because I wanted to call it Paluxy and my editor Rebecca Levene said I could call it anything except Paluxy, and her wish is my command.

But also because a couple of years back, a new meme started doing the rounds: that Richard Dawkins didn’t understand theology, because he hadn’t studied it, and so he was unqualified to discuss it and was guilty of howling theological errors. The natural reaction of many was, to paraphrase – it’s that man again – PZ Myers’ Courtier’s Reply, that if you understand the Emperor to have no clothes, it’s a waste of time studying invisible stitching techniques.

Studying, reading and acquiring knowledge are all good things. But all knowledge is not equal, and not all fields are worthy of equal dedication. While it’s good to have curiosity, an imagination and an open mind, sometimes a little learning is precisely the amount you need to make a judgement call.

I have not studied, for example, homeopathy. Like a lot of people, I used to think homeopathy was some sort of herbal medicine, something to do with essential oils or something. I found out a little about how homeopathy works, and that’s all I really need to know. I admit I may be wrong about homeopathy. If I am, there would be a vast number of much bigger, much more important things I would also have to be wrong about first, any number of Maginot lines that would already have had to be breached by a blitzkrieg of bullshit. ‘Causality’, for example, can’t exist in a world consistent with homeopathy, and I think, on balance, causality exists. ‘Numbers’, that’s another a concept incompatible with homeopathy. I think there is such a thing as mathematics.

Theology, unlike homeopathy, isn’t something invented in 1796 by a quack who also thought most diseases were caused by drinking coffee. Theology is a broad-ranging discipline, ‘the study of divine things’, and it can fairly be said that, in times gone by at least, theology occupied and even preoccupied some of the greatest minds of history. I don’t think you need to believe or worship any or  all of the the gods under discussion to be interested in them, or to understand that belief in gods has been a rather important factor in human history and culture.

The awkward fact was that I hadn’t studied any modern theology, so I shouldn’t really dismiss an entire body of human endeavour without any effort to engage with it. So I set about reading, studying, asking your actual theologians things. This wasn’t formal study, and I knew all along that the results were going to be idiosyncratic and incomplete. But I found out a number of interesting things, these things weren’t at all what I expected going in, and I found the process rewarding.

I wasn’t planning to share, and, like I say, please don’t take what I write as anything more than my impressions and responses. I’m going to be perfectly honest: my main motivation in posting what I’ll post is for people to take me to task and show me the errors of my ways in the comments. I’m far happier learning than teaching. So … in a few days, once I’ve written it up, we’ll start with my thoughts on the Ontological Proof of God.

Hmmm, I just heard an odd sound. I guess that’s what five thousand people not clicking on a link sounds like …

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