Tag: climate and religion

The Evolution Survey

January 28, 2006


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BBC Horizon has produced a Mori survey showing that 39% of the British population consider either “Creationism” or “Intelligent Design” to be the best description of the origin and development of life.

I have seen some criticism of the poll on the basis that it had a sample size of 2000, but that strikes me as sufficient to give a rough idea. Unfortunately, unlike the Amnesty poll I criticised last month, there are not enough published details to say for sure. For the moment I’m prepared to accept the poll findings as probably accurate to within a few percent – that may change if and when the details are published.

What this demonstrates, again, is that the real difference between us and the USA is not what ordinary people think, but the fact that here we do not care, and very often do not know, what ordinary people think. We have an establishment in this country which will reliably unite across the political spectrum to defy the ignorant masses.

Of course, when something like this comes out, the temptation is to say “and a damn good thing”. But this might be the exception rather than the rule.

For one thing, ignoring mass opinion means not combating it. To take another example, there are several states in the US which have no death penalty because the people have voted against it – not something that Britain or many European countries can claim.

And for another, democracy really is a protection as well as a threat. On the really important issues, the people are generally better informed than on issues that have little relevance to them, and I trust them more than I trust the Establishment. If Britain was ever in danger of falling into Communism since 1945, and it may have been, the danger came from the establishment, and our best protection was the proletariat.

It seems strange to dismiss evolution as a “minor issue”, but really, to the man in the street, what does it matter? It would be catastrophic if biology departments across acadaemia started haring off after “Intelligent Design”, but that’s not on the cards. In science, the truth can look after itself – those who actually study reality won’t be affected.

You could call this situation a failure of education, but only to the extent that the ill-educated are not sufficiently engaged with advanced knowledge that they can see why they must be wrong. Simply ordering them to accept that evolution is true would achieve nothing; it would just look like – and would in fact really be – propaganda. Throughout history, attacking religion has generally just encouraged the buggers. The best way to spread knowledge of science is to use it. That’s why, while I sympathise with Richard Dawkins, I often wish he would go back to his wasps – his original research has brought more benefit than telling ignorant people how ignorant they are.

John Kay on global warming

July 26, 2005


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In today’s FT (and his own site)

Many of the people who express concern about climate change do not want a technological solution. Their concern is really an expression of guilt about materialism, distaste for capitalism and fear of technology. It is because Mr Bush does not experience any of these feelings that he is right on this issue.

Spot on.

Update: I’ve spent hours reading articles on his site – I’d forgotten how good he is. Here‘s an article on copyright.


March 23, 2005


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Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace is a book by Lawrence Lessig, published in 1999. The revisions for the forthcoming second edition are being done publicly online at codebook.jot.com, with the enjoyable byproduct that I can read it for free.

It is one of those books which is superb despite being wrong. (Roger Penrose’s The Emperor’s New Mind is another). I will come back to it later, but there is one amusing metaphor, where the “Year 2000 problem” is described (in 1999, remember) as a code-based environmental disaster.

It’s not clear, with hindsight, whether the “Y2K Problem” was (a) an over-hyped prophecy of doom, in response to which much money and effort was wasted, or (b) a genuine threat that was averted at the last moment at great cost.

My own professional experience, before Y2K and since, has been on systems that went wrong fairly frequently for all sorts of reasons, and were always fixed quickly, often by me. Of the dozens of production fixes I performed in the year 2000, only one of them was the result of a “Y2K” problem. The main (telecoms billing) system I worked on at the time was supposed to be replaced by a “Y2K compliant” one, but that project failed and the non-compliant system carried on without problems. I shouldn’t really generalise from my experience to the whole industry, however, and I leave the question open.

The parallels with, say, Global Warming are numerous. It may well turn out to be a lot of fuss about nothing. Even if it’s real, it might be most efficient to deal with the problems as they occur, rather than invest trillions in trying to prevent them in advance. A whole industry has emerged just to talk about it, and no organisation is allowed to omit paying lip-service, with varying degrees of insincerity, to the need to act.

Of course, analogies never prove anything. All this does is demonstrate a certain pattern of behaviour, which comes naturally to a human race raised on flood myths and the like. It doesn’t mean the doom-mongers must be wrong, but at least it goes some way to refuting the “10,000 lemmings can’t be wrong” part of the argument.

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