Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Enemies of Reason Part 2

Where does one begin with this awesome lot of rhetoric from the Dawk! A few comments:
1) Proven science has been wrong about the eating of beef -  it is quite ok, no possibility of getting the human form of mad cow disease, CJD. So why should be believe government assurances that are science based? Politics has a nasty habit of twisting science to political ends. Why didn't Dawkins address this?
2) If the government was that concerned about measles, they would not have blocked access to single vaccines. Clearly health was not the main priority so much as perhaps cost. Why didn't Dawkins raise these issues?
3) Medical science is safe and tested - perhaps Dawkins would like to visit the people who nearly lost their lives in a drug trial last year?
4) One alternative practitioner said he used "quantum" as a metaphor, which Dawkins seized upon eagerly. What about Dawkinons on "selfish" as in "The Selfish gene" (which occurs in the same paragraph as a sentence "we are born selfish")? Not only is that a metaphor, it is mixed with normal common use of the term.
5) It cannot be seen, it is a mystery as to how it works, but it does. New age healing, according to Dawkins, or Dawkin's idea of Memes, which share pretty well all the same characteristics. Can we expect some controlled trials on meme propogation in the near future?
6) We may as well go back to leeches (as an example of poor medicine). It may have escaped Dawkin's attention that while leeches are not good for everything, they are very good at some things, and have come back into modern medicine (http://www.scienceinafrica.co.za/2003/july/leech.htm). Doesn't he research anything anymore?
7) "It is the placebo effect". Wonderful. Not only is this not as easy as Dawkin's believes (see Cimetidine and stomach ulcers (1983) for details of how mistakes can be made), and also look at the FDA for problems in using placebo in cancer trials, it is a term which describes a mysterious and unknown way in which the body can be stimulated to heal itself. New Scientist, 2005, comments: "Doctors have known about the placebo effect for decades, and the naloxone result seems to show that the placebo effect is somehow biochemical. But apart from that, we simply don't know" (see below). Dawkins gives some evolutionary style rhetoric which is little more than a veneer of science sounding mumbo jumbo to explain it. But wasn't that his problem with alternative medicine?
8) I wish he'd listened to his friend Douglas Adams on Feng Shui (http://www.biota.org/people/douglasadams/), where Adams questions the nonsensical sounding ideas of Feng Shuihe but notes that: "my argument is that as we become more and more scientifically literate, it's worth remembering that the fictions with which we previously populated our world may have some function that it's worth trying to understand and preserve the essential components of, rather than throwing out the baby with the bath water; because even though we may not accept the reasons given for them being here in the first place, it may well be that there are good practical reasons for them, or something like them, to be there."
9) Science as neutral - if he'd seen what Eysenck says about the impartiality of scientitists with respect to astrology (not the zodiac stuff, the real data driven work of Michel Gauquelin on the "mars effect"), he might think twice! Eysenck studied the data, and the comments, and concluded that the dismissal and rhetorical put downs by the scientific community did it no credit at all (see http://www.planetos.info/eysenck.html). Of course, astrologers do not like the fact that Gauquelin virtually disproved any Zodiac effect, but scientitists are equally dismissive in the face of the positive results. Why can't we live with mystery sometimes?
That's enough for now!

Don't try this at home. Several times a day, for several days, you induce pain in someone. You control the pain with morphine until the final day of the experiment, when you replace the morphine with saline solution. Guess what? The saline takes the pain away.
This is the placebo effect: somehow, sometimes, a whole lot of nothing can be very powerful. Except it's not quite nothing. When Fabrizio Benedetti of the University of Turin in Italy carried out the above experiment, he added a final twist by adding naloxone, a drug that blocks the effects of morphine, to the saline. The shocking result? The pain-relieving power of saline solution disappeared.
So what is going on? Doctors have known about the placebo effect for decades, and the naloxone result seems to show that the placebo effect is somehow biochemical. But apart from that, we simply don't know.
Benedetti has since shown that a saline placebo can also reduce tremors and muscle stiffness in people with Parkinson's disease. He and his team measured the activity of neurons in the patients' brains as they administered the saline. They found that individual neurons in the subthalamic nucleus (a common target for surgical attempts to relieve Parkinson's symptoms) began to fire less often when the saline was given, and with fewer "bursts" of firing - another feature associated with Parkinson's. The neuron activity decreased at the same time as the symptoms improved: the saline was definitely doing something.
We have a lot to learn about what is happening here, Benedetti says, but one thing is clear: the mind can affect the body's biochemistry. "The relationship between expectation and therapeutic outcome is a wonderful model to understand mind-body interaction," he says. Researchers now need to identify when and where placebo works. There may be diseases in which it has no effect. There may be a common mechanism in different illnesses. As yet, we just don't know.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

Somewhere else

Dawkins: Well, not really because no serious theologian takes the Old Testament literally anymore, so it isn't quite like that. An awful lot of people think they take the Bible literally but that can only be because they've never read it. If they ever read it they couldn't possibly take it literally, but I do think that people are a bit confused about where they get their morality from. A lot of people think they get their morality from the Bible because they can find a few good verses. Parts of the Ten Commandments are okay, parts of the Sermon on the Mount are okay. So they think they get their morality from the Bible. But actually of course nobody gets their morality from the Bible, we get it from somewhere else and to the extent that we can find good bits in the Bible we cherry pick them. We pick and choose them. We choose the good verses in the Bible and we reject the bad. Whatever criterion we use to choose the good verses and throw out the bad, that criterion is available to us anyway whether we are religious or not. Why bother to pick verses? Why not just go straight for the morality?

And where does the morality come from? Where is this mysterious "somewhere else"? Sounds like a fudge to me!





Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Dawkins and the MMR

Time and again in "The Enemies of Reason", Richard Dawkins derided the possible link between MMR and autism as an example of "irrationality" on behalf of the general public, leading to deady measles outbreaks in the UK.  He never thought to mention the "irrationality" of a government that deliberately and determinedly blocked the alternative of separate vaccinations, which most parents who rejected MMR would have been happy to accept, and indeed which was endorsed by Andrew Wakefield himself. In France it is possible, so why not in the UK? Perhaps it has something to do with the paternalistic nanny knows best attitude of the UK government which was so determined that the MMR was safe that they were not prepared to countance any alternatives, even if these would have been sufficient. Was that an act of reason? And why did Dawkins omit to mention that very public fact? Could it be that it would suggest that his ringing endorsement of medical science is also often propped up by irrational thinking?

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Magic and Dawkins

"Magic" (see below for summary) is a play by G.K. Chesterton which answers so many of Dawkins critiques of magical thinking. Chesterton makes two very strong points in the play:
a) the existence of a forged note does not mean that all notes are forged, in other words, science cannot generalise from exposing some magic as trickery to saying that all is therefore trickery. In Popper's terms, numerous observations of white swans do not prove that black swans do not exist. Dawkins seems unable to grasp this.
b) believing everything and doubting everything are twins: you have on the one hand, religious mania, and on the other irreligious mania. One may appear superstitious, and one scientific, but in terms of psychology, both are flawed approaches to life.

"Magic", one of the few plays which Chesterton wrote, begins with an encounter with a mysterious stranger (who we later learn is a conjuror) who declaims:
Daughter of men, if you would see a fairy as he truly is, look for his head above all the stars and his feet amid the floors of the
sea. Old women have taught you that the fairies are too small to be seen. But I tell you the fairies are too mighty to be seen. For they are the elder gods before whom the giants were like pigmies. They are the Elemental Spirits, and any one of them is larger than the world. And you look for them in acorns and on toadstools and wonder that you never see them.
The sceptic, Morris, comments on the art of the conjuror:
MORRIS. Ah, most mysteries are tolerably plain if you know the apparatus. [_Enter_ DOCTOR _and_ SMITH, _talking with grave faces, but growing silent as they reach the group._] I guess I wish we had all the old apparatus of all the old Priests and Prophets since the beginning of the world. I guess most of the old miracles and that were a matter of just panel and wires.
But Morris doesn't get it all his own way; there is a diverting discussion on the nature of falsity:
SMITH. I object to a quarrel because it always interrupts an argument. May I bring you back for a moment to the argument? You were saying that these modern conjuring tricks are simply the old miracles when they have once been found out. But surely another view is possible. When we speak of things being sham, we generally mean that they are imitations of things that are genuine. Take that Reynolds over there of the Duke's great-grandfather. [_Points to a picture on the wall._] If I were to say
it was a copy....
MORRIS. Wal, the Duke's real amiable; but I reckon you'd find what you call the interruption of an argument.
SMITH. Well, suppose I did say so, you wouldn't take it as meaning that Sir Joshua Reynolds never lived. Why should sham miracles prove to us that real Saints and Prophets never lived. There may be sham magic and real magic also.
     [_The_ CONJURER _raises his head and listens with a strange air of      intentness._
SMITH. There may be turnip ghosts precisely because there are real ghosts. There may be theatrical fairies precisely because there are real fairies. You do not abolish the Bank of England by pointing to a forged bank-note.
MORRIS. Well, let's have the argument first, then I guess we can have the quarrel afterwards. I'll clean this house of some encumbrances. See here, Mr. Smith, I'm not putting anything on your real miracle notion. I say, and Science says, that there's a cause for everything. Science will find out that cause, and sooner or later your old miracle will look mighty mean. Sooner or later Science will botanise a bit on your turnip ghosts; and make you look turnips yourselves for having taken any. I say....
But then Morris is challenged by a series of conjuring tricks, culminating in an impossible one, changing a lamp from red to blue and back again:

DOCTOR. [_In a low voice to_ SMITH.] I don't like this peaceful argument of yours. The boy is getting much too excited.
MORRIS. You say old man Reynolds lived; and Science don't say no. [_He turns excitedly to the picture._] But I guess he's dead now; and you'll no more raise your Saints and Prophets from the dead than you'll raise the Duke's great-grandfather to dance on that wall.
     [_The picture begins to sway slightly to and fro on the wall._
DOCTOR. Why, the picture is moving!
MORRIS. [_Turning furiously on the_ CONJURER.] You were in the room before us. Do you reckon that will take us in? You can do all that with wires.
CONJURER. [_Motionless and without looking up from the table._] Yes, I could do all that with wires.
MORRIS. And you reckoned I shouldn't know. [_Laughs with a high crowing laugh._] That's how the derned dirty Spiritualists do all their tricks. They say they can make the furniture move of itself. If it does move they move it; and we mean to know how.
     [_A chair falls over with a slight crash._
     [MORRIS _almost staggers and momentarily fights for breath and      words._
MORRIS. You ... why ... that ... every one knows that ... a sliding plank. It can be done with a sliding plank.
CONJURER. [_Without looking up._] Yes. It can be done with a sliding plank.
     [_The_ DOCTOR _draws nearer to_ MORRIS, _who faces about,      addressing him passionately._
MORRIS. You were right on the spot, Doc, when you talked about that red lamp of yours. That red lamp is the light of science that will put out all the lanterns of your turnip ghosts. It's a consuming fire, Doctor, but it is the red light of the morning. [_Points at it in exalted enthusiasm._] Your priests can no more stop that light from shining or change its colour and its radiance than Joshua could stop the sun and moon. [_Laughs savagely._] Why, a real fairy in an elfin cloak strayed too near the lamp an hour or two ago; and it turned him into a common society clown with a white tie.
     [_The lamp at the end of the garden turns blue. They all look at it      in silence._
MORRIS. [_Splitting the silence on a high unnatural note._] Wait a bit! Wait a bit! I've got you! I'll have you!... [_He strides wildly up and down the room, biting his finger._] You put a wire ... no, that can't be it....
DOCTOR. [_Speaking to him soothingly._] Well, well, just at this moment we need not inquire....
MORRIS. [_Turning on him furiously._] You call yourself a man of science, and you dare to tell me not to inquire!
SMITH. We only mean that for the moment you might let it alone.
MORRIS. [_Violently._] No, Priest, I will not let it alone. [_Pacing the room again._] Could it be done with mirrors? [_He clasps his brow._] You have a mirror.... [_Suddenly, with a shout._] I've got it! I've got it! Mixture of lights! Why not? If you throw a green light on a red light....
     [_Sudden silence._
SMITH. [_Quietly to the_ DOCTOR.] You don't get blue.
DOCTOR. [_Stepping across to the_ CONJURER.] If you have done this trick, for God's sake undo it.
     [_After a silence, the light turns red again._
MORRIS. [_Dashing suddenly to the glass doors and examining them._]  It's the glass! You've been doing something to the glass!
     [_He stops suddenly and there is a long silence._
CONJURER. [_Still without moving._] I don't think you will find anything wrong with the glass.
MORRIS. [_Bursting open the glass doors with a crash._] Then I'll find out what's wrong with the lamp.
     [_Disappears into the garden._
Morris is unable to find any rational exlanation for this last trick, and his mind, already on the edge of madness, tips over the edge, which we discover in the next scene when the doctor is discussing his breakdown, and commenting on the hereditary weakness in the family. The priest comments to him that doubt can also be a madness:
DOCTOR. Weren't there as many who believed passionately in Apollo?

SMITH. And what harm came of believing in Apollo? And what a mass of harm may have come of not believing in Apollo? Does it never strike you that doubt can be a madness, as well be faith? That asking questions may be a disease, as well as proclaiming doctrines? You talk of religious mania! Is there no such thing as irreligious mania? Is there no such thing in the house at this moment?
DOCTOR. Then you think no one should question at all.  You are a Pragmatist.

SMITH. That is what the lawyers call vulgar abuse. But I do appeal to practise. Here is a family over which you tell me a mental calamity hovers. Here is the boy who questions everything and a girl who can believe anything. Upon which has the curse fallen?
Morris, in his delerium, is desparate to know the trick. But the Conjuror tells the others it is no trick, but real magic. Finally, for the sake of Morris' sanity, and at the pleading of a lady, Patricia, he manages to do what the others have not done, which is to think of a natural way in which the trick might have been performed, which he whispers to Morris. But, as he explains before he leaves, no one will now think the trick was real magic at all:
Enter_ PATRICIA, _still pale, but radiant._

PATRICIA. Oh, Morris is ever so much better! The Conjurer has told him such a good story of how the trick was done.

     _Enter_ CONJURER.

DUKE. Professor, we owe you a thousand thanks!

DOCTOR. Really, you have doubled your claim to originality!

SMITH. It is much more marvellous to explain a miracle than to work a miracle. What was your explanation, by the way?

CONJURER. I shall not tell you.

SMITH. [_Starting._] Indeed? Why not?

CONJURER. Because all this would not avail. If I told you the lie I told Morris Carleon about how I did that trick....

SMITH. Well?

CONJURER. YOU would believe it as he believed it. You cannot think [_pointing to the lamp_] how that trick could be done naturally. I alone found out how it could be done--after I had done it by magic. But if I tell you a natural way of doing it....

SMITH. Well?...

CONJURER. Half an hour after I have left this house you will be all saying how it was done.

Monday, 13 August 2007

When is the USA not a tax haven?

Richard Murphy defines tax havens in terms of "behaviour". But is he trying to tighten the role of behaviour purely to catch some places in the net and not others? He submitted a paper to the US Senate on Jersey, but if he excludes the US from tax haven activity he is being extremely misleading. I'd like to seem him submit a paper on the US Senate on the USA, but that doesn't seem likely. I always catch a whiff of hypocricy in his soundings off in that he will readily use Jersey as an example for the USA, but does not at the same time call into question the USA. When is the USA not a tax haven? When you are Richard Murphy and you want them to listen to stuff about Jersey. A tax haven is evidently like the parable of the beam and mote.

What is a tax haven?

Defining a tax haven is hard. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has sought to deny the UK is a haven, but offered no justification for his argument. The Tax Justice Network has issued a paper summarising attempts to date to define what a haven might be, which succeeds in showing how confusing this issue is. I'm working on a book (with others) on the subject right now. Addressing this one issue is taking up considerable space, and effort.

I think the problem is in seeking to nail this thing down. That's what the OECD tried to do in 1998, and what others have also sought to achieve. But what people did not realise when they began to do so was that as soon as a definition of a haven was published people would change their behaviour to try to avoid the label. So, and for example, if light regulation was an identifying feature they would introduce impressive (if largely unused) rule books to make it look like they are heavily regulated. And if information exchange was a definition then they'd offer some. And so on. People don't want the label and seek to avoid it.

But that hasn't meant tax havens have gone away. Far from it. The amount of money offshore is rising. The reason is simple. the havens are innovating faster at this moment than those who are trying to nail them down, as my recent paper on Jersey submitted to the US Senate showed. So we have to come up with a definition of a tax haven that does not just reflect current fact, but the fact that the behaviour of the haven will change. This means, inevitably, that some degree of subjectivity enters int the test. So be it. If objectivity is not possible, either due to lack of data (as the IMF has found) or because taking a measure changes the behaviour measured then subjective judgement is valid.

My suggestion for what a haven is right now is as follows:

1. The location says it is a tax haven;
2. The location promotes the facilities that it provides that have tax haven characteristics e.g.:

a. Secrecy whether it be with regard to banking information, tax data, financial information or ownership and management information and whether it be from public or official enquiry;
b. Low taxes, often ring fenced (even if by subterfuge) from those charged to those resident in the jurisdiction;
c. Ease of initial regulatory compliance (there being no location which does not have such regulation now);
d. Limited or no regulatory filing required e.g. the absence of tax returns and other forms of data supply to any official body;
e. The failure to enquire as to where an entity registered in the jurisdiction might be located if not considered resident within it;
f. Rapid relocation of activities is allowed at the whim of the owner of the offshore structure e.g. by trust relocation or company redomiciliation;
g. Flexible trust arrangements that do not meet the standards required by onshore jurisdictions and the Hague convention on trusts;
h. Limited information exchange;
i. The presence of major banking, accounting and legal entities disproportionate to any identifiable local need;

3. A commitment to innovate to ensure that these advantages are retained despite change in international regulation and attitudes;
4. Significant notional flows of funds through the location unjustified by any apparent economic activity undertaken there or the registered ownership of assets in the location in excess of any obvious need inherent in the local economy.

These definitions are fundamentally behavioural. The intent is to provide a pathway for developing new tests of tax haven activity in the future which will allow for better recognition of have activity and better targeting of measures designed to counter the harm they cause.

I'm not saying they're right. What I am suggesting is that this approach is more likely to be useful in the long term than any current definition can be. And I reserve the right to come back to this and have another go. In the meantime, comments are welcome.

Richard Murphy
Director Tax Research LLP

Stuart Syvret

Reading this (belows), a few notes:

1. As the JDA turned into a political farce in the last election - a breakaway Centre Party showing they couldn't hold it together, a drunk Geoff Southern on Election night doing a George Brown impersonation (old Labour, for those who remember), who needs friends like those? Jersey has a long tradition of independent candidates, and that Syvret did not jump on the party bandwagon (like Paul Le Claire, who has learned better) is in his favour.

2. I think that Attac and Richard Murphy sometimes say important things, but that doesn't mean I would want to agree with them all the time, or indeed much of the time. But it is useful to ask them what their arguments would be, even if one doesn't agree with them. I don;t particularly think Richard Dawkin's arguments (or rhetoric) is that good, but I am reading his latest book for myself and some of his arguments have merit and are worth stating. I think Syvret may have given misleading overtures to them, especially when he was feeling depressed, but to mention them as an argument is totally without merit. I think that anyone who resorts to ad hominem arguments based on an interpretation of emails (which are not cited) is not the kind of person I would care for on my side.


Should he stay or should he go? The Stuart and Frank or Punch and Judy Show.

We have been here before with calls for the resignation of Senator Syvret. Undoubtedly there won't be a resignation, as Syvret loves the lime light and will savour the martyrdom of a vote of no confidence.

In the past what saved Syvret was public support. That may still be there to a degree, but one certain thing is that he has lost all his friends on the political left. Having failed to give any support to the JDA in the 2005 elections, for denouncing ATTAC and having fallen out with his adviser Richard Murphy and best friend John Christensen, there really is no one to help this organise his defence against the big bad wolf. This time there will be no demonstrations outside Cyril Le Marquand House or the States Building. The lesson is that you can't expect to dish your friends and then expect them to help you when you need them.

Sit back. Enjoy the hanging.

Richard Dawkins tackles New Age beliefs

Looks interesting!

Two years after challenging a selection of religious fundamentalists to justify their beliefs in Channel 4's The Root of All Evil,Richard Dawkins – "Darwin's rottweiler" – is growling again. This time, in The Enemies of Reason, he takes on the wider penumbra of the paranormal, New Age mystical mumbo-jumbo, and the often expensive spiritual services that bring succour to the sucker.

His targets include astrologers, psychics, dowsers, homoeopaths and a woman called Elisis Livingstone who claims that in our Atlantean past we all had 12 strands of DNA rather than two. If the thought of being ten strands short bothers you, Livingstone claims she can restore them.

What makes Oxford University's Professor of the Public Understanding of Science different from most sceptics, rationalists and humanists is that he won't let this stuff lie. If someone claims that they can "channel" the spirits of the dead or alleviate the symptoms of some horrible incurable disease by pointing beams of coloured light at your chakras, Dawkins does not want to dismiss it as harmless fun. He wants to know how they claim to do it and what hard evidence they can produce to show that the effects they say they produce actually occur. This may seem like taking a steamhammer to smash a peanut, and Dawkins is aware that some people see him as a kill-joy, but for him the fun is not harmless. "We live in dangerous times," he says at the start of the first show, by which he means not just the threat from, say, Islamic fundamentalism, but a more general flight from reason and the scientific method. Speaking at his office in Oxford, he says that the decline in interest in the physical sciences in schools is tragic. "The lack of scientific education means that people are not armed, not equipped to see through irrationality."

Much of the material may seem familiar to interested sceptics: the practice of cold-reading, whereby "psychics" pick up cues from their audience's reactions to a scattering of vague words and phrases and use them to make people imagine they have been told something that relates specifically to them. Or the fact that homoeopathic remedies are claimed to work despite containing not a single molecule of the supposed active ingredient. (Dawkins points out that it is statistically almost certain that at least one molecule of every glass of water we drink will have passed through Oliver Cromwell's bladder.)

The programmes feature a series of confrontations with assorted paranormal professionals who are asked to explain the basis behind their belief and whether it has ever been scientifically tested. Unlike The Root of All Evil, when some encounters generated more heat than light, he is unfailingly good-humoured and polite. "In some cases I just lost it," he says of the religious series. "Perhaps this time it is a bit less confrontational."

The one real row was with a psychic he consulted at a New Age fair, who told him she was in contact with Dawkins's "dead" father in the spirit world and relayed a message in some detail. "I sat there po-faced and let her go on for quite some time before I said, 'Actually my father is alive and well and living in Oxfordshire.' Immediately she said, 'Stop the camera!' and tried to terminate the whole thing. To my disgust we had to cut her out of the programme for legal reasons, which is a great shame. She was a real charlatan."

So how many of these practitioners are crooks? "The psychics, I think, mostly are," he says. "But with one spiritualist I couldn't make out if he was a charlatan or not. It's possible that they sort of know that they're cold-reading, but they still think it's the spirits channelling through them."

However, the water diviners were "genuinely sincere". In a rather touching sequence a group of dowsers agree to submit to a double-blind trial. Their success rate in finding water was about what you would expect by chance. "In some cases they were devastated that they couldn't do it under those conditions."

And what of the more bizarre medical beliefs, such as the Atlantean DNA strands?"I think there's a kind of mind that is so devoid of realism that they're prepared to believe essentially anything," he says.

His patience appears particularly stretched by Neil Spencer, The Observer's astrologer, who argues that he would not subject his work to scientific tests because the aim of the testing would be to cause "mischief".

Dawkins can't hide his frustration at people's gullibility. "The science of astronomy is so mind-shatteringly elegant and beautiful and inspiring, that this is demeaning and shallow and a betrayal of what it is to be human, when the human species has achieved so much in understanding the universe."

The Enemies of Reason, Mon, Channel 4, 8pm

No, not drunk

Another letter on the abysmal police lack of procedure on Ali Flawell. I find it amazing that (a) they didn't breathalise her (b) they didn't notice the disabled sticker or chose to ignore it.
I do hope there will be an internal inquiry at the very least. I know they tend to be a bit of a joke in matters disciplinary, but they might at least ensure it does not happen again.


No, not drunk

From Michelle Gater.


I FELT compelled to write to you after picking up a copy of yesterday's JEP with the headline 'My police ordeal, by disabled mother' (6 August).

I have known Ali Flavell for approximately the last 20 years and have watched her go from strength to strength, defying the odds since her brain tumour. I was horrified to read how she was separated from Oliver and Morgan and questioned at police headquarters, while all the time stating that she was disabled, not drunk, as it clearly states on her sticker on the back of her car (if the officers had noticed this sooner and taken it into account, Ali's ordeal could have been prevented).

Ali has done so much in the past 12 years to bring normality back into her life.

She has a wonderful supporting husband (Jeremy) and is blessed with two ad-oring children. This is clearly one in the face for those who wrote her off, saying that she would never walk again or have a 'normal' life.

Yes, I can appreciate that the police officers were only do-ing their duty, responding to a member of the public who was concerned, but Ali would never do anything that would put her children in harm's way, and would never even contemplate getting behind the wheel after drinking.

If she had been breathalysed at the scene, the officer would have realised straight away that this was not a case of drink-driving.

I hope that, after the public have read the article in the JEP, they can be educated about ataxia and allow Ali to try to get on with her life with the strength and support of her family and friends, and draw from this that in life anything is possible if you are prepared to fight for it.

Friday, 10 August 2007

Dawkins on Stalin and Hitler

Just been reading that bit in the God Delusion when the Dawk says that Stalin was an atheist but...
The argument is that he didn't go to war on because of his atheism.
Perhaps not, but the USSR certainly waged war against religious belief during its many years of tenure, with atheism (soviet style) being taught in classrooms as strongly and as ideologically correct as any religious belief (which was, of course, banned in schools and mostly in the public domain). I've spoken to Russians who left after the breakup of the USSR about their education, and apart from saying this part was monumentally dull, they also describe how it was not an "optional extra".
Doesn't the Dawk do any research before pontificating? As for Hitler, the claim that he was "really" a Christian - and those behind the racial purity / master race / elimination of weaknesses were "religious" beggars belief. Hasn';t he noted how couched in Darwinian terms their rhetoric was, or thought that it is sometimes expedient when politicians are trying to get support to appear to be religious?
In Mein Kampf, we have:
"Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord."
But beware, because he also said (in the same book)
"To whom should propaganda be addressed? … It must be addressed always and exclusively to the masses… The function of propaganda does not lie in the scientific training of the individual, but in calling the masses' attention to certain facts, processes, necessities, etc., whose significance is thus for the first time placed within their field of vision.  The whole art consists in doing this so skilfully that everyone will be convinced that the fact is real, the process necessary, the necessity correct, etc. But since propaganda is not and cannot be the necessity in itself … its effect for the most part must be aimed at the emotions and only to a very limited degree at the so-called intellect… it's soundness is to be measured exclusively by its effective result". 
On Reichstag on 30 Jan. 1939, he spoke: "Amongst the accusations which are directed against Germany in the so called democracies is the charge that the National Socialist State is hostile to religion. In answer to that charge I should like to make before the German people the following solemn declaration:  No one in Germany has in the past been persecuted because of his religious views, nor will anyone in the future be so persecuted."
Does the Dawk take this at its face value? If not, what about Hitler's other public pronoucements about Christianity and religion? If so, he must be incredibly gullible. For someone who accuses Michael Ruse of being like Neville Chamberlain, I suspect that on the gullibility rating, believing what people say would rate high!

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Another obit on John Maquarrie

Another obit on John Maquarrie. One of my favourite existentialist theologians.

John Macquarrie, priest and theologian: born Renfrew 27 June 1919; ordained 1944 minister of the Church of Scotland; chaplain, Royal Army Chaplains Department 1945-48; Minister, St Ninian's Church, Brechin 1948-53; Lecturer in Theology, Glasgow University 1953-62; Professor of Systematic Theology, Union Theological Seminary, New York 1962-70; ordained deacon 1965, priest 1965; Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity, Oxford University 1970-86; Canon, Christ Church, Oxford 1970-86; FBA 1984; married 1949 Jenny Fallow (née Welsh; two sons, one daughter); died Oxford 28 May 2007.

John Macquarrie was one of the leading and most prolific theologians of his generation, who sought to mediate between Christian faith and contemporary culture, particularly existentialist philosophy. He served a distinguished period as a minister and theologian in Scotland before being ordained a priest in the Anglican Communion. From 1970 until his retirement in 1986 he was Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Oxford University.

The son of a shipyard pattern-maker on Clydeside, Macquarrie excelled at Renfrew High School and Paisley Grammar School and, like many in the west of Scotland, he commenced studies at Glasgow University. Graduating with a first in Mental Philosophy, he developed an interest in British idealism under C.A. Campbell, before proceeding to theological studies and ordination in the Church of Scotland. As a military chaplain in the latter stages of the Second World War, he was responsible for educational and pastoral work with German prisoners of war in Egypt. This enhanced his command of German language, thus enabling him to study the work of Martin Heidegger and Rudolf Bultmann before much of it appeared in English translation.

While ministering at St Ninian's Kirk in Brechin (1948-53), Macquarrie worked on An Existentialist Theology (1955), which became both his Glasgow doctoral thesis and first book. It was widely acclaimed for displaying the interaction of a prominent theologian and New Testament scholar (Bultmann) with a leading existentialist philosopher (Heidegger). What appeared to attract Macquarrie to this project, despite his misgivings about aspects of Bultmann's theology, was its fusion of classical Christian faith with contemporary culture, a mediating strategy that would later characterise his own work as an Anglican theologian.

One remarkable spin-off from this early research was Being and Time, the 1962 translation with Edward Robinson of Heidegger's Sein und Zeit (1927), arguably the most important German philosophical text of the 20th century. A formidable task, its publication defied those sceptics who regarded Heidegger as untranslatable. Although a new and somewhat easier translation by Joan Stambaugh appeared in 1996, the Macquarrie-Robinson work continues to be recommended as the more literal rendering of the original. It has even been remarked by German students that Heidegger becomes more comprehensible when read in this translation. Plans to revise and update the translation had to be abandoned after the early death of Robinson in a road accident.

Macquarrie's first academic appointment was to a lectureship at his Alma Mater in Glasgow in 1953. By all accounts, he was a popular teacher blessed with a gift of clarity, a scholarly thoroughness, and an urbane, unpretentious style that won him the lasting appreciation of his students. Last year, he and his wife Jenny attended the 150th anniversary celebrations of Trinity College, Glasgow, and were greeted affectionately by his pupils of that era.

Sensing that advancement in Glasgow was unlikely, given that the chair-holders Ian Henderson and Ronald Gregor Smith were in their prime - ironically, both were to die prematurely in the 1960s - Macquarrie departed for a senior post at Union Theological Seminary, New York in 1962. This was to bring him into closer contact with a range of American scholars, during which time he maintained a steady output of scholarly writing.

While in New York he was ordained a priest of the Episcopal Church of the USA. In retrospect, this was not a decision that surprised those who knew him. Macquarrie's theological and liturgical affinities did not lie naturally within the Reformed tradition - his eirenic style does not appear to have extended to his reading of Calvin - and he found in Anglicanism a way of reconnecting with his ancestral Celtic roots. (His paternal grandfather had been a Gael.)

Written while in New York, one of his most notable works, The Principles of Christian Theology (1966) aroused much scholarly comment. Here Macquarrie sought to develop a doctrine of God around the Heideggerian notion of Being. His work stands out as a rare attempt within Anglican theology at that time to construct an entire systematic theology. Questions arose about the adequacy of this conceptuality for the standard claims of Christian trinitarian theism, but Macquarrie would maintain in mediating fashion that God should be characterised neither as personal nor impersonal but as supra-personal, an expression earlier favoured by C.A. Campbell.

In 1970, Macquarrie was appointed to the Lady Margaret Chair in Oxford in succession to F.L. Cross; as Canon Professor he also served at the cathedral of Christ Church and resided with his family within the college precincts. His Oxford years were marked by steady scholarly output, perhaps most notably his two-volume University of St Andrews Gifford Lectures, In Search of Humanity (1982) and In Search of Deity (1984). Throughout this period, he became established as one of the leading theologians of the English-speaking world. Translated into several languages, his books exercised an international influence, not least in China.

During his time in Oxford, his work also reflected a closer and most positive engagement with the doctrinal tenets of Christian orthodoxy. Significantly and somewhat surprisingly given his earlier reception of Bultmann, he was one of the leading critics of The Myth of God Incarnate (1977), a controversial collection of essays to which his Christ Church colleague Maurice Wiles had contributed and which argued for a merely symbolic reading of the classical idea of incarnation. Macquarrie would later produce Jesus Christ in Modern Thought (1990), a volume revealing an impressive command of New Testament scholarship and historical theology.

John Macquarrie - or Ian, as he was known to his family and friends - was a patient and quietly methodical scholar. Widely read and eager to perceive something of value in almost all positions, he was difficult to label and never identified with any theological party, fashion or network.

Described as "an existentialist without angst", he maintained his early urbane style in lectures and seminars, his west-of-Scotland accent never suffering modification. Several generations of graduate students benefited from his wise supervision. He retired from his Oxford chair in 1986, to be succeeded by Rowan Williams, and continued a flow of writings from his home in Headington. Many of these tackled particular doctrinal themes, including church, sacraments, ministry and mariology.

He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1984, delivered lecture series in several continents and received a host of honorary degrees. Various studies of Macquarrie's work have appeared, including Being and Truth, a Festschrift edited by his former pupils Alistair Kee and Eugene Long in 1986. Last year a second Festschrift, edited by Robert Morgan, In Search of Deity and Humanity, celebrated half a century of Macquarrie's publishing with SCM Press, this latter volume affording him much pleasure in his final months.

David Fergusson

John Macquarrie is the only clergyman of the Church of England who was able to preach to us in Scottish Gaelic at our Presbyterian services at the Crown Court Church of Scotland in London, writes Norman MacLeod. He last preached for us in Crown Court Church, where we hold our Quarterly Gaelic Service, on 22 May 2005


A good talk by Mark Bond last Sunday about the call to leave material possessions, and how they take such a hold on our lives in Western society. I can see what he means, especially when moving house, but I would find it hard to give up my many books; I do gradually get rid of some to the Guide Dog for the Blinds book sale, but it is extremely difficult to do so I feel like Bilbo in the Lord of the Rings, who had a great struggle to give up the ring!
Materialism as he noted is fed by our society, with all the advertising playing on what we need, what we must have. Adam Curtis noted much the same in "The Century of the Self", when he showed how there was a great change in the 1930s, and the work of Edward Bernays (drawing on Sigmund Freud) changed the sale of products from information giving to slick manipulative marketting. Vance Packard gave a strong critique of this in a book I still have from the 1970s, "The Hidden Persuaders".  John V Taylor gave a strong 1970s counter-balance in his little book "Enough is Enough".
Parts of Jersey society are strongly driven by this. One has only to look at the corrupting influence of language. In architecture, we have "iconic", "world class", "luxury" "prestigious" - all empty tems from the arsenal of the promoter. In contrast we have the somewhat demeaning term "social housing" which has replaced what in my day used to be termed "States Housing". They mean, of course, in a shorthand way, housing for social need, but "social housing" makes one wonder if there is such a thing as "anti-social housing" - Les Marais Flats, perhaps? Or the new "luxury" flats which don't take standard size furniture any more, with box-room bedrooms?
The way in which house prices have been wholly driven by market forces is something that those in poverty now see most clearly, and desparately but those well on the property ladder seldom grasp. Ethical considerations are something lost from the materialism of the market place,

Amos 2:7 They trample down the weak and helpless and push the poor out of the way.



The Police Mind

I have long given up trying to understand the police mind in Jersey. There was not long ago the case of the coach driver with a heart attack precipitated by police.
I still remember that having let cars park on yellow lines with impunity outside St Thomas on Sunday for years and years, the day they arrived in force to give everyone there tickets was the Sunday of remembrance just after Pope John II had died. Thus alienating most of the Island's Catholic community in one fell swoop.
I have twice been stopped for driving too slowly, evidently they thought I was drunk. The first time, many years ago, I had passed my test, so was driving very slowly and the policeman who got off his motorbike was clearly annoyed at not having a "catch" and told me not to drive so carefully in future! The second time, I had been out for a meal (no alchohol drunk!) and we were heading home with time to spare before the babysitter's time was up, so meanered around the Corbiere road when all of a sudden a police car drives up close behind, waits for a few minutes, then blares out all sirens full pelt. No doubt they felt giving me a shock was there idea of fun!
I think on the whole the police probably do a good job in keeping crime at bay, but they seem to have little or no skill at handling people, and I am not aware of any screening process or counselling to ensure that - while keeping within the bounds of legality - they do not behave in a manner likely to antagonise the general public, in other words, that those individuals who enjoy the exercise of power learn the psychological dangers that may be inherent in such a desire.
As an amusing aside, in an effort to make themselves appear more "user friendly", they were going to rebrand themselves the "police service" rather than "police force", but then ended up with Graham Power as chief, a surname which lends itself to the word "force" like no other!

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Police Thuggery

It used to be the case (when I was growing up) that the police were helpful, considerate, didn't weigh in like brutal thugs, and if they were stopping someone suspected of breaking the law, did it in a calm and measured manner. I'm afraid the latest headline shows how they just don't seem to bother any more. Can't they tell the different between a speech problem and other signs of drunkenness? Why didn't they go for a simple breath test rather than snatching the poor women from very young children who will now see the police as menacing ogres? They were apologetic after, but a little thought might have prevented them giving the image that they are just basically uniformed thugs who are paid to enforce the law, not much different from the police in dictatorships in their attitude.

My police ordeal, by disabled mother

By Orlando Crowcroft

A DISABLED mother was separated from her children and put into the back of a police van by officers who thought she had been drink-driving.

Ataxia sufferer Ali Flavell was driving her two sons through St Helier on Thursday when officers pulled up and told her to get out of the car. They locked 34-year-old Mrs Flavell in the back of a police van in front of dozens of onlookers in Belmont Road and took her to the police station.

Her two terrified children, four-year-old Oliver and one-year-old Morgan, were driven to a secure children's unit while their mother was questioned by officers in an interview room, although she says that she was not breath-tested or arrested at any time.

During her ordeal Mrs Flavell was asked probing questions about how much she drank. But she said that once officers realised they had made a mistake, they were apologetic.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Chesterton and Dawkins on evolution

Yet another broadside (and an amusing one) by Chesterton against people who say that "evolution has disproved religion" (step forward Richard Dawkins). It amazes me how much of Dawkin's rhetoric was bog standard stuff from the Edwardian era!

"When modern science declared that the cosmic process knew nothing of a historical event corresponding to a Fall, but told, on the contrary, the story of an incessant rise in the scale of being, it was quite plain that the Pauline schemeI mean the argumentative processes of Paul's scheme of salvationhad lost its very foundation; for was not that foundation the total depravity of the human race inherited from their first parents? ... But now there was no Fall; there was no total depravity, or imminent danger of endless doom; and, the basis gone, the superstructure followed."

It is written with earnestness and in excellent English; it must mean something. But what can it mean? How could physical science prove that man is not depraved? You do not cut a man open to find his sins. You do not boil him until he gives forth the unmistakable green fumes of depravity. How could physical science find any traces of a moral fall? What traces did the writer expect to find? Did he expect to find a fossil Eve with a fossil apple inside her? Did he suppose that the ages would have spared for him a complete skeleton of Adam attached to a slightly faded fig-leaf? The whole paragraph which I have quoted is simply a series of inconsequent sentences, all quite untrue in themselves and all quite irrelevant to each other. Science never said that there could have been no Fall. There might have been ten Falls, one on top of the other, and the thing would have been quite consistent with everything that we know from physical science. Humanity might have grown morally worse for millions of centuries, and the thing would in no way have contradicted the principle of Evolution. Men of science (not being raving lunatics) never said that there had been "an incessant rise in the scale of being;" for an incessant rise would mean a rise without any relapse or failure; and physical evolution is full of relapse and failure. There were certainly some physical Falls; there may have been any number of moral Falls. So that, as I have said, I am honestly bewildered as to the meaning of such passages as this, in which the advanced person writes that because geologists know nothing about the Fall, therefore any doctrine of depravity is untrue. Because science has not found something which obviously it could not find, therefore something entirely differentthe psychological sense of evilis untrue. You might sum up this writer's argument abruptly, but accurately, in some way like this"We have not dug up the bones of the Archangel Gabriel, who presumably had none, therefore little boys, left to themselves, will not be selfish." To me it is all wild and whirling; as if a man said"The plumber can find nothing wrong with our piano; so I suppose that my wife does love me."

I am not going to enter here into the real doctrine of original sin, or into that probably false version of it which the New Theology writer calls the doctrine of depravity. But whatever else the worst doctrine of depravity may have been, it was a product of spiritual conviction; it had nothing to do with remote physical origins. Men thought mankind wicked because they felt wicked themselves. If a man feels wicked, I cannot see why he should suddenly feel good because somebody tells him that his ancestors once had tails. Man's primary purity and innocence may have dropped off with his tail, for all anybody knows. The only thing we all know about that primary purity and innocence is that we have not got it. Nothing can be, in the strictest sense of the word, more comic than to set so shadowy a thing as the conjectures made by the vaguer anthropologists about primitive man against so solid a thing as the human sense of sin. By its nature the evidence of Eden is something that one cannot find. By its nature the evidence of sin is something that one cannot help finding.


Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Dark Path to Light.

Dark Path to Light.
Fear not that dark path
which leads to death
Fear not, and see a joy
in single breath
Fear not the path of faith
touch eternity
In the joy and sorrow of
each diurnity
Fear not the path of pain
born of madness
Brings to fruit sweet humility,
tender sadness
Fear not that darkest of paths
this earthly blight
That drinks the bitter dregs
the cup of light


1/5/82 Jersey


This is built around the theme that there is no easy path in life, and to gain what is important cannot take easy shortcuts, but the hard path of darkness does lead to light at the end (in the cliche, the "light at the end of the tunnel"). There are I think some autobiographical elements drawn from people I knew at the time, but I can't remember what they are now.

Trial by Jury - Two Points of View

Here is Dawkins on Trial by Jury (see below), followed by Chesterton's arguments. Chesterton's main argument is a psyhcological one - that judges get used to their job, and fail to do it properly precisely because they are too accustomed to it, they tend to lack fresh thoughts as time goes on and become set in their ways. Dawkin's brilliant scientific thought experiment is beautifully abstract (with a deliberate and provocative substitute of human beings by herring gulls) and does make some good points about jury bias and failings, but fails to address Chesterton's argument, which explains a lot on why two judges may well score high on Dawkin's concordance test (they are both institutionalised!). Dawkins instead assumes it is because judges are wiser and cleverer than juries and more experienced, all the things which Chesterton critiques.

Trial by Jury

by Richard Dawkins. Published as "Three herring gull chicks . . the reason juries don't work" in The Observer (London), Sunday November 16, 1997.

Trial by jury must be one of the most conspicuously bad good ideas anyone ever had. Its devisers can hardly be blamed. They lived before the principles of statistical sampling and experimental design had been worked out. They weren't scientists. Let me explain using an analogy. And if, at the end, somebody objects to my argument on the grounds that humans aren't herring gulls, I'll have failed to get my point across.

Adult herring gulls have a bright yellow bill with a conspicuous red spot near the tip. Their babies peck at the red spot, which induces the parents to regurgitate food for them. Niko Tinbergen, Nobel-Prizewinning zoologist and my old maestro at Oxford, offered naive young chicks a range of cardboard dummy gull heads varying in bill and spot colour, and shape. For each colour, shape or combination, Tinbergen measured the preferences of the baby chicks by counting their pecks in a standard time. The idea was to discover whether naive gull chicks are born with a built-in preference for long yellow things with red spots. If so, this would suggest that genes equip the young birds with detailed prior knowledge of the world in which they are about to hatch – a world in which food comes out of adult herring gull beaks.

Never mind the reason for the research, and never mind the conclusions. Consider, instead, the methods you must use, and the pitfalls you must avoid, if you want to get a correct result in any such experiment. These turn out to be general principles which apply to human juries as strongly as to gull chicks.

First, you obviously must test more than one chick. It could be that some chicks are red-biased, others blue-biased, with no tendency for herring gull chicks in general to share the same favourite colour. So, by picking out a single chick, you are measuring nothing more than individual bias. It is no answer to this objection that our chick may have given hundreds more pecks to one colour than to the other. A chick might begin by choosing any old colour at random, but once he has chosen he gets 'locked on' to that colour and hammers away at it, giving the other colours no chance. The essential problem here is that successive pecks, however numerous, are not 'independent data'.

So, we must test more than one chick. How many? Is two enough? No, nor is three, and now we must start to think statistically. To make it simple, suppose that in a particular experiment we are comparing only red spots versus blue spots, both on a yellow background, and always presented simultaneously. If we test just two chicks separately, suppose the first chick chooses red. It had a 50% chance of doing so, at random. Now the second chick also happens to choose red. Again, the odds were 50% that it would do so at random, even if it were colourblind. There's a 50% chance that two randomly choosing chicks will agree (half of the four possibilities: red red, red blue, blue red, blue blue). Three chicks aren't enough either. If you write down all the possibilities, you'll find that there's a 25% chance of a unanimous verdict, by luck alone. Twenty five percent, as the odds of reaching a conclusion for the wrong reason, is unacceptably large.

How about twelve good chicks and true? Now you're talking. If twelve chicks are independently offered a choice between two alternatives, the odds that they will all reach the same verdict by chance alone are satisfyingly low, only one in 1024.

But now suppose that, instead of testing our twelve chicks independently, we test them as a group. We take a maelstrom of twelve cheeping chicks and lower into their midst a red spotted dummy and a blue spotted dummy, each fitted with an electrical device for automatically tallying pecks. And suppose that the collective of chicks registers 532 pecks at red and zero at blue. Does this massive disparity show that herring gull chicks, in general, prefer red? Absolutely not. The pecks are not independent data. Chicks could have a strong tendency to imitate one another (as well as imitate themselves in lock-on effects). If one chick just happened to peck at red first, others might copy him and the whole company of chicks join in a frenzy of imitative pecking. As a matter of fact this is precisely what domestic chicken chicks do, and gull chicks are very likely the same. Even if not, the principle remains that the data are not independent and the experiment is therefore invalid. The twelve chicks are strictly equivalent to a single chick, and their summed pecks amount to only a single independent result.

Turning to courts of law, why are twelve jurors preferred to a single judge? Not because they are wiser, more knowledgeable or more practised in the arts of reasoning. Certainly not, and with a vengeance. Think of the astronomical damages awarded by juries in footling libel cases. Think how juries bring out the worst in histrionic, gallery-playing lawyers. Twelve jurors are preferred to one judge only because they are more numerous. Letting a single judge decide a verdict would be like letting a single chick speak for the whole herring gull species. Twelve heads are better than one, because they represent twelve assessments of the evidence.

But for this argument to be valid, the twelve assessments really have to be independent. And of course they are not. Twelve men and women locked in a jury room are like our clutch of twelve gull chicks. Whether they actually imitate each other like chicks, they might. That is enough to invalidate the principle by which a jury might be preferred over a single judge.

In practice, as is well documented and as I remember from the three juries that it has been my misfortune to serve on, juries are massively swayed by one or two vocal individuals. There is also strong pressure to conform to a unanimous verdict, which further undermines the principle of independent data. Increasing the number of jurors doesn't help, or not much (and not at all in strict principle). What you have to increase is the number of independent verdict-reaching units.

Oddly enough, the bizarre American system of televising trials opens up a real possibility of improving the jury system. By the end of trials such as those of Louise Woodward or O.J.Simpson, literally thousands of people around the country have attended to the evidence as assiduously as the official jury. A mass phone-in might produce a fairer verdict than a jury. But unfortunately journalistic discussion, radio talk-shows, and ordinary gossip would violate the Principle of Independent Data and we'd be back where we started. The broadcasting of trials, in any case, has horrible consequences. In the wake of Louise Woodward's trial, the Internet seethes with ill-spelled and ungrammatical viciousness, the cheque-book journalists are queuing up, and the unfortunate Judge Zobel has had to change his telephone number and employ a bodyguard.

So, how can we improve the system? Should twelve jurors be locked in twelve isolation chambers and their opinions separately polled so that they constitute genuinely independent data? If it is objected that some would be too stupid or inarticulate to reach a verdict on their own, we are left wondering why such individuals are allowed on a jury at all. Perhaps there is something to be said for the collective wisdom that emerges when a group of twelve people thrash out a topic together, round a table. But this still leaves the principle of independent data unsatisfied.

Should all cases be tried by two separate juries? Or three? Or twelve? Too expensive, at least if each jury has twelve members. Two juries of six members, or three juries of four members, would probably be an improvement over the present system. But isn't there some way of testing the relative merits of such alternative options, or of comparing the merits of trial by jury versus trial by judge?

Yes, there is. I'll call it the Two Verdicts Concordance Test. It is based on the principle that, if a decision is valid, two independent shots at making it should yield the same result. Just for purposes of the test, we run to the expense of having two juries, listening to the same case and forbidden to talk to members of the other jury. At the end, we lock the two juries in two separate jury rooms and see if they reach the same verdict. If they don't, nothing can be proved beyond reasonable doubt, and this would cast reasonable doubt on the jury system itself.

To make the experimental comparison with Trial by Judge, we need two experienced judges to listen to the same case, and require them too to reach their separate verdicts without talking to each other. Whichever system, Trial by Jury or Trial by Judge, yields the higher score of agreements over a number of trials is the better system and might even be accredited for future use with some confidence.

Would you bet on two independent juries reaching the same verdict in the Louise Woodward case? Could you imagine even one other jury reaching the same verdict in the O.J.Simpson case? Two judges, on the other hand, seem to me rather likely to score well on the concordance test. And should I be charged with a serious crime here's how I want to be tried. If I know myself to be guilty, I'll go with the loose cannon of a jury, the more ignorant, prejudiced and capricious the better. But if I am innocent, and the ideal of multiple independent decision-takers is unavailable, please give me a judge. Preferably Judge Hiller Zobel.

Chesteron on Juries (an extract from "The Twelve Men"):

The trend of our epoch up to this time has been consistently towards specialism and professionalism. We tend to have trained soldiers because they fight better, trained singers because they sing better, trained dancers because they dance better, specially instructed laughers because they laugh better, and so on and so on. The principle has been applied to law and politics by innumerable modern writers. Many Fabians have insisted that a greater part of our political work should be performed by experts. Many legalists have declared that the untrained jury should be altogether supplanted by the trained judge.

Now, if this world of ours were really what is called reasonable, I do not know that there would be any fault to find with this. But the true result of all experience and the true foundation of all religion is this. That the four or five things that it is most practically essential that a man should know, are all of them what people call paradoxes. That is to say, that though we all find them in life to be mere plain truths, yet we cannot easily state them in words without being guilty of seeming verbal contradictions. One of them, for instance, is the unimpeachable platitude that the man who finds most pleasure for himself is often the man who least hunts for it. Another is the paradox of courage; the fact that the way to avoid death is not to have too much aversion to it. Whoever is careless enough of his bones to climb some hopeful cliff above the tide may save his bones by that carelessness. Whoever will lose his life, the same shall save it; an entirely practical and prosaic statement.

Now, one of these four or five paradoxes which should be taught to every infant prattling at his mother's knee is the following: That the more a man looks at a thing, the less he can see it, and the more a man learns a thing the less he knows it. The Fabian argument of the expert, that the man who is trained should be the man who is trusted would be absolutely unanswerable if it were really true that a man who studied a thing and practised it every day went on seeing more and more of its significance. But he does not. He goes on seeing less and less of its significance. In the same way, alas! we all go on every day, unless we are continually goading ourselves into gratitude and humility, seeing less and less of the significance of the sky or the stones.

Now it is a terrible business to mark a man out for the vengeance of men. But it is a thing to which a man can grow accustomed, as he can to other terrible things; he can even grow accustomed to the sun. And the horrible thing about all legal officials, even the best, about all judges, magistrates, barristers, detectives, and policemen, is not that they are wicked (some of them are good), not that they are stupid (several of them are quite intelligent), it is simply that they have got used to it.

Strictly they do not see the prisoner in the dock; all they see is the usual man in the usual place. They do not see the awful court of judgment; they only see their own workshop. Therefore, the instinct of Christian civilization has most wisely declared that into their judgments there shall upon every occasion be infused fresh blood and fresh thoughts from the streets. Men shall come in who can see the court and the crowd, and coarse faces of the policeman and the professional criminals, the wasted faces of the wastrels, the unreal faces of the gesticulating counsel, and see it all as one sees a new picture or a play hitherto unvisited.

Our civilization has decided, and very justly decided, that determining the guilt or innocence of men is a thing too important to be trusted to trained men. It wishes for light upon that awful matter, it asks men who know no more law than I know, but who can feel the things that I felt in the jury box. When it wants a library catalogued, or the solar system discovered, or any trifle of that kind, it uses up specialists. But when it wishes anything done which is really serious, it collects twelve of the ordinary men standing round. The same thing was done, if I remember right, by the Founder of Christianity.


Dawkins and his disciples

Read interesting interview with Alistair McGraph re Richard Dawkins, details below:

It's interesting, isn't it, how it's often said that Dawkins' position has become a religion in itself. One often hears his arguments used by others in public debates as though he were a kind of guru for new fundamentalists.

Ha! Absolutely, and I have put it to him that actually he has as much faith as I do, but it's a very different kind of faith.

I've spoken in many lectures about Richard Dawkins and critiqued him. And very often atheists will stand up and say: "How dare you criticize Richard Dawkins! It's almost as if there's a new dogma of the infallibility of Richard Dawkins in certain circles and I find that bizarre.
That's interesting because, as you probably know, Dawkins wrote a letter to the London Times in February this year criticizing you for calling him dogmatic. Defending himself, he wrote that he never tires of saying how much he does not know, but "whereas I and other scientists are humble enough to say we don't know, what of theologians like McGrath? He knows, he has signed up to the Nicene Creed." What is your response to this?
Firstly, I fully accept that Dawkins is humble in the area of science as I would be and other scientists would be, because you have to be. That's what scientific method is about.
The curious thing is that when Dawkins switches to talking about religion, about which, I might add, he seems to know remarkably little, he switches mode completely and becomes dogmatic. My concern is that the dogmatic side is seeing his response to religion.
The second point I'd want to make is that certainly I believe in the Nicene Creed, but I don't believe it because someone has rammed it down my throat. I believe it because I've looked at it very closely and I believe it to be right. I am very happy to be challenged about that because I believe in being open and accountable.

But Dawkins seems to think that believing in God or believing in the Nicene Creed automatically means you're a very dogmatic individual. I think one has to say that the process of questing for truth might actually arrive somewhere, and for me that's a position where I've actually arrived.

I hold it, I hope, with conviction, but I hope also with humility and I am very happy to defend it in public and would, of course, if shown to be wrong, to have to rethink everything.

Do you think, in a mysterious way, Richard Dawkins is actually serving the faith in that he's putting scientific reason into faith that some would argue is lacking in, say, extremist religious fundamentalism? Would you say he's inadvertently putting some balance into religion, getting people to question it more which some would say is actually a good thing?

There are two things I would want to say in response to that. One is that there is no doubt Richard Dawkins' book and several others published around the same time have generated enormous public interest in discussing religion. That shows us that religion really does matter enormously. There's no one who could say with integrity that religion isn't talked about anymore. That's simply not so.

But secondly, Dawkins speaks to us as a man of faith, a man of conviction who's very happy to critique other people's convictions and show us what his are. So he really raises this question not of belief and unbelief but really of what convictions are right. And in this post modern age I think Dawkins is making a very important point: that all beliefs are not equally good, that we must have evidential basis, we must have rational defense. That, it seems to me, is an enormously important point to make, particularly in the Catholic tradition where you have Chesterton and, going back to Thomas Aquinas, a very strong tradition of a rational defense of faith.

I think we see today the importance of that and I very much hope we'll see a rebirth of interest in that because it seems to me so important.

In 2004, you wrote a book called The Twilight of Atheism, in which you believed that atheism was in decline. But some would say that actually the opposite is happening, that it's growing in view of the popularity of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and others. Or is this just a blip?

That's an interesting point. The argument in that book, really, is that atheism is suffering cultural erosion. I wasn't really predicting its demise; I was saying that I don't see anything very new or exciting.

Interestingly, the question is whether Dawkins and others disprove that, or whether actually it is the last hurrah so to speak. Again, the point I would like to make is to ask who is reading Dawkins? And the people I've talked to mostly seem to think that Dawkins' book is being read by atheists who are very anxious about the resurgence of interest in religion worldwide, especially in North America, and they're really angry about this and want something to be done about it.

So curiously I think The God Delusion is written to reassure the faith of atheists who are puzzled by the persistence and, in many places, the resurgence of religion.

Lastly, to lay people who might come across a Dawkins disciple, how should they best mount an argument in answer to his broadsides against religion?

There are two things I'd want to say. One is that they have nothing to fear from these people. The arguments are not good; they are not going to lose their faith as a result.

But secondly, the best way of responding to Richard Dawkins is not by rebutting his arguments but simply by saying: "I wonder if you'd mind if I might be able to tell you what Christianity is really all about, instead of buying into all these absurd misrepresentations that you find in Richard Dawkins."

Nobody can object to Christianity being critiqued, but I do object it being misrepresented.