Faithful to Science

blog on science and religion

Month: September 2016

Rats, peace and ingenuity

a moving story from Sub-Saharan Africa

This week I watched a lovely episode of the BBC documentary series, Ingenious Animals (Oxford Scientific Films), presented by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. The episode was about examples of animal intelligence, and the most beautiful example concerned a great big rat.

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[image from]

In this post I want to offer a short definition of the word ‘Theism’. I think I am some sort of theist, but I find that most of what is written on the wikipedia page for this word is quite alien to me. It says there that theism is “the belief in the existence of …” where for the dots you can put some sort of entity called a ‘deity’. But that is not how it works in my experience, and that is not how a lot of careful thinkers and writers have expressed it. The thoughtful theist does not consider that there is another ‘thing’ to be added to the set of all things, after one has exhausted what there is in the physical universe. It might seem like that, but I find it to be more subtle and hard to describe. The one Whom we learn to encounter is not ‘another thing’ but that which makes all things possible. As I say, it is rather subtle and quite open-ended.

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Changing the meaning of words

[image: text from 1984 by George Orwell]

The most effective way to gag an opponent is to refuse to listen to him/her, and then, within your own community, to redefine the words he/she uses. George Orwell illustrated this with great perception and power in his book, 1984, shown above.

No one is currently trying to say things like “freedom is slavery”, but a contemporary example of an attempt to change the meaning of an important word is the attempt to redefine the word “faith” to mean “belief without reasonable evidential basis”. In other words to define it as delusion or wishful thinking. I mention this here because I have now seen that nasty redefinition taken for granted not just in populist rhetoric but even in some academic philosophy. This is a clear example of a word with a perfectly good etymological basis in trust and loyalty, and which certainly does not and never did mean assent without a reasonable case based in evidence, now being forced into a very different meaning. I say very different, because it makes the difference between sense and nonsense.

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