Archive for July, 2007

Creationism: A Pain In The Backside

A long time ago I co-wrote a book on the Tour de France. I say this without a great deal of pride; many much better books have been written on this subject. It didn’t sell very well either, mostly due to the publisher’s decision to give it the appearance and weight of an encyclopaedia (which it wasn’t), at a price roughly equivalent to a plumber’s mate’s weekly wage. Had it been brought before the public as a modest paperback, printed on cheap recycled paper, sales might have run into the tens, or even hundreds. But what do I know about marketing or product placement?

Still, the effort of ferreting out interesting facts and figures from the first 75 years of this greatest of all annual cycling events has left me with an abiding love for the Tour de France; a love that even this year’s complete shambles hasn’t entirely dispelled. What it has done is deprive us of an iconic hero, a winner (pace Alberto Contador!) who is larger than life and who dominated the pack and reigned supreme in the mountain and time trial stages. There’ve been many such heroes in the history of the Tour, but this year who could qualify?

Not a single one, I think. My accolade in 2007, therefore, goes to German Andreas Klöden. He was not among the bunch of dispirited pedaleurs who freewheeled all the way to Paris on Sunday. No, poor Andreas withdrew at stage 17, having fallen and broken his wrist the previous day. OK, I know: one broken wrist doth not a hero make. But what of the fact that he had also fallen into a ditch during stage 6 and as a result rode out the next ten stages with a suspected fractured coccyx? Have any of you any experience of the excruciating pain this useless appendage to our spine (aka “tailbone”) can cause us? I have, for I once slipped on the stairs and landed very hard right on my lower back. For days I couldn’t sit, walk, lie down or even stand, except on my hands. No, Andreas Klöden must be a man of quite exceptional teeth-gritting getting-on-with-it ability. A hero, in other words.

Which brings me to a question that’s been bothering me. If the lord has not allowed man to evolve from primates but created him whole -and, I must add, in his own image- why did he lumber him with a rudimentary tail? Not only do these four or five fused vertebrae serve no purpose whatsoever, when fractured or bruised they will cause hellish suffering. Is this some cruel joke on the part of the almighty? And what of the appendix? There’s another useless vestige of an organ that may have had a function in some remote ancestor, but today is known exclusively for the pain and misery it can cause us. For the answers to these and other questions I might have wanted to turn to a hitherto impeccable source of truth and knowledge regarding the divine masterplan, Holland’s Evangelical Broadcasting Company (EO). “If there is a god”, I used to think, “then he is indeed fortunate to have such a sterling bunch of upstanding, shiney-eyed and rosy-cheeked followers doing his PR for him.” What a let-down, then, to read in my favourite morning paper, that the EO has admitted to editing out from their radio and TV offerings -especially nature films and documentaries- any material that might be construed as supporting the notion of evolution. In fact, the mere mention of the word may set the censor’s scissors a-snippin’. This came to light when a lecturer at Utrecht University (subject: evolutionary biology) compared a series of nature films by David Attenborough in versions shown by the BBC, the Belgian TV station Canvas and the EO. The lecturer in question, Gerdien de Jong, found that, while the others broadcast the films in their entirety, the EO consistently removed any footage that might cast doubt on the biblical conviction that man was created by god. Also, the texts of voice-overs sometimes differed from those in the original version. Not very ethical, you’d say, but EO director Henk Hagoort is unrepentant: “We’ve been ‘adapting’ nature films since we started”, he says, “It’s no secret. We don’t believe that man descends from monkeys.” But is it right to deny viewers access to evolutionary theories? “I had to laugh when I heard that”, Hagoort says, “We don’t shirk the debate on evolution. We once broadcast a panel discussion on the subject of  ‘Adam Or Ape?’ But we’re certainly not going to champion evolution theories in nature films.”

You can see that these musings place me right at the sidelines of the playing field where Darwinians FC are soon going to battle it out with Creationism United for the Universal Truth Trophy. I used to think creationism, like roller derby, was primarily an American pursuit, with the 1925 trial in Tennessee of biology teacher John Scopes as an early spectacular setback for the Adam and Eve brigade. After the Tennessee State Court’s dismissal of the case against the evolutionist Scopes the creationists kept a low profile for a very long time. Not that they ever went away altogether, but they were for many seasons licking their wounds and playing in a lower division than the Darwinians.

Today, however, they’re back and putting in a lot of gym time preparing themselves for the final showdown. Like their rivals, they appear to have a worldwide fanbase, so be prepared for a lot of crowd trouble. And a few own goals besides.

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An Even More Inconvenient Truth

Sometime in the last century -about 30 years Before Gore I think it was- my wife and I spent a holiday on the west coast of Scotland. Ever been to a place called Gairloch? It’s a fantastically beautiful part of the world and we would have had a wonderful time were it not for the fact that it rained heavily the entire month of June, night and day, with only the occasional ten minute dry interval. These intervals were obviously designed to instil in us hopes of better weather; hopes that were then cruelly dashed almost immediately. At times we thought we heard hollow laughter coming from the sky. Here we were, on a coast caressed by the Gulf Stream, a coast where palm trees grow and warm waves lap the shore, getting wet to the very marrow. In June! What the hell was going on?

“It’s the coos”, a local type told me. 

The coos?!

“The cattle”, he explained patiently, “they fart.”

At the time -I told you it was about 30 BG- the link between cruel, unusual weather and farting cows was not an obvious one to make. Acid rain, yes, we knew all about that. Trees in Sweden losing their foliage because of coal-fired power stations in England, it was a familiar complaint. Only ten years on we would marvel at seeing cesium-137 trickle down from the sky, courtesy of the Chernobyl power station. The dangers of radioactivity have been known to the general public since World War II. But farm animals letting rip in a field? It was enough to put you off oxtail soup forever.

Now, of course, we know that methane, the gas animals expel after a good feed (yes, humans too!), is an especially nasty contributor to the greenhouse effect. Nastier, it seems, than the CO2 that Saviour Al holds up as the likely cause of Armageddon. I’m still unreceptive to the Gorean argument that, by not leaving my TV on standby when I’m asleep, going on cycling holidays to the Turkish Riviera and washing my underwear at minus 3 degrees Celsius (forget that one for a start) I will make a meaningful contribution towards saving the planet. Not with all these cows breaking wind all at the same time, enveloping Earth in a noxious layer of methane.

Did I say ‘saving the planet’? My arse! That’s not what all this is about. The planet, as Al Gore also knows, can look after itself perfectly well. Imagine yourself standing on the Moon, say: 500 years from now, looking towards the Earth. What you would see is exactly the same blueish cloud-enveloped orb that can be seen today or indeed could be seen 500 years ago. No, let’s keep the discussion pure. What we’re talking about is ‘saving mankind‘ and, to a lesser extent, the flora and fauna without which life would be, if not impossible, then at least a whole lot less fun. Never mind that the human race is responsible for just about everything that the universe would be better without, from organized religion and shock ‘n awe to shellsuits and New Labour, it must survive at all cost. Not only that, it must survive to enjoy beautiful sunsets in the Caribbean, Häagen-Dazs ice cream in Puerto Banus and the Monaco F1 Grand Prix. To tell you the truth, my feeling is that we’ve amply outstayed our welcome in this solar system. Ask any animal, apart from dogs, cats and goldfish, whether they’d prefer to see us come or go, and then wait for the answer.

It is, of course, all part of the same self-delusion. Man is the crown of creation, with dominion over all else on planet Earth. So strong is our belief in the superiority of the human race that we cannot accept that there are things over which we have no control. Not only must global warming (read: weather) be the work of Man; it’s also Man (and Man only) who can do something about it. No good leaving this one for the gods we worship to sort out.

The more I think about a Planet Earth unencumbered by a race of murderous, gluttonous animals that will blow anything to bits or tear anyone’s throat out for the sake of its own survival the more I like it. Let’s all die out and give someone else a crack at it. Mice, maybe, or earwigs. But then: could I bear never seeing the west coast of Scotland again? I think I’d better think things through some more. 

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But The Greatest Of These Is Love

Standing as I am -with the hardback edition of Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion opened at page 237- on the sidelines of that great arena where the never ending battle between the cultures and ways of life is being fought I am happy to report that the forces of hatred and bigotry have lost none of their vim and vigour. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in the United Kingdom. If you thought that the departure of Tony Blair from the political stage was going to change the mood in extremist Muslim circles from one of ‘death to the British infidel’ to one of ‘let’s give it a rest and see how Gordon Brown gets on’, think again. Poor Gordon had hardly turned the lights on in Number Ten when London was echoing to the sound of police sirens and controlled explosions. Not much later, a Jeep Cherokee (who would be seen dead in one of those now?) burst into flames as its driver attempted to gatecrash the international arrivals hall of Glasgow Airport and cause major loss of life.

Much is being made of the fact that, allegedly, those responsible for these latest and signally unsuccessful acts of terrorism are all members of the medical profession. This is supposed to have special ominous implications. I can’t understand this. After all, there is no mention, no formal proscription of car bombs -or any other explosive device, for that matter- in the text of the Hippocratic oath. Would we feel any better if the suspects weren’t all doctors but chartered accountants? Suppose police around the Western world were currently rounding up Asian-looking supermodels, would that alarm us less? In other words: is a surgery-based conspiracy per definition more awful than one cooked up on the catwalk? I don’t think so. Since Allah, who is not called the Most Merciful for nothing, steadfastly refuses to strike down the Western Satan with fire and pestilence it’s his followers who must do the job for him and there can be no discrimination on the basis of age, sex or occupation.

Christian Britons -especially ministers of the Anglican faith- are in an entirely different position. They hate infidels and libertines as much as anyone, but since they worship not a merciful but a vengeful god, there’s no need for them to don the bomb belt or drive a blazing Ford Mondeo into a Gay Pride parade. Their Lord takes care of things himself, as only he can. It was good, therefore, of the Right Reverend Graham Dow, bishop of Carlisle, to inform the nation that the recent floods that caused so much suffering and a bit of loss of life in various parts of England were -and I quote- ‘a strong and definite judgement because the world has been arrogant in going its own way. We are reaping the consequences of our moral degradation as well as the environmental damage we have caused.’ Right. Environmental damage I can understand. I’m not a global warming bore, but the possible link between CO2 and a Wimbledon tournament that lasts for several months is not lost on me. But moral degradation? How does that make a river burst its banks? Obvious, really. ‘The sexual orientation regulations [which give greater rights to gays] are part of a general scene of permissiveness’, the Right Reverend says, ‘we are in a situation where we are liable for God’s judgement, which is intended to call us to repentance.’ Nice to see that, notwithstanding their different methods, Islam and the C of E are ploughing the same furrow here. For the Right Reverend Dow of Carlisle is by no means a loner, shouting in a wilderness of his own. His views are shared by quite a few of his Anglican colleagues, such as there are the Right Reverend James Jones, bishop of Liverpool (‘God is exposing us to the truth of what we have done’), and the Right Reverend Charles Chartres, bishop of London (‘We are all part of the problem and part of the solution’). As a Dutchman I can confirm that the month of June has been teriffically wet and July promises to be not much better. As we speak it is coming down in buckets. Strangely, though, no divine wrath has flooded us out of our houses, in spite of the fact that the Dutch, in the perception of many, are a nation of spliff-smoking, coke-snorting child molesters and bum tourists, as degenerated, degradated and depraved a lot of amoral swine as you’re likely to see. Still, lots of rain but nobody died.

It could be, of course, that flooding is not good enough. The Lord, recognising us for the hopeless Sodomites we are, may have something special in store for us, something horrible and apocalyptic, something that will make the seven plagues of Egypt seem like a walk in the park. He’s probably saving us Dutch for last. That’s fine with me, so long as the Sons of Allah don’t get to us first.

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