Half-baked ideas and fully baked jokes.


  • Social brain

Oh dear – the only thing stopping me from entirely indulging by habit of making up rubbish jokes was a total lack of reader reinforcement. But now I fear I have it in the form of the first even half pleasant thing ever said about me in the Londoners’ Diary in the Standard. So now I have free reign and expect a joke a day forever and ever (at least, it will feel that long) 

Actually, I was offered a job dismantling circus tents the other day. But I said ‘no thanks, it don’t really believe in top down ways of doing things’.

This particular pathetic joke was offered me by the producer of a new radio programme I am making. The subject is a remarkable man by the name of George Price. I won’t say much more now as I don’t want to spoil the programme, and anyway if you are really interested there is a great biography by Oren Harman.

But one of the many fascinating things about Price was that he was a scientist, indeed a ground breaking theorist of evolution, who became a religious zealot.

This has led me to musing on consistency as a virtue. The one thing that fundamentalist religious believers, on the one hand, and champions of science as the answer to just about everything, on the other, agree about is the importance of consistency. For the former your religious beliefs should dictate all your beliefs including how the universe was created. For the later it is possible to use scientific method to resolve almost every issue, including for example the policies Governments should pursue based on what can scientifically be shown to maximise well-being (this form of scientism is close to classic utilitarianism).

Maybe few of you reading this subscribe to either of these positions. Yet there is no question that in society at large consistency is seen as a virtue and inconstancy a vice. We all have sacred beliefs – things we believe so deeply that we would only believe them more strongly if we were offered material inducement to give them up. Many non-religious people feel that way about protecting basic human rights for example. So we all have faith based beliefs and evidence based beliefs. Should we expect them - or more to the point should we want them - to be consistent?

There are two big problems with this point. Thief first is that I haven’t in any way thought it through and come to any kind of conclusions. The second is that I’m sure it opens up some very basic questions about faith, belief and knowledge which a million cleverer people than me have discussed at great length.

But just occasionally between the torrent of gags comes the faint echo of more substantive ideas so I thought – at the end of two busy days and in the wake of exhaustion (partly resulting from the shocking decision of the Hilton Hotel Edinburgh Airport to overbook and turn me away from my reserved room at midnight yesterday) - I might share one of those with you too.

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