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Fact, Fiction, Faith – and the Future

Growing up in the UK, in a Christian household (my mother’s father had been a Minister in the Church of Christ and my father’s family had belonged to the same faith group), I accepted as fact the existence of God, the history of the ministry of Christ and his disciples and, actually, still remain happy to follow the basic ethical principles I understood to have been espoused by those of that faith.

I attended a C of E Secondary school where we studied the scriptures and, more importantly, Comparative Religion.

In my teens I was actually a Sunday School teacher, but – with increasing maturity and awareness of conflict between what I was taught to ‘believe’ and a greater understanding of the place of evidence in science – I have ended up an agnostic.

Scott Morrison believes in miracles.

I have a different interpretation of some reported ‘miracles’, which is almost certainly not unique to me.

For example, the parable of the loaves and fishes implies that there was some magical appearance of enough food to feed the throng, whereas I see the probability that, once a few people started sharing with others the food they had brought for their own consumption, others overcame their selfishness and joined in sharing, so what might have a generous amount for individual family groups proved enough for the entire congregation.

And in some contexts you might regard overcoming innate selfishness is, indeed, a miracle!

Our understanding is so often limited to our own experience, and it is only when we start allowing ourselves to explore other possibilities that we start to see how much we do not know.

Maths was always my favourite subject, but it was not really until I started teaching it that I fully appreciated the importance of the logic which it embodies – particularly in Euclidean Geometry.

There are 5 basic postulates which form the foundation of this topic, which assumes that we are working on a flat surface – on which parallel lines can never meet – and the angles of a triangle add up to 180 degrees.

But we live on a planet which is roughly spherical, so if we wish to navigate its surface, we need to appreciate that Euclidean geometry no longer applies.

Imagine drawing a triangle on the surface of an orange. You can immediately see that the triangle you could draw on a flat sheet of paper has to be stretched out in such a way that its angles must now necessarily add up to more than 180 degrees – so a whole new world of spherical trigonometry (I know – trigonometry was, for many of you a nightmare, but that was largely because it was often taught badly!) has to be developed to ensure a safe arrival at the required destination.

And we can go further – as was indicated in the reference above – we can change the basic postulates, as was done by Riemann – so enabling Einstein to develop his Theory of Relativity – and, simultaneously, hence leading to claims of plagiarism, by Bolyai and Lobachevsky.

It is worth making the point here that much research is not valued by governments because they cannot see an immediate, commercial, application for the theory.

A great deal of research in the mathematics and science context fits into this category, and – as with Einstein’ s theories – the outcomes can be world changing, even if the initial research appeared to be purely based on suppositions.

There would be few people in the developed world who would not accept that advancements in scientific knowledge have led to massive social change.

And the basis of scientific research is evidence.

A theory is defined, and the means of ‘proving’ it valid, requires research which shows that the likelihood that it is NOT valid is so small that it must, indeed, be true.

That implies a possibility that it actually is not true, which is why scientific research is carefully documented to ensure that others can repeat the procedures that have been followed and compare their outcomes.

Some research is less easily conducted, particularly if it involves a possibility of destroying the subjects! Testing medical procedures on living beings does not always allow a process of going back and trying a different procedure if the first one does not produce an acceptable outcome!

But what is important here, is that the people who offer themselves for election, and, subsequently, are involved in making decisions which affect people’s lives, are often ill-acquainted with scientific procedures and fail to appreciate the critical importance of evidence.

In one context, this has been horribly illustrated by the attempts of Donald Trump and too many of his supporters, whose firm belief – based on sentiment rather than fact – that he would, by right, win the recent election, and the fact that there was no evidence to support their claims of fraud in the election process was brushed on one side as irrelevant.

The ‘divine right of kings’ comes to mind, and how many of those lost their heads in consequence of their obstinate refusal to accept the facts?

And exactly that same approach is being applied by the Australian Coalition government when it comes to accepting that there is evidence that mankind’s actions in relying on fossil fuels as an energy source, has affected – and increasingly continues to affect – the process of global warming.

The evidence is there!

I would argue that if a particular course of action appears to be having deleterious effects, that is a strong argument for changing to a different course of action.

The alternatives here are, IMHO, to continue using fossil fuels, with a high likelihood of destroying lives as a result of severe climate outcomes and ill-health resulting from increasing air pollution – all of which has been clearly documented by appropriately qualified scientists – or, as speedily as possible, introduce policies to replace fossil fuels with renewable sources of energy, while also working as fast as possible to reduce pollution from all sources – particularly the manufacture and over-use of plastics.

The argument then becomes between which is the worse outcome – lives lost through climate change or damage to an economy currently based on inaction on global warming?

The government has already demonstrated that, by issuing government bonds, it can rapidly raise money to provide support to business and, selectively and on a very ad hoc basis, support individuals.

It has also demonstrated all too clearly that its ability to have plans ready to deal with a disaster is far from adequate, and its selectivity over who receives support is dangerously biased.

One of the functions of a national media service, like the ABC, is to ensure that – whoever is in government – criticism of inappropriate behaviour by government is publicised.

The Murdoch media ensures that the current government can tear the Opposition to shreds, yet the government, and the NSW Liberal government can happily pervert justice in favouring funding to their supporters, while screaming lack of balanced reporting at the ABC for criticising this behaviour.

So why the title of this rant?

Fact is found through scientific research, which continuously and ethically follows a path of updating knowledge.

Fiction is a consequence of mental processes which do not rely on fact or logical thinking.

Faith is dangerous because it too often ignores the need for evidence.

The Future is looking singularly bleak unless and until integrity overcomes the hubris of a Prime Minister whose belief in himself and his preferred policies is ill-founded and who has modelled his behaviour on one of the world’s least qualified leader, who is currently fighting to retain his status as POTUS.

May their god save America, because Trump sure as hell won’t!

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3 comments

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  1. George Swalwell

    An elegant lament for the triumph of hubris and spin over clear evidence of looming disasters for the planet. Congratulations, again, Rosemary on laying it all out, clearly and logically. On a personal note: I also had a mother who’s father was a minister in the Church of Christ (in Australia) and a father who
    was a member of the same church. I became a maths teacher in Australia, but was much more keen on music, so after 10 years in the UK teaching music, I returned to Australia as a music teacher, sometimes teaching some maths classes. Now retired and living in Penang, Malaysia; I read online news from Australia, the UK, Canada, the US, the UAE everyday.

  2. RosemaryJ36

    George Swalwell – Maths and music seem to go together! My mother was a keen pianist and insisted my older siblings and I all learned, to have the chance to share her enjoyment. My brother went on to learn violin and play any musical instrument you put in his hands. I no longer have my piano because failure to keep up practice meant the enjoyment was gone. I turn to my computer (or iPad!) keyboard instead to communicate with words instead of sounds.

  3. Josephus

    Two languages groups, music and maths, after all. Hence one of my children speaks five languages fluently, while the other is a cloud engineer, self taught.
    Deciphering codes… So sad that many cannot understand that opinion is of no interest, whereas evidence based science is. The pub redneck telling me of his beliefs- who cares? I believe in unicorns…

    I learnt early of the pagan elements in Christianity, so were I to eschew atheism I would accept the abstract, open to debate, non doctrinal, progressive version of Judaism. God is there a concept, no miracles needing to be be taken as fact. Room for all within the tent.

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