42 was a JOKE

Trust the BBC to ruin a perfectly good joke. 42 was a JOKE. J-O-K-E. JOKE. Or, (testing out my Japanese), shijuuni wa joudan desu yo!

But the other interpretation is that the joke was wise. It shows that seeking numerical answers to questions of meaning is itself the problem. Digits, like a four and a two, can no more do it than a string of digits could represent the poetry of Shakespeare.

Huh? I must have missed that in the book. No; it was a joke. A play on words. Read the whole thing, then wonder who writes this stuff. The author is one Mark Vernon who, as an agnostic, has this little quiz, which is a bit silly. I looked at it, and a couple of questions showed that the results are likely to be somewhat skewed:

1. Whether you think God exists or not, would you say you hold your position:(a) as a matter of personal belief; (b) because it is the most likely; (c) as a matter of scientific fact?

Okay, so I’d go with ‘b’. It is overwhelmingly unlikely that any form of supernaturalism exists. (You’ll note the bias, incidentally, in the question: you think God exists. Capital ‘G’, singular).  That’s a perfectly reasonable question, with a suitable answer provided. So why, when you get to question 6, are you confronted with:

4. Why do you think people do not believe in God? Is it:(a) because of churches and people in religious authority; (b) because science has disproved God; (c) because of the way they were brought up?

Erm. 42? I can’t answer that question honestly with any of the options provided! Yet in the first question, a perfectly reasonable answer was there that could also answer this question: Because it is most unlikely! Whilst I dislike churches and religious authorities it is nonsense to assume that one does not believe in gods simply because of the people and institutions who run the god business. And it is equally nonsense that science has “disproved” gods; it has simply given them vanishingly few places to hide.

Take a look at the test, then be prepared to submit your answers for a lesson in pop-philosophy at its worst. If you answered question 5 (what is science) as “reductionist” (remembering that this is from three answers where you can only provide one):

The problem is that the whole is so often more than the sum of its parts. Something is, therefore, always lost in the reductive approach, supremely so in the case of life which, like a dissection, cannot be reassembled when dismembered. Incidentally, science is also circular and mechanistic!

No shit Sherlock. But you posed a question, then provided three mutually exclusive answers that you then admit aren’t mutually exclusive, then assume that I didn’t know that they’re not mutually exclusive. Way to insult your readers.  Of course, if you then factor in that science is not purely reductionist, but is also mechanistic and circular, his objection vanishes in a puff of pure logic! 

And the answer to question 6? I tried both evolution and the big-bang. For evolution, I got:

Continuing the spiritual exploration of science, you next said that the origin of life by evolution is the best of the three theories. Actually, it is the worst. Evolutionary theory is silent on the origin of life.

Once again Vernon is being insanely presumptive in assuming that I – not being a professional philosopher – don’t understand the difference between abiogenesis and evolution-as-the-origin-of-species. The problem is that Vernon is wrong: abiogenesis is an evolutionary process, as PZMyers points out. Evolution is both the theory of the origin of species, and the theory of the origin of life.

If I answered question 6 as big-bang, I get:

This is not a bad theory at all. But it does beg that question, what caused the big bang? The best answer is random quantum fluctuations – something sprang out of nothing – which is, of course, to say nothing about why that something sprang.

Which demonstrates that Vernon is no more a cosmologist than he is a biologist. The “best answer” is NOT that “something sprang out of nothing”. Perhaps Vernon should look into Brane theory, and what exactly is likely to have existed at the singularity at the time of the big bang. (Hint a massive amount of energy is not, “nothing”. Remember: E=mc2). Amusingly, I got 82/100 if I answered “big-bang”, but only 80 if I answered evolution. I can’t bring myself to answer, “something sprang out of nothing”, although – according to Vernon – I already did. Twice.

Mark also didn’t like my answer to question 12, “Is science a religion” (hint: I answered, “no”):

Science does depend upon belief, in a certain way. Science seeks evidence for its theories.

Can you say, “equivocation”? Science seeks evidence, ergo it is a belief. Huh? I almost can’t parse that sentence! His reasoning?

However, that evidence can, in general, only show a theory to be more likely than not. In other words, science depends upon the belief that what is most probably right is true in reality.

No, no, NO! Science looks at the available evidence, and chooses the theory that best matches the evidence, until a better theory comes along. But that new-and-improved theory had damned well better be able to explain the existing body of evidence, as well as make predictions about future bodies of evidence or it is useless. It does not say, “this is therefore true in reality”, and it gets a lot of flak from people wanting to deny science (creationists, Mark Vernon) for this very admission.

No wonder this man can take a joke and twist it out of all proportion, whilst not even getting the original context right.  It’s almost enough to drive a man to Vogon poetry.

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