Friday, 28 September 2012

Science sings new songs

Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks was speaking on BBC Radio 4's 'Thought for the Day' spot this morning.  Predictably he didn't fail to be patronising and . . . to be blunt . . . wrong!

Being one of those people who has reached his position by being a master of rhetoric you might expect his metaphors to be more reliable than these.

Science is prose, religion is poetry.

Science speaks, religion sings.

These are the words of someone who is clearly scientifically illiterate - a technological luddite or philistine who seems to be constantly looking for ways to show how much his particular religion is supported by scientific discovery.  Let's take his metaphors at face value and work from there. 

Firstly, it is no insult to say that science is analogous to prose.  Prose tends to be more objective and accurate than poetry (admittedly not exclusively).  Prose is more easily modified and corrected, as its factual content is more important than than how nice it sounds.  Prose is not as constrained by rhyme or rhythm.  Prose is not necessarily less beautiful than poetry.

On the other hand, while poetry might also be aesthetically pleasing, I would suggest that it is more subjective, emotional and unreliable.  So I agree that his first metaphor has some value, but certainly not in the way that he meant.  It demonstrates very clearly that he does not understand the value and beauty of science.  I think it shows him up as having the sort of intellectual deficiency that the religious often accuse scientists of portraying.

The second metaphor is much more risible.  It is clear that the symphonies of science do not work for this man.  Although he is tone-deaf in this context he makes out that he stands on the aesthetic high ground.  I don't think this metaphor has much value for a few reasons.

Science sings wonderful new songs every day, striving for greater harmony all the time, while retaining the best and most successful melodies which then become well loved classics.  Many of the songs of science have greater beauty than the age-old unchanging dirges that religion chants to itself over the centuries.

Platitude of the Day, the parody site for Thought for the Day responded typically well to Sacks on this outpouring of nonsense.

It is worth a quick read! 

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