Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Adjusting Expectations

“There are two ways to get enough,” Chesterton once wrote. “One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.” It is this adjustment of expectations that I would like to consider in this post.

One of my hobbies is fencing (epee primarily, but I dabble in foil occasionally, and sabre very rarely). Now, I don’t tend to fence in competitions very much, but obviously even in club matches you are attempting to win. You’re trying to improve your own abilities and develop as a fencer, but basically you’re trying to stab the other person more times than they stab you.

You start the fight determined to win. It often happens that you begin to fence, and find that you’re falling rapidly behind. Your attacks are slow, obvious and poorly executed. You find yourself obligingly moving your blade out of their way and stumbling onto their point with all the combative grace of a blindfolded, bow-legged ostrich. “Very well,” you say to yourself, “I’m obviously not going to win, but I’ll at least get twelve points before he gets his fifteen.”

Time passes and more hits are landed (by him). “Okay then,” you concede, “but I’ll at least get to ten.”

“Fine, five.”

“Three surely?”

“He may win, but I’m at least going to score once! I shall not allow this to be a complete whitewash!”

“Oh. Bother.”

All of this is really just an elaborate preamble to my main topic. In my last post, I declared my intention to participate in the National Novel Writing Month. I am pleased that I can already report my success. I have indeed participated.

Unfortunately, what I am not going to do, alas, is win.

The primary reason for this is that our landlord spontaneously decided (having, no doubt, read my blog) that they wanted to terminate our tenancy. Cue frantic house searching, followed, in the last two or three weeks, with packing. This has seriously cut into my writing time, and even when I have had time, I’ve been rather too tired. Added to this, we spent a few days at my parents’, and although I took a laptop and a host of good intentions with me, I actually got very little done.

I am now very far behind, with little chance of catching up before the deadline of the 30th of November. Very well then, instead of accumulating more and more, I shall desire less. By that, I don’t mean that I shall consider an achievable twenty five thousand words a win. Rather, I am determined to do something I’ve never achieved before, and actually update my word count every single day. I’ve completed Nano numerous times, but I’ve never once managed to get through the entire month consistently adding words each day.

It will probably never actually be the standard 1667 words that would be required to win under normal circumstances. In fact, one day it was only twenty six words, but I am determined to achieve this small goal. I shall adjust my expectations.

And at the end of the month, although I won’t have hit the target, I shall have twenty or thirty thousand words that I didn’t have at the start, and that’s considerably better than nothing.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Here We Go Again...

Yep, it’s October. That means that, unless something goes badly wrong, it will be November next month, and we all know what that means. National Novel Writing Month! I will once again be endeavouring to pump out 50,000 words of original fiction between the 1st and 30th of November, along with tens of thousands of others around the globe.

This year sees me return to Edmund Zenith of the Royal Air Fleet, protagonist of 2015’s successful NaNo attempt ‘Squadron’s Zenith. I posted before about the fact that I apparently started the series with the second book, and that I would need to go back and cover Zenith’s lieutenancy, prior to the promotion that put him in command of the HMA Hippolyta.

This year, I will be working on what should be (probably) the first book in the series, Ship’s Zenith. I will confess straightaway that according to the NaNo rules, I will be cheating slightly. I say this because I have actually already started work on Ship’s Zenith; although I’ve only produced 7,000 words or so. I will be producing 50,000 more words, but nonetheless, strictly speaking it’s supposed to be a completely new novel.

I do wonder whether I couldn’t start even further back in the timeline, with my main character as a very young midshipman, and call the book ‘Wardroom’s Zenith’. However, it’s already been established that Zenith was a Lieutenant on-board the Pendragon. If I do go further back and write Wardroom’s Zenith, it will have to be a totally new story again. Currently, I have no ideas for it, but we’ll see.

For now, here’s the blurb for Ship’s Zenith as it currently appears on the NaNoWriMo website:

“It’s 1876, and Edmund Zenith, a young lieutenant in the Royal Air Fleet, is posted to the Pendragon, a magnificent airship of the line. However, between a tyrannical captain, pirates, irritable Frenchmen, deserts, sandstorms and a nosy newspaperman, what should be a dream posting may prove far more than the inexperienced young officer can handle!”

That’s the plan at least. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Pro-Scientific Religion

It’s been a while since I posted something sparked by an online debate.  Two or three weeks ago now, the BBC ran a story on how a patient in a permanent vegetative state had responded well to a new treatment. They opened the story up for comments, and the whole thing played out with tedious inevitability. Indeed the very first comment was a pre-emptive complaint about how no doubt religious people would soon be on there, complaining and making unfavourable comparisons between the efficacy of medical science and prayer. Sigh.

I pointed out with as much patience as possible that science and religion are not intrinsically opposed, and that prayer, scientific research and experimentation are not mutually exclusive. I received the following response:

“Fair enough comment about them not being mutually exclusive, but you cannot say religion isn't diametrically opposed to science. Stem cell research could save thousands in PVS and with congenital disorders, yet religion actively lobbies against these research methods and indeed their very funding. How can that be construed as not being opposed to science in this case?”

I think this perfectly encapsulates a widely-held misconception about the attitude of those with religious beliefs towards science and scientific discoveries. I won’t re-argue the point about ‘religion’ not having its own volition, and therefore not actively lobbying anything. Let’s take that as read, and assume that the poster was instead referring to persons with religious beliefs. Let us also try and ignore the fact that ‘science and religion’ is a false dichotomy in the first place, and just work with what we have.

The idea of ‘religion’ being ‘anti-science’ is probably rooted in the oft-repeated stories about the persecution of Galileo with regards to the heliocentric universe. It wasn’t a good episode in the Church’s history, and they have admitted since that they were wrong. It was also several hundred years ago, and to continue to use it to show that religious folk today are anti-science seems a little weak.

Nowadays, if religion were actually anti-science, religious people would object to any given scientific study or discovery simply because it’s a scientific study or discovery. They do not. Indeed, the vast, vast majority of theists are all in favour of science, along with the improvements in medicine and living conditions that it brings. What they do object to, and I think this is where the confusion comes in, is specific applications of scientific or medical techniques that they consider to be immoral.

To take the poster’s example of stem-cell research, the objections are nothing at all to do with the scientificness of the studies, but with ethical concerns regarding the sourcing of stem cells from human embryos. The arguments for and against such studies are not the subject of this post and I don’t intend to get into them here. No doubt there are plenty of ignorant people who assume that all stem cells are sourced from human embryos, which is not the case, and thus desire a blanket ban on all stem cell research. However, a few ignorant people should hardly be taken as being representative of ‘Religion’, no matter how easy it makes it for antitheists to sneer at religion as a whole. Indeed, being opposed to something simply because you don’t understand it is hardly the sole domain of theists; I would suggest that it also rather accurately describes the stance of many antitheists towards religion.

To use another common example, an opposition to eugenics would hardly be considered ‘anti-science’. The movement for nuclear disarmament isn’t an objection to science. The banning of chemical and biological weapons doesn’t imply an objection to modern medicine. They are merely objections to objectionable applications of (in the case of eugenics at least, some really rather poor) science.

We can debate the rights and wrongs of any given study or process or application of the same, but at no point is this an opposition to ‘Science’. If anything, it is an argument in favour of it. It reflects an ardent desire to make sure that science remains a force for good. In and of itself, science is merely a tool, as morally neutral as a hammer. The desire to use a hammer to build a house instead of to bash in someone’s skull hardly makes one anti-hammers; it makes one incredibly pro-hammers because you wish to see them being used properly for the purpose for which they were intended, and not abused as a weapon to increase human suffering.

Science is morally neutral, and therefore requires a moral framework within which to act. Not all such moral frameworks are religious, but historically it is religion that has supplied them. Christianity tells us that the sick ought to be healed, the hungry fed, the naked clothed. Since science, when used correctly, allows us to do this more effectively, we can hardly be opposed to it as a whole.