Monthly Archives: January 2012

Better late than never – my second stab at academia

“Astronomy? Is that where you do horoscopes?”

This was one reaction to my announcement that I was going back to school with the Open University.

This blog is my attempt to explain why I did that, becoming a university student for the fourth time, in a bid to start afresh in a new field of science from the one I hold two degrees in, biology, in the hope I end up nestled deep in the bosom of academia where, to be frank, I belong.

Why astronomy? As a child, it was one of the first sciences to capture my imagination. As an adult, I know more than most about it, a level I think of as “Enough to thoroughly ruin most of the sci-fi I watch” – where do these shows get their science advisers from?! It’s certainly a last frontier of science, and that’s a big draw for me.

I’ve tried plenty of ‘real’ jobs. Some people can genuinely do a job they don’t care about because it brings home the bacon. I am not one of them. I’ve been there, done that, and instead of returning with said bacon, ended up only with the T-shirt.

What could I do? Retail? Like the anti-malarial drug chloroquine, there are adverse effects from taking it for too long. And I do mean ‘taking’. Or to put it another way, if I ever again have to sell something, as part of my job, to Joe Public, I am very, very likely to call him a ‘fucking moron’ to his face.

Management? As I once told a manager of mine, the day that company promoted me to manager would be he day they slid into administration. In a recent interview for what would eventually be a managerial position, I was asked for 10 qualities of a good manager. When I finally managed to come up with the list, I was asked how many applied to me. At the point were I said “About three”, we both realised we were wasting our time.

Administration? I can organise most things, provided they are not pieces of paper, sums of money, dates or people; it’s also why I’ve not set up as an Ebay trader. Photography? All the arguments against administration apply here too, with the addition that it’s a saturated market. As a fellow photographer friend of mine once said, “It’s dead mens’ shoes”. I.T.? For me, it makes more sense but like retail, you have a shelf-life. Besides, my knowledge is a bit dated and there are a lot of kids to compete with in that market. Any jaded I.T. tech will know what I mean by the phrase “My system would be perfect but for all these damned users”. Thus, it’s entirely possible the ‘fucking moron’ outburst could happen there too…

What about the other degrees? Well, I was younger and stupider back then, didn’t know what I wanted, and so underperformed. To get a PhD, you need a good class undergraduate degree, and a masters doesn’t necessarily help if you don’t have one. I’ve more than once stated that many people are not ready for university before the age of 30 – I was certainly one. Starting afresh is also more likely to hold my interest than going back over well-trodden ground.

And so, academia, and a fresh start. It requires a good brain and sound reasoning skills, a love of knowledge and learning because it sure doesn’t pay well, and in all likelihood, I’ll get to live in different places. Sounds like a plan, eh? Well, it will take 4 years to complete a second undergraduate degree, via distance and part-time, and then the hunt is on for a PhD – I am assured that doing a PhD is one of the most demanding things you can imagine, 3 years of total commitment. I couldn’t imagine doing it 5 years ago, when last the option presented itself. That I can now is partly down to my keener state of mind, and partly down to a lack of options. It should be noted that, to an indecisive procrastinator like myself, a lack of options is not necessarily a bad thing.

David Cameron, Christian morality, and the News Letter

On 19th December 2011, the News Letter reported on David Cameron’s speech on the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, stating Britain was a Christian country, and “that the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today.”

In the Morning View editorial, the author was full of praise for Mr Cameron, though was disappointed he hadn’t gone further. I’ve long viewed the News Letter as a right-wing, neo-conservative rag, a Norn Irish Daily Mail, so I sent them a rebuttal on the whole business of  Christianity’s claim on morals.

I didn’t find it online until 9th January 2012, and when I did, it had attracted two posts. Let us just say that the News Letter’s readership would not be, in the main, Internet-savvy. (i.e. not in their first, or indeed second, flush of youth), so the limited response is understandable.

(Incidentally, I also saw a letter on gay marriage of such outrageous homophobia, I posted a comment describing it as “a vile piece of borderline-criminal hate speech” – the comment was not posted, but instead the whole letter was pulled! Result!)

Nevertheless, I set about with a staunch defence of my letter, which I’ve reproduced below should it ever vanish from the News letter’s site.

What followed was a fairly one-sided debate where I slapped around an at first fairly reasonable, but eventually pop-eyed religious nut, whom in turn kept coming back like Monty Python’s Black Knight. As I kept bludgeoning his arguments, he one by one distanced himself from his fellow Christians (the ones who had strayed), the Jewish origins of the Christian church, the Old Testament, the Roman Catholic church (he was a Protestant) and eventually the original argument altogether.

I thought my invention of the philosophical position of amarmitism was the highlight of the exercise…

I eventually, reluctantly, had to stop replying because while I had won the argument, it was quite apparent there was no reasoning with the loon. It’s not like there was even an audience.


Christianity did not ‘create’ morality

Published on Thursday 22 December 2011 09:31

IN response to Morning View (December 19) I felt compelled to challenge the assertion that the UK needs greater emphasis on the ‘Christian’ moral code.

The article says that the ‘overwhelming majority of citizens in the United Kingdom’ are Christian. According to a 2011 YouGov survey of Great Britain, a bare 55 per cent of respondents described themselves as Christian – of these only 38 per cent of 18 to 34-year-olds are Christian, while 70 per cent of over-55s are Christian. In other words, while Christianity is in the majority, just, it soon won’t be.

I note the News Letter failed to report Dr Richard Dawkins’ response to David Cameron’s speech, which described Christianity as ‘an appalling moral compass’. Some Christians may be shocked by this statement.

Let me explain: a cursory reading of the Bible reveals genocide, slavery, treatment of women as little more than property, rape and stoning of people for adultery and other lesser crimes condoned in the Old Testament.

More recently, we have the Inquisition, and in modern times, we are witness to the paedophile scandal engulfing the Catholic church, their campaign to discredit the use of condoms in developing countries in the face of an HIV epidemic, and their complicity in the Holocaust in the signing of the Reichskonkordat.

Protestantism doesn’t get away scot-free either; the record of racism and homophobia by Protestants, predominantly in the United States, is a poor one.

I’ll omit our own Troubles, as nearly everyone, religious and political, comes out looking bad.

I am not saying that Christians are bad people – many of them are loving, kind and generous. You will, however, find that this is also true of non-Christians.

To quote Steven Weinberg, ‘Good people will do good things, and bad people will do bad things. But for good people to do bad things, that takes religion.’

Christianity did not ‘create’ morality; it subsumed it from pre-existing society. This is true of other religious moralities, too. Given this was a bronze-age civilisation (Old Testament), or if you prefer iron-age (New Testament), things have moved on in the Zeitgeist (‘spirit of the age’) – the 20th century saw the introduction of equality in gender, race and sexual orientation. These are increasingly considered ‘good’ morals, and have absolutely no basis in religious doctrine.

If you want an idea of what a secular society looks like, largely unfettered by Christianity or any other religion, look to Scandinavia. It should be noted that the Scandinavians have amongst the best social standards and life expectancy in the world.

To finish, I agree that there should be no legislation preventing Christians publicly expressing their faith; I know of no legislation that attempts any such thing, and I think it’s disingenuous of the editorial writer to insinuate that such things are afoot.

I would, however, wish the same thing for all faiths, and those with none, so long as they do not oppress or harm others. As a secular society, free speech is a central pillar of our culture.

Colin Morrison

Fermanagh launches

After many years of pointedly avoiding doing a website, I’ve finally got my thumb out and made it happen.

What will this site be about? Good question – it’ll likely accumulate articles on photography, science, politics, hobbies, humour, rationality, general geekery and anything else that takes my fancy. I have more interests than I could pursue in 10 lifetimes, so I roam from pasture to pasture, musing as I go.

Feel free to leave comments on my posts – I’m rather fond of a good argument. As the link suggests, going ad hominem will be considered a concession, so don’t go there.