Friday, October 12, 2007

Science and religion: Polkinghorne at the Royal Society

I've listened to this three times. It's really good.

Here's roughly where it goes, from the introductory blurb to the lecture.

'Science and religion are both concerned with the search for truth, attainable through well-motivated beliefs. The aspects of reality they investigate are different - in the case of science, the impersonal, physical world; in the case of religion, the transpersonal reality of God. Neither can tell the other what to think in its own domain, but their insights have to bear some consonant relation to each other.

'Science tells theology about the structure and history of the universe and, in particular, emphasises its evolutionary nature.

'Religious insight can set the laws of nature in a more profound context of understanding, so that their deep order, rational beauty and anthropic fine-tuning become intelligible features and need not to be treated as brute facts.

'As a consequence, there is a vigorous and enlightening intellectual exchange between the two."

Spaceflight: The beagle is grounded

Went to a lecture by Prof Colin Pillinger last night. All the times I've seen and heard him, I never realized that he was disabled, hobbling around on two sticks. What a fighter.

  • He did Beagle not because it was easy but -- in the Kennedy-like cliche -- because it was hard
  • The UK is the fifth richest nation on the planet, but spends on space like we were the 17th richest
  • Two-thirds of probes to Mars have failed. The Public Accounts Committee told Pillinger that they didn't want British taxpayers' money involved unless a project was 99% likely to succeed (so why did they let us go to war against Iraq?)
  • Beagle II aimed high, briefly caught the imagination of a nation, fired up a new generation of scientists, and increased the £5bn contribution that space already makes to the UK's GDP. Not bad for a failure that cost us less than a quid each.
  • The folks at the European Space Agency said they'd help pick up where Beagle left off. The date of this proposed mission has shifted from 2007, to 2009, to 2011, to 2013 and now to 2015. ESA, by the way, criticized Pillinger's management skills.
On the other hand: one elderly, crippled, eccentric scientist, against all the odds, nearly pulled it off -- nearly put a probe on Mars, nearly dug into its soil, nearly got to a point where it could have made the greatest scientific discovery of them all.

Beagle cost £55m. When I got home, I read that Cambridge County Council has just put a bid in for over £400m of government money, in order to improve Cambridge's congested traffic.

I am beginning to think I may not walk on the moon, after all.