Letter G

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Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?


Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and tortuous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we call it the word of a demon than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalise mankind.

Thomas Paine (1737 to 1809)

Yet look what happened to Salman Rushdie.

Under a notice in a Leicester hospital asking "Are you suffering from a sexually transmitted disease?" someone has scribbled: Yes. Children.

The Guardian.

Probably apocryphal, but you never know...

Translation from one language to another is like viewing a piece of tapestry on the wrong side where though the figures are distinguishable yet there are so many ends and threads that the beauty and exactness of the work is obscured.


For my beloved partner...

The from the German into the English language translation by no means a so easy a task as it appears to be is. It is ever important for the translator on the one hand to preserve as far as possible the delicate shades of meaning of the author's thought, the height-depth and light-darkness of his not only never-decreasing but also ever- increasing ego-personality, and on the other hand to render him into recognisable English while at the same time retaining the characteristic rhythm of the wonderfully variable if perhaps rather sometimes often somewhat over-flexible Germanic idiom.

E F Bozman

In "Translation. 'Le Style c'est l'homme'". This one's also for my partner, who by the time she died had worked on rather more patent translations than I've had hot dinners.

Four thousand million years on, what was to be the fate of the ancient replicators? They did not die out, for they are past masters of the survival arts. But do not look for them floating loose in the sea; they gave up that cavalier freedom long ago. Now they swarm in huge colonies, safe inside gigantic lumbering robots, sealed off from the outside world, communicating with it by tortuous indirect routes, manipulating it by remote control. They are in you and in me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence.

Richard Dawkins

In "The Selfish Gene". And, if this one doesn't remind you either of Joseph L Green's "Gold the Man", or the charming little chap in Men in Black, I guess nothing will!

I once reached this point when I asked the then professor of astrophysics at Oxford to explain the origin of the universe to me... He did so, and I posed my supplementary: "Where did the laws of physics come from in the first place?" He smiled: 'Ah, now we move beyond the realm of science. This is where I have to hand over to my good friend the chaplain.' My immediate thought was, 'But why the chaplain? Why not the gardener or the chef?' If science itself cannot say where the laws of physics ultimately come from, there is no reason to expect that religion will do any better and rather good reasons to think it will do worse.

Richard Dawkins

In September 2003 at the University of Birmingham, Selly Oak, there was a discussion on "The place of humans in the universe — world faith perspectives" for which Dawkins (in The Guardian) was asked "Is there a limit to what science can explain?"

There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae [wasps] with the express intention of their [larva] feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.

Charles Darwin

In a letter to Asa Gray, [a minister] on May 22, 1860.
Adds Carl Zimmer of The Loom on Jan 7, 2004: "The same holds true today. I have yet to hear from the Intelligent Design camp what the exquisitely complex cruelty of parasitoids tells us about the Designer who tailor-made them."

On August 21, a newspaper account of the "intelligent design" movement contained this remarkable sentence: "They have mounted a politically savvy challenge to evolution as the bedrock of modern biology, propelling a fringe academic movement onto the front pages and putting Darwin's defenders firmly on the defensive."

A "politically savvy challenge to evolution" is as self-evidently ridiculous as an agriculturally savvy challenge to Euclidean geometry would be. It makes as much sense as conducting a Gallup poll on gravity or running someone for president on the Alchemy Party ticket.

It doesn't matter what percentage of people believe they ought to be able to flap their arms and fly, none of them can. It doesn't matter how many votes your candidate got, he's not going to turn lead into gold. The sentence is so arrantly foolish that the only real news in it is where it appeared.

On the front page. Of The New York Times.

Charles P. Pierce

An elegant demolition job on the drivel that is so-called Intelligent Design, from Pierce's Greetings from Idiot America in Esquire, 1st November 2005

As a method of sending a missile to the higher, and even to the highest parts of the earth's atmospheric envelope, Professor Goddard's rocket is a practicable and therefore promising device. It is when one considers the multiple-charge rocket as a traveler to the moon that one begins to doubt... for after the rocket quits our air and really starts on its journey, its flight would be neither accelerated nor maintained by the explosion of the charges it then might have left. Professor Goddard, with his "chair" in Clark College and countenancing of the Smithsonian Institution, does not know the relation of action to re-action, and of the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react... Of course he only seems to lack the knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.

Editorial in The New York Times, 1920

It almost looks as if The New York Times has a history of scientific ignorance.