Friday, August 06, 2010

London and Oxford, July 2010--Part 4 (Tuesday and Wednesday)

I'm a day behind once again, so I think I will cover 2 days in this post. Life has a funny habit of getting in the way of my writing these days. Now I'm off for 3 days, so maybe things will improve in that arena.


Back to Oxford--Tuesday was the other full day at the Round Table, with another 9 presentations. The focus was most definitively on the science side of the Religion/Science topic. The morning sessions questioned the need for God in this day and age (based on the assumption that God was used as an explanation for things we can't understand), whether there was any empirical, testable evidence for the soul (there's not at this point), a presentation on why theology and the scientific method will not and cannot meet, and a look at evolution from three different perspectives.

There was also a presentation on the resistance to smallpox vaccinations in the 18th century because of the religious superstitions of the people. I was surprised to learn that people were chucking things through Cotton Mather's windows when he suggested they get vaccinated. Of course, that was at a time when the colony was getting fed up with the "Elect" and the stupidity of the witch trials that were allowed to go on, so that may have had as much to do with it as anything. I mention this one specifically as this is the one where I got to lead off the discussion. To be fair, if the Puritans are watching everyone who gets the smallpox innoculation die instead of becoming immune, they might have had good reason to want to avoid the innoculation. But it brought about a discussion of the modern anti-vax movement, something that shouldn't happen in the 21st century.

The afternoon discussions were about making evolution a theme of the biology curricula of American public schools, a philosophical paper on the common epistemological errors scholars make when arguing on the religion/science debate, and a paper on Robert Frost and his interest in Darwin. Martin Lockley, a paleontologist from the University of Colorado, also gave a presentation on the evolution of consciousness, which was probably the most interesting to me. We chatted a bit beforehand about his research, and I did buy a copy of his new book on that subject, "How humanity came into being : the evolution of human consciousness". So far, it's been a fascinating read.

I will avoid getting into the discussions, which were naturally heated in both directions, as I already mentioned that yesterday. You can bet there was more of that on Tuesday. After dinner, a large group of us went to the King's Arms pub at the corner of Holywell St., for a post-dinner drink and chat. I had an interesting discussion with Dan, who presented on Native American religious persecution--we discussed the kinds of visions and experiences that occur in sacred contexts that simply do not have rational explanations. Not everything does.


Wednesday was a half-day at the round table--we only had sessions til noon, and then the rest of the day was free. The morning consisted of a talk on the German Templars, on logotherapy for dealing with depression, the uses of art in theology, and a history of the Thomist Christians in India. There was also a discussion of language and emotion in evolution, though my suitemate, who is a philosophy professor in Ohio, suggested that the argument was flawed because it contained an error known as the "bifurcation of time"--suggesting that one must either change OR remain static--the fluid nature of time, its stops and starts, are not considered in solving the issue--one must either stay the same OR be in a state of change--or use one to get to the other. His discussion reminded me of Dr. Dell's old realism/idealism continuum in the face of time (which was discussed in a Victorian poetry class, believe it or not). But that's another matter.

After the session, I met up with Rob Harris, who I've mentioned before as the webmaster for, John Foxx's website. We also met up with Paul and his wife Pip--I'd met Paul in Liverpool at the Awaydays VJ set that John Foxx and Karborn did with Dennis Da Silva last May. Rob and I drank lots of beer and talked for 8 hours before Paul and Pip arrived--we mainly talked about families, moving, John Foxx, people we mutually know who also know John Foxx--and I think Pink Floyd crept into the discussion somewhere as well. By the time Paul and Pip arrived, I had a massive sinus headache coming on, so I must have looked pained. However, we left the pub, and took a walk over to the University club, where we had another drink (no more alcohol for me), and talked about an Ultravox (Urevox) gig they attended in Newcastle--which was quite a funny story, though it probably wasn't funny at the time. I also learned that Midge Ure has become a motivational speaker. Funny, the only inspiration I get from Midge Ure is the urge to fling myself out the nearest window when I hear him sing. But, clearly someone wants to hear him speak, or they wouldn't pay him. From what I've heard about his talks, it sounds like you'd be better off setting fire to large wads of cash. At least you'd keep warm. Or could roast marshmallows.

I think I made it back to my room about midnight. Aside from the headache, it appears I've developed an amazing alcohol tolerance, which is probably not good. Still, it's not likely you will catch me drinking that many beers in an evening any time in the near future.

Tomorrow, I will try to discuss the rest of the trip, so I that I'm not dragging this travel blogging on for an interminable amount of time...

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