Wednesday 20 July 2016

Forces of nature

Brian Cox is brilliant. He may not himself write all of his scripts in their entirety, but they are sufficiently different from those of every other science presenter, and sufficiently like how he talks when he’s ad-libbing, to imply that he inspires and fashions the whole thing.

When he says something like: “The world is beautiful to look at, but it’s even more beautiful to understand” as he did on Monday’s BBC1 “Forces of Nature” programme, I respond “Exactly – couldn’t have put it better myself!” Because my own fascination is with patterns and how things interact and hang together.

And yet you know that with Brian Cox there’s always going to be a “but”. Brian has this wonderful appreciation for the amazing nature of the universe we inhabit, and an extraordinary capacity for communicating the awe it inspires in him. But he succumbs, all too often, to that little word “just”. “Life is just a temporary home”, he said, “for the immortal elements that make up the universe.”

This is a contemporary version of what cyberneticist Donald Mackay used to call “nothing buttery” – the idea that, because we can describe the human body (for instance) in terms of the chemicals that make it up, we can therefore say that we are “nothing but” a collection of chemicals. Mackay spent a lifetime showing that we need multiple levels of meaning to describe many things, including what it means to be human.

Brian Cox: “You are just chemistry – but what chemistry! The earth is your ancestor.” Here it is again – his sense of awe at the big picture, fatally combined with a total absence of anything to show why it should matter, why it should give me any individual significance whatsoever. “You are a remarkable machine” he said.

I am indeed a remarkable machine – but that’s not all I am. My humanity also includes my relationship at various levels with the Creator of it all. With the one who, in creating this most amazing universe, has filled it with meaning and purpose. And a future. Brian Cox’s smile and wonderfully persuasive manner cannot remove the chill that comes as he looks forward to the final destruction of the earth, the sun and the solar system. He seems at ease with his own dissolution. But, for me, that is no hope at all. History bears testimony to the emptiness and, all too often, the destructive violence of those who go down that path. My own hope is in knowing the one who made it all in the first place, who has plans we can scarcely dream of, and who shares them with the people he has created.

Well, Erin Mae’s new TV certainly provoked a different sort of blog post this time!

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