Hazel McHaffie

Festivals, faith and poppies

The great Edinburgh International Festival is almost upon us again. Time to pour over those brochures and raid the piggy bank.

Being within hailing distance of everything, we natives can get a bit blasé about events that other folk travel half way round the world to attend, but this year I booked a few performances early on to make sure I didn’t backslide. As you might expect it’s the Book Festival that gets the bulk of my patronage and I’ve learned to be quick off the starting blocks for the ones I really really want. Only one disappointment: Hilary Mantel of 2010 Man-Booker fame has withdrawn. Hope she’s not ill again.

On the theatre front, no prizes for guessing why I’ve elected to go to a one-man play, An Evening with Dementia. Intriguing. It’ll be interesting to see how this ex-RSC actor combines humour with sensitivity in such a delicate area – an abiding concern of mine while writing Remember Remember.

And when it comes to lectures, I’ve plumped for a one-off: Why a scientist believes in God. I got advance warning of that one because the lecturer is actually someone I know. With that topic in my mind I just had to get stuck into The Language of GodThe Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, which I read between trips to hospital (ferrying and visiting, I hasten to add, not being ill myself). The author is Dr Francis Collins, a prominent American geneticist, and head of the now famous Human Genome Project, so someone who commands huge respect from a scientific point of view. From a religious angle he appealed to me too – going from agnostic through atheist to ‘a believer who stands in awe of the almost unimaginable intelligence and creative genius of God’. Wow! How come?

It’s a very clearly laid out book – lots of headings and numbered options and arguments and counter arguments. All very orderly as befits an evidence-based scientist. Nor does he shirk the less hard-nosed tricky questions and thorny issues – the harm done in the name of religion; the dangers of a God-of-the-gaps theory; the relative merits of different possibilities – young earth creationism, intelligent design, theistic evolution …

One straight read isn’t enough for my little grey cells; I’ll need to study it slowly to have any chance of assimilating his arguments properly and deciding how far I go with his reasoning. But it certainly underlined for me my own limited knowledge of science, and the truth of that proverb: ‘It is not good to have zeal without knowledge.’ [Proverbs 19:2]

After all that brain-bombardment and challenge I slunk into the garden for a little light relief. But the questions continued. How did we get such a huge range and diversity? ‘Creative genius’ rang in my head. Could it all be slow evolution? Is it the direct hands-on work of God? Or is it a combination? At least I know better than to talk loosely and superficially about ‘intelligent design’ now! And just wallowing in that glorious profusion of colour, and admiring the intricacy of each flower, lifted my spirits. I guess for me, none of it makes sense without God. We shall see what that lecturer says on 18 August.

Oh, before I forget, all you book bloggers out there, there’s to be another meet-up of like-minded souls on Saturday September 25th in Oxford. If you’re interested and want to be kept informed, contact simondavidthomas@yahoo.co.uk. Merely contacting him doesn’t commit you to anything.

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