Friday 23 May 2008

Thought for the Day: Time to retire this tired old format

Thought for the Day is a regular three-minute spot on the BBC's premier morning news radio show, Today, and has been for as long as I can remember. Despite its seeming permanence, it is misnamed - it should be called Religious Thought for the Day.

This morning's Thought, for example, was from Abdal Hakim Murad, Muslim Chaplain at the University of Cambridge. (The BBC seems keen to give a platform to various faiths, but not to anyone of no faith.) The Chaplain's Thought was an irrelevant musing on whether or not students should be allowed to take performance-enhancing drugs before examinations. This could be an interesting ethical question, but here it was inevitably mired in muddled thinking and unwarranted assumptions.

Listen for yourself on the BBC's listen again service:

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...or get the mp3 version via podcast:

(The script of this Thought is not yet available, but I'll post an update when it is, along with my comments.)

UPDATE, 2008-05-27:

The text of Friday's Thought for the Day is now available here:

Here are a few excerpts:
Those who work in schools or universities know, as one of the privileges of their vocation, the moving splendour of the unfolding of human intelligence, surely the greatest sign of God.
Surely not. The unfolding of human intelligence (or its moving splendour) can signify various things, but there's no evidence that God is one of them.
In our world of matter, there is the miracle of consciousness.
This assumes that consciousness is something that cannot be produced by matter alone. It's a philosophical point that has not been shown to be true.
Are we, in our pharmaceutically unmodified state, as God intends us to be?
Whether modified or not, the assumption that our state is somehow the subject of the intention of a supernatural power, is unwarranted.
So if the brain exists to understand and cultivate God's earth, and to work out the existence and nature of God, what could be wrong with improving it by artificial means?
The operative word is the second one in the above quote - if. But there's no evidence that the brain exists to do anything of the sort. The speaker is imputing teleology where none exists. The brain is the way it is because it has evolved that way, and evolutionary pressures are not intentional.
...we can stimulate intelligence, but we cannot produce it; it will always remain a miracle, to be used reverently and responsibly.
I'm in favour of using intelligence responsibly, and even of stimulating it, but to suggest that we cannot produce intelligence and never will, is to malign countless researchers who are endeavouring to achieve this very thing. Maybe they should all give up now and spend their time more fruitfully - counting angels on a pinhead, maybe?

Incidentally, while searching for an alternative source for the text of this Thought, I came across Platitude of the Day, a site devoted to parodies of Thought for the Day. You can find the the entry relevant to Friday's broadcast here: