Friday 24 December 2021

What say the augurers?


Boris: What say the augurers?

Professor Neil Ferguson: They would not have you to stir forth to-day. Plucking the entrails of an offering forth, they could not find a heart within the beast.

We think, of course, that science has rather progressed since the time of Julius Caesar. We no longer rely on priests to predict the future by means of studying the flight of birds or by slaughtering animals and rummaging around in their entrails. Science has triumphed over religion to the extent that the belief in the truth of Christianity is in inverse proportion to the amount of Christmas lights decorating the outside of a person’s home. We may still be culturally Christian, but few indeed believe the literal truth of the Christmas story. ln Hertford, Hereford and Hampshire miracles hardly ever happen.

Our lifestyle and the progress that has made our lives so much more pleasant and longer lasting than previous centuries is undoubtedly due to the scientific discoveries on which we rely without question. We don’t question the science of aeroplanes nor generally of medicine. We do not think that Television sets will send out dangerous rays that will kill us, nor on going to the doctor and being told to take these pills for a couple of weeks do we search the Internet to look up all the possible side effects. Scientists today are as respected as Caesar respected the augurs.

Some scientists have had an extremely good pandemic. Those doctors who devised new techniques to treat Covid have undoubtedly saved huge numbers of lives. Those scientists who created vaccines in record time have doubtless saved still more. Without them we would have been able to delay Covid by means of lockdown and social distancing, but eventually we would have had to face it without any protection at all. It would have killed far more of us.

But while these scientists have had a good pandemic, those who have attempted to predict the future by means of epidemiologic modelling have done no better and sometimes worse than those who attempted to tell Caesar what would happen by means of chicken entrails.

There are different sorts of science and our government has not done enough to distinguish between them. While we accept that economists have a certain expertise and that there are economic principles that are useful in understanding how economies work, we also recognise that economists cannot predict with certainty which stocks will rise tomorrow and which will fall. They cannot tell exactly on which date the stock market will crash nor indeed whether Brexit will be advantageous economically for Britain or disadvantageous.

The modelling that George Osborne and friends used to predict disaster if voters dared to vote to leave the EU turned out to be no more accurate than the modelling that Professor Neil Ferguson and the rest of the SAGE experts used to predict the various waves of Covid. Of course, they claim not to be predicting at all, which is a nice get out clause for augurs. If we tell you not to step forth Julius and you get murdered in your bed, don’t blame us. If modelling doesn’t predict the future, why is it used by government to inform policy any more than chicken entrails?

It is clear by now that the epidemiologic modellers have very limited power to predict what will happen with Covid. Sometimes they have said if you open up Covid will rise and lots of people will die, but the opposite occurs. At this point the scientific method ought to discard this method of attempting to explain the world. But it doesn’t. SAGE is still full of such modellers. They still publish respected articles in prestigious journals. Government still listens and the public is expected to obey.

The problem in universities at the moment is that large numbers of academics are teaching nonsense. Men can become women. Critical race theory. Culloden has an important connection to slavery. All of these experts are held up by each other. They peer review each other’s papers. No one dares point out the lack of clothing on the emperor. It is as if we are caught in the age of phrenology. Will the future look at us and laugh that we could have believed such things?

There is a limit to human knowledge. We cannot predict the future. No one guessed that in March 2020 we would have Lockdown and a pandemic that would last into 2022. Even in January and February of that year we were still going on holiday and reading reports of an illness in China with minimal concern. The modellers of SAGE did not tell us to close the borders weeks before Lockdown. They initially told us that masks were useless and then without any real experimental evidence they told us we must wear them. They told us to wash our hands, but later pointed out that Covid was air borne.  

It is not that these people are charlatans. But they do think that they know more than they do. If there is one fault with scientists it is their certainty that science is the only way to arrive at truth and that no truth can hide from science. It is this that turned Christmas into the gaudy spectacle of lights and trees and excess consumption.

The Archbishop of Canterbury knows that he lives in a secular country, for which reason he comes across as bossy little Lib Dem councillor. Jesus would not have needed a vaccine, because if he caught Covid he could have cured himself just as he cured a man with leprosy and if he had died it would not have mattered because he would have risen again on the third day.

The Christmas story approaches the limit of our understanding, because it deals with miracles. Everything that is important about Christianity is miraculous. A virgin birth. Water turns into wine. Some loaves and fishes feed five thousand. God becomes man, dies and rises again. Without the miracles you have nothing and you certainly wouldn’t be celebrating it two thousand years later. Odd then that we do. The Church rather hides the miraculous in favour of the left-wing lectures and wonders why it declines.

But we reach the limit of our understanding every day when we face the future. None of us know what will happen with Covid next year. It will I think fizzle out into milder versions until it is just like every other coronavirus floating around. But I don’t know that. There might be a new more deadly variant that kills every animal except amoebas. The Greens would naturally be delighted as the planet would be saved from the fossil fuel burners. But saved for whom?

We face the limit of our understanding each moment when we choose and exercise our free will and when we sense ourselves as not being material objects, but rather something quite different. When we judge an action to be moral or immoral, we likewise implicitly think of it as free and not caused by a sequence of material causes. But each choice then becomes a minor miracle for science cannot really explain it. Science only deals with the physical and every cause is mechanistic. For which reason it never quite grasps humanity.

Ceasar’s augurs were right. He should not have stepped forth that day. He should have stayed in Lockdown. But they didn’t really know what was going to happen and nor does Professor Ferguson. Human beings are not to be corralled by Ferguson’s models, because we are free and each of us is miraculous. Science can no more grasp the miracle in each of us than it can predict with certainty how people will react to a mutant variant and how many of them will get sick.

Human beings are complex, free moral beings. We are not determined and we will resist those who try to control us. We face the limits of our understanding each moment for none of us can guess what will happen tomorrow let alone next year. Covid reminded us of this. It’s why we need faith and hope to face that future.

That is the message of Christmas. It is a message that we have lost somewhere amongst the paper wrapping and the tinsel. Look inside and you will find something miraculous that you might just have overlooked. It is the eternal in time.

Have a very Happy Christmas and let us all hope for better times ahead.