Thursday, September 16, 2010
Is God a Diagnostic Molecular Imager?
Well, He, She or It seems to be a prevailing theme for many of these blogs. God. Does He, She, It exist? How do we know? Does the knowledge liberate us or further constrain our paltry attempts to be free agents beyond the scheme of an all-seeing Fate? It’s a good week for God doubters. As I write, the Pope is trundling around ‘secular Britain’ in his Popemobile just as described in my last blog. As he passes by, the crowd is hysterical with the adulation accorded to pop stars. Would the sound of their screams and supplications, their raptured eyes and offerings up of babies for him to bless be any different if another Messiah, say Elvis, was risen from the dead and equally enbubbled in his glass topped car? I doubt it. In fact all the tickets would have been sold. But, as in Julius Caesar, I come to bury God, not to praise him.
By that I mean, bury the memory of a rather bizarre event the other day. Being an academic of sorts, as you can see from the CV on the website, I like to go to lectures in other disciplines. Why? Well, rather like Thomas Kuhn or a 19th Century rennaissance man, there is a certain pleasure in seeing that science, that flagbearer of the objectively focused, has common themes and structures that appear everywhere and follow the fads and fashions of the philosophy of the day. So, anyway, I went to a symposium in a medical department of a university here in Accra. It was on the treatment of osteoporosis. It turned out to be less a forensic account of the condition and its effects (there is no epidemiological data on it, in Ghana) but more a chance for Roche, the pharmaceutical conglomerate, to sell a drug and an independent entrepreneur to advertise his mobile machine for diagnosing the disease in the first place.
I have no wish to demean the individuals selling the treatment and the diagnostic machine: everyone seeks to survive here in Ghana, but I wanted to recount a couple of incidents during the event that brought God and Science together in my head; an unhappy conjunction. The screen saver on the inevitable power point presentation had three nails that appeared (I have no idea if this was so) like bloody iron impalers. The text said, Tougher than nails!” I DID think of Christ when I saw them, despite myself. When the session eventually got started (attendees at any event in Ghana arrive an hour or more late for sessions) the MC, running the programme, asked us all to pray, with the phrase, “Christ take control of this meeting…” I didn’t genuflect, feeling outraged as an agnostic and a fellow traveller of Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs and the rest, not to mention Dawkins and his irreverential ilk. When the event came to its end, the same MC thanked God for overseeing it and prayed that Roche Pharmaceuticals would enjoy great success in its business.
I am sure that Roche is very happy to have Dylan’s anthem, “With God on our side”, playing in all its lifts in Switzerland, the US or wherever.” Maybe the Pope has it playing in his “look but don’t touch” motorcar. But, to be frank, I don’t want God on my side. Call me perverse if you like but I’d rather have the same equanimity at facing eternal darkness as our dog, Juno, who died on Sunday aged 10 years. He came to say goodbye to me and my partner, separately. Then he walked unsteadily down to a patch of earth beneath a bank of bougainvillea and died. His eyes were open, taking a last long look at the world he was leaving.