01 February 2007

Cultural loss

Talking to a young student today, in a one to one tutorial, discussion of three body mechanics somehow elided into comparison of the (lunar) Islamic calendar system and the (solar) Christian one.

She, although devout Moslem, doesn't keep track of the Islamic calendar and thinks of it as unpredictable; she was also surprised to hear me describe the Common Era calendar which she habitually uses as Christian, and equally surprised to find that there is a set pattern of relationships between it and her own cycle of festivals and observances.

I suspect that most of my nominally Christian students wouldn't have much idea of how the Common Era calendar evolved either - and that strikes me as both a cultural and scientific loss. If we don't know why we do things as we do, how can we critically evaluate them?

I know that I am again setting myself up as an Aunt Sally for the more fundmentalist among my fellow atheists to throw turnips at, but it saddens me to see the historical and cultural roots of our current lives lost. I am a nonbeliever, I hold no brief for religion and will shed no personal tears if it really does fade away as both Lenin and Dawkins predict, but I'd hate to see the baby thrown out with the bath water.

Much that we are is only to be explained by that which we once were ... and much of our language (especially for wonder) derives from religious beliefs, too.

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