Posts Tagged ‘Alchemy’

Belfield Attacks Gemma Collins for Guzzling £700 Gold-Wrapped Steak

September 29, 2021

I’ve put up several pieces on this blog commenting on, and occasionally reblogging, videos from mad right-wing YouTuber Alex Belfield. I don’t share his right-wing political opinions, but he’s interesting for what he says about the attitudes of a certain type of working class Conservative. And occasionally he does say something worthwhile that people across the political spectrum can agree on. This morning he put up a video attacking Gemma Collins for eating a £700 steak in a very expensive London restaurant. Belfield states that the steak itself couldn’t have cost more than £50, and quotes the prices of steak available from your average supermarket that are much, much lower at about a tenth of that. He finds this kind of very ostentatious, massively expensive consumption on overpriced luxuries obscene when large numbers of Brits can only get their meals at food banks and those that aren’t are worried about how they’re going to pay for their next meal.

He also describes another similar obscene display of wealth when a group of Japanese businessmen came in to a restaurant and ordered £1,000 bottles of wine. Of which they only drank one glass before leaving. The restauranteur was not impressed by what Belfield describes, rather vulgarly, as ‘willy-waggling’ and so gathered he staff and treated them to the expensive steaks and wine the Japanese had left behind untouched.

Unfortunately, I can’t say I’m particularly surprised by these crass, offensive displays of wealth. I read a book on Japan years ago by a former Times journalist, who remarked that as many Japanese had become millionaires, they’d overtaken the Americans for vulgar displays of wealth. One example of this is a Japanese department store which served, for the equivalent of $100, tea containing gold flakes. This could be drunk in a special room set aside where the drinker could contemplate a print of Van Gogh’s ‘The Sunflowers.’ Then there’s the brand of Swizz vodka, Goldberg, which also contains gold flakes. In the case of the Japanese tea, I suspect there’s an influence there from Chinese alchemy. This differed from the western type in being focused on the quest for immortality. Chinese alchemists believed that this could be achieved by replacing the perishables materials of the human body with imperishable matter, and so slowly poisoned their clients by getting them to eat gold, pearls and so on. On the other hand, it could just be a display of tasteless vulgarity.

Of course, there are other ways in which the people Private Eye once described as the ‘futile rich’ flaunt their wealth in front of the poor. Grossly overpriced clothes has always been one favourite, like the £7,000 leather trousers Tweezer sported when she had her rear end in 10 Downing Street. And modern celebrity culture, unfortunately, is characterised by a very materialist attitude in which actors, sportsmen and pop stars frequently engage in tasteless demonstrations of their wealth. You think of all the jewellery sported by a certain type of pop star with the dollar sign, for example.

Gemma Collins and a number of other celebs is a frequent target of Belfield’s, along with Carol Vorderman, Katie Price and Marcus Rashford, amongst others. Some of these attacks seem based on little more than personal dislike. Others, such as his attacks on Diane Abbott, seem rather more for political reasons. But there’s a serious point behind his video on Collins and the gold-wrapped steak. Such displays of very conspicuous wealth are obscene and offensive when people are poor and starving, and always have been. It’s how revolutions start. The guzzling of such food and drink recalls Marie Antoinette’s inflammatory comment during the French Revolution. When told the starving masses had no bread, she supposedly said, ‘Let them eat cake’. The result of this contempt for the poor was the overthrow of the monarchy and the massacre of the aristocracy as enemies of the people.

Despite the right’s attempt to monopolise politics and discredit the left, some writers and academics are very much afraid that the increasing gulf between rich and poor will provoke an uprising. Watch out! When people are starving and desperate, eating £700 steaks is the kind of behaviour that will have the peasants picking up their pitchforks and the tumbrils once again rolling down the streets on the way to the guillotine.

Antique Technology in the Science Museum: Samuel Moreland’s Calculator

July 15, 2017

Looking through one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham yesterday, I found a copy of the Souvenir Guide to the Science Museum. This was a photographic guide to some of the Museum’s exhibits, which include Islamic alchemical apparatus, an iron lung, the wright flier, and a BBC television receiver from the 1920s among many, many others.

One of the early pieces of scientific equipment is a mechanical calculator constructed by the English inventor, Samuel Morland in 1666.

The guide explains

French mathematician Blaise Pascal made the first working mechanical calculator in 1642, and several mathematicians and inventors attempted to emulate or improve on his design. Morland’s device, shown here, could add, multiply and divide; the wheels were operated by a steel pin that was stored in the slot in the machine’s lid. Morland also invented a megaphone – or, as he called it, the ‘Tuba Stentorphonica’ and a water pump for spraying water to put out fires. (p. 40).

The Science Museum is, of course, also the home of the most famous of the historic calculating machines, Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine, which has been hailed as the world’s first programmable computer. It was also the central theme of Bruce Sterling’s and William Gibson’s Steampunk SF novel, The Difference Engine, which imagined an alternative 19th century, in which the Difference Engine had been built and ushered in a steam-powered information age in a Britain governed by a scientific elite under the premiership of Lord Byron.

It seems to me that Babbage’s machine was the culmination of a long process of invention, where mathematicians, scientists and engineers designed and constructed mechanical calculating machines. Pascal’s was the first of these. But I think the ultimate idea actually goes back to the 14th century Spanish poet and mystic, Ramon Llul. Alan Chapman, the astronomer and Christian apologist, says in his book, Slaying the Dragons, that Llul attempted to show that God’s existence was encoded in the structure of mathematics itself, and that this inspired a number of later writers to design calculating machines.

Robert Boyle, Atheism and Christians in Science

May 8, 2013

Robert Boyle was one of the founder of modern experimental science in the 17th century. His book, the Sceptical Chymist, broke with medieval alchemy to lay the foundations for modern chemistry. Unlike previous, Aristotelian Natural Philosophers, Boyle believed that the universe was composed of atoms. This theory was viewed with great suspicion in the 16th and 17th centuries, as it had originated with the ancient Epicureans. These considered that the universe had been created by chance without the intervention by the gods, although they did not deny their existence completely. It was thus considered an atheist doctrine. Boyle himself was deeply religious, and bequeathed a legacy to set up a series of annual lectures arguing for and promoting Christianity. He also attempted to argue for Christianity and the compatibility of the Christian faith with the new science in his book, The Christian Virtuoso. Many of the arguments he advanced there are still valid today.

In the book’s preface, Boyle states that

‘I could scarce avoid taking notice of the great and deplorable growth of irreligion, especially among those, that aspired to pass for wits, and several of them too for philosophers. And on the other side it was obvious, that diverse learned men, as well as others, partly upon the score of their abhorrence of these infidels and libertines, and partly upon that of a well-meaning but ill-formed zeal, had brought many good men to think, that religon and philosophy were incompatible; both parties contributing to the vulgar error, but with this difference, that the libertines thought a virguoso ought not be a Christian, and the others, that he could not be a true one’.

He then argued that, whilst some atheists used science to oppose religion and Christianity, truly devout people would find in science even greater reasons to believe and praise the Lord:

‘And I deny not, but that, if the knowledge of nature falls into the hands of a resolved atheist, or a sensual libertine, he may misemploy it to oppugn the grounds, or discredit the practice of religion. But it will far much otherwise, if a deep insight into nature be acquired by a man of probity and ingenuity, or at least free from prejudices and vices, that may indispose him to entertain and improve those truths of philosophy, that would naturally lead him to sentiments of religion. For, if a person thus qualified in his morals, and thereby disposed to make use of of the knowledge of the creatures to confirm his belief, and increase his veneration of the Creator (and such a person I here again advertise you, and desire you would not forget it, I suppose the virtuoso, this papers is concerned in, to be) shall make a great progress in real philosophy; I am persuaded, that nature will be found very loyal to her author; and instead of alienating his mind from making religious acknowledgements, will furnish him with weighty and uncommon motives, to conclude, such sentiments to be rational and just’.

Boyle then goes on to quote the founder of the experimental method, Francis Bacon, whom he acclaims as the ‘first and greatest experimental philosopher of our age’

‘that God never wrought a miracle to convince atheists; because in his visible works he had placed enough to do it, if they were not wanting to themselves’.

Boyle himself was not impressed either by contemporary atheists’ grasp of the new science, or their arguments in favour of atheism. He states

‘I must own to you, that I do not think there are so many speculative atheists, as men are wont to imagine. And though my conversation has been pretty free and general among naturalists, yet I have met with so few true atheists, that I am very apt to think, that men’s want of due information, or their uncharitable zeal, has made them mistake or misrepresent many for deniers of God, that are thought such, chiefly because they take uncommon methods in in studying his works, and have other sentiments of them, than those of vulgar philosophers. And in the next place I must tell you, that having through the goodness of God, chosen my religion, not inconsiderately but upon mature deliberation, I do not find those virtuosi, you call atheists, such formidable adversaries, as those that are afraid to hear them do, by that apprehension, appear to think them. And indeed I have observed the physical arguments of the atheists to be but very few, and those far enough from being unanswerable.’

These arguments still apply today. From the statements made by very vociferous atheist scientists like Dawkins and Steven Weinberg, you could be mistaken for believing that all scientists were atheists, and indeed true scientists could only be atheists. Yet a Gallup poll made nearly a decade or so ago recorded that the proportion of religious and atheist scientists had not changed since the poll was first made a hundred years previously. Even then the number of theist scientists had surprised the researchers, who had confidently expected all the scientists to be atheists. Now the religious scientists are not in the majority, but they still form a sizable number equal to the number of atheists in science. There is a group, Christians in Science. James Hallam, the Roman Catholic historian of science who blogs as ‘Bede’ in Bede’s Library and the Adlibitum website, was an atheist until he studied physics and university and found just how unlikely it is that the cosmos does exist by chance. It can astonish you just how scientifically active and accomplished some of these religious scientists are. Yet you mostly don’t hear about them, because they’re mostly just interested in doing science, rather than using it like Dawkins and co. to promote atheism. So it’s important to bear Robert Boyle’s comments in mind the next time Dawkins or the comedian Robin Ince try claiming science for atheism.

Source:

Robert Boyle, The Christian Virtuoso, in D.C. Goodman, ed., Science and Religious Belief 1600-1900: Selection of Primary Sources (Dorchester: John Wright and Sons/ The Open University 1973) 119-29.