Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Sixth Form Centre: Summer Term Begins

by Tony Hicks


What Is Shakespeare's Greatest Play: Part II

To mark William Shakespeare's 450th birthday (generally believed to be April 23rd), Portsmouth Point blog asked PGS staff to tell us their favourite (and least favourite) Shakespeare plays, favourite characters and favourite productions. Here are responses from Mr Richardson, Mrs Godfree and Mr Burkinshaw.

See selections by Ms Burden, Mrs Walsh and Mr Lister here.

Mr Richardson

Tom Hollander and Adrian Lester in
Cheek By Jowl's production of As You Like It

What is your favourite Shakespeare play and why?
It’s a bit of a cliché, but King Lear was one of the first plays I ever encountered by WS, and its sustained bleakness, its humour and its sheer power make it in a league of its own.

What is your least favourite Shakespeare play and why?
Cymbeline has been the least favourite of mine in terms of seeing productions, but The Merchant of Venice is a play I have taught on many occasions and am now truly out of love with: defending its racism makes one take very contorted positions, and I would prefer not to any longer.

Who is the greatest Shakespeare character and why?
Ah! Tricky! I have a soft spot for the bear in The Winter’s Tale: he turns a relentless tragedy into a comedy, and has never got a kind word from anyone for his pains.

Who is the greatest Shakespeare villain and why?
Well, arguably that bear, too. Edmund in King Lear is consistently and unapologetically villainous, so perhaps worth a vote here.

Which Shakespearean character would you be most likely to fall in love with and why?
None. For me they are not those sort of plays: the women are rarely lovable, and the men are rarely admirable. Perhaps Yorick in Hamlet: Hamlet remembered him fondly (if very belatedly).

What is the best production of a Shakespeare play that you have seen and why (theatre, film or both - choose as many examples as you wish)?
I saw Ian McKellan and Judi Dench in Macbeth in the seventies somewhere, which was thrilling, but I think they were having a bit of an off day. The best has to be the Cheek by Jowl production of As You Like It: an all-male cast with a black actor (Adrian Lester) playing Rosalind, it made the whole play a real experience and an utter delight.

Mrs Godfree

Laurence Olivier's film version of Henry V (1944)

What is the best production of a Shakespeare play that you have seen and why (theatre, film or both - choose as many examples as you wish)?
The first Shakespeare play I saw was Laurence Olivier’s film of Henry V, in the mid-1960s  – I was 14. I just loved it - it was a huge emotional experience – the swoop down from the skies above London into the Globe Theatre, and then the magic expansion of the theatre into the ‘real’ world … with wonderful sets like the background of an illuminated manuscript. Depths of touching pathos as well as humour from the comic characters, and a very sexy courtship scene – Olivier was so handsome! I admired him too in Othello, with a wonderfully malign Frank Finlay as Iago, although Othello’s blacked-up makeup rubbed off on Desdemona as he killed her. 

By contrast, a recent and powerful version of Othello, set in barracks rooms in Cyprus, with Rory Kinnear as Iago and Adrian Lester as Othello, and streamed live into Vue from the National Theatre. Mrs Gillies left the theatre in tears – I could see why, or feel it rather – the murder scene was painfully protracted and realistic, and was a brutal culmination to Iago’s slow tightening of the noose on Othello as the play progresses. 

I have also recently loved the rather cut-down version of As You Like it, directed by Kenneth Branagh, set in nineteenth century Japan – absolutely beautiful landscapes, and the directorial decisions made me go back to the original play again.
Finally, playing Goneril in a very downsized version of King Lear for schools, during my PGCE year, gave me a true feel for how Shakespeare’s mastery of iambic pentameter enables the emotional flow of the scene to take its course. You just have to allow the metre to create the inflections, and the sense looks after itself. Lear offers us such a bleak vision of life – it’s almost too painful to watch, when done really well.

Mr Burkinshaw

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Photography: Ypres & Brugge

by Ruth Richmond

Match the Teacher to the Book Selection Competition 2014 - The Answers

by Laura Burden

To mark World Book Day (March 6th), pupils were invited to match teachers with their favourite books. Read the original article here
There were eight correct answers and the winner, pulled out of a hat, was Robert Bendell - who received his chocolates in the Sixth Form Assembly earlier today. Thank you to all those pupils (and staff) who took part in the competition.

Teacher’s Name
A Feet in the Clouds, The Canon: The Beautiful Basics of Science and A Clockwork Orange
Mr Williamson
B The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Three Cups of Tea and El Razon de mi Vida
Mrs Casillas-Cross
CThe Secret Agent, Moby Dick and The Long Good-Bye
Mr Burkinshaw
D Wuthering Heights, Great Expectations and Murder on the Orient Express
Dr Richmond
EOwen Glendower, If This is a Man and “The Speckled Band” (Sherlock Holmes story)
Mr Priory
FMy Uncle Oswald, Any Human Heart and Evening in the Palace of Reason
Mr Charles
GExcalibur, The End of the Affair and Gone with the Wind
Miss Rickard
H – On the Black Hill, Middlemarch and To The River
Ms Burden

Monday, 28 April 2014

What Is Shakespeare's Greatest Play?

To mark William Shakespeare's 450th birthday (generally believed to be April 23rd), Portsmouth Point blog asked PGS staff to tell us their favourite (and least favourite) Shakespeare plays, favourite characters and favourite productions. Here are responses from Ms Burden, Mrs Walsh and Mr Lister.

Ms Burden

Twelfth Night (directed by Trevor Nunn)

What is your favourite Shakespeare play and why?
When I was a Sixth Former I adored Hamlet; in my twenties I loved Twelfth Night. Now, to teach I prefer Othello but my favourite plays away from the classroom are Measure for Measure and The Winter’s Tale. The latter is the consummate tale of redemption and renewal. In addition to the plays, I enjoy the poetry, particularly The Rape of Lucrece.

What is your least favourite Shakespeare play and why?
This may seem odd considering that I like The Winter’s Tale, but I’ve never really engaged with Cymbeline. Perhaps it’s a case of the complexities of the plot obscuring characterisation.

Who is the greatest Shakespeare character and why?
I’m going to turn this one into pair of characters – Beatrice and Benedick: the ultimate romantic duo, whose repartee and movement from hatred to love presages Austen’s novels in so many ways.

Who is the greatest Shakespeare villain and why? (unless this is also your answer to question 3)?
Although I’m tempted to say Richard III, how can Shakespeare’s greatest villain be anyone other than Iago in Othello? Coleridge famously called one of his soliloquies “the motive hunting of a motiveless malignancy” and it’s a memorable phrase because it is so apt: Iago puts forward a number of reasons for destroying Othello and Desdemona but none is satisfactory. At the end, his silence suggests that he is unable to justify his actions even to himself.

Which Shakespearean character would you be most likely to fall in love with and why?
Someone wholly dependable if slightly dull such as Horatio –  a character who isn’t self-obsessed, constantly away at war or who has the propensity to murder me in my bed.

What is the best production of a Shakespeare play that you have seen and why (theatre, film or both - choose as many examples as you wish)?
My favourite Shakespeare film is Trevor Nunn’s version of Twelfth Night: the nineteenth century setting enhances our sense of class difference and music is key to the production. Over the years I have seen many excellent productions but the most unexpected was The Taming of the Shrew in Washington DC a few years ago – I went in unsure what to expect but it was the most entertaining version I’d seen of what today can be a challenging play.

Mrs Walsh

The Tempest: Roger Allam as Prospero and Colin Morgan as Ariel (Globe Theatre)

What is your favourite Shakespeare play and why?
Anthony and Cleopatra – because Shakespeare gives equal billing to both eponymous characters.  The strength and weaknesses of both Anthony and Cleopatra are explored showing how they were trapped by the expectations placed upon them by societies of the East and West. 

What is your least favourite Shakespeare play and why?
I’ll have to pick one I’ve never read, listened to or seen performed, so, randomly, Winter’s Tale

Who is the greatest Shakespeare character and why?
Imogen (Cymbeline) as she is honest, virtuous and maintains her dignity throughout.

Who is the greatest Shakespeare villain and why?
Cloten (Cymbeline) because he is arrogant and evil planning to rape and murder Imogen. Iago (Othello) because he is an evil, manipulative and jealous character who double crosses everyone. 
Which Shakespearean character would you be most likely to fall in love with and why?
Benedick (Much Ado About Nothing) because he is witty, noble, handsome and not afraid of commitment!

What is the best production of a Shakespeare play that you have seen and why (theatre, film or both - choose as many examples as you wish)?
Much Ado About Nothing with David Tennant and Catherine Tate
Midsummer Night’s Dream – with only 3 actors! (performed at Port Solent) 
The Tempest with Roger Allam as Prospero and Colin Morgan as Ariel at Shakespeare’s Globe
Macbeth at Shakespeare’s Globe
Hamlet – Portsmouth Festivities 2013

Mr Lister

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Seven Signs of Spring

by Laura Burden

Golden Daffodils

Red-tailed bumblebee (worker)

Wood anenome



What Do You Want to Be When You're Older?

by Zoe Dukoff-Gordon


This question is one which has been floating around society for generations. I’m sure any child or student you speak to will have been asked this by parents, aunties, uncles, friends, teachers. I asked my five year old niece what she wanted to be and she replied ‘a ballerina’. Her six year old brother wants to be a footballer, my neighbour who is eleven wants to do something with horses and her fourteen year old sister wants to be an artist.
Yet once you get to sixteen or seventeen you have to start really thinking about it as you choose A levels, universities, university courses and start to think about your future career. Some people may consider certain areas or aspects to help them decide: what subjects they like, what interests them, whether they have a talent in that area.
However, in this day and age, other things people start to consider are money and competition. We hear people saying, particularly in school, ‘I’d like to be an actor but it’s very competitive’ or ‘I’m interested in childcare but it doesn’t pay well’.
But what if money didn’t matter? What would you really like to do?

Friday, 25 April 2014

Everyday Sexism

by Sophie Parekh

Sexism: prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex!
(I thought I’d include the definition of sexism so everyone is on the same page as to what constitutes sexism, albeit there will be some degree of personal opinion!) is a project started by Laura Bates, where women report offensive things said or done to them because of their gender - i.e. sexism in everyday situations. I read about it recently and decided to look it up properly. I don’t quite know what I was expecting, but some of the things reported were horrible. There’s a link above to the website and you can find them on twitter: @EverydaySexism.
And now, for my own opinion on this sensitive and intriguing subject:
Most people will roll their eyes irritably at the word ‘feminism,' expecting what some on the internet call ‘feminazis’ raving and ranting on about how females are constantly objectified by perverted men and ranting. This stereotype has given the whole field of feminism a bad name, including the word "feminist" itself (albeit their opinions are entirely valid). Now, I would consider myself a feminist because I support “the advocacy of women's rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes" - which, funnily enough, is what ‘feminist’ means!
The reason I decided to write this article was because I have been watching the Indian Premier
League (if you don’t know what it is, its cricket). When they went ‘back to the studio’ there were two men slouched on a sofa in chinos and casual shirt with no tie and a woman perched on the edge of her sofa with 6 inch heels on, a rather busty dress and a lot of red lipstick. Funnily enough, the woman was merely presenting the section and the two men were the ‘experts’ (one of them had played the grand total of one test match for India). Why couldn’t they have some female experts?

Now, I don’t know about you, but to me that says that the woman was only there to keep the male audience interested. A classic example of women being valued for their looks alone. Another is: why isn’t it commonplace for men to shave their armpits? I don’t know, but its strange how women are compelled by the media and society to do so, even though they have less of it. Seems odd don’t you think? 

Sexism isn’t always obvious. Sometimes, it is the odd commentor action that could be offensive - for example, wolf-whistling or inappropriate gestures. Why would you wolf whistle? To show your appreciation? For what exactly? A women’s body? You may think it’s flattering, but, for that to be the case, you should ask her whether she thinks it’s flattering. You don’t knowanything about this girl and yet you think it’s OK to make a judgement based entirely on what she looks like? If you answered yes to the last question, you shouldn’t be allowed into society, but, then again, is it society’s fault that you think that in the first place? I mean, many women see this as
normal until they stop to think about it. This links back to what I said earlier about everyday sexism.

Just as people (quite rightly) take racism so seriously and equality between all races, they should do
this for gender as well. "We are no different, in a greater perspective, as, when given the opportunity,

men and women can both achieve the same things” (to quote Maisie Riddle). This really hits home
because, as my Dad constantly reminds me, racial equality still isn’t fully achieved. No matter how
many immigrants come to the UK and ‘take everyone’s job,' they still only get the manual labour
jobs, like plumbers and builders. And guess who get most of the high-ranking jobs like MPs and bank managers? Oh yeah, white males.

Its funny how this frankly prehistoric view on the running of a country is still being carried out. I’m not sayingthat women should take over all the high ranking jobs, but, if girls weren’t called ‘bossy’ and constantly told they were beautiful by their parents (this emphasises that girls are only
valued for the way they look, not how they act) from a young age, perhaps the system would be fairer. Females make up 50% of the population after all. Another thing people seem to forget is that WE ARE THE SAME DAMN SPECIES. It's not llamas and elephants here!

I think the reason that feminism is so rejected, is because the people who have to accept it are men. And they, rather stupidly, pretty much control planet Earth. It would involve them doing strenuous and exhausting tasks such as washing up *gasp* and cooking *faints*. It would involve them not
using breasts to sell things and not paying women a lot less than men. It seems so petty on the face of it but, once you are set in your ways, you become pretty stubborn, a fatal flaw in the human character!

CBGB: The Venue That Changed Rock

by Callum Cross

Hilly Kristal outside CBGB in the 1970s
I was watching a film called CBGB the other day, which tells the true story behind the beginning of punk rock and subsequent rock genres, this caught my attention so I did some back-reading and decided to write this short article.
In 1973, Hilly Kristal bought a rundown bar in New York's poor Bowery district with a view to making it a “Country, Bluegrass and Blues” club, hence the name CBGB. Although his initial plan didn’t go the road he thought it might, what a journey it took him on.

Over the 30+ years that CBGB was open it hosted 50,000 bands many of which you may or may not know. The remarkable thing about his club was that he would only allow artists with original music, to avoid the cost of royalties; this meant that a lot of new sounds were born in this small club.

Although his financial stability was poor at the best of times, Hilly’s club essentially gave birth to Punk in the early/mid 70s. In 1974 alone, the Ramones played 77 shows; the first one included 6 songs, the sum of which lasted no more than 17 minutes. Along with the Ramones, other popular punk acts like Blondie, Television, Patti Smith and Talking Heads all started playing in the first 2 years of CBGB’s existence. It was because of this club that punk gathered such a social hype and became what it did.
Inside CBGB
(source: New York Daily)
Along with the running of the club, the godfather of punk, as Kristal was known, also took on a few of the bands and became their managers, most notably The Dead Boys. Although Kristal himself was not a “punk”, he took them on and nearly bankrupted his club to get them a record deal. Unfortunately, after the second studio album the band imploded on itself which culminated with the severe hospitalization of their drummer and eventually the death of iconic punk front man Stiv Bators; still, they produced what is widely recognised as the first real punk song, "Sonic Reducer” (shown here as performed at CBGBs in 1977):

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Shakespeare: Four Hundred and Fifty Years On

by Laura Burden

It is, probably, the anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare. The son of a glover, he was baptised in Stratford-upon-Avon on 26th April 1564, and custom suggests he was born on St George’s Day four and a half centuries ago. It is certainly the anniversary of his death: Shakespeare died a wealthy man on 23rd April 1616, reaching “journey’s end” with his burial in the chancel of the same church he was christened in.
In his paean to Shakespeare at the start of the First Folio, Ben Jonson famously addressed the playwright’s memory in glowing terms, calling him “star of poets” and declaring that, “He was not of an age, but for all time!” One wonders how content Jonson would have been had he known that, today, he himself would often be defined in relation to the “Sweet Swan of Avon” who has become our national playwright and poet. Shakespeare’s language has imbued our own: when we come full circle, give the devil his due, vanish into thin air or declare the world to be our oyster, we are quoting “the Bard”. He is the only author named the National Curriculum to be compulsory in schools, and in 2013 our current Education Secretary, Michael Gove, announced that his work “would be at the heart of the new curriculum” – within two years, children in non-independent schools in years 7-9 will have to study two plays rather than just one. Stratford-upon-Avon is now a shrine for “bardolatry,” with nearly 6 million visitors a year coming just for the sake of proximity to the great man.

We know very little about Shakespeare: most biographies of him maximise the significance of the documents still in existence that refer to him – mostly legal papers– and explore his language and cultural context. Some today regard him to have been a learned man; his contemporaries, it seems, did not – Ben Jonson claimed he “hadst small Latin and less Greek” and Robert Greene, mocking Shakespeare’s capacity to coin new words or to manipulate old ones, called him “an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers”. Yet his plays range around botany, law, medicine, mythology and military affairs. He seems to have had some knowledge of Italian, yet in The Tempest has Prospero put into a boat and exile in Milan – a city that in the early seventeenth century was a two days’ journey from the sea – and in The Taming of the Shrew places a sailmaker in landlocked Bergamo. 2,035 words owe their first recorded use to him. Greene called him a “Johannes Factotum”, a “Jack of all trades”, implying that his work lacked originality. Yet his plays, the majority of which do re-tell or re-interpret older stories, demonstrate linguistic agility and illustrate that there is art in arranging as well as in creating plots.
Shakespeare has been claimed by all: right wing traditionalists, seeking to establish traditional English identity; the gay community; rebels and political agitators and Romantics. Susan Shapiro described him as, “the noblest feminist of them all.” Since April 2012, and finishing this month, The Globe theatre has performed all 37 plays in 37 different languages (including Maori, Swahili, Hindi and Argentine Spanish). From today, The Globe will tour Hamlet in almost every country in the world and in all seven continents. Four and a half centuries on, his appeal remains liquid, fluid.
Why Shakespeare? Why not Jonson, Marlowe or Webster? Why, after all this time, when many of the nuances of his prose and verse have been lost and when we know so little about the man, is he still venerated? Why is it to Shakespeare that authors such as Tom Stoppard and Toni Morrison still turn to for inspiration for their own dramatic works? Why is it Shakespeare actors such as Helen Mirren, Lenny Henry and Maggie Smith appeared on television today to discuss?

Monday, 21 April 2014

Short Story: The In-between Place

by Fenella Johnson

When the woman came to, her throat was warm and sticky.
“Welcome. “said the demon.
She knew it was a demon; it could have been nothing else. It was dark in the strange place she was, darker than anything-even the stars which dribbled across the sky provided no light. The most she could see of the demon was the blue black smear of its body and its mouth, a toothy gash on a crumbled face.
“Where am I?” She asked voice as thin and blonde as she was. It only merely smiled-if you could call it that.
“I suggest you sit down. “remarked the demon.
She turned, following his hand which pointed to the table that had suddenly formed from the shadows which slivered and screamed in the corners of the place. On the table there was a light. From the faint glare it gave, she could see that the place where she stood stretched for milesuntil it reached the dark sky. The horizon was smudged. She obeyed its orders and sat on one of the chairs around the table.
“The place where you are is both neither here nor there. It simply exists .It is called the In-between Place. They will tell you it is all a confused dream, that it is a story. But only fools ignore stories. It is as real as you or me. “The demon told her.” You will visit me every Wednesday.”
“Wednesday? “ squeaked the woman. ”I mean, that’s when I do accounts. Perhaps another day?”
The demon laughed-a bark of coarse cold sound. ”I don’t think it matters what you can and can’t do. You will visit me every Wednesday, like every woman of your blood-line has since time first found itself on a calendar, and you will do so until you die.”
“What will I do? “She asked.
“You will help me.” it told her. “We will sort out the souls that go to heaven and hell.” It gestured towards the shadows. They had become illuminated, bodies turned towards the light, writhing and shrieking. Their faces were the most terribly beautiful thing she ever saw.
So the woman came every Wednesday .She came until the skin on her face had caved into craters. She came until she could hardly see out of sunken bleary blue eyes. She came until she too was old and her body was like paper, the blue veins visible on the surface. And when the women died she came to in a place that was darker, darker than anything. And in the corner was her daughter. She knew her cue.

“Welcome. “said the woman.
“Where am I?” asked her daughter.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Easter Sunday Gospel Hour: Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers

by James Burkinshaw

Sam Cooke
Almost every great soul singer of the Sixties, from Marvin Gaye to Aretha Franklin, was influenced by  Sam Cooke. Legendary record producer Jerry Wexler described him as "the best singer who ever lived, no contest. He had control, he could play with his voice like an instrument. Everything about him was perfection."

Despite his extraordinary success as a soul singer, Sam Cooke's style was rooted in gospel. The son of an itinerant preacher, he was so gifted that the most popular gospel group in America, the Soul Stirrers, hired him as lead tenor aged only nineteen.

The singer he replaced was his musical hero, Rebert Harris, one of the great gospel innovators:"I was the first to sing delayed time. I'd be singing half the time the group sang, not quite out of metre, but enough askew to create irresistible syncopations". Harris pioneered the technique of a strong lead singer alternating with a second lead to create a sweeping sense of uplift, illustrated here by baritone R B Robinson and tenor Sam Cooke on Come and Go To That Land:

From the moment he joined the Soul Stirrers, Sam Cooke's effect on gospel music was transformative. Cooke built on Harris' innovations to develop his own unique, melismatic style, displaying an awe-inspiring range from searing falsetto to vibrant growl, heard being used to particularly evocative effect in Must Jesus Bear The Cross Alone?

In 1957, Cooke was (as Peter Guralnick notes) "the first of the big gospel stars to cross over (to secular soul music) . . . However, his singing remained imbued with "the same lilting, swinging, soulful (if restrained) manner that had imparted such a unique quality to the gospel sides," what fellow soul singer, Jackie Wilson described as "that real fervent approach." This gospel fervour can be heard in Cooke's soul classic hit Bring It On Home, with its yearning intensity and the potency of the call-and-response vocals between Sam Cooke and Lou Rawls:

Friday, 18 April 2014

From the Archives: Gabriel Garcia Marquez is Leaving Us

Yesterday, one of the world's greatest writers, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, died, aged 87. His novels included: One Hundred Years of Solitude, Love in the Time of Cholera and Chronicle of a Death Foretold. To mark his passing, we re-publish this tribute by Liliana Nogueira-Pache, originally published on 9th July, 2012, when it was announced that the author was suffering from dementia:

Gabriel García Márquez is leaving us. Perhaps the moment to return to Macondo has come, where Grandma Tranquilina is waiting in her house full of ghosts and other grotesque creatures. And, as always, the Colonel, Grandpa, will tell you to ignore it, “Don’t listen to that. Those are women’s beliefs”.
Gabo, as his friends know him, is forgetting real things, a consequence, his brother tells us, of the chemotherapy he received to treat lymphatic cancer. It seems to me that he might think that reality doesn’t hold much interest for him, that it/reality has been doing the rounds for a long time, so he has decided to pay a visit to Macondo. There, where the sense of humour of the inhabitants is as intact as it was almost sixty years ago when a storm of dead leaves regurgitated Macondo within Macondo.

The magic of the words that are woven in the many labyrinths of our reasoning are diluted in that Other that is the injustice/ mischief of our memory. The voyage to the past that has given us so many stories, to reconstruct that familiar Macondo where Santiago Nasar was destined to die, and although everybody knows it, nobody believes it. Where Eréndira could escape from the heartless, corpulent grandmother with her Ulysses and where the Buendia family would live the hundred years of solitude of their existence condemned to the plague of their insomnia and plague of their obscurity caused by that restlessness.
That terrible plague attacks us now, and not only in Macondo, and it seems all the more cruel when it feeds off those who conjure with words as their calling. That conjuring that has led us into so many fantastic worlds. Memory, that cunning magician that plays with amnesia and with portents can never, however, take away from us the prodigious inventiveness of the many characters that have installed themselves in our memory. Nor will it rob us of those days spent among acrobats, soothsayers, determined and romantic lovers, or those who remain proud and dignified until the end.
And who knows whether Malquiades will return again from the dead to deliver the potion that will rekindle memory in Macondo.

Is the idea of a Biblical God compatible with the existence of evil and suffering?

by Zoe Dukoff-Gordon

Crucifixion by Mathis Grunewald, 1508
The main issue concerning evil and suffering in the world is the contradictions with God’s qualities. God is supposedly omnipotent and omniscient, however evil and suffering exist. This creates an inconsistent triad: the amount of evil in the world appears to challenge the goodness of creation. Thus certain theodicies have been created: an explanation, used by religious believers, of how a belief in a good, omnipotent God can be maintained in our world of Evil and Suffering.

One famous theodicy was that of Irenaeus. He didn’t attempt to show that evil and suffering do not exist, he argued that it had been deliberately created with the goodness in the world. He believes that God allowed evil to continue, so that we could develop and grow as humans to have a mature and free relationship with God. Evil allows us to appreciate the goodness. He believed that we have to have evil in the world so we can develop as individuals. If it all went our way, we’d never learn anything as we grow from our mistakes. He started his ‘theory of recapitulation,’ this idea that we should bring something back to the beginning and bring people back into a relationship with God.

Irenaeus uses Genesis 1:26 ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeliness,’ to demonstrate that we are here to develop our own soul. Creation is not yet finished. He believed that we have been made in the image of God with the potential to be like God. Irenaeus said that God has given human beings free will and that this free will entailed the potential for evil. This is moral evil and choosing to do the right thing implies a decision to avoid doing an immoral act. He believed that God giving us free will was better than receiving ready-made goodness. To back up his point he used the example of a mother not being able to give her child ‘substantial nourishment.’ In other words, just as a young infant cannot take solid foods and so is given milk as they are immature, humans could not receive fully formed goodness as they were spiritually immature and so are given free will to develop their own goodness. This is echoed in the notion that we are made in the image of God- with the potential for Good and moving towards to likeliness of God (becoming good.) Irenaeus believed that the gift of moral perfection would not mean anything to human beings if they did not learn the value of it for themselves. We become like God or move towards the likeness of God by freely choosing the good. When we choose evil and sin we are therefore creating evil in the world. So for Irenaeus moral evil is caused by humans misuse of free will. God allowed us to have free will as it was seen as more beneficial than making readymade perfection.

Fall? Michelangelo's portrayal of the Fall (Sistine Chapel, Rome)

This idea is echoed in Irenaeus’ belief in the story of the fall of man, which he took literally. He believed that it demonstrated that we weren’t ready to accept God’s grace or goodness as we are spiritually and morally immature. This is further evidence that humans are not capable of receiving God’s ready-made goodness and perfection. They were led astray by the devil because they were distant from God spiritually. Adam and Eve are seen as stereotypes, in the way that they go astray morally because they haven’t yet gained the wisdom to do what is right. He believed that humans do go astray and are not blameless because at this point we haven’t developed the wisdom to know what is right; like children, we are not to blame. He believed we can only get to know God in a world where suffering exists; therefore we need some suffering in the world.

There have been modern interpretations of the Irenaean theodicy such as those of John Hick, who started from a belief that God exists; Hick, like Irenaeus, tried to understand why we have evil in the world. He had the ability to reconcile a belief in the infinite goodness of God with the existence of evil and suffering in the world. Hick addresses the problem of evil and suffering from a Christian perspective, but was aware that it isn’t just a ‘Christian problem.’

For Hick, a theodicy should contain two criteria:

1. It should be internally coherent and consistent with the religious traditions on which it is grounded (accepts all religions);

2.  It should be internally coherent and consistent with the natural realm (i.e. science.) He believed that we should use the science of today to help the theodicy and should be faithful to scientific enterprise. 

Hick takes an evolutionary approach when understanding our physical, emotional and cognitive development; thus the same applies to our morality and spirituality - it develops over time. However, to remain true to modern scientific beliefs such as Darwin’s theory of evolution, we must begin with the notion that evil really exists and is the cause of real pain and suffering. God created evil just as he created everything else.

Ascent? evolution
John Hick therefore rejects the Free Will Defence, as he believes it contradicts scientific enterprise (this idea that we have evolved and developed into more complex, moral and spiritual beings from more primitive states). Conversely, the Free Will Defence states that humanity was created morally yet has ‘fallen away’ from this state. He says that there is no evidence for this; the evil comes from human disobedience.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

How Did the Zebra Get Its Stripes?

by Louisa Dassow

Zoologist John Kerr applied the “dazzle” principle to WW1 ships
 in an attempt to confuse any enemy following the ships.

There have been many legends surrounding the seemingly bizarre patterning of the zebra and an equal number of scientific theories to match. Their inverse camouflage left Darwin and Wallace puzzled as it seemed at first to contradict their belief in natural selection because it made them so obvious to other predators on the African plains. However, it seems the mystery may have finally been solved.
A recent study published by Tim Caro and colleagues stated that, “...the only factor which is highly associated with striping is to ban biting flies”. The stripes serve as a bug repellent. Other studies have reached this conclusion before, but they have been criticised for only considering one particular factor which could lead to the striping. This study was recently published in the journal Nature Communications. The research conducted by this team of biologists considered five of the most popular hypotheses: camouflage, the “Motion Dazzle” effect (visually confusing predators when they're being attacked), heat contol, social interaction and deterring blood-sucking flies.

They started by looking at the geographical distribution of living and extinct “equid” species such as zebras, horses and donkeys. They investigated a combination of boldly striped, subtly striped and non-striped equids and then considered environmental factors in the habitats of the equids, including predators, temperature and the flies' breeding conditions.

The results showed a strong link between the striping and the possible presence of blood-sucking flies, particularly the tsetse fly and horseflies. All equids in the fly-ridden areas were striped, but in places where the flies were not a problem there were no striped equids.

One fault in the study is that they did not use maps designed to show “fly concentration”, rather they relied on areas with suitable breeding conditions for the flies because high quality “fly concentration” maps are not available. Unfortunately, there is also no explanation as to why the flies dislike the striped surfaces; scientists are now working to design a laboratory experiment which could accurately simulate the zebra's skin. In the words of Caro, “That’s what happens in science; you answer one question and it leads to six more.”

There are still more romantic interpretations of the zebra's stripes from less scientific sources, an innumerable quantity of myths surround their odd patterning. It is a subject that Rudyard Kipling resisted writing about but other African tales are equally as sweet as any Just So story.

In a Kalahari desert tribe they told of a white zebra who approaches a pool of water guarded by a selfish baboon who sits by his fire and refuses to share. The two animals exchange insults and end up fighting until the zebra gives the baboon a tremendous kick with its hindlegs and sends the baboon flying through the air to the top of a nearby cliff. The baboon lands on his behind and still has the bare patch to this day whilst the tired zebra stumbles into the baboon's fire and scorches his fur, leaving the distinctive stripes we see today.