But having been at the Edinburgh Fringe for a few days now, I’m wondering if he might have had a point. We are here for a week of our holidays, thanks to the demands of our comedy-loving children, who have expertly dictated our program of shows–there’s not a been single dud so far (well, almost*).
However, not wanting to be entirely at the beck and call of my children, I have steered us to a couple of the more science-themed offerings. On Monday we rolled up, at the alarmingly early time of 11:25 am to Your Days are Numbered: the Maths of Death, an entertaining romp through the probability and statistics of mortality by Matt Parker (@standupmaths) and Timandra Harkness. Fact: you are certain to meet death one day but (at least in the UK) this will not involve sharks.
The show was very funny and, in a strange way–by rubbing our noses in the numerology of ephemerality–really quite life-affirming.
The Edinburgh Fringe – not entirely what we were expecting.
I had the same feeling yesterday, at the slightly more respectable time of 12:10 pm, during Robin Ince’s Carl Sagan is still my God. Despite the ironic title and his opening poke at Jenkins’ science-bashing journalism, Ince’s show was very much about imparting a sense of the glory of the very existence of the universe and of the ineffable fact of our evolution to consciousness within it.
He read from works by Feynman and Sagan, clearly and rightly enthralled by the power of their curiosity and the lucidity of their thinking, and very much wanting to share that with the audience. I should add that the readings were linked with plenty of witty banter–this is a comedy festival after all and Ince is a superb comedian (his Laurel and Hardy impressions were particularly impressive)–but there was a certain proselytising energy about the performance.
Which is no bad thing.
Even at Richard Herring’s show, Christ on a Bike, squarely aimed to pull humour out of the contradictions of biblical writing and religious teaching (much of it at the expense of his religious parents), there was an unexpected proselytising twist. Herring had no qualms about shocking his audience with his material (I confess to squirming in my seat beside my kids on one or two occasions) but at the end, after he’d had his fun, his tone became almost reverential. Hilariously and raunchily iconoclastic it may have been, but underlying the performance was a thoughtful, almost respectful, consideration of the charitable precepts of Christianity. Herring’s clearly a bit of a thinker.
Of course there’s nothing in what Jenkins says about science being a religion – his argument was just gratuitous opinion-piece fodder. But science as a way of life, of looking at the world–well, there could be something in that. If our experience of Edinburgh is anything to go by, it seems to be gaining in popularity.
*Sorry to say that Dyslexia, The Musical, while not lacking in energy was a bit too much of a pantomime for my tastes. Other non-scientific hits were Delete the Banjax, The Penny Dreadfuls and the utterly, utterly brilliant Tripod vs The Dragons (warning: extremely nerdy).