Thursday, 16 June 2011

Modern Fiction

I can't help feeling that with all the publicity over unanswerable questions in our public examinations, everyone will be looking for something wrong in every paper. Exam papers are never perfect. I do however feel the need to draw the reader's attention towards some other issues regarding our examination system. Is it just blatantly anti-truth?

Consider the following A'Level Religion and Philosophy question from a few years back on Celtic Christianity

Examine features of Celtic monasticism.

Somehow the expected answer promotes the black legend that the Celtic Church was somehow cosy, fluffy and good, till Rome went and squashed it. Well, I don't think St Patrick would be able to agree with the answer in the mark scheme. Celtic monasticism was tough, tough, tough. Not that I'm an expert, but what to you think of this for the answer in the mark scheme?

Monasticism was the primary model for the development of Christian communities in the Celtic Church. It replaces the Diocesan model of Roman Christianity. Celtic
monasticism derived from the ideas of Eastern Fathers and adapted well to the needs
of rural tribal communities. Variation in size from small places of retreat and solitude in
remote areas to large communities. Monastic communities open; not closed as in
Roman / Benedictine model; sense of mission; worship and serving community
important features. Sexes mixed freely in some, e.g. mixed monasteries such as
Whitby. Allowed both married and celibate monks. Not governed by any uniform rule
such as Roman models (e.g. Benedictine), local rules under authority of local Abbot.
Physical structure often reflected tribal communities. Small huts and small churches
within circular enclosure. Monks had soul friends or ‘anamchairde’ (idea derived from
druid counsellors). Key centres of learning and mission, and hospitality.

Here's another:

Outline the thoery of evolution AND explain how it challenges religious belief.

What if it doesn't? Hmm....

I was also concerned to see the following rider on the bottom of all questions on an English Literature paper:

Note that you should demonstrate what it means to be considering texts as a modern reader, in a modern context, and that other readers at other times may well have had other responses.

Just how are you supposed to follow that rider when you can write about the Metaphysical Poetry of Donne and Herbert....and when the poetry is explicitly religious surely there is only meant to be one, timeless response? I'm no apologist for the poetry of John Donne, I find his conceits too conceited and his attitude far too liberal and touchy-feely. But religious conviction is religious conviction and just who is this modern reader anyway?

Our poor young people. Can we not come up with something better than this as our "gold standard"?


Gillineau said...

Unrelated, is there an idea in physics that systemic randomness does not preclude instances of order. For example, an inherent randomness at the core of the universe may not preclude apparent intelligible order here on Earth? I read it somewhere recently but cannot find it again.

Rita said...


Inherent randomness exists everywhere on the microscopic scale, but some form of
self-organisation leads to considerable order on a macrocsopic level. I'm sure this is more than an "idea" in physics, it is what physicists spend most of their lives trying to understand and model.

Gillineau said...

Does randomness mean chaotic as you're using it? Is it believed that there is chaos on the microscopic level, leading somehow to macroscopic order? (If randomness and chaos are not the same, rephrase my initial question using chaos rather than randomness.)I ask only because the bent of that recent telly programme by 'Professor' Cox seemed to be to propose that chaos (which is unintelligible) was the cause of all this wonder; thus the programme, the professor, the physics and the science, by logical extension, were absurd. Am I being stupid? Does randomness preclude measurement?

Rita said...


Some definitions may help here:

Deterministic- predictable (no random events to make things uncertain). There is a very limited amount of this behaviour in nature.

Random- totally unpredictable behaviour caused by unforseen conditions (again not very common in nature)but random effects are measurable.

Chaotic- 2 meanings. Can be the the opposite of deterministic ie. not predictable. But it can also be "deterministic". When there is a system that is not subject to random unforseen conditions, but is very susceptible to even slight changes in initial conditions, the outcome becomes probabalistic. This means there are a range of probable outcomes but you cannot say which outcome will happen. Google "Bunimovich stadium" for a nice animation showing this. It is these types of chaotic system (especially ones containing many bodies) that seem to have an inherent order on the largest scale.

have I answered your question?
Prof Cox just confuses me...

Rita said...

...and I did use your phrase "inherent randomness" when the more precise "inherently chaotic" may have been better, sorry for the ambiguity.

Brain not so good.

Gillineau said...

But probably not as bad as mine.

As concise as you have been, I still don't understand it; instead I'll take your word for it. A diagram might do it?