Sir: Professor Dawkins eloquently and engagingly defines true truth for us (‘Matters of fact’, 19 December). It seems to me that ‘true’ is a poor little four-letter word with a heavier workload than is reasonable. Historic truth may include ascertainable facts, which I suppose he would pass, but combined with conclusions based on available evidence or ‘true-to-life’ conjecture. Theological truth combines historic fact with unassailable moral principle and a journey of imagination beyond the reach of experience. It cannot be called untrue — only unproven.
Perhaps we need to find a word with more gravitas than ‘truth’ for the scientists. I suggest ‘veritas’ — as found in vino.
Tu and thou
Sir: Tim Hudson (Letters, 19 December) wonders why French uses the informal second person singular for God, but the formal second person plural for the Virgin Mary. Other Latin-based languages which also use the plural to indicate formality do the same thing. Latin itself, however, uses the singular form for both prayers, as do the Germanic languages, including English.
As an aside, it’s always worth remembering that English speakers’ assumption that theirs is the more egalitarian language, by not having the formal/informal second person distinction, is false. In fact, English preferences were so formal that it was our plural form ‘you’ and not the informal singular ‘thou’ which completely won out (except in archaic uses). The Quakers vainly tried to turn this tide by insisting that Friends refer to each other as thou, and were much mocked for it — even in the 17th century.
Straight Outta Brompton
Sir: Jeremy Vine (Diary, 12 December) has a typical BBC misunderstanding of what is right-wing. He seems to think that wild uncontrolled liberalism, ‘throwing off the shackles of the state’, is conservative. That is liberalism. Proper conservatives accept that there has to be a limited state, and don’t regard its freely made laws as shackles. Even so, there is a case to be made that bicycling is conservative, in that it does not destroy the old and settled, demand the remaking of cityscapes and countryside, and is best governed by a free conscience rather than by unenforceable regulations. But the real political divide in transport is between railways (beautiful, patriotic, not requiring subservience to oil despotisms) and cars (aggressively individualistic, devastating to peace and beauty). It was Margaret Thatcher’s loathing of railways which first alerted me to the fact that she was not a conservative.
Sir: It has been clear for many years that viruses and bacteria are acquired from other humans by mixing with them in daily life ( ‘My cure for the common cold’, 19 December). I have not suffered from a bad cold since young adulthood, and I attribute this to the acquisition of some measure of immunity through decades of exposure. Rather than welcoming the reduction in transmissible ailments that enforced social distancing has wrought, I fear that this immunity has likely been lost after many months of my immune system’s being unchallenged.
Sir: Anthony Horowitz is right to object to Sizewell C which has now been endorsed by the Energy White Paper (‘The nuclear option’, 19 December). Intermittent wind and other renewables, however, are not the answer, nor is hydrogen, which takes more electricity to produce than it replaces. The figures in the White Paper do not add up either. For example, Figure 4.1 shows most forms of electricity generation still having significant emissions in 2050, but zero in total.
Molten salt reactors are now operating in Canada and proving to be one of the most cost-efficient means of electricity generation — and zero-carbon. The White Paper does not mention them at all. No one doubts the need to cut emissions but the arithmetic needs to be complete, correct, and without mega-Sizewells.
Made in China
Sir: James Forsyth (‘What Covid revealed’, 19 December) says that Covid has woken the West up to the threat posed by communist China. I like buying Japanese electrical goods, partly because I am a Japanophile, and partly because their stuff always works. However, on opening the box, invariably somewhere in the small print are the words ‘Made in China’. I have nothing against the people of the country and have always been treated well there, but I would prefer not to add to the wealth and power of China’s repressive and bullying rulers. Now that we have left the EU, could we not require all products sold in the UK to have the country of manufacture shown in large print on the outside of the box? We could then decide if we might prefer to pay a little more for something made in a country with standards closer to our own.
Sir: In Portrait of the Week (12 December) you state that ‘Japan planned to increase its falling birth rate by funding matchmaking backed by AI’. I wonder if you are aware that to many parts of the rural community, AI stands for artificial insemination.
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