Paul Little at large

Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Reality a hard sell to hopeful

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Painting Auckland's Harbour Bridge a colour other than grey could brighten motorists' days. Photo / NZ Herald
Painting Auckland's Harbour Bridge a colour other than grey could brighten motorists' days. Photo / NZ Herald

The divide between superstition and science is becoming both wider and more obvious. Both sides are more willing than ever to state their views openly and publicly.

Atheists are increasingly vocal in proclaiming their lack of belief - Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard probably would not have been so candid about her atheism if she were running for election 10 years ago.

And those on the other side of the divide are equally brazen. An associate Minister of Education might have hesitated to be as open as John Banks has been about his belief that some superbeing, who lives in a cloud, made the world in seven days.

The contrast underlies all sorts of events that can be best understood as a struggle between reason and superstition. The United States presidential election was a choice between someone who faced facts and someone who made them up to suit his purposes.

Victory went to the man of reason. Most of the US public saw that it was not a good idea to give control of nuclear arms to someone who believes in a final cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil.

And there really were people who believed the ancient Mayans predicted the world would be destroyed this year. Real scientists had to stop doing real work to explain why this was not so.

There is a debate about the causes of global warming only because there are people who prefer to refuse to accept the overwhelming scientific evidence that humans are responsible for its recent rapid increase.

When there are difficult decisions to be made and unpalatable measures to be taken, people would rather hope for a miracle than work for a solution.

Because science doesn't do miracles, superstition can gain the upper hand. It makes life easier and relieves us of responsibility by allowing us to write things off as beyond our control. Science forces us to face hard facts and make choices that are often harder. In the long run, however, they will make life easier because they have dealt with reality.


Aucklanders are only too aware that our city's natural assets aren't complemented by equally impressive human additions.

So a call on transportblog.co.nz to paint the Harbour Bridge something other than grey is worth considering.

Here's an opportunity to bring daily pleasure to the hundreds of thousands of people who have to look at the bridge. Neon-hued, basic black, striped or spotted, some kind of optical illusion - the possibilities are many.

Although any choice is bound to be controversial and loathed by a large number, they would at least have the consolation of knowing it need last only until the next paint job.

And given the bridge gets painted anyway, the cost factor is minimal. So too is the chance of the New Zealand Transport Agency seriously considering this, on evidence of their interest in improving the look of the city so far.


When he wasn't inventing gravity and such like, Isaac Newton had a sideline in crimefighting. For some years he made it his personal mission to bring down counterfeiter William Chaloner.

It got personal. The criminal eluded the scientist for many years, but Newton won out in the end. The whole story is fascinating, and nothing could show more clearly the difference between Newton's time and ours.

According to the account in Mental Floss magazine, when Chaloner was finally brought to justice, Newton "snubbed his rival by not attending the hanging". Those were the days - when you could insult someone by not turning up to their execution.

- Herald on Sunday

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