I’ve been tempted back into blogging following a somewhat enforced period of attention elsewhere. Over the last couple months I have thought of a lot of things to write about, without quite finding the time to do so. But you will have to wait for my views on climate science, or the Iraq enquiry, or Andrew (expletive deleted) Wakefield.

No I am being drawn out by a letter in today’s Nature. A few weeks ago, that august journal published a short story in its ‘Futures’ series speculating on what sort of diseases a god would suffer if we were truly made in his image, and conversely whether our diseases would be visited upon him. Now Denis Alexander writes to state:

“…this gratuitously offensive junk has no place in a serious scientific journal.”

Denis Alexander is at pains to point out he is not a Catholic (that faith and its doctrine of transubstantiation being clearly mocked in the story), but he is the director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion. So he’s not quite the disinterested observer seems to be trying to claim.

Arguably neither am I, as an atheist. But I’m not bringing this up to have a narrow go at religion (honest). It is the notion that the story should not have been published “in a serious scientific journal.” I have long felt equivocal about Futures. When it was trailed a few years ago I found it an irritant. Here was some jejune piece of science fiction whimsy at the tail end of one of the most important journals around. So I just ignored it. Since it has returned however, I think there has been a real improvement in quality. I am still not persuaded that Nature should carry such a series, but it is now entertaining more often than not.

The story to which Alexander objects was not one of the high points. It was more like an overstretched idea for a stand-up comedy routine. The serious point it is making, if there is one, might be something about how our perceptions of deity have changed over time. I don’t want to over analyse the story though, because I don’t think it merits it.

But criticise it on these grounds. I can easily see how some believers might find it offensive, but one person’s offense should not be privileged over another’s. Personally, I would find the idea that it was censored because of what it was about just as objectionable. There is a case to be made that a scientific journal should not carry fiction. But having decided to do so, the choice of that fiction should be based on its quality, not on its content.