Seagulls and the universe

From: P. Stanbridge, Cooden Drive, Bexhill

The Observer’s copious correspondent Stephen Jackson is always good value for money in providing something I like: an interesting read.

I also like a well composed letter, and Mr Jackson delivers the goods in this respect too. However, I don’t always share his opinions, a case in point being his most recent offering on the character of the universe (issue June 8), which he describes as being “indifferently hostile”.

This phrase is probably one of the many misremembered aphorisms that abound in our language, in this case one by John Haynes Holmes, an American clergyman who wrote that the judgement of our scientific age on the universe is that it “is not hostile, nor is it yet friendly. It is simply indifferent”.

My view is that this is true in some ways but not in others. For example, it is presumably true that a volcano will indifferently erupt on anybody, even writers of letters to the Bexhill Observer if they happen to be in the vicinity of one. On the other hand, humans and other animals, being some of the constituents of the universe, make judgements and carry out actions that are anything but indifferent.

Mr Jackson should not need to extrapolate his dislike of seagulls, which is what initiated this correspondence (in issue May 11), into a sort of primal law by the authority of which we can simply do away with anything we find unpalatable.

As members of a modern civilised community we ought to be able to do better than resorting to brute force.