- Actually, all Notes are perfectly printable at Level 0.
Note last updated: 12/10/2018 08:41:17
Footnote 1: (Somerset Maugham Short Stories - Part 1)
Note last updated: 02/07/2017 10:36:29
- For Somerset Maugham, see W. Somerset Maugham.
- I have now added brief commentaries on things that struck me from all the stories in the collection in "Somerset Maugham (W.) - Short Stories".
- I have managed to precis the stories to the degree strictly necessary to provide the context for whatever I have to say, but anyone other than me reading these accounts probably won’t fully understand what I’m on about unless they’ve read – and can recall – the stories.
- My intention has been merely to reflect on – and remind myself of – various “ethical1” or more generally philosophical issues that arise. I don’t claim to be a literary critic.
- Because of record-size restrictions in my database, this Note has had to be split in two:-
→ see Part 2 for the remainder of the Stories.
- The Pacific – 1
- Mackintosh – 2
- Mackintosh is a clerk whose health necessitates a retreat to warmer climes – a small island in the South Pacific under British administration – lest he catch TB in the London cold.
- This story raises a lot of questions – even ignoring the issue of colonial paternalism which would be frowned on these days. Under the empire “caring for the natives as your children” was a moral virtue, but would be seen as condescending today; if only because the “natives” – after another century of western influence – have grown up a bit, though maybe that’s equally condescending.
- Mackintosh comes to work for an Irish ignoramus who initially became administrator under the Germans, but stayed on when control was ceded to the British, and has now been in control for 20 years. He’s described as corpulent and is in his early 60s; Mackintosh is younger and thin. There’s a contrast between the precision, correctness and culture of Mackintosh and the vulgarity – but more positive and expansive, if bullying, character – of the “administrator” (Walker).
- Walker takes risks – his career was founded on an outrageous bit of luck in a 1000-1 winning bet on a horse – but “does things” – in particular building the roads that allow copra to be transported more easily, and hence adds to the prosperity of the island.
- Walker is an uneducated ruffian who metes out his own justice in a “hard but fair” way, bending the rules where necessary – lying and cheating if this is required for “justice” to be done. He has no doubts as to what to do in any circumstance – even dispensing medicines without any medical training, along the lines of “tomorrow (your child) will be either better or dead”.
- He views himself as invulnerable, and provided everyone submits to him, all goes well. He is honest, has never made a penny out of his position, and genuinely loves the native people and the beauty of the island, which he greatly appreciates, despite his coarseness.
- However, for those who won’t willingly submit to him, he is intolerable as he doesn’t perceive their resentment, and thinks everyone loves him – partly because they hide their true feelings as the oppressed must.
- In particular, he is greatly resented by his subordinate, Macintosh – whose subordination is forever before him – and also by the local chief’s son, whom he humiliates in a needless dispute over remuneration for road-building: the young man encourages the tribe to hold out for a sum that is within the grant, but Walker won’t be challenged – and thinks the payment would be bad for them (“they’d only spend it on drink”; paternalism again).
- However, things get nasty when the hospitality arrangements of the island mean that the local tribe has to support another tribe that Walker brings in to build the road. This results in the total humiliation of the chief’s son, who is punished by his tribe when they had supported him until Walker got the upper hand.
- Macintosh “accidentally” leaves his gun so the young man can find it, and – while he warns Walker not to carry on his routines alone – is complicit in his assassination.
- Walker is shot, and on his death-bed, forgives the “natives”, saying that the shooting should be put down as an accident lest the governor sends a gun-boat to destroy the innocent. The natives are distraught at the death of their “father” and Mackintosh commits suicide – maybe to draw the blame for Walker’s death on himself, given his complicity in it.
- There are doubtless many things to draw from all this. I have worked for worse people than Walker, and felt Mackintosh’s resentment. I have also worked for people who knew with certainty the way to go; sometimes they were sacked and replaced by the next monster who knew the opposite direction was the way to go, who was later replaced by …
- However, Walker does know the way, and Mackintosh probably doesn’t (and I don’t think I did – or anybody did – in the grand strategic sense).
- The Fall of Edward Barnard – 38
- Edward Barnard is engaged to the upright and intelligent Isabel when his father goes bankrupt and he goes to Tahiti to remake his fortune. This is supposed to take two years, but drags on and Hunter Bateman, his best friend who is secretly in love with Isabel, volunteers to go out to determine what has gone wrong.
- The trio belong to the upper crust of Chicago society, and they count (or – in Edward’s case – “counted”) Chicago as the greatest place on earth. However, their lives – unbeknownst to themselves – are far from authentic, but are entirely formulaic and unoriginal. Their houses are copies of Venetian palaces or French chateaux, filled with fine reproductions of slightly inappropriate furniture, and the men spend their lives bouncing back and forth between their homes and their company head offices, spending the evenings at the theatre. This is the life from which Edward “falls3”.
- Hunter finds that Edward has been fired for indolence and is working in a haberdasher’s. He has also become friends with Arnold Jackson – a (former) con-man and rogue who had spent time in a penitentiary and is the black sheep of Isabel’s family.
- The story is full of amusing examples of Hunter’s moral and aesthetic4 discomfiture – in particular at a private dinner involving Arnold and his “native” wife (bigamously acquired) and Arnold’s “half-caste” daughter who Edward hopes to marry if released from his promise to Isabel5.
- When Edward says he has “plans” for his life in Tahiti, Bateman imagines – with exhilaration – some ruinously exploitative scheme, but Edward’s idea is something far more eco-friendly, and not intended to earn him the millions he has no need of for a happy life.
- The story hinges on the different life-choices of Edward and Bateman, and the contrast between a lucrative and industrious treadmill that leaves no place for happiness other than a smug ranking in the social pecking order and a more laid-back approach that’s closer to nature and real humanity.
- While I agree completely with this, I do retain a sympathy for the “protestant work ethic”. “Our England is a garden, and such gardens are not made, by singing:- “Oh, how beautiful,” and sitting in the shade” (Kipling - The Glory of the Garden (http://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/poems_garden.htm)). Maybe things are easier in Tahiti, in that the garden is mostly self-maintaining – but one of the things Edward wants to do is “read” (it’s not said quite what). There would be nothing to read unless lots of people were willing to work to provide the wealth to support writers to write stuff. We can’t all drop out. The “noble savage” isn’t a drop out either, and knows nothing of the positives or negatives of the life that ultimately dissatisfies his western admirers.
- Rain – 73
- This is supposed to be one of the short stories that has best stood the test of time in the public affections. I’m not so sure it deserves to, if it does.
- The situation is that two couples (the Davidsons and the Macphails) are holed up (for reasons that need not detain us) for two weeks in a makeshift guesthouse on a remote island in the South Pacific during the monsoon season. The two husbands are both medics, but Davidson is a medical missionary (he’s never referred to as “Dr” but only as “Mr” or “Rev”), while Macphail is a skeptical GP.
- The critical consensus6 seems to be that this short story exposes the hypocrisy of the pair of missionaries, but I’m not convinced it does anything so simplistic.
- Both couples are fairly snobbish and hold themselves aloof from the other passengers that were on the boat that brought them to the island, and who remain incarcerated there. This is hypocritical from a Christian standpoint.
- However, the Davidsons do seem to be genuine zealots – obnoxious, but not necessarily routinely hypocritical. Indeed, Rev. Davidson seems to have personal and spiritual courage in that he’s been willing to turn out in any weather – crossing in a canoe to remote islands in dangerous conditions – whenever there’s been a medical emergency. He sees an inconsistency in claiming to “trust the Lord” and to be worried about his own safety.
- The missionaries give an account of their “work” – which seems to involve inculcating in “the natives” a sense of sin. The people they work amongst seem to have had no sense of the wrongness of lying, stealing or adultery, and cannot be induced by normal means to repent. So, to teach them the wrongness of these activities, the missionaries use their stranglehold over economic resources to fine them and bring them into line, making it against the law to sin in these ways. One man is reduced from plenty to penury as a result of a dispute with Davidson. Indeed, the missionary organization as a whole seems to have undue influence in Washington, which gives them power over the civil authorities on the islands.
- In a sense, this focus on making sin illegal7 is consistent with Pauline teaching on sin: for instance, Romans 7:7 (Link (https://www.blueletterbible.org/niv/rom/7/7/s_1053007)) – Paul argues that if it hadn’t been for the law, he would not have known sin, and (for example) wouldn’t have known what it is to covet8 unless the law had told him not to.
- The question, though, is one of cultural and ethical imperialism. Just why should missionaries think they have the right to impose their moral values on other cultures that seem to get along all right without them? No doubt – in a fully worked-out apologia (not given by Somerset Maugham) – the place of sin in separating the sinner from God, and the need for repentance and forgiveness – would feature. It would be argued that sin separates whether or not the sinner knows she’s sinning, and so the realization of sin is the first set on the road to redemption.
- So, given the missionaries’ world-view, their actions might be seen to be logical and loving – however much of an oppression and kill-joy it may seem to be on the surface. Many evangelicals today could argue thus, though they would probably tut at the abuse of power now they no longer have it9.
- Of course, the question has to be how can the missionaries know with sufficient certainty that their system is right to justify causing the degree of unhappiness that their actions do when imposed on the unwilling.
- All this is highlighted by the case of Miss Thompson – a good-time girl who has worked in the red-light district of Honolulu. She was also on their boat, and consequently sets up shop for the entertainment of the sailors in a room below the Davidsons, much to their chagrin – which is exacerbated by a gramophone and the music played on it. Rev. Davidson takes her on as a project for reform, with initial “success” but ultimately disastrous consequences.
- Miss Thompson starts off in a robust life-affirming way and will have nothing to do with Davidson’s persuasion. However, Davidson has a hold over her because he can have her put on the next boat to San Francisco, where she will be arrested for previous misdemeanors and spend some years in the penitentiary, which fills her with terror. Eventually, Davidson persuades her to repent. However, he won’t let her have “cheap grace”, but insists that she demonstrate her repentance by going through with – indeed embracing – her future incarceration10.
- All this reduces Miss Thompson to a shadow of her former self, though she seems to come to terms with it all and to truly “repent”.
- Davidson spends some considerable amount of time with her – including much of the night before she is due to set sail – ostensibly in prayer and spiritual instruction (or argument, in the early stages).
- The denouement is incredible to me, given the way Davidson is described, though maybe understandable in the case of many obviously hypocritical and money-grabbing televangelists. Davidson is found with his throat cut, and Miss Thompson is back to her old ways – and has her old self-confidence back - with the gramophone on. She spits on Mrs. Davidson and, when Dr. Macphail asks what she’s doing, announces: “You men! You filthy, dirty pigs! You’re all the same, all of you. Pigs! Pigs!”. Dr. Macphail is then said to gasp, and to “understand”.
- Presumably, Davidson is supposed to have had a “weakness of the flesh”, and consorted with Miss Thompson on that last night. It’s not spelled out, but I can’t think of an alternative explanation11.
- If so, this is a major weakness in the story. The missionaries’ behavior is objectionable12 – in making people who fall into their power unhappy, and causing them problems they didn’t previously have – even if they don’t fall into overt and gross hypocrisy – and I don’t think a zealot of the kind Davidson is supposed to be would have “fallen”.
- I suppose a possibility is that Davidson had “softened” – actually improved, morally speaking – and felt genuine (rather than purely theoretical) love for Miss Thompson; then things got out of hand and Miss Thompson felt morally betrayed. And, maybe Davidson committed suicide because13 he realized his whole life had been misguided (and not just because he’d fallen in a moment of weakness). But this rather more nuanced conclusion doesn’t seem consistent with Miss Thompson’s contempt.
- So, maybe we are to suppose that a couple of hypocrites messed with the mind on a fun-loving girl, and that the husband got his just deserts when he couldn’t control his animal passions. If so, so much the worse for the story.
- Envoi – 116
- The Casuarina Tree – 117
- Brief – a page and a half: looks like the preface to “a collection of stories about the English people who live in the Malay peninsula and in Borneo”, justifying the title.
- The Casuarina tree is thought of as a symbol14 for these people “… the Casuarina tree stood along the sea shore, gaunt and rough-hewn, protecting the land from the fury of the winds, and so might aptly suggest these planters and administrators who, with all their short-comings, have after all brought to the peoples among whom they dwell tranquility, justice and welfare, ...”.
- Before the Party – 119
- A family is preparing to go to an English garden party at which they will meet some big-wigs, including the Bishop of Hong-Kong, who wants to talk to the recently-widowed daughter, Millicent, about her late husband, Harold, whom she had claimed had died of a fever in Borneo some eight months previously.
- The father, Mr. Skinner, is a “respectable family solicitor”, who works in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and never takes dodgy cases, but is quite happy to pass them on to others.
- The sister, Kathleen, has just heard – from the daughter of the Canon who’s hosting the garden party – that Harold didn’t die of a fever, but committed suicide.
- The family don’t seem in the least concerned as to why this should have been – but are more worried about the social consequences and their not having been properly prepared by Millicent. It seems that the Bishop met Harold, and is the one who let it be known that he had committed suicide by cutting his throat.
- So, they seek to get the background out of Millicent, more so they can be socially prepared than out of genuine concern, and a sorry tale it is.
- It seems that Harold – the “Resident” of a district of Borneo – had been a confirmed drunkard and had been threatened with the sack unless he could find a wife who could sort him out. So, he’d come back to England and selected Millicent who was short of offers, and an effective marriage of convenience was entered into (though it was not admitted as such).
- But, they had got on well enough and Millicent liked the life in Borneo and the status of Resident’s wife, and Harold stayed sober – except when out of her gaze, or otherwise tempted. There was one episode when he was entertaining visitors, but the worst cases were when Millicent was away for extended periods in the fictitious Kuala Solor, either giving birth to their daughter, Joan, or finally when Joan was ill.
- It seems that – when sober – Harold was a fine man who did his job well, and seems to have developed some affection for Millicent. In her turn, Millicent had developed a “hold” on Harold because he loved their daughter, and she had threatened to take her away from him if he failed to remain sober. Further, on the journey home with Joan after her illness, Millicent persuaded herself that she loved Harold.
- Unfortunately, while they were away, Harold had relapsed again and was asleep dead drunk when Millicent returns to their bungalow. She is consumed with rage at the betrayal and – it seems – somehow manages to cut Harold’s throat with a parang (a Malayan sword) while trying to get his attention.
- The region was remote, and she had Harold quickly buried and the murder (if that’s what it was) is made out to be suicide, no-one suspecting anything.
- So much for the story. It is well told, though the cause of Harold’s alcoholism is obscure.
- The interest is all in the family’s reaction to the account. Millicent just seems to be depressed, and has “let herself go” somewhat. There seems to be no concern for Harold (though Mrs. Skinner liked him) – or that Millicent is technically a murderess – their concern is purely that it shouldn’t get out. Mr. Skinner’s main complaint against Millicent is that she selfishly told him at all, as it gives him an uncomfortable crisis of conscience.
- Well, actually, not really conscience – because he has no moral sense at all. It’s the discomfort for him of having to hush up something he knows he – as an upstanding solicitor – would be expected to take further.
- They head off to the garden party because it would seem socially odd if they didn’t. It seems there is nothing genuine about their lives at all.
- P & O – 147
- This is an interesting tale, but not one that I’ve much to say about.
- The story is centered around the sad end of Mr. Gallagher, a robust Irishman on his way home from Malaya to Galway (on the eponymous P&O liner) after a career as a “planter”, and the life, intentions and observations of Mrs. Hamlyn, who is running away from her husband who is having an affair.
- Gallagher had taken a “native” wife, but has left her behind, well provided for by the standards of the place and time. She had become corpulent during their time together, as seems to have been standard for Malay women, and Gallagher liked to “live well”. But this isn’t – I don’t think – the reason Gallagher didn’t take her with him. On departure, his wife prophesies (this is taken to be a “native curse”) that he will not see land. Gallagher, however, departs in good spirits.
- On the journey home, Gallagher develops persistent hiccups, and – despite an attempted exorcism involving the sacrifice of a cockerel15, and all the efforts of a junior doctor – expired just before reaching Aden, to which the ship had been diverted so that he could receive further medical treatment.
- Mrs. Hamlyn’s husband – who’s in his 50s, while she has just turned 40 – has formed a liaison with another woman who’s just turned 50. He doesn’t want to hurt his wife, and hopes that they can just carry on as normal. But this is not conventionally possible, so she heads off back to England with bitterness in her heart to find an appropriate lawyer to arrange a divorce.
- The situation with Gallagher gets her to rethink things and she comes to the conclusion that there’s no reason to begrudge others their shot at happiness given the brevity of life; she remembers her husband’s remark that “we are so long dead”. The story ends with her writing a conciliatory letter to her husband, and posting it before she changes her mind.
- What to say about all this?
- I think we can side-step the “native curse” meme. The important thing is that Gallagher ought not to have treated his Malay wife as a chattel to be left behind when no longer needed. Maybe he subconsciously realizes this and it works on his subconscious, though he gives no such indication.
- The idea of getting happiness where it can be found because life is short is an important idea; why be miserable when you can be happy? And bearing conventional resentments because that’s what you’re supposed to think, and others will think you odd if you don’t, or your pride will be hurt – all this may be irrational and only leads to more pain for all concerned. But, even so, we can’t all just do what we want – life is too complex, and commitments have to be respected reciprocally.
- The Letter – 180
- This is another jolly tale, but again I’ve nothing much to say.
- A lady (Mrs. Leslie Crosbie) has been imprisoned, awaiting trial, in Singapore for murdering a neighbor (Geoff Hammond) – allegedly in self-defense – at her home late one night while her husband (Robert Crosbie) is away.
- She is supposedly so refined and of such good “breeding” – and Hammond was a bit of a lad – and she has allegedly had little recently to do with Hammond – that she in expected to be acquitted of manslaughter or worse.
- She gives her defense to a solicitor friend (Mr. Joyce). Her story is in good order, so he expects a quick acquittal. His only concern is that she’d emptied the whole barrel into Hammond.
- Unfortunately, the solicitor’s Chinese clerk (Ong Chi Seng) announces that Hammond’s Chinese mistress has the eponymous letter that Mrs. Crosbie had allegedly sent to Hammond on the night of his death, imploring him to visit her. He hands over a copy, which is very incriminating.
- After further prevarication, and the thought of being hanged, Mrs. Crosbie suggests to Mr. Joyce – without fully admitting that she’d actually sent the letter – that they might buy the letter back.
- Mr. Joyce thinks this is similar to suborning a witness, but he’s been long enough in the East to cope with this irregularity for completely spurious reasons16; namely, that convicting Mrs. Crosbie will not bring Hammond back, and will adversely impact Mrs. Crosbie’s husband.
- Nothing untoward happens thereafter, and the incriminating letter is redeemed for $10k, the maximum that Mr. Crosbie can raise. The redemption takes place in a flat usually employed as an opium den. The Chinese mistress, a male relative, Ong Chi, Mr. Joyce and Mr. Crosbie17 are present.
- It is clear that Ong Chi Seng is to receive a cut, so doubly shares in the corruption. Mr. Joyce is aware of this, but doesn’t confront him – though he did attempt to bargain with him, suggesting $5k, but Ong Chi wouldn’t be moved. Mr. Joyce seems somewhat impressed by his astuteness18.
- As is expected, in the absence of the incriminating letter, Mrs. Crosbie is swiftly acquitted, and she and her husband retire to Mr. Joyce’s house. All – in ignorance of the facts – are entirely sympathetic towards Mrs. Crosbie and her “ordeal”.
- Mr. Crosbie reads the letter, perceives the inconsistency in the story Mrs. Crosbie gives for sending it, and bikes off to his estates. Mr. Joyce then burns it. Mrs. Crosbie pulls herself together and carries on publicly with the pretense of innocence.
- Mrs. Crosbie then reveals that Geoff Hammond had been her secret lover for years. He’d recently abandoned her in favour of his first love – the somewhat faded Chinese lady – and – under severe provocation from Mrs. Crosbie – had claimed (possibly only in reciprocal spite) that he had never loved her. Mrs. Crosbie had then lost her cool and repeatedly shot him in the red mist.
- What to make of this?
- Firstly – as noted above – some conflicts between the law and morality (only some of which are real).
- Secondly, the difference between inward and outward appearances, and the passions that can burn in the hearts of the outwardly self-controlled.
- Mr Harrington's Washing – 216
- This is a long – and sometimes fun – tale19, but not one that’s other than merely entertaining, in my view.
- There are three main protagonists:
- Ashenden, a British agent sent to Russia on an “impossible mission” in 1917. This turns out to be something to do with Czech nationalists being enlisted to distract the Central Powers and to keep Russia in the war.
- Mr Harrington, an American businessman sent to Russia to negotiate a contract for his company.
- Anastasia Alexandrovna, a romantic Russian revolutionary.
- The story splits into three main parts:-
- Setting up in Vladivostok and the account of Ashenden & Harrington’s train journey from Vladivostok to Petrograd.
- An interlude describing Ashenden & the married Anastasia Alexandrovna’s assignation years earlier. They have a “trial” in a Paris hotel – ostensibly required because Anastasia Alexandrovna’s husband, in true romantic Russian style, would have to commit suicide to release her – which would be a shame if they found they were unsuited to one another. It turns out to be well-advised as Ashenden cannot bear the thought of eating scrambled eggs for the rest of his life, and realizes that he’s more in love with Russian literature than Russians. He secretly absconds to New York.
- The ultimate denouement in Petrograd in which Ashenden and Harrington are involved in their respective negotiations.
- The story is intended as a farce, and ends with Harrington being shot at random in the early days of the Revolution while – together with Anastasia Alexandrovna – absurdly attempting to retrieve his unwashed washing from a laundry at some distance from his hotel.
- It all ends in tears before then – all the negotiations are fruitless as power changes hands from the Karensky government (according to Maugham, Karensky does nothing but make speeches) to the Bolsheviks.
- The amusing story is primarily a vehicle for displaying Somerset Maugham’s views on the pre-revolutionary Russians and early 20th-century Americans, as exemplified by the two non-British protagonists.
- Harrington is a bore who is “well read” and considers himself a “high-brow”, though appears to have no ideas of his own. He has some redeeming features, mainly arising from his naivety. The account of the train-journey is as long and boring as the supposed journey itself, a sort of self-parody (and maybe also a parody of the interminable Great Russian Novel).
- Anastasia Alexandrovna is a reckless heroine, doubtless a spoof on those appearing in classic Russian novels. Like Harrington – but unlike the pragmatic Ashenden – she is somewhat detached from reality.
- Sanatorium – 257
- This – as the title suggests – is a set of vignettes about life in a Scottish sanatorium. Ashenden – the controlling character in this story as in the last – has – like the other residents – TB. The narrative, however, revolves mainly about 3 pairs of characters.
- The purpose of the story as a whole is about our attitude to death, and the ability of love to conquer our fear of it – or at least our preoccupation with it. There is a passage early on that regrets the passing of simple belief in the possibility of resurrection.
- The three pas de deuces are as follows:-
- Two old gits – Campbell and McLeod – who have been there for 17 years – are rivals for the best room, and Campbell lives in the room below McLeod whose room he wants and tries to drive him out by continually playing his violin. They are both good bridge players and rivals at the table. The denouement is the last hand of a rubber-bridge session in which McLeod – playing against Campbell makes a redoubled grand slam involving two finesses and a squeeze. His arrogant celebration is such that he drops down dead at the table. Far from being satisfied, Campbell does not like the best room when he gets it, gives up the violin as there’s no McLeod to annoy, and his life loses purpose without his enemy to define himself against.
- Major Templeton – rich a playboy of about 40 – has led a worthless life with several casual relationships – but is now riddled with TB – falls in love with the 29-year-old Ivy Bishop who has been in sanatoria for the last 8 years. She is intelligent and virtuous, and it’s her virtue that attracts Templeton to her, much to his surprise. His love is reciprocated, and they decide to marry – despite the warnings from Dr. Lennox that it will drastically shorten their lives. Templeton had earlier remarked that he was not concerned about when death came – it didn’t matter much whether you left a party when it was in full swing or “went home with the milk”.
- Henry Chester is a rather boring banker who had nothing to hold him together beyond his work and family. When he becomes ill, he becomes resentful of his wife’s good health, and – while he looks forward to her visits – says spiteful things to her when she comes. The two are reconciled when Templeton & Ivy get married and Chester comes to realise that he loves his wife and is happy that she is well, irrespective of his own ill-fortune.
- The Princess and the Nightingale – 283
- This is a fable for children. See Link (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/954536.Princess_September_and_the_Nightingale).
- It’s a story about the nine daughters of the King of Siam, the youngest of whom – September – is the heroine of the tale, though the hero is her nightingale.
- There are lots of stereotypical asides about the ways of oriental monarchs, but there is an important moral of the story, that freedom – rather than a gilded cage – is necessary for flourishing, and that true love does not seek to possess the beloved, but gives him freedom.
- The Round Dozen – 292
- On one level this is rather a silly tale. In brief, a bigamist and swindler – Mortimer Ellis – a very unprepossessing man – has been sent down for 5 years having married successively 11 middle-aged women and then left them in turn, having relieved them of their limited fortunes that he had purported to invest.
- Sometime after his release he arrives in a faded Georgian sea-side resort somewhat down at heel, but – initially unbeknownst to the narrator to whom he tells his story – he ultimately manages to elope with the 54-year-old niece – Miss Porchester – of a respectable elderly couple (Mr & Mrs St Clair) resident in the same hotel as the narrator, and with whom our narrator had also become acquainted. Thus he achieves the “Round Dozen”.
- Prior to the denouement, Mortimer Ellis explains his attraction to these women, and tries to justify his actions, expressing outrage at the public infamy that fell on his head on his conviction. Instead of acknowledging that he is a public pest, he considers that he has performed a public service. Three of his victims had asked for mercy to be shown to him on his conviction – and one had been willing to have him back (so that he had to leave prison by the back entrance lest she be there to collect him). The one who had betrayed him had been dishonest about the diminutive size of her fortune.
- His defense rests on the needs of those he deceives. He claims they would have married him if he’d had one leg and a hump on his back. It’s the married state – and the attention that comes with it – that they were after. They were either spinsters – who had never had attention paid to them – or widows – who missed it once it was gone. He had to earn a living, and this was what he did.
- Miss Porchester had once been beautiful and had been engaged to be married – but her fiancé – a barrister – had had an affair with his laundress and Miss Porchester “had sacrificed herself on the altar of Victorian morality” and rejected him, living a solitary life with her guardians thereafter.
- No doubt there could be an argument between the consequentialists and the Kantians about morality of all this. The Kantians are most likely right that Mortimer Ellis uses his wives as means rather than ends in themselves. However, it’s unlikely that his activities would satisfy the consequentialists as his wives are left destitute by his depredations, however satisfied they might have been with their married state while it lasted.
- Miss Porchester’s guardians say that they will never have her back. There is some slight hope that she may be helped by the laundress, with whom she has kept in touch and supported over the years, once Mortimer Ellis has exhausted her “trifling” £3,000.
- Jane – 321
- On almost all levels this seems to me to be a lightweight and silly tale, an explicitly Pygmalionesque story about the marriage of a rich but rather dowdy and “elderly” relict of a northern industrialist to a young architect half her age. In fact the eponymous Jane in her mid-50s.
- It’s initially thought that Jane’s then future husband is after her money, but he this is not the case. Instead he sees in her what others miss – and after a series of make-overs, brought about by Parisian dress-makers and hair stylists – reveals the swan in the place of the ugly duckling. Gilbert designs her dresses and advises her to cut her hair and wear a monocle.
- The pair have agreed that they would not be bound to one another – the initial assumption being that Gilbert Napier would want to move on – but in fact it is eventually Jane who divorces Gilbert in favour of an Admiral she meets at one of her soirees. She has come to need the companionship of someone more her age. Gilbert agrees to continue designing her attire, and it is hoped that he will eventually marry Admiral Frobisher’s daughter.
- The tale is told by the author, but amusingly also from the perspective of a Mrs Towers, who had initially regarded Jane as “her Cross”. Jane is a former school friend who subsequently became Mrs Towers’ sister-in-law, Jane Fowler being Mrs Towers’ husband’s sister
- Jane also becomes a famous humourist, yet her conversation is no different in this regard since her re-invention to what it was before. It seems that what amuses people – once her now striking appearance has attracted their attention – is that she tells the truth. Marion Towers is the only one who doesn’t find her amusing. Jane’s retort is “Perhaps you don’t know the truth when you see it, Marion dear.” This is, I suppose, an example of the innocent but truthful comment which is amusing if said without malice – and – as the author notes – if truthfulness is rare.
- The Alien Corn20 – 348
- This story was – at least in my retelling of my early life – pivotal to my development and life choices21.
- There are two main themes22 – it seems to me:-
- Belonging and authenticity, and
- Whether to risk all in the pursuit of excellence.
- The story revolves around a wealthy assimilated Jewish family – the Blands23 (formerly Bleikogel) – and their slightly less assimilated relative, Ferdie Rabenstein, who has kept his Jewish identity, refusing to change his name to Robinson, though his life as a socialite and aesthete is fully assimilated.
- Sir Adolphus Bland, known as Freddy, is the second Baronet, who has paid £180,000 for his country estate, Tilby. Towards the end of the story, it is announced that he has been given a peerage. His wife, Muriel is Jewish, her real name being Miriam, but has converted to Catholicism and likes to think of herself as having been raised by nuns. Freddy’s mother – the Dowager Lady Bland – still speaks with a German accent, and is Ferdy Rabenstein’s sister.
- The Blands have two sons – George and Harry. George is the elder, and is being groomed to take over the estate and, it is hoped, will ultimately take on the “family seat” as an MP. Harry is younger – still at Eton – and the cleverer of the two. He is expected to take over the family business in the City. George is a bit of a waster. He had fun at Eton and Oxford, but has recently been sent down for some unspecified minor misdemeanor.
- The Blands have kept their sons in ignorance of their Jewish heritage – indeed George is disgusted by the “filthy old Jew” Ferdy and his Jewish jokes. Ferdy has been estranged from the Blands for the last 20 years – essentially for the whole of George’s life.
- George – on discovering his Jewish heritage – rebels against the role for which he has been groomed by his parents, and escapes to Munich, where he studies the piano. He falls in with other Jewish students, and feels that he has found authenticity at last. But, the question arises what he is to do with his life. He cannot remain a permanent student – hanging out ridiculously with young men in his middle age.
- So, the stakes get raised. He agrees with his grandmother that if he can demonstrate that he has the qualities required to become a professional pianist, his family won’t stand in his way. However, if not he agrees to take up the position prepared for him in English society. We are given intimations that all will not end well. The narrator notes that his right and left hands are not quite synchronized. He asks George what he will do if his project fails, and he jokes that he will shoot himself.
- Well, the inevitable happens. It is arranged that he will audition before an internationally-renowned pianist – also Jewish – named Lea Makart24. He plays with brio, but she notes that he has neither the hands nor the ear to be a professional – “not in a thousand years … would he be a pianist in the first rank” – though as “a very competent amateur” he will have the pleasure of appreciating great music – and great musicians – more than the generality of mankind. After expatiating on the theme of “great art and artists are all that matter”, she offers to refer him on to Paderewski for a second opinion, but he says this will not be necessary – her evaluation reflected that of his teacher in Munich. She plays Bach for them, and George says “That clinches it, I fancy”.
- The story ends tragically, but is described in the same vein as the Blands’ lives – a retreat from reality and living in pretense. While his death is obviously suicide it is described as an accident while he was cleaning a gun.
- The Door of Opportunity – 390
- This is an interesting tale that raises various uncomfortable questions for intellectuals in the wrong spot.
- It’s set in the Dutch East Indies, now administered by Britain, and it features a couple in a middle-ranking position where the husband – currently the District Officer of a remote area – has hopes of ultimately ending up as the Governor.
- While he’s highly intelligent and a perfect administrator he’s obviously unsuited in some respects to the rough and tumble of colonial life. Both he and his wife are aesthetes – fond of books and music; he’s a competent and enthusiastic pianist, and she has artistic sensibilities which she uses to design the décor for their bungalows. They also love the aesthetics of the country, despite the hardships of the climate.
- Unfortunately, a lot of their virtues aren’t relevant to the position they hold, and they don’t really fit in. The other administrators are less educated, having gone East straight from their second-rate schools, and they resent the husband Alban’s airs, calling him “Powder Puff Percy” behind his back. His wife Anne hopes, however, that when Alban eventually gets the top spot they will be able to convert the administration into something more culturally appealing. In the interim, Alban is impervious to his unpopularity and Anne “worships the ground he walks on”.
- They are – or at least Alban is – put to the test in an up-country incident. Prynne, a local rubber planter, has invited them to visit his estate to investigate problems with the Chinese coolies who have become infected with communism and are causing a nuisance. We’re given some background. Prynne is in his mid-thirties, totally uneducated and – against what is expected of him – has taken a native woman by whom he has had two children, though Alban and Anne are very accepting of this arrangement. Initially, he’d been worried what the “highbrows” would make of him, but they get on fine and he tells them that “if all highbrows are like them, give me highbrows any time”.
- Before they can set off, they are told 150-odd coolies are in revolt, have killed Prynne and the fate of his family is unknown. Anne pleads with Alban to go to their rescue immediately with his eight policemen and a sergeant, but Alban thinks it’s too risky, and insists in waiting for reinforcements. This turns out to be a fatal error and ruins his career. He says it’s not reasonable to risk his life and that of his policemen for “a native woman and her half-caste brats”.
- It looks from Alban’s questioning of Prynne’s native assistant, who has escaped, though wounded, that the coolies have some arms, though probably not many, so their numbers are mostly immaterial, and what is important is that the situation be brought under control immediately, whatever the risk. But Alban is too rational for this. It is said later by Anne that the fear was clear in his eyes. This is – to me – all by the by; one can be afraid and act or not act irrespective of the fear if controlled by reason. The question is whether his fear controlled his reason, and the consensus was that it did. Worse than this, part of the calculation should have been the realization that even if his judgement had not been controlled by fear, those who resented him would think – or at least claim – that it had been. Anne points this out to Alban, and sees – or thinks she sees – that he really is ruled by fear.
- Anyway, the situation ended in a complete debacle for the British administration. By the time 20 reinforcements have arrived, a local Dutch timber-camp manager with three others had sorted the problem, shooting the only coolie who pulled a gun. Alban is summoned to see the Governor, and asked to resign. Alban is completely impervious to the situation. He argues he’d made the rational decision, so the Governor dismisses him for cowardice. Alban doesn’t care what any of them think, and goes to his club for tiffin and a drink. The Governor is secretly impressed: “Courage is a queer thing. I would rather have shot myself than go to the club just then and face all those fellows.” I doubt whether courage had anything to do with it. Alban is so sure he’s in the right – and has such a low opinion of his colleagues – that he doesn’t care what any of them think.
- Anne supports Alban on the journey home – with everyone talking about them behind their backs. Alban receives an enormous powder puff as an anonymous “gift”. While Anne pretends not to care what others think, she is secretly mortified and thinks that Alban has betrayed them both and the cause they espouse. Moreover, when they get back to London, Anne tells Alban she’s leaving him, and the story ends with Alban abjectly begging her to stay, saying he can’t live without her – but Anne leaves anyway, stopping her ears.
- What should we make of all this?
- Anne claims that Alban has betrayed their principles: everyone will now say that aesthetes are cowards. To me, this seems neither here nor there. Courage and aesthetic sensibilities are at best orthogonal qualities, but are more likely to be inversely correlated. The important thing is that aesthetes lacking courage shouldn’t be in positions where aesthetic sensibilities are irrelevant and courage essential. Alban is probably wrong not to care that people don’t share his sensibilities: it would be good for them if they did. But having his sensibilities respected for irrelevant reasons, but not shared, does no real good.
- However, Anne’s defense is the value of their aesthetic stance – which is to make them “better, nobler, wiser and braver”; but Alban – in his inaction – hadn’t been better, nobler or braver. She doesn’t mention “wiser”, and I can’t see why aesthetes or intellectuals generally – qua intellectuals – need to be braver than the rest – or otherwise without betray their aestheticism – though it would no doubt be good if they were. The question is the purpose of being an aesthete or an intellectual – is it a good in itself or an instrumental means of making one a better or more noble person? I suspect the Greeks and Stoics would have thought the latter. I suppose it depends on the form one’s intellectualism takes. If it’s just appreciating what others have done, it does no good unless it makes you a better person in other ways. However, if it involves creativity that is of benefit to others, it would seem to be of use irrespective of its impact on one’s own character.
- Alban definitely does wrong in expressing a lack of concern – and respect – for Prynne’s family. He places too high a regard for his own safety compared to that of others. He may treat others respectfully when there’s no cost to himself, but this doesn’t reflect his counting some people – himself in particular – as more valuable than others. I think it’s this evaluation – rather than sheer cowardice – that leads to his inaction. Is such an attitude to be viewed with horror, as Anne views it, or is it rational, as Alban sees it? Are some lives worth more than others? I think this is obviously true, but it’s not a popular idea these days.
- Alban takes his wife for granted. He doesn’t appreciate – until too late – that he’s not really facing the world with indifference alone – but relies on the fact that at least his wife supports him. Also, he doesn’t appreciate the impact his actions have on her. He would – I suspect – care about her feelings if he’d taken the trouble to take her into his calculations, but he hasn’t.
- The Vessel of Wrath – 426
- This is a diverting but rather improbable tale. The eponymous “Vessel of Wrath” is Ginger Ted – an English reprobate (real name Edward Wilson) in a Dutch East Indies island-group (the Atlas Islands) governed by the Contrôleur – a young hedonist named Ewart Gruyter – the other characters being a Baptist missionary (Rev. Owen Jones) and his middle-aged sister (Miss Martha Jones) who double as a medical team.
- Ginger Ted is probably educated, but is a violent drunk who cares for no-one, and goes about dressed in rags, though he enjoys a drink with the Contrôleur. He has a small annuity, presumed to be from someone who wants him out of the way. Ted gets into a fight with some Chinese and the Contrôleur gives him six months hard labour.
- On his release, Ginger Ted shares a boat back to the main island with Martha, who had been performing an appendectomy in lieu of her brother who was laid aside with malaria, but the boat breaks down and the small crew has to spend the night on the island. Martha is in fear of her life or virtue, and attempts to stay awake armed with a scalpel to resist the attentions of Ginger Ted. Eventually she falls asleep and awakes to find that Ted has simply performed an act of kindness (covering her with some copra sacks). She assumes he had intended to have his way with her, but his hidden good nature had relented. In fact, no wicked thought had entered his head as Martha wasn’t in the least attractive. As it turns out, she falls in love with him and tries to reform him – initially just by inviting him to tea, but he’ll have none of it.
- A cholera epidemic breaks out and the Europeans have to split up so that all the islands can be visited and appropriate measures enforced. Ginger Ted is eventually persuaded – against his worst nature – to accompany Martha. Their mission is a huge success.
- The story ends with Ted and Martha about to get married. It seems that Ted turns out to be a “natural” missionary – converting the natives by the dozen (well, 17 of them). The Contrôleur said he’d not known him to believe, and Ted admits that he hadn’t, but that when “they came into the fold like a lot of blasted sheep” he “thought there must be something in it”, and didn’t want to waste his talent. “You don’t know the joy of bringing all them bleeding sinners to repentance, and Christ!” He and Martha intend to set up a mission. His reason is stated as “She’s not a bad old girl when you get to know her. It’s her last chance, if you understand what I mean, and I’d like to do something to oblige her”. And she can make an excellent treacle pudding.
- There is a passing thought of Martha’s – not wholly unknown to the evangelical mind – to the effect that God had arranged25 the cholera academic in order to bring Ted and Martha together. The narrator says he’s “not well versed in the ways of omnipotence”, but that it seems to be “rather a clumsy device” that 600 innocents should have to die for such a matter.
- As I said, I didn’t find much of this very convincing, though it’s a well-told tale; particularly the description of Ewart Gruyter and Ginger Ted.
See Part 2 for the rest of the Stories.
Footnote 1: In the widest sense, including matters of life-choice and self-evaluation.
Footnote 4: I’m not sure this is the right term – Hunter is persuaded to wear a native garland of flowers along with his formal suit, having refused to wear native dress.
- The use of the term “fall” is obviously intended as ironic by Somerset Maugham, but is firmly believed to be the case by the Chicago set.
- The ugliness and inauthenticity of the life – together with its dependence on social standing and mores – reminds me of that castigated in "Tolstoy (Leo) - The Death of Ivan Ilyich".
Footnote 5: It’s not clear why Edward retains this aspect of conventional morality, nor what he intended to do were his release not forthcoming. A return to Chicago didn’t seem to be on the agenda.
Footnote 7: This is important for the missionaries, not just that sin should be financially inconvenient.
- See, for instance, Link (https://csrags.wordpress.com/2015/05/01/somerset-maughams-rain/), and
- Link (http://diplomaticjottings.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/meditation-on-w-somerset-maughams-rain.html): this is interesting in that it discusses the religious aspects in some detail, being written by a highly-educated former Catholic priest (Emanuel R. Fernandez) who is now a Filipino career diplomat.
- There are also opportunities to buy essays on the significance of “rain” in the story, but I don’t care about such issues.
Footnote 9: From Elizabethan times until the (partial) repeal of the Act of Uniformity (Link (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Act_of_Uniformity_1662)) in the late 19th century, recusants (Link (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recusancy)) had ruinous fines or worse laid on them, and non-conformists of all stripes were excluded from the universities and the professions until the Test Act (Link (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Test_Act)) was repealed early in the 19th century.
- Such ideas are tricky. Presumably Paul doesn’t mean that he literally wouldn’t have wanted what wasn’t his unless the law had told him not to, but wouldn’t have known it was sinful to covet.
- Ie. Maybe – in Paul’s mind – it’s analytic that “coveting” is sinful; otherwise (maybe) I’m just wanting what’s not mine without realizing there’s anything wrong with this.
- No doubt “coveting” is “stealing in the heart”, just as lustful looks are “adultery in the heart”, and the desire is almost as sinful as the act itself.
- This is all good Christian doctrine, by the way.
- C.S. Lewis taught that the duty of a Christian murderer was “to be hanged”.
- However, what is distasteful in the Davidsons’ approach is the imposition of all this by means of coercion. The acceptance of retributive punishment as evidence of true repentance is supposed to be voluntary, but the missionaries enforce it.
Footnote 12: Or at least highly questionable, for the reasons the story highlights.
- I don’t think their having had a “relationship” throughout much of the time he spent with her is consistent with her apparent repentance and emotional collapse.
Footnote 13: Fernandez makes a parallel with Judas, who also – he claims – felt he couldn’t be forgiven.
Footnote 14: Fashions may have changed in appreciating the appropriateness of the symbol, as it depends on a positive evaluation of paternalism.
Footnote 15: The sourcing of which on the P&O liner is left unexplained.
Footnote 17: I’d expected a shoot-out, but it’s all very civil, rather surprising as Crosbie is effectively ruined.
- Few would be convicted if lawyers entertained such considerations.
- Mr. Joyce admits that his role is to defend his client to the best of his ability, whatever his private suspicions about her guilt or innocence. However, cheating – by interfering with the evidence or witnesses – ought to be a step too far.
Footnote 18: It had earlier been pointed out that Ong Chi is working for Mr. Joyce for a year before establishing himself independently. Mr. Joyce has a high opinion of his abilities.
Footnote 19: It seems to be the last of 16 in a series involving Ashenden: see Link (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ashenden:_Or_the_British_Agent).
- An article in Oxford Academic – Music & Letters attributes the title to Keats:- One of Somerset Maugham’s most disquieting short stories is ‘The Alien Corn’, a study of the ‘Jewish question’ as refracted through the prism of British high society in the years immediately after the First World War. Maugham drew his title from Keats’s ‘Ode to a Nightingale’, which sings ‘the self-same song that found a path / Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home, / She stood in tears amid the alien corn’ (Keats refers to Ruth 2: 2–3).
- See Link (https://academic.oup.com/ml/article-abstract/88/1/176/1107639)
- I could expatiate on this topic at length.
- Briefly, it was not to go “all out” in any one direction – which in any case suits my rather diffuse talents.
- I’m not sure I’ve stated these quite correctly at the moment.
- A previous footnote refers to “The Jewish Question” – true, but maybe only on the surface. The same problems of assimilation and authenticity would apply to any immigrant community.
- Another (“Virtuosi”) has it that it’s a disguised study of homosexuality – always possible with Maugham – and marks both George and Ferdy down as homosexuals. Seems fanciful to me.
Footnote 24: Footnote 25:
- The name “Bland” is surely suggestive.
- The narrator notes that the Blands’ “stately home” is really a pastiche – devoid of that family history that would make it a home.
- To be fair to the evangelicals, they would probably spin this by saying that God can bring good out of evil, not – of course – that God does evil that good may come.
- The narrator’s reference to “omnipotence”, of course, leads directly to “the problem of evil”. Isn’t an omnipotent God as responsible for what he fails to prevent as for what he directly causes?
- But, the narrator’s “non-well-versedness” also leads to “noseeum” arguments in theodicy (see "Rowe (William L.), Howard-Snyder (Daniel) & Bergmann (Michael) - Debate: Is Evil Evidence against Belief in God?", for instance): we don’t know enough to evaluate God’s deep purposes.
Footnote 2: (Bach's Greatest Hits)
IntroductionNote last updated: 14/10/2016 22:14:53
- I shouldn’t be writing this Note, as it’s not on my list of things to do during my ever-diminishing span of years, but I need closure on a temporary obsession.
- Some years back I came across the 170-CD set of Mozart’s complete works, and play these CDs as background music while doing philosophy. In general, the music is non-invasive and drowns out other distractions. Romantic music is no good in this situation as it interferes with one’s thought processes.
- More recently1 I managed to get hold of the equivalent 160-CD set of Bach’s complete works. Again, in general the music rambles on pleasingly in the background without causing too much of a disturbance, but occasionally it forces its way into consciousness and grips me for a day or so until I’ve managed to purge it from my system.
- Three pieces by Bach have especially2 caught my attention this year3. These are:-
- St. Luke Passion – BWV 246
- Passacaglia & Fugue in C minor, for organ, BWV 582
- Chaconne from the Second Partita for solo violin.
- Finally, a fourth – and much shorter – piece, Sonatina, BWV 106, for two descant recorders.
- I revise this Note from time to time as a result of checking that the YouTube files are still there!
St. Luke Passion
- The first is the St. Luke Passion4 – BWV 246. I was obsessed by this as an undergraduate back in the early 1970s, but when I heard it again recently as a background ramble after nearly 40 years was unsure what all the fuss had been about. But when I actually focussed on the piece – to the detriment of my philosophy – the intimacy and understatedness of the work forced itself upon me again.
- I do fall prey to sentimentality on occasion, and ended up playing the final tenor aria (Laßt mich ihn nur noch einmal küssen) over and over again. I cannot see how anyone can sing it without bursting into tears.
- I’d not thought that the St. Luke Passion would be on YouTube, but there it is, including a take of the tenor aria just referred to:-
- Tenor Aria: Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18pSXS4NPQ4).
- Gerhard Rehm (Full Passion): Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ecMBBcThpo). 1 hour 58 minutes. A bit stodgy.
- Alternative Full Version: Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QNaJ6lb0RjY). Seems bouncier – my favourite recording. 1 hour, 46 minutes.
- Another Full Version: [Barati] Kurt Equiluz, Wimmer, Moreira, Sorell. Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEACt13C52g). Much slower – far too slow, I think, at 2:13. That said, the pace of the previous version makes the opening a bit too positive – along the “Onward Christian Soldiers” lines.
- Jan Jirasek / Carl Orff version5: Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMburJ-2ye4). I can’t but think that this reworking is a bad idea, as it takes away the simplicity of the original.
- The second was the Passacaglia & Fugue in C minor, BWV 582, for organ. Link (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passacaglia_and_Fugue_in_C_minor,_BWV_582).
- The main wonder of the piece for the non-organist – apart from the tunefulness of the “ground” and the intricacy of the variations – is just how the performer can play the base register “ground” with both feet while also playing with both hands, especially as sometimes – especially in the fugue – the ground assumes variant forms with running passages. Any wrong note thundered out by a wrong-footing would be immediately obvious and ruinous. The videos are interesting in showing how it’s done.
- Some examples from YouTube6:
- Hans-Andre Stamm: Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F51uHpH3yQk&list=RDHtFMxFQrKc4). My favourite rendering7.
- Ton Koopman: Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HtFMxFQrKc4). The organist adds a number of ornaments, irritating twiddles that aren’t needed as the music is already complex enough. But otherwise is excellent. Played on some massive Japanese organ by the look of things.
- Karl Richter: Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_W4PJUOeVYw). Wonderful. There’s a video, but it’s not related to the original recital – though it’s well synchronised. The original, said to be a poor quality audio file, is cited as Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bkQxrdOk8Us), which is just the Passacaglia (ie. omitting the Fugue). I suspect the full Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=csyPJeo9enM) is also the original8.
- Michael Matthes: Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WycWjF2nrM). Excellent. Also interesting for two reasons. Firstly, it’s the only rendering that clearly demarcates the Passacaglia from the Fugue (which is normally taken as the last set of variations and run in without a pause – though I think it’s better played that way). Secondly, there’s a full double-video of organist + feet.
- Giuseppe Raccuglia: Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ShIs1dAwRqA). Very nice, but no video.
- Gianluca Cagnani: Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctzgYKmhRRk). Another excellent version, by a cool-looking dude.
- Scrolling Version: Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7S2pm1g70DI). Shows the score scrolling past. Wonderful quality sound as well. The organist would appear to be Michel Chapuis according to the closing credits.
- Liudmila Matsyura: Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WAS2XhSLRSU). The only female organist (of this piece) I’ve come across so far. Maybe a bit slow, but fine.
- Prof. Martin Lücker: Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HxdTukTkXUo). I’m not convinced the organist is always in control.
- Stewart W. Foster: Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYc0ipOhRyA). On the world's largest Church pipe organ at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles. Unfortunately the stops are under-utilised, so it’s a bit underwhelming.
- The third set of pieces are the works for solo violin – in particular the Second Partita Link (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partita_for_Violin_No._2_(Bach)) and of course its fifth and final movement, the Chaconne. This is the main reason for writing this Note.
- It seems impossible that the same piece of music that seemed to be a slightly discordant racket going on in the background can force itself upon your consciousness so that when properly attended to can be appreciated as – what one modern virtuoso (Joshua Bell – Link (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joshua_Bell)) claims9 as “one of the greatest achievements of any man in history”.
- There’s lots of discussion as to whether the violin can bear the weight of this music, and there are piano and guitar transcriptions. To quote the programme notes that came with my CDs (in this case by Clemens Romijn) “Bach seems to demand the very most of the violin, or perhaps even more, more indeed than it can cope with. Many passages, particularly those with frequent double-stopping, cannot be performed literally.” These notes claim that (almost) no-one other than Bach himself could have played them at the time they were written, and that he probably had himself in mind as their performer.
- My view is that only the violin can express the emotion – mostly grief – required of the chaconne, which was allegedly written when Bach heard of his wife’s death while he was away on a trip with his employer.
- There’s also a question how the pieces should be played – with or without vibrato, with or without frenzied dynamics, and the like; also, how fast. This is part of the general question whether a Baroque piece should be played in an authentically Baroque manner, should this be known. My uneducated view is that the chaconne should be played with great emotion, but not so as to risk breaking the violin. That’s how I like it, anyway.
- The real purpose of this Note is to list the YouTube10 recordings of the Chaconne that cropped up when I did a search. No doubt the links will fail after a while, but alternative links will presumably become available. They are (with brief comments):-
- Itzhak Perlman: Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fT1QUX0iVIY). Wonderful11. Contains the full Partita – the gigue just before the chaconne is especially good. Has the right amount of passion to go with the perfect technique.
- Itzhak Perlman: Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1p2yzke_550). Just the chaconne this time.
- Scrolling version: Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U2UyC2VcOj0). This has Bach’s manuscript scrolling in time with the music, so you can see how what is played differs from what is actually scored. Presumably there’s a lot of compression in the score. I’m not sure who’s actually playing this rendering, but it’s well done. This version – Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oa1dcTVk2PU&feature=iv&src_vid=U2UyC2VcOj0&annotation_id=annotation_336610441) – does the same for the full partita, but with the modern score in addition.
- Yehudi Menuhin: Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BApAF0DwSW8). From 1956, this is similar in style to Itzhak Perlman (or maybe vice-versa). No actual video.
- Nathan Milstein: Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6pOfAv9gQzs). This is from Milstein’s last concert, aged 83. An excellent, controlled rendering. He wipes away a tear at the end, though the reason is unclear.
- Maxim Vengerov: Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSAMK3kiz5c). Great, but maybe not enough passion.
- Maxim Vengerov: Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fwDCdmD7Nao). From Aushwitz – shorter than the above (maybe cut slightly) – also the recording must be dubbed on the video, though it’s well done.
- Jascha Heifetz: Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6q-Zqz7mNjQ). Supposedly by the greatest violinist ever, but I found this rendering (when compared with some of the alternatives) a bit flat.
- Isaac Stern: Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1zvRWFD_1_M). Similar to Menuhin. But with a video.
- Viktoria Mullova: Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQcio8OLneg). A bit too gentle.
- Ivry Gitlis: Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bh8pKgwapSA). Maybe too harsh.
- Gidon Cremer: Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DBJPVnJ8m-Y). A bit too much bashing of the violin and bobbing up and down.
- James Ehnes: Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjYQlmpS69k). Gentle. The main rival to the “violin bashers”.
- Hilary Hahn: Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QqA3qQMKueA). Perfect, but maybe – at nearly 18 minutes – too slow and lifeless.
- Janine Jansen: Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SrZPIbIbYag). Quicker than Hahn, but still a little tame.
- Bach/Busoni piano version: Initially, I thought this a barbarous idea, and it does lack some of the delicate intensity of the solo-violin original; but some of the renderings are good, for instance:-
- Valentina Lisitsa: Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sOFflFiLlT8).
- Evgeny Kissin: Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fu-9frVpssg). Or Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=42UEVbwiRT0).
- Helene Grimaud: Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkOH-MtUplU).
- Arthur Rubinstein: Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKYyiD8ypCo). Very gentle.
- This is very short piece (less than 3 minutes), but requires careful listing.
- There are two versions - one where the main tune is played by two descant recorders, and the second is a piano transcription.
- While the piano version is wonderful, and recorders are usually horrid, the recorder version is "the one" for me. Bach knows what he's doing - the purity of the recorders' notes means that when the two play a semitone apart the acoustic "beats" probably12 enter into the experience and make it especially tingly.
- Anyway, the links are:-
- Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7cSaqK6w5Fk) (recorder)
- Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VxPaMrMsjLk) (better recorders, but something's not quite as good ... I think one recorder is too quiet).
- Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g3sz9cs8xBI) or Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yx-kKRvL8Uw) (piano)
Footnote 1: This was Christmas 2011.
Footnote 2: Of course, almost everything Bach wrote was wonderful, but you can’t focus on everything to appreciate them properly, and some pieces become over-familiar.
Footnote 3: This would have been in 2013.
- This is “doubtfully” by Bach – along with his signature-tune (the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565).
- I’ll ignore such quibbles, but you can follow these Wiki-links: Link (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toccata_and_Fugue_in_D_minor,_BWV_565) and Link (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Luke_Passion,_BWV_246).
- There’s a useful extract from a booklet accompanying a recording, extracted from a blog on the Bach Cantatas (Link (http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Vocal/BWV246-Gen.htm)): There is a fine recording on CPO, which puts the work in the best possible light. These are the details: Mona Spägele, soprano; Christiane Iven, contralto; Harry van Berne, Rufus Müller (Evangelist), tenor; Marcus Sandmann, Stephan Schreckenberger (Jesus), bass; Alsfelder Vokalensemble; Barockorchester Bremen/Wolfgang Helbich (CPO - 999 293-2). There is a very interesting essay on this work in the booklet. I'll quote two passages from it.
- "Our only source for the St. Luke Passion is a score copy begun by Johann Sebastian Bach and completed by his son Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. Today the manuscript is housed in the Berlin State Library. Since neither the title page nor the superscription mentions the composer by name, we can understand why this score in Bach's hand (his son's participation was not recognized until much later on) was attributed to him. Another factor suggesting Bach's authorship was the »J. J.« (Jesu juva = Jesus, help!) at the beginning of the copy; this was the petition for divine assistance with which he usually began his manuscripts.
- The Breitkopf music publishing house presumably obtained the manuscript from Wilhelm Friedemann Bach's estate. The Bach collector Franz Hauser acquired it during the nineteenth century and asked his friend Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy to state his opinion of it. Mendelssohn wrote that »I am sorry that you gave so much money for the St. Luke Passion. It was not too much to pay for it as a manuscript of unquestioned authenticity, but it is just as certain that this music is not by him....You ask for what reason the Luke is not by Sebastian Bach? For internal reasons...; if that is by Sebastian, then I'll be hanged, and yet it is unmistakably his handwriting. But it is too clean; he copied it...« This judgment of 1838 is the one that has ended up prevailing. Later Hauser's son, the chamber singer Joseph Hauser, had the family collection with him in Karlsruhe, where Johannes Brahms found occasion to look at the manuscript.
- As Mendelssohn before him, Brahms did not let himself be fooled by the fact that the manuscript was in Bach's hand. He too firmly rejected the nation of Bach's authorship for artistic reasons. It was impossible to overlook the vast divide separating this work of modest design from the St. John Passion and St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244). Nevertheless the Bach biographer and researcher Philipp Spittawas of another opinion. He regarded the St. Luke Passion as a work of the Thomaskantor's youth, and his support of its authenticity secured it a place in the old complete edition of Bach's works.
- When Max Schneider demonstrated that Bach's son had collaborated on the copy (more than half of the score is in his hand), the doubts about its authenticity became a certainty. Although the St. Luke Passion was listed in Wolfgang Schmieder's catalogue of Bach's works as BWV 246 as late as 1950, today the general consensus is that this composition is a work not by Bach but by a contemporary of his, one who most likely lived and worked in Central Germany, and that Bach copied out and performed this composers work. The repeated abjection that it is an extremely weak composition takes Bach's genuine passions as its yardstick and is unjustified. After all, the Thomaskantor himself was willing to invest the time and energy required for two performances of the St. Luke Passion. We should not forget this fact in our evaluation of it."
- "The identity of the composer of the St. Luke Passion is a question that has often been considered. He must have been a musician active in Central Germany around 1735 and was probably born shortly before 1700. In my research I have come up with a number of bits of evidence suggesting the possibility that its composer may have been the still little-knownEisenach court music director Johann Melchior Molter (1696- 1765). Molter, the son of a Kantor, was born in Tiefenort bei Eisenach and attended the Eisenach Preparatory School before entering the service of the Margrave Carl-Wilhelm of Boden-Durlach in Karlsruhe in 1717. Studies in Venice and Rome during 1719-21 brought him into direct contact with Italian musicians such as A. Vivaldi and A. Scarlatti. He was appointed to the post of court music director in Karlsruhe in 1722. After the disbandment of the court orchestra at the end of 1733 as a result of the outbreak of the Polish War of Succession, Molter was appointed to the then vacant music director's post in Eisenach. He began his service in Eisenachduring Easter 1734 and held this post until the dissolution of the Eisenach court in the summer of 1741.
- The St. Luke Passion exhibits many parallels and points of relation to other compositions known to be by Molter, not only to eleven church cantatas discovered in Regensburg some years ago and a two-part passion oratorio extant in Sondershausen, all doting to his Eisenach years, but also to other works of his. All of this makes his authorship at least seem possible. These resemblances have been overlooked for the simple reason that Molter's sacred works have managed to elude researchers up until now.
- This almost direct juxtaposition of old-fashioned traditional elements and modern elements is also found in Molter's passion oratorio dating to around 1735. Elegant instrumentations with, for example, a solo instrument and string pizzicato occur repeatedly in his arias and in the clearly recognizable technique combining different tonal and motion layers (oboes, strings, chorus, continuo) in the introductory passion chorus. It is precisely the introductory measures ascribed to Bach at the beginning of the second part that correspond especially well to Molter's orchestral style of strong Venetian stamp. Linguistic and formal points of relation also exist between the madrigal texts in the St. Luke Passion and those by Gottfried Loos (1686-1741), the Eisenach court poet who wrote for Molter."
Footnote 6: Obviously, the sound quality is better on CD, but these give an idea, and also the videos allow you to see the technique – and appreciate the amount of footwork that goes on.
- First 13 stanzas.
- The rest of the 53 stanzas ought to be easily be found, but in fact the only ones I can find (admittedly, the bulk) are:-
→ 22-30: Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amUm7CKOxHM)
→ 31-36: Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIQ46BPCkL4)
→ 47-53: Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dv9NBmQXV04)
Footnote 7: This is part of a cycle. Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D0gR8Wq7s1I) is the same recording.
Footnote 8: It may be – it’s the same video; while it gives indications of being super, the actual audio file is mostly poor and sometimes dreadful!
Footnote 9: Not too immoderately, in my current view. It’s “up there” with the Sistene Chapel and all that.
Footnote 10: As with the Passacaglia, the sound quality is better on CD, but these give an idea of the variety of interpretations, and also the videos allow you to see the technique – and appreciate the amount of energy put into the performances.
Footnote 11: These comments are based on a live recording made in Perlman’s relative youth, at a St. Johns, Smith Square lunchtime concert. Unfortunately, the copyright holders blocked it.
- I’m not quite sure about this, but according to my calculations, the frequency of the “beats” would be about 40 Hz, which is in fact an audible note (the E two octaves below middle C).
- For “beats” see Link (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beat_(acoustics)). The bottom line is that the frequency of the beat is the difference between the frequencies of the notes.
- For frequencies, see Link (http://www.indiana.edu/~emusic/hertz.htm) – the frequency of the recorder notes will be about 700 Hz, with the semitone difference being about 40 Hz.
- I’m also not sure whether anyone has picked up on this before – and whether it is indeed relevant – but the Wikipedia article mentions that composers have used beats for effect in their compositions, but none of them appear to be of the baroque period.
Footnote 3: (Biblical Archaeology)
Note last updated: 02/07/2013 14:12:29
- While looking for something on YouTube, I came across a BBC Documentary on King Solomon's Tablet of Stone (Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxgUMOCUK4A)). This led on to two other threads – that of the so-called James Ossuary (Link (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Ossuary)) and that on the Talpiot Tomb (Link (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talpiot_Tomb)). While interesting, these discussions – on Wikipedia and other sites – are disquieting on a number of grounds – mainly that such important matters remain unresolved, and the troubling nature of fraud either in the archaeological process or in the prosecution service, depending whose side you take.
- Otherwise, I’m not too concerned about the matter:-
- King Solomon's Tablet of Stone: The alleged importance of this stone (if genuine) if that it’s the only hard extra-Biblical evidence for the existence of Solomon and his temple. This isn’t on my list of worries – I see no reason to doubt the existence of either, even if the account may be exaggerated (which the Stone has no bearing on).
- James Ossuary: Again, this – if genuine1 – would be probabilistic evidence for the existence of Jesus. But, again, this isn’t one of my worries.
- Talpiot Tomb: this is certainly genuine, but its import is unclear. There is some suggestion that the missing “tenth ossuary” is the James Ossuary, which would connect the three cases together, but the style looks different to me. The issue is the probabilistic evidence that the collection of names makes this Jesus’ family tomb, once containing the (now lost) bones of Jesus himself. This would, of course, be dynamite, but is highly unlikely.
- This document is a temporary holding place and requires completion. For the time being, it is a holding-place, lest I forget the matter.
Footnote 1: Doubted because it comes from the same collector as Solomon's Tablet.
Footnote 4: (James Le Fanu)
Note last updated: 07/08/2018 13:50:53
- My interest in James Le Fanu was piqued by "Le Fanu (James) - The Queen of Beasts", which seemed to show an intemperate mysterianism.
- For James Le Fanu himself, see James Le Fanu's Website (http://www.jameslefanu.com/) and Wikipedia: James Le Fanu (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Le_Fanu). He originally hails from Ampleforth and is presumably, like the Thomas Moore Institute, at which the talk below was given, a Roman Catholic.
- The talk,
→ "Le Fanu (James) - Doubts About Darwin",
→ "Le Fanu (James) - Why Us? How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves"
are complaints that Darwinism is too facile a “solution” for completely explaining the full complexity of the biological world, though it’s not clear with what it should be supplemented.
- See "Alexander (Denis) - Review of 'Why Us?' by James Le Fanu" for a critique of the book by a more scientifically-minded Christian.
- After I’ve read his book - for which the talk is a plug - I will extract my footnotes appended to "Le Fanu (James) - Doubts About Darwin" into an updated version of this Note.
- Currently, the full text of the talk, with my footnotes, appears in the Note Le Fanu - Doubts About Darwin.
Footnote 5: (The Singularity)
This Note discusses in detail – or begins to discuss in detail – the somewhat extravagant thoughts in "Grossman (Lev), Kurzweil (Ray) - 2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal". It ought to range more widely across the Transhumanist literature. The footnotes in the Write-up for the paper link to the sections in this Note3. It is currently very much work in progress. Note last updated: 07/08/2018 21:18:43
- There’s presumably a distinction between rules-based creativity, which is what (presumably) computers can do, and creativity of a less constrained sort, that we don’t know how to get computers to do (yet)?
- And “self-expression” – facon de parler, in this context? Musical composition seems more a skill than a matter of self-expression (as would be a literary composition). I can’t see why a sense of self would be necessary for creative composition in either music or the graphic arts. Certain Idiot Savants are no doubt adept in these areas, despite autistic tendencies, that mitigate against a sense of self.
- What I have to say on Selves should be under
→ Self, and
Though I don’t seem to have said anything yet.
- Intelligence and Consciousness:
- There’s a sharp distinction between intelligence and consciousness.
- As far as we know, consciousness is the preserve of organic intelligence.
- We can presume that lots of rather dim animals are phenomenally conscious (even if not self-conscious → this distinction is important) so, there’s no link between getting smarter and smarter and then (as a result) getting phenomenally conscious.
- I’m not sure of the link between intelligence and self-consciousness.
- There’s an old Time article “Can Machines Think?” – stimulated by the Kasparov vs Deep Blue chess match (at Time: Can Machines Think? (http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,984304,00.html)).
- Imminence of the “Singularity” :
- This is predicated on the assumption of continued exponential growth. It’s a standard principle in scientific practice to be suspicious of exponentials, at least when they are unprincipled – ie. where there is no underlying theory that would lead us to expect them.
- Also, as noted elsewhere in this discussion, the occurrence of the Singularity relies on the achievement of numerous conceptual and technological breakthroughs that we have no warrant for assuming will happen any time soon.
- Human Civilization:
- So far, computers have only enhanced human civilisation.
- “Ending” human civilisation (“as we know it”) depends on delivering (in an uncontrolled manner) the various promissory-notes of the Time article.
- Faster Faster:
- Is this really the case that the rate of improvement in computing power is accelerating, and will it really continue to accelerate indefinitely, if it is so doing currently?
- Note that Kurzweil's graph muddles together speed and cost. See the comments below.
- Emulation: Two points here.
- Firstly, emulation isn’t the real thing. Models of hurricanes aren’t wet and windy, so why should emulations of consciousness be conscious?
- Secondly, digital computers are serial devices in which the components are (now) very quick, and brains are massively parallel devices whose components are very slow. Why should simulating one by the other produce the same (phenomenal) effect, and even be possible at all?
- Intelligent Actions:
- The items on the list (“driving cars, writing books, making ethical decisions, appreciating fancy paintings, making witty observations at cocktail parties”) can all (presumably) be rules-based and situation-driven. No doubt this is true of human intelligence as well (ultimately) but modelling it is not straightforward, as we don’t know how the brain does it. The issue isn’t really (in this case) to do with “whether”, but “when”, as there are lots of major breakthroughs required before the promissory note can be delivered on. Also, all these functions can be delivered unconsciously (if they can be delivered at all).
- Smart people:
- Does it matter how smart they are? Lots of equally smart people don’t share the optimism of the futurologists.
- Increasingly Powerful Computers:
- Are there really no reasons to doubt that their onward exponential growth is really never going to end? Miniaturisation of components has to stop soon due to QM effects. So, a radically-new technology is needed. Some ideas are there, but we might get “stuck” on their delivery, as has been the case for controlled nuclear fusion (Wikipedia: Fusion Power (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fusion_power#Current_status)), which in the 1950s was expected soon, in the 1970s by 2000 and in 2006 “not within 100 years”.
- There’s no doubt that computers will continue to get more powerful, as hardware and software continues to improve, as it always will. The issue is really over the rate of change (can exponential growth continue indefinitely) and can certain conceptual breakthroughs be made?
- Bootstrapped Development:
- This is certainly an important point, as we certainly use computers to help manufacture computers. But the extrapolation to development may involve the solution of the real “machine creativity” problem.
- Is this true? It would be true if machines became “smarter” than humans in every dimension of “smartness”. But “unpredictability” (ie. non-rules-based) is one of the aspects of machine-intelligence yet to be delivered by AI.
- Also, this argument sounds a bit like the “you can’t know the mind of God” (at all) arguments, which may or may not be sound.
- This sounds a more promising approach than simulation, and it’d relieve computers from having to realise consciousness. But any cognitive interlinking would still require a fuller understanding of how the brain works than is currently on the horizon.
- See Cyborgs for my thoughts on the matter.
- We don’t “integrate” with cars and planes any more than we integrate with computers. They are just tools. Prosthetics are the nearest analogues, but there’s a long way from that to true integration.
- At this stage of the argument, it’s not clear how intelligent machines will help repair our bodies and brains (especially “indefinitely”). Usually nanotechnology is invoked at this stage (see Wikipedia: Nanotechnology (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nanotechnology) for an overview). Now, it’s true that intelligent machines would be needed to manufacture, and probably program, these myriads of tiny, very specialised machines, but the possibilities are very schematic. There’s no evidence that anything workable is around the corner.
- It looks like the free eBook by Eric Drexler Engines of Creation 2.0 — The Coming Era of Nanotechnology (Drexler: Engines of Creation - Defunct) might prove useful.
- Just what is meant here? Is this just loose speaking? A thing (an animal) is conscious, and the animal can’t be scanned and downloaded anywhere. No-one really knows (at the theoretical level) what phenomenal consciousness is, though there are many theories. What’s probably intended here is that “the contents of our brains” would be read and uploaded to some device that can simulate our brains. This, of course, assumes that mind-body substance dualism is false (as it probably is), but even so – and admitting that whatever runs the downloaded software is at best a copy of the original, there’s a long way to go before this sort of thing becomes even a worked-out theoretical possibility.
- Well, philosophically-speaking, this is an outrageous idea. It depends on what we are, and we’re almost certainly not software, though software is important to us. And there are issues of identity – since software is easy to copy, and copies aren’t identical, what reason would an individual have for thinking any particular installed copy was (identical to) him?
- Well, this is certainly something to watch out for, but I dare say it’s a way off. It’s more of a worry in genetic engineering or (if it gets going in the futurist mini-robot sense) nanotechnology.
- The Singularity:
- Moore's Law:
- See Wikipedia: Moore's Law (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore%27s_law).
- The Wikipedia article mentions Kurzweil and other futurologists, and the possible breakdown of Moore’s Law within the next 5 years or so (ie. well before 2045). It also notes that Moore’s Law is a self-fulfilling prophesy, in that the industry has taken it as a paradigm for R&D aims. Also, that the R&D costs of keeping up with Moore’s Law are also increasing exponentially.
- Kurzweil's Graph:
- This graph intentionally muddles together speed and cost, but so-doing can lead others to draw the wrong conclusions from it.
- Currently, while there continue to be improvements in computing power, the current driver behind the continuing exponential growth of Kurzweil’s graph is economic – ie. computer hardware is being delivered cheaper, faster, not faster faster.
- Even if Kurzweil’s graph did continue for ever, it might still not lead to the singularity, in that the (infinitely cheap) computer hardware might still not deliver what Kurzweil needs. It might still be too slow.
- Dummy Section:
- Details to be supplied later!
Footnote 4: Footnote 5:
- Currently the links are one-way.
- Some of these links now fail, as indicated.
- Some other links work, but don’t have the same text.
- I’ve not had time to chase them up and make repairs, if possible.
Footnote 6: (MegaWoosh)
Also, there's a debunking site (Link - Defunct) that shows how the initial downward slither was achieved using a safety-rope and the film subsequently edited and speeded up. The “projectile” is an animated dummy rather than a human being. It’s an interesting question whether the delivery and take-off mechanism could be improved – eg. by using an ice-luge. Then, if the human being had to do no more than impersonate a dummy, the trialling might make it possible to set the parameters. But even so – slight variations in initial conditions might lead to major changes in outcome. No doubt one could wax lyrical on the psychology of belief here. Even though it would be a "natural/scientific" miracle for this to be real, it'd be a miracle nonetheless. Why are some people instinctively credulous, and others instinctively sceptical?
- I’ve taken a copy1 of the video lest it disappears, but it’s currently available on-line via one of the links further down this Note. I was asked
Do you reckon this is real, or just clever photography?!!! (or is this simpler to work out than we imagine?)
- You have to watch the video to make sense of what follows – but it should only take a couple of minutes. It's a clever fake, of course!
- The reason it has to be a fake is that it’s technologically impossible (or at least miraculous), and the reason for this is the precision required.
- The exercise divides into two parts
Part a is required to generate the energy needed for part b.
- a. Slithering down the long slide and back up the launch ramp, and
- b. Wooshing through the air and landing in the paddling-pool.
- The problem is that considerable accuracy is required for part b, both in direction and velocity. This would be fine if we were firing a projectile from a cannon, but “firing” a human being via a long ramp is a different matter. Now, it might be possible to get the parameters right once in a thousand, maybe, but this would not be possible with a human being, who would require quite a lot of patching up after a single miss, let alone a thousand. Also, it’s not a question of fine-tuning using a dummy, and then going for real with a human being, as we will see.
- The source of energy is gravity, and a precise amount is required for the final parabolic2 motion.
- In the video, the initial delivery mechanism (a quick shove preceded by water lubrication) is very imprecise3 for such a long narrow slide. Even slithering down the slide without falling off would be unlikely without buffers. The problem is that to stay straight on the slide you'd need to steer using your feet, which would be fairly random, depending on which bumps you encountered and would consume an unknown amount of kinetic energy, which would make the take-off velocity unpredictable, not to mention the direction of take-off. Even with buffers, an unknown amount of energy would be consumed by friction.
- So much for the physics; but there are various tell-tale signs in the video itself – which relies on the enthusiastic celebratory cheering – which is very well done (though may be borrowed from some genuine triumph) – for much of its verisimilitude.
- There's a dip in the trajectory that you can't see, a rather obvious give-away for splicing together bits of film. The final projectile bit is do-able, if dangerous, but you can't use the slide to gain the required kinetic energy. So, there’s some other “delivery mechanism” hidden out of sight.
- The anemometer is supposed to indicate the importance of wind-speed, but quite what "corrections" could be made to account for the wind isn't clear. Presumably it’s supposed to be “go / no go” only.
- One of the diagrams on the web-site (Link - Defunct) has a vague reference to magnetic repulsion - magnetische abstossung in German – as (along with water) a way of reducing friction (reibung); which seemed very fishy as there’s no obvious maglev in sight!
- Anyway, I had a look at the website that appears at the bottom of the video-clip (Link - Defunct) and the URL morphs into a Microsoft URL (Link - Defunct). The whole thing is a stunt to advertise MS Project, and there's even an admission on the site:
"Even if Bruno Kammerl remains a fiction".
Footnote 1: Note that this, despite only being a 45-second video, is a 4Mb file, so may take a while to download and spring to life in Windows Media Player, or whatever your system is configured to play .wmv files with.
Footnote 2: I’m ignoring wind-resistance here, which might or might not be a significant factor.
Footnote 3: Maybe it could be improved; a professional mathematician would be able to perform some sensitivity calculations that would quantify what I have to say. Note last updated: 19/03/2011 17:18:14
Footnote 7: (Islam 2)
The correspondence so far:- You can't be serious about the site you referred me to. Interestingly, I got an email from a Christian friend of mine this morning, who quoted a friend of his he'd just met on a preaching tour of Australia (she's an Iranian convert from Islam to Christianity). He'd asked her if there was an on-line concordance for the Koran, and she'd had this to say: "What I have learnt is that there is no logic, structure or sense in Koran and so Islam preach that an ordinary person can never understand Koran and you have to be a top notch Mullah to be able to read the interpretation of it and be able to comment. People are not encouraged to read the interpretation of it and up to very recently in Iran you couldn't get more than literal translation of it which didn't make much sense any how as it wasn't in sentence form. So all in all most Muslim have no clue what is said in it as they are suppose to read it in Arabic and recite it over and over again. Also there isn't much resources developed for people to find out what Koran said regarding various topics. Have a look at this site (Link (http://prophetofdoom.net/Islamic_Quotes.Islam)); it's not a concordance, but he has pulled out all the major Islamic quotes re jihad". This was sent to me because we'd previously had a discussion where my correspondent had alleged "that Mohammed in the Koran told Moslems to kill their enemies, whereas Christ in the New Testament told them to love their enemies". I'd argued that you'd need to immerse yourself in Islamic studies before jumping to conclusions. Anyway, my response to the recent correspondence included the following thoughts. A web-link (from another correspondent):-
- The initial correspondence:-
- I'm not sure I was ever an atheist - more agnostic - but I do think people should have good reasons for their beliefs, and not sign up for package deals. Emotionally, I've always wanted to believe, and have done so at various stages of my life. It's just that I don't at the moment, and the more I talk to believers, the less inclined I am to believe (I'm most inclined after listening to atheistic rants). Where I "am" at the moment, and my reasons for studying at Heythrop, are on my website, so there's no point repeating them here.
- I enjoyed the Philosophy of Religion module, which has just finished, but it was all a bit of a rush. I'd like to have done the whole MA on this topic, rather than skate over it in a term (though I do intend to follow up on a lot of the reading over the summer).
- I had a tutorial with Peter Vardy last week. He's an inspirational teacher, though not much of a philosopher (as he admits). I manage not to spot the coffin in his room, and would probably have missed the elephant as well. He did, though, ask whether I intended to complete the course - a bit odd, as I'm comfortably the top student. He thinks I should be getting on with things and not fritter time away on irrelevancies (the MA is a bit of a hodge-podge, and the second year consists of courses which, while interesting, aren't really core to my concerns). He asked how old I was - 57 - and said I'd 7 years active mental life and would be dead in 20 years. By analogy with his own expectations, presumably (he's 65 by all accounts). I'd rather hoped for an extra 10 years on top of that; but whatever, the years are certainly getting in short supply, actuarially-speaking. My intellectual interests really focus on the metaphysical possibility of post-mortem survival, and I'd like to reach a conclusion before I find out (or not) for real.
- Your blog (Link (https://bloggingtheology.net/)) seems very professional, though I've not had much time to look at it. You seem to be much in demand. I've got to focus on my essay on the Ontological Argument over the next 3 weeks, so won't be able to review it until later. You might, being an expert on these things, let me have your thoughts on a few books I've recently purchased (or had given to me). Some details are on my website at:-
… "Jones (Alan) - Arabic Through the Qur'an"
… "Omar (Abdul Mannan) - The Dictionary of the Holy Quran: Arabic Words - English Meanings"
… "Qara'I (Ali Quli) - The Qur'an: With a Phrase-by-Phrase English Translation"
… "Wansbrough (John), Rippin (Andrew) - Quranic Studies: Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation"
- Also, as well as Qur'anic Arabic (Link - Defunct), Heythrop do a module on Islam for my MA course (Link - Defunct). What do you think? Do you know Ahmad Achtar?
- Heythrop had a session ("Achtar (Ahmad) - Scriptural Reasoning at Heythrop: Abraham's Sacrifice of his son") with him, Jonathan Gorsky and Richard Price (Anthony Price's brother). He seemed a nice-enough chap, though I wasn't inspired by what he had to say (Jonathan Gorsky did the best, I thought).
- No doubt Islam is as replete with sects as Christendom. My sister-in-law is Turkish and stems from a Muslim sect (Alevi, I think) that allows the drinking of alcohol. She's a free-thinker. Are you a heretic, or mainstream? Reading the introduction to Qara'I's book, he makes out that the earlier revelation in the Bible had become textually corrupt and therefore a final revelation was needed to put things right. He also claims that the text of the Qur'an remains exactly as revealed. As an argument, this is pretty weak. Of course, fundamentalist Christians and Jews take the same line with their sacred texts; it's only the liberals who admit the vicissitudes of the textual development and transmission. A fundamentalist Christian cannot "tinker" with the Hebrew text to make it say what he wants (though he can tinker with the interpretation, especially if he follows the New Testament in so doing). It's alleged that there are discrepancies between the Qur'an and the earlier revelation, so the only option open to a fundamentalist Muslim is to allege corruption in the earlier texts - but of a sort for which there's no textual evidence. Do you take a fundamentalist or liberal approach to the Qur'an?
- Don't get the impression that I'm a potential convert, by the way. Islam strikes me as rather impoverished when compared to Judaism or Christianity, but that's an outsider's view based on very little information. Islam has very much got into people's faces of late, though entirely due to the (so called) terror rather than intellectual debate. As you would once have pointed out, in the UK you can be as rude as you like about Christianity, but no-one can speak openly against Islam lest they get accused of racism (on a good day) or get blown up (on a bad one). But still, an educated person has a duty to find out what all the fuss is about. I had a chat with John McDade at my interview and floated the idea that there must be more to Islam than meets the western eye - given the wonders of the mediaeval Islamic civilisations - but he wasn't very encouraging of that thought. It's possible that the civilisation arose in spite of, rather than because of, the religion. No doubt you'll try to put me right on these matters.
- Another try:-
- While searching for a solution to a computer-problem, I came across a posting by some chap … who added the following footnote (irrelevant in the purely technical context):-
"Do not the Unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together (as one unit of creation), before We clove them asunder? We made from water every living thing. Will they not then believe?
… Qur'an 21:30"
- This looks to me like some middle-eastern creation myth that is plain false in its literal meaning, if that's how it's intended to be taken, though (like the Judeo-Christian ones more familiar to me) it may have spiritual value within the tradition within which it arose and has been cherished. How do you approach such passages? The reason I ask is that I'm oft in discussion with Christians who insist that to "believe" God, or to be "strong in faith", you have to believe (what seems to me to be) obvious nonsense. Usually the divine omnipotence / human ignorance card is played - ie. God could have done anything he pleased, and just how do I (or anyone else) know what happened "in the beginning" without God telling me? Any thoughts?
- Its odd that you see the ayat expressing a creation myth - it seems rather scientifically accurate to me...
- Nice of you to write a whole sentence. I'll be similarly succinct. Just how should the verse be construed, scientifically speaking? And how is 96:2 (the clot of blood) passage to be interpreted? See, eg. Link - Defunct (the question, not the answers). Could you recommend a sound, scholarly 1-volume commentary on the Qur'an?
- The best guide to the Qur’an is the Qur’an itself. I recommend Muhammad Asad's excellent translation and commentary ("Asad ( Muhammad) - The Message of the Quran: The Full Account of the Revealed Arabic Text Accompanied by Parallel Transliteration", which draws on the classical scholars). As to your scientific questions have a look here: Link (https://www.islam-guide.com/)
- The reason I’ve not pursued this is that that the link is to a site that doesn’t address my question (as far as I can see) but claims all sorts of scientific truths to have been anticipated by the Qur’an. No-one but a believer would entertain these so-called “proofs” for a second.
- And some more:-
- I don't think you're trying very hard in this discussion. I've ordered the book you suggest, but note that a couple of the Amazon reviewers claim that it's sectarian, and that the uninformed can't distinguish Asad's own thoughts from more traditional ones:
- "That brings you to Muhammad Asad, an Austrian convert (from Judaism), born Leopold Weiss. His translation itself is about on a par with Muhammad Muhsin Khan and Muhammed Taqi-ud-Din Al-Hilali: it more or less works in English, but you may get distracted by all the parentheses and there is a little too much flowery language. His notes are at least as numerous as in Abdullah Yusuf Ali, but Asad/Weiss naturally had a better idea about what might confuse the average non-Muslim reader. He offers a reasonable combination of the scholar's hadith and the layman's history plus moral application. Unfortunately, the hadith are not identified with the name of their authors, the opinions of Asad himself are frequently seen by the Muslim mainstream as non-standard (read: incorrect), and you can't tell the difference. You don't know whether what any given note says is just Asad's individual, controversial opinion, or a point of view most Muslims are at least familiar with."
And some more:-
- Thanks for the link below (Link (http://prophetofdoom.net/Islamic_Quotes.Islam)). It's a very useful site indeed - lots of resources (even a copy of Mein Kampf!). Yes, I'm sure we've discussed these matters before. I had two issues with a blanket condemnation. Firstly, that outsiders can cherry-pick nasty verses (I've seen similar things done for the Talmud; and one could no doubt compile a case against Judeo-Christianity by carefully selecting violent passages from the OT and various "woes" from the NT). One needs a balanced contextual view. Secondly, one needs to consider the context in which a work was produced when evaluating its overall tenor. The "dark ages" weren't exactly a high-point of civilisation - even Byzantium, the Christian legacy of the Roman world, was a horrid place, with its routine torture and blindings. But I agree that for a book purporting to be the eternal word of God, a general tenor of retributive violence isn't what you'd expect. But maybe there are arguments that would defend such an approach, given the times. Even the Christian "love your enemies" doctrine can be variously understood and contextualised. As you argue, many of the NT teachings are in the light of an impending end of the world and are "not for today", so maybe some of the "start up" violence of Islam isn't meant for today either (maybe they are awaiting their Charles Welch; Link (http://charleswelch.net/), Link (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_H._Welch)).
- But this site seems very thorough. However, I'm intrigued by the site - did you look at the other pages? What's this "Yada Yahweh" stuff, that's mentioned on the page you referenced (Link (http://yadayahweh.com/))? Looks like a messianic Jewish group, rather anti-Pauline (Link (http://questioningpaul.com/Questioning_Paul-Galatians-12-Metanoeo-Change_Your_Perspective.Paul)). I've not done anything but skim a few pages, and don't know how the various offerings are related. But if it's the same group that rubbishes both Paul and Islam, then you might not want to take what they say about either at face value.
- That said, I don't hold out much hope for Islam having much that's useful to say, or that it's anything but a retrograde step in the "history of religions". But whether it's worse than Nazism I don't feel comfortable to pronounce on. I don't see any reason to dispute the claim that Moorish Spain and pre-Ottoman Baghdad were more civilised than their Christian enemies (and more friendly to the Jews). Maybe they were "un-Islamic" in so being, but I'd need convincing.
- I'd been questioning my "Catholic-converted-to-Islam" about Islam's scientific claims, and have got nowhere so far. I've copied the correspondence below for your edification. You'll see he doesn't answer my questions, but refers me to a site that is frankly ludicrous. It's interesting to compare that site with the relevant page on Prophet of Doom (Link (http://prophetofdoom.net/Islamic_Quotes_Science.Islam)), which takes the offending passages as self-evident nonsense (as I would, prima-facie, ie. without "spiritualising") - but it seems the fundamentalists find ways of insisting they be taken as literal truth. Not to mention rummaging through the text of the Qur'an for obscure passages that they claim are predictions of specific scientific findings. Just nonsense.
I received the following in mid-January 2010, but haven’t had the opportunity to follow it up yet:-
- I don’t think this3 is fair. There are many secular areas of enquiry that have enough fascination to tickle the intellect for me to pursue if this was my only interest. You know my background (or can remind yourself from my website) and “religion” has always been an important issue for me. It’s just that I don’t think any of the revealed religions are credible, and don’t think the so-called “proofs” of natural theology work. While I think there are profound mysteries in the universe, I take naturalism to be the default position – but I’m willing to be argued out of it. Now it’s often said that you can’t be argued in to any religious position, that it’s a step of faith – or at least one of commitment. The trouble with steps of faith is that you have to choose a particular one. You yourself seem to have chosen two incompatible ones at different stages of your life. You’ve not explained, I don’t think, what caused your move to Islam. To me it seems a hopeless retrograde step, but I’m willing to spend time at least getting a superficial view of what Islam is all about. But from my limited experience, it seems that there are various un-argued assumptions that need to be taken on board before you can get started. You know, the 5 pillars (maybe). Do you just have to accept the Qur’an as divinely dictated? What if you don’t think it is?
- I’ve been in Christian groups where – if you’re only willing to accept some foundation authority – whether the Bible or the Church – and are willing to ignore any conflict between that authority and whatever else you think you know (thereby either living in anti-realism or denying that you know what you thought you knew), then you can live happily, otherwise there’s continual chafing. But I’ve not been willing to do this, and don’t intend to change – because I don’t think this is what God – if he exists – would want.
- Anyway, the reason I’ve been writing to you is that you might know something about Islam. I think it’s incumbent upon educated people to know something about Islam beyond the comments and selections of its despisers, cultured or otherwise. I also want to know – if you have to submit to one book or another – whether there’s any principled way of choosing which – or whether the various adherents just take this as axiomatic, and a matter of faith.
- My basic principle is to submit to the truth and follow it wherever it leads. If Islam were to be the truth, I’d submit to it, but I wouldn’t dream of so doing “just in case”.
- It’s up to you whether you want to answer any of my questions, or turn email ping-pong into a “discussion”. "Asad ( Muhammad) - The Message of the Quran: The Full Account of the Revealed Arabic Text Accompanied by Parallel Transliteration" turned up this morning. A very fine volume, but my opinion on whether its contents are as sumptuous as its bodily form will have to await my reading of it.
I had an earlier discussion here with a different correspondent.
- At long last we have the full unabridged Muslim Debate Initiative (Link (https://thedebateinitiative.com/)) debate from December 2009. I chair and moderate this event and open with a brief speech about how I came to embrace Islam. I believe this was the first time in the UK that Muslims had debated the British National Party. The event was reported around the world by CNN, the BBC Arabic Service and Press TV (amongst others).
- Link (https://bloggingtheology.wordpress.com/2011/01/15/muslims-debate-the-bnp-islamification-of-britain-myth-or-reality/)
Footnote 3: The claim that I am only interested in intellectual discussion, not commitment. Note last updated: 19/03/2011 17:18:14
Footnote 8: (Mike & Sylvia (29/12/2010)) (CORRESPONDENT)
This discussion mostly centres on epistemological questions, and picks up on issues left dangling in the discussion of authority. My comments appear as footnotes within this page. Note last updated: 19/03/2011 17:18:14
- Stephen was reading a book Theo may care to read2: "Johnson (Donald E.) - Programming of Life".
- You know your comment about Wiseman’s3 Six Day Revelation being like a ‘Just-So4’ story. Well .... really .... lots of the accounts given by evolutionists as to how this or that developed are really classic Just So Stories. Kipling’s “How the elephant got his trunk” is really an evolutionary story and reminds me of what I was taught about “How the giraffe got his long neck5.”
- A number of theologians have the view that Moses wrote Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a, and I don’t really disagree with that. When one thinks of all the things that God told Moses recorded in Exodus, Leviticus etc., it would be no great problem for God to have told Moses6 about His creation, giving him six different talks / visions on six different days. After all Moses was up on the Mount for much longer than six days.
- Be careful, Theo, not to dismiss minority7 views. They could8 well be right.
- That is true if we are dealing with biblical exegesis – look what the majority make and do with communion (compared to what happened in the Scriptures) and the majority view is clearly wrong9.
- Look at the majority view of nephesh, soul10.
- Wiseman’s interpretation / translation of ‘asah’ (made in Genesis 1:7) may be a minority view but that is not the reason for dismissing his view. ‘Asah’ is one of those general Hebrew words (and ‘made’ in English is also a general word) and in the KJV and NIV is translated by dozens of different English words. Wiseman’s translation is perfectly possible11, but it seems, at times, you want to interpret / translate the Bible in a way which makes it easier to dismiss12.
- I would rather look for a possible explanation (whether it be a majority or minority view) which makes it more credible (to my mind13 at least).
- Also, in science, new views often start as the minority. Galileo’s was once a minority14 view. Before then there were so many explanations15 for the stars etc. which did not fit the accepted science.
- That sounds a bit like evolution to me; there are so many explanations to explain the bits that don’t fit16 the accepted evolutionary model(s). As pre-Galileo17, the accepted science may be wrong.
- To believe that life just started from lifeless primeval gases ... that takes a lot of faith18. But then, you may well be a man of greater faith19 than I.
- Whether theistic evolution be the way God did it or not, I have no idea. But then ... I have no idea20 how God created or when He did so .... so I am not much help.
- Sometimes we go round in circles21, but occasionally I think we reach new ground! Mike actually brought up the “port in the Andes22”. It was in the context of there being many inexplicable23 facts24 about the world, universe, geology, and so on, and that we still don’t have many of the answers, or indeed, many of the puzzle pieces to start with. Well done for finding the notes on our original discussion of this subject – I knew it rang a bell! This particular example of a puzzling set of facts is a good25 one, I think. We end up trying to fit a theory to the facts, but the theory really does depend upon our preconceived26 ideas of the world.
- I agree with Mike (obviously!) that much of our understanding of the facts that we come across in our lives depends upon what we have already decided to put our faith in, and we tend to understand everything in that context. Why we decide to put our faith in God27, or alternatively, put our faith in something else, is interesting. I believe the Holy Spirit works by presenting each person with this choice in their lives – but then of course you know this already!
Footnote 2: Information Theory.
Footnote 3: Wiseman.
- I have bought a copy, but don’t know when I’ll read it.
- On the same topic I have:-
… "Gitt (Werner) - In the Beginning was Information", and
… "Shannon (Claude) & Weaver (Warren) - The Mathematical Theory of Communication",
not that I’ve read them either.
- The “issue” seems to be that (allegedly) living cells contain too much information in them not to have been explicitly created by a designer. I don’t know how to evaluate such arguments. When I find time, I’ll pursue the themes in Link (http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/behe.html), that discuss Behe’s ideas (which are along the same lines).
Footnote 4: Just So Stories.
- I’ve recently got hold of an electronic version of "Wiseman (P.J.) - Creation Revealed In Six Days: The evidence of Scripture confirmed by Archaeology", though it’s missing the Appendices (do you have a copy with these – and are they important?). I’ve converted it to my format, and started reading, but it’ll probably be a while before I finish it.
- Used copies of his Clues to Creation in Genesis are available on Amazon; but, if memory serves, this book is mostly concerned with his (to my mind rather implausible) “colophon” theory. “Implausible” because (in effect) it suggested (I seem to remember) that because Semitic languages are written from right to left, this somehow explains why the covers of the books got attached to the wrong books. But the covers are on the “back”, so this doesn’t seem to follow. But maybe I’ve got Wiseman wrong.
Footnote 5: Necks.
- Normally, the disputes over “How the giraffe got his long neck” are disputes between different evolutionary theories – eg. the discredited Lamarkian explanation – whereby the individual animals stretch their necks to reach higher branches and pass this acquired characteristic onto their offspring – versus the Darwinian version whereby a chance mutation for a longer neck gives the offspring who possess it a heritable advantage over their conspecifics (and other species inhabiting the same niche). It’s only really the Lamarkian approach that is “Just so”.
- But, there are cases where some odd event allegedly occurred in the past – say the alleged bi-location of Padre Pio (eg. Link (http://www.padrepio.catholicwebservices.com/ENGLISH/ENGLISH_index.htm)). Those who believe in such possibilities accept them at face value. But those who don’t sometimes feel obliged to come up with some explanation as to how they came about. But obviously, whatever their suspicions, they don’t really know what happened – so what they do is come up with a collection of “just so” stories that – while each may individually be of low probability – collectively they are of higher probability than the obnoxious supposed event that is being doubted. To deny the obnoxious event, all we need is that one of an open-ended list of alternative possibilities be true.
- I assume we agree that the bilocation of a stigmatic is likely to be untrue, and would think of various stories of greater or lesser charity as to how the legends might have come about. Interestingly, "Ehrman (Bart D.) - Jesus, Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium" considers the accounts of the resurrection of Jesus – and admits that the alternatives that explain the facts – while individually possible but not especially likely – are collectively more credible than the miraculous alternatives.
- Whether we seek an alternative to the miraculous event depends on our prior commitments. Those with a commitment to Christianity have no need to seek an alternative explanation, and Catholics have no objections to Padre Pio, but both groups are likely to object to the alleged miracles of Apollonius of Tyana (Link - Defunct) – unless they attribute them to powers other than God (which is another “just so” possibility).
- Now, I don’t know whether my use of the expression “just so stories” in connection with Wiseman’s theories is apposite. That’s the trouble with a chat – sometimes you say things that on reflection aren’t as appropriate as they might have been. That’s why I have doubts about face-to-face discussions on serious matters, as explained to Sylvia some while back (Click here for Note).
- It seems to me that what we have is a problem of interpreting ancient texts in the light of more recent understanding. While this understanding is certainly fallible, it is based on a lot more data than was available to the ancients. I’ve recently been trying to quiz a friend of mine (a Catholic who converted to Islam 3 years ago) on this topic with respect to the Qur’an, but have got nowhere (Click here for Note).
Footnote 6: Adam or Moses?
- The interesting thing about necks is that almost all mammals have 7 vertebrae – including bats, whales, giraffes and humans (see Link (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mammal#Skeletal_system)).
- Why is this? If you were an engineer designing from scratch, rather than operating by decent with modification, wouldn’t it be likely that long necks would have more vertebrae than short ones?
- No doubt an evolutionary biologist would still need to explain why sloths and manatees differ from the standard plan. I’ve not pursued this question.
Footnote 7: Minority Views.
- I had thought that Wiseman’s view was that the 6-day revelation was to Adam, not to Moses – but I may have misunderstood.
- But even if he did hold this view, you are free to invent another alternative – another “just so” story. The point of all this is that (I presume) you take the strictly literal account as too much in conflict with what we know, and so the Biblical account has to be interpreted more subtly.
Footnote 8: Backing the Minority View.
- My point wasn’t that minority views should be dismissed on principle. That would be absurd – as then science or any other discipline would never move on.
- My point was that it’s not open to a non-specialist to go against the expert consensus without good reason. Did you see the recent Horizon program Science Under Attack (Link - Defunct)? It wasn’t that great, but it explored the question of why it is that journalists and the general public seem keen to go against the scientific consensus on a number of issues – for instance climate change. For a review,
… The Guardian (Link (https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2011/jan/25/horizon-science-under-attack-review)),
And for a critique,
… Bishop Hill (not a bishop! Link (http://bishophill.squarespace.com/blog/2011/1/24/more-horizon-coverage.html)).
- Taking the climate change issue. It is not certain that temperatures are rising, and it is not certain that the rise, if there is one, is due to human agency, and it is not certain that even if both these claims are true that anything can be done about it. But, the consensus is that both statements are true, and that something can be done about it, provided something is done soon. If nothing is done, and things carry on as they are, then the Antarctic ice-sheet will melt, and many great cities will be submerged, and earlier than that, the Arctic ice will melt, the Atlantic Conveyor will fail, and the UK will get a Scandinavian climate. So, it’s an important issue, one on which there is masses of data that has to be carefully modelled. It’s a problem that everyone hopes will go away as it’s expensive and inconvenient to fix. So, it is very tempting to deny the problem altogether.
- The point the program makes is that to arrive at a rational judgement, you have to take all the data and all the evidence, and not cherry-pick the bits that suit your viewpoint.
Footnote 9: Biblical Exegesis.
- Yes – the minority could be right, but the smart money will always be placed by an outsider on the majority view, because the consensus will be right (say) 90% of the time.
- Reputations are made by challenging the consensus, rather than going with the flow, so it’s always possible to find a heretic that disagrees with the consensus.
- But the vast majority of these heretics will be wrong, so it is methodologically unsound to look round for someone who says something you’d like to hear, and choose that.
Footnote 10: Souls.
- Well, I agree that that the majority view on Communion is clearly wrong just as you do, but our reasons differ slightly, though we agree that the root cause is a faulty paradigm.
- While it doesn’t deal with this topic, I remember "Harvey (A.E.) - Jesus and the Constraints of History" as a useful and scholarly account (in a non-sceptical way) of what could and couldn’t have been said of Jesus in NT times.
- By analogy, certain things (like the Last Supper being the institution of “Communion”, and what was understood of the bread and wine) are hopelessly anachronistic. I remember reading somewhere once someone claiming that Paul’s “cloak”, that he asked Timothy to bring, was his “chasuble”. Again, a hopeless anachronism.
- The trouble with the “traditionalists” is that they can’t see how “the church” could have gone so horribly wrong so quickly, given the promise of the Holy Spirit and experience of Pentecost, and they don’t have the same overview of what was going on that dispensationalists do. These are large questions, and – much like the “counting” of manuscripts to determine the NT text – it’s “independent witnesses” that are important. Lots of witnesses from the same tradition, that share the same paradigm, aren’t necessarily worth counting individually.
- I suppose there might be analogies with a wholesale rejection of supernaturalism by some atheistic scientists, if this rejection is a priori and ideological rather than methodological or inductive.
- I also suppose it’s important how involved individuals are in “testing” the paradigm, and working within it, and whether they know (or can know) whether or not it works. We might consider working geologists and practicing Pentecostals – the facts of the world must impinge on them on a daily basis and confirm or conflict with their paradigm. I’m not sure this is the case with traditionalists, especially if they don’t study their Bibles much.
- The bottom line in all this is that there are different ways of counting heads. I would agree that just when to demur from the majority view is a moot point; and I (like you) have to watch out that I’m not doing so just because it’s convenient. Basically (I would say) you need a jolly good reason.
Footnote 11: Asah and “doing”.
- It’s instructive to read the preface of a recent book supporting the traditional view ("Cooper (John) - Body, Soul and Life Everlasting: Biblical Anthropology and the Monism-dualism Debate").
- There are lots of issues here; not least whether
… not of course that you would think there could be a truth-value difference here!
- There are such things as souls, and
- Whether the Bible says there are
- Basically, each view has a set of “definitive” passages, and a set of “difficult” ones that have to be harmonised or explained away. The opposing views seem to take one another’s difficult passages as definitive, and vice versa.
- I have a few handy OBT booklets on this topic, lest you ask:-
… "Ozanne (Charles) - The Life and Soul of Mortal Man: His Composition, Disintegration, and Resurrection", and
… "Bullinger (E.W.) - The Resurrection of the Body",
… "Bullinger (E.W.) - The Rich Man and Lazarus - the Intermediate State".
- My feeling is that it’s impossible to achieve what the authors of the above booklets wish to do, and the long list of “problem passages” in, for example, Ozanne’s booklet shows this fairly clearly. The assumptions are:-
My view is that the Bible is much more accommodating towards “common currency” beliefs contemporary with the writers than modern (fundamentalist) scholars think is appropriate, and that we should focus on the moral message of the various passages rather than the metaphysical details presupposed.
- a. The traditional doctrines are either false to reality or ethically obnoxious.
- b. Nothing of the sort could be found in Scripture, properly interpreted.
- c. Rather than being a library with potentially discordant views, written and revised during the course of a millennium, the Bible speaks univocally when different passages treat of the same topic.
- My inclinations are strongly towards materialism (in the non-moral sense), but I’m currently reading a book on NDEs ("Fenwick (Peter) & Fenwick (Elizabeth) - The Truth in the Light: An Investigation of Over 300 Near-Death Experiences"). Do you have a view on NDEs? Most of the phenomena seem to be explicable by the sort of things that are likely to happen in the dying brain, and this is the popular materialist explanation, but the claim that people have “floated out of their bodies” and seen things they couldn’t otherwise have seen are difficult to refute other than by denying that they happen as related, but are “talked up” in some way. There’s also the issue of how these episodes are remembered and when the experiences (whatever they are of) actually happened. Given the prevalence of amnesia around the period of traumatic events, it seems to me most likely that the experience of the NDE is had when the person is “coming round” rather than during the crisis itself. A popular explanation of the experience of déjà vu is that it’s down to a memory storage and retrieval problem, and that the “remembered” experience is the one currently being had, but with the memory off-set by a second from real time. But any application of this idea to the timing of NDEs is just speculation on my part.
- What do you make of claims like this (in non-traumatic cases, so they aren’t really NDEs):-
- A similar account was given to us by Dora Parker, who had also had an out-of-body experience when she was ill with 'flu as a seven-year-old child.
“I left my body and felt relief that I was free ... I heard a noise and my nanna coming upstairs ... I continued to float and the light at the bottom of the stairs was brilliant (we only had gas). I was inquisitive. I needed to see why the light was so bright. I got to the curtain (we had a curtain at the bottom of the stairs) and I heard my nanna scream and scream. My body started to shake. I was tangled in the curtain. I had to go back — my lovely nanna wanted me — so I floated back and as she let my head on the pillow I came into my body feet-first.”
- Whatever the grandmother saw, it clearly terrified her, just as the sister of the boy in the previous account was terrified. There is obviously something about an OBE which to an observer seems like death — a body without its vital force.
- In some instances, leaving the body seems to be a way out for people who are in great physical pain, or even great emotional distress. Some of the people who wrote to us had had an OBE in these circumstances and were subsequently able to reproduce it as a mechanism to escape pain. Mrs Christine Hopkinson describes what happened to her when she was in severe pain (though not near death) due to an undiagnosed gall bladder problem.
“I remember saying to myself, all right, take me, I can't go on any longer — here I am. I spent some time out of my body and then felt had a choice of whether to go back or not. I chose to go back. For several weeks the same thing occurred, but I controlled the experiences. At the onset of pain I relaxed and ‘floated out' until it was ‘safe' to return and the pain was gone. I was able to roam about the house, check that my baby was sleeping, look at the cat and dog, see my husband asleep. I could see my body sitting there waiting for me to return to it. I have always felt that if I ‘needed' to I could do it again — but only if I ‘needed' to — and consequently have never been afraid of suffering acute pain. I have always felt guilty about not sharing these experiences as I feel if the techniques could be taught they could help people who suffer pain.”
("Fenwick (Peter) & Fenwick (Elizabeth) - The Truth in the Light: An Investigation of Over 300 Near-Death Experiences", pp. 38-9).
Footnote 12: Dismissing the Bible?
- Well, no doubt. Asah is a very multi-purpose word in Hebrew. But the question isn’t really whether the particular meaning chosen in a particular context is possible, but whether it’s likely.
- In particular, did the author of the passage have an alternative way of more clearly expressing his intention if the heterodox translation is what he really intended. And, if so, why didn’t he use that expression?
- Is there any motivation for the “possible” translation other than to harmonise the text with something else the reader (if not the Biblical author) believes in?
- How well does the heterodox translation harmonise with other Biblical passages that deal with the same topic (or with ancient translations of the passage in question into other languages)?
- How do you explain the origin and popularity of the orthodox view?
Footnote 13: Credibility and Minds.
- Not at all. I want to interpret the Bible in as reasonable a manner as possible. What I want to do – just like you, I think – is find out what it was originally intending, and then – unlike you – see whether that original intention is credible. If it isn’t, then you just have to live with this and see what you can make of the passage that is helpful.
- Clearly, the early chapters of Genesis are a lot more sensible than the then competition – they stress the separateness of God from the universe and its dependence on him, while avoiding turtles, sea-monsters and ludicrous legends. But insisting that it has to be taken literally just places stumbling-blocks in the way of the conscientious. And struggling to find some quaint interpretation that appears to preserve literality doesn’t seem to me to be accepting the Bible as it is.
Footnote 14: Minority (but Correct) Views – Galileo.
- Well, I suspect it depends how “full” your mind is. I’m sure many Christians have some vague feeling that “flood geology” fits both the facts and the Bible, without really being aware of, or caring about (not being working geologists) just what the geological facts are.
- I always see an asymmetry here. If you want to go out on a limb, you need to know more about the subject than the competition. You can’t just pick on any madcap that says something comfortable for you to believe.
Footnote 15: Pre-Galilean Explanations.
- Well, presumably all ideas start off as the view of the one person first to think of them. But it doesn’t make it rational to believe the minority view – even if it should turn out to be correct – until evidence for its truth has accumulated. Galileo couldn’t really prove his view (indeed, no scientific theory is deductively valid as it’s supported by abductive rather than deductive proofs – inference to the best explanation of a large amount of data).
- There’s a shift of paradigm (in theory) just as soon as the new theory explains more and struggles with less of the evidence than its rivals – thought there are lots of sociological factors involved, and some theories “feel wrong” and so are very reluctantly accepted.
- The main point is that “science” is never final – there’s always more to be discovered and explained, and depending on just what is discovered the existing theories will have to be adjusted to a greater or lesser degree to accommodate the inconvenient new facts. But at least “science” cares about the evidence which it seeks to explain. It’s not prescriptive of how things must be, as though we can know without looking – which was the approach of some medieval and some ancients – and was the dominant position until just before Copernicus.
- If you have a holy book (or some other indubitable authority) that you think tells you how the world is, then you have no incentive to look at the world itself. The same is true if you have too high a view of the rationality of man (in being able to intuit the truth independently of experience) or of the “helpfulness” of God (in designing man to be a successful intuitionist of the truth).
- I’ve heard it said that the Judeo-Christian world-view was essential for the rise of science. It features in the discussions on Copernicus – how he thought that because the universe was made for man, it would therefore be intelligible to man. But other Christians who have had an Aristotelian view of a remote God have thought that it was impious to investigate the creation, because man in his fallen state can know nothing without divine help.
- It strikes me that someone needed to take step of confidence that the world is intelligible, and that man has the capability to find things out, and then see how you get on. If you make progress, then fine.
- There are some mumblings in creationist circles about just how unlikely it would be for the higher intellectual capacities to have evolved, as they don’t seem very useful to hunter-gatherers. I’m not impressed, and suppose that they are spin-offs from skills that did have survival value.
Footnote 16: Problems with Evolutionary Models.
- Well, it’s right that sometimes the minority – but happily correct – view doesn’t immediately get accepted because it can’t prove its case.
- The original problem with the Copernican system was that astronomers expected to see parallax in star positions as the Earth moved round the Sun (if it did). It was only the invention of the telescope that (inter alia) blew the lid off such doubts by revealing the vastness of the universe, and allowing the huge inter-stellar distances to become appreciated. It’s just that it took a while for the data revealed by the telescope to become widely available, and some people thought it impious to use the instrument at all.
- Similarly, think of Kelvin’s “upper bound” limits to the age of the Earth, and of the Sun, using 19th-century physics Link (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Thomson,_1st_Baron_Kelvin#Age_of_the_Earth:_Geology_and_theology). Until the discovery of radioactivity, the Earth (with its molten core) “couldn’t be” more than forty million years old (see Link (https://zapatopi.net/kelvin/papers/on_the_secular_cooling_of_the_earth.html)), as otherwise it would have cooled down from its presumed initial molten state. And the Sun “couldn’t be” older than five hundred million years (see Link (https://zapatopi.net/kelvin/papers/on_the_age_of_the_suns_heat.html)).
- Again, Barnes’s arguments that the decay of the Earth’s magnetic field (when extrapolated back) places a limit on the age of the Earth ignore (or reject) past polarity-reversals, which show the extrapolation-assumption to be unsound (seeLink (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_G._Barnes#Earth.27s_magnetic_field_decay). See Link (http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/magfields.html) for a detailed rebuttal of Barnes’s theory.
Footnote 17: Galileo.
- You’d need to give some examples here, but …
- Popper famously / notoriously claimed that evolutionary theory (like psychoanalysis) was unfalsifiable, and therefore pseudo-scientific. This claim has been disputed (by both evolutionary theorists and psychoanalysts). I’ve no impulse to defend the latter, but I think the consensus is that Popper was wrong with respect to evolution, and Link (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Objections_to_evolution#Unfalsifiability) claims that he modified his views.
- I need to re-read "Kitcher (Philip) - Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism", which deals with this sort of objection (in particular Chapter 2 - "Kitcher (Philip) - Believing Where We Cannot Prove").
Footnote 18: Faith.
- I know Galileo is just an example, so the following points are not strictly relevant, but I’ve jotted them down for future reference. Your point here, though, is that Galileo was (loosely speaking) correct but was initially resisted. He’s an awkward example because the main problem in his case was that of authority to teach, but you could have chosen other examples (plate tectonics is a classic case). All this stuff is discussed in "Kuhn (Thomas) - The Structure of Scientific Revolutions".
- My point isn’t that the minority-view can’t be right, only that it’ll be wrong 90% of the time, even if we restrict ourselves to the views of experts; and that non-experts have no warrant for choosing a comfortable minority view that agrees with their prejudices.
- It might be interesting to think through what logical work belief in such minority views performs. It’s not as a logically necessary bit of scaffolding – so that if the view turned out to be false, the belief that it allegedly supports would be without foundation – because the belief would still be held anyway. It just seems to be something of a comfort-blanket as far as I can see. But I dare say all people have such comfort-blankets. My point is that they should be as robust as possible, and not just any old rag of last resort.
- Anyway, Galileo is a popular defence witness in a number of arguments. I’m not sure which aspect of science you had in mind, but I suppose it would be his support for the Copernican system, as this was then the most controversial area of his thought.
- I’m no expert in this area, but my understanding is that at the time of Galileo, before natural science had taken off, the general view was that scientists (or mathematicians) could theorise and create models that predicted things – that “saved the phenomena” – but not claim that this is how things really were (which is exclusively for God to say). So, Ptolemy’s theories of epicycles to explain retrograde planetary motion weren’t held as “the truth” of how things were, just as useful fictions to help predict their movements. How things really were was down to the theologians and philosophers who knew the mind of God. Galileo’s trouble was that he believed his theories, and taught them as the truth, thereby stepping on their toes. Also, he claimed to be able to interpret the Scriptures, which also wasn’t his job.
- It’s interesting to think how Scriptural verses should be interpreted, in the absence of evidence of how things actually are. We now know that there are no “storehouses” for the wind, so see verses that refer to them as poetic. But without this knowledge, isn’t it “safer” to take them literally?
- There were a bunch of verses that now seem obviously figurative, but which were taken literally in the absence of evidence to the contrary, and in the light of the “common sense” that the earth doesn’t seem to be moving (I’m indebted to Link (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galileo_Galilei#Controversy_over_heliocentrism) for reminding me of these KJV quotes; though the Latin Vulgate version is more relevant to the Galilean controversy):-
- Psalm 93:1: The LORD reigneth, he is clothed with majesty; the LORD is clothed with strength, wherewith he hath girded himself: the world also is stablished, that it cannot be moved.
- Psalm 96:10: Say among the heathen that the LORD reigneth: the world also shall be established that it shall not be moved: he shall judge the people righteously.
- 1 Chronicles 16:30: Fear before him, all the earth: the world also shall be stable, that it be not moved.
- Psalm 104:5: Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever.
- Ecclesiastes 1:5: The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.
- I’ve a big book:-
… "Blumenberg (Hans) - The Genesis of the Copernican World", which quotes …
… "Kuhn (Thomas) - The Copernican Revolution: Planetary Astronomy in the Development of Western Thought"
… "Copernicus (Nicolaus) - On The Revolutions Of The Heavenly Spheres" and
… "Galilei (Galileo) - Dialogues Concerning the Two New Sciences"
that would provide the background.
Footnote 19: Greater Faith.
- Well, belief in the natural origins of life is a corollary of a commitment to naturalism, and displays a reluctance to resort to divine intervention whenever you get stuck. It’s not necessarily atheistic.
- Consider the famous quote of Laplace’s interaction with Napoleon (see Link (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre-Simon_Laplace#Napoleon)), namely
“Someone had told Napoleon that (Laplace’s) book contained no mention of the name of God; Napoleon, who was fond of putting embarrassing questions, received it with the remark, 'M. Laplace, they tell me you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its Creator.' Laplace, who, though the most supple of politicians, was as stiff as a martyr on every point of his philosophy, drew himself up and answered bluntly, "I had no need of that hypothesis." Napoleon, greatly amused, told this reply to Lagrange, who exclaimed, "Ah, it is a fine hypothesis; it explains many things."”. I think the issue is whether God needs to be brought in to explain the details. Laplace’s book dealt with perturbations in the solar system, and whether God was needed to prod the planets back onto their orbits if they started to wander off. Laplace had no need of that hypothesis, as including previously neglected terms in the dynamical formulation explained things adequately. This isn’t to say there is no God, or that God doesn’t ultimately hold all things together, just that you don’t need to introduce God as the proximate cause of the phenomena. To do so is to introduce the “God of the Gaps”.
- Pete and I attended a moderately interesting conference on Naturalism (Click here for Note) at Heythrop. The naturalists won, in my evaluation.
- Everyone is agreed that the origins of the first life-forms are difficult to explain, and the (probably rather out-dated) attempts I’ve seen so far aren’t very convincing. See for instance:-
… "Cairns-Smith (A.G.) - Seven Clues to the Origin of Life - A Scientific Detective Story"
… "Cairns-Smith (A.G.) - The Life Puzzle - On Crystals and Organisms and on the Possibility of a Crystal as an Ancestor"
… "Hoyle (Fred) - The Intelligent Universe: A New View of Creation and Evolution"
… "Hoyle (Fred) & Wickramasinghe (Chandra) - Lifecloud: The Origin of Life in the Universe"
But, however far off these arguments are, the fact that they don’t stack up is only evidence that no naturalistic explanation is currently available, not that one never will be found, nor is it a call to abandon the naturalist program.
- Interestingly enough, there was an announcement on 6th March 2011 (see "Hoover (Richard B.) - Fossils of Cyanobacteria in CI1 Carbonaceous Meteorites: Implications to Life on Comets, Europa, and Enceladus") that fossil life had been “found” in meteorites. This is, of course, highly controversial, and has been claimed before. But
- If it can ever be substantiated, it would greatly improve the odds on a naturalistic explanation of the origin of the first replicators (more on which in a moment).
- There’s an interesting analogy here between my interest in (if not reliance on) such a theory and your interest in (if not reliance on) Wiseman’s theories.
- I don’t think there’s much of a parallel because Wiseman is an amateur whose work hasn’t been subjected to peer-review (as far as I know). Not that amateurs can’t be right, but (as I’ve argued) other amateurs can’t rely on their testimony unless they can evaluate the arguments for themselves, and acquire the relevant linguistic and archaeological competences (in this case).
- Panspermia: what has this got going for it?
- Initially, I thought that this view (that life originated in space and arrived on earth via comets) simply pushed the problem back a step – ie. how did it arise on (or get transferred to) comets? True, it provides an extra 10 billion years, but this won’t affect the probabilities much.
- But, this is too hasty if the option (if it is one) of replicators having originated on comets is taken. There are two reasons for this:-
- Comets are farther from the Sun (or their host planet, if they originated in another solar system), and so sensitive organic molecules are less likely to be disrupted by cosmic rays – an objection to the “primordial soup” idea.
- It massively increases the probabilities of a naturalistic explanation of the origins of the initial replicators, as there are / were very many more appropriate comets than terrestrial planets (or at least they have a higher surface area to mass ratio).
- Anthropic principle: this is an important point never to forget. Panspermia takes the view that life is common throughout the universe; but, say this is wrong (as I think likely) and take the extreme view that life (or at least intelligent life) has only arisen once. Then, that place would have to be here. It’s a selection effect – it has to be here, because we’re the ones observing it.
- There’s a website hosted by Cardiff University that takes an interest in these matters: Link - Defunct.
- My view is that a naturalistic explanation of the origins of life need in no way be atheistic; the setting up of the system that allows this to happen is still unexplained. Even if we adopt a multiverse (or infinite expansion / contraction of a single universe) explanation to get round the “fine tuning” arguments, we still have to explain what or who set up the basis for the cosmic dance in the first place. Hawking’s (and others) idea that “the equations” somehow bring what they describe into existence by some bootstrapping mechanism just seems silly to me.
- But, this “ground of all being” idea isn’t the same as the “cosmic tinkerer” idea – of the God of the gaps who is brought in to explain the bits that naturalism currently finds hard to answer. My view is that we have to give up on that kind of God as he will continue to diminish as more and more gets explained.
- This isn’t equivalent to deism either; it allows for God’s intervention in salvation history if not in natural history. The reasons for believing in God are not to explain natural phenomena but supernatural phenomena (though a healthy scepticism is advised here, as no-one seems keen to believe is the supernatural phenomena alleged by other people’s religions).
Footnote 20: Revelation and Ignorance.
- I doubt it. But the point is that faith in the naturalistic program is justified by its success. Can you think of any scientific question to which the agreed scientific answer was “God (proximately) did it”?
- The appendices in "Gitt (Werner) - In the Beginning was Information" treat of the migration of birds (amongst much else) as though the specific design-intervention of God is required to ensure they fly in a V-formation to conserve energy. But I thought various computer simulations (of “boids”) had shown that this behaviour (and the flight of starlings) can be explained mathematically (see Link (http://www.red3d.com/cwr/boids/), etc).
- Sheldrake is a naturalist, but thinks that we might need new laws of physics to explain certain phenomena (eg. see "Sheldrake (Rupert) - Dogs That Know When Their Owners are Coming Home: And Other Unexplained Powers of Animals"). Again, this is a response to “being stuck”, and is a step to be resisted until (a) all other avenues have failed and (b) the new proposals have been quantified and clarified and a clear “research program” has been mapped out.
Footnote 21: Arguing in Circles.
- Assuming you’re not culpably ignorant as a Bible student, in failing to know what’s actually there, what was the point of God nattering on to Adam (or Moses) for 6 days in what was essentially a private chat? Why didn’t Adam (or Moses) write down what was said, for the edification of the rest of us?
- Doesn’t this lack of transmitted revelation count against the “creation revealed in 6 days” idea?
- No doubt you’ll say you’ve “no idea” why God didn’t allow the conversations to be recorded, but I won’t be impressed.
Footnote 22: Tiahuanaco.
- The purpose of writing these discussion up is to help prevent this! We may ultimately decide that we disagree on some fundamental premise or other, but the purpose of writing it all up is to find what these premises are.
- We (or I) do need occasionally to review what we’ve said before, however, and I don’t always do that. I’m still “working on” ways of structuring all this. So far all I have is the Blog jump table (this link) or the global Notes jump table (this link).
Footnote 23: Inexplicable Facts.
- For our earlier discussion on Tiahuanaco Click here for Note.
- … and don’t forget to look at my response!
Footnote 24: Facts.
- Are the facts really “inexplicable”, or just currently unexplained?
- Naturally, there are philosophical disagreements about what knowledge is. It was thought to be justified true belief, until "Gettier (Edmund) - Is Justified True Belief Knowledge?" came up with counter-examples. But now it’s assumed that knowledge is JTB+X, where “X” is some “extra” that gets rid of the Gettier examples. Broadly speaking, the minimum requirement for a knowledge-claim is that what you claim to know is actually true, that your belief is justified (broadly, that the belief was acquired by a usually reliable process). And you can’t claim to know what you don’t believe (“I know Y is true, but I don’t believe it” is Moore’s paradox - Link (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore%27s_paradox)).
- Since we can never be sure (except in some incorrigible cases – simple logic and mathematics, knowledge of your own subjective states, and such-like) that any proposition is true, we can only rarely know that we know, even if we know.
- This all sounds rather bleak, and I prefer to focus on justified belief. It’s often pointed out that “certainty” is a psychological state only loosely-connected to claims to know – one can know things of which one is not certain – most of the hazily-remembered stuff from school, for instance.
- So, while we might not know – or be certain – what the explanation of a particular fact is, we can have justified beliefs about such explanations. This, in my view, is about as good as it gets.
- My view remains that beliefs are only more or less likely to be true, where the degree of likelihood can sometimes be precisely quantified, but usually cannot.
Footnote 25: Good Examples.
- Sadly, there are many cases where the facts – taken to be true statements about the world – are themselves in dispute. This came up in the Tiahuanaco case.
Footnote 26: Pre-conceived Ideas.
- The trouble with the Tiahuanaco case is that the facts are very much in dispute.
- Additionally, the suggested explanation (of tilts in the Earth’s axis) is so non-conservative, that it should be an explanation of last resort.
- So, I don’t think it is a good example.
Footnote 27: Faith in God.
- Well, I’m sure we all start off with pre-conceptions, but aren’t they revisable in the light of experience and education?
- What we do need to do is have a holistic view of things. You can’t believe any one thing in isolation from all the other things you believe. You must always ask yourself what else you’d need to believe (or give up), and whatever else would have to be the case if such-and-such an alleged fact were true. You can’t have one area of the Earth uplifted thousands of feet without other impacts. A change in the earth’s axis of rotation would impact not just one Andean port, but the whole world.
- Well, we do go round in circles here. This discussion isn’t about faith in God, but how we know about God, what God has told us, and how God works.
- You think it’d be highly convenient if God had given us a nice hand-book of how everything important for us to know actually is. So do all religions, and they all have their holy books. Some are better than others, but irrespective of how barmy they seem to a superficial reading, some of their adherents manage to persuade themselves that they have the exact words of God and “place them” before others to accept or reject at their eternal peril.
- It seems to me that placing stark choices – like the Book is either inerrant and the verbatim word of God, or it’s a load of hooey – places a false dichotomy before people, and prevents them from getting any good at all from the supposed revelation.
- What I’d like to do (sometime) is to consider just what can be salvaged from the wreckage (if that’s how you want to view things). Say we were to accept (as obviously I think we must, but you don’t) that there was no such person as Adam. What are the consequences? Clearly Paul thought there was an Adam, so in a sense (if I’m right) his arguments are grounded on a false premise. But what he was arguing for – that we are all sinners needing salvation – is still true. The argument is just couched in terms of what everyone then believed (or if they didn’t, they believed something else even less likely to be true that they needed arguing out of).
Footnote 9: (Unmerited Suffering & Hominid Evolution - Response)
Firstly, the letter on unmerited suffering. Obviously the arguments in the letter are not news, and I doubt we can make much further progress on this topic. My objections to the arguments are firstly that the Biblical quotations seem to read into the text a positive slant that's not there, and secondly that the Isaiah quotation really ought only to be invoked as a last resort. Note last updated: 20/04/2018 23:25:26
With respect to the matter of David and Bathsheba, David’s comment that – as far as his dead son is concerned – “I will go to him but he will not come back to me”, makes reference not to the happy hereafter, but to the grave. Is there any suggestion in the context that things will be “all right” for David’s son? The focus is entirely on David and his wicked ways.
In the passage from Luke, the focus is on perishing, not on future happiness or final restitution. I raised this passage myself, as it doesn’t say who’s responsible for the disasters, other than that it wasn’t the victims’ fault; and presumably Pilate was (immediately) responsible for the slaughter his soldiers wrought. Anyway, the victims hadn’t brought the Tower of Siloam down on their own heads. It’s interesting to consider just when the “perishing” would be. I’d have thought a good dispensationalist would think that it would be in the cataclysm that would engulf Judea at the end times if there was no national repentance, much as happened at AD 66-70.
Isaiah 55:8-9: obviously a being with the attributes traditionally predicated of the Christian God can do lots of things – anything that’s not logically impossible or contradictory to his declared character. But that’s the whole issue concerning the problem of what appears to be excessive “collateral damage” unmerited by the recipients. The thought that God, with his infinite bag of goodies, can “make it up” to anyone caught in the cross-fire seems too facile. It reeks of using people as means rather than ends, to the dismay of the Kantians. Now, personally, I’m a consequentialist (ie. a sophisticated utilitarian). So, there are some dreadful acts that have to be done in order to avoid even worse consequences. If the Kraken comes and demands one of your daughters, and won’t take you instead, but would otherwise take everyone, what are you to do? Of course, in the myth some super-hero comes along and slays the Kraken, but we’ll assume that way out isn’t open (incidentally, this story from “Clash of the Titans” seems to be a mix-up of Greek and Norse mythology – it seems that it’s Ceto (and not the Kraken) that Perseus turns to stone using the Gorgon’s head; but we’ll let that pass). But, to continue, God is that super-hero, and (it might be said) has failed to turn up when he could have. If I allowed my daughter to be eaten alive by ants, say, when I could have done something about it, but would not “for the good of the cause”, I’d not be considered virtuous even if I could conjure her up again and give her an eternity of bliss. And what would she think of me? Even the Catholic clergy don’t abuse children that badly. These are the ideas that have to be wrestled with.
I’ve discussed this issue a couple of times with Pete – he quoted “God is no man’s debtor”. Where’s this thought from? Is it scripture or a proverb? I’ve done Bible and internet searches and can’t find it. I even asked Julie, the walking concordance. It appears in the Summa Theologica, in an objection. See Link (http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1021.htm) (which looks like a useful site – even if a Catholic one – follow the scripture links to a triglot Bible). But there are two ways of taking this – that God owes us nothing, or that God does owe us something, and will pay up. The Calvinists take the first approach – we all deserve the everlasting bonfire because of what we are, irrespective of what we’ve done. See this blog (Link - Defunct). The atheist lobby would say this makes God out to be a monster. Are there really any promises that everything will be all right for everyone other than “the wicked”? Other than in Julian of Norwich, that is.
To take this further, I’m teetering on the edge of joining (or succeeding) Pete at Heythrop. They do an MA in “Philosophy and Religion”. Apart from evaluating the arguments of natural theology (which I’ve never been impressed by) you have to endure a course on “20th century religious thought”, which I imagine involves evaluating utter drivel. Then there are a couple of courses on ethics – probably the ones Pete took.
Secondly, the article ("McKie (Robin) - Out of Africa: The Sequel") enclosed with the letter (follow the Abstract / Comment Link for a transcript). Naturally, I don't agree with the comments, which were "Please find enclosed an article from the weekly Guardian. Sylvia has done all the markings and we were discussing this. It shows the absolute uncertainty of the absoluteness of evolutionary science. No other scientific theory would be allowed to get away with so many caveats and still hold it head up high."
The reason I don't agree with the comments is that this is all “work in progress”. The presumption that humans and the great apes are related, and have a common ancestor, is based on genetic and morphological studies. Evolution (taken as descent with modification, whatever its mechanisms) is taken as the unifying principle that brings together all the seemingly arbitrary facts of biology. Why do we have all this diversity and similarity, other than because God decided to do it that way? And if evolution is right as a general paradigm, then we’d expect human beings to fit into it somehow. Articles like the one you enclosed are attempts to fill in the gaps. Now it seems that this is a difficult task. Until relatively recently, on geological timescales, hominids haven't been very numerous, and by all accounts, they don't fossilise well - fossilisation being rather an extraordinary process in any case. So, it's difficult to find much evidence, and piecing together what has been found is a difficult task. All this is just an artefact of where the science is at right now. Presumably (Sylvia will like that), as time goes by, more bits of the jigsaw will be discovered and it'll be possible to tell a more robust tale, and one in which the paradigm isn't as likely to be upset by the next discovery. But even now there's a story that can be told that some would say has more flesh on its bones, and more credibility, than that the first man was made out of the dust in some middle-eastern garden. The reason that "cat's are amongst the pigeons" is that there's a bunch of data that's been pieced together, and new data indicates that some of the pieces might be in the wrong place. But there are more bits to this jigsaw than are available in the Biblical account - which is so brief that it can't be regarded as a scientific account at all. Nor should it be.
There have been a couple of similar articles recently on the same topic – you may have seen them. One was "Krause (Johannes) - Our Ancestral Cave Gets More Crowded". The other was "Burkeman (Oliver) - Revolution in Evolution". Like you, no doubt, I’m not too impressed by extrapolation from fingers, but the “Revolution” article is interesting, if a little muddled. The suggestion that Lamarkianism – the inheritance of acquired characteristics – might have something going for it isn’t to be viewed as the overthrow of evolution, but as a major adjustment to the Darwinian synthesis (natural selection plus genetics). Everyone (if they are honest) is worried by the improbabilities of genetic variation, inheritance and natural selection being the whole story if the only generator of variation is random mutation. But if somatic changes induced by behaviour could somehow get into the genome, then the improbabilities would reduce enormously. Then, we’d only need to fall back on anthropic principles and multiverses to get the initial replicator off the ground. Maybe, but because something would be “nice to have” (for those of us inclined in that direction) doesn’t mean it should be accepted as true.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts on "Walton (John H.) - The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate". I'd not had time to read the last couple of chapters, but I think he was summing up by then. I liked the general approach, and in particular the author’s distinction between the thought that the Biblical account is "indebted" to other ancient creation accounts (which he rejects) and the thought that such accounts formed the backdrop of common pre-scientific assumptions into which the Genesis account was directed, and against which it needs to be understood.
Footnote 10: (Hartnett, Carmeli and a Young Earth)
While on holiday with the OBT in July 2009, I was loaned a copy of "Hartnett (John) - Starlight, Time and the New Physics: How we can see starlight in our young universe", to see what I thought of it and, if possible, to write an account of these views as a reply to the person who submitted the book. The book is divided into two parts:- Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05
The person who submitted the book is a German sympathiser with “Acts 28 Dispensationalism”, who believes in young-Earth creationism, and so is enthusiastic about the book’s claims but is without a mathematical background. So, while he can applaud the results, he can’t really evaluate the arguments. Mike, who asked me to review the book, is a mathematics teacher, but one without the time to review the mathematics, which is postgraduate material beyond both his and my level of expertise. The stance of the OBT towards doctrines that are only too likely to be false (young-Earth creationism) or obnoxious (eternal conscious torment of the wicked) is to look for alternatives within the constraints of a Bible taken to be inerrant. The OBT and I parted ways many years ago, details here.
- The main text, in English
- Some appendices in advanced mathematics.
I’m not sure how to order the correspondence on this topic, so have decided to include my (so far) final thoughts – as expressed in an email to Mike – in this Note, which chains back to earlier correspondence in the usual manner. You can print the lot by following the link at the bottom of this Note. I’ve made the occasional clarificatory tweak, and removed the private portions.
Sent: Friday, February 26, 2010 9:59 AM
Subject: Re: Einstein and All That
I sent you a "holding response" to the email-stream below back in January, with the promise of researching further. I've done quite a bit of digging, and have read one of Carmeli's books ("Carmeli (Moshe) - Cosmological Relativity: The Special and General Theories for the Structure of the Universe"; if "read" is the right word for skimming a book full of mathematics I don't understand). I still can’t really grasp the physical theories, partly because they presuppose a good mathematical and conceptual understanding of Einstein's Special and General theories, which I don't really have, as well as the mathematical intuitions of a working theoretical physicist. Even so, there's something very odd about them. But - if correct - they would seem to answer some puzzling questions about the rotational stability of spiral galaxies - and since no other theory has a response to such questions without ad hoc assumptions, then maybe Carmeli's theory is as principled as any. Carmeli has it that - instead of (or as well as) c being a universal constant, so is the total amount of "cosmic time", the inverse of the Hubble constant. He counts time from now going back to the Big Bang, which seems to be upside down (though if he's right, then it doesn't matter); I just don't understand what "cosmic time" is supposed to be. You'll have noticed in the papers I sent you the other day ("Carmeli (Moshe) - Lengths of the First Days of the Universe" & "Carmeli (Moshe) - The First Six Days of the Universe"), that if you add up (Carmeli’s estimates of) the lengths of the "Genesis" days, and a few more days thereafter, that they end up summing to a time longer than the age of the Universe - but that's probably the whole point - you can't add times linearly in Carmeli's theory any more than you can add velocities linearly in SR. But it's all very odd. You can measure velocities, but how do you measure "cosmic times"?
I have three main gripes with Hartnett's book.
Incidentally, I'm currently reading "Walton (John H.) - The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate". While he believes in creation ex nihilo, he doesn't think that Genesis 1 is talking about this, but about God arranging the functions of the cosmos (ultimately with man in mind) and that it presupposes the scientific world-view of the day, which is not thereby given a nihil obstat.
- The first is that it's all reliant on a controversial theory that is probably wrong. A lot of the book is taken up with showing that this theory is plausible - but it comes across as just another (if ingenious) fudge to do away with "dark matter", though I don't think this is Carmeli's intention. But it's not clear what the motivation for Carmeli's theory is - I've found about 20 of Carmeli's papers on the web, and I intend to look through them to see if any of them provide enlightenment, because his book doesn't - it just says you can extend Einstein's theories by ... yada yada ... but (unlike Einstein) doesn't give any philosophical underpinning as to why you'd want to, and why it's sensible.
- The second is that there's a bit of arm-waving in the final Appendix, which is really the purpose of the book - to prove that the "star-light travel time" problem goes away - but (unlike Carmeli) he doesn't really do the sums. It seems to me that to support the "young earth" view the theory needs not only to demonstrate that the creation process took 6 days, but that that event took place 6,000 years ago (by the appropriate clocks) - but I couldn't really see that demonstrated (and I'm pretty certain it can't be).
- The third is that Hartnett takes some verses literally that sound figurative to me, and his whole case rests on this interpretation. Ps 104:2 "He wraps himself with light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent". Well, the first half of the verse is as figurative as you can get, so why should we take the second half as saying that God stretched the fabric of space in the creation week from something a bit larger than the Earth to something 15bn light-years across? Surely this verse (and others like it) is just describing how the heavens look to someone staring up at the sky in wonder. Phenomenally, it looks like the starry sky covers the Earth like a tent. How has the cosmic stretching that the Big Bang cosmological model presupposes got anything to do with erecting a tent? You don't stretch the sheep-skins, not much anyway. Now, I've nothing against cosmic stretching, but just don't like the idea of ransacking ancient texts and reading it into them (any more than "finding" QM to be prefigured by Buddhism).
I was going to write something in opposition to your "history is bunk" ideas, but haven't got round to it yet. I wrote the blurb below in January, and wasn't really happy with it. This is all very complicated stuff, but here are a few more random thoughts for what they are worth ....
There are many questions about authority in this correspondence (yours with Stephen Glasse). Bullinger is mentioned twice, as though he is some sort of oracle. Well, he was a scholarly man, and greatly to be respected, but that doesn't make all his views into authoritative statements. The world is full of scholarly men who disagree. The oracular statements in question are:-
Well, why should we believe these statements? All they really say is that things would be simpler if we could just take the Bible at face value and ignore any clashes with what we see, or are told to see, outside of it. Yet it is clear (and admitted by Stephen) that the Bible sometime intends to be taken literally, and sometimes figuratively, and it's a case of determining which is which. The difficult questions arise when it looks likely that the human author intended himself to be taken literally, but where, maybe, the divine author did not. We all know the rumpus with Galileo and whether or not the Scriptures that say that the earth does not move should be taken literally or figuratively. Basically, we can only tell by looking at the external world. Who knows whether the original author believed in storehouses for the wind, but one presumes the divine author didn't, as there are no such things.
- “No one who believes in Evolution can be a believer in Revelation”
- “Words are useless for the purpose of revelation” if such an interpretation holds.
This question of interpretation, and the seeing of "all truth as God's truth" is a large one, and one that causes a certain class of fundamentalists (if they are taken seriously) inadvertently to place a stumbling-block in the path of well-meaning and honest Christians. True, the first quotation from Bullinger above doesn't say that one cannot be a Christian, and yet believe in evolution, but one can't be a believer in divine revelation. Well, surely this is plain false - it's a matter of the interpretation of revelation that's at stake. Now, I agree that "squaring" evolutionary theory with the Bible is a tough ask - though some - indeed many - who would claim to be evangelical Christians seem to themselves to have squared this particular circle, but attempting to force people to believe what seem to them plain falsehoods on pain of being deemed spiritually second-class cannot be a good thing. How does anyone know that Biblical literalism is the path of the strong, rather than the weak?
Stephen quotes Hartnett's rejection of some of his creationist predecessors' work as though this is unequivocally a good thing. Now, Hartnett is right to do so, as the theories of Barnes4 and Setterfield5 were very light-weight and easily refuted, and ultimately brought disrepute upon creationism. Most creationists aren't scientists, so seem to be willing to accept anything that supports their case. But this rejection ought to be a warning, in that no doubt the Hartnett/Carmeli theory will be proved incorrect in due course if anyone can be bothered with it. Now this isn't a council for despair in the acceptance of scientific theories. All theories should only be accepted in proportion to the evidence. Most people are not capable of evaluating the evidence, and go along with the consensus without question except when the theory impinges on what they otherwise want to believe. But some theories are clearly better supported and more centrally embedded in the consensus over-arching world view (if there is one) than others.
Something ought to be said about why insistence on young-earth creationism and other clunky attempts to interpret the Bible as a science book can be counter-productive. Why (if we do) do we accept the Biblical revelation at all? There are lots of revelations off the shelf, all mutually contradictory when literally interpreted, and some more obviously false than others. Why should we accept the Bible, rather than the Koran, say? Islamic fundamentalists claim that lots of scientific truths were revealed first in the Koran (a very dubious claim from what I've seen, but some clever scientists make such claims). Well, there's a very strong pull to literalism as it seems objective and less open to the whim of interpretation than a more "spiritual" or allegorical approach. And I agree, but you can't have what's not provided. Why do we turn to the Bible (if we do; but rather than the Koran, say) other than because it's the Holy Book of the culture we were brought up in, and the natural first port of call for seekers after truth? Dispensationalists don't believe in private revelation or the appearance of angels (or maybe even the Trinity) in suits, or at least not in the circles I've moved in. We accept the Bible (if we do) partly, at least, because the Biblical revelation seems convincing. But some parts are more convincing than others. Some have to be taken as part the package deal, at least by those who like the content of their faith cut and dried. Others find giving up the scientific stories too much to stomach - there's a grandeur in a universe that obeys strict laws and evolves in accordance with them, and they find the idea of something cobbled together 6,000 years ago, with no explanation as to why this beautiful creature is the way it is, or this disgusting parasite the way it is, somewhat underwhelming.
Footnote 4: The thesis that the decay of the earth’s magnetic field implies (when extrapolated backwards) a young Earth, because otherwise the field strength would have been effectively infinite. This thesis fails to take account of polarity reversals, so the extrapolation fails.
Footnote 5: The thesis of “c decay”. See "Setterfield (Barry) - Geological Time and Scriptural Chronology" and "Norman (Trevor) & Setterfield (Barry) - The Atomic Constants, Light, and Time".
Footnote 11: (Haiti and the Problem of Evil)
I sent out the email below in response to an article in the BBC News Magazine website (Link (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/8467755.stm)). The immediate responses are here, here and here. Follow the links for these responses, my responses and any ensuing correspondence. Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05
The discussion eventually fizzled out , but fizzed back to life briefly in another item further up the blog.
Of course, there’s been a lot written on this subject of greater rigour than the popular piece by David Bain. For instance:-
- "Rowe (William L.), Howard-Snyder (Daniel) & Bergmann (Michael) - Debate: Is Evil Evidence against Belief in God?", and
- "Howard-Snyder (Daniel), Ed. - The Evidential Argument from Evil".
To: Pete, Sylvia
Sent: Wednesday, January 20, 2010 10:10 AM
Subject: Fw: Haiti and the problem of evil
Any comment on the email / attachment below? I couldn't find any reference - at the time of writing - to "an enemy7 has done this". Maybe the modern church thinks the problem of cosmic dualism / Manichaeism is worse than the problem of evil?
Footnote 7: Ie. Satan – this is a quote from .Matthew 13:28, the passage about the wheat and the tares.
Footnote 12: (Virgin Birth)
I received the brief email below from Australia, presumably because the correspondent had come across my "Todman (Theo) - The Virgin Birth" and thought I might be interested (or might be persuaded, more likely):- Note last updated: 19/03/2011 17:18:14
- From: "T Crosthwaite"
To: Theo Todman
Sent: Monday, July 06, 2009 12:17 PM
Subject: Virgin Birth
- You may find these articles on virgin birth of interest and coming from an unusual angle
Link - Defunct and
Link - Defunct
- And, similarly TheologyWeb:
Forum - General Theistics 101
Thread - Does the Bible teach that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived?
Link - Defunct
My response was as follows:-
- Thanks for the references. I'm afraid my booklet on this topic was written nearly 20 years ago, and that since then my interests and affiliations have changed somewhat. It was about the time of writing that booklet that I was losing the conviction that a fundamentalist approach to Christianity could be maintained with intellectual integrity, though signs of this struggle didn't show in the booklet itself. The use of Isaiah 7:14 was a case in point, and I now agree with you that (if this is what you think) the text doesn't refer to the first century, but to a time hundreds of years earlier. However, it was standard sectarian exegetical practise in the first century to apply texts out of context to the then present time, so I don't think it was an underhand practise, just an unsound one.
- I haven't studied the debate on the links you gave me (Link - Defunct and Link - Defunct and & Link - Defunct) in any detail, but from a quick look I have three objections, or maybe two and a question.
- Firstly, isn't the argument that Mary was a Levite unsound? If Mary really was betrothed to Joseph, and Joseph was of the Tribe of Judah, and (for the sake of the argument) assume that Mary really was of the Tribe of Levi, then the tribes can intermarry. At least I can take it that you believe that they can. But if the tribes can intermarry, then presumably Elizabeth needn't be a Levite, but could also be of the tribe of Judah and yet be married to a Levite. And - the important point - she could be of the tribe of Judah and yet still have Aaron as an ancestor; all it needs is for one of her (male) ancestors to have married a Levite. So if that's the case, then both Mary and Elizabeth could have been of the Tribe of Judah. How does that sound?
- The important point is that is that tribe-membership is dominant on the male side, so some of your descendants can be "kidnapped" by another tribe - eg. if you are a Judahite, and your daughter marries a Levite, her children, and therefore some of your grand-children, will be Levites. So, even if Elizabeth was a Levite, she could still be the first cousin of a Judahite. Similarly, you can have ancestors belonging to different tribes to the one you yourself belong to - at least if inter-tribal unions are allowed.
- I suppose you might argue that inter-tribal marriage is illegal. In that case, Mary - if a Levite - was acting illegally by trying to marry Joseph - a Judahite. And maybe in its own terms this is sustainable - who knows what a Levitical hussy already pregnant by some other Judahite might do? But Joseph is described as a righteous man, and wouldn't stand for any of that. But of course inter-tribal marriage wasn't illegal - Israelites were even allowed to marry non-Israelites (though not Canaanites; and the kings weren't supposed to marry foreigners, even though Solomon notoriously did). And there's that odd passage in Judges 21 where the other tribes swear an oath not to give their daughters as wives to Benjamites, which they wouldn't have had to swear unless such practices were normal; and then there's the continuation of the tale whereby the Benjamites get their non-Benjamite wives anyway, to avoid extinction.
- Secondly, the bracketing in Luke 3:23 "He was (the son, so it was thought of Joseph,) the son of Heli, ...". That seems a text-wrench, if ever there was one. You could make Jesus the son of any of the unknowns in the list by appropriate bracketing (eg. "He was (the son, so it was thought of Joseph, the son of Heli,) the son of Matthat ..." would make jesus the son of Matthat. And I don't think the Greek will bear this construction anyway. The first "son" is the usual Greek word "huios", but the other occurrences are just the definite article in the genitive - "tou" - "the one of". This presupposes you know what sort of thing you're talking about, and if the clause was bracketed, you wouldn't - or at least not as clearly. I'm not an expert, so don't know, but it seems rather odd. And in any case you'd have thought that Luke would have been a bit more explicit if he was suggesting that Jesus really was conceived out of wedlock by a human father, and not just initially supposed by Joseph to have been (as Matthew 1:19 suggests).
- Finally, what's all this about descendants of Jeconiah (Jehoiachin) not being eligible for kingship? I could only see some vague reference to something Ambrose wrote. Do you have any evidence?
- As a matter of interest, why do you try to get the texts to say something other than what they appear to be saying (if not particularly stressing). Why not adopt the usual humanist line that it's a load of old superstition, or the cultural-relativist line that it was all sensible stuff in its context, but now we know better, or at least think differently? Is Jesus still important to you in some way, so that you need the New Testament to tell you something about him as there's so little attestation elsewhere? What sort of person do you think he was?
I also wrote to my usual contacts asking for an opinion on some of the above themes, but the correspondence didn’t get anywhere:-
- I've just received an email from some eccentric Australian who's preserving the memory of some other even more eccentric Australian. Their beef seems to be that the Bible doesn't teach the doctrine of the Virgin Birth. They think that Matthew's account is indeed of Joseph's lineage, but claim that descendants of Jeconiah (Jehoiachin?) are debarred from kingship, so a descendent of Joseph couldn't be the Messiah. They don't give evidence for this claim, not that I could see on a quick skim anyway - there's only some vague allusion to something Ambrose wrote, but no reference. Have you ever heard of this idea? They agree that Joseph is indeed only the supposed father of Jesus, because of his disbarment, but claim that the real father isn't the Holy Spirit, but Heli.
- They get this by bracketing in Luke 3:23 "He was (the son, so it was thought of Joseph,) the son of Heli, ...". That seems a text-wrench, if ever there was one. You could make Jesus the son of any of the unknowns in the list by appropriate bracketing (eg. "He was (the son, so it was thought of Joseph, the son of Heli,) the son of Matthat ...". And I don't think the Greek will bear this construction anyway. The first "son" is the usual Greek word "huios", but the other occurrences are just the definite article in the genitive - "tou" - "the one of". This presupposes you know what sort of thing you're talking about, and if the clause was bracketed, you wouldn't - or at least not as clearly. I'm not an expert, so don't know, but it seems rather odd. And in any case you'd have thought that Luke would have been a bit more explicit if he was suggesting that Jesus really was conceived out of wedlock by a human father, and not just initially supposed by Joseph to have been.
- But their interesting point is about Mary. It's often claimed that the Lucan genealogy is that of Mary. Yet Mary is the relative of Elizabeth who is a Levite (or at least Luke 1:5 says she's a descendant of Aaron). So, they claim Mary must have been a Levite too. What do you think of that argument?
- It strikes me that the argument is internally inconsistent. If Mary really is betrothed to Joseph, and Joseph is of the Tribe of Judah, and Mary of the Tribe of Levi, then the tribes can intermarry. If that's the case, then presumably Elizabeth could also be of the tribe of Judah and yet be married to a Levite. And she could be of the tribe of Judah and yet still have Aaron as an ancestor - all it needs is for one of her (male) ancestors to have married a Levite. How does that sound?
- But I'd be interested in the allegation about Jehoiachin - is this some prophesy, or something in Chronicles, or just a loud of bull? I'll ask the chap.
- They don't like the use of Isaiah 7:14, and nor do I, but that's another story.
Footnote 13: (Triplet Parapsychology)
The program was Identical Triplets: Their Secret World. This repeat showing was on Tuesday 17th February 2009, 23:45, rather feebly reviewed here –Link (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/3555076/Critics-choice-Identical-Triplets-Their-Secret-World-ITV1.html)– though I think the programme was first shown on ITV1 on 23rd June 2008 – follow Link - Defunct for a start. I didn’t see all of it, but most of the program was standard stuff – the usual “can you tell them apart, just how alike are they, and what are their physical and psychological differences” kind of thing – but one element was rather arresting. To quote from the link just given:-Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05
“But the most surprising thing, the scientific investigation into the much-vaunted supposition that triplets can communicate in a way no other humans can - through some sort of extra-sensory connection - came up with a startling conclusion. With one of the Sutton boys wired up to a games machine which would deliver electric shocks if he made a wrong move, and the other two boys in completely separate rooms, out of sight and hearing of each other, their monitors showed a clear correlation in physical reaction both times the first lad received a shock. Even though the other two were not consciously aware of anything happening, the graphs rose and fell in perfect harmony. Quite astonishing.”
There are a number of TV-channel references for the programme, but I haven’t found much discussion. Follow Link (http://movie-tv-episode-database.com/Documentary/Identical-Triplets-Their-Secret-World-652140) for one link with comments. The relevant one is “This program left the viewer with the strong impression that triplets have extra-sensory perception. If this is true, the program makers should start planning their Nobel Prize acceptance speech.” Indeed.
Well, I have to admit to a prejudice here – there’s no such thing as ESP, and all the studies into it that I’m aware of – if they come up with anything at all – come up with very marginal statistical correlations. Maybe the jury is still out on this – but there’s nothing clear-cut. However, this programme showed results that were far too good. As the above quote says, the graphs – whatever they were of – “rose and fell in perfect harmony”. Too perfect by half.
There are several factors:–
Now, I’m not a fan of conspiracy theories either, but this just has to be a con. The zapped twin must have been in on the prank, though the others might not have been. Not consciously, anyway!
- Neither of the other two twins felt anything at all. This is surprising if there was anything measurable – they didn’t have an MRI scan – just electrodes on the skin. So, it wasn’t some deep subliminal intuition that was being allegedly measured, but gross physical manifestations – and that seems inconsistent with total unawareness of any reaction. Maybe not – does a lie-detector test only detect those who think they are lying? I think so, but am not sure.
- What would be the purpose of some totally unconscious mind-link. What evolutionary drive could have developed it? Even Vulcans seem to wince.
- None of the triplets interviewed believed in ESP in the slightest. If it was a real phenomenon, they would surely have encountered it in their daily lives.
- The experiment is unethical. By the triplet’s reactions, it looks as though he didn’t just get a slight buzz but a great big zap. At least he jumped out of his chair and hopped about a bit. You just can’t perform experiments like that. What if he’d had a heart attack? There’s a well known experiment (the Milgram experiment (Link (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment)), designed to test people’s willingness to obey authority): if someone tells you to zap someone, you’re more likely to do so if it’s an authority-figure in a white coat than if Joe Soap does. But in the Milgram experiment, the screams of the supposedly-zapped were simulated – no real zapping went on – even in 1961 when they used to routinely give people ETC or chop their brains in half to see if it cured epilepsy. Now – OK – the analogy isn’t perfect – you don’t need to zap people in the Milgram experiment; you just need to think you are. Maybe ESP is so fine tuned that it can tell the difference between real and simulated zappings. Even so, you just don’t zap people. Not now, on TV.
- The program didn’t really dwell on this amazing result that would be extraordinarily difficult to explain physically. There was just a quick “gee whiz” and on to the next scene. Nor were there any eurekas from the researcher. But surely, if such an amazing experimental result was real, it would have been all over the papers – but if it was, it’s been well hidden. The same goes for all the recent UFO sightings, no doubt. All spoofs.
So, this is just another load of old baloney not worth mentioning? Well, maybe – but there are epistemological spin-offs that, as a trainee philosopher – I’m interested in. Such episodes help to build up our world-views. I’m strongly resistant to such magical ideas, so I’m on the look out for spoofs. If you’re happy to believe anything – “gullible” or “open minded” depending on your stance - then presumably an episode like that gets logged away as a confirming instance of ESP. Very irresponsible on the programme’s part, if you ask me.
But everyone – even those willing to believe in the extraordinary – is selective in what they respond positively to. No religious person willingly believes in supposed miracles that support another religion – especially a close rival. What protestant – however charismatic – rejoices to hear of visitations of the Virgin Mary, bi-located monks or flying Holy Houses? All Christians warm to the idea that there’s a Bible Code – but presumably is less sanguine about similar claims about the Koran.
Footnote 14: (Creationist Bananas)
The supposed “world’s worst argument” is a You-Tube video The Atheist’s Nightmare (Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4yBvvGi_2A)). I found it interesting for a number of reasons. It is probably most effectively debunked by Nick Gisburne (Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4HW06Wz_R74&feature=related)), though the response might have been a little more succinct. Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05
In brief, the argument is that the banana is evidence for God’s handiwork, given how convenient it is for humans to eat. The response is that, if this argument is valid, then why did God make such a mess of pineapples and coconuts? Secondly, naturally occurring bananas are nowhere near as nice as the cultivated forms; the only reason bananas show particular evidence of being designed for human consumption is that humans have designed them that way by selective breeding (non-natural selection).
The interest lies in people’s reactions to the video. I’d thought it was some form of spoof, but it seems it isn’t, and that Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron produce a lot of stuff like this. Also, my initial reaction was coloured by the silliness of choosing the banana as an example – it being a rather comical and rather lewd fruit – rather than immediately pouncing on the paralogisms specific to the example, rather than those that can be levelled against any argument from biological design. My wife Julie’s reaction was also not very logical – she felt uncomfortable about the video, but was probably willing to be convinced. Her worries were that there must be something wrong with it, otherwise I wouldn’t have shown it to her.
All this was sparked off by this link (Link (http://r-p-e.blogspot.co.uk/2008/12/britains-worst-argument.html)).
Footnote 15: (Jamie Bulger's Killers)
Last year (18th September 2008) my wife Julie received a circular email (repeated below) forwarded from one of her Christian friends that I found more than usually disturbing for a number of reasons. It related to an alleged proposal to ship off to Australia with new identities the killers of Jamie Bulger, now that they are grown up. Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05
Subsequent to writing the bulk of this Blog, I decided to have a look on the web – something I should have done before starting. This Link (http://www.breakthechain.org/exclusives/bulger.html) seems to share the stance I’ve adopted, and points out a number of factual errors in the email. The Wikipedia (Link - Defunct) entry provides useful information and links to other sources. Anyway:-
- The email was a petition, originally emanating from Australia, protesting about the matter. The text included some disgusting details of what the 10 and 11-year old boys had actually done to the 3-year-old, which were new to me and very sickening (however, it appears that the supposed facts I found most sickening were in fact either fabrications or exaggerations). The text noted that the boys had tried to cover up what they were doing and so “knew they had done wrong”. Consequently, they deserved locking up for life. Some petitioners hoped that their identities would somehow be revealed so that some avenging angel could do to them what they’d done to Jamie.
- What I found particularly disturbing about the email was the thought that this wasn’t a moral dilemma, or a difficult case, but an example of moral relativism or laxness where the correct way forward – presumably one of eye-for-eye vengeance – is perfectly clear.
- It turns out that this email has been circulating since 2001, when the proposal to release the boys was made, and indeed implemented – though they were released with new identities in the UK, not Australia. It is interesting that people can sign and send on such requests without making any investigations into their veracity or relevance.
- There are lots of things I don’t understand about this event. Some are due to ignorance, and others are due to an inability to connect emotionally either to the wicked or the righteous in this case.
- Firstly, the Australian connection. I had thought that sending convicts to Australia had ceased over a century ago. I can sympathise with the Australians for not wanting British psychopaths deposited on their shores. In any case, it looks as though this claim is false, though presumably the original signatories feared it might be true.
- Incidentally, I see that there are moves afoot, being favourably considered by the Australians at the end of 2008, to ship off former inmates of Guantanamo Bay to Australia, to provide them with a new and safe life if return to their native land should prove dangerous for them. I can see why the Australians might be sympathetic to receiving those controversially supposed to be subjects of penal injustice, but it seems they are unwilling to bend their immigration rules (see, for instance1,Link - Defunct.
- In both cases – very different with respect to proved guilt, though similar in respect of exposure to the wrath of vigilantes – it is presumably Australia’s size and perceived remoteness that is the key factor in its choice as a safe haven for the potentially victimised. That said, the US have apparently contacted 100 countries as potential hosts for their liberated detainees, so the assumption that the Bulger killers would be released to Australia was presumably based on it being a likely choice, and the assumption that anonymity could not be preserved in the UK (as has, in fact, proved to be the case, though not yet with any adverse consequences for the boys themselves).
- With respect to the Bulger boys, one presumes that Judge Butler-Sloss has taken the view that the boys should now be released, that they should be released into a safe environment, that they are no longer a danger to the community, and so on. The same situation applies to all sorts of people detested by vigilantes, including those formerly housed in Guantanamo Bay.
- Then we come to the vigilantes themselves. Now I don’t imagine most of those signing the petition are vigilantes, and even those making threats or hoping for vengeance might not turn out in the flesh to make them good.
- But it doesn’t take much for a crowd to form to attack the homes of paedophiles (or paediatricians) or to shout at criminals post-sentencing, or even at the accused on the way to court when one would have thought them “innocent until proved guilty”. Similarly, public executions – even gruesome ones – were once popular spectacles and an excuse for a grand day out. Now, I’ve no doubt that some people correctly think that it is important that the guilty have it pointed out to them that what they have done is wrong. So, they turn up to do this. Some disagree with the leniency of the penalties meted out by the judicial system – just as there is disagreement about just what the purpose of punishment is – retribution, reformation, deterrent and so on. So, holders of this view may turn up to inflict a bit more suffering. And, of course, some will be personally involved – and it is entirely understandable that they should feel resentment at those accused of, or inadequately punished for, harming their loved ones.
- But, presumably, the majority turn out just for the fun of it – because they enjoy inflicting suffering, or watching the suffering of others, when they think the subjects of that suffering are fair game, and “had it coming to them”. I have no statistics, but lynch mobs don’t seem to be recruited from the ranks of the virtuous and gentle of spirit. Also, such self-proclaimed judges seem to have no sense of the adage “there but for the grace of God go I”. Yet maybe the failure to care about such things unless they touch us personally is the attitude that sets us on the slippery slope to moral dereliction. But one suspects that it’s easier to resist the weak and wicked than the strong and wicked. It takes more courage to protest against the powerful than the weak.
- Even so, the objects of wrath in such cases should be the law-makers, or the law-dispensers, rather than those correctly processed by the system. Returning to the Bulger case, maybe the complaints against Judge Butler-Sloss are justified. This would depend on whether she was right about various facts of psychology and law. In this sense, the email has the correct target, though it appears to be ignorant of the high-profile arguments about the appropriate sentencing in this case with the Wikipedia (Link - Defunct) article reminds us of.
- We don’t know what the boys now think of what they had done. From a legal perspective this only matters with respect to their likelihood of re-offending. Presumably, as they are being “released early”, the psychiatric view is that this risk is low. In fact, they aren’t (or weren’t) strictly being released early at all; though one might opine that 8 years custody was insufficient retribution for their crime.
- In case I’m misunderstood, I’m not being sentimental towards the murderous boys. C.S. Lewis asked what the duty of a Christian was if he had committed murder, and it was “to be hanged”, in the days when this was the state-appointed penalty for murder. I don’t know what C.S. Lewis’s views were on capital punishment, but his point was that the Christian malefactor should submit to the punishment of the state, whatever that might be. I think he held that this submission would apply even if the murder had been committed pre-conversion. God’s forgiveness is orthogonal to the state’s forgiveness, or lack of it. Interestingly, the Wikipedia (Link - Defunct) article mentions the rumour, probably false, that one of the boys had become a Christian. But such things are possible. Fred Lemon (Link (http://positivechristian.org.uk/fred-lemon-christian-preacher/)), a reformed villain beloved of evangelicals, admitted that he once hit a householder over the head with an iron bar during a burglary, and that it was touch and go whether the man survived. Had he died, Fred would have been hanged and the “3 men in suits” that allegedly turned up in his cell would have only prepared him for an early death rather than for a career on the conference circuit.
- The “Bulger” boys should have been (and were) punished in accord with what the state proscribes, and if still dangerous as men when due for parole, they should have been kept locked up. Indeed, their sentence allows for their re-incarceration in case of recidivism. But if neither of these conditions is satisfied – that is, they had served their legal term and are deemed not to be of future danger to society – then they should be released. There are all sorts of dangerous and violent characters about who have committed no crime and as such are beyond the reach of the law until they break it and are convicted, however much we might wish them to be incarcerated. So, the fact that someone is a nasty piece of work is no reason to keep them locked up for life.
- Any failure of repentance is only relevant if it increases the likelihood of recidivism – and it should preclude any early parole. As they were being released as soon as their minimum term was up, when their sentence was open-ended, one presumes they had – as the Wikipedia article suggests (Link - Defunct) – given some evidence of a change of heart. However, I would support the view that those that have committed abominations should suffer the full rigour of the law, whether they are subsequently repentant or not. Indeed, if they are truly repentant they should want to do so, knowing that any remission brings extra pain to the friends and relatives of those they hurt in the first place. Quite how this applies to a detention “at Her Majesty’s Pleasure”, I know not. It appears that, while for adults this allows the indefinite detention of those on life sentences who continue to be a danger to the public, for juveniles it allows “early” release (after the minimum term has been served) in case of a change of character – partly on account of the fact that “life” for a juvenile is likely to be considerably longer than for an adult. See Wikipedia (Link (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/At_Her_Majesty%27s_pleasure)).
- If we don’t think the law is adequate, or consider the judges or psychiatrists delinquent, then we should take this up with the authorities via the democratic process – always assuming that we have sufficient reason to think this the case.
- Assuming that it is fair and rational to release those that have served their appointed sentences for abominations, the question arises what to do with them. It is just on account of people such as those moved to violence by the email under discussion that a life of anonymity has to be found. Maybe the law should be that those who have committed abominations should be executed or incarcerated for life; but as it isn’t, something has to be done with them that doesn’t involve either of these alternatives. Physical relocation as far away as possible seems the only alternative. The wrath of the vigilantes is likely to cool if the object of their wrath isn’t easily accessible. It does, however, seem that the “as far away as possible” was considerably less far than the email imagines.
- There is still some justification for moral outrage, but there were no facts or allegations in the circulated text as to what the now grown-up boys thought of what they had done, nor of their backgrounds and situation at the time of the crime (which for the “lead offender” was pretty terrible). It is possible to find evidence for the various possibilities here, by following the links above, though it will always be difficult to determine the truth. I got the impression that the petitioners didn’t really care about such matters.
A summary of the email is as below; personal details have been removed.
- Original Text
- For His Memory: Do you remember February 1993 in England, when a young boy of 3 was taken from a Liverpool shopping centre by two 10-year-old boys? Jamie Bulger walked away from his mother for only a second, Jon Venables took his hand and led him out of the mall with his friend Robert Thompson. They took Jamie on a walk for over 2 and a half miles, along the way stopping every now and again to torture the poor little boy who was crying constantly for his mummy. Finally they stopped at a railway track where they brutally kicked him, threw 20 stones at him, rubbed paint in his eyes, pushed batteries up his anus and cut his fingers off with scissors. Other mutilations were inflicted but not reported in the press. N.B. :- Remember, a 3year old cannot possibly defend themselves against a 10 year old, let alone of 2 them. What these two boys did was so horrendous that Jamie's mother was forbidden to identify his body. They then left his beaten small body on railway tracks so a train could run him over to hide the mess they had created. These two boys, even being boys, understood what they did was wrong, hence trying to make it look like an accident. This week Lady Justice Butler-Sloss has awarded the two boys (now men), anonymity for the rest of their lives when they leave custody with new identities. They will also leave custody early only serving just over half of their sentence. They are being relocated to Australia to live out the rest of their lives. They disgustingly and violently took Jamie's life away and in return they each get a new life!
- Please ... If you feel as strongly as we do, (and if you haven't already signed this petition) that this is a grave Miscarriage of justice - Hit the forward button and add your name at the end, and send it to everyone you can ! If you are the 700th person to sign, please forward this e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org and mark it for the attention to Lady Justice Butler-Sloss. Then continue on until it hits 1400, before you email her the list again. There is power in numbers & these petitions do help. Maybe it'll prevent another child from a violent death & maybe it'll get greater, more appropriate convictions for these criminals, whatever their age. Please take a few seconds to forward it to your mail list & don't forget to add your name to the list. Thank you.
- Email Topic: Please read: This is heart rending.
- Email Statistics: the email had bounced a bit, originally emanating from Australia before finding its way to the UK. There were no actual dates prior to 15th September 2008, but presumably it started out in 2001. If not, it is very silly.
- Australia: 128
- Canada: 151
- Cyprus: 3
- Fiji: 40
- Netherlands: 1
- New Zealand: 47
- South Africa: 21
- Spain: 3
- UK: 157
- USA: 2
- Selected Annotations:-
- (UK): I don't usually pass these things on, but this one needs seeing to ....
- (UK): This is just terrible. Please read this and sign it before posting it on to as many people as you can …
- (UK): IF YOU BELIEVE IN JUSTICE AND PAYBACK, SIGN THIS AND FORWARD IT ON, DON'T JUST DELETE IT …
- (UK): Someone, somewhere, one day will recognise them. God willing, and then........................
- (UK): Our son is the same age as Jamie would be & his plight hit us hard; since then we have both been active in the scout movement to ensure kids have something constructive to do with their lives!
- (UK): HANG THE BASTARDS
- (UK): A horrendous crime. 3 mothers lost their boys that day.
- (New Zealand): Makes one wonder what is our world coming to?
- (New Zealand): Having young children of my own reading what was done to this innocent boy makes me ill. The world deserves protecting from these now adult psychos and you are hiding their identity. Sorry but Lady Justice Butler-Sloss you are a DISGRACE.
- (Canada): THEY SHOULD BE IN PRISON FOR THE REST OF THEIR SORRY LIVES!!!
- (Canada): How could Australia accept these two murderers?
- (Canada): How could a person with your education and power be so thoughtless and stupid. 10 year olds know right from wrong. What I don't understand is how Australia would accept these two murderers.
- (Canada): Anonymity in Australia ?!! Why inflict these murderers/terrorists on the poor Australians. I'll bet if they had the identities of these 2, justice would prevail - it isn't at this moment. These 2 are NOT victims, they are perpetrators!! Quit protecting them.
Footnote 1: This is the correct link, as you’ll find by searching the news.com.au site, but it’s now broken
Footnote 16: (Coldplay - The Hardest Part)
I’d been intending to write a brief animadversion on the ambiguity of artistic productions, and the conflict between aesthetics and control. Assuming that you have something to say, and are not using precise prose to say it, how do you prevent yourself being misunderstood without compromising the aesthetics of the method of presentation of your message? Should you be concerned that your work will be misunderstood and abused? We think of the Nazis’ misapplication of Nietzsche and Darwin. Maybe their use of Wagner was nothing more than legitimate application. However, is there a uniquely correct interpretation of a work of art, whether this is great art or a lesser work, or is a level of ambiguity necessary to all art? Do artists – in particular in the auditory or visual arts – in general have a message that is even clear to themselves? We might bring to mind didactic art of the Soviet of Nazi kind. This has a message that cannot be mistaken, but is it art? Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05
I’m sure much has been written on this subject within the province of the philosophy of aesthetics and other philosophical disciplines, of which I’m ignorant. However, I’ve recently been sent a YouTube link to a Coldplay video that seems to me to have been popularly misunderstood. At least that is the impression given by the comments associated with it on YouTube, and the intentions of the originator of the forwarded email I received. You should probably view the video before proceeding, if you’ve not already done so (0.1% of the world’s population seem to have if YouTube counts distinct viewers). Click Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wli0VjOmabU) to view Coldplay’s The Hardest Part.
Well, if you like Coldplay you’ll think it a cracking good tune - but what about the video? The circular email implies that it has a feel-good, optimistic message, but this seems to be the opposite of what is intended. Of course, the video is not produced by Coldplay themselves – see Wikipedia (Click Link (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hardest_Part_(Coldplay_song)))) for some background, and follow Link (http://www.alwaysontherun.net/coldplay.htm#x10) for the lyrics to this and other Coldplay songs – so we have another interpretive layer to dig through.
We can assume that either the band, or the video producer, intended the video and the lyrics of the song to be connected. You can’t generalise about sentiments, but I’d have thought most English viewers would find something vaguely hideous about the video, or at least some points of tension. It’s very cleverly done – especially the cloak thrown across the stage – but there are intentional clashes in it, and it makes you feel uncomfortable – or ought to. The band comes from England rather than America, so probably shares this viewpoint. The producers of the 1980’s show, an excerpt from which has been spliced in with the band’s performance, obviously intended the message to be positive. We can go on and on. Though we’re in late middle-age, life isn’t over yet – just look what a somewhat wobbly 84-year-old can do! Yet there are obvious tensions within the video. The introductory and terminal music from the show is horribly strident, especially when compared with the tunefulness of the track itself, and the gleeful enthusiasm of the show hosts and participants grates against the cynicism to be expected of any self-respecting bunch of British artists.
But it’s the lyrics that really give the game away. “The hardest part was letting go, not taking part". It’s just blindingly obvious that the intention of the video – in showing someone who refuses to let go and takes part too late – is to illustrate these sentiments. That there are nevertheless tensions is what makes letting go “the hardest part”. And the sentiment “Everything I do it just comes undone, and everything is torn apart” – timed to coincide with the old lady’s final wobble – undermines any feel-good factor somewhat.
I thought the old lady had been taken advantage of. She’s obviously skilled – presumably once a professional dancer - proud and “good for her age”. The fact that she wobbles at the end is very poignant, and would be humiliating were she not past the age of most humiliation and treated like a little child for whom allowances must be made. This is the ultimate humiliation and makes the whole episode ugly. She’s treated like a performing puppy with grotesque condescension. She looked as though she had some integrity about her that was totally lacking in all those around, who were using her for their own ends. Also, why does a society with such a strong belief in post-mortem existence find appeal in not letting go of this life? Whether we are to remark that she is now well dead is possible but doubtful – it may be a step too far.
Quite why Coldplay should consider this a “terrible song, good video”, and connect it to REM’s Losing My Religion escapes me. Both aspects seem excellent to me, and the only connection with REM I could see was the vague “I wonder what it’s all about” lyric.
I’d also recommend Coldplay’s The Scientist (Link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V3Kd7IGPyeg&feature=related)). It’s very clever – especially as the miming runs forward while the video as a whole runs backwards. It’s also quite moving in a sentimental sort of way. I’m not 100% sure what it means, though – other than as a recommendation to wear seatbelts. My suspicion is that this is the clue. Of course, the girlfriend would have been somewhat more mangled in real life than in the video, but it’s the leaving-off of the seatbelt that’s the critical turning-point, that we wish we could rewind life to correct. This is a rather idle thought, given the impossibility of acting on it. Maybe it’s just lamenting the fact that trivial decisions or indecisions can have terrible consequences not realised at the time, but only in retrospect. Something along the lines of the thought usually attributed to Soren Kierkegaard (though occasionally to Goethe) that life can only be understood backwards, but has to be lived forwards. This episode is rather more difficult to understand backwards – but the mental rewinding required to work out how we got to the situation we’re in today is also hard. The video bears watching twice.
Footnote 17: (Mad, Bad or God?)
There’s an old argument, popularised by C.S. Lewis, that Jesus had to be either mad, bad or God, and the choice is obvious. Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05
All I think I’ve written on this topic is the brief aside in the middle paragraph of the “Alternative Explanations” section of “Problems with the Christian Worldview”. “I don’t subscribe to the “mad, bad or God” trichotomy that C.S. Lewis proposes. It’s not likely that Jesus directly claimed to be God (despite the suggestions in John), but it is likely that he acted out the role of Isaiah’s suffering servant. I would have to say that in this he was mistaken, but this doesn’t make him mad or bad.”
I ought to expand a bit on this, so here goes. The argument is that someone who said the extraordinary things that Jesus said would have to be either mad, bad or God. Since he clearly wasn’t mad or bad, he must have been God. There are lots of places this argument can break down. Some are:-
Maybe we should focus a bit on the “mad” and “bad” claims. Taking “mad” first, presumably the idea is that someone making such claims would have to be deluded, like the madman who claims to be Napoleon. If I remember correctly, Lewis says that inappropriate claims to deity are as mad as claiming you’re a fried egg. But is this so? Setting aside whether or not Jesus thought he was God in the sense of identity (rather than being chosen, adopted, made of equal honour, or some such), there’s an example of a Greek philosopher who thought he was (a) god. To quote the famous doggerel “Great Empedocles, that ardent soul; Leapt into Etna, and was roasted whole". And he did. Apparently he left his sandals on the edge of the crater as though going for a dip (so said Anthony Grayling; knowing him, he may have made that bit up). Yet Empedocles wasn’t mad in the “fried egg” sense. He had all sorts of interesting and revolutionary philosophical and scientific ideas; some right, some wrong. He evidently had a high opinion of himself and believed deity was something that could be empirically demonstrated. He was proved wrong in a rather nasty way, of course, but many sane people are proved wrong, admittedly less dramatically, all the time.
- We might accept that Jesus was either mad or bad. This is the orthodox Jewish view; not one I’d go along with, nor one that’s terribly popular with Jews these days.
- We might deny that what Jesus said was that extraordinary. The Gospels don’t represent Jesus as going round saying “I’m God, don’t you know”. However, there are some passages in John’s Gospel that have been taken to suggest this claim (certainly that Jesus claimed pre-existence, and may have ascribed the tetragrammaton to himself in the “before Abraham was, I am” passage in John 8:58; but all this can be disputed – see, eg. Link - Defunct; this looks quite an interesting site).
- We might attempt to distinguish between the Jesus of the Gospels and the Jesus of history. That is, we might pare away the passages in John that seem a bit odd or discordant with the synoptic Jesus. This isn’t my preferred option either. In the absence of contemporary revelation, we’re totally dependent on the NT for knowing what Jesus was like, and we could easily pick and choose or distort the record until we got one we liked. Note that there’s a subtle difference between what Jesus said or did, and what was claimed that he said or did, but we ought at least to stick to the claims without ignoring or distorting them. As I don’t enthuse over the miraculous, I have to argue that what was claimed of Jesus didn’t always happen in the way claimed, but I don’t want to claim this needlessly of the sayings just to get a more likeable Jesus.
- We might deny that Jesus claimed to be God. I think this is true, as alluded to above.
- There might be more options than the three suggested. This is equivalent to …
- We might accept that someone can make extraordinary claims without being mad or bad (or God).
As for “bad”, presumably this means that Jesus knew he was making false claim, yet persisted in the claim, deceiving his disciples and many others besides. This is clearly not on. However, it is not even necessary to be certain of one’s claims to avoid being a deceiver. Everyone has self-doubts and it is possible for someone to have doubts and yet not be bad. We’re not told anything about this aspect of Jesus’ psychology, though we gather that he had to work things out (the temptations in the wilderness). I don’t know whether the various so-called false prophets were what we’d call bad people. They were just wrong (we think). We imagine that THE false prophet is a bad person, because he intentionally deceives, but this isn’t so of those who think of themselves as prophets, but aren’t (at least not in the sense of being sent by God). Take Muhammad. Obviously he didn’t claim to be God, but he did claim to have spoken to the angel Gabriel. It used to be popular to say that Muhammad was mad or bad (before saying such things became illegal and dangerous to one’s health), but isn’t it just fair to say he was wrong (with respect to being a prophet), and maybe right and good in much else?
I think the Lewis trilemma is a fair sort of question to ask. It’s just a bit glib. We do need an explanation of how someone as obviously good and honest as Jesus could have said the sort of things he’s said to have said and been wrong (on the sceptical account, and assuming he did say them). In the dialectical context of my argument, I don’t need to say which of the sceptical alternatives is the correct one. There are too many unknowns for this. All I need do is provide a selection that might be true, and that undermines the argument that the trilemma is the only option.
Footnote 18: (Personal Identity and Moral Action) (CORRESPONDENT)
Hello Theo,Note last updated: 19/08/2007 11:34:05
Greetings from Australia! Hope this email finds you well.
I'm researching the topic of personal identity as it relates to moral action and am hoping for some direction towards relevant books and papers.
I'm wrestling with the idea of when a person becomes "unethical", "criminal", a "liar", a "murderer" and whether these apparent aspects of identity persist. In conventional reasoning we generally regard someone that has murdered a "murderer", the act appears to become a feature of personal identity. However, when a person lies once we tend not to stick them with the identity "liar". On the face of it this seems inconsistent. Yet there are those such as swindlers that we have no problem with labelling "liar". Does this imply that there is some threshold to be exceeded? How many times would I have to lie to legitimately acquire the identity "liar". This again seems arbitrary. I know of no formulaic method for "identity assay" and I doubt such a thing exists.
Can you help clarify my confusions?
Peter (17th August 2007)
Footnote 19: (Carthusians - Hugh) (CORRESPONDENT)
Dear Theo,Note last updated: 19/08/2007 11:34:05
I've come across your website while googling Carthusians. I'm interested to read of your Carthusian experiences and I look forward to learning more when your autobiography is completed [dunno if this qualifies as writing "imploringly" and being "desperate to see it"].
Thanks for publishing the letters from Doms Guy and Bernard. You may be interested to know that a book was published last year called "An infinity of little hours" (I think) which deals with the experiences of 5 novices at Parkminster during the early to mid sixties. Doms Bernard and Guy are both featured in the course of the narrative, indeed the author who is the wife of one of the ex novices spent time at Parkminster interviewing him as part of her research. At the time the book went to press, Bernard was still at Parkminster, and there is a photo of him walkng through the cloister with one of the ex novices who has maintained contact with him. Guy, who was a former solicitor, apparently died around 1995.
The book is published in the states but is readily available on Amazon.
Hope this is of interest. Thanks for the website.
Hugh (14th August 2007)
Footnote 20: (Gordon) (CORRESPONDENT)
Dear Theo, Note last updated: 19/08/2007 11:34:05
I found your website idly one evening. Do you want to engage? I am now a keen amateur Indo-Europeanist, Persian-speaking (and writing), working at the Coventry Refugee Centre, pumping out electro/breakbeat tunes under a name which for reasons of good taste I won't mention here! If you want to, send me some co-ordinates!
Warm regards to Julie. From the family photo on your website your quiver looks well and truly full!
Gordon (13th March 2005)
Footnote 21: (Simon) (CORRESPONDENT)
Dear Theo,Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46
I was thinking of you the other day when I was having a spirited debate with my 16year old daughter, Rebecca, about altruism and religion. Although I’ve been atheist as long as I can remember, and my wife has been agnostic, Rebecca ‘found’ Christianity in the form of the US Presbyterian church a few years ago and has fully immersed herself into it. It’s a little ironic, because as a political ‘Libertarian’, I happily defend her right to 'be' anything she wants, but I can’t help myself from being a bit cynical on the religious front especially living in the US during this age of TV-evangelism, which includes our President with his fundamentalist cronies.
As usual our discussion veered off into a basic argument on providing proof on God’s existence, and your ‘Tractatus’ sprang to my mind. My daughter’s view seems to be that: “if you can’t prove he doesn’t exist, then he must exist”. Of course my position is the exact opposite. Having reached stalemate on that front, the more interesting question is “why do so many people need to believe in something”? I have never felt this ‘need’, being content with: “when I’m dead, I’m dead”. But anyway our argument stalls at my sudden childish desire to have a fish symbol with legs as a bumper sticker – of course it’s deliberately antagonistic.
But back to the argument… So we get to her point: “If people didn’t believe in God and heaven and hell then they’d all do bad things”. Now this is more like it. The question then circles back to altruism and whether we are able to sustain any form of civilization without a ‘greater power’ keeping us in fear and hence in check? I offer: “Well I’m atheist and I don’t murder or rob people?”, to which she delivers her best counter-argument: “Well not everyone is like you, Daddy”… And that Theo, is where my argument for spreading atheism breaks down…not on the question of whether God exists or not, but on whether [a] God is needed, to ensure order and ultimately our survival.
So I do hope that you have been able to progress your argument further and haven’t pulled a ‘360’. I especially need you to recommend a book with a title such as: “Daddy, are you going to hell because you don’t believe in God?” I could put it on the bookshelf next to: “Stay out of my life, but first can you drive me to the church?”!
Simon (2nd January 2007)
Footnote 22: (Spain)
This was supposed to be a chill-out holiday. Our daughters were oppressed by the miserable London summer and wanted to catch some rays, so thought they might join us somewhere hot. We had no such plans, but a friend has a holiday home on the Costa del Sol, in Velez-Malaga, so we borrowed that for a week’s relaxation. Unlike Malaga itself, it’s very unaccommodating for the English tourist, though there is Ye Olde Red Lion pub run by an English family to supply contact with the Anglophone world which seems to be otherwise absent.
This isn’t a blow by blow account, as there are few blows to be told. So, the main action was getting to our holiday home, which I’ll enliven with a few holiday snaps.