Theo Todman's Web Page

For Text Colour-conventions (at end of page): Click Here

Blog - Theo Todman's Blog

This Blog continues to evolve over time, though suffers from long periods of stasis. I'm not sure whether it should count as a “real” blog, but I intend it as a general dumping ground for discussions that don’t obviously fit elsewhere, or which are hidden about the site but to which I wish to draw attention.

The entire blog and the individual entries use my patent “Note” technology which I developed for my more formally philosophical investigations into Personal Identity, which is why it comes with the usual cross-referencing baggage, though the reading-lists are usually switched off. Here is the “Jump Table” for the entire Blog, which allows quick access to the various sub-topics. One day I may make these tables topic-specific, but currently I think the cross-pollination a potential “good thing”.

In the table below, individual notes will say – in the “Reference” column – whether they have a printable version. The motivation behind the “unprintable1” versions – marked as “Note” – is the hyper-linking, more relevant in some texts than others. If a word is underlined and followed by a superscript, clicking on the underlined word will usually lead to further enlightenment or obfuscation. Underlining with a subscript links to a footnote within the Note itself. The “printable” versions show the level to which the print goes. L0 (“Level 0”) is just the main Note. “L1” has the main Note and all Notes referenced by the main Note, and so on. If the reading list is carried through to the printable Note, this is shown by “, R”.

Some of these entries are discussions between me and an interlocutor or correspondent. Comments that belong to the correspondent appear in a different colour, a rather nasty shade of purple. To allow for candour, I’ve in general not been explicit about the identities of correspondents, though those who know me well may be able to make deductions in some cases. If anyone wants their identity revealed (or even further disguised), no doubt they will let me know. I have to admit that this “Notes” procedure with interlocutors hasn’t worked very well, and fragments the conversation somewhat.

Date Topic Reference
2 August 2018Tottering Towers & Listing Buildings: This is an account – theoretical as well as practical – of the problems that can arise for those with the responsibility for a Listed Building, illustrated by my own experiences with Coxes Farm. It is currently work in progress.Note2
Printable (L0)
31 January 2016Somerset Maugham Short Stories: This may not have been worth the effort, but I was – in my youth – impressed by W Somerset Maugham’s short stories. In 2015 I came across a volume of these, and over the next couple of years read them and made notes on the ethical issues that arose. For completeness, I supplied summaries of each story. Because of the size of the task, the results are split over two Notes.Part 1
Printable (L0)
Printable (L0, R)

Part 2
Printable (L0)
Printable (L0, R)
19 November 2013Bach's Greatest Hits: This is an attempt to exorcise a recent obsession with J.S. Bach, and in particular with his St. Luke Passion, Passacaglia and Fugue, and the Chaconne from the Second Partita for solo violin. The entry is mainly links to YouTube with a few jottings.Note5
Printable (L0, R)
Printable (L1)
10 June 2013Biblical Archaeology: I happened upon three 21st century controversies in Biblical Archaeology – the so-called “King Solomon's Tablet of Stone”, “James Ossuary” and “Talpiot Tomb” – which set me thinking about how controversies in archaeology are resolved, and whether the issues matter. This is work in progress, if not currently so.Note6
Printable (L0, R)
Printable (L1)
31 March 2011James Le Fanu: I came across an article on the giraffe by James Le Fanu in The Oldie. What he could he possibly be saying? This is work in progress, though not being progressed at the moment.Note7
Printable (L0)
Printable (L1)
21 February 2011The Singularity: This will be a review of an overly-optimistic article from Time entitled 2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal. This is currently work in progress.Note8
Printable (L0)
Printable (L0, R)
Printable (L1)
13 February 2011Megawoosh: I was forwarded a “viral video” entitled Megawoosh under the cover of “Who did the calculations for this water slide?”. It turns out to be a clever German advert for Microsoft Project, but it’s fun to watch …Note9
Printable (L0, R)
Printable (L1)
1 February 2011Contemporary Islamic Thought: I considered taking the course “Unity and Diversity in Contemporary Islamic Thought” at Heythrop, and contacted a friend from my Birkbeck days who has converted from Roman Catholicism to Islam. That conversation didn’t get far, but a few (unresolved) issues were raised. And then another friend sent me a web-link …Note10
Printable (L0, R)
Printable (L1)
26 January 2011Experts: A further discussion with two Christian friends, mainly on the way the authority of experts ought or ought not to structure our beliefs.Note11
Printable (L0)
Printable (L0, R)
Printable (L1)
28 April 2010Unmerited Suffering & Hominid Evolution: A discussion of two issues – the difficulties for theism of unmerited suffering, and the scientific status of the various current theories of hominid evolution.Note12
Printable (L0, R)
Printable (L1)
22 January 2010Hartnett, Carmeli and a Young Earth: Cosmological Relativity and a young Earth. This correspondence arose following receipt of a book that purports to explain how we can see the stars if the universe is only 6,000 years old.Note13
Printable (L0, R)
Printable (L1)
Printable (L2)
20 January 2010Haiti and the Problem of Evil: This discussion with a couple of friends was stimulated by the receipt of a brief article following the Haitian earthquake, and ensuing humanitarian crisis, on the BBC News Magazine website, alerted by the author on Philos_List.Note14
Printable (L0, R)
Printable (L1)
Printable (L5)
14 July 2009Virgin Birth: Response to some comments on an ancient booklet of mine on the Virgin Birth of Christ.Note15
Printable (L0)
21 February 2009Triplet Parapsychology: I was idly watching TV while eating my dinner circa midnight last Tuesday, when a program on Identical Triplets came on ITV1. Just slotted in was a claim and supposed experiment to show that if one triplet feels pain, the others do, at least subliminally. This must have been a spoof, but was completely straight-faced. Follow the link opposite for more information, and my reasoning behind being unwilling to be convinced by the facts.Note16
Printable (L0)
14 February 2009Creationist Bananas: I received an email from Philos_List requesting submissions for the world’s worst argument. A suggested candidate was that from a creationist group, suggesting that the banana is a good illustration of the “Paley’s watch” argument. Follow the link for the background, and my thoughts.Note17
Printable (L0)
14 February 2009Jamie Bulger's Killers: Julie received an email petition asking for “something to be done about” the plan to settle the killers of Jamie Bulger in Australia. This is a complex moral issue. Follow the link for my thoughts, though I’m not altogether comfortable with them. In fact, it turns out that the email has been circulating aimlessly for 8 years, and contains numerous inaccuracies. I wish I’d just binned it.Note18
Printable (L0)
29 April 2008Coldplay - The Hardest Part: A bridge friend forwarded on to me a circular email raving about certain aspects of the Coldplay video The Hardest Part, available on YouTube. The comments seemed to miss the import of the video (indeed, to get it completely round the wrong way) – but the affair raises some interesting questions in philosophical aesthetics on which I’d welcome the thoughts of experts.Note19
Printable (L0)
1 January 2008Loretto Chapel: An email from a bridge friend with a link to a YouTube video about the Loretto Chapel. I've now lost the link, but it was probably Loretto Chapel 1 ( See also Loretto Chapel 2 ( The "miraculous staircase" might well be a marvel, but it's not a miracle, nor did St. Joseph have a hand in it.Note20
Printable (L0, R)
Printable (L1)
29 November 2007Mad, Bad or God?: I got this question from Sylvia: “I remember you saying you were never persuaded by the “mad, bad or God” argument. This has cropped up a couple of times recently, and I can’t remember what your alternative is. Do you mention this on your website somewhere, and if so, where?”.Note21
Printable (L0, R)
Printable (L1)
10 November 2007Tiahuanaco: I received an email from a friend suggesting that Tiahuanaco - an ancient city in the Andes, close to Lake Titicaca - is evidence for a global flood. I was not convinced.Note22
17 August 2007Personal Identity and Moral Action: Another out of the blue query – this time about the interaction of Ethics with Personal Identity.Note23
Printable (L6)
15 August 2007Carthusians - Hugh: An out of the blue query about Carthusians, and subsequent correspondence. Someone does look at my website after all.Note24
Printable (L6)
14 August 2007Gordon: Another Oldie. An email from a friend I’d not heard from for 10 years at least. His email address now bounces, so this is by way of a response to an interrupted discussion.Note25
Printable (L6)
4 August 2007Simon: This entry antedates those that precede it, but is still on-going. It is a discussion between me and a friend and former HSBC colleague who now lives with his family in New York. His 16-year-old daughter had just become a Christian, and he needs some philosophical counselling. It is unusual in being initiated by a respondent.Note26
Printable (L4)
23 July 2007Spain: Herewith the account of some vicissitudes on an impromptu holiday to Spain.Part 1
Printable (L4)

Part 2
22 July 2007Bible – Pluses and Minuses: This is my list of worries about the Bible. It’s only here because it’s got no other home to go to. It’s not worth reading as I’ve only just started it (chapters on which I’ve something to say are indicated by superscripted hyperlinks). I intend to produce a parallel, but even more naïve, commentary on the Koran, which I hope will not involve me in the receipt of a fatwa.Note29
Printable (L4)
15 July 2007Jack and Sheila: The account of a discussion with some old friends, followed by an outreach meeting at a Baptist Church. Sounds dull, but such events can be important. There are some affinities with the item below.Note30
Printable (L4)
7 July 2007Sylvia: Today I had a discussion on the topic of “Why I am no longer an active Christian”. Here is an attempted account of the discussion, together with some general points about extempore debate.Note31
Printable (L4)
Printable (L4)
11 May 2007Never Let Me Go: At a former colleague’s retirement lunch, we got talking about the menu, which lead on to the topic of vegetarianism, to which persuasion my friend was persuaded. He loaned me a book, "Ishiguro (Kazuo) - Never Let Me Go", which I read with some interest, but wasn’t fully clear on the connection. So, I jotted down some notes, emailed them off, and awaited feedback. To date, none has come, of course. The story of my life.Note32
Printable (L4)

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1:
  • Actually, all Notes are perfectly printable at Level 0.

Note last updated: 05/08/2018 23:26:53

Footnote 1: (Somerset Maugham Short Stories - Part 1)

  1. For Somerset Maugham, see W. Somerset Maugham.
  2. I have now added brief commentaries on things that struck me from all the stories in the collection in "Somerset Maugham (W.) - Short Stories".
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

  1. The Pacific – 1
    • One-page; atmospheric.
  2. 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).
  3. 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 ( 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.
  4. 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 ( – 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.
  5. Envoi – 116
    • Half-page; atmospheric.
  6. 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, ...”.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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?
      1. Firstly – as noted above – some conflicts between the law and morality (only some of which are real).
      2. Secondly, the difference between inward and outward appearances, and the passions that can burn in the hearts of the outwardly self-controlled.
  10. 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:
      1. 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.
      2. Mr Harrington, an American businessman sent to Russia to negotiate a contract for his company.
      3. Anastasia Alexandrovna, a romantic Russian revolutionary.
    • The story splits into three main parts:-
      1. Setting up in Vladivostok and the account of Ashenden & Harrington’s train journey from Vladivostok to Petrograd.
      2. 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.
      3. 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.
      1. 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).
      2. 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.
  11. 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:-
      1. 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.
      2. 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”.
      3. 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.
  12. The Princess and the Nightingale – 283
    • This is a fable for children. See Link (
    • 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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:-
      1. Belonging and authenticity, and
      2. 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.
  16. 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?
      1. 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.
      2. 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.
      3. 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.
      4. 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.
  17. 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.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: In the widest sense, including matters of life-choice and self-evaluation.

Footnote 3:
  • 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 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.

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 6:
  • See, for instance, Link (, and
  • Link ( 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 7: This is important for the missionaries, not just that sin should be financially inconvenient.

Footnote 8:
  • 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.
Footnote 9: From Elizabethan times until the (partial) repeal of the Act of Uniformity (Link ( in the late 19th century, recusants (Link ( 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 ( was repealed early in the 19th century.

Footnote 10:
  • 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 11:
  • 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 12: Or at least highly questionable, for the reasons the story highlights.

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 16:
  • 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 17: I’d expected a shoot-out, but it’s all very civil, rather surprising as Crosbie is effectively ruined.

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 (

Footnote 20:
  • 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 (
Footnote 21:
  • 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.
Footnote 22:
  • 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 23:
  • 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.
Footnote 24: Footnote 25:
  • 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.

Note last updated: 02/07/2017 10:36:29

Footnote 2: (Bach's Greatest Hits)


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Finally, a fourth – and much shorter – piece, Sonatina, BWV 106, for two descant recorders.
  6. I revise this Note from time to time as a result of checking that the YouTube files are still there!

St. Luke Passion
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 (
    • Gerhard Rehm (Full Passion): Link ( 1 hour 58 minutes. A bit stodgy.
    • Alternative Full Version: Link ( Seems bouncier – my favourite recording. 1 hour, 46 minutes.
    • Another Full Version: [Barati] Kurt Equiluz, Wimmer, Moreira, Sorell. Link ( 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 ( I can’t but think that this reworking is a bad idea, as it takes away the simplicity of the original.
  1. The second was the Passacaglia & Fugue in C minor, BWV 582, for organ. Link (,_BWV_582).
  2. 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.
  3. Some examples from YouTube6:
    • Hans-Andre Stamm: Link ( My favourite rendering7.
    • Ton Koopman: Link ( 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 ( 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 (, which is just the Passacaglia (ie. omitting the Fugue). I suspect the full Link ( is also the original8.
    • Michael Matthes: Link ( 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 ( Very nice, but no video.
    • Gianluca Cagnani: Link ( Another excellent version, by a cool-looking dude.
    • Scrolling Version: Link ( 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 ( The only female organist (of this piece) I’ve come across so far. Maybe a bit slow, but fine.
    • Prof. Martin Lücker: Link ( I’m not convinced the organist is always in control.
    • Stewart W. Foster: Link ( 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.
  1. The third set of pieces are the works for solo violin – in particular the Second Partita Link ( and of course its fifth and final movement, the Chaconne. This is the main reason for writing this Note.
  2. 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 ( claims9 as “one of the greatest achievements of any man in history”.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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 ( 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 ( Just the chaconne this time.
    • Scrolling version: Link ( 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 ( – does the same for the full partita, but with the modern score in addition.
    • Yehudi Menuhin: Link ( From 1956, this is similar in style to Itzhak Perlman (or maybe vice-versa). No actual video.
    • Nathan Milstein: Link ( 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 ( Great, but maybe not enough passion.
    • Maxim Vengerov: Link ( 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 ( Supposedly by the greatest violinist ever, but I found this rendering (when compared with some of the alternatives) a bit flat.
    • Isaac Stern: Link ( Similar to Menuhin. But with a video.
    • Viktoria Mullova: Link ( A bit too gentle.
    • Ivry Gitlis: Link ( Maybe too harsh.
    • Gidon Cremer: Link ( A bit too much bashing of the violin and bobbing up and down.
    • James Ehnes: Link ( Gentle. The main rival to the “violin bashers”.
    • Hilary Hahn: Link ( Perfect, but maybe – at nearly 18 minutes – too slow and lifeless.
    • Janine Jansen: Link ( Quicker than Hahn, but still a little tame.
  7. 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 (
    • Evgeny Kissin: Link ( Or Link (
    • Helene Grimaud: Link (
    • Arthur Rubinstein: Link ( Very gentle.

  1. This is very short piece (less than 3 minutes), but requires careful listing.
  2. There are two versions - one where the main tune is played by two descant recorders, and the second is a piano transcription.
  3. 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.
  4. Anyway, the links are:-
    • Link ( (recorder)
    • Link ( (better recorders, but something's not quite as good ... I think one recorder is too quiet).
    • Link ( or Link ( (piano)

In-Page Footnotes

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.

Footnote 4:
  • 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 (,_BWV_565) and Link (,_BWV_246).
  • There’s a useful extract from a booklet accompanying a recording, extracted from a blog on the Bach Cantatas (Link ( 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 5:
  • 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 ( → 31-36: Link ( → 47-53: Link (
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.

Footnote 7: This is part of a cycle. Link ( 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.

Footnote 12:
  • 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 ( The bottom line is that the frequency of the beat is the difference between the frequencies of the notes.
  • For frequencies, see Link ( – 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.

Note last updated: 14/10/2016 22:14:53

Footnote 3: (Biblical Archaeology)

  1. While looking for something on YouTube, I came across a BBC Documentary on King Solomon's Tablet of Stone (Link ( This led on to two other threads – that of the so-called James Ossuary (Link ( and that on the Talpiot Tomb (Link ( 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.
  2. 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.
  3. This document is a temporary holding place and requires completion2. For the time being, it is a holding-place, lest I forget the matter.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: Doubted because it comes from the same collector as Solomon's Tablet.

Note last updated: 02/07/2013 14:12:29

Footnote 3.2: (Awaiting Attention (Blog))

This note is simply a place-holder, the point of which is to use the jump-table facility that appears dynamically at the bottom of this note to keep tabs on the areas of this website (within the above Note-Group) that await the most urgent attention.

If the table “Links to this Page” only contains the “Awaiting Attention” item, this means that there are no items waiting attention (since the “Awaiting Attention” item is the one that only links to pages such as this one).

Note last updated: 10/11/2007 13:17:46

Footnote 4: (James Le Fanu)

  1. For James Le Fanu, see Link ( 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",
    and book,
    … "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.
  2. In due course, I will extract my footnotes appended to “Doubts About Darwin” into an updated version of this Note. After I’ve read his book, that is.

Note last updated: 27/06/2011 18:57:36

Footnote 5: (The Singularity)

This Note discusses in detail the somewhat extravagant thoughts in "Grossman (Lev) - 2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal". The footnotes in the Abstract for the paper link to the sections in this Note1. It is currently very much work in progress.

  1. Kurzweil:
    • See
      → Wikipedia (Link (,
      → Kurzweil’s website (Link (,
      and much else besides.
    • I seem to have one of Kurzweil’s books – "Kurzweil (Ray) - The Age of Spiritual Machines".
    • This book has been criticised by Searle – see Link ( Unfortunately, only the opening section is available for free. But →
    • Kurzweil’s site (Link ( seems to hold an updated version.
    • Moreovever, there’s an ensuing debate between Searle and Kurzweil, that is fully available on-line at New York Review of Books (Link ( And see my transcripts →
      → "Kurzweil (Ray) - ‘I Married a Computer’: An Exchange (between Ray Kurzweil and John Searle)", and
      → "Searle (John) - ‘I Married a Computer’: An Exchange (between Ray Kurzweil and John Searle)".
    • In fact, Kurtzweil’s site has a bunch of free e-books, ie:-
      → Ray Kurtzweil (Editor) — Are We Spiritual Machines? (Link ( This contains (as Chapter 2) the critique by Searle noted above.
      → Eric Drexler — Engines of Creation 2.0 — The Coming Era of Nanotechnology (Link (
      → Ray Kurtzweil — The Age of Intelligent Machines (Link (
      → Ray Kurtzweil — The Age of Spiritual Machines (Link (
      → Neil Gershenfeld — When Things Start to Think (Link (
    • I dare say that the substance of the Time article is already well worked-over in Are We Spiritual Machines?
  2. Creativity:
    • 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)?
  3. Self:
    • 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
      Self2, and
      Though I don’t seem to have said anything yet.
  4. 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 Link (,9171,984304,00.html)).
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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?
  9. 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).
  10. Smart people:
    • Does it matter how smart they are? Lots of equally smart people don’t share the optimism of the futurologists.
  11. 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 (Link (, 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?
  12. 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.
  13. Prediction:
    • 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.
  14. Cyborgs:
    • 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 Cyborgs4 for my thoughts on the matter.
  15. Integration:
    • 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.
  16. Nanotechnology:
    • 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 Link ( 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 (Link ( might prove useful.
  17. Consciousnesses:
    • 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.
  18. Software:
    • Well, philosophically-speaking, this is an outrageous idea. It depends on what we are5, 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?
  19. Annihilation:
    • 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.
  20. The Singularity:
    • This term is defined later, but see
      Link ( and
      Link (
      (amongst much else).
  21. Moore's Law:
    • See Wikipedia (Link (
    • 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
  22. 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.
  23. Dummy Section:
    • Details to be supplied later!

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: Currently the links are one-way.

Note last updated: 20/04/2018 23:25:26

Footnote 5.2: (Self)

Plug Note1

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1:
  • A number of my philosophical Notes are “promissory notes” currently only listing the books and papers (if any) I possess on the topic concerned.
  • I’ve decided to add some text – whether by way of motivation, or something more substantive – for all these identified topics related to my Thesis.
  • As I want to do this fairly quickly, the text may be confused or show surprising ignorance.
  • The reader (if such exists) will have to bear with me, and display the principle of charity while this footnote exists.
Footnote 5: There is no unanimity on what a person is; but it will be worth taking candidate definitions and see whether we would be willing to assign selfhood to some non-persons.

Footnote 7: We are referred to "Seth (Anil K.) - Interoceptive inference, emotion, and the embodied self".

Footnote 8: We are referred to "Ehrsson (H. Henrik) - The Experimental Induction of Out-of-Body Experiences".

Footnote 9: We are referred to "Haggard (Patrick) - Human volition: towards a neuroscience of will".

Footnote 10:
  • We are referred to “Mechanisms of Social Cognition” by Chris & Uta Frith, Annual Review of Psychology, Vol. 63:287-313 (January 2012)
  • I don’t have access to this, but the abstract is as below ↓
    1. Social animals including humans share a range of social mechanisms that are automatic and implicit and enable learning by observation. Learning from others includes imitation of actions and mirroring of emotions. Learning about others, such as their group membership and reputation, is crucial for social interactions that depend on trust.
    2. For accurate prediction of others' changeable dispositions, mentalizing is required, i.e., tracking of intentions, desires, and beliefs.
    3. Implicit mentalizing is present in infants less than one year old as well as in some nonhuman species.
    4. Explicit mentalizing is a meta-cognitive process and enhances the ability to learn about the world through self-monitoring and reflection, and may be uniquely human.
    5. Meta-cognitive processes can also exert control over automatic behavior, for instance, when short-term gains oppose long-term aims or when selfish and prosocial interests collide. We suggest that they also underlie the ability to explicitly share experiences with other agents, as in reflective discussion and teaching. These are key in increasing the accuracy of the models of the world that we construct.
Footnote 11:
  • If only a “non-updating” run has been made, the links are only one-way – ie. from the page of links to the objects that reference this Note by mentioning the appropriate key-word(s). The links are also only indicative, as they haven’t yet been confirmed as relevant.
  • Once an updating run has been made, links are both ways, and links from this Notes page (from the “Authors, Books & Papers Citing this Note” and “Summary of Note Links to this Page” sections) are to the “point of link” within the page rather than to the page generically. Links from the “links page” remain generic.
  • There are two sorts of updating runs – for Notes and other Objects. The reason for this is that Notes are archived, and too many archived versions would be created if this process were repeatedly run.
Footnote 12:
  • Frequently I’ll have made copious marginal annotations, and sometimes have written up a review-note.
  • In the former case, I intend to transfer the annotations into electronic form as soon as I can find the time.
  • In the latter case, I will have remarked on the fact against the citation, and will integrate the comments into this Note in due course.
  • My intention is to incorporate into these Notes comments on material I’ve already read rather than engage with unread material at this stage.
Footnote 13:
  • I may have read others in between updates of this Note – in which case they will be marked as such in the “References and Reading List” below.
  • Papers or Books partially read have a rough %age based on the time spent versus the time expected.
Footnote 15:
  • Alexander thinks that we are Selves, and that Selves are tropes – abstract particulars – which by my lights is about as far from the truth as you can get, so I need to consider his arguments carefully.

Note last updated: 02/08/2018 15:48:58

Footnote 5.3: (Self-Consciousness)

Plug Note1

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1:
  • A number of my philosophical Notes are “promissory notes” currently only listing the books and papers (if any) I possess on the topic concerned.
  • I’ve decided to add some text – whether by way of motivation, or something more substantive – for all these identified topics related to my Thesis.
  • As I want to do this fairly quickly, the text may be confused or show surprising ignorance.
  • The reader (if such exists) will have to bear with me, and display the principle of charity while this footnote exists.
Footnote 6:
  • It appeared in The Week, but it seems to be a popular one.
  • See Link (
  • I’m not yet clear of the context: the book is on order.
Footnote 7:
  • Which has little to do with self-consciousness other that the book’s title.
Footnote 12:
  • Frequently I’ll have made copious marginal annotations, and sometimes have written up a review-note.
  • In the former case, I intend to transfer the annotations into electronic form as soon as I can find the time.
  • In the latter case, I will have remarked on the fact against the citation, and will integrate the comments into this Note in due course.
  • My intention is to incorporate into these Notes comments on material I’ve already read rather than engage with unread material at this stage.
Footnote 13:
  • I may have read others in between updates of this Note – in which case they will be marked as such in the “References and Reading List” below.
  • Papers or Books partially read have a rough %age based on the time spent versus the time expected.

Note last updated: 24/04/2018 00:12:58

Footnote 5.4: (Cyborgs)

Plug Note1

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1:
  • A number of my philosophical Notes are “promissory notes” currently only listing the books and papers (if any) I possess on the topic concerned.
  • I’ve decided to add some text – whether by way of motivation, or something more substantive – for all these identified topics related to my Thesis.
  • As I want to do this fairly quickly, the text may be confused or show surprising ignorance.
  • The reader (if such exists) will have to bear with me, and display the principle of charity while this footnote exists.
Footnote 6:
  • There are other situations where human tissue is to be harvested from other animals – after genetic modification or other means – for the purpose of implantation.
Footnote 14:
  • If only a “non-updating” run has been made, the links are only one-way – ie. from the page of links to the objects that reference this Note by mentioning the appropriate key-word(s). The links are also only indicative, as they haven’t yet been confirmed as relevant.
  • Once an updating run has been made, links are both ways, and links from this Notes page (from the “Authors, Books & Papers Citing this Note” and “Summary of Note Links to this Page” sections) are to the “point of link” within the page rather than to the page generically. Links from the “links page” remain generic.
  • There are two sorts of updating runs – for Notes and other Objects. The reason for this is that Notes are archived, and too many archived versions would be created if this process were repeatedly run.
Footnote 15:
  • Frequently I’ll have made copious marginal annotations, and sometimes have written up a review-note.
  • In the former case, I intend to transfer the annotations into electronic form as soon as I can find the time.
  • In the latter case, I will have remarked on the fact against the citation, and will integrate the comments into this Note in due course.
  • My intention is to incorporate into these Notes comments on material I’ve already read rather than engage with unread material at this stage.
Footnote 16:
  • I may have read others in between updates of this Note – in which case they will be marked as such in the “References and Reading List” below.
  • Papers or Books partially read have a rough %age based on the time spent versus the time expected.

Note last updated: 04/05/2018 12:25:55

Footnote 5.5: (What are We?)

Plug Note1

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1:
  • A number of my philosophical Notes are “promissory notes” currently only listing the books and papers (if any) I possess on the topic concerned.
  • I’ve decided to add some text – whether by way of motivation, or something more substantive – for all these identified topics related to my Thesis.
  • As I want to do this fairly quickly, the text may be confused or show surprising ignorance.
  • The reader (if such exists) will have to bear with me, and display the principle of charity while this footnote exists.
Footnote 11:
  • Frequently I’ll have made copious marginal annotations, and sometimes have written up a review-note.
  • In the former case, I intend to transfer the annotations into electronic form as soon as I can find the time.
  • In the latter case, I will have remarked on the fact against the citation, and will integrate the comments into this Note in due course.
  • My intention is to incorporate into these Notes comments on material I’ve already read rather than engage with unread material at this stage.
Footnote 12:
  • I may have read others in between updates of this Note – in which case they will be marked as such in the “References and Reading List” below.
  • Papers or Books partially read have a rough %age based on the time spent versus the time expected.
Footnote 13: |..||.|There are hosts of papers by Olson that touch on this topic, but this book, and the paper of the same name, are enough in this context.

Note last updated: 09/05/2018 23:47:02

Footnote 6: (MegaWoosh)

  1. 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?)

  2. 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!
  3. 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.
  4. The exercise divides into two parts
    • a. Slithering down the long slide and back up the launch ramp, and
    • b. Wooshing through the air and landing in the paddling-pool.
    Part a is required to generate the energy needed for part b.
  5. 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.
  6. The source of energy is gravity, and a precise amount is required for the final parabolic2 motion.
  7. 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.
  8. 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!
  9. 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".
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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?

In-Page Footnotes

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:-

  1. 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 ( 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.
  2. 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 (
    • 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.
  3. 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."
    • 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 (; 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.
  4. A web-link (from another correspondent):-
    • Thanks for the link below (Link ( 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 (, Link (
    • 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 ( Looks like a messianic Jewish group, rather anti-Pauline (Link ( 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 (, 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.
  5. And some more:-
    • 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.
  6. I received the following in mid-January 2010, but haven’t had the opportunity to follow it up yet:-
    • At long last we have the full unabridged Muslim Debate Initiative (Link ( 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 (
  7. I had an earlier discussion here with a different correspondent.

In-Page Footnotes

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 authority1. My comments appear as footnotes within this page.


  1. Stephen was reading a book Theo may care to read2: "Johnson (Donald E.) - Programming of Life".
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.
  4. Be careful, Theo, not to dismiss minority7 views. They could8 well be right.
  5. 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.
  6. Look at the majority view of nephesh, soul10.
  7. 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.
  8. 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).
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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!

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 2: Information Theory.
  1. I have bought a copy, but don’t know when I’ll read it.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 (, that discuss Behe’s ideas (which are along the same lines).
Footnote 3: Wiseman.
  1. 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.
  2. 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 4: Just So Stories.
  1. 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”.
  2. But, there are cases where some odd event allegedly occurred in the past – say the alleged bi-location of Padre Pio (eg. Link ( 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. 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).
  6. 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 5: Necks.
  1. The interesting thing about necks is that almost all mammals have 7 vertebrae – including bats, whales, giraffes and humans (see Link (
  2. 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?
  3. 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 6: Adam or Moses?
  1. I had thought that Wiseman’s view was that the 6-day revelation was to Adam, not to Moses – but I may have misunderstood.
  2. 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 7: Minority Views.
  1. 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.
  2. 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 (,
    And for a critique,
    Bishop Hill (not a bishop! Link (
  3. 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.
  4. 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 8: Backing the Minority View.
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 9: Biblical Exegesis.
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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 10: Souls.
  1. 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").
  2. There are lots of issues here; not least whether
    • There are such things as souls, and
    • Whether the Bible says there are
    … not of course that you would think there could be a truth-value difference here!
  3. 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.
  4. 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".
  5. 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:-
    • 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 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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 11: Asah and “doing”.
  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. 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)?
  5. How do you explain the origin and popularity of the orthodox view?
Footnote 12: Dismissing the Bible?
  1. 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.
  2. 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 13: Credibility and Minds.
  1. 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.
  2. 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 14: Minority (but Correct) Views – Galileo.
  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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 15: Pre-Galilean Explanations.
  1. Well, it’s right that sometimes the minority – but happily correct – view doesn’t immediately get accepted because it can’t prove its case.
  2. 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.
  3. Similarly, think of Kelvin’s “upper bound” limits to the age of the Earth, and of the Sun, using 19th-century physics Link (,_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 (, 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 (
  4. 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 ( See Link ( for a detailed rebuttal of Barnes’s theory.
Footnote 16: Problems with Evolutionary Models.
  1. You’d need to give some examples here, but …
  2. 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 ( claims that he modified his views.
  3. 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 17: Galileo.
  1. 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".
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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?
  7. 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 ( 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.
  8. 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 18: Faith.
  1. 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.
  2. Consider the famous quote of Laplace’s interaction with Napoleon (see Link (, 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”.
  3. Pete and I attended a moderately interesting conference on Naturalism (Click here for Note) at Heythrop. The naturalists won, in my evaluation.
  4. 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.
  5. 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).
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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 19: Greater Faith.
  1. 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”?
  2. 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 (, etc).
  3. 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 20: Revelation and Ignorance.
  1. 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?
  2. Doesn’t this lack of transmitted revelation count against the “creation revealed in 6 days” idea?
  3. 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 21: Arguing in Circles.
  1. 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.
  2. 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 22: Tiahuanaco.
  1. For our earlier discussion on Tiahuanaco Click here for Note.
  2. … and don’t forget to look at my response!
Footnote 23: Inexplicable Facts.
  1. Are the facts really “inexplicable”, or just currently unexplained?
  2. 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 (
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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 24: Facts.
  1. 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 25: Good Examples.
  1. The trouble with the Tiahuanaco case is that the facts are very much in dispute.
  2. Additionally, the suggested explanation (of tilts in the Earth’s axis) is so non-conservative, that it should be an explanation of last resort.
  3. So, I don’t think it is a good example.
Footnote 26: Pre-conceived Ideas.
  1. Well, I’m sure we all start off with pre-conceptions, but aren’t they revisable in the light of experience and education?
  2. 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.
Footnote 27: Faith in God.
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).

Note last updated: 19/03/2011 17:18:14

Footnote 8.1: (Authority)

A discussion thread I want to start is on authority. You’ll be able to look up some old letters between myself and the Prior of Parkminster on whether or not authority is needed in theological matters. My side of the argument is mostly lost, but it doesn’t look as though I was winning. I expect that particular argument is winnable, but it depends on there being, as a matter of fact, no theological experts. Now, in a sense, no argument can be settled purely on the basis of authority. But, in practice, there exist specialisms that are too difficult for the uninitiated to have a view on; or, at least not a justifiably sound one when it differs from those of the experts. The reformation claim is that the Bible is an open book, and anyone with an open mind can interpret it as God intends. That’s not to belittle the usefulness of exegetes, or the benefit of all sorts of background information, whether linguistic or historical, that is the province of genuine expertise. The claim is that this expertise isn’t essential – the candid Bible-reader can do without it. The Catholic claim is that they can’t, and that they can and have gone wrong. My counter to this is that, while this is OK in principle – it would be nice to have these experts, and to see theological understanding getting closer and closer to the truth as time goes by - this doesn’t seem to have been the case, and the so-called experts have often been obviously wrong. Worse than this, they have often not admitted their error but have persisted in it, and merely politically suppressed those that disagreed with them.

Are there any non-Theological authorities that we should submit to? There is an obvious conflict between the Biblical claims and the “modern scientific world-view” (and in particular, the entire methodology of science, which assumes that the world we investigate is a closed materialist system, with no life forces, and with at most a non-interfering God). And this model seems to work. Scientific knowledge isn’t an immutable body of truth, and there have been a lot of wrong turnings. But the argument is that scientific claims are subject to the empirical evidence, and that refusing to face up to this (as, for example, Lysenko did) eventually leads to disaster. So, if proved wrong, most people change their minds. Those who refuse to be convinced for no good reason eventually run out of disciples and die out. Additionally, the claim is that science makes progress – while the current consensus may not be the ultimate truth (and at the leading edge of research there is usually no consensus, though one may develop over time), it is nearer the truth than the consensus 10, 50 or 100 years ago.

Now, a lot of science is highly technical, mathematical or knowledge-intensive. The “book of the world” is larger and more difficult to understand than the Bible. But some people seem to assume that they are allowed to have opinions on scientific issues that are contrary to the current consensus, without the requisite training. This is essentially the assertion that, not only are there no theological experts, there are no scientific experts either. Now this denial comes in various flavours. Some will adopt the sensible approach that “leading edge” stuff is more open to doubt than core science. So, while we may doubt there are any experts on human evolution (not primarily because evolution is plain false as a theory, but because the palaeontological evidence is so sketchy), we may not doubt that the age of the earth is greater than 6,000 years. The reason we may accept the latter is that there is so much evidence, and so many geologists rely on the “old earth” model, which also fits in with cosmological models, that we’re willing to accept the consensus (and interpret our Bibles in accord with it). Some refuse to do this, but without good reason in my view.

Sylvia’s Response

Note last updated: 10/11/2007 17:47:02

Footnote 9: (Unmerited Suffering & Hominid Evolution - Response)

Firstly, the letter1 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.

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 ( (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.

Note last updated: 20/04/2018 23:25:26

Footnote 9.1: (Unmerited Suffering & Hominid Evolution) (CORRESPONDENT)

Now you remember we were discussing suffering, and disasters. And I think we agreed that ‘limited' suffering did humanity good – although philosophically one could not define that limit. Then we moved on to Haiti and natural disasters. I think I mentioned something that if God did allow any to suffer unjustly (e.g. David's child by Bathsheba who died in David's place) God was more than able to make that up to people in eternity.

It is interesting that some in our Lord's time may have had the same problem with God permitting man's inhumanity to man and also to natural accidents. In Luke 13:1-5 we read:

'Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think' they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish."

The interesting thing about this is that Christ seems not interested in what happened in the here and now, on earth. He is much more interested in the hereafter. Maybe it is a case of:

Isaiah 55:8-9: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. "

Also please find enclosed an article ("McKie (Robin) - Out of Africa: The Sequel") 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.

Note last updated: 29/04/2010 09:51:50

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:-

  1. The main text, in English
  2. Some appendices in advanced mathematics.
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.

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.

From: Theo
To: Mike
Sent: Friday, February 26, 2010 9:59 AM
Subject: Re: Einstein and All That

I sent you a "holding response2" to the email-stream below3 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.
  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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).
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.

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:-
  1. “No one who believes in Evolution can be a believer in Revelation”
  2. “Words are useless for the purpose of revelation” if such an interpretation holds.
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.

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.

In-Page Footnotes

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".

Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05

Footnote 10.2

From: Theo
To: Mike
Sent: Sunday, January 24, 2010 3:59 PM
Subject: Re: Einstein and all that ...

Thanks for the email and for the copied correspondence. I'm interested in the topics discussed, and did rattle off a response on the train on Friday. But re-reading it, it all seems a bit of a rant that deserves more careful consideration. So, I'll need a bit of time. But before embarking, I have some questions. Would the discussion just be between ourselves, or with Stephen, or with you for forwarding to Stephen? It affects the style as well as the content.

Who is Stephen, where does he live, what does he do, is he a scientist or mathematician, how did he get into dispensationalism, etc?

I'm afraid I've been "sitting on" the book by Hartnett – "Hartnett (John) - Starlight, Time and the New Physics: How we can see starlight in our young universe" – though I've read it through, bar a detailed study of the appendices. I had the vague idea that I might mug up on General Relativity, and see if I could evaluate Hartnett's theory mathematically and scientifically, but this is a ridiculous idea, as this is a job for a professional mathematical physicist, which I am very far indeed from being. So, all I can offer are some philosophical points, which can seem something of a cop out. Were you hoping I might comment on the whole email stream, provide feedback on Hartnett's book, or both?

I don't know anything about Hartnett and Carmeli, beyond what can be gleaned from the Web. See John Hartnett’s Home Page (Link ( and biographies of Moshe Carmeli (Link ( or Link (, and some further links below. I'm sure more time spent rummaging would enable one to derive a fairer picture.

It looks like Hartnett is an experimental physicist with a sideline in "emergent ideas in cosmology". He reports publishing a paper in Foundations of Physics (Link - Defunct); paper stored at Link ( - paper available free at Link ( It looks to me - from Wikipedia (Link ( - as though (despite the very distinguished editorial board) having something published in Foundations of Physics doesn't indicate any sort of acceptance of the proposal by the scientific community. It looks like a forum for more off the wall approaches in areas where mainstream physics is currently stuck; a good thing, however. I suspect though, that papers published there are more likely to be wrong than mainstream, less ambitious and less revolutionary offerings. However, he's also had things published in the International Journal of Theoretical Physics (see, for example, this paper (Link - Defunct), which builds on Carmeli's work). I must say, I thought that there's something fishy about a cosmology that has 5 dimensions, one of which is not a fundamental dimension, but involves the other four - but that's a purely aesthetic judgement, and the fact that it's being discussed at all must mean that it's a possibility that doesn't strike everyone as nonsense.

So, Hartnett and Carmeli do seem to be (or have been) respected scientists / mathematicians. Hartnett has extended Carmeli's work, and I don't know whether this extension is respected - but it does appear in peer-reviewed journals, so it's not just one of his private projects. He's also collaborated with Carmeli, if a joint paper cited in his book is anything to go by. I don't think that Carmeli's work has been accepted by the mainstream, but it seems to be being discussed. This doesn't mean that it's right or wrong, only that it's not open to non-specialists to cherry-pick it because they happen to like its alleged implications for what they want to believe. And note that the implications for Young Earth creationism are Hartnett's deductions from Hartnett's extensions to Carmeli, and not Carmeli's own deductions. Hartnett's proposals seem to make the Earth a very special place from a cosmological perspective, and I guess that would be difficult for most mathematical physicists to take seriously.

There seems to be a catena of questions here - whether Carmeli is right, whether Hartnett's extensions of Carmeli are right, and whether Hartnett's applications of his theory to the Bible are right. It would take a lot of effort to investigate all this, but my focus would have to be on the last link in the chain. That, and the other issues raised by your correspondence with Stephen.

Incidentally, I tracked down a copy of Hartnett's book2 at Creation Ministries (Link ( for under £8 including P&P, so I can hand back the copy you loaned me when we meet. I had a rummage on Amazon for Carmeli's books - but they are too expensive3, and too difficult to bother with at the moment.

I'm afraid I can't remember the context (if I ever knew it) of the capitalised extract you quote from Stephen's email. But if the expansion of the universe is accelerating, wouldn't that imply that it's even older than was thought? I think that Hartnett gets round the starlight problem by having the Earth-clocks running very slowly during the creation days (so the universe can take billions of years to create, it just didn't look like that to Adam). Not sure what this has to say about the current state of affairs. I will need to investigate.

Finally, there's a reference to a mysterious "friend from Cambridge" in Stephen's emails, but not in yours. Who is this? I hope it's not me.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 2: It pains me to have to support this outfit, though I’m sure they mean well. At least they seem to be admitting that the latest “discovery” of Noah’s Ark is a hoax.

Footnote 3: In fact, I’ve subsequently purchased and “read” "Carmeli (Moshe) - Cosmological Relativity: The Special and General Theories for the Structure of the Universe".

Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05

Footnote 10.3 (CORRESPONDENT)

This is an edited correspondence dump – in reverse date sequence – between Mike and a correspondent. My initial response is here. Any immediate comments I have on this text appear as footnotes within this page.

From: Mike
Sent: 22 January 2010 09:25
To: Theo
Subject: FW: Einstein and providence

Below, is the correspondence I have been having with Stephen Glasse, the person who gave me the book ("Hartnett (John) - Starlight, Time and the New Physics: How we can see starlight in our young universe") I passed on to you. This is for your information and, if you wish and have time, your comment. In one paragraph he writes about the author of the book:
  • “In regard to your other points I agree that one should not accept Dr Hartnett’s theory just because he’s a creationist. He may very well be wrong. But it does deserve honest consideration. He is a PhD physicist at a major Australian university and the basis for the book comes from his published research with Moshe Carmeli the Einstein Professor of Theoretical Physics at Ben Gurion University who was one of the leading authorities on relativity. Prof Carmeli predicted the acceleration of the expansion of the universe TWO YEARS PRIOR TO OBSERVATIONS WHICH CONFIRMED SUCH ACCELERATION. Dr Hartnett has developed Carmeli’s cosmology and asserts that the solution to starlight travel time falls naturally out of the equations. Furthermore he is extremely critical of previous creationist attempts to resolve the issue even ones that he has been involved in and he stresses the limitations of science so I think he deserves better than an immediate dismissal.”
I really don’t know anything about these two people. Do you?

From: Stephen Glasse
Sent: 20 January 2010 22:06
To: Mike
Subject: RE: Einstein and providence

Thank you for the reply and I probably owe you a full explanation. It was in the June/July 2008 issue of Search that I read Sylvia’s study on The Two Trees in the garden of Eden in which she asserted that they should be understood figuratively. This struck me then and still strikes me now as a far-fetched interpretation and I was also disturbed by the repeated description of the ‘literal’ reading of the text as involving “‘magical’ trees”. This seemed to me to be a classic ‘straw man’ if you like because no one who believes in the existence of such trees in the garden would ever describe them as ‘magical’. This struck me then as an attempt to get around the paucity of evidence for a figurative reading by providing a false account of the alternative. To quote Andrew Kulikovsky
  • “The fruit is no more magical than the bronze serpent.......the fruit was merely the means by which God performed a supernatural act” (Creation, Fall, Restoration: A Biblical Theology of Creation (I can’t recommend this book2 to you enough. I’d buy it and give it to you for free!))
In Gen 2:9 we read,
  • “Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”.
The author having then described the rivers that flowed from the garden informs us
  • “Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden [and]..commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat”” (in vv15-17)
We continue to read further references to eating the fruit of the garden in 3:1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 11, 12, 13, 17, 22 interspersed with references to the sewing of ‘fig leaves’ (in contrast to the skins of 3:21) and the acts of ‘seeing’, ‘taking’, and ‘giving’ (3:6).

Now it is surely impossible in such a context to justify Sylvia’s figurative interpretation. To quote Dr Bullinger
  • “words are useless for the purpose of revelation” … if such an interpretation holds.
It is one thing to take a literal truth and then apply it later in a figurative manner but it is wholly another to do the reverse. It is, of course, true that Dr Bullinger himself regarded the serpent of Gen 3 as being a figure of speech for an ‘angel of light’ ie. Satan but he provided immensely strong evidence: the interchangeable nature of nachash and seraph in the brass serpent account in Numbers; the structure of Gen 3 which sets up a parallel between the nachash and the cherubim; and Paul’s reference to Satan as an angel of light in 2 Cor 11 the same chapter in which he refers to Eve as being deceived by the serpent (verses 14 & 3 respectively). But no comparable evidence was provided in the Search article and it seems impossible to justify it from the immediate context.

Sylvia makes arguments on the basis of texts like Proverbs 3:18; 11:30 and 13:12 but in these texts the tree of life is used as a predicate of a metaphor ie X is a ‘tree of life’. This says nothing about the tree of life itself. The article reminded me of the attempts people make to force Scripture to fit with their faulty science so I thought I would send you Dr Hartnett’s latest book ("Hartnett (John) - Starlight, Time and the New Physics: How we can see starlight in our young universe") as an example of recent Creation Science especially as Michael is a mathematician.

In regard to your other points I agree that one should not accept Dr Hartnett’s theory just because he’s a creationist. He may very well be wrong. But it does deserve honest consideration. He is a PhD physicist at a major Australian university and the basis for the book comes from his published research with Moshe Carmeli the Einstein Professor of Theoretical Physics at Ben Gurion University who was one of the leading authorities on relativity. Prof Carmeli predicted the acceleration of the expansion of the universe TWO YEARS PRIOR TO OBSERVATIONS WHICH CONFIRMED SUCH ACCELERATION. Dr Hartnett has developed Carmeli’s cosmology and asserts that the solution to starlight travel time falls naturally out of the equations. Furthermore he is extremely critical of previous creationist attempts to resolve the issue even ones that he has been involved in and he stresses the limitations of science so I think he deserves better than an immediate dismissal. Furthermore, your receiving of the book coincided with your article on relativity and Einstein which, of course, might be of no significance whatsoever but then again who wants to resist the Holy Spirit?

I am already aware of the alternative readings of Gen 1-9 and I have a fairly technical work in front of me. But the fact is that it doesn’t matter whether there are differing viewpoints amongst Christians what matters is whether they are defensible. None of the alternatives can avoid the fact that God wrote, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work .......... for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth” and they can’t avoid the fact that they exist purely as ad hoc attempts to harmonise scientists’ theories with the Word of God. Was it not Dr Bullinger who wrote,
  • “No one who believes in Evolution can be a believer in Revelation”?

From: Mike
Subject: RE: Einstein and providence
To: Stephen Glasse
Date: Wednesday, 20 January, 2010, 9:16

I did not say that my friend from Cambridge was an Acts 28 dispensationalist. In fact there many Bible believing Christians of all theologies who do not hold to a 6 x 24 hour creation. Scientists are indeed fallible, as Richard Dawkins. It is surprising how scientific data can be interpreted in different ways. Quite often the scientist will interpret data so that it fits into their overall scenario of historic events. That is true of evolutionists; it is also true of young earth creationists, as I learnt when we lived in the USA. Also, just as we find there are different types of evolutionists and different theories of evolutions, we find that Young Earth scientists also differ amongst themselves ... again, as I found out when we lived in the USA. In fact, my view is that you cannot apply the term science to anything from the past. Science means setting up a theory or model and proving / testing the theory it by experimentation. An experiment others can perform and other verify or gainsay the theory or results. One cannot do that with many of Dawkins’ ideas / theories; quite simply no one was there and no one can repeat the experiment. This is also true of the ideas / theories put forth by Young Earth Scientists; no one was there and no one can say whether or not their ideas are correct. Amongst Young Earth Scientists there are a number of theories as to what happened at the flood; how it was caused etc. Which one is correct! I don’t know, but I don’t think any of them can be subject to correct scientific scrutiny. Christian Scientists did more good when they spent their time and energy showing the flaws in evolution. Once they set up Young Earth Science as opposed to Old Earth Science, and set up their rival theories, they then opened themselves to many of the same scientific criticisms as Evolutionists. We have no way (scientifically) of verifying or gainsaying their ideas / theories. Some Christians, when they read that these Young Earth Theories fit a biblical scenario, immediately accept the Theory ..... but that is not good science. There are a number of Theories of Creation held by different Christians and which are in the booklet we publish called “Theories of Creation”. There are good points and difficult points within each of them, and if you haven’t read the book, you may care to obtain a copy.

Many years ago a book came out in Germany proving that was lived on the inside of a massive sphere, so that we were literally in a closed universe. A number of Christians, especially in Holland, accepted this because the person who wrote the book had a few Bible quotations to support his idea. This came up at a conference I was speaking at in the Hague. Although the book was in German I could see that all the Mathematical equations were correct and held for that world. However, all those equations were inversions of all the equations were use and so they were bound to work. All the person had done was turn everything inside out – i.e. inverted the physical world and so he had to invert the equations. So I don’t believe we live inside a massive sphere, even though the Mathematics works for such a universe.

From: Stephen Glasse
Sent: 18 January 2010 19:43
To: Mike
Subject: RE: Einstein and providence

In regard to your friend from Cambridge3 I would be interested to know whether he holds to a literal 6 x 24 hr creation period as taught in Genesis 1 and Exodus 20:8-11 and affirmed by Dr E W Bullinger for example or whether he has compromised in this area. His views in this area will no doubt affect his attitude towards the ‘content’ of the book. It’s very sad when Christians will stand up for truths such as Acts 28 dispensationalism but reject the testimony of the Holy Spirit on more fundamental matters such as CMI are proclaiming. How can we mourn or even criticise the failure of our brothers and sisters to grasp dispensationalism when we dismiss such crucial truths in the early chapters of Genesis?

Praise God for Charles Ozanne’s recent work on Bible Chronology though.

But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself here and he really does have good reasons for rejecting Dr Hartnett’s work. After all scientists are just as fallible as anyone else and Dr Hartnett is no exception to the rule.

From: Stephen Glasse
Sent: 16 July 2009 22:07
To: Mike
Subject: Einstein and providence

It’s amazing how God goes before us is it not? I have just received the latest edition of Search and to my surprise you mentioned how you studied Einstein's theories at university and you cited a series of quotes from the great scientist. Well just the day before I posted you a copy of "Hartnett (John) - Starlight, Time and the New Physics: How we can see starlight in our young universe" in which the physics professor John Hartnett uses the Israeli Moshe Carmeli's expansion of Einstein's theories to the Cosmos to solve the problem of distant starlight reaching the earth in Genesis 1. Plenty of maths in the appendices as well!

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 2: This seems to be available at this Link ( It continues to strike me as misguided to insist that the only interpretation of Genesis is the literal one and that without the supposed facts behind this literal interpretation being true, the whole Christian gospel collapses. This is because if the Earth isn’t young, and their arguments are sound, then the Christian gospel collapses; which for many would be bad news.

Footnote 3: Some of the email trail seems to be missing here. I did snip out some irrelevancies, but not this. I presume this shadowy individual is me.

Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05

Footnote 11: (Haiti and the Problem of Evil)

I sent out the email below in response to an article1 in the BBC News Magazine website (Link ( The immediate responses are here2, here3 and here4. Follow the links for these responses, my responses and any ensuing correspondence.

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:-

  1. "Rowe (William L.), Howard-Snyder (Daniel) & Bergmann (Michael) - Debate: Is Evil Evidence against Belief in God?", and
  2. "Howard-Snyder (Daniel), Ed. - The Evidential Argument from Evil".

From: Theo
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 below6? 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?

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 7: Ie. Satan – this is a quote from .Matthew 13:28, the passage about the wheat and the tares.

Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05

Footnote 11.1: (Haiti and the Problem of Evil - Article) (CORRESPONDENT)

From: David Bain
Sent: Tuesday, January 19, 2010 6:44 PM
Subject: Haiti and the problem of evil

A short popularising piece on Haiti and the problem of evil: follow Link ( Text …

Why does God allow natural disasters? At the heart of Haiti's humanitarian crisis is an age old question for many religious people - how can God allow such terrible things to happen? Philosopher David Bain examines the arguments.

  1. Evil has always been a thorn in the side of those - of whatever faith - who believe in an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good God.
  2. As the philosopher David Hume (echoing Epicurus) put it in 1776: "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?"
  3. Faced with this question, Archbishop of York John Sentamu said he had "nothing to say to make sense of this horror", while another clergyman, Canon Giles Fraser, preferred to respond "not with clever argument but with prayer".
  4. Perhaps their stance is understandable. The Old Testament is also not clear to the layman on such matters. When Job complains about the injuries God has allowed him to suffer, and claims "they are tricked that trusted", God says nothing to rebut the charges.
  5. Less reticent is the American evangelist Pat Robertson. He has suggested Haiti has been cursed ever since the population swore a pact with the Devil to gain their freedom from the French at the beginning of the 19th Century. Robertson's claim will strike many as ludicrous, if not offensive. And even were it true, it wouldn't obviously meet the challenge.
  6. Why would a loving deity allow such a pact to seem necessary? Why wouldn't he have freed the Haitians from slavery himself, or prevented them from being enslaved in the first place? And why, in particular, would he punish today's Haitians for something their forbears putatively did more than two centuries before?
  7. So what should believers say? To make progress, we might distinguish two kinds of evil:
    • The awful things people do, such as murder, and
    • The awful things that just happen, such as earthquakes
  8. St Augustine, author CS Lewis and others have argued God allows our bad actions since preventing them would undermine our free will, the value of which outweighs its ill effects.
  9. But there's a counter-argument. Thoroughly good people aren't robots, so why couldn't God have created only people like them, people who quite freely live good lives?
  10. However that debate turns out, it's quite unclear how free will is supposed to explain the other kind of evil - the death and suffering of the victims of natural disasters.
  11. Perhaps it would if all the victims - even the newborn - were so bad that they deserved their agonising deaths, but it's impossible to believe that is the case.
  12. Or perhaps free will would be relevant if human negligence always played a role. There will be some who say the scale of the tragedy in natural disasters is partly attributable to humans. The world has the choice to help its poorer parts build earthquake-resistant structures and tsunami warning systems.
  13. But the technology has not always existed. Was prehistoric man, with his sticks and stones, somehow negligent in failing to build early warning systems for the tsunamis that were as deadly back then as they are today?
  14. The second century saint, Irenaeus, and the 20th Century philosopher, John Hick, appeal instead to what is sometimes called soul-making. God created a universe in which disasters occur, they think, because goodness only develops in response to people's suffering.
  15. To appreciate this idea, try to imagine a world containing people, but literally no suffering. Call it the Magical World. In that world, there are no earthquakes or tsunamis, or none that cause suffering. If people are hit by falling masonry, it somehow bounces off harmlessly. If I steal your money, God replaces it. If I try to hurt you, I fail.
  16. So why didn't God create the Magical World instead of ours? Because, the soul-making view says, its denizens wouldn't be - couldn't be - truly good people.
  17. It's not that they would all be bad. It's that they couldn't be properly good. For goodness develops only where it's needed, the idea goes, and it's not needed in the Magical World.
  18. In that world, after all, there is no danger that requires people to be brave, so there would be no bravery. That world contains no one who needs comfort or kindness or sympathy, so none would be given. It's a world without moral goodness, which is why God created ours instead. But there is wiggle room.
  19. Even in a world where nothing bad happens, couldn't there be brave people - albeit without the opportunity to show it? So moral goodness could exist even if it were never actually needed.
  20. And, anyway, suppose we agree moral goodness could indeed develop only in a world of suffering.
  21. Doesn't our world contain a surplus of suffering? People do truly awful things to each other. Isn't the suffering they create enough for soul-making? Did God really need to throw in earthquakes and tsunamis as well?
  22. Suffering's distribution, not just its amount, can also cause problems. A central point of philosopher Immanuel Kant's was that we mustn't exploit people - we mustn't use them as mere means to our ends. But it can seem that on the soul-making view God does precisely this. He inflicts horrible deaths on innocent earthquake victims so that the rest of us can be morally benefitted. That hardly seems fair.
  23. It's OK, some will insist, because God works in mysterious ways. But mightn't someone defend a belief in fairies by telling us they do too? Others say their talk of God is supposed to acknowledge not the existence of some all-powerful and all-good agent, who created and intervenes in the universe, but rather something more difficult to articulate - a thread of meaning or value running through the world, or perhaps something ineffable.
  24. But, as for those who believe in an all-good, all-powerful agent-God, we've seen that they face a question that remains pressing after all these centuries, and which is now horribly underscored by the horrors in Haiti. If a deity exists, why didn't he prevent this?
  25. David Bain is a lecturer in the philosophy department of the University of Glasgow.
One of many comments posted on the BBC website:-
  • Having lost a sister to a brain tumour aged 49, and a close friend to cancer at the age of 30, and being a C of E priest, you might imagine this kind of matter has been a part of my own, and many others' formation. Archbishop Sentamu is right on one level; for the sake of those caught up in this tragedy we need to pray and act now, and think later. But for many of us there has already been much thought. John Polkinghorne and others successfully argue that free will is not just about humanity, it is also about the freedom of the universe to be what it is. It has to 'work' to make sense. In order for life to exist on this planet there simply has to be tectonic activity. Without the 'recycling' processes involved there would be insufficient carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and earth would become a lifeless snowball. It has to be a dynamic system and given the freedom to be what it is. Likewise, without mutation there could be no progressive evolution. Most mutations are dead-ends, some are useful and retained if they provide breeding advantage, and some are deadly. But you cannot have one without another, at least not if you want life. Could God have done it differently? Probably. But then if his hand was that obvious, would we have the freedom to choose whether to seek him out? Probably not. But back to Archbishop Sentamu's sentiments; the importance of what needs to be done now far outweighs the philosophy of why it happened.

Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05

Footnote 11.2: (Haiti and the Problem of Evil - Sylvia's Response) (CORRESPONDENT)

From: Sylvia
To: Theo
Sent: Tuesday, January 26, 2010 9:48 PM
Subject: RE: Haiti and the problem of evil

I’m sure you must already know my view on this! But here it is again:

  1. Unfortunately, we live in a world tarnished by sin – both in humans, and the world in general, as a result of the fall. It was originally created as “very good”, but was changed at the fall.
  2. Sometime in the future there will be a new heavens and new earth, when resurrected beings will enjoy an existence in perfection. Until then, we suffer the consequences of sin.
  3. So – we look forward to that time, and in the meantime we do the best we can. This includes coping with natural disasters, and imperfect people.
None of us understand God – if we did, He wouldn’t be God. So we don’t understand why He set things up the way He did. We are just asked to believe Him and trust Him. And maybe one day, if it is important enough, we will have some answers.

My response is here2.

Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05

Footnote 11.2.2: (Haiti and the Problem of Evil - TT Response to Sylvia)

From: Theo
To: Sylvia, Pete
Sent: Thursday, January 28, 2010 7:47 PM
Subject: Re: Haiti and the problem of evil

I think you misread my question as a pop at Christianity, which is not how it was intended. I wasn't really after a re-iteration of your own opinion, but your views (if you had time to express them) on the arguments in the paper and the comments it evoked. One thing that surprised me (as I indicated) was that no-one had suggested that Satan had anything to do with these calamities. Now I suppose that a certain sort of dispensationalist might deny this (as though God and Satan are off on some Cosmic coach tour for the duration) - but I was surprised that the only reference to Satan was the ludicrous suggestion that the Haitians were being punished for the sins of their fathers in worshiping him. Also, the whole tenor of the paper and the responses seems to be that it must be argued that these disasters are somehow good things, or allowed by God for their possible good consequences, rather than just some fall-out from Adam's error. The "proportionality" objection applies with even more force in that case. Is it silly, or just undispensational, to suggest that the Haitians are being punished for their fathers' sins, if the whole human race suffers because of Adam's sin? "Suffers", though not "punished" - not yet, anyway.

Follow this link3 for Sylvia’s Response

Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05

Footnote (Haiti and the Problem of Evil - Sylvia's Second Response) (CORRESPONDENT)

From: Sylvia
To: Pete, Theo
Sent: Saturday, January 30, 2010 9:18 PM
Subject: RE: Haiti and the problem of evil

I guess I am just too simplistic! No, I didn’t think you were “taking a pop at Christianity”!! I just thought you were asking for “any comments on the problem of there being evil in the world”.

In the main I agree with one of the people whose response included the comment: “This is one of those questions that we could argue about all day and yet arrive at no answer.” I can’t see from Scripture that Satan works by creating natural disasters. I’m sure they have nothing to do with him at all, in the same way that they have nothing to do with God (except indirectly) – they just happen as a result of the way the world is now constructed. I certainly don’t think the Haitians are being punished for anything. Pete’s two questions are good ones. However, there is no answer to the first3 except that it will be made up for in eternal life, and we cannot be sure about the second4. Maybe God does intervene, but in such a way that only some are aware of it.

My response is here.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 3: Why did God construct the world (or allow it to change) in such a way as to include unavoidable suffering?

Footnote 4: Does God intervene to limit this suffering or direct it in some way towards the undeserving?

Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05

Footnote 11.3: (Haiti and the Problem of Evil - Pete's 'Satan' Response) (CORRESPONDENT)

From: Pete
To: Theo, Sylvia
Sent: Friday, January 29, 2010 10:29 AM
Subject: RE: Haiti and the problem of evil

Some random thoughts:

  • I’m not sure that the introduction of Satan would move the argument forward as you then move to asking why God allows Satan to exist or be effective, cf. Job. I suppose possibly Christianity differs from dualism in that God (the power of light) is actually the creator of and infinitely superior to the power of darkness (Satan). Also, I suppose that you might ask (a la CS Lewis) how natural disasters aid Satan if his objective is worship or distraction rather than being a pantomime villain?
  • Out of the contributions at the end of the article my first reaction was that the last2 one is the only useful3 one.
  • Finally, perhaps there are two intertwined questions:
    1. Why did God construct the world (or allow it to change) in such a way as to include unavoidable suffering?
    2. Does God intervene to limit this suffering or direct it in some way towards the undeserving?

My response is here4.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 2: I only reproduced this single blog-response (for others see the website (Link ( – it’s at the end of the Note (Click here for Note).

Footnote 3: The idea being that for a functioning ecosystem, plate tectonics, and therefore earthquakes, are necessary. .

Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05

Footnote 11.3.4: (Haiti and the Problem of Evil - TT Response to Sylvia & Pete)

From: Theo
To: Pete, Sylvia
Sent: Tuesday, February 16, 2010 12:16 AM
Subject: Re: Haiti and the problem of evil

I'll reply to both your emails in one hit. These questions always seem to turn out to be harder, and less fulfilling, than I first thought.

  1. I have two points with respect to Satan. The first has to do with what sort of malevolent activities Scripture portrays Satan as occupied with. It was good to be reminded of the facts by a rummage through an on-line edition of the KJV! In the NT these activities seem almost universally psychological - temptation, demon possession and all that, sowing the tares (assuming this is spiritual interference with ordinary human beings). I couldn't find much that indicates Satan has any physical power at all.
    • I'm not sure what Luke 10:18 (Satan falling like lightening) is supposed to mean (is it his descent to earth, or fall from power); and is it in response to the mission of the 70, or a recollection of some earlier event?
    • Luke 13:16 has Satan binding the infirm woman.
    • Paul's thorn is a messenger of Satan;
    • Acts 10:28 has healing those oppressed by the devil.
    • The devil is the one who had the power of death (Hebrews 2:14).
    • 1Thess 2:18 - "Satan hindered us" - but how?
    • Luke 13:4 - the tower of Siloam - is relevant to our topic, but doesn't attribute responsibility to anyone - though it's insistent that it's not punishment.
    • Otherwise, there's Job in the OT where Satan is given specific leave to do various things, including sending fire from heaven and stirring up a great wind.
    So, it doesn't look as though there's a lot of Scriptural warrant for Satan causing disasters. I never said he did, of course - only that I was surprised that no-one (present company excepted) had claimed such.
  2. The second point has to do with Satan's role, and the need for such a being. Sylvia puts down the woes of the universe to Adam's sin, but this has always struck me as a bit excessive. Are we to say that the laws of the nature were changed at that point? Isn't it possible (as is traditionally supposed, or as the gap theorists suggest) that Satan had already fallen and that there was already a blight on creation? That is, that the garden of Eden was a haven from the harsh realities outside, into which Adam was placed, and subsequently expelled? Presumably he needed (or would have needed) access to the tree of life even in the garden?
  3. If this is the case, and creation's blight wasn't Adam's fault, then whose fault was it? Is all this Paradise-Lost stuff (of the fall of Satan) - just myth (not that I've read PL, I'm ashamed to say)?
  4. Doesn't God (Christ in fact) uphold the creation? In that case, isn't he responsible for all the detail that goes on in it? Doesn't it leave God with cleaner hands if the "god of this age" is somehow responsible for the nasties? As Pete points out, this still leaves God ultimately responsible, but less directly implicated in the details? Or is this just the metaphysics (if not the soteriology) of Gnosticism or Cabbalism? But if it was, what would be wrong with it?
  5. I also quite like the final point of the comments on the paper - the Polkinghorne approach. So (though this isn't pointed out), instead of a literal fall of Adam, his fallen state has to do with his evolutionary ancestry - where evolution has, of course, cobbled things together by some random walk directed by the absorbing barriers of natural selection that eliminates non-starters, but allows through all sorts of fudges. So, you can't expect anything to work perfectly, however wonderfully made. So much for the human side of evil. The natural side is said to be a consequence of the earth being a natural system, with pluses and minuses. Then the whole thing of God's hand being hidden, so that we have the freedom to reject him. But the Gospels and Acts have it that God's hand was (at least selectively) manifest, and yet people still didn't believe. So, couldn't God have used softer gloves in the general case? Proportionality again. The issue isn't that there is suffering, but that there should be so much of it, and so (apparently) randomly distributed.
  6. Sylvia consoles herself with the thought that God will right all the injustices somehow, but is there any Scriptural warrant for this? I'm open to persuasion. Presumably, traditional Christianity took the view that if you were of the elect, it would all be made good, and if you weren't then all these disasters were merely a comparatively comfortable foretaste of life in the everlasting bonfire. The mystics - in particular Julian of Norwich - had the view that the universe was like a walnut in God's hand, and that "all manner of things will be well", which is all very comforting, but is it true?
  7. The idea behind the theodicy debate is explaining why the world is the way it appears to be, given that God is the way he is said to be - good and all-powerful. If you're on the "inside", then you're (theoretically, at any rate) proof against any eventuality; you already know and accept that God is "hands off" and that it's only in comforting comics that the good guys or the innocent get rescued rather than ending their days in ignominy, pain or farce. Nothing, however shameful, abhorrent or ludicrous that happens by accident to an innocent (ie. one not obviously deserving of this particular smiting) is a disproof that God is both loving and in control. Some think this is just ignoring the evidence. Darwin wasn't on the inside, and couldn't take what happened to his daughter, even though it happened (and happens) all the time to other people's daughters. He might have said it woke him up.
A bit of a jumble, but it's an attempt to keep the pot bubbling. You can let it go cold if you like.

Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05

Footnote 11.4: (Haiti and the Problem of Evil - Pete's 'Kant' Response) (CORRESPONDENT)

From: Pete
To: Theo, Sylvia
Sent: Thursday, January 28, 2010 11:40 AM
Subject: RE: Haiti and the problem of evil

What do you think about the Kant reference? As you know I am not a big fan but I assume you are a crypto-Kantian/crypto-utilitarian. Doesn’t the Bible explicitly say that God did use some people as a means to an end – Pharaoh etc.? Also doesn’t this illustrate a problem with Kant’s absolutism? Wouldn’t a utilitarian accept that the greater good of the majority would allow this ‘abuse’ of the minority?

Click here2 for my response.

Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05

Footnote 11.4.2: (Haiti and the Problem of Evil - TT Response to Pete on Kant)

From: Theo
To: Pete, Sylvia
Sent: Tuesday, February 16, 2010 2:43 AM
Subject: Re: Haiti and the problem of evil (Kant)

I'm not a great fan of Kant either, but isn't he completely antithetical to the Utilitarians? He has unconditional imperatives, while for a Utilitarian, anything goes if the sums work out right. I'm a consequentialist myself, holding that actions are good or bad according to whether their likely consequences are good or bad. The trouble with deontology, it seems to me, comes when you press it - just why is X good or bad? Just because it IS (said in a LOUD VOICE). Why is going round shooting people at random bad? Not because God has placed an arbitrary ban on random shootings (as though he might have allowed them) but because random shootings have bad consequences. Dying is painful and horrid, and deprives the deceased and his friends/family/dependents/etc of good things. It's bad (in normal circumstances) for you, and society generally, if you or others are shot. The badness has nothing really to do with the badness of the shooter - the bad effect this evil act has on his poor soul. No doubt he doesn't feature highly in the virtue-ethics stakes, but that's not the core issue - which isn't him and his rotten self, but the consequences his rotten actions have. Presumably, though, some selves become so rotten that they habitually cause mayhem (when they have the power) on a massive scale. Then their rottenness is of consequentialist concern in its own right. But if confined somewhere out of harm's way, they can be as rotten as they like.

I'm obviously supportive of Kant's view that we shouldn't use others as means to ends that aren't their own. But why? Surely it's not a principle plucked out of the air, but something that - if violated - in general has bad consequences.

I suppose consequentialism is open to counter-examples - situations (usually imaginary) where a consequentialist (as a moral human being) would want to say that something was bad even though the principles he espouses don't allow him to say that. Usually, the response on the part of the consequentialist is that the consequences of an act are wider than might at first be thought, and some nasty act that in isolation might seem to have good consequences overall, in fact has bad ones when you think of precedent and such like. But you may be able to dream up scenarios (eg. involving secrecy) where there are no wider consequences at all. Eg. the scenario where there's one healthy person whose bits are cannibalised to cure ten unrelated sick people, so instead of ten dead people and one live one, we have ten live ones and one dead one.

The usual answer to this counter-example would be that the general deleterious effect on the good of society if anyone could be legally snatched and cannibalised would exceed whatever one-off gain there might be. But say it was done secretly, so there were no insidious consequences? I'm attracted by a form of rule utilitarianism, whereby general principles are chosen because of their generally beneficent results, and these principles are in general binding. But I claim that they can (and must) be overridden if the stakes are high enough. If boiling that baby really is the only way to save the whole of humanity from a similar extermination by those ruthless aliens, then the terrible act is not just permissible, but an urgent duty, sad to say. However, the stakes aren't high enough in the cannibalisation case, though there are certain circumstances where it might be rational - you know, where the crew eat the cabin boy when cast adrift. But only as a last resort, mind you.

What does this have to do with Haiti? Well, not a lot Scripturally, I don't think. True, God is said to raise up certain people to do wicked things, but those people seem to have thought that they were acting autonomously (as we all do, whether we actually are or not). But the notion that God might be using lots of unfortunates' predicaments to improve the souls of those who are in a position to rescue them would seem to abuse everyone concerned if God was in a position to call the whole show off. It fails the Kantian test - the victims aren't willing participants, and the helpers are themselves duped, in that they think they are acting purely to help others, when the show is put on for their own benefit. It also fails the Consequentialist test too - how could the good accruing to the altruists' souls outweigh the bad done to the victims they don't quite manage to rescue? Though, if you have a divine rewarder dispensing eternal goodies on a whim, then the sums might work out any which way you like: but if that was the way things were, then our intuitions of right and wrong, and good and bad, would need to be re-tuned. Presumably, that was the delusion the more warm-hearted Spanish Inquisitors were suffering under. If you really could save someone from eternal frazzling by giving them a brief frazzling now, then it would be a loving act to do so. You just have to be a bit more sure of your facts than they were.

No doubt you'll put right any errors in the above in the next round, you being a certified Christian Ethicist and all that.

Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05

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):-

  • 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:-
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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).
  7. 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?
  8. 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:-
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?
  4. 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?
  5. 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.
  6. They don't like the use of Isaiah 7:14, and nor do I, but that's another story.

Note last updated: 19/03/2011 17:18:14

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 (– 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:-

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 ( 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:–

  1. 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.
  2. What would be the purpose of some totally unconscious mind-link. What evolutionary drive could have developed it? Even Vulcans seem to wince.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 (, 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.
  5. 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.
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!

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.

Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05

Footnote 14: (Creationist Bananas)

The supposed “world’s worst argument” is a You-Tube video The Atheist’s Nightmare (Link ( I found it interesting for a number of reasons. It is probably most effectively debunked by Nick Gisburne (Link (, though the response might have been a little more succinct.

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 (

Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05

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.

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 ( 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:-

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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).
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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 (, 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.
  15. 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.
  16. 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 (
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
  19. 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.
  1. 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: 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.
  2. Email Topic: Please read: This is heart rending.
  3. 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
  4. 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): 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): 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): 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.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: This is the correct link, as you’ll find by searching the site, but it’s now broken

Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05

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?

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 ( 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 ( for some background, and follow Link ( 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 ( 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.

Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05

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.

All I think I’ve written on this topic is the brief aside in the middle paragraph1 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:-

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. We might deny that Jesus claimed to be God. I think this is true, as alluded to above.
  5. There might be more options than the three suggested. This is equivalent to …
  6. We might accept that someone can make extraordinary claims without being mad or bad (or God).
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.

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.

Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05

Footnote 17.1: (Problems with the Christian Worldview)


As always, this note will start off as a brain-dump, which I’ll tidy up and segregate into hyper-linked topics in due course. Note that while this caveat persists, this note (which has been whacked out in a couple of hours, and shows it) is in DRAFT, and cannot be taken to represent my considered views. As it’s hidden down a long chain of hyperlinks, maybe no-one will notice it until I’ve had the opportunity to tweak it a bit.

I’ve admitted that I have “problems” with Christianity. So, what are my “problems”? I need to address this question from at least three angles.

  1. Firstly, the issues themselves, focusing on the most critical ones, and
  2. Secondly, providing some form of alternative explanation of the pro-Christian data.
  3. Finally, I suppose, I ought to give an account of the alternative life-stance that I do espouse.
I’ve always maintained that our most fundamental beliefs are held as an interconnecting matrix, though with some form of hierarchy of belief. That’s what I tried to describe in my Christian Tractatus (updated1 version in progress). So, this statement of issues (and of the alternatives) can’t really be viewed in isolation. However, if I try to expand on all this here, I’ll be repeating what I’ve said elsewhere. This summary will have to remain simplistic.

A final preliminary point is that not all Christians (the more zealous may accuse these of being Christians “falsely so-called”) will find all of my objections to be real issues2. However, the versions of Christianity I have “problems” with are those that posit an active God and a supernaturalist worldview. Weaker versions, it seems to me, make no practical difference to our lives, and confuse issues by using supernaturalist terminology with a naturalist meaning.


So, what are the issues? I’ll list them with elaborating footnotes to be provided in due course.
  1. Origins: This encompasses the 7-day creation, the creation of Adam, the Fall, and the Flood.
  2. The Place of Man: there is no saltation between homo sapiens and the great apes; just a difference of degree. Adam was not created from the dust, but evolved from an ape-like ancestor. There was no fall from initial righteousness.
  3. Life: Christianity appears to be committed to vitalism. Matter (“dust”) has to have the breath of life breathed into it in order to be alive. There is a division amongst Christians who think about the matter at all into tri-partists - who believe in body, soul and spirit - and bi-partists who believe in body and spirit only (the soul being a sort of fusion of the two). I’ve allowed that the bi-partists win the day, and not objected to souls here. Biology seems to view life as nothing more than the right sort of complexity and organization in matter, with no absolute divide between animate and inanimate entities, and the detailed rejection of vitalism by demonstrating how living tissues and organisms work is one of its major triumphs.
  4. Miracles: the contemporary evidence against them is so strong that I accept Hume’s analysis – we need to be more certain that there has been no dissimulation, distortion, confusion or error in transmission of the ancient testimony than we are of the initial improbability of a miracle occurring. This is a purely empirical matter, but all contemporary evidence suggests that miracles are very unlikely.
  5. Cosmology: Just where did Jesus ascend to, and where did Elijah’s chariot of fire go? Just what sort of place, if it is one, is heaven? What are the “new heavens and the new earth”, wherein righteousness will dwell? What is their relation to the old heaven and old earth?
  6. Spiritual Beings: There is no good evidence for the existence of angels, demons, and so on.
It may be that it is possible to make an accommodation for all these objections, as liberal Christianity has done, but in general the supporters of the “strong” versions of Christianity won’t have any of it – probably for good reason: such a version of Christianity is hardly worth believing in, and is nothing but muddle and equivocation.

It is worth pointing out that there are some aspects of Christianity that often feature in popular objections that I don’t take issue with, either because I reject the objections, or because the tenets objected to are not properly part of Christianity. A brief summary:

Firstly, those popular objections I don’t think cogent:
  1. The Universal Sinfulness of Mankind. This is an obvious empirical fact, but has other explanations than the fall of Adam.
  2. Theodicy: I expect a good account of the consistency of the evil we find in the world with the goodness of God can be made out, by appeal to sin, free will and Satan, if we had reason to accept the existence of all of these.
  3. Biblical Scepticism: I reject over-zealous skepticism about the general reliability of the Bible, and doubts about the existence and general character of Jesus as described therein. However, I don’t think the New Testament always uses the Old in the manner of a good Bible student, but ignores the context in the manner of the expository approach of the time.
  4. Horrid Things Done by Christians: Sadly, these are just what would be expected given the universal sinfulness of mankind.
Secondly, those items that are part of orthodox Christianity, but which may not me properly Bible-based, and so their rejection isn’t relevant to the rejection of Biblical Christianity:
  1. Souls: Popular Christianity has it that the Christian is committed to mind/body dualism. However, there is a growing band of Christian materialists, who stress bodily resurrection and deny the possibility (or at least the fact / desirability) of disembodied existence for human beings, and maybe a case for this view can be made out from the Bible. I think the empirical evidence for the correlation of brain activity to psychological experience is so strong, that no-one these days would introduce a dualist account without their religion obliging them to do so. That isn’t to deny that the possibility of sentient matter isn’t a great mystery that is currently unexplained, despite a great industry directed at it. But some problems are hard to solve, or even conceptualise. Maybe I should promote this to a real objection, because I’m not convinced that resurrection of the very same individual makes sense in the absence of a continuing immaterial substance (given, ex hypothesi, that there is no continuing material substance). However, I’m not yet sufficiently confident of this for it to bear the necessary weight.
  2. Eternal Torment for the Wicked: this would be a damnable doctrine, but it is not clear that the Bible teaches it.

Alternative Explanations

And what alternative explanation can be given? This is highly complex, as there are so many plots and sub-plots. Also, it cannot be incumbent on the unbeliever to give a precise alternative account of the origin of what he sees as myth. Who knows precisely how the Greek myths arose, but does this ignorance mean that it’s incumbent on us to believe in them. The reason I may have for feeling an obligation to provide an alternative account of Christianity is that it is (even to the contemporary western mind) not quite so ridiculous as the Greek myths. Also, it is a worldview I myself have espoused and a good many intelligent contemporaries also espouse. I excuse myself from having to give an alternative account of the other religions that satisfy the second point on account of the failure of the first: I am profoundly ignorant of them, and even if I wasn’t, think that experience “from the inside” is necessary before pouring on the scorn.

I suppose my alternative account would be along the lines of “religious progress”. An initial propitiatory, tribal account of the relation of the individual / society to God was improved upon, firstly within the propitiatory framework of animal sacrifice, ultimately seeing that such actions can’t work, and by refining the concept of God. I think it’s a suggestion of genius to see these sacrifices as “types and shadows”, leading up to the one true sacrifice of Jesus. But this doesn’t make this suggestion correct. Just why does God need propitiation in the first place? As for Jesus’ own views, 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 need to add a footnote on probabilities, maybe using the game of Cluedo (Link ( as a springboard. The basic idea is that if we deny that Colonel Mustard did it, we don’t have to believe that Professor Plumb did it. There are many alternatives. The most likely suspect isn’t thereby guilty. We can be assured that p(it is not the case that Colonel Mustard did it) = 1 – p(Colonel Mustard did it). If Colonel Mustard didn’t do it, then even though each of the alternatives has low initial probability, yet one of them must be true. Say I bought 1,000,000 tickets for yesterday’s lottery. Then, presumably, the odds on my winning the lottery were greater than the odds on any other entrant. Yet I still didn’t win it, and was unlikely to have done so. I mention this because I’ve recently read a somewhat silly paper asking whether it’s rational for Christians to believe in the Resurrection (of Jesus). The “pro” author thinks there are four sensible alternatives, and picks them off one by one. So Jesus must have risen from the dead. This reasoning is fallacious.

My personal worldview

… to be supplied: not because I’ve not got one … it can probably be deduced from my Christian Tractatus … but because I haven’t got round to writing up a quick summary yet. We don’t live in a vacuum, and it’s all very well being negative. However, ab initio, this is a very complex and creative task, which is why the alternative “package deal” approach is so much more popular (though maybe the “don’t know, care less” approach wins the day in the popularity stakes).

Note last updated: 24/08/2013 13:48:00

Footnote 17.1.1

This document constitutes my philosophical thoughts on the validity of Christianity. Its name and format are modelled on a well-known (and, of course, infinitely superior) work by Ludwig Wittgenstein. So as not to deceive the unwary, this evaluation is reluctantly negative. I am not a scoffer, so the evaluation is a serious one. However, I cannot see how Christianity or any other religious system can be made to work without either intellectual compromise or denuding the religious system of content.

The text of this document has not had a major overhaul in almost the last ten years, so my ideas have probably moved on somewhat in the interim. Readers may find the style rather inclined towards ex cathedra statements. This is because the document was written as an attempt to structure my views on these subjects rather than to seek to justify them in exhaustive detail. The web-based format does allow expatiation ad infinitem, and I will seek to progress in that direction in due course.

The document revolves around 20 basic assumptions into which my argument is broken down. I'm not yet happy that these are the best 20 and that there are no redundancies. However, given the whole document is geared around these fundamental tenets, I feel reluctant to change them until I have a clearer idea of how the structural change would affect the entire argument. So, we're stuck with them until inspiration strikes.

These 20 primary points of the argument, together with 4 appendices, are as below.

  1. The world is open to investigation.
  2. Knowledge of the world is acquired from experience under the interpretation of reason.
  3. No knowledge is certain.
  4. The world obeys a number of fairly simple physical laws, which form the modern scientific worldview, which is fundamentally correct.
  5. Truth is related to simplicity.
  6. It is important for our beliefs to be true, especially if we intend to pass them on to others.
  7. Christianity is a public statement about the world, not merely a private religion.
  8. The claims of Christianity are based on historical experience.
  9. The Bible is the most reliable record of the historical events on which Christianity is founded.
  10. Christianity requires a reliable, but not necessarily inerrant, Bible to validate it.
  11. Biblical claims are to be validated in the same way as any other claims related to matters of fact.
  12. From the viewpoint of internal consistency & style, the Bible gives the impression of being a generally reliable, but not inerrant, document.
  13. There are problems with the Biblical model of the world & its history.
  14. Christianity does not conform to the requirement of presuppositional simplicity.
  15. There is no worthwhile subset of Christianity as traditionally understood that conforms to the modern worldview.
  16. A worthwhile reconstruction of Christianity, in conformity with the modern worldview, has not been demonstrated to be possible.
  17. Christianity cannot & should not be defended solely on the basis of faith.
  18. It is not self-evident that the world, or the individuals in it, have a purpose.
  19. Pascal's wager is not to be accepted.
  20. It is better to remain silent than to make a pretence at knowledge.

  1. Acts 28 Dispensationalism.
  2. Biblical Numerics & Chiasmus.
  3. Spiritual Beings in the Judeo-Christian Tradition.
  4. Non-theistic Ethics.

To find out more about each statement, click on the hyperlink to the underlying document, where the statement is broken down into more detail and, where possible, justified.

For a concatenation of the whole document in topic-title sequence, follow this link.

Please address any criticism of or suggested improvements to this paper to

Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05

Footnote 17.1.2: (The Church as Guardian of the Truth)

The problem is exacerbated by the general ultra-protestant claim that the Church “lost it” immediately after the apostolic period and started promulgating all sorts of false doctrine. We have no reliable historical tradition of correct interpretation, the rediscovery of the full truth having to await an early 20th century East Ender. I expect this explains why the reformation protestants didn’t reject patristics, or at least accepted (or took into consideration) those Church Fathers most consonant with their own position. Otherwise, the (non-) believer is left very much to his/her own judgment – both as to the reliability of the old books, and to the reliability of those who might help to interpret them.

Interestingly, I have some fairly extensive correspondence with the Prior of Parkminster from the early 1980s on this issue, which I hope to make available on-line in due course. Naturally, his view was that the moderating influence of the Church is required to maintain order. I might accept this if we could both agree who “the Church” is, and if the opinions of the various branches of the Church weren't so often obviously wrong.

Note last updated: 12/08/2007 10:17:46

Footnote 18: (Personal Identity and Moral Action) (CORRESPONDENT)

Hello Theo,

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)

Theo’s Reply1

Note last updated: 19/08/2007 11:34:05

Footnote 18.1: (Personal Identity and Moral Action. T1)

Dear Peter,

Good to hear from you. Are your researches formal, or private interest? I'm just a beginning research student, so any comments I may have come with a big health-warning.

I can't think of any papers specifically on your topic. My database tells me that all I've found on the forensic aspects of personal identity are in the following link, not that I've read much in this area.

David Oderberg (Link ( might be able to help, as he has interests both in Personal Identity and Ethics. I don't know him personally, and disagree with most of what I've read by him, so don't treat this as a personal introduction!

For what they're worth, here are my own thoughts:

Firstly, I don't think this topic has much to do with personal identity. The thesis I'm going to defend is that human persons1 are phase sortals2 of human animals, and that a person persists as long as (the infrastructure for) that self-consciousness that is definitive of being a person persists in that animal (with a lot of loose ends to be tidied up!). My view is that any talk of "so-and-so" not being the same person as he once was is highly metaphorical - someone can act or seem "as if" they are a different person, but they are the same person for all that. All this psychological4,5 connectedness6 stuff is a complete muddle. People have a "first person perspective7" that remains definitive of them, and their qualities just evolve over time. Actually, I'm tempted by perdurantism8,9, which may complicate (or even simplify) matters.

Secondly, I think there are various linguistic conventions at work in the "-er" suffix in English (and with "-ist" and such-like). Vitali Kitschko is a boxer who (I believe) still boxes. Muhammad Ali is a boxer who doesn't. Klint the mad axeman is a murderer who is prone to murder. David the King is/was a murderer who sincerely repented of the indirect murder of Uriah the Hittite. I have no doubt under duress told many a porky pie, but don't think I thereby deserve the term "liar". So, I think we could use "liar" and "murderer" in either of many ways; one who is/was by profession an X, one who has ever X'd or one who is currently prone to X if not watched carefully. I think it's just that not all the slots in this n x 3 matrix are equally useful. Murdering is thankfully rare, but highly significant, so we have a term for someone who has ever murdered. Even George Washington told lies (Oh yes he did ...), so being told that someone is a liar in the "did it once" sense isn't very enlightening (in fact, the opposite is enlightening). Someone who repeatedly murders is so unusual that we have a special term (serial-killer) for it. And so on.

Finally, quite when we're right to label someone who is regularly prone to X "an X-er" may, as you say, be arbitrary. It probably depends on comparisons with social norms and peer groups. Elizabeth I, who had a bath every year whether she needed one or not, was probably a stinker by today's standards, but not by those of 16th century England. And she'd still be a stinker after her bath, by our standards, even though she didn't then stink, because when you passed by her next month, she'd be stinking again. Presumably Eric the Pillager would have been a really mean Viking.

So, your problem reduces to deciding just how prone someone is to X, how frequently they X, and whether they've repented of X-ing. The thresholds vary with X (how important or unusual is it) and with the standards of society. There will be grey areas, but this is just a ubiquitous problem with vagueness.

I hope these off-the-top-of-the-head jottings aren't too trivial (or wrong-headed). I'd be interested in your more detailed thoughts on the matter.

Best wishes,

Theo (17th August 2007)

Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05

Footnote 18.1.1: (Person)

Plug Note1

  • I must first consider whether the debate on personal identity has been hijacked by a term (whose meaning has changed over time) that can now be dispensed with? Wiggins claims that the Greeks had no term for “person” (I need to re-read the paper by "Trendelenberg (Adolf) - A Contribution to the History of the Word Person" to double-check this). Have we always secretly been talking about human animal identity (probably referring to human beings rather than human animals) when we thought we were talking about something separate, namely persons?
  • I need to start with some conceptual analysis, though this may lead to somewhat arbitrary (ie. merely semantic or culture-relative) conclusions if PERSON isn’t a natural kind concept.
  • I accept Locke’s conceptual distinction between Human Beings (“Men”), Persons and Substances. I accept Locke’s assertion that the rational parrot would be a person, but not a man – the latter essentially involving particular physical characteristics, the former specific mental characteristics.

  • Can any purely mentalistic definition of the concept PERSON, such as Locke’s definition of a person as
      a thinking intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider itself, the same thinking thing, in different times and places” ("Locke (John) - Of Identity and Diversity" - Essay II.27.2)
    … be correct? I suspect not, because of the corporeal aspects we take as being essential to our self-image.
  • But, when we think of ourselves in this corporeal way, is this qua ANIMAL or qua PERSON. But then, this “qua-ing” can lead to relative identity, and shows how difficult it is for me, at least, to maintain the strict logic of identity in these discussions.
  • Some further, fairly random, thoughts:-
    • We must not ignore potential differences between the Person, the Self and the Individual.
    • I doubt the truth of the contention that one’s Self is the sum of one’s projects, one’s individual “identity”.
    • We must also note the potential for degrees of personhood.
    • Are persons essentially sentient? Or rational? And is rationality, like the mental generally, overstated by philosophers whose favourite habitat it is?
    • What about temporal gaps in sentience & rationality in the life of an individual – does the person pop in and out of existence?
    • What about legal persons: not companies, but the comatose, who still have estates (but then so do the deceased)?
    • How important is “person”, as against “sentient being” in my research concerns? The Cartesians denied sentience to animals and until recently there has been a down-playing of the capacities of animals, particularly their emotional capacities. Consequently, the persistence criteria for sentient non-humans may not have been given the focus they ought. I suspect that many of the thought experiments work just as well if we drop some of the more onerous requirements of personhood in such contexts. Some of the thought experiments play on the thought of “being tortured tomorrow”. While animals may not have the concept TOMORROW, I presume the higher animals have some capacity for anticipating future ills about to befall them. I wonder whether my research concerns should be about all beings that care about the future, whether or not they have a clear concept of it as their future.
  • I will probably start with Dennett’s six criteria of personhood (see "Dennett (Daniel) - Conditions of Personhood") …
    1. rationality,
    2. intentionality – “predicated of”
    3. intentionality – “adopted towards”
    4. reciprocation of the personal stance,
    5. verbal communication and
    6. consciousness
    … in investigating what persons are. See the following essay.
  • Works on this topic that I’ve actually read23, include24 the following:-
  • A reading list (where not covered elsewhere) might start with:-
  • This is mostly a place-holder. Currently, just see the categorised reading-list, which is enormously bloated and needs considerable pruning.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1:
  • A number of my philosophical Notes are “promissory notes” currently only listing the books and papers (if any) I possess on the topic concerned.
  • I’ve decided to add some text – whether by way of motivation, or something more substantive – for all these identified topics related to my Thesis.
  • As I want to do this fairly quickly, the text may be confused or show surprising ignorance.
  • The reader (if such exists) will have to bear with me, and display the principle of charity while this footnote exists.
Footnote 23:
  • Frequently I’ll have made copious marginal annotations, and sometimes have written up a review-note.
  • In the former case, I intend to transfer the annotations into electronic form as soon as I can find the time.
  • In the latter case, I will have remarked on the fact against the citation, and will integrate the comments into this Note in due course.
  • My intention is to incorporate into these Notes comments on material I’ve already read rather than engage with unread material at this stage.
Footnote 24:
  • I may have read others in between updates of this Note – in which case they will be marked as such in the “References and Reading List” below.
  • Papers or Books partially read have a rough %age based on the time spent versus the time expected.

Note last updated: 11/03/2018 20:19:41

Footnote 18.1.2: (Phase Sortals)

Plug Note1

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1:
  • A number of my philosophical Notes are “promissory notes” currently only listing the books and papers (if any) I possess on the topic concerned.
  • I’ve decided to add some text – whether by way of motivation, or something more substantive – for all these identified topics related to my Thesis.
  • As I want to do this fairly quickly, the text may be confused or show surprising ignorance.
  • The reader (if such exists) will have to bear with me, and display the principle of charity while this footnote exists.
Footnote 15:
  • If only a “non-updating” run has been made, the links are only one-way – ie. from the page of links to the objects that reference this Note by mentioning the appropriate key-word(s). The links are also only indicative, as they haven’t yet been confirmed as relevant.
  • Once an updating run has been made, links are both ways, and links from this Notes page (from the “Authors, Books & Papers Citing this Note” and “Summary of Note Links to this Page” sections) are to the “point of link” within the page rather than to the page generically. Links from the “links page” remain generic.
  • There are two sorts of updating runs – for Notes and other Objects. The reason for this is that Notes are archived, and too many archived versions would be created if this process were repeatedly run.
Footnote 16:
  • Frequently I’ll have made copious marginal annotations, and sometimes have written up a review-note.
  • In the former case, I intend to transfer the annotations into electronic form as soon as I can find the time.
  • In the latter case, I will have remarked on the fact against the citation, and will integrate the comments into this Note in due course.
  • My intention is to incorporate into these Notes comments on material I’ve already read rather than engage with unread material at this stage.
Footnote 17:
  • I may have read others in between updates of this Note – in which case they will be marked as such in the “References and Reading List” below.
  • Papers or Books partially read have a rough %age based on the time spent versus the time expected.

Note last updated: 01/05/2018 00:46:05

Footnote 18.1.4: (Psychological Continuity)

Plug Note1

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1:
  • A number of my philosophical Notes are “promissory notes” currently only listing the books and papers (if any) I possess on the topic concerned.
  • I’ve decided to add some text – whether by way of motivation, or something more substantive – for all these identified topics related to my Thesis.
  • As I want to do this fairly quickly, the text may be confused or show surprising ignorance.
  • The reader (if such exists) will have to bear with me, and display the principle of charity while this footnote exists.
Footnote 29:
  • If only a “non-updating” run has been made, the links are only one-way – ie. from the page of links to the objects that reference this Note by mentioning the appropriate key-word(s). The links are also only indicative, as they haven’t yet been confirmed as relevant.
  • Once an updating run has been made, links are both ways, and links from this Notes page (from the “Authors, Books & Papers Citing this Note” and “Summary of Note Links to this Page” sections) are to the “point of link” within the page rather than to the page generically. Links from the “links page” remain generic.
  • There are two sorts of updating runs – for Notes and other Objects. The reason for this is that Notes are archived, and too many archived versions would be created if this process were repeatedly run.
Footnote 31:
  • Frequently I’ll have made copious marginal annotations, and sometimes have written up a review-note.
  • In the former case, I intend to transfer the annotations into electronic form as soon as I can find the time.
  • In the latter case, I will have remarked on the fact against the citation, and will integrate the comments into this Note in due course.
  • My intention is to incorporate into these Notes comments on material I’ve already read rather than engage with unread material at this stage.
Footnote 32:
  • I may have read others in between updates of this Note – in which case they will be marked as such in the “References and Reading List” below.
  • Papers or Books partially read have a rough %age based on the time spent versus the time expected.

Note last updated: 06/05/2018 23:16:48

Footnote 18.1.5: (Psychological Continuity - Forward)

Plug Note1

  • I think there’s a conceptual difference between:-
    1. Forward psychological continuity, and
    2. Backward psychological continuity.
  • Imagine the case where (on an endurantist account of persistence), I’m put into a duplicating machine, but something goes wrong and my body is destroyed by the duplication process, though my duplicate wakes up perfectly happily. Then, it seems to me, I would never wake up, and would have no experience beyond entry to the duplicating machine. I have no forward psychological continuity. But my duplicate does have backward psychological continuity.
  • Any duplicate of me, looking backward, would consider himself to be “me”, having my memories, abilities, plans and so forth, and a body looking just like mine. But, would I ever wake up as the duplicate? My intuition on the endurantist account, as I have said, is that I would not, though I suspect that on the perdurantist account, this might be seen as a case of fission in which I might wake up twice, provided we consider that the right sort of causality is in place.
  • But, what gives forward continuity of consciousness in the normal case of sleep and temporary unconsciousness? I cannot know “from the inside” that when I awake I’m the same human being as went to sleep in my bed. The reason I believe this is for external reasons: duplication is not physically possible (or at least practical), and in any case I have no reason to believe it happened to me last night.
  • This seems a very important issue to me, and I need to make more of it. For example, in teletransportation thought experiment, it seems to me that a new person wakes up, but I don’t, nor do I experience anything, though the new person claims to be me. Incidentally, it’s not just a new person, but a new human being.
  • This is the sort of question that the Logical Positivists would denounce as meaningless, as no empirical evidence can decide it.
  • Works on this topic that I’ve actually read14, include15 the following:-
  • A reading list (where not covered elsewhere) might start with:-
  • This is mostly a place-holder. Currently, just see the categorised reading-list.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1:
  • A number of my philosophical Notes are “promissory notes” currently only listing the books and papers (if any) I possess on the topic concerned.
  • I’ve decided to add some text – whether by way of motivation, or something more substantive – for all these identified topics related to my Thesis.
  • As I want to do this fairly quickly, the text may be confused or show surprising ignorance.
  • The reader (if such exists) will have to bear with me, and display the principle of charity while this footnote exists.
Footnote 14:
  • Frequently I’ll have made copious marginal annotations, and sometimes have written up a review-note.
  • In the former case, I intend to transfer the annotations into electronic form as soon as I can find the time.
  • In the latter case, I will have remarked on the fact against the citation, and will integrate the comments into this Note in due course.
  • My intention is to incorporate into these Notes comments on material I’ve already read rather than engage with unread material at this stage.
Footnote 15:
  • I may have read others in between updates of this Note – in which case they will be marked as such in the “References and Reading List” below.
  • Papers or Books partially read have a rough %age based on the time spent versus the time expected.

Note last updated: 05/02/2018 20:02:24

Footnote 18.1.6: (Connectedness vs Continuity)

Plug Note1

  • When defining persistence conditions, we need to distinguish between connectedness and continuity.
    1. Continuity is a transitive relation that relates adjacent stages.
    2. Connectedness is intransitive and requires enough of the properties of interest to be maintained over time.
  • At root, this is just the message of the Old Soldier, raised against Locke, and answered by Ancestrals of the “remembers” relation.
  • Indeed, "Johnston (Mark) - Human Beings" (Journal of Philosophy, p. 61) describes Continuity as the ancestral of Connectedness.
  • Persons – like animals – develop and “grow5”. We can admit that we have the same animal from fetus to corpse (with some arguments about the termini). However, do we have the same person?
  • I’d contend that whatever physical and psychological discontinuities the human animal undergoes, we do have the same person where we have a person at all, provided a single First Person Perspective (FPP) is maintained.
  • If one’s character changes radically over time, do you remain the same person? Yes, if we want the child and the adult to be the same person (as we do), or the convert to be the same person as the unbeliever.
  • The relevance of this to the present debate is that it is continuity that is relevant to personal identity, and not connectedness. This applies whatever view of Personal Identity we hold.
  • Derek Parfit – who doesn’t think identity is what matters – holds a different view; that it is connectedness that matters, and so we need have no concern for future selves that are psychologically unconnected to our current selves. I think this view is mistaken, as we are locked in to a FPP and will have to experience the fate of that future self, however unconnected.
  • Works on this topic that I’ve actually read12, include13 the following:-
    1. "Shoemaker (David) - Personal Identity, Rational Anticipation, and Self-Concern", Shoemaker
  • I don’t – and won’t – have a Note on Connectedness per se: this Note will cover all I have to say on the topic.
  • However, this note is linked to two others:-
    Continuity, and
  • So, a rather diminutive reading list might start with:-
    1. "Belzer (Marvin) - Notes on Relation R", Belzer
    2. "Campbell (Scott) - Is Connectedness Necessary to What Matters in Survival?", Campbell
  • This is mostly a place-holder.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1:
  • A number of my philosophical Notes are “promissory notes” currently only listing the books and papers (if any) I possess on the topic concerned.
  • I’ve decided to add some text – whether by way of motivation, or something more substantive – for all these identified topics related to my Thesis.
  • As I want to do this fairly quickly, the text may be confused or show surprising ignorance.
  • The reader (if such exists) will have to bear with me, and display the principle of charity while this footnote exists.
Footnote 5:
  • Not necessarily physically – that would be begging the question as to what persons are.
Footnote 12:
  • Frequently I’ll have made copious marginal annotations, and sometimes have written up a review-note.
  • In the former case, I intend to transfer the annotations into electronic form as soon as I can find the time.
  • In the latter case, I will have remarked on the fact against the citation, and will integrate the comments into this Note in due course.
  • My intention is to incorporate into these Notes comments on material I’ve already read rather than engage with unread material at this stage.
Footnote 13:
  • I may have read others in between updates of this Note – in which case they will be marked as such in the “References and Reading List” below.
  • Papers or Books partially read have a rough %age based on the time spent versus the time expected.

Note last updated: 04/02/2018 17:09:36

Footnote 18.1.7: (First-Person Perspective)

Plug Note1

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1:
  • A number of my philosophical Notes are “promissory notes” currently only listing the books and papers (if any) I possess on the topic concerned.
  • I’ve decided to add some text – whether by way of motivation, or something more substantive – for all these identified topics related to my Thesis.
  • As I want to do this fairly quickly, the text may be confused or show surprising ignorance.
  • The reader (if such exists) will have to bear with me, and display the principle of charity while this footnote exists.
Footnote 6:
  • I suppose either both or neither might count ontologically.
  • Also, both might have enormous significance, yet not imply that an ontologically distinct entity had come on the scene.
Footnote 18:
  • Frequently I’ll have made copious marginal annotations, and sometimes have written up a review-note.
  • In the former case, I intend to transfer the annotations into electronic form as soon as I can find the time.
  • In the latter case, I will have remarked on the fact against the citation, and will integrate the comments into this Note in due course.
  • My intention is to incorporate into these Notes comments on material I’ve already read rather than engage with unread material at this stage.
Footnote 19:
  • I may have read others in between updates of this Note – in which case they will be marked as such in the “References and Reading List” below.
  • Papers or Books partially read have a rough %age based on the time spent versus the time expected.

Note last updated: 13/02/2018 00:07:12

Footnote 18.1.8: (Perdurantism)

Plug Note1

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1:
  • A number of my philosophical Notes are “promissory notes” currently only listing the books and papers (if any) I possess on the topic concerned.
  • I’ve decided to add some text – whether by way of motivation, or something more substantive – for all these identified topics related to my Thesis.
  • As I want to do this fairly quickly, the text may be confused or show surprising ignorance.
  • The reader (if such exists) will have to bear with me, and display the principle of charity while this footnote exists.
Footnote 14:
  • Frequently I’ll have made copious marginal annotations, and sometimes have written up a review-note.
  • In the former case, I intend to transfer the annotations into electronic form as soon as I can find the time.
  • In the latter case, I will have remarked on the fact against the citation, and will integrate the comments into this Note in due course.
  • My intention is to incorporate into these Notes comments on material I’ve already read rather than engage with unread material at this stage.
Footnote 15:
  • I may have read others in between updates of this Note – in which case they will be marked as such in the “References and Reading List” below.
  • Papers or Books partially read have a rough %age based on the time spent versus the time expected.

Note last updated: 11/03/2018 20:19:41

Footnote 18.1.9: (Persistence)

Plug Note1

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1:
  • A number of my philosophical Notes are “promissory notes” currently only listing the books and papers (if any) I possess on the topic concerned.
  • I’ve decided to add some text – whether by way of motivation, or something more substantive – for all these identified topics related to my Thesis.
  • As I want to do this fairly quickly, the text may be confused or show surprising ignorance.
  • The reader (if such exists) will have to bear with me, and display the principle of charity while this footnote exists.
Footnote 11:
  • If only a “non-updating” run has been made, the links are only one-way – ie. from the page of links to the objects that reference this Note by mentioning the appropriate key-word(s). The links are also only indicative, as they haven’t yet been confirmed as relevant.
  • Once an updating run has been made, links are both ways, and links from this Notes page (from the “Authors, Books & Papers Citing this Note” and “Summary of Note Links to this Page” sections) are to the “point of link” within the page rather than to the page generically. Links from the “links page” remain generic.
  • There are two sorts of updating runs – for Notes and other Objects. The reason for this is that Notes are archived, and too many archived versions would be created if this process were repeatedly run.
Footnote 12:
  • Frequently I’ll have made copious marginal annotations, and sometimes have written up a review-note.
  • In the former case, I intend to transfer the annotations into electronic form as soon as I can find the time.
  • In the latter case, I will have remarked on the fact against the citation, and will integrate the comments into this Note in due course.
  • My intention is to incorporate into these Notes comments on material I’ve already read rather than engage with unread material at this stage.
Footnote 13:
  • I may have read others in between updates of this Note – in which case they will be marked as such in the “References and Reading List” below.
  • Papers or Books partially read have a rough %age based on the time spent versus the time expected.
Footnote 14: And the rest of Part 1 of "Hirsch (Eli) - The Concept of Identity".

Footnote 15: And other Chapters in "Lowe (E.J.) - The Possibility of Metaphysics: Substance, Identity and Time".

Footnote 16:
  • The Bibliography – and the Seminnar – cover much beyond Persistence as such.
  • I need to extract the relevant items to the various sub-topics.

Note last updated: 02/08/2018 15:48:58

Footnote 19: (Carthusians - Hugh) (CORRESPONDENT)

Dear Theo,

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)

Theo’s Response1

Note last updated: 19/08/2007 11:34:05

Footnote 19.1: (Carthusians - Hugh. T1)

Dear Hugh,

Thanks for your email and particularly for the tip-off concerning "Maguire (Nancy) - An Infinity of Little Hours: Five Young Men and Their Trial of Faith in the Western World's Most Austere Monastic Order", which I’ve ordered from Amazon (Link ( I must update the blurb for the “private” pages to make it less OTT.

I emailed1 the Parkminster website (Link ( a couple of weeks back, and received the reply that Fr. Bernard is indeed still alive and active, aged 92.

Thanks for the correction re Guy Thackrah – does this information come from the book?

What’s your interest in these things?

Best wishes,

Theo (15th August 2007)

Hugh’s Response2

Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05

Footnote 19.1.1: (Carthusians - Fr. Bernard)

I have recently found your website (Link (, which I have to say is very well produced. The reason I am writing is that I was briefly a Postulant at Parkminster in 1978, and developed a great affection and admiration for Fr. Bernard O’Donovan, the then Novice Master. We continued a correspondence for a few years thereafter, and I returned for a couple of visits. However, our understandings of the Christian life had diverged somewhat, and I eventually left him peace some time after he took on the responsibilities of Prior. My last letter from him dates from 1982. I can hardly believe that he could still be alive. If I remember correctly, he had been a medical doctor for 10 years, then a Cistercian for 20 years, and finally a Carthusian for 10 years when I first met him. So, he would be in his 90s by now. But Carthusians last a long time, so it is not impossible. Could you let me know his situation, and send him my greetings if that is possible? Yours sincerely in Christ Jesus, Theo Todman (21st July 2007)

Response: Dear Theo, Yes he is still good for his 92 years and says mass each day with a young American priest we have here. He will hardly remember you but I will mention you and say you send your best regards. Yours in Our Lord, Br Simon (23rd July 2007)

Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05

Footnote 19.1.2: (Carthusians - Hugh. T1H1) (CORRESPONDENT)

Dear Theo,

Good to hear from you. The Guy info is from the book. I hope you'll enjoy "An Infinity", I'd be interested to know what you make of it. Incidentally, in the book Fr Bernard is referred to by a pseudonym, the author was asked to change the names of Carthusians still living. You'll recognise him immediately, I suspect that Parkminster has not known too many ex-Cistercian medical doctors.

In 1984, shortly before I went to university, I discovered Thomas Merton and from there it was a short hop to the Carthusians. Having completed exhaustive researches in the Catholic Encyclopaedia, I decided that the Carthusians were for me. I wrote to Parkminster with what appeared to be my pressing dilemma, do I go up to Cambridge or do I try my vocation as a Carthusian.

Fr Bernard was then Prior and he sent me back a short handwritten note, explaining that twenty was the minimum age for entry and that, in any event, it was better to be a bit older. I never did make it to the charterhouse, but the Carthusians have remained a source of interest to me ever since.

I don't know if you've come across Richard North's book "Fools for God", written in the 80s. At Part V there are a couple of short chapters on the author's visit to Parkminster a few years after you were there. There is an account of his encounter with Fr Bernard who was Prior at the time. You can learn, amongst other things, of Fr Bernard's burgeoning expertise, "on the minimum quantities required by hosiery firms before they will make a consignment of woollen underwear." [the entire book can be downloaded for free at (Link - Defunct)].

The letter from Fr Bernard which you have reproduced strikes me, as far as I can read it, as warm and enthusiastic about his way of life. Is that a fair impression of the man?

There is absolutely no need to change the blurb on your personal pages, far from being OTT it is unstuffy and brought a smile to my face.

All the best,

Hugh (16th August 2007)

Theo’s Response1

Note last updated: 18/12/2010 19:58:05

Footnote (Carthusians - Hugh. T1H1T1)

Dear Hugh,

Thanks for the background. One of the things that impressed me about the Carthusians was their unwillingness to make easy proselytes. It would have been tempting, given their falling numbers and aging population, to encourage anyone vaguely suitable to have a go, but they were initially very discouraging, and rightly so. And then there’s the long obstacle course - again rightly so, on the assumption that this is a work of God.

I enjoyed reading the passages from Richard North’s book1. It was good to be reminded of people from nearly 30 years ago. The account is well-put and authentic. Fr. Bernard must have had very similar conversations with a series of enquirers. The Parkminster thing had been rather a closed chapter in my life, so I’d not kept up with the literature (of which there had been very little in any case), so thanks for the reference.

When I think about what I might write, I can’t imagine being able to come up with as much detail about the externals. I can still in my mind’s eye walk around my cell, the cloisters, the guesthouse, but the details are rather blurred. But I can say a bit more from the inside, though not with any authority. In particular, I can’t speak on behalf of the Carthusians. I want to give this a lot of thought before writing up my experiences, as I don’t want to write some trivial travelogue. I need to think through carefully just what I was doing.

Fr Bernard is one of the warmest and most well-integrated men I’ve ever met. I’m not sure I’d have given the place a second look were it not for him. The fact that he was bright and knowledgeable also helped. He was also very humble. We were talking about spiritual sloth and Fr Bernard used the term accidie. I’d come across the term (probably in Merton, as acidie), but never heard the word spoken before – so when Fr Bernard used the term, pronouncing it “acheedia”, I needed a quick double-take to work out what he was talking about. I then said, rather foolishly, that I knew the term, but I’d imagined it pronounced “acidy”. Instead of saying “stupid boy”, he said that for all he knew that might be the proper pronunciation.

Returning to the plot, I was looking for some sort of authenticity – monks who were monks because they were monks, not because they were teachers or musicians or something else. If a (rather odd) way of life isn’t really believed in by those who live it, why should you entertain it? I took the view, maybe wrongly, that the Benedictines and Cistercians failed this test, but that the Carthusians didn’t.

Not that they all did. The Fr Vicar had run away from home at 18 and joined the Carthusians directly, contrary to procedure (though with the usual probation). He rang me up after my “long retreat in cell”, to check I was going to turn up as a postulant. He said that I was “Fr Bernard’s blue-eyed boy”. What on earth put it into his head to say such a thing? Maybe he was trying to be encouraging, but I’m sure Fr Bernard would never have made such a stupid remark, or said anything other than displaying his usual enthusiasm. But it set hares running in my mind that soon made the whole endeavour unravel. I suppose I had a rather starry-eyed view of the place, when, after all, it was and had to be populated by human beings not saints. But I didn’t want to throw in my lot with a place that was happy to have someone like me. I’ve always been doubtful about joining any club that would have me as a member, and I didn’t join that one (but not wholly or principally for that reason).

I should probably have deleted the above paragraph. Sed quod scripsi scripsi.

Best wishes,

Theo (17th August 2007)

Note last updated: 19/08/2007 11:34:05


Extracts from "North (Richard) - Fools for God" …


by Richard North

Published by Collins, 1987

ISBN 0 00 217407 3


1. The Hermits
2. Parkminster 1
3. Parkminster 2
4. Parkminster 3

1. The Hermits


Perhaps the most successful founder of the western hermitage-monastery was St Bruno (1032-1101), a north European educated at Rheims and Cologne. He was a high-flyer, a man who, as head of the Cathedral School at Rheims - whose head he was by his mid-twenties - taught future popes and was in demand for ecclesiastical diplomacy. But he wanted to be a monk. At first he achieved this under the direction of Robert of Molesme, the progenitor of the most communal brand of hermit life. Then he moved to Grenoble, whose bishop gave him land on which he and a few companions in 1084 founded what we know now as The Grande Chartreuse. This was the original Charterhouse, where the Egyptian tradition of the lavra, or laura, was brought to its highest pitch of penitential severity.

Few men have wanted to be Carthusians: but those that do, want the life with a fierce devotion. St Bruno certainly wanted it, and with a passion: even so, he was often called from his mountain fastness to Rome, where the Pope would seek his opinion on the highest affairs of the Church.

Whatever the austerities of the Charterhouses, there is evidence that there was from the beginning a system of lay monks looking after the physical needs of the hermit-monks and that it was well established. When Hugh of Lincoln (c 1140-1200), sometimes known as Hugh of Avalon - a locally born man - was appointed a sort of religious squire to a Cistercian archbishop who used to go on retreat to the Chartreuse at Grenoble, he noted the practice.

Hugh was the typical Carthusian leader of the time. He was summoned from La Grande Chartreuse to England to reform the first Charterhouse here. It was at Whitham in Essex, and had been founded in reparation for the murder of St Thomas A Becket. St Hugh was called by Ruskin, 'the most beautiful sacerdotal figure known to me in history'. He was the confidant of kings, and prone to such a vast impertinence in his dealings with them that they were stunned into compliance with his wishes. He worked with his own hands on the earthquake-damaged Lincoln Cathedral, whose bishop he reluctantly agreed to become in 1186. He was the most educated monk in Britain, according to contemporaries. He loved animals and peasants.

Especially likable in such a man is his robust defence of the normal human values. Whilst many of his contemporaries would see the monastery as the only foothold on earth of the only ladder to heaven, Hugh tells people that the layman who has charity in his heart, chastity in his body and truth on his lips is assured a place in heaven quite as well as any monk. This is not a uniquely late medieval view: there were Egyptian monks who said the same sort of thing. But it is a comforting opinion whenever we hear it.

Of course, what draws us to men such as Hugh is that though they were successes in the world, they longed for the cloister. It is immensely reassuring to those of us who achieve rather little that those who achieve the most long for obscurity. Besides, we respond to the heroism and glamour of people who recognize that the human enterprise is a peculiar tension between glamour and attainment on the one hand, and the awful stillness of the great verities - and especially death - on the other. A monk is a man who wears death in the cloth of his uniform. They on the whole think, most of the time, that they hold the prescription that beats or cheats death; the rest of us, more sceptically, admire them for at least facing up to its inevitability in some form or other.

Charterhouses are especially places where death is in men's minds. For all that in the past great Carthusians were much in the world, nowadays they tend to keep and guard their privacy. One Carthusian Prior was chastised by the present Pope for emerging from his monastery to make obeisance to the successor of St Peter. A Charterhouse such as Parkminster, in Sussex, is no place of temporary or convenient retreat. It is a way station to paradise where a very refined kind of religious specialist is in training, without the luxury of distraction.

2. Parkminster 1

It was the first proper monastic grille I had encountered, set in the left-hand of two vast doors in a huge stone wall, with a Latin inscription above. As the taxi drove away, the driver gave a wave, and a man who had a chimney sweep's blackness of face and working clothes, walked away from the scene, with a smiling 'cheerio'. In the fine Sussex drizzle, there was something a little surreal about the scene. The building before me would have been more at home in Normandy, perhaps as the stable block of a noble chateau.

It had been built as a part of the nineteenth-century revival of the monastic spirit, but especially to provide a potential safe haven in face of a contrary wave of anti-clericalism on the Continent. It was completed in I883, and at the turn of this century did fulfill its sanctuary purposes, receiving exiles from France (the monks from Grande Chartreuse went to Italy for some years).

I wandered off for a moment. Then I heard the wooden hatchdoor open, and a face appeared behind it. It belonged to a shaven, young, head. The boy spoke, in a thick Irish accent, asking me if I was a retreatant. I told him I was there to see the Prior. He turned to seek further advice. He was wearing huge black boots which had given in to their age. From them emerged great dirty white socks, which lost themselves in his white robe.

After a while he returned and beckoned me to follow him. We passed some sort of cloister and then went into a vast passageway. We passed several doors and then came to one which the boy opened.

The room was big and cold. There was a kind of cut-down four-poster bed in one corner. It had musty-looking curtains and a built-in light which hung down from the canopy. It looked cold and cheerless, like a nineteenth-century altar, and more inspired with notions of dank awe than with commodious rest. I was glad that I had brought my own sleeping bag. Before the big windows there stood a table, laid with a plastic gingham tablecloth and one place. Outside the window, the shrubs dripped rain onto the sodden grass.

The Prior's invitation had suggested that his Order was more interested in exigences than luxuries. I had bought three Mars bars at a shop.

There was a gas heater burning before the grate: it was of the kind aristocrats in draughty mansions and the hapless in bedsitters now boast equally, with its own gas bottle. There was a prison-style piss-pot bucket behind the washstand. I took it that the emptiness of the washing jug and bowl was a sign that somewhere near there was running water. There were two huge armchairs of the kind no junk shop could shift, there being no one poor enough to need them who would have the space to keep them. On the wall above a dressing table a plump boy Jesus, reclining against a rock, stared up at his adoring mother, with his prehensile hands flopped across his great stomach. A disapproving face, done in charcoal, stares down at me. He might have been St Bruno himself. He was dispeptic and discouraging.

I was left alone for a while, and then the Prior came.

He had a shaven head gone bristly, but was very tall and, I suppose, elderly: but spry and fit looking. He spoke in an accent which might have been American or Irish. He sat himself in one of the two chairs set before the fire, like a big-winged bird settling onto a branch, and enquired whether the room was warm enough. I perched on the edge of my chair: it was so low-slung that it could not be sat in without a slumped informality I didn't feel up to.

'Please, relax', said the Prior, either setting me at my ease, or practicing authority, or both. He talked a little in the manner of a doctor, delaying the start of a consultation for a moment or two, whilst catching breath. It turned out that he had indeed been a doctor.

He had been discouraging by letter, saying that it was contrary to the spirit of the Order to have visitors. I had not taken no for an answer, and got a friend who had been on retreat in the monastery to write in my favour. It did the trick. But, said the Prior, I had better come soon, since he was shortly off to a chapter meeting of the Order at Grande Chartreuse, where it would likely be decided to be far stricter about visitors. There had been a time when visitors would come and make retreats at Parkminster, but that was an irregularity. 'An abuse, really', said the Prior. So I might be one of the last outsiders to come to this place. Only doctors, bishops or workmen would come inside, quite probably. That and the shifting, small population of people who apply to join the Order.

Before someone is invited to come and make a trial as a potential Carthusian, he fills in a questionnaire. Amongst others, it poses three trick questions, designed to exclude the men who believe that not liking the world is good reason for supposing that they could stand leaving it.

And so the applicant finds these questions:

7. For how long have you been more serious about the spiritual life - daily mass, prayer, spiritual reading? Do these come easily, or are they something of an effort?

8. Do you mix easily with others? Have you problems meeting people for the first time, and tend to withdraw from people? Have you had any intimate friendships?

9. Would you find it a strain to have just a quarterly contact with your family by mail, and a visit of a few days once a year?

About half the applicants don't get past this first hurdle. Then letters are written to priests and others who know the man. If things go well, the man comes to live amongst the monks of Parkminster.

This is the period when most people are weeded out. 'A man will come, perhaps after a fortnight, or month, and say he can't stick it. Or he'll go home, and we hear no more from him', says the Prior. But this period of trial is just the beginning. A Carthusian undergoes a novitiate of at least five years before becoming a professed monk. One man recently was at Parkminster for eight years, and on the brink of taking solemn vows, when it was agreed all round that he should not. It was a very painful episode for everyone. But, says the Prior roundly, 'I never worry about the ones I send away; I'd rather worry about those I keep. I've seen tragedies in the past.'

He also seems to be on the receiving end of a good deal of unrequited longing from men who would like to be Carthusians but cannot, for one reason or another. He cites the case of a young man in a big job who knows he could not settle to monastic life, and yet has a constant yearning to be a Carthusian.

The Prior talks of some people having a romantic yearning for the life. 'It must be hard: a bit like having married a woman one liked well enough, but always knowing that she was not the woman one had loved the most, who had herself perhaps married another man.' He kept the analogy going, to describe the position of a man's not being suitable for the life. 'You can tell, after a while, at least an experienced man can tell. It's like watching an unsatisfactory marriage: something you can't perhaps put your finger on, but there none the less. The spirit just isn't there, and you can tell.'

Some people, said another monk later, 'fancy themselves wandering in a cloister: that sort never make it.' He believed that you can rather quickly tell whether a man can take the Solitude. The difficulty sometimes is that it is only fair to give the man a chance, even if his fellows know it's going to be no good.

One tough rule of thumb a Prior or a novice master can apply is cruelly simple. If a man who proposes to become a Carthusian keeps coining to his superiors for advice and help, he's simply not making it as a solitary. If a man over forty-five applies, a Prior must seek permission from the head of the Order (always the Prior of the Grande Chartreuse). This is usually refused: there had been a tendency for monastic Orders to be used as a kind of home for retired priests, and it had become frowned on.

But more than that, there is a strong feeling that one cannot 'form' an older man: one cannot 'make a Carthusian of him'. Not that this stops the Order accepting men who have had a vocation elsewhere. The present Prior of Parkminster was a Cistercian before he became a Carthusian, and another man, a brother, had been a Benedictine, having served in the merchant navy during the war, and been an electrical engineer after that. The ex-Benedictine had found that he wanted something stricter, he says, and was finally allowed to move.

The Prior himself had believed that he was too old, should he become a Carthusian, ever to be called on to take senior office: that suited him fine, since he was determined not to be 'busy'. But it was not to be: no sooner had he professed than he was made novice master. 'It was a bombshell', he says. Now sixty-eight, he has charge of the running of the place: it involves him in a great deal of correspondence, for which he has a dictating machine and some secretarial help from

He also has a powerful interest in combatting cold, and 'I'm quite an expert on the minimum quantities required by hosiery firms before they will make a consignment of woollen underwear. He asked with real interest about what ski-wear people were adopting on mountain slopes these days: he has an elderly community, and it is taxing to know how to keep old men warm in a freezing church as they intone the night office for three hours at midnight. And then, politely, but quickly, he would consult his digital wafer watch and be off to his letters, promising to return for another talk.

His charges are a mixed bunch. There are nineteen all told: eight lay brothers and eleven priests. Of the latter, there are three Irish, one Indian, one Polish, one Swiss, and one Spanish. Only two are English.

The next Carthusian I met was straight out of Breughel. A beaming, rounded man in enormously long and battered baseball boots. He told me we shared a Christian name, and that his uncle had done the wonderful decoration of Unique Cottage in Chichester (it's one of those pottery-decorated follies). He was a Sussex man, the only one in the monastery, he said. He had been put into an orphanage when he was young: motherless, he stood between his father and a new marriage. 'That was a rough place', he said: as though this monastery of his was soft by comparison. 'We slept in huge dormitories, and had to break the ice in the trough to wash in the morning.'

We were walking along one of the sides of the cloistered square at the heart of Parkminster. 'The longest glazed cloister in the world', he said, 'five hundred and ninety-nine feet. It took seven hundred men six years to build this place: you wouldn't get it done so quickly, now.' This kindly, smiling man looked after the monastery's one hundred and fifty chickens. He seemed to like his collection of clocks above all things: six or seven of the cheapest and loudest kind adorned one of his work-rooms. 'I have all sorts of friends', he said obliquely, explaining their provenance.

Each brother had a room, he said, and ate alone, and went out of it most days only to the night office at 2.30 a. m. (if they were up to it: the Prior was not keen on the over-eighties persisting with the rigours of the routine) and at 8.15 a. m. for the conventual mass. The night office lasted two or three hours and the mass less than an hour. The fathers, the choir monks, had their own little houses. He would show me one. But first the church. It was tall and long and desperately cold. Half way down its length there was a stone screen, where, before Vatican II, there had been doors. The brothers would be in the western end of the church, and never venture beyond. For mass. they had their own church. But now, with the modern attitude to class divisions, the brothers were free to sit in choir with the priest-monks. Some did, but most preferred the old ways, as he himself did.

The same divisions had applied in the white-painted refectory, where the entire community now comes together on Sunday for their one communal meal. Previously, the brothers had sat in their own adjoining but quite separate room. There was a double-handed cup on one of the tables. It represented, said my guide, the double-handed grab that one of the medieval monks had made at his cup when it was suggested that wine might be denied the Order in future. He himself, he said, preferred tea, and never tasted the wine, which he thought, however, to be very strong. 'We never ask for what we want. We never look round at the next person. if you want something, you might tap your cup.'

We went into the roof space above the church: the arches, concave below, and tiled, were rough cast cement, and convex, up here. 'The slates cost £250 when they were put on; now they're £2.50 each.' Vast tree-trunks metal-strapped together held the great bells. Dim plankways took us along the length of the aisle, past great heaps of straw beneath air vents in the roofs where, said the old lay brother, jackdaws year after year and fruitlessly, attempted to make nests, not realizing that their home-building material always fell uselessly inside the roof. It seemed a sad waste.

And then out through a little door, and up some steps, with one unsupported railing to hang on to, and nothing else between the giddy roof and the distant grey-green of the winter quadrangle lawns below. All the lines, as straight now as the day they were put down, he said, as we looked across the roofs. French-designed, he said admiringly, perhaps marveling at the exotic quality of the place a Sussex man had found himself in all these years.

He had been in the war - driving petrol tankers in Palestine -fuelling engines of death in the Holy Land. He had been the only monk to go to war from Parkminster: glad to go, and glad to come back. He had spent a few years in the States in the 1950s, helping to set up a Charterhouse there. He had once gone to a dentist in Hove. He had over-nighted once away from the monastery. Now seventy-six, he had been fifty-three years a Carthusian. 'Not a bad record, eh?'

I asked him if he was happy. 'Oh yes', he said. 'You'd go mad if you weren't.' Perhaps he already was. Perhaps he was merely nearly in heaven already. I could not say.

The Prior himself told me that monks are at a very joyful business. 'The martyrs went singing to their deaths', he said, of the eleven London Carthusians Henry VIII first tortured with uncertainty, then actually, and then hanged, and drew, and quartered. But should a monk not be trying to enter into the sufferings of Christ, holding the sins of man in his mind, rather than bothering to be happy? 'No monk, of course, comes here in order to be happy: the happiness comes from giving oneself to God as fully as possible. The rest follows from that. In that way, again, it's rather like marriage: a successful marriage is based on people giving themselves generously, and gaining happiness as a result of that. And of course, we know that the victory has been achieved. God in his mercy entered into creation.'

And how can it be right for some men to abstract themselves from God's world and the human framework God himself invented, of procreation and the struggle to improve the material and intellectual life of the species? 'Partly it's a matter of specialization. God is worthy of being loved completely: it is right that some people should bear witness to that. But we aren't just praying for our own souls: the selfish idea of working for one's own salvation would not keep you going. It might do to start with, perhaps. But people soon mature to giving unselfish love. A young man, bright, came to me and asked whether he should work in India or become a monk: that is a question of finding out what God wants for you. It's not easy to advise someone.'

And so they come, young men and old, and ask to leave the world behind and enter what must strike anyone as a life of unparalleled hardship. Perhaps one in forty survive their first few weeks of trial (though people who want to be lay brothers do rather better).

3. Parkminster 2

I was served my food by a man dressed in a couple of anoraks and a faded navy duffel coat, like a refugee from a Noel Coward marine war film. He had slightly poppy eyes, and was diffident. Would Mr North like his lunch now? Yes. 'Yes? Thank you.' He always said thank you with a rising, slightly squeaky inflexion to the 'you'.

The man returned, with a square wooden structure, a bit like a rabbit hutch. It was painted with thick, battered brown paint and had a wooden handle on top. 'Here is your box', said the Prior, the first time I saw one. 'You will be eating as a Carthusian eats. I am afraid you will think us primitive: you eat the food from the dishes it arrives in.' There was a sliding door to the front of the thing, and the man slid it up, revealing two decks inside. On the lower was a little tower made up of three interlocking stainless steel dishes. I saw bread, dishes of jam and butter, a bottle of pale yellow liquid. The little shelves were covered with peeling sticky plastic lining paper.

'The stacking billycans are called "gamelles": I think they are used to take food to the men in the fields in France. They seem very sensible', said the Prior. 'They keep food piping hot for quite a while, which is important, because it can take half an hour for us to get all the boxes to the monks in their cells.' He left me to my lunch.

It was good. I began with a great portion of soup, in the bottom layer. And then moved up to the next pot, which contained two large pieces of fried fish, done in thyme and, batter, and then on to the third dish, which contained chips that had gone soggy from being trapped in their own steamy heat, and chopped leeks. There was brown bread and white.

As I settled to the cheese, I drank the apple juice, as I thought it, and found that it was powerful apple wine - not even cider which was slightly effervescent to the tongue. I had not touched a drink for four or five months, and this stuff ran through me like a poker's heat in herbed wine. Robin Bruce Lockhart in his book Halfway to Heaven, a detailed account of the order, says that Carthusians eat their solitary lunch slowly. I am not at all surprised, it is good. It is their only indulgence; supper at five p.m. is, by comparison, a lighter affair (though it includes another invaluable half pint of the apple stingo).

And then nothing throughout the long night; and the interrupted sleep. Though I hear, and am pleased to note, that monks do get a good tin jug of tea or coffee, which they can keep hot on their stove.

The Prior had arranged an appointment for me. I was introduced to a brother who had been a Benedictine for twelve years. A stripling of sixty-two, he called himself, compared to some of the older men. He had felt himself called to be Carthusian for nine of the twelve years he had been a black monk.

'I think I needed something stricter', there was something very nearly apologetic in the way he said it, as though he had half a thought that a tougher man could manage perfectly well on a weaker regime.

He was a smiling, kindly character, with a robust cheerfulness which may have taken more effort to achieve than met the eye. He had not known, before he embarked on it, whether he was right in his feeling about the strict life. How could one be? 'It is so hard to know whether what you want is God's will or just Joe Smith's. I suppose you just have to wait until someone else tells you. It takes enormous will to give up one's will. And I was very fond of people at Prinknash' (that is the Benedictine monastery he had been in).

This is the crucial test for a monk, and the one that so troubled Thomas Merton: to be strong and whole as a person, and at the same time to lay down one's will and to obey. A monk has to obey his Superior, and the will of the community, and hope those obediences to be obeying God. But he cannot be weak or he will go under.

Why had he entered? 'One merely does it because God wants it. And I can only say God wants it because I just know that he does, that's all. That's the whole thing about it.' What about doubts? 'Of course one has doubts, at least I do. Father Prior has told me he does not doubt, ever. But it seems to me obvious one must have doubts at times, otherwise, where's the exercise of faith?' We talked about the cool Anglo-Saxon mind and its rationalizing, and the Celtic mind. Perhaps that was where the difference lay between this brother and his community's leader.

He had been a wireless operator in the merchant navy during the war. 'There's something monastic about the life of a sailor', I said. (There is: those clear, piercing, seagoing blue, eyes are the product of innocence and loneliness and tedium and fear, not of legendary brothels. I never met such shy a childlike people as men who live with the sea.) 'Hardly', he said. 'Not as I remember it, anyway.'

He seemed to flash into momentary recollection of those giddy times, gawdy or not, guilty or not, which he had left behind him. He claims to have gone into a monastery to sober up and swot for some electrical engineering exams. His priest had suggested it, 'may have noticed something perhaps', said the brother. He had kept going back. 'Going to that damned place?' his father had demanded. 'I didn't ever want to be a monk: 'God called me.' It has been, he insists, no great sacrifice. 'You just realize you're gaining a life. The material side of life seems quite worthless. The whole thing about this life is love. Not for yourself, but for God and for humanity. Yes, humanity. I have a local boy, a young I working with me. He says he doesn't want monks to be praying for him; but I say to him, "You can't stop me praying for you if I want to'.'

The first summer he was a monk, he kept thinking, 'I'd anything for a beer'. He would have had, if allowed it, lots and lots of beer. But the place was beautiful and he loved it.

Had he ever wonder about his vocation? 'For the first ten years or so, you may perhaps sometimes think like that. But not for long.' And what about wondering what lies on the other side of the enclosure? 'Oh, I used to daydream, but not any more. I do sometimes think that I left the sea at just the last moment. I had five years of it, and I got away before it got too badly into my blood. If I had been away any longer I could not have torn myself away. I came ashore just in time.'

And now, he still misses feminine company. 'Not the sex, of course. But the femininity of life. Men living alone together, there's something disgusting about them. Something rough, like the lower deck.

'It's too rugged. I need to remind myself of refinement.' Why not the priesthood? 'I'm an anti-clerical', he laughed. 'The priesthood is a quite separate vocation. Normally, monks weren't priests, traditionally.' In the wake of the Vatican II reforms, he has taken to sitting with the fathers in the fathers' choir.

Not everyone chooses to. 'Especially the older ones, who often don't really want to. People get conservative, I suppose.' He said that one became a monk from 'a desire to go the whole hog'. It was a business, he said, full of joy. 'You couldn't live this life without joy. You know, when someone dies here it's like we're having a party. People outside would be scandalized, I think.

'Joyfulness in Christianity was rather lost after the eighteenth century, I think, when something jansenistic came into its spirit. The medievals saw it as a joyful business. But then, even mortification can be joyful. No, we don't have the "discipline" (self-flagellation) now: and we're well off without it, in my opinion: but even when it was practised people didn't think, "Oh dear, I've got to do this". They did it full of joy. Even when I clear out a drain, I do it full of joy. And there is joy in the oddest places: you know how people with the most frightful disabilities can be full of joy?'

Does the work he does distract from his monastic life? 'Well, I am an empire builder, and when I was given the job, given, in effect a little empire, I said, "here I am, a bossy little man come here to reform his ways, and you're giving me a bossy job". But they wanted me to do it, and you find that as you go on in the religious life you are guided. And God helps you.'

As a brother, he gets rather less time for recreation or walking with his confreres. The fathers walk in the country once a week, and they meet for recreation once a week. For the brothers, this is reduced to once a month. But not all the brothers bother with the recreation or the walk. They have, they say, enough of both in their ordinary working days, and feel no need of the distraction otherwise. A brother spends between five in the evening and eight the next morning alone in his room, and is there alone for his meals. Only the doorkeeper has different hours, since he must be at his post almost all the time.

4. Parkminster 3

The life of the Carthusian priest is hard to imagine, and the Carthusians do little to help. Perhaps the best way is to begin with the architecture of the hermitage to which he has been called, or has perversely chosen to live. It is, after all, in an important way the limit of his world. A man who cares to live in so limited a place probably would not mind being defined by it.

The cloister encloses a great square, which is laid out with apple trees, Its glass is mostly opaque, and its floor made of Belgian slate.

At intervals, here as elsewhere in the monastery, tiny night-lights glow beside the light switches. And there are doors with roman numerals above them. Beside each door there is a hatch, through which the monks receive their food boxes, with no communication except notes left inside if the man wants more or less bread each day.

My Brueghel brother took me to a hermitage he knew to be empty. Number 2 -'double "I"', as he called it. He rattled his great bunch of keys and let us in. A small corridor led from the door to the foot of the stairs. To the right, a door leading to a pretty little garden, wholly enclosed by stone walls, and run wild. Watering buckets, spade and fork. Flower beds still delineated against the intruding weed-cover. It looked like the sort of pleasant little place a maiden aunt might aspire to in a cathedral city somewhere, or a grace and favour apartment tucked away from prying eyes, waiting for an ancient brigadier to spend his last days in.

Still downstairs, a workshop containing tools of some woodworking craft that had once been practised here. A pedal driven lathe ('hard to work', said my guide, 'much better to have a motor'). On the wall, a saw attachment. In racks, lovely chisels and planes, their hand-rubbed, gleaming, worn surfaces still seeming to carry the impress of a man's attention. Tools whose use must have constituted a kind of prayer.

This was turning into a kind of William Morris fantasy place, except that the monk would have had precious little time to devote himself to his handiwork: an hour a day for this and his garden, thought my guide. Bruce Lockhart has done the sums: a Carthusian father will be doing his real work of: prayer, lectio divina and religious study for fourteen hours of his day, six hours of them in church and the rest alone in his cell.

We went upstairs. First, bare outer room serving, so far as I could see, no purpose. Who to entertain in this small reception room? And then through to the cell itself. A freestanding wood stove, over which a monk could keep his water or tea warm. A pathetic little heap of wood beside it. A table with a new-looking book about Carthusian monasteries in Spain. One of them was Montalegre, near Barcelona, whose retired prior came to Parkminster as an ordinary monk.

A fine old array of shelves with various devotional works, brought probably in answer to a slip in the man's box, or - if this had been the novice's wing - if the novice master had permitted it. Against one wall, a bed in a kind of box, as you see in old Ships, with a curtain which can be drawn across on cold nights. It had bed clothes still on it, after a fashion: as though the man had just got up and gone.

It altogether looked rather a shipwrecked sort of a room, quite spacious though. 'Oh, it probably seems small enough, at times', said my guide, who vouchsafed that he admires but does not envy the fathers. The hermitage seemed to have the qualities of order and tradition about it which might well comfort a man: one could imagine Robinson Crusoe self-sufficiency developing in such a place. But it also reinforces the awareness one has about the Carthusian fife,: it is intended to be without comfort.

Yet, says the Prior, 'There is a very warm family spirit. The fact that we are cut off from the world means that we have only each other, humanly speaking. There is the weekly walk of three-and-a-half hours. We change partners about every half hour, so there is opportunity for an intimate conversation every week with each one. This goes on year after year, so we -and-a-half of recreation get very close. Then there is the hour each week when we sit talking in a group. There is always much talking and laughter. Then each one has a confessor to whom he can go at any time for advice and help. All can come to me at any time; and I visit all from time to time in their cells. The sick and old are very well looked after. Our Rule gives as the first duty to the Prior to manifest God's love for all the community. And the Rule insists very strongly on the need for warm, fraternal love: 'It is the Prior's task to mirror the love of our heavenly Father, uniting the community in Christ to form one family".'

I had the luxury, as few of the fathers would have, of lazing in the library. Looking at a monastery library you see the way the world of leaming, and even the mind itself, is divided up. The section labels, written neatly on the gleaming shelves in the richly panelled room, tell the story:

theol.; ascet; paraenesis; liturgia; christologia; mariologia; hagiographa; biographica; scriptura; canonic; theol.; dogmat. theol.; monastica; cartusiana

But between the last two, in section 35, the Waverley Novels, and rather little else of a trivial nature.

Lying by themselves, some of them under lock and key, there are some very precious books. One of the finest is the psalterium cum antiphonis in fol. vellum buxheim xvi: a lovely psalter from the 1500s, with the reds of the illuminations glistening still, as though pale vivid blood had been trapped timelessly there. The cherubs have apple-bright cheeks and buoyant golden curls. The red of one of the illuminations enlivens the robe of Christ, at the scourging at the pillar, which makes the 'I' of Inclina, domine, aurem tuam, exaudi me, quia miser et pauper sum ego (Psalm 86: Bow down thine ear, 0 Lord, hear me: for I am poor and needy). The fabulous golden 'I' was in a golden box. How it must have enlivened a midnight ritual, catching a candle flicker.

'But what could that have meant to you?' I asked the Brueghel-brother, who did not know Latin and yet regretted the passing of the old liturgy in that language. 'We could come and look it up in English the night before', he said, a little doubtfully. He added, 'It's all in God's hands.' God knew what it meant, and doubtless anyone could tell that it was beautiful. Why this dreary hunt for meaning and precision? He looked at the library and its vast collection with some scepticism: knowing better, I think. He was a man you could grow very fond of.

The greatest treasure is a Carthusian gradual (the scriptures designed for chanting) which comes from the founding days of the Order. It is gradual cartusiensi vellum ddio, xii, and one hardly dared to touch it.

We went down to the cloister again, and to the graveyard. Here lie eighty-odd fathers - I didn't count them, but the Brueghel-brother had. Each grave was a mound of earth. The plain, unnamed wooden crosses were mostly straight enough, but there was every degree of freshness, from one which had not been painted at all, through those whose creosote was deep and dark, to those which were grown over with green lichens.

Less than n