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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
4 November 2018Coxes Farm: This page provides a timeline of the vicissitudes – good and bad – that have come upon our house – Coxes Farm, Billericay, Essex – since we purchased it in February 2012.
  • Part 1: Shows a timeline for the repairs undertaken on the House since a crack at the front was discovered in December 2017.
  • Part 2: Is still under development, and shows earlier photos the the House, including those of the survey and post-purchase repairs and developments. I've yet to sort these into a sensible order.
  • Part 3: Is likewise still under development, and shows photos of the Garden - including early ruinations and landscaping - together with other random photos.
  • Part 4: Is another even more random page that uses different technology to build it. Unlike the other pages it's not intended to be a timeline, but will select features to highlight and compare.
For the listing of Coxes Farmhouse, see:-

Historic England: Coxes Farmhouse Listing (
Images of England: Coxes Farmhouse (
Part 1
Printable (L0)

Part 2
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Part 3
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Part 4
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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.Note6
Printable (L0)
31 August 2017Aeon: Throughout 2017 I attempted to keep up with all relevant (or at least interesting) papers posted on a daily basis to Aeon. I attempted to categorise all the papers and hoped to add comments against each, but – as with most of my many projects – it turned out to be too much work, and since the end of 2017 it has been on the back burner. However, it was quite stimulating while in progress, and I learnt a lot, having read 500-odd papers, and commented on quite a few of them. Follow the link for more information.Note7
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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
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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.Note10
Printable (L0, R)
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.Note11
Printable (L0, R)
31 March 2011James Le Fanu: I came across an article on the giraffe by James Le Fanu in The Oldie. What could he possibly be saying? This is work in progress, though not being progressed at the moment.Note12
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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.Note13
Printable (L0)
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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 …Note14
Printable (L0, R)
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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 …Note15
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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.Note16
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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.Note17
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.Note18
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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.Note19
Printable (L0, R)
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14 July 2009Virgin Birth: Response to some comments on an ancient booklet of mine on the Virgin Birth of Christ.Note20
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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.Note21
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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.Note22
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.Note23
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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.Note24
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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.Note25
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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?”.Note26
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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.Note27
17 August 2007Personal Identity and Moral Action: Another out of the blue query – this time about the interaction of Ethics with Personal Identity.Note28
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15 August 2007Carthusians - Hugh: An out of the blue query about Carthusians, and subsequent correspondence. Someone does look at my website after all.Note29
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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.Note30
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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.Note31
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23 July 2007Spain: Herewith the account of some vicissitudes on an impromptu holiday to Spain.Part 1
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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.Note34
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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.Note35
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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.Note36
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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.Note37
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In-Page Footnotes

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

Note last updated: 01/06/2019 23:08:10

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 (Wikipedia: Act of Uniformity 1662 ( in the late 19th century, recusants (Wikipedia: Recusancy ( had ruinous fines or worse laid on them, and non-conformists of all stripes were excluded from the universities and the professions until the Test Act (Wikipedia: Test Act ( 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 Wikipedia: Ashenden: Or the British Agent (

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:-
  1. The second was the Passacaglia & Fugue in C minor, BWV 582, for organ. Wikipedia: Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582 (,_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:
  1. The third set of pieces are the works for solo violin – in particular the Second Partita Wikipedia: Bach - Partita for Violin No. 2 ( 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 – Wikipedia: Joshua Bell ( 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):-
  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:-

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: Wikipedia: Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565 (,_BWV_565) and Wikipedia: St Luke Passion, BWV 246 (,_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 - Defunct 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 Wikipedia: Beat (acoustics) ( The bottom line is that the frequency of the beat is the difference between the frequencies of the notes.
  • For frequencies, see Equal Temperament Semitone to Hertz Conversion Table ( – 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 (YouTube: BBC Horizon Documentary on King Solomon's Tablet of Stone ( This led on to two other threads – that of the so-called James Ossuary (Wikipedia: James Ossuary ( and that on the Talpiot Tomb (Wikipedia: Talpiot Tomb ( While interesting, these discussions – on Wikipedia and other sites – are disquieting on a number of grounds – mainly that such important matters remain unresolved, and the troubling nature of fraud either in the archaeological process or in the prosecution service, depending whose side you take.
  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. My interest in James Le Fanu was piqued by "Le Fanu (James) - The Queen of Beasts", which seemed to show an intemperate mysterianism.
  2. For James Le Fanu himself, see James Le Fanu's Website ( and Wikipedia: James Le Fanu ( He originally hails from Ampleforth and is presumably, like the Thomas Moore Institute, at which the talk below was given, a Roman Catholic.
  3. 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.
  4. See "Alexander (Denis) - Review of 'Why Us?' by James Le Fanu" for a critique of the book by a more scientifically-minded Christian.
  5. After I’ve read his book - for which the talk is a plug - I will extract my footnotes appended to "Le Fanu (James) - Doubts About Darwin" into an updated version of this Note.
  6. Currently, the full text of the talk, with my footnotes, appears in the Note Le Fanu - Doubts About Darwin1.

Note last updated: 07/08/2018 13:50:53

Footnote 4.1: (Le Fanu - Doubts About Darwin)

My comments on this lecture (and the ensuing discussion) appear as a collection of footnotes. In due course, they will be ordered into a Note (+N973N+).

Full Text

  1. Charles Darwin was a brilliant naturalist privileged to live in extraordinary times, when intrepid voyagers like himself would return from their circumnavigations around the world with their ships’ holds filled with tens of thousands of never previously described species of insects, fish, plants and mammals. This revelation of the astonishing diversity of the living world extended to the long-since extinct, for this was also the Golden Age of Geology with the discovery of the fossilised remains of vast improbable creatures that roamed the surface of the earth long before the arrival of Man.
  2. Darwin’s pre-eminent position in the pantheon of British scientists derives from his having formulated the all-encompassing theory of ‘natural selection acting on the random mutation of genes’ to explain not just the hundreds of millions of species, in all their diversity, with which we share this planet but the much greater number of the long-since extinct, as all having evolved ‘by modification’ from a single1 ancestor.
  3. What to make of this? There can be no disputing the fact2 of evolution. The whole history of the universe, after all, from the moment of the Big Bang onwards is an evolutionary history of the simplest forms of matter to the ever-more complex. Nor can there be any disputing the concept of ‘natural selection3’ as there is nothing so self-evident than that Nature selects the strong and robust over the frail and vulnerable. Nor is there any reason to doubt that Darwin’s proposed mechanism of natural selection acting on random genetic mutation accounts, at least in part, for the subtle differences between closely related species – epitomised by the Galapagos finches with their different shaped beaks, each ‘adapted to its particular method of finding food’: one a powerful crushing nutcracker, another similar to a pair of probing tweezers, and so on.
  4. The problem, rather, and a continuing source of scepticism, about Darwin’s evolutionary theory is that its simple mechanism explains too much – not just, as noted, the entire history of life, but there is nothing too bizarre or extraordinary about the billion-fold biological complexities of the living world that cannot be explained as having evolved to be as it is over aeons of time. And that, on reflection, is a very odd thing for any theory to do for, as the philosopher Karl Popper pointed out, theories that explain everything4 in general end up explaining not very much in particular. Darwin’s evolutionary theory generates the illusion5 that we know vastly more than we really do, while its too simple explanations drain6 the phenomena of life of the sense of the extraordinary. And there is nothing more extraordinary than ourselves. 'Wonders are there many', wrote the Greek playwright Sophocles, 'but none so wonderful as Man'. And rightly so. We are not only (so far as we can tell) the sole witness of the splendours of the universe but uniquely7 capable by virtue of the power of reason and imagination of our extraordinary minds to comprehend it. For the best part of 2500 years from the philosopher Plato onwards this dual aspect of the human experience – the recognition of the wonder and beauty of the living world and the intellectual properties of the human mind – were interpreted as direct evidence of our exceptionality – that we were created Imago Dei, in the image of God.
  5. This is scarcely the modern view. Many to be sure are moved and uplifted by the wonder of the world about us but the prevailing view is that science and particularly Darwin’s evolutionary theory, solved the fundamental questions – or as the evolutionary biologist Professor Richard Dawkins puts it 'our own existence that once presented the greatest of all mysteries, is a mystery no longer. Darwin solved8 it.' We, like all living things, are the fortuitous consequence of that same blind materialist process of natural selection acting on random genetic mutations – a chance life form on a minor planet lost in the vastness of space. There is indeed nothing that cannot be explained in materialist9 terms – the beauty and diversity of the living world in terms of the materialist genes, and the powers of the human mind in terms of the material electrochemistry of the brain10.
  6. There are, as you will know, a series of well-rehearsed arguments that challenge the explanatory11 power of Darwin’s theory, particularly ‘the puzzle of perfection12’, how a random process could bring into existence (for example) the remarkable properties of the human eye and the many inconsistencies13 of the fossil record with their failure to provide the empirical evidence for gradualist14 evolutionary transformation.
  7. But my purpose15 today is, as it were, to extend that argument by showing how, quite inadvertently, the scientific findings of the recent past have confounded the scientific materialist view and in the process reaffirmed our exceptionality.
  8. It all goes back to the recent past of the mid-1980s when an astonishing series of scientific developments took place that held out the prospect of finally resolving the two outstanding biological problems:
    • The nature of ‘form’ – and why it is that the millions of species are so readily distinguishable16 one from another; and,
    • The nature of ‘mind’ – how the material working of the brain gives rise to the material17 thoughts, ideas and impressions of the human mind.
  9. Those major scientific developments were, first, the ability to spell out the entire sequence of genes (the genome) strung out along the Double Helix – of worm, mouse, fly, man and many others, and thus reveal the genetic instructions by which all living things replicate their kind with such fidelity from generation to generation. And, second, sophisticated brain scanning techniques that would permit scientists for the first time to observe18 the brain ‘in action’ from the inside, thinking, imagining and reflecting, and in the process account for that unique character or personality that is each one of us.
  10. The completion of the Human Genome Project in 2001 marked 'One of the most significant days in history', as one of its architects described it. 'Just as Copernicus changed our understanding of the solar system … so knowledge of the human genome would change how we see ourselves.' At the same time Professor Stephen Pinker19, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, writing in the journal Scientific American described how neuroscientists with their new scanning techniques had investigated everything 'from mental imagery to moral sense', and confidently anticipated 'cracking the mystery of the brain'.
  11. Nearly a decade has passed since those heady days and looking back it is possible to see how the findings of both endeavours have enormously deepened our knowledge of life and the mind – but in a way quite contrary to that anticipated. The Genome Projects were predicated on a reasonable assumption that spelling out the full complement of genes would clarify, to a greater or lesser extent, the source of that diversity of form that marks out the major categories of life. It was thus disconcerting to learn that virtually the reverse is the case with the near equivalence20 of a modest 20,000 genes across the vast spectrum of organismic complexity from a millimetre-long worm to ourselves. It is similarly disconcerting to learn that the same regulatory or homeotic genes that cause a fly to be a fly cause a human to be a human and that our genome is virtually interchangeable with that of our fellow vertebrates such as the mouse and our primate cousins. 'We cannot see in this why we are so different from chimpanzees', remarked the director of the Chimp Genome Project. 'The obvious differences cannot21 be explained by genetics alone.'
  12. These findings were certainly unexpected, but they also undermined the central premise of biology: that the secret of the near infinite diversity of form and attributes that so definitively distinguish living things one from the other must ‘lie in the genes’. The Genome Projects were, after all, predicated on the assumption that the ‘genes for’ the delicate stooping head and pure white petals of the snowdrop would be different from the ‘genes for’ the colourful upstanding petals of the tulip, which would be different again from the ‘genes for’ flies and frogs, birds and humans. But the genome projects reveal a very different story, where the genes ‘code for’ the nuts and bolts of the cells from which all living things are made – the hormones, enzymes and proteins of the ‘chemistry of life’ – but the diverse subtlety of form, shape and colour that distinguishes snowdrops from tulips, flies from frogs and humans is nowhere22 to be found.
  13. Put another way, there is not the slightest hint in the composition of the genes of fly or man to account for why23 the fly should have six legs, a pair of wings and the brain the size of a full stop and we should have two arms, two legs and that prodigious brain. These ‘instructions’ must24 be there, of course, for otherwise flies would not produce flies and humans humans. But we have moved over the last decade from assuming that we knew the principle, if not the details, of that greatest of marvels, the genetic basis of the infinite variety of life, to recognising that we not only do not understand the principles, but that we have no conception of what they might be.
  14. We have here, as the historian of science Evelyn Fox Keller25 puts it:
      One of those rare and wonderful moments when success teaches us humility … [W]e lulled ourselves into believing that in discovering the basis for genetic information we had found the ‘secret of life’; we were confident that if we could only decode the message and the secret of chemicals we would understand the ‘programme’ that makes an organism what it is. But now there is at least a tacit acknowledgement of how large that gap between genetic ‘information’ and biological meaning26 really is.
  15. There is, of course, no27 reasonable explanation why the findings of these Genome Projects should have been so contrary to those anticipated but it is important to note that the appeal of the Double Helix and the reason why it has dominated biology for the last sixty years is that the simplicity28 and elegance of its structure held out the promise that the genetic instructions might be ‘knowable’. But, on reflection, that simplicity cannot be because it is simple but rather because it has to be simple in order to replicate29 the genetic instructions every time the cell divides. It must therefore, by necessity, condense within the monotonous sequence of chemicals strung out along its intertwining strands the form and attributes that so readily distinguish one form of life from another. This would seem to pose an impenetrable barrier to current understanding and presupposes rather the existence of some non-material30 force, as yet unknown to science, that from the moment of conception imposes the order of ‘form’ on life and holds it constant as its cells and tissues are constantly renewed.
  16. It is a similar story with the recent findings of neuroscience. The opportunity provided by those sophisticated scanning techniques to observe the brain ‘in action’ generated many novel insights into the patterns of electrical activity of the brain that looks out on the world ‘out there’ and interprets the grammar and syntax of language, recalls past events and much else besides. But at every turn the neuroscientists found themselves completely frustrated in their attempt to get at how the brain actually31 works.
  17. Right from the beginning it was clear there was simply ‘too much going on’. There could be no simple experiment that just scanned the brain of a subject when first reading, then speaking, and then listening to a single word such as ‘chair’. This should, it was anticipated, show the relevant part of the brain ‘lighting up’ – the visual cortex when reading, the speech centre when speaking and the auditory cortex when listening. But no, the brain scan showed that each separate task ‘lit up’ not just the relevant part of the brain but generated a blizzard of electrical activity across vast networks of millions of neurons – while thinking about the meaning of a word and speaking appeared to activate the brain virtually in its entirety. The brain, it seemed, must work in a way previously never really appreciated – not as an aggregate of distinct specialised parts, but as an integrated32 whole, with the same neuronal circuits performing many different functions.
  18. Next it emerged that the brain, moment by moment, fragmented33 the sights and sounds of the world ‘out there’ into a myriad of separate components but without there being any34 compensating mechanism to reintegrate all those fragments back together again into that personal experience of being at the centre, moment by moment, of a coherent, ever-changing world. Reflecting on this problem, Nobel Prize Winner David Hubel of Harvard University would observe:
      This abiding tendency for attributes such as form, colour and movement to be handled by separate structures in the brain immediately raises the question how all the information is finally assembled say for perceiving a bouncing red ball. It obviously must be assembled – but where and how, we have no idea35.
    Meanwhile the greatest perplexity of all remains unresolved – how the monotonous36 electrical activity of those billions of neurons in the brain ‘translate’ into the limitless range and quality of subjective experiences of our everyday lives, where every transient, fleeting moment has its own distinct, unique, intangible feel; where the cadences of a Bach cantata are so utterly different from a flash of lightning; the taste of Bourbon from the lingering memory of that first kiss.
  19. The implications are obvious enough, that while it might be possible to know everything about the physical materiality of the brain, its ‘product’, the mind with its thoughts and ideas, impressions and emotions, would still remain unaccounted37 for.
  20. This distinction between the electrochemical activity of the material brain and the non-material mind (of thoughts and ideas) as two quite different things might seem so self-evident as to be scarcely worth commenting on. But for neuroscientists the question of how the brain’s electrical activity translates into thoughts and sensations was precisely what needed explaining – and the failure to do so has come to haunt them. So, for everything that the sophisticated techniques of the brain ‘in action’ have undoubtedly achieved, nonetheless as the late John Maddox, Editor of Nature would acknowledge: 'We seem as38 far from understanding [the brain] as we were a century ago. Nobody understands how decisions39 are made or how imagination40 is set free'.
  21. There is in the most recent findings of genetics and neuroscience a powerful impression that science has been looking in the wrong place, seeking to resolve questions whose answers lie somehow outside its domain41. It is not just a matter of science not yet knowing all the facts42; rather there is the sense that something of immense importance is ‘missing43’ that might transform the bare bones of genes into the wondrous diversity of the living world and the monotonous electrical firing of the brain into the vast spectrum of sensations and ideas of the human mind.
  22. This necessarily focuses our attention on what that potent ‘missing force’ might be. This is, however, an even more formidable question than it might appear for, along the way, those recent scientific findings have also subverted the credibility of what till recently we thought we did know about ourselves – transforming the certainty of the conventional evolutionary account of the 'Ascent of Man' into a riddle.
  23. The major palaeontological discoveries of the last few decades, particularly the near complete skeletons of ‘Lucy’, Australopithecus afarensis, in 1974, and ‘Turkana Boy’, homo erectus, in 1984, would certainly appear to confirm the conventional account culminating in the emergence of modern man, homo sapiens, in Africa around 120,000 years ago that first created the human civilisation of Cro-magnon Man in southern Europe with its astonishing artistic and technical achievements. But while it is certainly very difficult to conceive of anything other than some form of evolutionary scenario to account for these palaeontological discoveries, why, one might reasonably ask, is there not the slightest hint44 in the findings of the Human Genome Project that might account for those hundreds of anatomical changes necessary for that unique human attribute of standing upright that so readily distinguishes us from our primate cousins? Again, while the similarly genetically unexplained prodigious45 expansion of the size of the human brain is clearly a prerequisite for the uniquely human attributes of the faculty of language, reason and imagination, the explanatory gap46 between the physical materiality of the brain and the non-material properties of the mind would seem to defy47 the simplicity of the evolutionary doctrine that would maintain they are ‘nothing but’ the consequence of natural selection acting on the random mutation of genes.
  24. The ramifications of the most recent findings of genetics and neuroscience and their implications for the validity of the conventional evolutionary account are clearly prodigious, suggesting we are on the brink48 of some tectonic shift in our understanding of ourselves. So it would take a much longer lecture than this to anticipate what form49 a tectonic shift might take but at the very least it would seem to refute50 unequivocally Darwin’s proposed mechanism of evolutionary transformation – with profound implications for our understanding of ourselves. We are, it would seem, not just a mystery to ourselves, but the51 central mystery of the universe to which we belong.
Response (Full Text)
  1. Peter Adams:
    • Thank you, James. I had thought my job here might be to widen the scope of what you were going to say, but I think you have offered us a huge sweep across the topic. I have read your book, and, if I may be permitted to ‘plug’ it, I do so here and now. You spoke for less than an hour, and have tried to give us a taste of what is in your book. If anyone has found some aspect of the topic particularly interesting, and would like to go into it a little more, I recommend the book.
    • I come at this subject in a slightly different way, I suppose because of my background. Being more of a theoretician, I try to see what the theory is supposed to be and then ask if the facts meet the theory. (This is something you, James, have also done in our own way.) I find a problem of terminology with ‘evolution’, and seek to avoid the word, because, as you have said, ‘evolution’ certainly happens over a grand sweep of millions of years. I focus rather on ‘Darwinism’ which is, of course, supposed to be the explanation of evolution and a mechanism or law to explain change and improvement through mutation and natural selection – or ‘descent with modifications’, as it is also sometimes called.
    • It is very puzzling that evolutionists should think Darwinism has something to say about the origin of life, because it – being about modifications of species as they are born, live, reproduce, and die, with offspring taking over, and so on – presupposes many living things. I cannot, in fact, see that it has anything to say about the origin52 of life. That makes one suspicious when told, ‘Oh yes it does!’.
    • Darwinism, moreover, because of the mechanism it postulates – change caused by random mutations and then selected for (if they are bad, things die out; if they are good, even advantageous, they tend to take over) – presents a view of the tree of life. You, James, showed us Darwin’s spreading tree. We should want, of course, to see if that tree of life is actually present in reality. We have long had fossils, but these have allowed us only to go by appearances. Nowadays, with genetics, it should be possible to tell what came first, and how genes have modified themselves through mutations which do happen in accord with the second law of thermodynamics53. When we look now at the tree of life it is not actually simple, but rather one with many, many cross-connections.
    • Years ago I read a scientist complaining about evolution, and asking, ‘Well, why do broad beans contain haemoglobin?’. (Apparently they do.) There are cross-connections between species. It is well-known in the case of bacteria that they exchange54 genetic information between species, increasing the complexity of their genetic information, not by random mutation and natural selection but rather by actually pumping over whole chunks of their genome to their fellows in the race for life. It is said that most living things are micro-organisms of which bacteria form the greater part. Most living things, therefore, do not55 follow Darwin’s process of evolution.
    • I have heard key questions posed recently. What makes something, even a simple organism, alive? What makes this bundle of chemicals live? What makes it struggle to survive, to search for nutrients, to fight off competitors, to reproduce or to divide? Why does it bother56? Scientists simply do not know the answer. It is the very fundamental problem of vitalism. Is it57 a force? Whatever it is, it is certainly there. A living thing is quite different from a dead thing.
    • A physicist looking at a bundle of chemicals doing something might expect to find it in a minimum energy state. They components might get excited over something or other that has happened, but they would settle down again to a minimum energy state. A living bundle of things is not in such a state. When it dies, it reverts to that state. Here we have a mystery.
    • Towards the end of his book, James writes, towards the end, of the scientific paradigm, following Thomas Kuhn’s famous notion of a ‘paradigm shift’. Every so often there must be introduced a different sort of approach. I am struck by how Newton’s solution for planetary motion – how things move under gravity – had so great an effect on all sorts of thinkers – not just scientists, but philosophers, and others working in all sorts of fields. It was a really big event. Scientists wish to emulate that achievement today. They are seeking the answer, the big answer. I have in my mind the image of a rabbit being fired from a cannon. Newton’s laws provide for the trajectory of the rabbit and will tell you exactly where it should fall, and how fast it is going to hit the ground. Nonetheless, we still feel that that the physical laws governing its motion are not what is really interesting about a rabbit58.
    • I shall add a word about genes. I suppose everybody knows that genes code for proteins. Most of the DNA that mammals possess, certainly that we possess, has been called ‘junk DNA’, because it does not seem to have any purpose. Much of it is filled with a sort of repeating code like ones and noughts going on and on. A small portion of the code is for proteins – of which we are made. In man, and probably in the mouse as well, each gene is actually the source of the code for five or six proteins. This means that any mutation or change in that gene is probably – rather than necessarily – going to affect, a number of these proteins. This is by no means a simple matter59.
    • My last proper comment is about Steve Jones, Richard Dawkins and such people. I have seen them over thirty years or more complaining in print from time to time in the U.S.A. and here about students who attend their courses of lectures and fail to ‘get it’. Lecturers find that if they survey their students at the outset of a course on evolutionary biology, and again at the end, there is no significant difference in the percentage declaring a belief in evolution before and after. What should they do? Students do try in attending lectures to take in what they are told, but there are whole ranges of things – some of them pointed out by James this evening – that simply do not square with the theory. They therefore remain sceptical60 and perhaps suspend judgement on the matter. There was an article two or three weeks ago in the Daily Telegraph saying precisely this, and then positing genetic reasons why there should be sceptics! What gene that explains this?
  2. Dr. Andrew Hegarty: Have you seen John Cleese’s amusing podcast61 on precisely this – taking off a scientist lecturing?
  3. Peter Adams: I have indeed, and it is very funny. Perhaps we should have shown it here. With that, I finish my comments.
General Discussion (Full Text)
  1. Dr. Andrew Hegarty: I should like to give James a chance to come back, but I think we had better move on at this stage to the general discussion.
  2. Alexander Boot: A question to Peter Adams… You mentioned the second law of thermodynamics. If I remember my school physics – which I may well not do very well – that suggests entropy – which is to say, chaos – increases with passage of time. It might explain why species should disappear over a billion years, but…
  3. Peter Adams: It is basically to do with the physical process of copying.
  4. Alexander Boot: My question is slightly different. Is the theory of evolution not in contradiction62 of the second law of thermodynamics? It claims that with the passage of time, order, rather than chaos, increases, that species become more ordered rather than more chaotic. Does that not contradict the second law of thermodynamics?
  5. Peter Adams: I do not know the answer to that question. Probably over the very, very long term, the answer will be, Yes. The problem with the general second law of thermodynamics is to what exactly it applies? It applies to a closed system, I think, and you will find that a living organism is not a closed system. The law, as such, does not apply here. I was referring to the process of copying, for any process of copying produces errors. The error rate is a function of temperature. Funnily enough, the error rate in copying genes is more or less the same as that of copying bits off a hard-drive in a computer. I was making the point that there is no problem with random mutations, because they can come about in several different ways. They will, however, certainly come about through copying DNA many, many times. It is a very remarkable process.
  6. Russell Wilcox: You have pointed very well to the deep confusions63 underpinning the conventional Darwinian paradigm. One of the confusions, or holes, is what exactly ‘random’ means. Nobody64 has explained it. There is, however, a deeper metaphysical problem, namely the reduction of causal explanation to efficient and material causality. That deficiency points to potential integration of some of these insights into a more satisfactory explanation by revival of formal and final causality66. This is implicit in some theories like those of Simon Conway Morris67, with the notion of the ‘anthropic’ principle. When formal and final causality – metaphysically absolutely essential, since there can be no metaphysics of causality without them – are taken seriously many of the conundrums to which you have pointed become less problematic. They, indeed, also give some answer to what randomness is. There is no such thing as complete indetermination. There is always some specification, and there are limitations upon what can be selected for. One of the great works of philosophy of biology by Hans Jonas, The Phenomenon of Life, tried to do precisely this some decades ago, but unfortunately nobody took any notice70.
  7. Dr. James Le Fanu: I take your point. One of the astonishing things that struck me in writing this book was a recognition that the fault lies not just with hard-line evolutionary biologists who think they have the answer. It is shocking that so many philosophers have simply fallen into line over this. In mainstream philosophy in this country the fascinating questions that lead to reflection on notions of determination and causation, and so on, seem to have been completely resolved in favour of physicalist or naturalist views. It seems to me that this must make life very boring for philosophers. Perhaps that is why philosophy itself seems boring72!
  8. Russell Wilcox: Not if you are an Aristotelian!
  9. Dr. James Le Fanu: Mainstream philosophy in this country does – with a few notable exceptions – exclude the metaphysical73 perspective. Things are probably slightly different in America where some people are much more sophisticated in these matters. If I were a philosopher, I should find the inconsistencies in the naturalist story most interesting. They are pretty obvious74, and I could envisage spending all my time writing papers about them. I do not know if it is just blindness or pig-headedness not to see that this is where the really interesting questions lie.
  10. Russell Wilcox: The paradox is that there has been a revival of interest in Aristotle in ethics and certain other fields. It would seems that the time is now right for revived interest in the philosophy of nature. One can, of course, be a philosophical naturalist without being also a philosophical materialist. That is an important distinction75 to make.
  11. Peter Adams: Might I just say that there is a book by an Australian, David Stove, titled Darwinian Fairytales. He is a philosopher76 and he has pointed up some of these questions.
  12. Dr. Anthony Newman-Sanders: We are much aware in medical technology of the amazing increase in the power of computing. Whilst the term ‘artificial intelligence’ is a misnomer, nonetheless, by virtue of increasing size, power and complexity, certain attributes, if you like, of the human intelligence or complex manifestations of human brain-power, can be at least simulated by computers. Their capacity to do these things is likely to turn out to grow exponentially. Does everyone here believe it to be out of the question that self-awareness in machines might somehow be simulated? When I studied psychology many years ago there was a view about that actually all self-awareness amounts to is the ability of an information system to reflect on what it is doing and to do that in infinite regression. Being aware of oneself being aware of oneself being aware… The notion is that if one does that often enough, it might effectively simulate self-awareness. Another related but more biological question: when one looks into the eyes of one’s dog, is one absolutely sure it does not have awareness of self?
  13. Peter Adams: I have wondered about this myself actually.
  14. Dr. Andrew Hegarty: The dog or the computer?
  15. Peter Adams:
    • I am referring to the computer. We will indeed see quite big advances in interaction with computers. However, in interacting with a computer, one is very often interacting with the programmer who programmed it. It is not, therefore, a jumble of circuits that has put itself together. That is one way of thinking about it. There will be advances in that respect, and I am only surprised that we have not seen more of them already.
    • I do, however, subscribe to Roger Penrose’s view on A-I computer intelligence, which is, very simply, that there are mathematical problems with mathematical proofs that a computer cannot solve. Human brains can solve these problems, or at least some of them, ergo the human brain is not a computer. That may not quite answer your question, but it does offer some sort of comparison which seems to me compelling despite the fact that he has been much attacked for it.
    • In regard of the dog, I was watching one in the park the other day, and was quite convinced that it was enjoying itself, that it was not just totally an automaton. There is surely a spark of something present in the dog which loves chasing about after the stick or ball, and which seems so happy to find it and to bring it back.
  16. Dr. James Le Fanu: The notion that one might conceive of the brain in terms of artificial intelligence, an idea which had great popularity in the ’sixties and ’seventies, seems to have fallen slightly by the wayside. Paradoxically, as the powers of computers become greater and greater there is no doubting that computers can do things infinitely beyond the power of the mind, but at the same time they seem unfortunately unable to do the most trivial things. For example, they cannot read poems and recognise them as poems.
  17. Dr. Anthony Newman-Sanders: They can apparently have a crack at composing like Bach…
  18. Dr. James Le Fanu: They do not have unique characters and personalities that change over time but remain the same – which you and I have. As for the dog, here is a very good question: do we believe that the dog’s undoubted devotion to his owner is the same as the owner’s love for his own wife? Does anyone seriously believe the dog’s curiosity while sniffing the ground on a daily walk is the same as the human curiosity that looks to the stars and seeks to understand the movement of the planets? To suggest that these are comparable phenomena is, it seems to me, to defy reason and common sense. They are massively and qualitatively different, and it would be perverse to suggest otherwise.
  19. Dr. Michael Platt:
    • Thank you for a very entertaining talk and for very interesting insights. It fascinates me that we have moved from a happy co-existence of creationists and evolutionists, to almost total embattlement and opposition.
    • I am not quite sure how that has happened. In a few articles that I have been reading lately researchers have taken babies, neonates, and shown to them a number of blocks, using which, they have demonstrated that the babies can count, although they have not been taught to do so. There is, it would seem, innate intelligence in the brain that is clearly not just evolved. It demonstrates an increasing complexity, which cannot be explained solely by evolution. Why, again, are we increasingly polarised? Surely, in a modern society, we should, if anything, be less polarised and more accommodating, looking in fact to understand each other. As you say, there is room aplenty for both sides.
  20. Dr. James Le Fanu: No, the reason is, I believe, political. There is, as you will know, a potent intellectual and political force in America, one that we lack, namely the Intelligent Design movement. These are very clever people, and their arguments are, it seems to me, impossible to counter. I do not wish to go into Intelligent Design, because I do not personally find it very useful idea. One might ask what ‘unintelligent design’ could be. It does necessarily invoke the idea of a sort of ‘God up there’ designing 10,000 species of beetles, and that sort of thing. The essential argument, however, is that associated with Michael Behe, by which one looks at the cell and says, ‘Tell me how that came spontaneously into existence’, and so on. This is very powerful, as well as very influential, and scientific. These are proper scientists. Essentially, Intelligent Design is creationism. Scientific American, in its latest issue, presents endless articles about how wonderful Darwin is, and then devotes the last article is to the wickedness of creationism, the latest tricks of the creationists, and so on. It is quite fascinating. In its 2,000 or so words, it does not mention a single argument of intelligent design. The hope is, I suppose, that by shouting loud enough, and by accusing anybody who is vaguely sceptical of being a closet creationist, they will continue to hold the fort. Certainly, back before all this started, religion and science were of course cheerfully reconciled. Consider Isaac Newton – ‘What am I? The more I think of myself, what am I but a small boy, standing on the seashore, throwing every so often a small pebble across the vast ocean of truth that lies undiscovered.’ Think on the physicist, Robert Boyle, who saw himself as ‘a priest in the temple of nature’. People are bored with science because it maintains the idea that ‘We have all the answers, and if we do not, we are going to find them pretty soon!’.
  21. Dr. Michael Platt: Darwinism is actually a reductionism ad absurdum. My professional interest is in pain medicine. The more we investigate pain mechanisms in the body, the more complex and unintelligible they appear. The more we investigate them, the more receptors we find, the more molecules we find. The more we discover about the human body the greater the complexity we find. At the same time the Darwinists are trying to reduce everything to simple evolutionary theory, which cannot possibly explain it.
  22. Dr. James Le Fanu: The evolutionary theory says, ‘No matter how complex and wonderful such and such a thing is, or whatever it might be, it is as it is because it evolved that way over billions of years. That is it, really.
  23. Dr. Tibor Hortobagyi:
    • I am a clinician scientist. I am with Pope Benedict in regarding creationism as not right if it excludes evolution. You have argued that evolution, as such, takes place, but that it cannot explain everything. That is a fair point. Evolution and selection of the fittest, through competition, or mutation, or adaptation to environment, cannot provide the sole answer to the question of how we have evolved. Other components may be there, and Intelligent Design may offer some explanation for what is missing.
    • Darwinism emphasises mutation, while it has been shown that many of new species evolved through cross-breeding between species which surprisingly often produces viable offspring.
    • Another point in response to your talk… You suggested, I thought, that the complexity of the human brain is so great that it actually implies creation by God. I have a little problem with this. Even if we studied only the brain of a mouse or of a fruit fly, we should find it so complex that we can never understand how such an animal reacts to certain stimuli, like noises or different smells. The very complexity of the human brain as such does not call for the divine will as explanation.
  24. Dr. James Le Fanu: I really do think that the fly’s brain is more impressive than that of the human being. It is dot-sized, but the fly can do the most extraordinary things. We at least have billions and billions of neurones to do all the sort of things that we do with ours. Every form of life, of course, has its own special intelligence. We cannot be bats; we cannot be dolphins. They all have their brains which ensure their survival, and one cannot distinguish on that basis. My point was, rather, that the exceptionality of the human brain lies in its giving rise to the structure or phenomenon of the human mind, with special attributes: we can uniquely operate mobile phones, and, more seriously, bear witness to wonders of the living world. Nothing else can do that. I am not seeking to draw any theological inference from that, but I do say that it gives credibility to a fundamental premise of western philosophy that persisted for 2,500 years until overthrown by rampant scientific materialism: namely, that the attributes of the human mind may be interpreted as evidence for the religious view that there is a mind behind our minds. That seems to me an entirely legitimate inference. It may not be a necessary inference. Indeed, there is nothing I have said that can necessarily be considered evidence for God one way or another. Certainly, however, those who might wish to interpret it as such would be within their rights to do so, if I can put it that way.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: Darwin in "Darwin (Charles) - The Origin of Species" (p. 243, the last paragraph of the book) allows decent with modification from a single progenitor – or a few.
    “There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved”.
It’s not clear whether Darwin is entitled to this quasi-religious attitude, but he clearly holds it, so there is no prima facie antithesis between Darwinism and religion.

Footnote 2: So, Le Fanu is an evolutionist, just not a card-carrying Darwinian.

Footnote 3: So, Le Fanu thinks Darwinism has a part to play in explaining the diversity of life.

Footnote 4: Surely, this is a misunderstanding. Newtonian mechanics explains everything within its domain, yet this is not “too much”. The trouble with Darwinism is rather in its (supporters’) use of the term “explanation”. It’s only at a very high level that things get explained (unless we can spot the precise genetic locations). Newtonian mechanics is much easier to apply, as its predictions are much more specific.

Footnote 5: I agree with this complaint …

Footnote 6: … but not with this one.

Footnote 7: I’ve two objections here:-
  1. We don’t know there are no alien intelligences, and
  2. Only the “best” human beings have the superlative qualities that separate “us” from “the beasts”. True, we all have language, but what’s this used for by the majority but for social cohesion? But for a few “excellent” individuals, we’d still be hunter-gatherers.
Footnote 8: Presumably, the “solution” is in "Darwin (Charles) - The Descent of Man"?

Footnote 9: Does Le Fanu have an a priori (religious?) objection to the naturalist programme? Depending on what counts as “material”, his objection (or complaint) may nor may not be anti-naturalist.

Footnote 10: So, does Le Fanu think there’s more to minds than brains? Why?

Footnote 11: Does Le Fanu actually want explanation or does he think explanation destroys mystery and wonder? I think his objection to Darwinism is that the explanations on offer are too broad-brush and imprecise. But if there was a precise explanation (for each particular phenomenon), wouldn’t this be wonderful?

Footnote 12: I thought that Darwinian theory explained the problem of imperfection - that biological features (while admittedly wonderful) are not perfect but “good enough for purpose”, given their evolutionary provenance.

Footnote 13: What are these supposed to be? Maybe there are examples in the book.

Footnote 14: Does Le Fanu consider punctuated equilibria in his book? Of course, this would be an enhancement to Darwinism.

Footnote 15: Le Fanu’s purpose is really to plug his book "Le Fanu (James) - Why Us? How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves". At least, he goes over the same ground, in brief.

Footnote 16: Surely this really is explained (in principle) by the genome? Reading on, Le Fanu seems to think it (ie. sequencing the genome) is insufficient to explain the differences between the species because so much of the genome is shared. While he might be right epistemologically – that currently science can’t say exactly how the genome encodes for what it does – it (the genome) surely does do so, metaphysically speaking.

Footnote 17: Is this supposed to be “immaterial”? Presumably most materialists are property-dualists and don’t think of thoughts as “material”?

Footnote 18: But surely the view is only very superficial? While 3D MRI or PET scans are better than the older EEG scans that just pick up electrical signals available at the exterior surface of the skull, all they really do is show which areas are active, not what they are doing in detail. And what they have shown is how non-local the processing is (to be expected if “graceful degradation” is to be possible). But there are doubtless lots of clues to be picked up (if these aren’t already obtained from the psychopathology of brain-lesions).

Footnote 19: I don’t know which issue this was in, but see (e.g.) Link - Defunct for Pinker’s January 2007 high-level thoughts on the topic of consciousness (the article originated in Time,Link - Defunct.

Footnote 20: Is this an accurate representation of the situation? Also, maybe we confuse what are the complex and what are the simple things that genes have to do? Behe is always banging on about how complex a cell is – so presumably building one takes a lot of genes? Also, we tend to focus on the differences that matter to us, rather than on what is objective. Human beings and chimpanzees are really very similar indeed, so we’d expect them to share a lot of genes. Finally, a minor difference in the genome can (presumably) make a major difference to the organism that is built.

Footnote 21: Firstly, how different are we? The size of the cortex presumably requires very little encoding – what could require a lot of encoding might be universal grammar, if Chomsky is right (and folk physics, if other inatists are right – though maybe folk-physics is encoded for other mammals, birds, …). But if human language arose from a “language of thought”, other animals might have this to a lesser degree.

Footnote 22: Surely this is nonsense? “Haven’t been found”, maybe, but the encoding for the differences between species must be there in the genome somewhere.

Footnote 23: “Not the slightest hint”? Again, is this correct and, if it is, does it point to a temporary epistemological problem or a permanent metaphysical issue? If the genome doesn’t do the encoding, what does? Morphic fields?

Footnote 24: So, we’re in agreement. Le Fanu’s complaint is, therefore, in scientists claiming to know more than they do – or is it more than that?

Footnote 25: Not known to me from the philosophy of science – see Wikipedia: Evelyn Fox Keller (

Footnote 26: So, there’s a lot more to understanding the genome than sequencing it. Should this have been a surprise? But there’s a huge difference between acknowledging that the problem is more difficult than first thought, to abandoning the explanatory programme altogether.

Footnote 27: Why “of course”? And why no explanation? Has anyone tried?

Footnote 28: It depends what you mean by “simple”. The encoding power is effectively infinite. No doubt we understand the replication process – which has to be sufficiently fail-safe so that mutation rates are low – but I doubt the encoding and decoding principles will be understood any time soon. But this doesn’t mean that we need to look elsewhere for an explanation.

Footnote 29: Bah! This confuses two issues – the replication mechanism with the encoding / decoding mechanism. Replication is a discrete localised process that takes place within cell nuclei – relatively easy to understand and describe. Gene expression (the decoding) is a highly diffuse phenomenon that takes place all over the organism, and depends critically on the environment in which the expression takes place (and therefore on how other genes express themselves). How could anyone think explaining this mess would be easy? But explanatory difficulties have nothing to do with abandoning the naturalist paradigm.

Footnote 30: What tosh! This is an epistemological, not a metaphysical problem. There’s easily enough complexity in the genome to encode the differences. We just don’t know how the meaning is encoded, only how the replication works.

Footnote 31: Well, the human brain is the most complex structure in the universe, so determining – in detail – how it actually works is very difficult. But this epistemological difficulty doesn’t imply that the brain isn’t responsible – somehow or other – for all things mental.

Footnote 32: Indeed – and why wouldn’t this have been anticipated? But it’s an exaggeration to say that there’s no specialisation – as neuropathology reveals. But it’s also known that various parts of the brain can “have a go” when the specialised parts fail.

Footnote 33: Well, maybe. I suppose the 5 senses will need to disassemble an apple and re-assemble it for it to be fully appreciated, but a “view” isn’t really integrated in the first place. But it must do it somehow as it gets done (or we are under the illusion that it is; the brain is good at “filling in the gaps”).

Footnote 34: Again, how can this be known, given that the brain “does it” somehow. The “binding problem” has long been an issue in consciousness research. It’s just a very hard problem, that’s all. It had been hoped that more invasive scans would reveal more than (it is said) they have. No doubt we’ll get over the disappointment.

Footnote 35: Fair enough, but is this giving up the search, or an admission that the problem is hard? What is Le Fanu’s point – that scientists should avoid premature celebration, or that their job is forever undoable?

Footnote 36: Why “monotonous”? Does Le Fanu not appreciate the complexity of what is going on – a complexity (I would say) forever beyond the possibility of a computer to simulate (in real-time, anyway)? He doesn’t mention the quantum-mechanical aspects, nor the possibility that there’s more to consciousness than just the neurons and their interconnections (even though consciousness is a brain process).

Footnote 37: Well, this is just the hard problem of consciousness, which has been around for a while.

Footnote 38: This is a gross exaggeration – surely there have been huge advances in understanding the brain in the last century, even though we still don’t “fully” understand it. I suppose the issue is how far from a full understanding we are. Do we have all the pieces of the puzzle, or are some conceptual breakthroughs still required?

Footnote 39: This is effectively the problem of free will. If this problem was resolved as a brain process, we’d have strong determinism: OK for the compatibilists, bad news for the libertarians.

Footnote 40: This is a related question – just what is the imagination? Can digital computers ever be creative? Are we often creative in ways that digital computers can’t be (if they can’t be)?

Footnote 41: What justification has Le Fanu for this claim, other than that the recent advances haven’t proved to be the final ones?

Footnote 42: The facts: well, in both neuroscience and genetics, science doesn’t know all the facts. What we have is hugely complex systems with hugely complex (but largely understood) rules of operation. What could be simpler to express than the 3-body problem in Newtonian mechanics, yet it is insoluble, except in friendly cases, as the motion is chaotic (seeWikipedia: N-body problem - Three-body problem ( also Link (

Footnote 43: But what might this missing ingredient be? As far as I can see, there’s no real conceptual problem in genetics – other than a difficulty in determining the solution. In cognition, there’s a sharp divide between the sensory and non-sensory. The former remains a mystery, but what needs to be added, conceptually, to what is currently being done with digital computers, other than more hardware and hard work?

Footnote 44: Again, what’s the evidence for this assertion? He’s saying that there’s nothing in the genome (even in principle, if not yet found) to account for human bipedalism. How can he know this, and how likely is it that no explanation will ever be found. Le Fanu’s objections aren’t just to Darwinism, nor anything to do with evolution. What he’s saying is that there’s nothing in the genome that makes it the “form” of the body – for humans or mice. This is a revolutionary thought, but not one we need take seriously at the present stage of research. Maybe after scientests have been stuck for a few hundred years …

Footnote 45: Is it really “prodigious”? The human cortex is only 3-4 times the size of that of the chimpanzee (see, eg., Link - Defunct).

Footnote 46: As throughout this article, there are two issues :–
  • What is the relation between mind and brain?, and
  • How did the human mind and brain evolve or otherwise come into existence?
The two questions are independent.

Footnote 47: Only if we over-emphasise the superiority of man and play down the cognitive skills of animals.

Footnote 48: What nonsense! All that Le Fanu’s essay suggests is that the problems might be more difficult than first thought by some optimists in pursuit of academic funding.

Footnote 49: Does his book provide any of this “anticipation”?

Footnote 50: Again, nonsense. This is (or is related to) the genetic fallacy (Wikipedia: Genetic Fallacy ( Problems with what is have nothing necessarily to do with how they came to be. This is an error perpetrated by evolutionary psychologists; though, in their case, explaining how we came by our moral predispositions is relevant to explaining why we have them, but says nothing about whether we ought to retain them.

Footnote 51: We might well be, but this statement isn’t warranted by anything demonstrated by Le Fanu in this article.

Footnote 52: Maybe Darwin didn’t, because he knew nothing about genes. But there may have been competition for resources amongst replicators. If so, Darwinism applies to them as well – and otherwise, we are reduced to “intelligent design”. There would certainly be competition amongst replicators if (as per Wickramasinghe) alien life is forever arriving on planets via comets etc.

Footnote 53: This causes confusion. What is intended is that there will be occasional copying errors.

Footnote 54: This is an interesting supplement to neo-Darwinism. Whether it’s a supplement to, or within the original spirit of, Darwinism itself I don’t know how to judge.

Footnote 55: Since Darwin didn’t know what the genetic material was, sharing via bacteria is just another way of achieving descent with modification. Also, while most individuals may be bacteria, most species are not.

Footnote 56: It’s not clear to me that simple organisms “bother” about anything – bothering is something that selves do (and I think some of the higher animals are selves). If by “bothering” we just mean “do what they do”, then doubtless there are causal explanations. If we mean “care”, then most organisms don’t care. But for those that do, there are solid Darwinian explanations – caring is more conducive to survival than not caring.

Footnote 57: I didn’t realise that there were any vitalists around these days. The definition of life is complex (and maybe ague or arbitrary at the “edges”. But there are definitions of “life” around. Maybe one of the following can help?
… "Wollheim (Richard) - The Thread of Life", or
… "Wilson (Jack) - Biological Individuality - The identity and Persistence of Living Entities".

Footnote 58: I’m not impressed by this analogy. The application of Newton’s Laws to rabbits – treated as “point masses” – or even as extended objects with no interesting features except their mass and geometry – clearly misses out most of what’s interesting about them – but the application of physics and chemistry to rabbits’ brains, in an attempt to understand their cognitive processes, doesn’t so obviously miss anything out.

Footnote 59: So what’s the point of all this?

Footnote 60: Can students really evaluate the evidence as undergraduates? And, what about those that go on to become biologists? Do they “suspend judgement”? No doubt any suspension is for religious reasons, suspension being possible because – for non-biologists – the truth or falsity of evolutionary theory has little practical import outside the religious sphere.

Footnote 61: For John Cleese’s skit on genetic determinism, see Link (

Footnote 62: I’m glad to see that this silly old idea gets refuted by Peter Adams, who should have expressed himself more clearly.

Footnote 63: I’d not noticed anything of the sort. What were the “confusions” supposed to be?

Footnote 64: Randomness: isn’t this known mathematically? And does it matter to Darwinism – it just means that there’s no “design” or “directedness” to the mutations that occur and are selected for or against.

Footnote 66: Isn’t it one of the triumphs of modern science to be able to do away with this sort of thing?

Footnote 67: He seems worth pursuing, as he’s a Christian evolutionist (professor of evolutionary palaeobiology at Cambridge; see Link - Defunct) who rejects reductionism and materialism as well as intelligent design. See Wikipedia: Simon Conway Morris ( Also:-
… "Conway Morris (Simon) - Life's Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe",
… "Conway Morris (Simon) - One Impossible Thing Before Breakfast: Evolution and Christianity", and
… "Conway Morris (Simon) - Darwin’s Compass: How Evolution Discovers the Song of Creation" (his 2005 Boyle Lecture (Link (; Keith Ward responded, though I don’t have the text of what he had to say).
The following conference - Link ( - may be worth following up sometime.

Footnote 70: Why was no notice taken, and who else considers this work by Jonas “great”? There’s an appreciative (though for some reason only 3-*) review of the book on Amazon Link (

Footnote 72: This seems to be a very sweeping comment, with which I naturally disagree. In any case, whether or not something is boring has little to do with whether or not its claims are true. But it is true that there are few Aristotelians (outside Heythrop) in UK philosophy, and that naturalism has been the default position for a century.

Footnote 73: Does Le Fanu know what he’s talking about? Suspicion of metaphysics went out with Logical Positivism.

Footnote 74: Well, if they are obvious, they aren’t obvious to most philosophers, and it’s a shame that Le Fanu doesn’t enlighten us as to what they are. Maybe this is the sort of comment you can get away with in a gathering of Catholics? And, maybe his book is more enlightening.

Footnote 75: Yes – one of the few points in this discussion with which I agree! There is a distinction between naturalism and materialism (this distinction was made at the Heythrop debate: Click here for Note).

Footnote 76: This is another useful lead. For the book, see Link - Defunct. For more on David Stove see Wikipedia (Wikipedia: David Stove (, and for a lot of his stuff on-line, see Link ( He was philosopher of science, an evolutionist and an atheist, though a contrarian – in particularly contrary to most of the heroes of 20th century philosophy of science who Stove considered to be irrationalists. See his book, Popper and After: Four Modern Irrationalists on line at Link (

Note last updated: 07/08/2018 13:50:53

Footnote 5: (The Singularity)

This Note discusses in detail – or begins to discuss in detail – the somewhat extravagant thoughts in "Grossman (Lev), Kurzweil (Ray) - 2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal". It ought to range more widely across the Transhumanist1 literature. The footnotes in the Write-up for the paper2 link to the sections in this Note3. It is currently very much work in progress.

  1. Kurzweil:
  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
      Self6, 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 Time: Can Machines Think? (,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 (Wikipedia: Fusion Power (, 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 Cyborgs8 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 Wikipedia: Nanotechnology ( for an overview). Now, it’s true that intelligent machines would be needed to manufacture, and probably program, these myriads of tiny, very specialised machines, but the possibilities are very schematic. There’s no evidence that anything workable is around the corner.
    • It looks like the free eBook by Eric Drexler Engines of Creation 2.0 — The Coming Era of Nanotechnology (Drexler: Engines of Creation - Defunct) might prove useful.
  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 are9, 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:
  21. Moore's Law:
    • See Wikipedia: Moore's Law (
    • The Wikipedia article mentions Kurzweil and other futurologists, and the possible breakdown of Moore’s Law within the next 5 years or so (ie. well before 2045). It also notes that Moore’s Law is a self-fulfilling prophesy, in that the industry has taken it as a paradigm for R&D aims. Also, that the R&D costs of keeping up with Moore’s Law are also increasing exponentially.
    Kurzweil's Graph
  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 3:
  • Currently the links are one-way.
Footnote 4:
  • Or, “seemed”!
Footnote 5:
  • Some of these links now fail, as indicated.
  • Some other links work, but don’t have the same text.
  • I’ve not had time to chase them up and make repairs, if possible.

Note last updated: 07/08/2018 21:18:43

Footnote 5.1: (Transhumanism)

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 10:
  • 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 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.

Note last updated: 18/08/2018 20:55:41

Footnote 5.2: (2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal)


  1. Extracted from Time On-Line on 14th February 2011; there were some extra diagrams / photos in the hard-copy edition that were not repeated in the on-line version. The article bears comparison with "Regis (Ed) - Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition: Science Slightly over the Edge", which hails from 1990, and which was then reporting the making of similar claims. This is a very superficial article, and there’s obviously a lot more detailed stuff on-line (I’ve given some links below), but this is a useful jumping-off point.
  2. The article is (currently) available on-line (at Time: 2045 - The Year Man Becomes Immortal (,9171,2048299,00.html)). I intend to make a lot of brief footnotes, but more extensive commentary will become available here. The way to connect the Time article to this Note is via the footnotes on this page – they link directly to the sections in the Note. Currently there may be nothing extra added, but over time I’ll reduce the duplication.
  3. There was a very extensive commentary on-line, which ran to over 170 pages when I extracted it 5 days after the article was published. It’s of very variable quality. If I get time I’ll try to review it and pick out the popular themes.

Full Text
  1. On Feb. 15, 1965, a diffident but self-possessed high school student named Raymond Kurzweil2 appeared as a guest on a game show called I've Got a Secret. He was introduced by the host, Steve Allen, then he played a short musical composition on a piano. The idea was that Kurzweil was hiding an unusual fact and the panellists — they included a comedian and a former Miss America — had to guess what it was.
  2. On the show, the beauty queen did a good job of grilling Kurzweil, but the comedian got the win: the music was composed by a computer. Kurzweil got $200.
  3. Kurzweil then demonstrated the computer, which he built himself — a desk-size affair with loudly clacking relays, hooked up to a typewriter. The panellists were pretty blasé about it; they were more impressed by Kurzweil's age than by anything he'd actually done. They were ready to move on to Mrs. Chester Loney of Rough and Ready, Calif., whose secret was that she'd been President Lyndon Johnson's first-grade teacher.
  4. But Kurzweil would spend much of the rest of his career working out what his demonstration meant. Creating3 a work of art is one of those activities we reserve for humans and humans only. It's an act of self-expression; you're not supposed to be able to do it if you don't have a self4. To see creativity, the exclusive domain of humans, usurped by a computer built by a 17-year-old is to watch a line blur that cannot be unblurred, the line between organic intelligence5 and artificial intelligence.
  5. That was Kurzweil's real secret, and back in 1965 nobody guessed it. Maybe not even him, not yet. But now, 46 years later, Kurzweil believes that we're approaching a moment when computers will become intelligent, and not just intelligent but more intelligent than humans. When that happens, humanity — our bodies, our minds, our civilization — will be completely and irreversibly transformed. He believes that this moment is not only inevitable but imminent6. According to his calculations, the end of human civilization7 as we know it is about 35 years away.
  6. Computers are getting faster. Everybody knows that. Also, computers are getting faster faster — that is, the rate at which they're getting faster is increasing.
  7. True? True8.
  8. So if computers are getting so much faster, so incredibly fast, there might conceivably come a moment when they are capable of something comparable to human intelligence. Artificial intelligence. All that horsepower could be put in the service of emulating9 whatever it is our brains are doing when they create consciousness — not just doing arithmetic very quickly or composing piano music but also10 driving cars, writing books, making ethical decisions, appreciating fancy paintings, making witty observations at cocktail parties.
  9. If you can swallow that idea, and Kurzweil and a lot of other very smart11 people can, then all bets are off. From that point on, there's no reason12 to think computers would stop13 getting more powerful. They would keep on developing until they were far more intelligent than we are. Their rate of development would also continue to increase, because they would take over their own development14 from their slower-thinking human creators. Imagine a computer scientist that was itself a super-intelligent computer. It would work incredibly quickly. It could draw on huge amounts of data effortlessly. It wouldn't even take breaks to play Farmville.
  10. Probably. It's impossible to predict the behavior of these smarter-than-human intelligences with which (with whom?) we might one day share the planet, because15 if you could, you'd be as smart as they would be. But there are a lot of theories about it. Maybe we'll merge with them to become super-intelligent cyborgs16, using computers to extend our intellectual abilities the same17 way that cars and planes extend our physical abilities. Maybe the artificial intelligences will help us treat the effects of old age and prolong our life spans indefinitely18. Maybe we'll scan our consciousnesses19 into computers and live inside them as software20, forever, virtually. Maybe the computers will turn on humanity and annihilate21 us. The one thing all these theories have in common is the transformation of our species into something that is no longer recognizable as such to humanity circa 2011. This transformation has a name: the Singularity22.
  11. The difficult thing to keep sight of when you're talking about the Singularity is that even though it sounds like science fiction23, it isn't, no more than a weather forecast is science fiction. It's not a fringe idea; it's a serious hypothesis about the future of life on Earth. There's an intellectual gag reflex that kicks in anytime you try to swallow an idea that involves super-intelligent immortal cyborgs, but suppress it if you can, because while the Singularity appears to be, on the face of it, preposterous, it's an idea that rewards sober, careful evaluation.
  12. People are spending a lot of money trying to understand it. The three-year-old Singularity University, which offers inter-disciplinary courses of study for graduate students and executives, is hosted by NASA. Google was a founding sponsor; its CEO and co-founder Larry Page spoke there last year. People are attracted to the Singularity for the shock value, like an intellectual freak show, but they stay because there's more to it than they expected. And of course, in the event that it turns out to be real, it will be the most important thing to happen to human beings since the invention of language25.
  13. The Singularity isn't a wholly new idea, just newish. In 1965 the British mathematician I.J. Good described something he called an "intelligence explosion":
      Let an ultraintelligent26 machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an "intelligence explosion," and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention27 that man need ever make.
  14. The word singularity is borrowed from astrophysics: it refers to a point in space-time — for example, inside a black hole — at which the rules of ordinary physics do not apply. In the 1980s the science-fiction novelist Vernor Vinge attached it to Good's intelligence-explosion scenario. At a NASA symposium in 1993, Vinge announced that "within 30 years28, we will have the technological means to create super-human intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended."
  15. By that time Kurzweil was thinking about the Singularity too. He'd been busy since his appearance on I've Got a Secret. He'd made several fortunes as an engineer and inventor; he founded and then sold his first software company while he was still at MIT. He went on to build the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind — Stevie Wonder was customer No. 1 — and made innovations in a range of technical fields, including music synthesizers and speech recognition. He holds 39 patents and 19 honorary doctorates. In 1999 President Bill Clinton awarded him the National Medal of Technology.
  16. But Kurzweil was also pursuing a parallel career as a futurist: he has been publishing his thoughts about the future of human and machine-kind for 20 years, most recently in The Singularity Is Near, which was a best seller when it came out in 2005. A documentary by the same name, starring Kurzweil, Tony Robbins and Alan Dershowitz, among others, was released in January. (Kurzweil is actually the subject of two current documentaries. The other one, less authorized but more informative, is called The Transcendent Man.) Bill Gates has called him "the best person I know at predicting29 the future of artificial intelligence."
  17. In real life, the transcendent man is an unimposing figure who could pass for Woody Allen's even nerdier younger brother. Kurzweil grew up in Queens, N.Y., and you can still hear a trace of it in his voice. Now 62, he speaks with the soft, almost hypnotic calm of someone who gives 60 public lectures a year. As the Singularity's most visible champion, he has heard all the questions and faced down the incredulity many, many times before. He's good-natured about it. His manner is almost apologetic: I wish I could bring you less exciting news of the future, but I've looked at the numbers30, and this is what they say, so what else can I tell you?
  18. Kurzweil's interest in humanity's cyborganic destiny began about 1980 largely as a practical matter. He needed ways to measure and track the pace of technological progress. Even great inventions can fail if they arrive before their time, and he wanted to make sure that when he released his, the timing was right. "Even at that time, technology was moving quickly enough that the world was going to be different by the time you finished32 a project," he says. "So it's like skeet shooting — you can't shoot at the target." He knew about Moore's33 law, of course, which states that the number of transistors you can put on a microchip doubles about every two years. It's a surprisingly reliable rule of thumb. Kurzweil tried plotting a slightly different curve: the change over time in the amount of computing power, measured in MIPS (millions of instructions per second), that you can buy34 for $1,000. Kurzweil's Graph
  19. As it turned out, Kurzweil's numbers looked a lot like35 Moore's. They doubled every couple of years. Drawn as graphs, they both made exponential36 curves, with their value increasing by multiples of two instead of by regular increments in a straight line. The curves held eerily steady, even when Kurzweil extended his backward through the decades of pre-transistor computing technologies like relays and vacuum tubes, all the way back to 1900.
  20. Kurzweil then ran the numbers on a whole bunch of other key technological indexes37 — the falling cost of manufacturing transistors, the rising clock speed of microprocessors, the plummeting price of dynamic RAM. He looked even further afield at trends in biotech and beyond38 — the falling cost of sequencing DNA and of wireless data service and the rising numbers of Internet hosts and nanotechnology patents. He kept finding the same thing: exponentially accelerating progress. "It's really amazing how smooth39 these trajectories are," he says. "Through thick and thin, war and peace40, boom times and recessions." Kurzweil calls it the law of accelerating returns41: technological progress happens exponentially, not linearly.
  21. Then he extended the curves into the future42, and the growth they predicted was so phenomenal, it created cognitive resistance in his mind. Exponential curves start slowly, then rocket skyward toward infinity. According to Kurzweil, we're not evolved43 to think in terms of exponential growth. "It's not intuitive. Our built-in predictors are linear. When we're trying to avoid an animal, we pick the linear prediction of where it's going to be in 20 seconds and what to do about it. That is actually hardwired in our brains."
  22. Here's what the exponential curves told him. We will successfully reverse-engineer44 the human brain by the mid-2020s. By the end of that decade, computers will be capable of human-level intelligence. Kurzweil puts the date of the Singularity — never say he's not conservative — at 2045. In that year, he estimates, given the vast increases in computing power and the vast reductions in the cost of same, the quantity of artificial intelligence created will be about a billion times the sum of all the human intelligence that exists today.
  23. The Singularity isn't just an idea. It attracts people, and those people feel a bond with one another. Together they form a movement, a subculture; Kurzweil calls it a community. Once you decide to take the Singularity seriously, you will find that you have become part of a small but intense and globally distributed hive of like-minded thinkers known as Singularitarians45.
  24. Not all of them are Kurzweilians, not by a long chalk. There's room inside Singularitarianism for considerable diversity46 of opinion about what the Singularity means and when and how it will or won't happen. But Singularitarians share a worldview47=46. They think in terms of deep time, they believe in the power of technology to shape history, they have little interest in the conventional wisdom about anything, and they cannot believe you're walking around living your life and watching TV as if the artificial-intelligence revolution were not about to erupt and change absolutely everything48=46. They have no fear of sounding ridiculous; your ordinary citizen's distaste for apparently absurd ideas is just an example of irrational bias, and Singularitarians have no truck with irrationality. When you enter their mind-space you pass through an extreme gradient in worldview, a hard ontological shear that separates Singularitarians from the common run of humanity. Expect turbulence.
  25. In addition to the Singularity University, which Kurzweil co-founded, there's also a Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, based in San Francisco. It counts among its advisers Peter Thiel, a former CEO of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook. The institute holds an annual conference called the Singularity Summit. (Kurzweil co-founded that too.) Because of the highly interdisciplinary nature of Singularity theory, it attracts a diverse crowd. Artificial intelligence is the main event, but the sessions also cover the galloping progress of, among other fields, genetics and nanotechnology.
  26. At the 2010 summit, which took place in August in San Francisco, there were not just computer scientists but also psychologists, neuroscientists, nanotechnologists, molecular biologists, a specialist in wearable computers, a professor of emergency medicine, an expert on cognition in grey parrots and the professional magician and debunker James "the Amazing" Randi49=46. The atmosphere was a curious blend of Davos and UFO convention. Proponents of sea-steading — the practice, so far mostly theoretical, of establishing politically autonomous floating communities in international waters — handed out pamphlets. An android chatted with visitors in one corner.
  27. After artificial intelligence, the most talked-about topic at the 2010 summit was life extension51=46. Biological boundaries that most people think of as permanent and inevitable Singularitarians see as merely intractable but solvable52=46 problems. Death is one of them. Old age is an illness53=46 like any other, and what do you do with illnesses? You cure them. Like a lot of Singularitarian ideas, it sounds funny at first, but the closer you get to it, the less funny it seems. It's not just wishful thinking; there's actual science going on here.
  28. For example, it's well known that one cause of the physical degeneration associated with aging involves telomeres, which are segments of DNA found at the ends of chromosomes. Every time a cell divides, its telomeres get shorter, and once a cell runs out of telomeres, it can't reproduce anymore and dies. But there's an enzyme called telomerase that reverses this process; it's one of the reasons cancer cells live so long. So why not treat regular non-cancerous cells with telomerase54=46? In November, researchers at Harvard Medical School announced in Nature that they had done just that. They administered telomerase to a group of mice suffering from age-related degeneration. The damage went away. The mice didn't just get better; they got younger.
  29. Aubrey de Grey is one of the world's best-known life-extension researchers and a Singularity Summit veteran. A British biologist with a doctorate from Cambridge and a famously formidable beard, de Grey runs a foundation called SENS, or Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence. He views aging as a process of accumulating damage, which he has divided into seven categories, each of which he hopes to one day address using regenerative medicine. "People have begun to realize that the view of aging being something immutable — rather like the heat death of the universe — is simply ridiculous," he says. "It's just childish. The human body is a machine55=46 that has a bunch of functions, and it accumulates various types of damage as a side effect of the normal function of the machine. Therefore in principal that damage can be repaired periodically. This is why we have vintage cars. It's really just a matter of paying attention. The whole of medicine consists of messing about with what looks pretty inevitable until you figure out how to make it not inevitable."
  30. Kurzweil takes life extension seriously too. His father, with whom he was very close, died of heart disease at 58. Kurzweil inherited his father's genetic predisposition; he also developed Type 2 diabetes when he was 35. Working with Terry Grossman, a doctor who specializes in longevity medicine, Kurzweil has published two books on his own approach to life extension, which involves taking up to 200 pills and supplements a day. He says his diabetes is essentially cured, and although he's 62 years old from a chronological perspective, he estimates that his biological age is about 20 years younger.
  31. But his goal differs slightly from de Grey's. For Kurzweil, it's not so much about staying healthy as long as possible; it's about staying alive until56=46 the Singularity. It's an attempted handoff. Once hyper-intelligent artificial intelligences arise, armed with advanced nanotechnology57=46, they'll really be able to wrestle with the vastly complex, systemic problems associated with aging in humans. Alternatively, by then we'll be able to transfer58=46 our minds to sturdier vessels such as computers and robots. He and many other Singularitarians take seriously the proposition that many people who are alive today will wind up being functionally59=46 immortal60=46.
  32. It's an idea that's radical and ancient at the same time. In "Sailing to Byzantium," W.B. Yeats describes mankind's fleshly predicament as a soul fastened to a dying animal. Why not unfasten it and fasten it to an immortal robot instead? But Kurzweil finds that life extension produces even more resistance in his audiences than his exponential growth curves. "There are people who can accept computers being more intelligent than people," he says. "But the idea of significant changes to human longevity — that seems to be particularly controversial61=46. People invested a lot of personal effort into certain philosophies dealing with the issue of life and death. I mean, that's the major reason we have religion62=46."
  33. Of course, a lot of people think the Singularity is nonsense — a fantasy, wishful thinking, a Silicon Valley version of the Evangelical story of the Rapture, spun by a man who earns his living making outrageous claims and backing them up with pseudoscience. Most of the serious critics focus on the question of whether a computer can truly become intelligent63=46.
  34. The entire field of artificial intelligence, or AI, is devoted to this question. But AI doesn't currently produce the kind64=46 of intelligence we associate with humans or even with talking computers in movies — HAL or C3PO or Data. Actual Ais tend to be able to master only one highly specific65=46 domain, like interpreting search queries or playing chess. They operate within an extremely specific frame of reference. They don't make conversation at parties. They're intelligent, but only if you define intelligence in a vanishingly narrow way. The kind of intelligence Kurzweil is talking about, which is called strong AI or artificial general intelligence, doesn't exist66=46 yet.
  35. Why not? Obviously we're still waiting on all that exponentially growing computing power to get here. But it's also possible that there are things going on in our brains that can't67=46 be duplicated electronically no matter how many MIPS you throw at them. The neurochemical architecture that generates the ephemeral chaos we know as human consciousness may just be too complex and analog68=46 to replicate in digital69=46 silicon. The biologist Dennis Bray was one of the few voices of dissent at last summer's Singularity Summit. "Although biological components act in ways that are comparable to those in electronic circuits," he argued, in a talk titled "What Cells Can Do That Robots Can't," "they are set apart by the huge number of different states they can adopt. Multiple biochemical processes create chemical modifications of protein molecules, further diversified by association with distinct structures at defined locations of a cell. The resulting combinatorial explosion70=46 of states endows living systems with an almost infinite capacity to store information regarding past and present conditions and a unique capacity to prepare for future events." That makes the ones and zeros that computers trade in look pretty crude.
  36. Underlying the practical challenges are a host of philosophical71=46 ones. Suppose we did create a computer that talked and acted in a way that was indistinguishable from a human being — in other words, a computer that could pass the Turing test. (Very loosely speaking, such a computer would be able to pass as human in a blind test.) Would that mean that the computer was sentient, the way a human being is? Or would it just be an extremely sophisticated but essentially mechanical automaton72=46 without the mysterious spark of consciousness — a machine with no ghost in it? And how would we know73=46?
  37. Even if you grant that the Singularity is plausible, you're still staring at a thicket of unanswerable questions. If I can scan my consciousness74=46 into a computer, am I still me75=46? What are the geopolitics and the socioeconomics76=46 of the Singularity? Who decides who gets to be immortal? Who draws the line77=46 between sentient and non-sentient? And as we approach immortality, omniscience and omnipotence, will our lives still have meaning78=46? By beating death, will we have lost our essential humanity79=46?
  38. Kurzweil admits that there's a fundamental level of risk80=46 associated with the Singularity that's impossible to refine away, simply because we don't know what a highly advanced artificial intelligence, finding itself a newly created inhabitant of the planet Earth, would choose to do81=46. It might not feel like competing with us for resources. One of the goals of the Singularity Institute is to make sure not just that artificial intelligence develops but also that the AI is friendly. You don't have to be a super-intelligent cyborg to understand that introducing a superior life-form into your own biosphere is a basic Darwinian83=46 error.
  39. If the Singularity is coming, these questions are going to get answers84=46 whether we like it or not, and Kurzweil thinks that trying to put off the Singularity by banning85=46 technologies is not only impossible but also unethical and probably dangerous. "It would require a totalitarian system to implement such a ban," he says. "It wouldn't work. It would just drive these technologies underground86=46, where the responsible scientists who we're counting on to create the defenses would not have easy access to the tools."
  40. Kurzweil is an almost inhumanly patient and thorough debater. He relishes it. He's tireless in hunting down his critics so that he can respond to them, point by point, carefully and in detail.
  41. Take the question of whether computers can replicate the biochemical complexity of an organic brain. Kurzweil yields no ground there whatsoever. He does not see any fundamental difference87=46 between flesh and silicon that would prevent the latter from thinking. He defies biologists to come up with a neurological mechanism that could not be modelled88=46 or at least matched in power and flexibility by software running on a computer. He refuses to fall on his knees before the mystery of the human brain. "Generally speaking," he says, "the core of a disagreement I'll have with a critic is, they'll say, Oh, Kurzweil is underestimating the complexity of reverse-engineering89=46 of the human brain or the complexity of biology. But I don't believe I'm underestimating the challenge. I think they're underestimating the power of exponential90=46 growth."
  42. This position doesn't make Kurzweil an outlier, at least among Singularitarians. Plenty of people make more-extreme predictions. Since 2005 the neuroscientist Henry Markram has been running an ambitious initiative at the Brain Mind Institute of the Ecole Polytechnique in Lausanne, Switzerland. It's called the Blue Brain project, and it's an attempt to create a neuron-by-neuron91=46 simulation of a mammalian brain, using IBM's Blue Gene super-computer. So far, Markram's team has managed to simulate one neocortical column from a rat's brain, which contains about 10,000 neurons. Markram has said that he hopes to have a complete92=46 virtual human brain up and running in 10 years. (Even Kurzweil sniffs at this. If it worked, he points out, you'd then have to educate93=46 the brain, and who knows how long that would take?)
  43. By definition, the future beyond the Singularity is not knowable by our linear, chemical, animal brains, but Kurzweil is teeming with theories about it. He positively flogs himself to think bigger and bigger; you can see him kicking against the confines of his aging organic hardware. "When people look at the implications of ongoing exponential growth, it gets harder and harder to accept," he says. "So you get people who really accept, yes, things are progressing exponentially, but they fall off the horse at some point because the implications94=46 are too fantastic. I've tried to push myself to really look."
  44. In Kurzweil's future, biotechnology and nanotechnology give us the power to manipulate our bodies and the world around us at will, at the molecular95=46 level. Progress hyperaccelerates, and every hour brings a century's worth of scientific breakthroughs. We ditch Darwin and take charge96=46 of our own evolution. The human genome becomes just so much code to be bug-tested and optimized and, if necessary, rewritten97=46. Indefinite life extension becomes a reality; people die only if they choose to. Death loses its sting once and for all. Kurzweil hopes to bring his dead father back98=46 to life.
  45. We can scan our consciousnesses into computers and enter a virtual99=46 existence or swap our bodies100=46 for immortal robots and light out for the edges of space as intergalactic godlings. Within a matter of centuries101=46, human intelligence will have re-engineered and saturated all the matter in the universe. This is, Kurzweil believes, our destiny as a species.
  46. Or it isn't. When the big questions get answered, a lot of the action will happen where no one can see it, deep inside the black silicon brains of the computers, which will either bloom bit by bit into conscious minds or just continue in ever more brilliant and powerful iterations of nonsentience102=46.
  47. But as for the minor questions, they're already being decided all around us and in plain sight. The more you read about the Singularity, the more you start to see it peeking out at you, coyly, from unexpected directions. Five years ago we didn't have 600 million humans carrying out their social lives over a single electronic network. Now we have Facebook. Five years ago you didn't see people double-checking what they were saying and where they were going, even as they were saying it and going there, using handheld network-enabled digital prosthetics. Now we have iPhones. Is it an unimaginable step to take the iPhones out of our hands and put them into our skulls103=46?
  48. Already 30,000 patients with Parkinson's disease have neural implants104=46. Google is experimenting with computers that can drive cars. There are more than 2,000 robots105=46 fighting in Afghanistan alongside the human troops. This month a game show will once again figure in the history of artificial intelligence, but this time the computer will be the guest: an IBM super-computer nicknamed Watson will compete on Jeopardy! Watson runs on 90 servers and takes up an entire room106=46, and in a practice match in January it finished ahead of two former champions, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. It got every question it answered right, but much more important, it didn't need help understanding the questions (or, strictly speaking, the answers), which were phrased in plain English. Watson isn't strong AI, but if strong AI happens, it will arrive gradually107=46, bit by bit, and this will have been one of the bits.
  49. A hundred years from now, Kurzweil and de Grey and the others could be the 22nd century's answer to the Founding Fathers — except unlike the Founding Fathers, they'll still be alive to get credit — or their ideas could look as hilariously retro and dated as Disney's Tomorrowland. Nothing gets old as fast as the future.
  50. But even if they're dead wrong about the future, they're right about the present. They're taking the long view and looking at the big picture. You may reject every specific article of the Singularitarian charter, but you should admire Kurzweil for taking the future seriously. Singularitarianism is grounded in the idea that change is real and that humanity is in charge of its own fate and that history might not be as simple as one damn thing after another. Kurzweil likes to point out that your average cell phone is about a millionth the size of, a millionth the price of and a thousand times more powerful than the computer he had at MIT 40 years ago. Flip that forward 40 years and what does the world look like? If you really want to figure that out, you have to think very, very far outside the box. Or maybe you have to think further inside108=46 it than anyone ever has before.

In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 2: Footnote 3:
  • 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)? Click here for Note.
Footnote 4: Footnote 5:
  • 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 … the 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. Click here for Note.
Footnote 6:
  • Imminence of the “Singularity”: this is predicated on the assumption of continued exponential growth. Click here for Note.
Footnote 7:
  • Human Civilization: So far, computers have only enhanced human civilisation. “Ending” it (“as we know it”) depends on delivering (out of control) the various promissory-notes of this article. Click here for Note.
Footnote 8:
  • Faster Faster: Is this really so, and will it really continue to be so, if it is so? Note that Kurzweil's graph muddles together speed and cost. Click here for Note.
Footnote 9:
  • 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? Click here for Note.
Footnote 10:
  • 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). Click here for Note.
Footnote 11:
  • Smart people: Does it matter how smart they are? Lots of equally smart people don’t share the optimism of the futurologists. Click here for Note.
Footnote 12:
  • Increasingly Powerful Computers: are there really no reasons to doubt that their onward exponential growth is really never going to end? Miniaturisation of components has to stop soon due to QM effects. So, a radically-new technology is needed. Some ideas are there, but we might get “stuck” on their delivery, as has been the case for controlled nuclear fusion (Wikipedia: Fusion Power (, which in the 1950s was expected soon, in the 1970s by 2000 and in 2006 “not within 100 years”. Click here for Note.
Footnote 13:
  • Computing Power: 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? Click here for Note.
Footnote 14:
  • 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. Click here for Note.
Footnote 15:
  • 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. Click here for Note.
Footnote 16:
  • 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. Click here for Note.
Footnote 17:
  • Analogies: 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. Click here for Note.
Footnote 18:
  • 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 Wikipedia: Nanotechnology ( for an overview). Now, it’s true that intelligent machines would be needed to manufacture, and probably program, these myriads of tiny, very specialised machines, but the possibilities are very schematic. There’s no evidence that anything workable is around the corner. Click here for Note.
Footnote 19:
  • 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. Click here for Note.
Footnote 20:
  • Software: Well, philosophically-speaking, this is an outrageous idea. It depends on what we are, and we’re almost certainly not software, though software is important to us. And there are issues of identity – since software is easy to copy, and copies aren’t identical, what reason would an individual have for thinking any particular installed copy was (identical to) him? Click here for Note.
Footnote 21:
  • 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. Click here for Note.
Footnote 22: Footnote 23:
  • Science Fiction: The difference, presumably, is that talk of the Singularity is intended as a prediction rather than as mere entertainment with no real concern with the facts. But the predictions don’t really seem to be worked out in any detail – it’s just the idea that throwing hardware at things will work, combined with the assumption of indefinitely-continued exponential growth. Click here for Note.
Footnote 25:
  • Importance of the Singularity: It would certainly be important. Whether it’s as important as language is debateable. Why not choose for comparison some other technological development, like the use of agriculture, or an intellectual one like the invention of writing? Also, language isn’t something that was invented, is it? It arose, maybe as externalised inner thoughts – an external and public Language of Thought. Click here for Note.
Footnote 26:
  • Ultraintelligence: This is a definition of ultraintelligent. It does not guarantee that there will ever be anything that falls under this category. Also, it seems a bit heavy-handed. Superintelligent machines – those that may not be ultimate, but will supplement human intelligence even more than current computers – might do the job. The idea is that there could be a human invention that obviates the need for any further human inventions, because any invention that a human could come up with, the machine could also come up with. Maybe all we need is that it (with human assistance) can come up with anything that a human can come up with (though a brick is such a “machine”), or that it (with human assistance) can come up with something that no unaided human can come up with (but this is already satisfied). More thought required. Click here for Note.
Footnote 27:
  • Last Invention: No doubt Hollywood would disagree. After the machines have taken over, human beings would have to invent a way of defeating them. This aside, is it really clear what “surpassing all the intellectual activities of any man however clever“ really means? Click here for Note.
Footnote 28:
  • Failed Predictions?: This is by 2023, now in 2011 – just 12 years away. While the prediction hasn’t yet failed, it will no doubt do so as super-human intelligence seems as far away as ever, and the human era shows no sign of ending. Click here for Note.
Footnote 29:
  • Predicting the Future: One could be styled “good at predicting the future” if your predictions had a habit of coming true. Is this the case with Kurzweil’s predictions, or is it just that his predictions are the sort that Bill Gates likes? Click here for Note.
Footnote 30:
  • The Numbers: As always, this is the extrapolation of exponential growth. What if Moore’s Law fails because we’ve reached QM-interference levels? What then? There was an article in Custom PC that made further progress look rather a struggle. Joining together microprocessors reduces miniaturisation and introduces light-speed effects. Compare with the stalled progress on nuclear fusion. Electricity “too cheap to metre” is still a way off after 60 years of research. Click here for Note.
Footnote 32:
  • A Different Future: This is certainly true – products have to be placed in a context to be useful – both because fashions change, and they need to link in with other technology and people’s needs. Technology does become obsolete very quickly, and has been doing so for decades. But technologies eventually reach maturity, or have to await the development of other technologies to mature before they can move on further. Click here for Note.
Footnote 33:
  • Moore's Law: See Wikipedia: Moore's Law ( This 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. Click here for Note
Footnote 34:
  • Hardware Costs: As any IT professional knows, the costs associated with any major development are almost all down to software; and residual hardware costs are mostly down to those of their minders. These costs aren’t going to exponentially decay. Click here for Note.
Footnote 35:
  • 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. Also, 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. Click here for Note.
Footnote 36:
  • Exponential Curve: Kurzweil’s graph is slightly more than exponential (an exponential curve would appear as a straight line given the Y-axis is logarithmic). Maybe the Timeeditor made the curve look exponential, lest we failed to get the message. But, this extra bit of hyper-exponentiality – which depends critically (it seems to me) on the last two points on the graph, has a huge impact on the date of the Singularity. If we were to fit a straight line to these points, the power in 2045 would be only 1/10,000,000,000 of that predicted by Kurzweil. But, such is exponential growth, that this would only defer the Singularity by 30 years or so. Unfortunately, while this is no-time in the grand scheme of things, this will be disappointing to those who are “waiting” for the Singularity, as it may come along too late given that this would imply it’s 64 years away. Click here for Note.
Footnote 37:
  • Technological Indexes: It’s true that it’s not just micro-processor speeds that are important, and that other related technologies are always improving. The question is whether these will also hit the wall at some time. The trouble with exponentiation is that there are certain fundamental properties of the world that are not open to human manipulation. Click here for Note.
Footnote 38:
  • Exponentiation Beyond IT: This should give us pause. Some of these indicators are clearly not open to indefinite exponential growth. Click here for Note.
Footnote 39:
  • Smooth Curves: One would need to check this by investigating whether the smoothness is a point-selection effect. I suppose, however, that by choosing the “best of breed” at any date, the chosen points will be accurate. But dates without points may (were points to be supplied) show periods of stasis, and a less smooth curve. Click here for Note.
Footnote 40:
  • Peace: This – that exponential growth continues irrespective of the state of the world – is a critical claim, as if (on my calculations) the Singularity is (even assuming all Kurzweil’s miracles take place) still 64 years away, that assumes some sort of stability is maintained for a period comparable to that between the rise of Nazism and the present. Now, traditionally wars have been stimuli for technological change – but whether this will remain so is open to doubt. Terrorism is more destructive of technological development than carpet bombing, as it can get anywhere (imagine the situation if the Nazis could have reached Los Alamos, or the industrial centres of America). Click here for Note.
Footnote 41:
  • Law of Accelerating Returns: Whether returns continue to accelerate depends on the maturity of a product. In the “green fields” situation, exponentiation is possible, but eventually stasis kicks in. Consider the railways. The wonder is that exponentiation in IT has continued for so long. But it cannot last indefinitely. Click here for Note.
Footnote 42:
  • Future Extrapolation: As noted passim, it’s the extrapolation of indefinite exponential growth (rather than linear growth) that causes cognitive dissonance here. Kurzweil thinks he has an answer to the dissonance, but I don’t believe it. Click here for Note.
Footnote 43:
  • Evolutionary Psychology: There are two issues here. Arguments aren’t won or lost by what we’ve evolved to think. Scientists (presumably) over-ride whatever their evolved prejudices might be all the time. We’re not exactly evolved to favour curved space-time. Secondly, we may be right to intuit a suspicion of exponential growth as, in general, the environment can’t cope with it. This is at the centre of Malthusian accounts of the practical necessity of natural culls of exponential population growth. Finally, we might note that digital computers are linear, and what Kurzweil needs (ultimately) for his continued exponential growth is massive parallelism, which hasn’t been invented yet. Click here for Note.
Footnote 44:
  • Reverse-engineering: Where does this claim come from? This is not a problem that can be solved by throwing hardware at it. The human brain has billions of neurons with billions of connections – fine – this might be simulated. But the contents of the brain relates to just what these connections are, and no-one has the vaguest idea how the wiring works, so how could this be simulated – especially in the next 15 years? Click here for Note.
Footnote 45:
  • Singularitarian Subculture: One can a thoroughgoing naturalist, and admit that the naturalist programme will eventually get there (as it will with controlled nuclear fusion) but claim that there are numerous technical saltations between now and the Singularity that we have no warrant for supposing a near-immediate solution is available. Click here for Note.
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Note last updated: 02/05/2019 08:21:07

Footnote 5.6: (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 Kumar) - 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: 07/11/2018 00:25:55

Footnote 5.7: (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:
  • The quotation appeared in The Week, but it seems to be a popular one.
  • See Updike: Our Selves Die Every Day (
Footnote 7:
  • Which has little to do with self-consciousness other than 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.
Footnote 14: Footnote 15:

Note last updated: 07/11/2018 00:25:55

Footnote 5.8: (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: 01/06/2019 22:10:34

Footnote 5.9: (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: 17/08/2018 21:59:02

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 (, Wikipedia: Charles H. Welch (
    • But this site seems very thorough. However, I'm intrigued by the site - did you look at the other pages? What's this "Yada Yahweh" stuff, that's mentioned on the page you referenced (Link ( 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 (Wikipedia: Apollonius of Tyana - 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 (seeWikipedia: Thomas G. Barnes - Earth's magnetic field decay ( 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 Wikipedia: Objections to evolution - Unfalsifiability ( 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 Wikipedia: Galileo Galilei - Controversy over heliocentrism ( for reminding me of these KJV quotes; though the Latin Vulgate version is more relevant to the Galilean controversy):-
    • Psalm 93:1: The LORD reigneth, he is clothed with majesty; the LORD is clothed with strength, wherewith he hath girded himself: the world also is stablished, that it cannot be moved.
    • Psalm 96:10: Say among the heathen that the LORD reigneth: the world also shall be established that it shall not be moved: he shall judge the people righteously.
    • 1 Chronicles 16:30: Fear before him, all the earth: the world also shall be stable, that it be not moved.
    • Psalm 104:5: Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever.
    • Ecclesiastes 1:5: The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.
  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 - Wikipedia: Moore's paradox (
  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 (Wikipedia: Foundations of Physics ( - 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 Spa