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Blog - Simon

Dear Theo,

I was thinking of you the other day when I was having a spirited debate with my 16year old daughter, Rebecca, about altruism and religion. Although I’ve been atheist as long as I can remember, and my wife has been agnostic, Rebecca ‘found’ Christianity in the form of the US Presbyterian church a few years ago and has fully immersed herself into it. It’s a little ironic, because as a political ‘Libertarian’, I happily defend her right to 'be' anything she wants, but I can’t help myself from being a bit cynical on the religious front especially living in the US during this age of TV-evangelism, which includes our President with his fundamentalist cronies.

As usual our discussion veered off into a basic argument on providing proof on God’s existence, and your ‘Tractatus’ sprang to my mind. My daughter’s view seems to be that: “if you can’t prove he doesn’t exist, then he must exist”. Of course my position is the exact opposite. Having reached stalemate on that front, the more interesting question is “why do so many people need to believe in something”? I have never felt this ‘need’, being content with: “when I’m dead, I’m dead”. But anyway our argument stalls at my sudden childish desire to have a fish symbol with legs as a bumper sticker – of course it’s deliberately antagonistic.

But back to the argument… So we get to her point: “If people didn’t believe in God and heaven and hell then they’d all do bad things”. Now this is more like it. The question then circles back to altruism and whether we are able to sustain any form of civilization without a ‘greater power’ keeping us in fear and hence in check? I offer: “Well I’m atheist and I don’t murder or rob people?”, to which she delivers her best counter-argument: “Well not everyone is like you, Daddy”… And that Theo, is where my argument for spreading atheism breaks down…not on the question of whether God exists or not, but on whether [a] God is needed, to ensure order and ultimately our survival.

So I do hope that you have been able to progress your argument further and haven’t pulled a ‘360’. I especially need you to recommend a book with a title such as: “Daddy, are you going to hell because you don’t believe in God?” I could put it on the bookshelf next to: “Stay out of my life, but first can you drive me to the church?”!

Simon (2nd January 2007)

Theo’s Response1.

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


Footnote 1: (Simon - T1)

Simon,

Apologies for the very delayed response. Your carefully-crafted email raises so many issues that I hardly know where to start. I think I’ll try not to deal with everything in one go, and just provide pointers for further correspondence.

Firstly, I’m sure you’re aware there are worse things that can happen to a 16-year-old than “finding Christianity”. My wife Julie remains a staunch Christian, but my children don’t seem to have caught on. I think they belong in varying degrees to the confused and non-committal in this regard. So much for Sunday School and a house-full of books; my fault, no doubt. Depending on the stripe, there are many more unwholesome isms for one’s children to embrace. I think a yearning for finding out “how it all hangs together” is what I’d have liked my children to catch on to, and a first step can be for them to latch on to some package deal. Then one hopes there’ll be a serious investigation into whether this “solution” really works, followed by a realization that package-deals aren’t likely to be the whole truth. Of course, you have to be careful of saying this to your children lest they suspect you of being patronizing.

Sadly, Christians often seem to have a very flimsy grip on what it is they’re supposed to believe, and why it should seem reasonable, but have instilled in them a massive urge to pass this flimsy notion on to others. It’s usually bolstered by a feeling either that someone else has worked out all the details, or that such details don’t matter, as we’ll be let into all the secrets “in heaven”. This begs quite a few questions in my view.

You doubt whether people ought to want to “believe in something”. I presume you’re thinking of the package deal here (whether it be Theism, Marxism or Republicanism). But isn’t a dispassionate search for truth one of the things that makes life worth living?

As for me, I’ve not pulled a 360-degree turn recently (or even a 180-degree one). However, because most of my closest friends, and most of my wife’s friends, are Christians of one sort or another, the issue is rarely out of my mind. I have been re-considering the matter yet again of late, though I wonder whether it’s a bit of a waste of effort.

Returning to the big issue, my opinion remains pretty much as it was. Again, depending on the stripe, Christian beliefs seem to me to be either too insubstantial to be worth bothering with, or else most likely false. I usually find that reading anything by radical theists inclines me towards atheism, while reading the radical atheists makes me more sympathetic towards theism. This is symptomatic of a universal 2 x 2 matrix:-

  1. Arguments in favour of one’s own position
  2. Arguments by your opponents against your opinion
  3. Arguments by your opponents in favour of their position
  4. Arguments by those in favour of your position against your opponents’ position
In our case, we have the opposition of naturalist versus supernaturalist worldviews.

Case (1) is important but involves the whole of scientific knowledge, and much else besides, so can only really be addressed in response to case (2).

Case (2) usually involves arguments against “scientism” or “science falsely so-called”. I’m currently reading a bunch of books on this debate. The waters are muddied somewhat by disputes as to whether there’s a conflict between science and religion, and if there is, what the key issues are. Darwinism seems to be a favourite turning point. Some Christians seem to think evolution “leaves God with nothing to do”, and are therefore against it. Others think it just explains how God did it. There’s a similar divide amongst atheists as to the importance of the issue with respect to theism.

As to the books, firstly there’s a rather annoying "Strobel (Lee) - The Case for a Creator: A Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence That Points Toward God". This seems to latch on to Darwinism as the root of all evil, and polls a selection of sympathetic scientists in an attempt to debunk the theory. My objections, other than to the journalistic style, are firstly that any claim to objectivity goes out of the window when you only select people who agree with you, and then claim this as a consensus. Secondly, that even if the Darwinian theory (of evolution by natural selection) turned out to be incorrect, evolution itself might still be a fact. After all, any scientific theory is subject to revision and improvement or replacement as new knowledge or insights come along. The second book is "Alexander (Denis) - Rebuilding the Matrix: Science and Faith in the 21st Century". Any connection with the film (as suggested by the cover) is a complete con, but otherwise it seems a reasonable book, Alexander being a respected scientist - chairman of the program of molecular immunology at the Abraham Institute and a fellow of St. Edmund’s College, Cambridge. It takes a more eirenic approach of avoiding any conflict between science and religion at least on the issue of origins. Incidentally, there’s "Gould (Stephen Jay) - Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life". Though an atheist and evolutionist, Gould is an advocate of the “No conflict” view; he calls it NOMA (Non-Overlapping MAgisteria). It’s still in my queue, but I don’t expect to be impressed. If we take the no-conflict view too far, religion has nothing substantive to say except some vague hand-waving at a remote prime-mover, which isn’t the God of the Christians.

Case (3) represents the case for Christian supernaturalism. There are numerous attempts at this. I have a couple: "McDowell (Josh) - Evidence That Demands a Verdict - Historical Evidences For the Christian Faith: Volume 1" (2 Vols) and "Kreeft (Peter) & Tacelli (Ronald) - A Handbook of Christian Apologetics". These tend to be a bit smug, because they can’t admit to any issues. So, they tend to be more encouraging to the perceptive atheist than intended (though this perception has to be informed by reading around the subject, which atheists seldom want to do). That’s not to say there isn’t a case to be made (I wouldn’t be worrying about the issue if there wasn’t); it’s just that there’s more than one side to the story and these books are highly partisan, being for the support of the faithful.

Case (4), the case against supernaturalism, is good swashbuckling stuff, but tends to underestimate the opposition, and also to be rather ignorant of the issues. Hence, it can be accidentally supportive of theism. The latest offering is "Dawkins (Richard) - The God Delusion". If you check out the reviews on Amazon by the non-partisan, you’ll get an idea of its shortcomings. I’ve just ordered a pretort (since it came out first) "McGrath (Alister) - Dawkins' God: Genes, Memes, and the Meaning of Life" which seems interesting. Unfortunately, his actual retort (“The Dawkins Delusion”) seems to be a too-brief stinker. See also "Wolpert (Lewis) - Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast: The Evolutionary Origins of Belief". For a critique of “Intelligent Design” see "Shanks (Niall), Dawkins (Richard) - God, the Devil, and Darwin: A Critique of Intelligent Design Theory", though I’ve not read it yet.

You asked about ethics. It’s been known since Plato’s day that there’s the “Euthyphro problem” (from the dialogue of that name). Is God prior to the good? Ie. Are things good because God says they are, or is (a good) God himself bound by the good. Would boiling babies be good if God said it was? I doubt it. So positing God as the authority behind ethics doesn’t help.

A quotable quote: “So in saying that things are not good by any rule of goodness, but sheerly by the will of God, it seems to me that one destroys, without realizing it, all the love of God and all his glory. For why praise him for what he has done if he would be equally praiseworthy in doing exactly the contrary.” Leibniz, Discourse on Metaphysics.

I’m reading yet another book at the moment, entitled "Oderberg (David) & Laing (Jacqueline) - Human lives: Critical Essays on Consequentialist Bioethics". It’s ridiculously expensive, so I’ve only borrowed a copy, especially as I disagree with everything it says. It is arguing against consequentialism – basically, the seemingly obvious view that avoidable actions are good if their consequences are likely to be good, and bad otherwise (with loads of caveats). The anti-consequentialist line is that some things are wrong under any circumstances. Essay 2 “Is Anything Absolutely Wrong” takes this line, using the entertaining example of “buggering babies”. My view is that if the future of the planet depended on you doing this rather distasteful act (probably worse for you than the baby), then it would not only not be wrong, but a duty. And the same goes for boiling the wretched thing. It may sound a bit like Himmler encouraging the Einsatzgruppen, but in their case the ends did not in any sense justify the means because the ends were utterly mistaken. And almost always the ends don’t justify the means where the means are normally immoral, but in extreme cases they must. There’s no necessary slide from “anything goes sometime” to “anything goes anytime”. Anyway, the point of all this is that, while the authors of the papers in the book are (I either know or suspect) uniformly theists, the editors deny in the introduction that there is “something essentially religious about anti-consequentialist thinking”. So, there can be absolute prohibitions and commands that don’t involve divine sanction. Incidentally, if you read this book, skip the first essay, which is difficult and of only academic interest.

On proofs or disproofs of God’s existence, there seems to be a dispute amongst philosophers as to whether belief in God can legitimately be a “basic” belief – ie. one that doesn’t have to be justified on the basis of other beliefs. This has always struck me as a crazy idea. How could such a complex (and disputed) concept possibly be basic? It is interesting, though, that often one can get sucked in to justifying “unbelief”, when it’s really beliefs that need justifying.

I’ve just remembered another book that’s on hold at the moment. It’s "LePoidevin (Robin) - Arguing for Atheism: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion". He’s an atheist and a good philosopher, and this is a cracker of a book (at least as far as I’ve read), and not too detailed. It’s probably the book for you. Unfortunately, if you want to get alongside your daughter, you might have to read a Bible. It’s mostly quite a good read.

I hope all this isn’t too simple-minded. I also feel I’ve not addressed all your questions. In fact, I didn’t understand the book-suggestion request, though I understand the tension that ought to be felt be Christians who believe their nearest and dearest are in for an eternal roasting. Of course, I never believed any such thing; one of my many heresies was “conditional immortality”. My studies in personal identity incline me to the belief that any sort of continued existence after death is logically impossible, though I may of course be wrong.

Theo (19th February 2007)

Simon’s Response1.

Note last updated: 22/08/2007 00:15:50


Footnote 1.1: (Simon - T1S1) (CORRESPONDENT)

Dear Theo,

I have written and re-written a reply and almost given up because I’m arguing with myself. However it occurred to me (actually while luxuriating in the bath) that you didn’t really tackle my core questions, which admittedly were not well defined. Here’s a better recap:

  • If I am an animal that has evolved through random mutations and Darwinian selection, what benefit1 is there to me from committing random acts of kindness?
  • Shouldn’t I have an overwhelming desire2 to just hunt, steal and procreate?
  • Outside of protecting my [family] genes, what possible [selection] benefit3 is there to helping another human being?
  • Can natural selection alone4 explain why I sometimes feel the need to help another person with no apparent return or benefit to me?
  • Why5 do I risk my own life to save a drowning child when the risk/reward is apparently so poor?
And this, for me, is where an atheist/evolutionary6 point of view breaks down.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe in a god or any other omnipotent being. I look upon the religious texts as terrific stories – equivalent to soap operas of their day – but essentially a tool7 of the ruling class to create fear and to be used to control the masses.

But something is awry; evolution doesn’t seem to have an explanation for why there is such apparent diversity in the living world, but no other8 animals that have developed our ability to be ‘self aware’, conscious of ourselves.

The central argument of whether God exists, seems to be an unnecessary use of brain-power. Expending energy on ‘does he/doesn’t he‘ is a bit like Schrödinger's Cat; we won’t know until he/she has been observed9 – so for now God exists in both states, so get over it!

So let me tackle a central question that you pose, albeit from a lay-person’s perspective….

Q: “But isn’t a dispassionate search for truth one of the things that makes life worth living10?”

You know, I suspect less than 1% of the population would think this way. If you ask an ‘omnibus person’ the question: “what makes your life worth living?” I believe the answers would include:

a. “Freedom from oppression”
b. “Pursuit of happiness” {21st century hedonism}
c. “My mum/spouse/lover/child/etc.”
d. “My friends”
e. “My job”

Possibly a response might also include:

f. “To serve God’s purpose” {which I think is just a roundabout alternative to b.}

There is no question in my mind that religion is a ‘catch all’ answer that people can use to explain away and rationalize bad things that happen to them, such as the tragic loss of a child, etc. How often do we hear ‘he’s in a better place’ or ‘It was God’s plan’ etc. For people who can’t rationalize suffering, belief in religion provides an escape route from their torment, it’s the consolation11 prize for failing to get to b. (above).

Buddhism has a saying that “Suffering is an ocean with no beginning and no end”. If suffering is a universal and ever-present feature of our animal-planet lives, then religion can provide a crutch for many people. As an aside, I find my daughter and her generation to have a real problem with the concept of ‘suffering’. They have grown up in a media world that pushes the belief that all problems are surmountable; that the achievement [not just the pursuit] of happiness12 is an inalienable right; and that suffering is wrong and unnecessary.

So our children’s generation may have significant problems when they are our age. They have largely lost the notion of the ‘pearly gates’ as representing an acceptable consolation prize; they have little to fall back-on when things go wrong, so consumerism and serotonin inhibitors have attempted to fill the void.

This isn’t intended to be an argument for religion. I’m merely trying to think through why religion has been so attractive to both the ruling classes and the down-trodden for such a long period in history. Again whether God actually exists or not, is probably moot until he/she is actually observed13. When I think about radical Islam14, I’m again reminded that it’s particularly attractive to its adherents because they generally have no other options or economic consolation prizes; they need something to believe in so they can answer the question: “What’s my life all about?”

That’s it for now; sorry to ramble. To tie together my central questions:
  1. Is belief in a god justified15 because it’s the only freely available antidote to the natural ocean of [Darwinian] suffering?
  2. Something’s missing from the evolution-only theory because: a) selfless acts don’t correlate16 to a survival imperative; and b) how come humans are the only sentient17 animal on earth, if evolution is a random walk in the gene park?
Simon (5th May 2007)

Theo’s Response18

Note last updated: 16/08/2007 14:44:10


Footnote 1.1.1: (Darwinian Altruism)

If I am an animal that has evolved through random mutations and Darwinian selection, what benefit is there to me from committing random acts of kindness?

I’m not sure what your question is really asking. There’s no necessary connection between the origins of a trait and its current use. Presumably the skills we have that enable us to solve abstract mathematical puzzles (or financial ones) evolved for other reasons, but that doesn’t present a paradox (though Plato got into a muddle about how we know mathematical truths, and thought we recollect them from a previous disembodied existence when we were in direct contact with them). Similarly, the fact that we’ve evolved from ape-like ancestors doesn’t mean we ought to carry on acting like them. After all, we don’t live like hunter-gatherers any more.

But evolutionary theory can at least attempt a solution. Basically, evolution will favour any gene that enables its possessor to survive and reproduce. There are at least two possibilities.

  1. One is Group Selection: groups of social animals that co-operate with one another and help one another out are more likely to flourish than those that don’t. But there’s a worry that in the case of fatal altruism, how would the altruistic gene be passed on? So,
  2. There is Kin Selection: you share genes with your relatives, so even if you perish saving one of them, your genes are passed on.
None of this is any use if the altruistic-gene is novel-to-you, but genes “sleep” for generations before their usefulness arises, or something like that.

Kin Selection is also wheeled out to explain the evolutionary origin of homosexuality.

There has been a lot written on this subject recently. An excellent book on the topic of the evolution of altruism (though one I’ve not finished reading) is "Sober (Elliott) & Wilson (David) - Unto Others - The Evolution & Psychology of Unselfish Behaviour". The classic text on evolutionary psychology generally is "Barkow (Jerome), Cosmides (Leda) & Tooby (John), Eds. - The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture". A less demanding text is "Sterelny (Kim) & Griffiths (Paul) - Sex and Death - An Introduction to Philosophy of Biology".

See also the three,, following remarks.

Note last updated: 19/08/2007 14:09:36


Footnote 1.1.2: (Hunter-Gathering Psychology)

Shouldn’t I have an overwhelming desire to just hunt, steal and procreate?

Again, I’m not sure of the point here. If we do have these desires, that’s no reason justify our acting on them, or for their being “a good thing” because they are “natural”. There’s been an attempt by right-wingers to use evolutionary psychology to justify the analogues of presumed hunter-gatherer practices in modern commercial life and societal relationships generally. However, while we may have these drives to some extent, that’s no reason why we should act on them. The issue is that evolution works very slowly by the standards of human lifetimes. So, we are stuck with the psychological and physical lumber that evolved for environments we no longer live in. But we can use capacities (notably our rationality) that evolved for one purpose for others. We can see that a society in which unrestricted competition is allowed will not be the happiest for anyone (except possibly the top dog, but even that is doubtful – because that top dog would not enjoy the fruits of cooperation that have been built up). After all, if everyone pillages and no-one produces, there’s soon nothing left to pillage.

I’m doubtful that stealing is something that non-human (ie. non-moral) animals can do, though they are certainly acquisitive.

As for the desire for procreation, I’m not sure whether the males of any species have much of a desire for this, which is too remote from the pleasurable activity of sex. I’ve been reading recently about non-human animal culture, and the use of sex for non-procreative purposes in bonobo societies ("De Waal (Frans) - Bonobos and Fig Leaves: Primate Hippies in a Puritan Landscape", in "De Waal (Frans) - The Ape and the Sushi Master: Cultural Reflections of a Primatologist") – mostly for bonding following a squabble.

We are often too harsh in our negative evaluation of animal societies. It’s not the case that dog eats dog. See the later note on human uniqueness.

Note last updated: 21/08/2007 15:04:19


Footnote 1.1.3: (Darwinian Altruism 2)

Outside of protecting my [family] genes, what possible [selection] benefit is there to helping another human being?

This – the insistence on no genetic relationship between the altruist and the person helped – is more difficult to explain on evolutionary terms. But I have two comments.

  1. Firstly, can’t this be explained along the lines of the previous note; that is, along the lines of kin selection? If altruism makes my society as a whole run better, it’ll make things better for my kin, so the altruistic gene may become established.
  2. Secondly, as before, is the fact that this didn’t arise by natural selection a problem? Maybe it’s a principle of rationality, a tool of the mind that does have evolutionary origins.

Note last updated: 20/08/2007 15:50:24


Footnote 1.1.4: (Darwinian Altruism 3)

Can natural selection alone explain why I sometimes feel the need to help another person with no apparent return or benefit to me?

This has been covered above. It probably can, but even if it can’t, this isn’t a problem for evolutionary psychology or an argument in favour of theism.

Maybe your point has to do with feelings? If so, feelings (positive or negative) reflect evolution’s preferred strategy for implementing advantageous traits.

Note last updated: 20/08/2007 15:50:24


Footnote 1.1.5: (Darwinian Altruism 4)

Why do I risk my own life to save a drowning child when the risk/reward is apparently so poor?

This is complicated. I’m not sure, personally-speaking, whether I’d attempt this act of heroism as I’m a weak swimmer, and we’d both likely drown; best to leave the task to someone competent. However, even though this would be the rational approach, this wouldn’t stop me feeling like a cowardly weasel. So, the question is, why, from an evolutionary perspective, would I have this feeling? If I were a certain sort of female, no doubt I’d feel some emotional rush that would make me want to save the child, rather than simply feel I ought to. Again, the question, from an evolutionary perspective, is why should I feel this way, if this child is not one of mine?

I dare say that our emotions are so tuned by evolution that they work in the likely hunter-gatherer scenario, which would be that if a child is drowning near you, it’s likely to be yours or that of one of your kin, so go for it and preserve your genes. After all, this is an emergency, and it might be hard to determine patrimony in the rolling deep (not that there are any rolling deeps on the savannah – so substitute “murky water-hole”). That would explain the emotional rush, and then the weasel-feeling when the emotion is not discharged by action.

But I admit that this is a bit of a just-so story (but then so is the whole field of evolutionary psychology).

Note last updated: 20/08/2007 16:55:12


Footnote 1.1.6: (Evolution - Problems)

And this, for me, is where an atheist/evolutionary point of view breaks down.

Well, I think you’ve given in too easily. Evolutionary psychology does have the resources needed of it, though it cannot prove that any of the stories that might have been actually were what happened. But it doesn’t need to.

Note last updated: 20/08/2007 17:51:22


Footnote 1.1.7: (Religion as State-Control)

Religion a tool of the ruling class?

I strongly disagree with this contention, at least at one level. Religions certainly weren’t devised by the ruling class (though there have been wealthy religious reformers – eg. Buddha, Francis of Assisi – but they have tended to divest themselves of their wealth and political power in the course of their religious reforms), and they often started off as movements with highly subversive political repercussions.

But no doubt for them to co-exist with the state, an accommodation has had to be reached, with the risk that the religious elite can be manipulated into controlling the populace for the benefit of the political elite. And in a theocracy, where the political and religious elites coincide, there’s the danger of mixed motives on the part of those in authority.

That said, and popular though this idea is in atheist circles, I think it’s a mistake to consider religion as merely a means of political control. In what sense is this true of the US, one of the world’s most religiously-inclined countries?

Note last updated: 20/08/2007 17:51:22


Footnote 1.1.10: (Life Worth Living)

Sadly, you may have a point here. Most people have no concern for truth, whether searched for dispassionately or otherwise. I suspect they’ve no great interest in freedom either - bread and circuses will keep them happy, provided they don’t actually feel oppressed. However, I was speaking between ourselves, including anyone who’s ever cared to ask the “what’s it all about then” question and wanted to receive the right answer (rather than any old comforting twaddle).

Note last updated: 21/08/2007 15:04:19


Footnote 1.1.11: (Consolation of Religion)

This contention, that religion is a crutch or consolation for losers, seems of only partial application. If all religious people are or had been on the fringes of society I might agree with you, but empirically this suggestion seems to be false. It is difficult to generalise about “religion”, but it does seem to be for people who think there’s something wrong or unsatisfactory about the world that needs fixing (or maybe has been fixed in some way known only to the initiate), or just that there’s something missing or unfulfilling about our routine lives. And such people can be from the top or bottom of society.

While this seems to me to be a fair analysis of the situation, the questions are, is “there a solution?”, and “what is it?”. The various religions have different answers to the second question, but naturally agree on the first.

While suffering can incline some people in a religious direction, personal catastrophes can move others in the opposite direction, so that they “lose their faith” or rail against God (though in the latter case they still believe there’s someone “up there” for them to shake their fist at, though they can’t logically believe this or they wouldn’t do it). It all depends on what their concept of God is (if their religion is theistic), and what they think the bargain God has struck with them is.

In sum, there are many motivations, both intellectual and emotional, for religious belief or unbelief and we should be chary of broad generalisations.

Note last updated: 22/08/2007 00:15:50


Footnote 1.1.12: (Happiness and Suffering)

There are several interesting points here. Firstly, do we have a right to the achievement of happiness? Secondly, is there anything wrong with a world full of suffering?

Personally, I don’t think we have a right to anything, except in a legal sense where something is promised and delivery can be enforced. It seems silly to suggest that one has a right to something that no-one can deliver and that no-one has even promised to provide. I’d prefer it that people have duties, and that these duties are rationally incumbent on one by principles of reciprocity and a realisation that things will work better for all (and hence oneself) if we all make some effort to fulfil them. But this is a complex matter which I won’t pursue further here. Anyway, I agree with you that we (and not just our children) have unrealistic expectations of life, because our experience of it has been (despite various difficulties) unreasonably positive by historical standards and our inductive reasoning makes us expect these things to continue. There are always drawbacks to growing up and finding your own feet in the world, whatever base you start from. But there are likely to be more requests for help if it is obvious that help is available.

I think so much suffering is unnecessary and fixable, that it is good to have a view that suffering is in some sense “wrong”. But it’s also clearly an inescapable part of the natural order, so railing against all instances of it is irrational. Also, while any one thing might be fixable if it were the only problem, the fact that there are so many instances of suffering, but the whole resources of the state can’t be devoted to each of them, means that there needs to be a lot of realism about what is practically achievable. While many complaints about “the government’s not doing enough about X” may be true, many such complaints are irrational because the full consequences of what would be required were the government to act in this way are not considered.

Note last updated: 21/08/2007 09:44:38


Footnote 1.1.13: (Observing God)

We won’t know whether God exists until he/she has been observed.

Well, in a sense I agree:

  1. I would have dismissed your “Schrodinger’s Cat” analogy as absurd, and it may indeed be so, but something like it seems to have been held by the mystics, or so it is alleged. This came up recently in another blog1.
  2. I do think that your suggestion that “God exists in both states” is absurd – how can something exist in a state of non-existence? But even there, some philosophers (Meinong and his followers) have held that non-existent things exist in some sense (they use the term “subsist”). These philosophers no longer exist, for the most part (though even this depends on one’s view of the reality of the past), but they were in error in any case. They were muddled about the reference of language. They ask “how can we refer to Father Christmas in the expression “Father Christmas doesn’t exist” unless Father Christmas exist (in some sense)?”. Bertrand Russell sorted all this out, though not all philosophers agree with his solution. But even those who don’t agree don’t usually agree with Meinong.
  3. The reason I broadly agree with you is that I also think that a priori metaphysical arguments about the existence of God (much of so-called natural theology) are a waste of time, and the only sound arguments are those with empirical content – ie. where God is said to intervene in human affairs. Since the alleged interventions in the various religious traditions contradict one another in many cases, we can be confident that a lot of these claims for divine intervention are bogus. However, this doesn’t rule out the theoretical possibility ….
  4. And, of course, the Christian contention is just that – that God has intervened in human affairs – firstly through the nation of Israel in Old Testament times, and supremely through Jesus Christ in the first years AD. Indeed, they would claim that God has been observed – that’s the whole purpose of the incarnation – “ … and the Word was God; and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us … (John 1:14)”. Of course, there’s a big leap from these claims to their acceptance.

Note last updated: 21/08/2007 15:04:19


Footnote 1.1.13.1: (Jonathan Harrison)

However, I subsequently looked up "God, Freedom and Immortality" by Jonathan Harrison, who is a recognized philosopher who has published in all the recognized philosophical journals from 1952 – 2004, and I have four of his papers. The only reference to this book I could find was a review in 2001, though I couldn’t find the text of this review. I presume the review (by Louis Pojman, a conservative Christian) was negative.

The book’s available second-hand on Amazon at £24.99, with a summary as follows:-

Synopsis
This text offers a comprehensive treatment of the Philosophy of Religion. Its overall conclusions are that, though there is no reason to suppose there is a God, doing something that is not quite believing in god, who, as some mystics think - neither exists nor does not exist, may be valuable for some people.

This sounds rather condescending, and may be a misunderstanding on the part of the person who provided the synopsis for Amazon. It would be interesting to know why the law of excluded middle fails for the existence of God.

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


Footnote 1.1.14: (Islam)

When I think about radical Islam, I’m again reminded that it’s particularly attractive to its adherents because they generally have no other options or economic consolation prizes; they need something to believe in so they can answer the question: “What’s my life all about?”

I’ve underlined “radical” in the above quotation, as non-militant Islamists don’t seem to fall under this heading. To be honest, I know little about Islam (I’ve not even read the Koran from top to toe), and have hardly discussed the subject with the adherents of that religion known to me, but then they are hardly radical (as far as I know). They certainly have other options.

I suspect that history has a lot to do with this matter. The Western / Middle- and Near- Eastern Islamic states were once part of a world-leading culture, and now “the West” doesn’t take them seriously, or make any attempt to understand them. There is a lot of anger and frustration, and their governments tend to take advantage of the populace’s disgruntlement and manipulate them to direct their anger elsewhere. But much of western culture is offensive to pious Muslims (and to pious persons of any religion), and there hasn’t been such a segregation between mosque and state as there has between church and state (though I speak mostly from ignorance and am open to correction), so political action comes more naturally to Muslims than to Christians, it may be.

I’m probably agreeing with you, except that prosperity is not a solution but a distraction that the radical manage to shake off. As has often been pointed out, the dangerous radicals are the educated not the peasants. But then the educated are always more dangerous, because they have more options – including taking their religion seriously - which is why dictators are suspicious of education (properly so-called: indoctrination with state or religious dogma isn’t education).

I had something brief to say on the subject of Islam in another blog1, point 8.

Note last updated: 22/08/2007 00:15:50


Footnote 1.1.14.1: (Sylvia)

I had a long discussion on Saturday 8th July 2007 with Sylvia, a Christian friend of almost 30 years standing, on “my doubts”. Useful though these discussions are, they suffer from a number of general defects. I’ve rehearsed these as a preamble which raises important general issues, though I think we touched on some of these questions on the day.

I have to add that on this particular topic, I feel that I suffer a disadvantage. I’m not a militant atheist, but (I think) one who has believed and would believe again if it were intellectually possible for me to do so. Also, my wife and most of my dearest friends are committed Christians. Most of them are intellectually fairly robust, but I still have to be careful. So, because I don’t weigh in with the usual atheist swagger, I can appear to cavil somewhat, to be a fence-sitter, to ask too much, or to be “over-complicating things”.

The bottom line of all this is that I agreed to write it up Saturday’s discussion. It’s probably ended as a partisan piece, with my side of the argument polished up and expanded. But it will, I hope, be something sufficiently clear and concrete to be taken further.

Summary responses from Sylvia:

  1. Why she is still a Christian.
  2. What should God have done?
  3. Psychology.
So, away we go.
  1. Reasons for belief: We discussed the evidential reasons why one might believe the claims of Christianity, and decided that Christian belief should be maintained for the same sort of reasons that one might believe anything else, namely intellectual conviction. Not that this is sufficient in itself – the response of the heart being required - but it is a pre-requisite. We must have discussed the role of faith, but I cannot remember anything concrete. Some Christians claim divine visitations or other miraculous interventions which we both rejected as relevant to the present age.
    Sylvia’s Responses,.
  2. The Holy Spirit: We discussed the work of the Holy Spirit. Sylvia thought that his role was primarily in the practical outworking, but on the intellectual side might be involved in our reading of Scripture. I have an issue with this – if the Holy Spirit is the author of truth, and guides the reader, why are there so many disagreements in the interpretation of Scripture even amongst conscientious fundamentalists? Anyway, I admitted that the Scriptures had “come alive” for me – though there are other explanations for this phenomenon than the direct activity of the Holy Spirit.
    Sylvia’s Response.
  3. Supernaturalist versus Naturalist Worldviews: The point of the introduction of the Holy Spirit into the discussion was in the context of why we should adopt a Supernaturalist worldview, if we do. One response to my current predicament (if it is one) is that it’s an artifact of an ultradispensationalist approach to the divine plan. While not denying that “spiritual things” are going on today, ultradispensationalism parks all evidential supernaturalist happenings prior to AD 70-ish, with the exception of a lot of them scheduled to happen in the future. For me this raises the issue of why we should have a supernaturalist worldview at all. Put crudely, this then reduces to an inference to the best explanation of why certain claims are made in a bunch of old books. Now I don’t deny that the old books are often manifest works of genius (when viewed sympathetically), nor that some very clever people (including some geniuses) have been Christians. My complaint is that other books are, or have been, seen in the much same light by their adherents, and maybe justifiably so. After all, the “viewed sympathetically” rider above is crucial. I imagine most people coming to the Bible for the first time find much of it incomprehensible, boring or false. Those of us with no vested interest in the Scriptures of other religions presumably have the same immediate reaction when reading their holy books, assuming we’ve ever bothered to open them. Yet these books have, in their own cultural tradition, been the inspiration of people of equal genius. My present view (not a very remarkable one) is that “life, the universe and everything” is so complicated and difficult to fathom that there’s an irresistible urge for an individual to latch on to some book or religion that tells him what it’s all about. In Graeco-Roman times that was, it seems, Homer, used not just for religious matters, but for tips on shipbuilding and other practical matters. Of course, it helps if this source of all knowledge is written in fine poetry or prose. Or, failing that, if the translation into one’s own language is so written. The Koine Greek of the NT was seen as barbarous by renaissance scholars in comparison with Attic, but after Tyndale, Coverdale and later polishers had applied their literary skills, the barbarisms have disappeared. We don’t get the same buzz if the NT is translated into Gangsta Rap (unless, presumably, we’re particularly spiritually inclined Gangsta Rappers, should such beings be possible).
    Sylvia’s Responses: Closed System, Supernaturalism.
  4. Evolution and purpose: I think the argument was that, if there’s no God, and evolution is true (though the two are allegedly not mutually incompatible), then nothing has a purpose and isn’t that a shame. My response to that is twofold. Firstly, if that’s how things are, then that’s how things are, and we ought to face up to it. Secondly, the fact, if it is one, that there’s no ultimate purpose or permanence to what we do just focuses us on the here and now (together with our memories).
    Sylvia’s Response.
    Which led on to …
  5. If in this life only: Over dinner we briefly touched on Paul's claim that if we (Christians) have hope for this life only, we are of all people most miserable. Why is this? Why, if there is no resurrection, should we "eat, drink and make merry, for tomorrow we die"? My claim was that this is because (at least in Paul's day) being a Christian involved sacrifices that only make sense in the light of resurrection rewards. Mike (Sylvia's husband) claimed that he had nothing to be miserable about, and that the issue is more to do with Christ not being raised if the dead in general cannot be raised, and the consequent failure of the plan of redemption. We also discussed why the resurrection was "foolishness to the Greeks". I think we agreed that this was most likely because the (neo-)Platonists thought body and encumberance to the soul, and so resurrection - finding oneself back in the body having successfully escaped from it - was hardly something to be desired.
  6. Is the Biblical account of the Flood a problem?This was introduced as an example of something that in itself is hard to believe, but is accepted as part of the package. Talking of packages …
  7. The religious supermarket: We agreed between ourselves that Christianity is the best on religion on offer at the religious supermarket. However, I’d make two points on this. Firstly, it rests on our profound ignorance of the subtleties of the alternatives. Secondly, maybe the supermarket doesn’t stock the correct one, or such a thing hasn’t been manufactured yet, or, as materialists believe, looking for religious answers is a mistaken blind-alley.
    Sylvia’s Response.
  8. What honour-killings have to say about Islam: This topic was introduced by Sylvia, probably along the “by their fruits shall ye know them” lines. Any religion that encourages people to do such things cannot have much going for it. There are two responses to this. Firstly (not mentioned at the time) Christians (maybe falsely so-called) have done some pretty horrible things in the name of Christianity – you know, the inquisition, the crusades and all that – yet we on the inside know that these are aberrations. So, maybe honour killings and suicide bombings are aberrations of Islam; as their more moderate and educated adherents tend to claim. Secondly, honour features a lot in all cultures that give a high place to family dynasties. For some reason it’s always the naughty daughters that take the brunt of the outraged sensibilities, rather than the naughty sons. And honour features in cultures, such as the Cosa Nostra, not otherwise known for claims to moral probity. So, I suspect honour killings have no necessary connection to Islam.
  9. God, Freedom and Immortality (by Jonathan Harrison): This 700-page book had been read by Sylvia's father, and Sylvia wondered whether I'd heard of it. I hadn't.

Note last updated: 26/09/2007 20:41:17


Footnote 1.1.15: (Justification of Religious Belief)

Is belief in a god justified because it’s the only freely available antidote to the natural ocean of [Darwinian] suffering?

What do you mean by “justified”? If you mean “psychologically intelligible”, maybe so. However, nothing can be intellectually justified simply because it is comforting. And it has to be belief in a certain kind of god. The Incas believed in a vengeful god that resented the life of his creation. I’ve read somewhere that an Inca, after some famous victory, contemplated suicide as this was an opportune moment to return his life to the one who gave it. I can’t remember the rationale behind all this. A priori, there’s no reason why the god who actually exists isn’t of this sort (and maybe even a posteriori, given the state of the world).

Note last updated: 22/08/2007 00:15:50


Footnote 1.1.17: (Human Uniqueness)

This seems to me to be another popular error.

  1. Firstly, who’s to know what lines of hominids developed in parallel with homo sapiens, but have been exterminated? I’m personally not sure whether the Neanderthals were truly a separate species – though since they have a species name (homo neanderthalis) I assume that the consensus is that they were. They appear to have lived concurrently with homo sapiens, so if they were indeed a separate species, we have another example of a self-conscious species apart from modern man. This assumes the Neanderthals were indeed self-conscious … and they seem to have been since they had a concept of an afterlife, as they buried their dead. The planet isn’t big enough for two successful self-conscious species to coexist, at least in the same habitat, and since homo sapiens has colonised most areas of the planet, that doesn’t leave much room for others.
  2. Secondly, chimpanzees, bonobos, orang-utans and dolphins appear to pass the “mirror test”, usually taken as a sign of a concept of self. Of the other likely candidates, elephants don’t and gorillas are doubtful. There’s a lot of controversy about this, but there’s a movement afoot that grants culture to animals (in the sense of non-genetic traits discovered and passed on by animal societies, rather than a wish to spend a night at the opera). "De Waal (Frans) - The Ape and the Sushi Master: Cultural Reflections of a Primatologist" (referred to above) is a good book along these lines.

Note last updated: 21/08/2007 15:04:19


Footnote 1.1.18: (Simon - T1S1T1)

Simon,

I’m sorry to have taken so long to get round to this reply. The bulk of my time in the interim has been spent developing some technology for my Website (see this link1 for an explanation). I find that I continually want to refer to thoughts I’ve had previously but which aren’t easily accessible. The site is supposed to remedy this deficit. So, there’s been a lot of infrastructural work going on in the background. I need to write to you now as I re-start my PhD2 shortly, and then I’ll be even more stuck for time than I am now.

Enough to say here that I’m using my new technology to respond to your latest thoughts, though I’ve not yet been able to link it properly to related stuff I’ve written before. I hope you don’t mind this being on-line. Not many will even look at the site, and even fewer will know who this particular Simon is. And I think we’re discussing important issues, which needn’t be hidden in a closet. However, maybe you’d prefer it if your daughter wasn’t mentioned. If so, send back an expurgated version as explained below.

Follow the hyperlinks to find my latest thoughts. To respond, go to the printable version, paste it into MS Word, annotate in place and email back. That’ll make it easier for me to add your comments to the site in the right place. You could do this directly if I had a Wiki, but I don’t think Wiki’s do everything I want them to do, so I’ve not set one up.

Best wishes,

Theo (21st August 2007)

Note last updated: 22/08/2007 00:15:50


Footnote 1.1.18.1: (Status: Web-Tools (2018 - September))

Rationale for this Project

  • This Project was alluded to briefly in a footnote on research methodology in my original Research Proposal under the head Research - Internet Technology. When last at Birkbeck, I wrote a more extensive paper defending the Project and describing its rationale. Now that my PhD is in suspense, I have decided to take this Project further. There’s a lot to do: still quite a few items on the “wish list”. It is fairly critical as an enabler for my research, so I need to get a move on as I want it all out of the way before I re-start4 formal research.
  • For documentation on my website (currently password protected) follow the links below:-
    1. Functional5 Documentation.
    2. Technical7 Documentation.
  • Other Websites
    1. Sometime around 2005, I created a website for Dr. Sophie Botros (Sophie Botros: Live Site (http://www.sophiebotros.com/)), one of my supervisors at Birkbeck, but we then lost touch and it got maintained (very badly) by some desktop support outfit. In 2Q15 I took it back on again and spruced it up a bit, and maintain it periodically, though it still requires more work.
    2. I created and / or ran a multitude of bridge websites, but as of January 2018 I have either handed them over or mothballed them9:-
      1. I established the Hutton Bridge Club (http://www.bridgewebs.com/hutton.html) Website in 4Q11 using the standard Bridgewebs service, but with a couple of competitions using my own routines. This was handed over in 3Q15.
      2. In 1Q15, I took over the support and development of the Essex Contract Bridge Association (http://www.bridgewebs.com/essex/) (ECBA) website, which also uses Bridgewebs, but is very much larger. I wrote a lot of code10 to make this job less tedious. The site was handed over in 4Q17.
      3. For several years, I collected data11 on bridge activity in the Billericay / Brentwood area (initially needed for a project to set up a new consolidated club) – by “scraping” data off web pages, consolidating it into a database and modelling it in various ways.
      4. I used this data to generate websites with a multitude of ladders for small clubs (Essex Bridge Results (http://www.theotodman.com/Bridge/index.htm)). These are now mothballed.
      5. I created and maintained a new website for the First Class Bridge (http://www.bridgewebs.com/firstclassbridge/) Academy, giving it “small clubs” ladders as these were easy to maintain with little intervention.
      6. In 3Q16 I revived the Mountnessing Bridge Club Archive (http://mountnessing.theotodman.com/index.shtml) website.
    3. I’ve created and continue to maintain a small website for a music group Julie and I attend – the Enigma Ensemble (http://www.enigmaensemble.co.uk/).
    4. I created a website for displaying the textual and grammatical analyses and appendices of Pete’s PhD on the Acts of the Apostles. It exists in two versions: Acts: Live Site (http://www.acts-research.website/) and Acts: Test Site (http://www.theotodman.com/Petes_PhD/index.htm).
  • I did consider returning to work part-time as an MS Access/Excel developer, with a spin-off into website generation, but have done nothing about it so far.

Summary of Progress during July - September 2018
  1. I spent 141 hours in 3Q18 on this Project, or related work (643 hours YTD, where for "YTD" - Year to Date - I mean the (academic) year that commenced in October 2017). That's 90% of the planned effort (93% YTD). Overall, 24% of my Project effort in the Quarter was directed towards this project (making 27% YTD) - as against 31% planned (27% YTD).
  2. Again, I made no progress at all on the course put out by Harvard - "Harvard University - CS50 Introduction to Computer Science". I still intend to make a serious attempt to complete it sometime (I will need to re-start). However, I decided to precede it with the follow-on course Harvard CS50's Web Programming with Python and JavaScript (https://www.edx.org/course/cs50s-web-programming-with-python-and-javascript-0) which is more immediately relevant. I made a start, but then other things took over towards the end of the month.
  3. I’d been on course to exceed budget, but decisions on other projects – in particular Music and Chess – got in the way towards the end of the quarter, so I only achieved 90% of plan in the end.
  4. However, I did manage to spend almost 140 hours developing my own site and did a lot of useful work.
  5. Completed items included:-
    • Architecture
      1. Added 'TT' shortcut icon on all Webpage browser tabs
    • Authors
      1. Authors Narrative: enable footnotes.
      2. As revealed by Spider: 'Extra' Links to Notes from Citations List have the wrong directory (clumped in 1,000's like Papers rather than 100's). 7 items. Problem with AddCitations_List, so not just an issue for Authors.
    • Books
      1. As revealed by Spider: BookCitings. 405 items. Fixed problem with CreateBookCitingsWebPages not checking for change of Book during 'Repeats' processing.
    • Books/Papers
      1. Paper & Book Abstracts - Make 'Disclaimer' more prominent & show 'Paper Statistics' rather than 'Paper Summaries'
    • Bridge
      1. Reformated + Fixed Hand-dealing pages to CSS standards
    • Documenter
      1. Created Functor using Form_Documentation_Links to automatically add control-links to documentation Notes.
      2. Fixed Bug where a variable has the same name as a procedure, and is thereby confused with one. Produced a warning query (Variable_Code_Name_Clashes) for manual correction.
    • Footnotes
      1. Enabled the re-use of Footnotes in the same Note12. They appeared multiple times, now just once. Fixed for:-
        1. Notes (OutputNotesWebPage)
        2. Printable Notes (NoteForPrinting), and
        3. Archived Notes (OutputNotesWebPage_Archived)
        All of which use Notes_Text_Format and the Note_Footnotes table. Also,
        1. Book & Paper Abstracts & Comments used to use an array in Reference_Footnotes, but changed to use a new table13 Abstract_Footnotes.
    • Notes
      1. Created auto-regen of all Note Link (Note_nnn_Link) Pages
      2. Automatic Key-word Hyperlinking to Notes Project: Phase 2
        1. Added links based on Book & Paper Titles
        2. Added ***Read***-marker to Lists
        3. Allowed links to be ignored (rather than suppressed) during approval process
        4. Skip links to Status Reports, etc.
      3. As revealed by Spider: Notes_List_Control links fail for Supervisions. 58 items.
      4. As revealed by Spider: Links to Notes_xxx_Links, from Abstracts (94 items), Notes (25 … corrected manually), NotesPrint (1916). Fixed by +LL+ functor implementation.
      5. As revealed by Spider: Bridge Status Report Achived Notes - sundry links failing. Live Note OK. 70 items.
      6. As revealed by Spider: Languages Status Report Achived Notes - links to Dissertation failing. Live Note OK. 43 items.
      7. As revealed by Spider: Religion Status Report Achived Notes - sundry links failing. Live Note OK. 59 items.
      8. Created new '+LL+' Functor for links to Note_Link pages; fixed associated Notes.
      9. Blog: Created Functor to generate Blog from Blog.
    • Photos
      1. Fix Bug: photos in Abstracts with embedded Notes - eg. "Grossman (Lev), Kurzweil (Ray) - 2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal" - not displaying
      2. As revealed by Spider: Fixed ImageRef to work for both embedded ('SRC') & linked images on the same page - eg. Carthusians. 12 items.
    • Status
      1. Status: Summary - Actual versus Plan between quarters says "previous quarter"; should be "current quarter"
  6. Full details for 18Q3 are given below:-
Website (Total Hours = 139)
  1. Website - Bridge Development
  2. Website - Development (Total Hours = 97)
    • Author Name Format options (Surname, First-Name) (0.5 hours)
    • Automatic Key-word Hyperlinking to Notes Project: Add links based on Book & Paper Titles (1.5 hours)
    • Automatic Key-word Hyperlinking to Notes Project: Add Read-marker to Lists (1 hour)
    • Automatic Key-word Hyperlinking to Notes Project: Allow links to be ignored (1 hour)
    • Automatic Key-word Hyperlinking to Notes Project: Automate full regeneration (6.25 hours)
    • Automatic Key-word Hyperlinking to Notes Project: Bug for Suppressed Links in Book-Paper Abstracts (1 hour)
    • Automatic Key-word Hyperlinking to Notes Project: Refinement of 'outstanding' counts (0.5 hours)
    • Automatic Key-word Hyperlinking to Notes Project: Refinement of title re Exclusions (1 hour)
    • Automatic Key-word Hyperlinking to Notes Project: Skip links to Status Reports, etc. (0.5 hours)
    • Technology: Added TT shortcut icon (1 hour)
    • Technology: Added 'TT' shortcut icon (0.25 hours)
    • Technology: Look into Sistrix Smart (2 hours)
    • Website - Generator - Allow Footnotes for Author Abstracts (1 hour)
    • Website - Generator - Allowed links to both embedded ('SRC') & linked Images on the same page (1.75 hours)
    • Website - Generator - BookCitings Links failing (2.75 hours)
    • Website - Generator - Bridge - Reformat + Fix Hand-dealing pages to CSS standards (4.75 hours)
    • Website - Generator - Create Functor for adding code links to Website Functional Documentation (2 hours)
    • Website - Generator - Create Functor to generate Blog (4 hours)
    • Website - Generator - Create new '+LL+' Functor for links to Note_Link pages (5 hours)
    • Website - Generator - Documenter Bug-fixes: Confusion of Variables with Procedure Names (0.75 hours)
    • Website - Generator - General: Tidy up Site - delete un-updated pages (3.5 hours)
    • Website - Generator - Improve efficiency of Quarterly + YTD Task List Generation (0.75 hours)
    • Website - Generator - Links from Notes_List_Control failing for Supervisions (0.5 hours)
    • Website - Generator - Links from old Status Reports failing (4.25 hours)
    • Website - Generator - Links to Images in embedded Notes in Abstracts failing (0.75 hours)
    • Website - Generator - Maintain consolidated Development Log (3.75 hours)
    • Website - Generator - Paper & Book Abstracts - Clarify Disclaimer & 'Summaries' (2 hours)
    • Website - Generator - Problem with AddCitations_List and directory for links to 'Extra' Notes (0.5 hours)
    • Website - Generator - Re-Document Front Screen (5 hours)
    • Website - Generator - Remove duplicate footnotes (7.5 hours)
    • Website - Generator - Status: Summary - Actual versus Plan; Say 'Current' Quarter if current quarter (0.75 hours)
    • Website - Generator - Stop Test Note generating Book & Paper Links (0.5 hours)
    • Website - Generator - Web Spider - Check out & correct missing links (8.25 hours)
    • Website - Generator - Web Spider - Documentation & Diagnostics (9 hours)
    • Website - Generator - Web Spider - Investigate Run-time (0.25 hours)
    • Website - Generator - WebRefs - Add Test Page Regen to Maintenance Dashboard (2.25 hours)
    • Website - Generator - WebRefs - Check out Quarterly Detail Report - Paper Links (0.75 hours)
    • Website - Generator - WebRefs - Investigation & Correction of Errored URLs (7.25 hours)
    • Website - Generator - WebRefs - Run periodic full check (0.25 hours)
    • Website - Generator - WebRefs - Spurious entries generated by Spider (0.75 hours)
      → See "Software Development - Website - Development"
  3. Website - Education (Total Hours = 16.25)
  4. Website - Infrastructure (Total Hours = 6.75)
    • Check out theo.todman@cantab.net email account (0.25 hours)
    • iCloud Photos directory problem after Windows 10 release - turned off iCloud (1.25 hours)
    • Investigating repairing unreadable DVDs (0.25 hours)
    • Julie's Laptop Support - Including Windows 10 Bugs & Upgrades (0.25 hours)
    • Microsoft Windows 10 / MS Office - Releases & Bugs (0.5 hours)
    • Microsoft Windows 10 / MS Office - Releases, Bugs & Periodic Re-boots (2.25 hours)
    • PC Backups / OneDrive (1 hour)
    • Printer Toner + Paper (0.25 hours)
    • Review Webalizer stats & methodology documentation (0.25 hours)
    • Website - Namesco Email problems (0.5 hours)
      → See "Software Development - Website - Development"
  5. Website - Maintenance (Total Hours = 16.75)
    • 18Q2 Status Reports (4.25 hours)
    • Website - Generator - General: Tidy up Site - delete un-updated pages (2.25 hours)
    • Website - Generator - WebRefs - Manual URL Checks (0.5 hours)
    • Website - Periodic Full Regeneration (6.5 hours)
    • Website - Run Web Spider (2.25 hours)
    • Website - ZoomSearch database refresh (1 hour)
      → See "Software Development - Website - Development"

Website Others (Total Hours = 1.75)
  1. Website Others - Bernie's Website Development
  2. Website Others - Enigma Ensemble
    • Enigma Ensemble Website - Creation, Admin & Maintenance (1 hour)


Plans for the Near Future

I’ve retained the planned weekly effort on this project at 12 hours. While there’s still a lot on the “priority list”, my intention for the coming academic year is to focus on updating my technical competence. The Plan below is taken automatically from the Priority 1 items on my Development Log, as published in my Outstanding Developments Report.
  1. Own Website: Priority 1 Items By Category:-
    • Architecture
      1. As revealed by Spider: Old links in unregenerated pages. 8 Items.
      2. Complete XRef-re-engineering project:-
        1. Ensure all links and link-pages use the new XRef table, and pension off the old tables.
        2. Check all link-types still work and fix any errors.
        3. Complete the auto-triggering of regeneration of “associated” link pages.
        4. Fix update bug in Convert_Webrefs.
        5. Fix Bug whereby PaperSummary pages seem to have “Works-” and “Books/Papers-” Citings that refer to the same link-pages.
      3. Review effectiveness of hyperlinking method in the light of PhD and Philosophy of Religion experience.
      4. Where possible, use ID rather than NAME for in-page hyperlinks
    • Authors
      1. As revealed by Spider: Philosophers_Index_List_OA.htm. Author Names Scrambled. 133 items.
      2. As revealed by Spider: Sundry broken Links where author name corrected. 93 items.
    • Backups
      1. Review architecture to improve performance; Need to document first
    • Books/Papers
      1. Investigate whether multiple Subject/Topic/Subtopic usage leads anywhere (ie. are just the first (of 3) actually used). Fix anything amiss.
    • Documenter
      1. Provide Functional Documentation for Website Generator (using Notes)
    • Education
      1. Continue with Harvard CS50's Web Programming with Python and JavaScript (https://www.edx.org/course/cs50s-web-programming-with-python-and-javascript-0): either complete it, or check it'll still run in 2019.
      2. Investigate Bootstrap.
      3. Plan what to do with "Sitepoint (Learnable) - Sitepoint Learnable Web Development Courses" and the eBooks in my possession.
      4. Read "PC Pro - Computing in the Real World".
      5. Read "Barnes (Russell), Ed. - Web Designer".
      6. Re-start "Harvard University - CS50 Introduction to Computer Science". Maybe just "audit".
      7. Understand Bitcoin & Blockchain better
    • Infrastructure
      1. Re-install iCloud: solve 'The upload folder for iCloud Photos is missing' problem
    • Notes
      1. Add "Note Alternates" to Note pages.
      2. Allow the option to concatenate Notes in the Printed version (ie. linearly embed them essay-style), rather than treating the hyperlinks as footnotes – but still keep the hyperlink & cross-referencing in place.
        1. For use as "disclaimers" - eg. for "Plug Notes".
        2. For Thesis / essays: the difficulty here is the need for linking passages to make the text run smoothly.
      3. As revealed by Spider: #Reference links: fail for Printable Notes. 24 items.
      4. As revealed by Spider: Consciousness Status Report Achived Notes - sundry links failing. Live Note OK. 46 items. 24 items outstanding.
      5. As revealed by Spider: Blog Achived Notes - sundry links to Printable Notes. Live Note OK. 110 items. 100 items outstanding.
      6. As revealed by Spider: Links to sundry 'static' pages failing. 26 items. 20 items outstanding.
      7. As revealed by Spider: Old links from Archive Notes to (non-existent) Archived Printable Notes. 42 items.
      8. As revealed by Spider: Status Reports - Achived Notes - sundry links failing. Live Notes fixed.
        1. Website: Maintenance Dashboard. 14 items.
        2. Personal Identity Status Report. 11 items.
        3. Summary Status Report. 4 items.
        4. Actual Detail Summary Report. 6 items.
        5. Chess Status Report. 12 items.
        6. Etc.
      9. As revealed by Spider: Sundry links fail for Supervisions. 31 items.
      10. Created auto-regen of all Note Link (Note_nnn_Link) Pages
      11. Investigate Note_Links: Section references seem to be incorrect
      12. Printable Notes: fix the bug whereby the “private” flag is round the wrong way.
      13. Suppress the publication of the Printable versions of Temp Notes
    • Photos
      1. Add photos of Tom - Create Timeline software
      2. Develop software & procedure to make adding more content to the photos pages easier to undertake.
    • Process
      1. As revealed by Spider: Sundry uncategorised. Refs failing. 24 items.
      2. Determine why Recalculation & Changed Book/Papers produce unneeded regeneration.
    • Spider
      1. Analyse the results of the data collection exercise and design a plan of campaign to fix broken Internal links and prevent recurrence.
        1. Correct the code so the problems discovered by the Spider don’t recur.
        2. Delete 'orphan pages' that are never linked to, ie. Use the Spider to prune redundant pages27 automatically where possible.
        3. Fix the historical data where errors are uncovered by the Spider. An easier task now the site has a full-regen function.
      2. Determine why Full_Link_Up_Levels_Gen takes so long - approximately 3 hours. May need to re-architect.
      3. The Spider was generating WebRefs. Procedurally, this ought not to have been possible.
        1. The major problem turned out to be because unprocessed28 URLs got added to the end of the last WebLinks_Tester_Brief page, which then got Spidered. I've stopped this happening, so hopefully the problem will not recur. The fix was made in 18Q2.
        2. However, 4 other creations appeared - dated 18/05/18 - from the run of 10/07/18. The creation date was from the previous spider run, but the IDs show that they were produced in the latest run.
        I've re-opened the case!
    • Technology
      1. Look into Sistrix Smart29. Errors and warnings itemised are:-
        1. Duplicate content: seems to be theotodman.com and Link - Defunct
        2. Title Tags: Empty, too long, identical
        3. Page Not Found
        4. Filesize in excess of 1Mb
        5. Meta-Description: Empty
        6. Few words on Page
        7. H1: Not used, used multiple times per page, identical across pages
        8. Pictures: Alt attribute missing
    • WebRefs
      1. As revealed by Spider: WebLinks_Tester_Full_Map.htm (etc). Refs failing. 116 items.
      2. As revealed by Spider: WebLinks_Tester_Map_3.htm (etc). Refs failing. 21 items.
      3. Documentation & Bug-fixes: Phase 2
        1. Re-document the procedures in the light of recent changes.
        2. Resolve issues generated / revealed by the spider.
        3. Investigate - and fix where possible - broken links.
  2. Other Websites: Priority 1 Items By Category:-
    • Bridge
      1. Create "Small Sites" database for Alaric (if chased)
    • Enigma
      1. Termly updates to the Enigma Ensemble (http://www.enigmaensemble.co.uk/) Website.
    • Sophie
      1. Periodic updates to Sophie Botros: Live Site (http://www.sophiebotros.com/)

Summary of Progress to Date

This is hived off to various separate documents, which have now been harmonising and / or consolidated:-
  1. Summary of Progress to Date.
  2. Outstanding Developments,
  3. Functional Documentation,
  4. A summary of time expended across the years developing my website33 is at "Software Development - Website - Development".





In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 4:
  • Well, I’ve missed the boat, so will need to continue with both projects in parallel.
  • This was always likely to be necessary, as new features will always arise in use. It’s a prototype methodology, after all.
Footnote 5:
  • This is very tedious to produce and consequently is both incomplete and out of date.
Footnote 7:
  • This is much more fun, as it’s a purely technical task.
  • I’ve written a vastly-improved general-purpose technical documenter for MS Access.
Footnote 9:
  • It’s a shame to abandon the “mini websites” with all their ladders, as it’s rather well done.
  • However, I can’t waste time on these after I’ve abandoned bridge.
Footnote 10:
  • In particular, for the ECBA “Victor Ludorum” competition.
  • I cannot hand any of this code over, so the tedium will return, though not to me!
Footnote 11:
  • I had agreed to share this data sometime early in 2018
  • But will wait until asked again, as I doubt it’ll be of any real use to anyone.
Footnote 12:
  • This situation occurs in these reports, and elsewhere.
Footnote 13: Footnote 27:
  • Note that Backup_Prune_Ctrl deletes (relevant) pages that weren't regenerated in the last full site-regen, but this isn't the same thing.
Footnote 28:
  • These are URLs that were used in web pages but hadn't yet been converted to the +WnnnW+ format, so appeared at the end with no WebRef ID.
Footnote 29:
  • See Sistrix (https://www.sistrix.com/smart/)
  • This used to be called Optimizr, see Optimizr (http://www.optimizr.com/) (which now auto-forwards to Sistrix).
  • A quick look doesn’t show it to be an obvious scam, but I need to double-check.
  • An unsolicited analysis of my site turned up monthly from Optimizr from January 2015 to October 2017, listing a large number of “problems” that I think I know about, but which are in the queue to address.
  • It restarted in February 2018, under the Sistrix name (this seems to have been associated with Optimizr since November 2015).
  • The free version of this software is restricted to 1,000 pages, which is a very small proportion of my Site, though I may be able to point it to difference base-URLs.
  • But I do need to address the problems validly itemised, and a sub-set is still useful.
Footnote 33:
  • As distinct from developing other peoples’ websites – time which is also recorded against this project, but not against this task.

Note last updated: 10/10/2018 16:43:41


Footnote 1.1.18.2: (Status: Personal Identity (2018 - September))

Rationale for this Project

  • I am researching the subject of Personal Identity primarily because of its intrinsic interest and importance. It is really a sub-topic in my Philosophy of Religion project, with its penultimate chapter considering the metaphysical possibility of resurrection.
  • While I’m interested in the topic of my research in its own right, I think when I’ve sorted it out a bit, and have something to say, I’ll want to engage with other philosophers active in this field – and re-starting a PhD at Birkbeck or elsewhere might be the only effective way to do this.
  • While a PhD is not an end in itself, and certainly not the ultimate aim of my doing philosophy, it’s still true that a PhD would teach me research techniques, provide focus and direction, and furnish a professional qualification should I want to publish any results in this or any other area of philosophy.
  • The best place to find my current views is here.
  • The jumping-off point for my thesis is here, and a progress dashboard is here, though neither of these has changes for some considerable time.

Summary of Progress during July - September 2018
  1. I spent 239 hours in 3Q18 on this Project, or related work (1143 hours YTD, where for "YTD" - Year to Date - I mean the (academic) year that commenced in October 2017). That's 92% of the planned effort (95% YTD). Overall, 41% of my Project effort in the Quarter was directed towards this project (making 47% YTD) - as against 51% planned (47% YTD).
  2. My planned effort was 20 hours / week5. Unfortunately, like last quarter, I failed to achieving it – though wasn’t too far off. Moreover, most of the effort expended was on relevant items!
  3. The main focus of the quarter was that I continued updating my Notes on Personal Identity. As noted in recent reports, I had decided to change my approach in the short term. Rather than spending ages researching the reading lists, I’d intended just to list those books / papers on the relevant topic that I’ve actually read, and supply brief text. However, I’ve been using my auto-XRef routines to develop the reading lists, which – while useful – has held things up a bit. As a second pass I’ll use what I’ve read to update that text.
  4. The detailed list below reflects the Notes updated together with associated papers where I could be bothered to record time against these separately.
  5. In addition:-
  6. Progress between reports can be obtained from the relevant section of my Summary Task List. More detail follows:-
Thesis (Total Hours = 193.75)
  1. Thesis - Reading / Writing (Total Hours = 170)
  2. Thesis - Discussions (Total Hours = 2.5)
  3. Thesis - Research Repositioning (Total Hours = 21.25)

Thesis Background (Total Hours = 41.25)
  1. Thesis Background - Reading / Writing (Total Hours = 31.5)
  2. Thesis Background - Books Admin (Total Hours = 3.25)
  3. Thesis Background - Status

Thesis (Aeon)

Plans for the Near Future – Top Priority Tasks
Summary of Progress to Date

This was hived off to a separate Note back in 2010, and hasn’t changed much since.




In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 5:
  • 25 hours / week is approximately what I’d expect to put in to a part-time PhD. However, this seems unachievable at the moment.
Footnote 7:
  • Hopefully, I may complete, or get stuck, earlier.
  • I had hoped to complete this phase of my research by my 65th birthday – ie. by 13/11/2018. Previously, I’ve remarked “This is not to slip!” Unfortunately, the distraction of the problems with Coxes Farm – as well as a general lack of focus – have meant that it has.
  • On the plus side, I’m already much further advanced than would be expected of someone commencing a PhD.
  • On the minus side, I want to go into much greater depth, and have other projects on the go – most notably Music, Philosophy of Religion, Chess and – particularly – my Web-tools project.
  • The original reason for deferring to my 65th birthday was that this is when I get my State Pension. This may not be much, but it’ll make a significant contribution towards the fees and expenses, which I can’t currently afford.
  • Unfortunately, my state pension is likely to be more than gobbled up by payments on the mortgage I’ve managed to obtain for Coxes Farm.
Footnote 8:
  • This used to say “complete a thesis …”, which is obviously impossible, given that my idea of a thesis is way in excess of what is required.
Footnote 10:
  • This is still ludicrously inadequate for what I want to achieve, but is what would be expected of a part-time research student.
Footnote 12:
  • This is obviously far too long, and keeps getting items “carried forward” tacked on to it.
  • Maybe I’ll prune it next time.
Footnote 22:
  • Try to keep up to date, but only read those that are strictly relevant – ignore the rest!
  • At present I have a relatively small reading-backlog, and a much larger reviewing-backlog.
  • Try to add a brief comment for each paper – maybe at the expense of reading the full text!
Footnote 23:

Note last updated: 10/10/2018 16:43:41



Text Colour Conventions

  1. Black: Printable Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2018
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)


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Timestamp: 01/12/2018 16:20:15. Comments to theo@theotodman.com.