Thursday 28 February 2013

"I want to believe in Christianity, but I just *can't* - what should I do?"



Just say, when asked or when appropriate: "I want to believe in Christianity, but I just can't. I'm working on it, as best I can."

And then make sure you do not attack, subvert or damage Christianity; but instead support Christianity by thought (including prayer) and word and deed.


My understanding of things (based mostly on Pascal, but also many other authorities whom I trust) is that such a person will attain salvation even if he never (in this life) actually gets to the point that he can say that he is a Christian.

Indeed, I would go further: Anyone who truly and sincerely wants to be a Christian, is from that moment onwards in effect a Christian.

Again: anyone who wants to be a Christian (and lives in accordance with that desire) is a Christian - in the strong sense that he can know for sure that he will become a Christian, in the fullness of time.


"Seek and ye shall find" Matthew 7: 7.

Shall find.

It is a promise.


The ridiculous beauty of blackbird song


I have just been standing outside to look at the moon and stars as the dawn comes up, and to listen to the pre-dawn chorus - which was (as I have heard before) dominated by the song of a male blackbird situated (apparently, it was too dark to be precise) near the top of an ash tree in a nearby garden.

The song of a blackbird is ridiculously beautiful - both in its tone, and the endless variety of its inventions and combinations; yet these birds are extremely common in Britain - even in the middle of cities (which is where I live - well, only about a mile from the middle).

All blackbirds are good singers, but blackbirds have their Pavarottis, James Bowmans, Bjorlings, Rogers Covey Crumps, Stuart Burrows and Luigi Alvas... This blackbird was an exceptional singer even among his kind - a German lyric tenor with clarity and power and ardency - a Fritz Wunderlich.

Twice a day, at the extremes of the day, all over the country, these common little birds are pouring-out their unsurpassed song for those with ears to hear.

I have always been affected by them - and by the gratuitousness of this beauty of their song. But as an atheist I thought it poignant and a little pitiful that I should be so moved by an evolved mating display indifferent to myself; now, as a Christian, the intrinsic beauty is enhanced by the conviction that there is meaning behind it all, albeit barely glimpsed: the blackbird, the moon and the stars.


Could IQ be made into an objective measure by using reaction times? The concept of rtIQ



Tuesday 26 February 2013

Was Joseph Smith a "religious genius"?


In his highly interesting book The American Religion (1993), Harold Bloom (himself perhaps the most famous US literary critic of the past several decades) famously described Joseph Smith (1805-1844; 'the Mormon Prophet') as an authentic religious genius.

But, although this comment showed that Bloom had understood the magnitude of Smith's achievement, this was something of a back-handed compliment!

Because Bloom did not, of course, believe that Joseph Smith was an authentically-inspired prophet - and therefore (given the scope of JS's achievement) Bloom was stating what must therefore be the case: that Joseph Smith was a genius in having himself created a remarkable new religion.


(In passing, it is worth noting that Bloom, a Jew, clearly found the earlier and more Hebraic, Old Testament, millennial, Zion-building style of theocratic Mormonism more remarkable - and, one senses, more congenial - than what Mormonism became after polygamy was abolished and Deseret/ Utah joined the United States and was fully subjected to Federal government and laws.)


So what was Joseph Smith's achievement such that Bloom (something of an expert on geniuses) called him an authentic genius?

1. Writing The Book of Mormon in a few months (plus associated scriptures and revelations).

2. Creating an entirely new Christian theology (what he termed the 'restored' Gospel).

3. Founding an extremely successful church - its distinctive priesthood, offices, rituals, and organization.


In fact Smith's achievement was made even more extraordinary by his further innovation -

4. An explicit acknowledgement of his own fallibility and limitations; such that the church incorporated the expectation of continuous revelation and revision of the scriptures, theology and church organization.

This meant, in effect, that JS trusted his created forms actually to improve on what he had done.

And such was a pretty unusual, perhaps unique, trait among the founders of major religions.


So, if Joseph Smith is not regarded as an inspired Prophet, then he must indeed have been a genius; someone combining scripture-writing abilities approximately equal to an author of one of the minor books of the Old Testament, with something close to the theological creativity and comprehensiveness of St Paul, and the church-organizing abilities of St Peter...

On the other hand, a close examination of the life and character of Joseph Smith does not seem to reveal the personality or abilities of that kind of genius...


Most people who are not themselves Mormons do not recognize the scope and magnitude of Joseph Smith achievement, simply because they do not know enough about the subject.

For them there is 'nothing to explain'; and (like most of JS's contemporaries - and Mormonism was born and grew under the intense skeptical, mocking and aggressive scrutiny from the mass media and existing churches) Smith can be written off as merely a 'lucky' fool (lucky, that is, apart from being tortured, imprisoned and murdered) and/ or a cunning fraud (perhaps covertly motivated by seeking a harem).

But, if one is knowledgeable and honest enough to admit the astonishing achievement of Mormonism, then the more that can be said against Joseph Smith, the less likely it is that he really was 'a genius'; and therefore the more likely it is that he was just what he said he was: an inspired, but fallible, prophet.


When can bad news be 'good for...'


One of the most striking things about modern life is dishonesty, and the extent to which it renders organizations incapable of learning.

The medical profession, the schools and universities, the legal profession, and the major Christian denominations have been reeling from one shattering piece of bad news to another for several decades; and it has done them not one particle of good because they are fundamentally dishonest about their fundamental health.

It is commonplace for large organizations to respond to bad news, to set-backs and scandals, by announcing that it will do them good; but it never does. Bad things can lead to good, but only when honestly evaluated - and bad things never are honestly evaluated in modern society.


I regard all the major mainstream Christian denominations as in a very, very bad state - and the main reason is that they will not acknowledge that they are in a very, very bad state - but instead project a dishonest spin about how good times are just around the corner.

In a dishonest world, the bigger the problem, the greater the dishonesty - and we get into a spiral of escalating lies until we end up where we are - a place where public (and increasingly private) discourse is not just a distorted version of reality - but utterly detached from reality.

The detachment from the web of official lies which was possible, indeed usual, in the past (for example in the Eastern Bloc) has almost gone; because the population are addicted to the web of lies.


A web of lies is actually much harder to refute than a single lie. Because when the evidence for a lie is a lie, backed up with another lie - then people will not believe it.

People would be happy to believe in on lie, one lie by one person or one group - what people will not believe is that the lies of one person or group interlock with the lies of many other persons or groups.


This is called bureaucracy - and it is bureaucracy which has rotted us with dishonesty.

Bureaucracy is dishonest because it destroys individual agency and responsibility.

Now the bureaucracy is everywhere and does everything and interacts with almost everyone almost all the time - the web of dishonesty has spread its fungal hyphae into our very hearts, to make us into sleepwalking dupes that cannot learn; because we refuse to learn from bad news, yet regard our judgment as vindicated by good news. 


Monday 25 February 2013

Relationship between intelligence and life history speed: population and individual levels


The relationship between population and speed of life history is probably somewhat complex; but (as far as I understand the matter) I think it could be summarized by saying that:

1. At the population level, there is usually a correlation between higher intelligence and slower life history speed.

(This is presumably due to natural selection, historically, in situations where both higher intelligence and slower life history are, on average, adaptive.).


2. At the individual level, within a population, intelligence and life history speed are uncorrelated.

Or, more accurately, intelligence and life history speed are dissociated at the individual level; such that a highly intelligent person may have either slower or faster life history; and the same applies to low intelligence persons.


The dissociation can be seen in two stereotypical male high intelligence types: the sexually aggressive business executive or politician (fast life history - urgency of reproductive effort leading to early sex, multiple partners, more children with lower/ zero investment per offspring); versus the nerdy professor (slow life history - delayed reproductive effort, late marriage to single partner, few children with high investment per offspring).


The dissociation is, presumably, caused because while intelligence and personality are inherited, life history is triggered by the environment, by some experience (probably) early in life.

Or, an individual's specific life history trajectory is selected-from a certain range of possible life history speeds.

The range of possible life history speeds is innate and inherited, but the specific life history speed which is embarked upon is a consequence of environmental cues, triggers or stimuli.


This implies that fast life history parents often have slow life history children and vice versa.

And this means that life history is different from intelligence and personality, because childrens' intelligence and personality is, on average, similar to their parents'.

(Yet, at the same time, some populations will have different average life history speeds from others; and a different average range of life history speeds.)

Sunday 24 February 2013

The reality of group selection - and the not-niceness of group selection


I was talking with Michael A Woodley the other day about group selection, and he made an important observation.

People talk as if group-selection is 'nice' - a kind of caring-sharing socialistic thing; contrasted with the nasty individualism of neo-Darwinian mainstream theory.

But as Michael pointed-out, the opposite is closer to the truth, as we experience it. 


Group selection has been a dirty word in biology since the early-mid-1960s when the (brilliant) insights of WD Hamilton and GC Williams showed how selection was working on genes rather than individual organism - and how (as Richard Dawkins put it) the selfishness of genes implied that organisms could be altruistic... without need for group selection.

And indeed, from this perspective, the pre-requisites of groups selection were many and its effects weak and slow.

But there have always been people, mostly with a 'progressivist' stance, who advocated group selection - because it seemed to them that selection of individual genes or organisms was 'fascist' (in origin and effect) while organisms behaving 'for the good of the group' was nice and socialistic.

In the end, there was a sort of consensus that group selection would have been nice but probably didn't happen; it was a sort of wishful thinking.


But the opposite seems more likely: group selection is real, but it is nasty.


Group selection is certainly real in the sense that complexity can only be built by subordinating the individual unit of reproduction to the reproductive benefits of the larger group - so that a multicellular organism can only exist if it controls the individual cells reproduction such that the individual cell can reproduce only via the reproduction of the whole organism.

This is a matter of control; and especially coercion; and especially killing.

The cells of the body (of your body and mind) must be controlled so that they function for the benefit of the body (and its reproduction) - and this control is imposed by many organism-wide mechanisms of which the immune system is one.

When a cell stops performing its allocated function and/or starts to reproduce itself with the implicit goal of maximizing its own reproduction - then that cell is (usually, if possible) eliminated by the immune system.

If immune surveillance or effectiveness breaks-down, or if the individual cell evades immune elimination, we call the outcome cancer: so a cell that lines the lung or the gut or covers the body stops its proper function of absorbing gas or digesting food or covering the flesh - and instead switches its energy to making copies of itself and seeding these copies to grow around the body.


Anyway, the principles of group selection apply to human societies just as they do to human bodies: humans societies can only exist insofar as they subordinate individuals to the society - so that individuals 'benefit' more from performing their function and reproducing as a part of the society, than they do from pursuing their own independent reproductive benefit.

This aspect of group selection is basically a nasty thing - at least from our individual, personal perspective. It means that the social imperative is to ensure that individuals perform their function of serving the survival, growth and reproduction of the society that contains them - and if they do not, then they must be eliminated.

Still, nice or nasty, group selection is a reality in situations of complexity - and the scientific problem is not to argue over whether it exists, and is nice or nasty - but to understand how it works in each specific situation.


One aspect of group selection relates to genius.

Woodley made the comment that it is hard to make sense of the phenomenon of genius without group selection.

This is because even the most cursory examination of the history of genius reveals that those geniuses whose work has led to increased success of the group - increased power and efficiency, increased ability to impose itself on the environment - are not genetically rewarded for this contribution.

In brief, geniuses are rare and extreme types of person, present in high concentration only in some societies at some points in history, and whose contributions are crucial to the dominance of the societies they inhabit - yet these geniuses are not personally differentially rewarded for their vast contributions.

Thus genius is seen as a prime example of the individual benefiting the group, and not himself.


The high concentration of geniuses that led to the industrial revolution and the massive expansion of the population of Britain (and the expansion of the British Empire) - participated in this expansion, and so did their familial descendants, but this process was (in terms of society as an organism) operative at the group level.


However, as the example of cancer shows, groups selection is always prone to subversion by individual selection. If we lived long enough, everyone would die of cancer.

And this happened to Britain, as the genius-driven success of the industrial revolution led to the encouragement of individuals and groups that were analogous to cancer cells and tumours. The group selected immune system that maintained social complexity broke down.


My point here is that group-selected mechanism was all the nasty anti-individualism from which modern people are so happy to be free; and this 'nice' happiness is real, because to be group-selected is to be coerced.

So individualism is nice. 

But this freedom is the freedom of the cancer to do its own thing, kill the host, and then kill itself.

So individualism is nasty.


But the niceness is upfront and immediate while the nastiness is down-stream (and deniable). Because before the host has been killed, the cancer thrives, parasitically, by feeding-off the functional body and metastasizing (seeding) to take root and grow in whatever healthy tissues remain.

Since the social cancer thrives, the cancer comes to control the social immune systems (military, law, media etc).

And since the cancer is happy (at the moment) with its rapid growth and the metastatic dissemination of malignancy - then the immune system ceases to eliminate malignancy and instead promotes malignancy and encourages metastatic dissemination...

The immune system creates a new environment, the reverse of the healthy environment; a carcinogenic milieu (of unbalanced and abnormal chemical constituents) in which the malignancy is energized and the remaining healthy tissues are primed and prepared to yield to the cancer, rather than fight it...


But I am concerned here to make the point that should be obvious but is often forgotten.

That social complexity is group selected, and if we regard complexity as a 'good' then group selection is a good (or, at least, a 'necessary evil'); but that getting the individual to work 'for the good of the group' is ultimately coercive.

And therefore, by and large, individuals will resent being coerced to work for the good of the group; and will continually be trying to evade the social immune system which forces them to perform a function which only-very-indirectly benefits them.


This is the reality of the human condition - of mortal life - conceptualized in  reductionistic scientific terms - it is not, of course, the whole story of mortal life, nor is it the most important part of that story.

And it is not a matter of nice group selection versus nasty 'selfish gene' theory, nor of nice individualism versus nasty totalitarian coercion: the whole thing is nasty. 


It demonstrates the futility, the nihilism, of a bottom-line philosophy of life which is bio-socio-political - like the dominant secular mainstream Leftism.

The psychological consequences are so bleak they must be dishonestly denied, distracted from or obliterated by intoxication.

Rather, the above bio-socio-political analysis is the context for what is most important - religion.

And it clarifies that religion should be allied neither with individualism, nor with groupishness - because despite that both are real, and both in competition: both are nasty, albeit in different ways. 


Saturday 23 February 2013

Understanding the purpose of mortal life


I seem to have an unusual level of dissatisfaction with the standard Christian explanations concerning the function, purpose, meaning of mortal life.

Typically, I adopt one or another of the explanations I come across, only to find that in practice it turns-out to be inadequate, or demotivating.


The idea that mortal life is a lifelong test leading to a dichotomous allocation - salvation versus damnation - around the moment of death - nothing else in life having any relevance... seems to suck all meaning from the sweep of mortal life and negates the idea of the gospel as good news.


Learning about the concept of theosis was a step in the right direction, the idea that life should be a progress in holiness towards sanctity.

But on further consideration the way this is typically explained is inadequate - especially when salvation is not assured.  According to some accounts, someone might spend a long life of asceticism working on theosis only to be deceived into spiritual pride and damned at the last.


So theosis only makes sense, I think, on the basis that we are already-saved (if we want to be saved) - and that nothing can take away salvation, except our own rejection of salvation.

So, Christ has saved us and mortal life is about theosis...

But then why mortal incarnate life?


Either because that was the pre-existent state of man - men just were incarnate mortals on earth, and we were saved from that state - which is to say there is no meaning to us being incarnate mortals, it was just an accident of history...

Or else men are made as incarnate mortals because only as incarnate mortals can we...

Can we... what? That is the question.


Something that can be done only by mortals, and only with bodies - in a world of decay, corruption, change, death...


(I am also unable to ignore the fact that so many - perhaps most - humans throughout history have either died in the womb at birth or as children - and how this fits into things.)


(It seems that Tolkien was concerned about this matter as well - or specifically the mortal side of things - the deepest stratum of his work was about mortality, and why men took-over from elves. What was the advantage of men that the One and the gods began with elves but ended with men?)


I don't know. Maybe it is something like the fact that in some jobs you have to work your way up from the toughest level: all doctors must begin as a lowly house officer/ intern; a general must have seen combat...


We seem to have as a default background assumption that it is better to be a spirit than incarnate - the ideal and perfect entity is omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent - therefore discarnate, some kind of spirit or idea or force or form...

From this assumption we struggle to explain why we are incarnate; and why we are resurrected - because I feel pretty sure than most intellectual Christians do not concretely imagine themselves resurrected after death, but on the contrary as spirits - because spirits seem more pure and perfect, and a Heaven of actual bodies seems too childish, somehow.


So we get this gulf between an earthly life of mortal bodies in time, and that to which we hope to escape; which is (perhaps secretly and implicitly) seen in terms of its opposite - a Heavenly life of eternal spirits living in a state of timeless bliss.

(It seems very difficult to imagine resurrected bodies, limited persons, in a state of bliss out of time - it sound more like a coma than Heaven.)


From all this I infer that it is not right that we should on earth strive to make ourselves independent of time, bodies; and disease, decay, death - these 'must' - it seems - be something to do with why we are here and what we are supposed to do.

That's about as far as I have got.



There is a really excellent discussion of this general matter at

 For example: 

Since Heaven can be comprehended as consisting of stories, a number of things become clear. First of all, the childish desire to enter a certain story is a thing that is commonly experienced (if never acknowledged, or explained away as ‘wish fulfilment’).

But this is not because the story is necessarily an improvement on real life. In fact, one may still wish to enter a story where people face more difficult problems and suffer far more than the reader. However, something of the timeless and perfected nature of Heaven is perceived to be on the other side of the story. In entering the story, one hopes to enter an imperishable existence, and one in some difficult-to-define sense freed from time (as a story can be re-read and re-experienced) — but unbounded where the story is bounded.

The modern tendency to produce stories that are horribly, soul-damagingly dull (because containing excessive and purposeless suffering, or purposeless events of any other nature) can be seen as a concerted effort by Hell to deprive people of yet another hidden link to Heaven, and to get the people choosing to write and read the unHeavenly stories to thereby carry out a (symbolic, preparatory) rejection of Heaven.

[my emphasis added]
* the common understanding of salvation, a person seeking theosis comes to nothing if at the last they attain merely to spiritual pride and are damned, but I see the exact same problem with a child growing up. Was the child worth killing to produce the uncertain, unpleasant, damnable and damned adults that frequently result?

Obviously, if a perfectly reasonable child grows up, either his qualities are integrated into the adult smoothly, including the worthwhile ones — or the child has been killed, wholly or partially. (In which case, I can only hope, the promise of resurrection applies to him.) Indeed, in the worst cases the adult will have the air of a sort of gebbeth or usurper walking around in the child’s overripe skin...

This is in fact the day-to-day experience of most modern people, to a lesser or greater degree. Absent some kind of mass societal repentance, and assuming modern society does not collapse, this feeling is likely to get worse in future generations. 

We may say that the adult as a whole is often damned, and the child is worth saving. But if we extract the child from the driver’s seat, what is left? The adult’s memories? Certainly. But his intelligence, impulses, preferences, later vices and perhaps virtues? These are contingent machinery, whose addition to the child was experimentally proven to produce evil... 

And, of course, if the Enemy cannot damn the entire person, he will always seek to ensure we cannot properly earn all of the gifts that were intended for us in Creation; partial damnation...

So salvation and perfection after death is at once a very simple thing to accomplish, and a most complicated matter. And the choices made during life make every difference as to what sort of being will be raised in the resurrection. 

Thus if we cry out to God that all our gifts and talents and intelligence is a meaningless burden; we will certainly not be required to bear that burden in the afterlife. But what will be left of us then?

Thus people who merely do the best they can with what they have, pray for salvation for themselves and their close ones, believing themselves unworthy of holiness and attainment, may very well find salvation easy in the end, and awake in Heaven still very much themselves.

And people who sincerely ask God for the opportunity to grow in holiness, will be obliged with almost unimaginable extremes of spiritual despair and temptation, given for them to overcome. If they fail, it was their presumption to seek holiness that was a sin; they turn out to have been children playing with matches. But if they overcome, all glory to them...

In some sense this is literally true, and not just a make-believe for the purpose of spiritual development. Seen from outside, everyone worth saving is saved, for all that is good within them will be saved. But seen from inside, you are choosing all the time to comprise your very soul out of pieces either of Heaven or of Hell. Obviously, if your understanding tells you to choose pieces of Hell, that understanding is deluded, and will in the end come to perceive nothing but the flames of Hell. Pray to God that you will have another understanding left over after that...

Thus I can see that if we take a Napoleon and boil away his evil, we may get first a sullen and petulant child; then perhaps a perfectly reasonable three-year-old who never matured properly. Most of the glory and glamour of Napoleon has boiled away with it, for it was built on his wickedness and not on his few good qualities...

And if we take Screwtape and boil away his evil, we get an amoeba; for indeed, an amoeba’s wish to devour everything in reach is the sole and highest spiritual sentiment expressed in ‘The Screwtape Letters’; it’s the sentiment that Screwtape mistakes for Love, having no other point of comparison!


What do I think about the doctrine of 'election'?


I absolutely loathe it. I shun it. I regard it as poison.


I mean the idea, or set of ideas, that God (because of his abstract, absolute, total omniscience - and that 'because' is loaded with assumptions, many dubious) pre-decided who was to be saved and who was to be damned, that therefore people are created either to be saved or damned - and that any notion I may hold concerning the importance of my own choices, the role of will, the exercise of my free agency, is a delusion; because the outcome is pre-known, pre-decided, pre-destined...


Which is not to say that I deny that many great Christians - and far holier than myself - have 'believed in', given public assent to, election.

But election is still a toxic idea in and of itself at the level of common sense and personal application - and election requires tremendous personal and social countervailing forces to be ranged against it in order that it be not harmful.

In some exceptional persons, and in some situations in the past, such countervailing forces were in operation - and therefore election was not fatal; but when it was not fatal, I believe its implications were downplayed or disregarded or explained away or subsumed under complex qualifications... or something.

Because on the face of things, election is a horrible notion leading to paradox, numbness, nihilism.


Far better to see our mortal life as a real trial, open-ended; where salvation is not wholly done-for-us and something remains for us to do; where personal choices are truly free and have genuinely-divergent spiritual outcomes; and where not just what we think but what we actually do makes a difference in the ultimate scheme of things.

Far better to live like this, on this basis - and this is, I am sure, much closer to the truth of the matter.


Friday 22 February 2013

Does God constrain-himself, of is God constrained-by reality?


There seems to be a choice between a God who constrains-himself; and a God who is constrained-by reality.


These two set-ups would generate identical observable phenomena - so the choice between is metaphysical.

And there is a big difference!


A God who chooses not to 'lift a finger' to alleviate suffering is a very different proposition from a God would tries his hardest to alleviate that suffering, but is (at least for the time being) thwarted by some intervening factor.


Both views have uncomfortable consequences.

If God is omnipotent he is responsible for everything; if an omnipotent God is good then everything is good, ultimately; including the worst thing you can imagine - and something worse than you can imagine.


If God is not omnipotent, then we can imagine a wholly-good and wholly-helpful deity, but - despite his unmatched power, qualitatively greater than any other power - a God who cannot always achieve his goals immediately, here and now.


In particular, we get a God who cannot, instantly and by fiat, undo the evil of sin; but must instead undo the evil of sin by indirect and roundabout means.


For example, a God who can only undo the evil of sin via sending his only-begotten son to be born as a sinless Man, to live, to die, and to be resurrected and ascend to Heaven.

And by this means to establish that all Men who are born and die may recapitulate this trajectory, and be resurrected, cleansed of sin and perfected, and join God's Son in Heaven.

This is just the kind of indirect and roundabout thing a non-omnipotent God would have to do... 


What happens in a religious revival?


Here is what I think happens - stimulated by the ideas of Martyn Lloyd Jones, but going considerably beyond what he said.

In a (genuine) Christian revival, God opens the minds of people - in a certain place, and for a limited time - to the workings of the Holy Ghost.

In practice, this means that he opens minds to spiritual influences.

But God does not influence free will.


So, in a revival, minds are opened to spiritual influences both divine and demonic and each person must choose.


So a revival is characterized by new insights, new truth; and also by new delusions and deceptions - by great good, and by amplified evil.

And these effects are seen not only in different people (goodies and baddies) but in the same mind - a person may become both more divinely spiritual and more wicked.

The longer a revival continues, the more that the dark forces will tend to prevail - in aggregate and in individuals. 

This dual-effect is the reason why revival is not a permanent state of human society,  why revival is limited in time and space.


So, God chooses a time and place as ripe for revival (for reasons which may only be later apparent) and opens minds - but then does not control what happens from that point, because what happens is the result of human agency, and numerous individual human choices between the spiritual forces to which minds are opened.


Think of the Eastern USA in the early 19th century when spiritual experiences became commonplace and many Christian denominations were revitalized; and at least five major 'religions' began: the Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Scientists and New England Transcendentalists.

Minds were opened, choices made. Good and evil became stronger - both within and between people. Then minds were returned to 'normal' sensitivity.

The consequences unfolded through the following decades. Much good eventuated, much wickedness too.

In sum, modern Western spirituality was established at that time.


The possibilities of revival are constrained by the humans involved.

A revival in unpromising soil is a high risk business - indeed the more necessary a revival is, the less likely it is to succeed - because the more likely it is that people will make the wrong choices, the bad choices.

The mini-revival of the mid-1960s on the West Coast of the USA happened at a time when revival was very much needed, due to the rapid corruption of Western Society - yet that corruption acted to influence people such that the 1960s revival was mostly anti-Christian.

A people already advanced in corruption had their minds opened by God and were were given the chance to choose the influence of the Holy Ghost.

But, on the whole, most of them made the wrong choices, most chose Satan in preference to Christ - so a lot of evil and not much good came from the mid-twentieth century religious revival.


On the one hand, we need periodic revivals - such as the Reformation; on the other hand, the later the days, the less chance that revival will will do more good than harm.

Thus, we have never needed a Christian revival more than we do now; yet the chances that a revival would lead to more good than evil are lower than they ever have been - if modern minds were opened to spiritual influences, they are more likely than ever before to choose the demonic in preference to the divine.

Still, despite the highly unfavourable risk profile, I expect a Christian revival will come because it is our only chance - be prepared...


Thursday 21 February 2013

Was JRR Tolkien really a niggler?



Thanks to Lawrence Auster


Just to note my thanks to Lawrence Auster of the View from the Right blog

who is dying from disseminated cancer.

His work made a difference to my own view of things, his honesty and courage have been inspiring - and indeed continue to be in his final days.

Even such is Time, which takes in trust
Our youth, our joys, and all we have;
And pays us but with age and dust,
Which in the dark and silent grave,
When we have wandered all our ways,
Shuts up the story of our days:
And from which earth, and grave, and dust,
The Lord shall raise me up, I trust.

Sir Walter Raleigh


Omnipotence bleg - and the problem of pain


Reading McMurrin's comparative historical analysis of Christian theology (see reference below) was fascinating in many ways - one of which was relating to the Omnipotence attributed to God.

It is clear that having a God who can do anything instantly and directly and without any restrictions leads to serious theological problems: the most serious of which is 'the problem of pain' - in particular the problem of the extremity of human suffering.

The original act of creation can be believed to be good and charitable; it is credible that the Almighty God should deign to create beings to share His Joy. It is credible that He should deign to increase their Joy by creating them with the power of free will so that their joy should be voluntary. It is certain that if they have the power of choosing Joy in Him they must have the power of choosing the opposite of Joy in Him. But it is not credible that a finite choice ought to result in an infinite distress...

From What the Cross Means to Me, by Charles Williams. 


In this essay, I think that William's is pointing out that while it seems reasonable and right that Men should suffer, there seems no reason - if God is both omnipotent and Good - why some Men should suffer so much.


Many people feel that if God can do anything, yet allows extreme suffering, that such a God is not Good.

And if God is not Good, then He is not God - therefore they do not believe in God. 


But if God is wholly Good but not omnipotent, if God's power to effect Good is great but not complete - then this problem loses its force. Such a God is doing His best, but constrained by the reality of the situation.

This is, to a common sense reading, precisely the depiction of the Old Testament God. What seems to be described is a person who is always striving for Good but is constrained by the situation - in particular by the free choice of his people which can be influenced but not compelled; but also by time, and having to work in the material world.

While a few specific verses can be interpreted as, perhaps, implying omnipotence - this is certainly not the impression given overall - is it? The Old Testament God is a personality who does not make things happen except via the things of the world - and it is a reasonable inference that this God cannot make things happen except via the things of the world.


So, the bleg is this: what is the truly compelling evidence that God is specifically omnipotent - rather than ('merely') extremely powerful.


My suspicion is that the evidence is metaphysical, rather than scriptural - something we say God 'must be', something we assume a priori, rather than something we have been told by revelation.

My guess (from reading McMurrin) is that omnipotence is an attribute, a metaphysical assumption, derived from Classical Philosophy and read back into Christianity (and Judaism).

I don't imagine that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would have assumed that God was omnipotent in the abstract later sense of instantly and directly being able to do anything at all; but rather that their God was extremely powerful, indeed by far the most powerful of all entities in reality (i.e. the most powerful of the 'gods' - i.e. of supernatural beings).


(I suppose A,I & J would not want to discuss the limits of God's power - just as one would avoid discussing the limits of his power with an absolute monarch. But neither did they seem to assume anything along the lines that everything could be set perfectly right in the world by God's instantaneously-active will re-arranging the nature of reality. That God worked through the world, constrained by the world, seems integral to the relationship between God and the Prophets and seems to be embedded in the very nature of the Old Testament.) 


So, could it be that the apparently insoluble 'problem of pain' is a consequence of the abstract extremism of the concept of omnipotence: a concept which is both alien to common sense, and also fundamentally incomprehensible - something that can be described, but not felt from the inside.

The problem of pain is therefore perhaps insoluble only because omnipotence is humanly-meaningless - an unnecessary, and later-added philosophical abstraction through which we later Christians are insisting upon trying to interpret Christianity.

Yet maybe real, living Christianity never has regarded God in this way - because for us to Love God and have a relationship with him in time and mortality, excludes the deadly abstraction of omnipotence. 



Note added: Omnipotence is an aspect of the monistic world view - but not necessary in a pluralistic world view (as comes through in William James philosophy). If we assume that ultimate reality contains more than one thing, it contains God and 'stuff'-that-is-not-God. Nothing is more powerful than God, but there is (and always was) other stuff. Neither God nor stuff can be destroyed - both are everlasting. In a pluralistic metaphysic, God did not create from nothing (ex nihilo) but using the stuff which was coexistent with God. Therefore, God must sometimes achieve his goals via using the stuff - that is, God is constrained by the stuff. Such a metaphysic fits comfortably with the Old Testament, seems indeed naturally to follow from it; and the OT reveals to us the nature of God the Father and the history of his relationship with his People. Therefore, since the Bible is a unity, the pluralistic metaphysic is compatible with the New Testament. "With God all things are possible" thus can be taken to refer to aims, not mechanisms: to God all ends are possible, but the means by which they are attained are under constraint. Hence the linear, narrative structure of the Old Testament - uncontroversially, God works via stuff, and without violation of the free will of Men and Angels - but to the pluraristic metaphysic this indirect and time-bound method is by necessity, not by God's restraint from deploying instantaneous and direct action to attain his goals. Hence God's miracles are done via stuff and on a timescale; not by instant transformation of stuff. 

Wednesday 20 February 2013



Definition: Uglification - deliberate creation of ugliness (as contrasted with the failure to create beauty).

Contrast uglification...

Mark Rothko - Brown on Black


...with the (relative) failure to create beauty...

Thomas Kinkade Christmas greetings card:


The difference is that Kinkade's is a not-particularly-successful attempt to make a beautiful picture; while Rothko is not-even-trying to make a beautiful picture...

The difference is that Kinkade is utterly loathed by art experts, while Rothko is regarded as a godlike hero of twentieth century art. 


Actually, the 'Rothko' painting above is a total fake - it is in fact a picture of some wallpaper

A real Rothko would be something like Black Form Painting number 1:

...which is, of course, ahem, much more beautiful than the wallpaper...


In the history of art, there was an evolution from the hard job of trying to make ultimate beauty (and either succeeding or failing to some lesser-or-greater degree, like Kinkade); via trying to make something beauty-in-ugliness or not-primarily-beautiful but 'true' (maybe like some of Rembrandt's portraits of ugly people) - which is even more difficult, but possible; to uglification - deliberate making of varieties of ugliness: monotony and dullness, horror and revulsion, aggressive violence, blatant but ironic vulgarity, obscenity etc (which category pretty much all of the 'great' names of 20th century art) - which is very, very easy...



1. Artists want to avoid the shame of failure - ultimate beauty is extremely difficult to attain, but you pretty much cannot fail if you are try to create ugliness.

2. Status games - the implicit desire to imply that the art expert has insight to arcane knowledge - sees through the surface ugliness, can perceive beauty in ugliness.

3. Renders art captive to critical opinion - the artist is merely an interchangeable unit, and art is defined by critical consensus.

4. Evil. The poisoning of mortal life by the propagation of ugliness. The perplexing and subversion of the human spirit by high status consensus that black is white, two plus two makes five and viscerally-repellent ugliness is beauty such that Rothko is analogous to Vermeer -- whereas in reality they were engaged in opposite activities - as different as evil from good, Satan from Christ.



The Geographer by Johannes Vermeer


Tuesday 19 February 2013

Modern sub-fertility may be a pathologically slow life history, triggered by a supernormal stimulus of modernity

The universal pattern of chosen sub-fertility in all Western societies (except among the devoutly, traditionally-religious) could be conceptualized as being a consequence of an extreme 'supernormal' stimulus operating on the speed of life history.
A supernormal stimulus is a maladaptively exaggerated  consequence of evolved behaviour, triggered by a super-powerful stimulus that has not been encountered in evolutionary history.
So a seagull may nurture a fake plastic egg with garish colours in preference to its own fertilized natural egg, or a male butterfly mate with a crude cardboard mimic of a female with unnaturally well-defined wing patterning.

Life history speed refers to the reproductive strategy on a scale from FASTER - with rapid maturation, focus on mating effort, and a priority of achieving earlier and more frequent reproduction with less individual care (resources) per child; to SLOWER - with delayed sexual maturation, a long-termist socio-economic plan taking priority over reproduction, fewer offspring, and each child provided with more parental resources. 
The decision between faster or slower life history strategy is probably 'set'  in childhood in response to environmental stimuli which (under ancestral conditions) have signaled what was likely to be the most adaptive reproductive strategy (that which is most likely to lead to the greatest number of viable offspring). 

Signals of instability (perhaps experiences of starvation or disease, absent father, chaotic environment) lead to a perceived risk of earlier death; and therefore more rapid sexual maturation and early mating efforts implicitly aimed at parenting a larger number of offspring - on the expectation that not children all will survive to adulthood.   
In contrast, signals of a stable environment trigger a slower life history, because under stable conditions a slow maturing individual with higher parental care can build the ability to exploit specialized niches in a situation of high competition. 
(For example, delaying reproductive effort and instead embarking on a long apprenticeship to become a high status and economically secure specialist craftsman; or delaying sexual maturation to 'build' a more beautiful and long-lastingly attractive face and body.)
It is possible that extreme prosperity/ comfort/ lack of hunger/ lack of disease stress/ unprecedented security and stability (or some other aspect of modernity) is acting as a supernormal stimulus to the 'mechanism' of life history calibration in early childhood.
So that an environmental signal (of a type unprecedented in human evolutionary history) may be triggering such a slow life history that (in the real world) it is incapable of replacing the current population - and is therefore maladaptive.
Because the supernormal signal (whatever it is) is unprecedented in evolutionary history, humans behaviour in response to that signal is not adaptive - and as it turns out the response is actively maladaptive, or counter-productive: a response which necessarily harms reproductive success by leading to chosen sterility (or sub-fertility).
The failure to reproduce can perhaps be conceptualized as an extreme, pathological lack of urgency concerning reproduction; when people are giving reproduction such a low priority that in practice reproduction is sub-replacement or indeed never actually happens - they run out of time.
(About a third of women college graduates in Western Europe currently choose to have zero children.)
...Rather as if each child implicitly responded to the ultra-secure, supernormal stimuli of modern childhood with a built-in but subliminal expectation that she will live for 200 years with more than a century of youthful fecundity and vigour - and delays reproductive effort accordingly.
So that a twenty year old women who is planning a successful career for which the training period extends perhaps into post-reproductive age, may nonetheless express a desire to have a large family... at some point, eventually - maybe in about fifty years time... 
(or so it feels at a subliminal level, so her instincts may be saying unconsciously - in response to the supernormal stimuli of childhood).
Of course, in theory, individuals can choose otherwise - can choose to make marriage and family an early and urgent priority.
But this choice by an individual is unlikely when reproduction does not feel like an urgent priority - except when this feeling is over-ridden by social factors: specifically when there is cohesive and psychologically-effective support-for early marriage and family (and/or sanctions-against delayed reproduction); and this only happens in devout, cohesive traditionally religious groups.


It is interesting to speculate on the specific identity of this putative supernormal stimulus which (I speculate) is sabotaging human life history; but with science in its current, diabolical, state the specific identity probably will never be known.
(Or if the supernormal stimulus is indeed discovered, the finding would probably never be accepted generally, because it will no doubt conflict with Leftism. After all, most true things do conflict with Leftism...)
Either way, natural selection will deal with the problem by (at the individual selection level) replacing the population who are vulnerable to the life history delaying effects of the supernormal stimulus with individuals who are immune to its effects - leading to a selection pressure for faster life history; and also (at the group selection level) by differential growth of devoutly, traditionally religious groups in which individual choice is shaped-by or subordinated-to the social norms.
So the prediction/ prophecy (supported by other lines of evidence) is for most people in most places an unstable and chaotic, low-complexity social world - consisting of short-termist, fast life history, cognitive generalists; and another very different   higher-complexity system, consisting of of slower life history 'communitarian' religious groups, with lower mortality and longer life expectancy and fewer offspring per women, with higher levels of specialized skills - and in which above-replacement fertility is encouraged/ maintained/ enforced by socially-regulated marriage and family fertility. Probably, the slower life history system will be the stronger of the two.

NOTE ADDED 21 Feb 2013: I would tend to go with nutrition; not so much 'good' nutrition as the absence of periods of starvation stress (from famine, or from serious illnesses lasting a week or more - e.g. long illnesses with with nausea, vomiting, anorexia, hypercatabolism etc). In other words, few periods of starvation stress triggers slower life history - while a *complete absence* of periods of childhood starvation might be the supernormal stimulus that triggers a pathologically slow life history. This hypothesis would be testable.


Monday 18 February 2013

Adoption as Sons of God - what does 'adoption' imply (to common sense)?


A few months ago I wrote about my discovery (in the Calvinist theology of JI Packer and Martyn Lloyd Jones) of the emphasis on our adoption as Sons of God (and joint-heirs with Christ) as being the highest promise, the greatest reward, of Christianity.

Over this time my mind kept returning to the concept (or metaphor) of 'adoption' and what it implied.

Here are the key Biblical Passages, from St Paul:

Romans 8 

14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
15 For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.
16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
19 For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.
20 For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope,
21 Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

Galatians 4
Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:
But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,
To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

Ephesians 1

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:
According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:
Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,
To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.


Returning and re-reading these passages, I was suddenly stuck by what should perhaps have been the most obvious implication of the possibility of adoption: that in order for humans to be adopted as Sons of God and joint-heirs with Christ, it would seem that we must be of the same order of being as God and Christ - the same kind of entity. 

How else could we be adopted and become heirs? 

This cannot happen to beings of a different basic order. (You cannot adopt a lower animal as heir - a dog or a mouse - it makes no sense.)

Thus, these passages imply - by common sense interpretation - that God, Christ, Men are of the same type, or species.


Of course, in a much-elaborated form, this is an aspect of Mormon theology - often ridiculed or regarded with horror by mainstream Christians by stating it baldly as Men becoming God/s or God (the Father) being an ex-Man - yet you can see how something of this kind is a natural, common-sense, one-step inference to be drawn from three key passages in the Epistles.


Presumably there are ways-out from making this simple and spontaneous inference concerning adoption and becoming heirs, perhaps by suggesting that this refers to a post-resurrection state - yet, surely, resurrection is meant to perfect and purify us, not to change our fundamental being? (Indeed, that resurrection leaves our essential selves intact is crucial to the Christian message.)


I can see that the statement of one-ness of being between God, Christ and Man may lead, further down the inferential chain, to consequences which are apparently heretical or otherwise unacceptable - yet such 'third-level incoherence' is always the case for any theology concrete and simple enough to be relevant and useful in life. 

There is always a price to pay for re-interpreting the Bible in order to avoid obvious implications and to eliminate all contradictions (superficial and deep) in such a complex text.

Most often, in practice, potential contradictions are eliminated by ignoring most of Scripture and focusing on those which harmonize easily. 

Yet we see the very high price paid for doing this kind of thing.

The doctrine of adoption is - it seems to me - the greatest and most wonderful promise in the Bible: greater even than forgiveness of our sins (not least because adoption necessarily requires complete remission of sin).

And, rather than being one of the first and essential doctrines, known by all Christians and the basis of Hope; the doctrine of the adoption is, it seems to me, is generally ignored: at best hardly mentioned in mainstream Christian discourse.


My feeling is that Christian revival requires us to go back and read Scripture with the eyes of children, and to be reluctant to discard common sense and spontaneous understandings of what we find.

Better a deep level of possible theological incoherence, than a superficial level of theological irrelevance - which looks very much like evasion.