Sunday 31 March 2013

Is it that God will not make us enter Heaven, or cannot?


If human free will is, in effect, an uncaused cause (as it must be, to be free); and if therefore free will is autonomous of God's will; then God cannot by any means force a human soul to enter Heaven - and therefore not all can necessarily be saved - even if (as I believe the Christian God does) God wishes to save all Men.

If the free will of each Man is part if the nature of things, then Man must choose Heaven, must choose to allow himself to be saved by Christ - otherwise Man will not be saved, because Man cannot be saved except with his own consent.


The operations of evil are about inducing Man to refuse to be saved; evil cannot block Heaven, evil cannot coerce choice, and evil cannot change the fact that Man is moral (more exactly, that man knows Good and seeks Good).

But evil works to distort and invert the concept of Good into anti-Goods, such that Man, despite knowing Good (and as a Son of God, each Man intrinsically knows Good), uses his free will to reject Good, and prefer anti-Goods.

An anti-Good is something which is Good-according-to-Man's ideas; Good therefore by denial of natural, spontaneous Good - an anti-Good is perceived as Good according to some new scheme of Good which necessarily entails the distortion, denial or inversion of Good.


Thus the essence of evil is not the specific choice against Good, but the schema (the system - for example the moral system) which redefines an anti-Good choice as Good.

Repentance is the recognition of the schema of Good, against which the choice against Good can be understood.

The failure to repent is to make the choice to adopt an anti-Good schema; such that one redefines Good.


The refusal to repent is therefore to be loyal to one's chosen schema of anti-Good; and failure to repent is the one cause of damnation because it is to make choice of a schema which redefines Heaven as Hell.

Salvation is refused by the unrepentant because - according to one's chosen anti-Good schema - salvation is redefined as evil.

Thus damnation - the refusal of Heaven - is not a consequence of hedonism, but for example may be a moral choice, made according to a personal (chosen) anti-moral schema.


In freely choosing an anti-Good schema - a schema which is not God's Good, but is instead Man's own personal 'Good' - a Man may ultimately choose to reject salvation which was won for him by Christ and is open to him simply on the basis of consent.


The evil of modern times in The West is not a matter of evil specific choices, but that anti-Good schemata are so prevalent.

People have en masse chosen to redefine specific anti-Good choices in terms of a false schema which evaluates them as being Good.

It is this societal choice of schemata which distort and an invert reality, which redefine evil as Good-according-to-the-chosen-false-schema - which imperils salvation on a vast scale in the West.


The triumph of evil is to induce so many Men to choose to refuse salvation on the basis that - according to the evaluations of modern Western schemata - salvation is evil.

Therefore, Heaven is shunned because (by the light of modern Western evaluations) Heaven is perceived as immoral, aesthetically-unappealing, and (anyway) a fake.

The paradox is the immorality, aesthetic revulsion and falsehood of Heaven are defined in terms of a schema which itself denies the reality of morality, beauty and truth.


The triumph of evil in the modern West is to induce Men to choose an anti-Good schema; one this has been achieved, damnation is assured since repentance of specific evils is impossible.

Damnation is assured - unless the false schema, the system of anti-Good, is recognized as anti-Good, and the schema is therefore repented and rejected.

Only after the anti-Good schema is repented will repentance of specific evil choices again become possible.


Saturday 30 March 2013

Favourite period of English history


I don't really have a favourite period of English history nowadays - tending to like specific bits and pieces from different eras and places - but for the formative years in my middle and late teens, I liked best the 18th century.


This brought together my favourite architecture (such as that of Bath), the craftsmanship of Chippendale and other great cabinetmakers, art of the likes of Gainsborough and Joseph Wright, baroque music such as that of Handel, and the plays of Sheridan and Goldsmith, also Goldsmith's Vicar of Wakefield - and an idealized picture of coffee houses simulated by Cawardines coffee shops in Bristol (which vented their coffee roasters onto the streets outside, to draw customers in with the aroma).

This was also the period of the English Agrarian Revolution with its major advances in technology, new crops and rotations, enclosure, and animal breeding - a still grossly neglected business without which the Industrial revolution would have been impossible. I liked the earliest types of industry such as the Ironbridge settlement and - especially - the canals.  

However, I was never keen on the mainstream poetry of that era - the likes of Pope and Dryden; and it was only later I become extremely fond of Samuel Johnson - the man and his work.


I now find this era less attractive, and am aware of how much of the meaning of life and spiritual depth was lost from the 17th to 18th centuries; how the surface elegance of that era - its unmatched air of clear classicism - was bought at a heavy price in secularization.

Since that time of my life, I have never settled upon a particular era of English life the totality of which attracted me in the same way.


Friday 29 March 2013

Free will entails a plurality of gods


By which I mean that free will makes each Man into something very much like the God of the philosophers: an unmoved mover, an uncaused cause; and thereby pushes theology in a pluralistic direction, towards a universe filled with little gods (that's us).

Whether God is conceptualized as having gifted free will to each Man and binding Himself not to intervene in its usage; or whether Man 'always' had free will (in a pre-mortal existence) and God cannot affect its usage...

(indeed, from this perspective, God could not ever eliminate the little gods - they are all co-eternal - except that the little gods could almost, but never completely, eliminate themselves)...

Either way, the fact of the matter is that each Man's free will is like a tiny domain of autonomy is an otherwise God-controlled world.

(A hermetically sealed and insulated micro-ecosystem in the vast climate of the universe.)

Which leads (sooner or later) to the bimodal choice of the angels and the first Fall - the recognition of oneself as radically Free, the choice either of pride in being autonomous, followed by will to exert one's autonomy against the greater; or else humility before the greater autonomy and a desire to align with it.


Snow, snoil, snil, snail, hail

In what seems to be the coldest March for many decades, my locality has experienced a couple of weeks of daily 'snow': but a strange kind of snow which is somewhat like hail, or sometimes hail that is somewhat like snow - either way it never lies for long, and accumulates like little drifts of granules rather than in layers.

My 10 yr old daughter has come-up with a useful set of terms to describe this unusual icy precipitation which has some of the properties of snow and some of hail.


Snoil - (pronounced snoyl) mostly snow but particulate, a bit like hail

Snil - exactly half way between snow and hail

Snail - mostly hail, but with a bit of snowlike softness


As you can see, the proportion of letters from each word, snow and hail, reflect the proportion of snow-like or hail-like properties - e.g. snoil has three letters from snow (sno) and two from hail (il) - while snail is the opposite, having two letters from snow (sn) and three letters from hail (ail).

This new nomenclature is proving itself to be usefully descriptive, and (more importantly) generative of the kind of micro-discussion of weather which we British seem to require as part of our daily diet - for example, emotional debate (confident assertions and incredulous counter-assertions) about whether the stuff on top of the car is best described as snoil or snil...

Thursday 28 March 2013

Can you handle it?


A lot of modern life is about rubbing people's noses in stuff that they find disgusting, repellent, sickening - this sometimes seem like the main activity and underlying purpose of the mass media, backed by the highbrow artistic establishment.

The idea is, of course, to desensitize us so that nothing can shock us because then we will accept evil.

A secondary purpose is to de-sacralize that which is sacred, so it will cease to command our loyalty.


As a doctor I have been through a very thorough training in desensitization with respect to disease - I had to overcome my revulsion for dead bodies, gross skin rashes, and overpowering smells in order that I could work with patients.

Part of this was a kind of pre-preparation to control one's facial expression and vocal tone so as to prevent any observable disgust, I was learning an imperturbable manner. It was necessary.

But that extracted a price in terms of hardening of my personality, especially when combined with the gruelling long hours, and even more especially in psychiatry - where the hardening was applied to psychological (rather than physical) factors that seemed to spill over into other relationships.

I began to dislike the person I had become - and that was a major reason why I stopped doing clinical work.

(This was a defect in me personally - not all doctors suffer this excessive hardening, and good clinicians develop the necessary imperturbability while retaining empathy. But the difficulty of this combination is one reason - among several - why most people cannot practice medicine, why the profession must be selective.)


Our culture is far down this path of psychological hardening, callousness. 

The good excuse for it is that many people, through no fault of their own, are disgusting; and by reacting to to them with disgust we increase their suffering.

This could be a defensible therapeutic attitude to society; but modern society is not defensible - because instead of imperturbability we practice an inversion by which that which spontaneously evokes negative feelings such as disgust is valorized - regarded as better than that which is spontaneously regarded as desirable.

Spontaneous disgust is not controlled but inverted: we are trained that disgust should be followed by, suppressed by, overwhelmed by positive regard.


It is as if medical students were trained to regard sickening smells as fragrant, gross skin rashes as beautiful and dead bodies as in a better condition than live ones.

That is the difference between desensitization and inversion - desensitization may be necessary and may even be desirable, although there is a significant price to pay; but inversion is insane.


Now mainstream culture rubs our noses in the disgusting stuff of life, of which there is an endless supply, and we are not supposed to notice that it is disgusting, instead we are supposed to find it admirable and praiseworthy.

Mainstream modern culture does not merely 'tolerate' the disgusting, it strategically seeks-out the disgusting, in order to celebrate and reward it; behaving like an anti-therapeutic- 'doctor' who poisons his patients and spreads diseases on the rationale that sickness and death are preferable to health and life.


Wednesday 27 March 2013

Marshall McLuhan's (one) Big Idea


Marshal McLuhan (1911-1980) is, I think it fair to say, a once mega-famous but now almost-forgotten 1960s intellectual - the first major analyst of 'the media'.

If you want to know about him, I would recommend a 1968 Penguin anthology called McLuhan: Hot & Cool edited by GE Stearn. This was published at the height of McLuhan mania, when it still seemed possible that he was a 'genius' thinker of the stature of Marx, Weber and Freud (Marx? Freud? - Who they?...)

Yet there were also other voices pointing out that, by ordinary empirical standards of validity, most of what McLuhan said - on a sentence by sentence basis - was just plain wrong!


My evaluation (having read a lot of and about McL on-and-off for more than twenty years) is that he was indeed more wrong than right, and certainly was not a genius (even before his creativity was obliterated by major brain surgery); but he had One Big Idea that was both new and true.

That was the idea encapsulated in his slogan The medium is the message - and it is the insight that the social importance of communications media (such as the lecture, the handwritten book, the printed book, the telegraph, telephone, television, internet) is not exhausted by their content.

The form and nature and properties of the medium is also very important; and perhaps more important than the specific content of the medium, since content may cancel-out in its effects, and also because communicable content is significantly constrained by the medium.

So that, over the long term, the societal importance of the printed book, the telephone or television may have more to do with the special qualities of that medium of communication than with what people write, say or watch.


(Because I think this insight is correct, I am recurrently troubled about the effect of blogging; and engage in a probably futile fight against the nature of the medium by such negative self-limitations as not indexing my posts, not having a blogroll and - nearly always - not cross linking with the day's news and the current blogosphere. By such frictions I hope, somehow, to retain the reader's awareness of the medium, and his alertness to its distortions - not take it for granted.) 


McLuhan's One Big Idea seems to me to be both valid and sufficiently counter-intuitive to count as a very significant intellectual contribution.

And for this, if for not much else, McLuhan certainly deserves to be remembered.


Tuesday 26 March 2013

The perils of prolonged dating (and cohabitation)


I tend not to give lifestyle advice in this blog - but here is a subject which I am pretty sure about...

For this post I will leave aside the Christian perspective, and simply use the the mainstream secular hedonic/ utilitarian calculus about 'what makes people happy'.


It is nearly always a mistake to have long term and sexual relationships outside of marriage if you ever hope or intend to become married - especially for women.

This is because a prolonged close relationship induces psychological dependency (yes, it does); and this dependency is exacerbated when the relationship is sexual; and this dependency is further exacerbated when there is cohabitation.


(Plus, the gratification of a sexual relationship makes it easier to delay and delay a decision to split; but if there no sexual relationship outwith marriage, then there would be a greater and increasing pressure either to get on with it and marry, or split ASAP.)


So it may prove difficult/ impossible/ or take a prolonged and miserable period for a person to extricate themselves from a long term dating relationship.

Yet the very fact of a long term dating/ cohabiting relationship is de facto evidence that the other person is not suitable for marriage, that the couple are not suitable marriage partners.


So people get stuck, sometimes for ages, in a relationship that is 'going nowhere' because on the one hand they do not want to marry (to 'commit') to their partner, but on the other hand they have become dependent (psychologically, perhaps sexually) - and find it extremely hard to break away.

(Plus, being in a relationship going nowhere, or especially cohabiting, will at least deter much more suitable potential marriage partners from dating you - and may mean that you altogether miss the chance of marriage to a real soulmate due to the complications and compromises of being in a semi-detached situation.)

This situation of 'cannot commit but cannot split' can persist for many years, especially through the careerist twenties; and (especially for women) may continue until it is 'too late' for marriage and/or family.


So, my advice is, if possible, to date people from your 'circle', so you already know their reputation (and what they are like) before you start dating; then swiftly evaluate whether they are suitable to marry (to make a permanent commitment with) - and this process should take a few months at most.

(Therefore do not, except in exceptional circumstances, let the dating drag-on past 6 months-a year.)

You will soon know either to get engaged with a fixed plan to marry at such and such a time, or else to split-up.


(The above almost always applies except where the person involved is a psychopath, and is immune to dependency (or rather, is unable to love); and is simply using their partner as a supplier of sexual gratification. But there is also a sense in which prolonged dating relationships tend to make people into exploitative psychopaths: to develop psychopathic habits.) 

Pragmatism and religion


The pragmatism and pluralism of a philosopher like William James is usually regarded as the 19th century development associated with atheism, scientism and explicitly Leftist politics (as with John Dewey  or Richard Rorty) - but pragmatism is compatible with Christianity.

And not just 'compatible' but in fact gives Christianity a more profound (deeper, more fundamental) place than monist and explicitly metaphysical philosophical systems such as the Platonic or Aristotelian.


The assertion of pragmatism is that philosophy should not be the bottom-line of thinking - but that something-else is and ought to be. Pragmatism has it that philosophy properly comes later, more superficially, and less coherently above this bottom line.

So, for Richard Rorty, (atheist) Leftist politics - or 'liberalism' - was his bottom line, and philosophy was (like everything else) built on and justified-by the politics: philosophy is a means to the end of Leftism.

But for a pragmatist Christian, Christianity is the bottom line - and philosophy comes above this, and is justified-by this - philosophy becomes a means to the end of Christianity - but does not, ought not to, lead or justify Christianity; rather the philosophy, the metaphysics, is justified-by Christianity.


So, for a pragmatist, it is vital that Christians do not fall into the trap of trying to fit Christianity into Platonism or Aristotelianism - but that they see Christianity as deeper than, and separable from, any metaphysical description of it.

Then philosophy becomes something properly to be taken in a 'lighter' fashion than it would have been for Plato or Aristotle, something which is ultimately a means-to-the-end of Christianity and not an end in itself.

And therefore, a wholly comprehensive and consistent metaphysical philosophy is an optional extra to Christianity - and something to be judged in-the-light-of Christianity (and certainly not vice versa).


And what applies to philosophy also applies to theology.

The pragmatist Christian is someone who strives not to be driven by theology; but instead to regard theology in the light of Christianity, as an optional extra and a means to the end of Christianity - which is separable from any theology of Christianity.


Wildly inaccurate fantasy cover art



Monday 25 March 2013

If you are not religious, you are a sex-addict


So far, so uncontroversial.


But what is a sex-addict?

It is not the narrowly-defined person who is addicted to having sex; but the person who organizes-his-life-around sex - such a person might never have had sex, but sex dominates his life like heroin dominates a junkie.


But then isn't this just our culture? Isn't the mass media sex-addicted - newspapers, magazines, social media; isn't almost all comedy, art, music? Public discourse generally?

And doesn't sex addiction characterize the micro-level of daily life inside almost all organizations, institutions, schools, groupings...

Of course, all is deniable - but not due to sublimation (the supposed channeling of sexual motivation into other domains), rather to self-deception.

Since the culture of sex addiction is 99.99 percent strategy, a long-termist vague plan/motivation with a small chance of payoff; then the fact that so much is underpinned by a sexual motivation is typically deniable - indeed it may be be non-transparent to the addict, who fails to perceive that their whole intricate world view - their politics, their style, their every choice - is ultimately organized by a sexual calculus.


How has this arisen and become established as the-water-we-swim-in in modern secular culture?

1. The decline of religion.

2. The denial of the power of sex.


Yet the culture of sex addiction has not turned out to be like a DH Lawrence novel in which sex has obviously displaced Christianity as a sacred and transformative/ transcendent overwhelming chthonic force...

No, it turns-out to be the opposite - we inhabit a culture which, while dominated by sex, simultaneously denies the power of sex; a culture which regards sex as 'merely' a lifestyle option, recreational, fun, a distraction, positive - a culture in which sexual desire is used to shape the society and at the same time which trivializes sexual desire, laughs at it!


(Except that to thwart the exercise of this lifestyle option is, in a non-religious society, a sin - a sin against the very core of a person's system of living. The denial of this particular kind of recreation is therefore an existential threat to person-hood. But this seeming contradiction is not a paradox: because unless the power of sex was denied, society could not neglect to take sex seriously, and would therefore structure society to control sex - which social control would constrain the power of sex to dominate society. Thus the society of sexual addiction is predicated upon a denial of the power of sex.)


The sex addicted culture arose partly by propaganda, was sped-up by propaganda; but sex needs no propaganda - sex is very powerful indeed; so powerful that nothing short of real, old-time religion can begin to tame or control it.

So the best way to create a sex-controlled society, is to deny that sex controls people.


For example, until the mid twentieth century, men and women were essentially never alone together unless chaperoned e.g. JRR Tolkien was allowed to give individual teaching to girl students, but only in his house with his wife present; not in his office, unchaperoned.

Then very suddenly all this stuff was 'discovered' to be not-a-problem after all, and chaperones were discarded (even in medicine - except specifically for examination of sexual regions), and workforces and educational institutions were integrated, and men and women were treated as identical interchangeable units.

And sexuality was officially not-a-problem - and any problems caused by sex were blamed on the individuals, bad individuals.

(Most obviously blamed on bad men. And of course the new assumptions indeed gave great scope to bad men. But it gives even more scope to bad women; becuase women - as females - have intrinsically greater power in the sexual arena; plus an intrinsic assumption of victimhood and associated sympathy - this being a mainstream doctrine of evolutionary biology. Originally, evolutionary realities had been subordinated to religious imperatives expressed through culture; but absent religion, biology rules culture, untrammeled.)


Consequently, because the power of sex was denied, and because sex really was a very powerful force, everything and every situation became sexualized - potentially or actually.

Officially and in principle there was not a problem; and at the same time, and again officially, all the above situations became a seething mass of harrassment, discrimination, coercive sexualization, menace, oppression and the rest of it.

So, in principle there was no problem with treating men and women as identical and interchangeable and in control of sex.

Yet in practice, the sexual problems were perceived as vast and almost intractable - requiring ubiquitous micro-supervision and a new, expansile bureaucratic apparatus of institutional and legal protections.


Furthermore, since the decline of religion stripped life of meaning and purpose and enforced alienation on an epidemic scale; sexuality became the major source of social energy, which micro-motivated social life - sexualization became pervasive.


Pervasive, yet always deniable. Because sex was (officially) trivial, hence it did not need to be controlled hence it expanded without constraint; and when sex becomes nearly universal, it becomes almost invisible and almost-wholly theoretical - and dissociated from actual physical sex.

Powerful because it is everywhere, potentially; yet weak because it is spread-out everywhere. 


In such a world of sexually-addicted people driven by sexual energies, yet obvious and indeed blinded-against the fact; the only 'problem' people are those who try to control, limit, restrain, and focus sexuality: i.e. the (few, remaining) religious.

Now, the religious are the only people who explicitly recognize sex for what it is - a vastly powerful force, a potentially overwhelming addiction, the major source of personal energy; thus something that must (if it is not to take-over) be shaped and clarified.

Hence the sex addicted majority regard the sexually-constrained religious minority as being sex-obsessed!


After all, if you are not religious, then what is there to worry about if sex does take-over everything, and if everybody (of all ages) does live 24/7 in a sexualized environment?

Indeed, the non-religious are grateful for their sex addiction - sex is what gets them up in the morning, dressed, and makes them go to work, and do work, and then leave work to socialize; sex makes them take interesting holidays and talk about them; sex keeps them smart and active and sociable.

If it wasn't for sex, most people would utterly lack effective motivation and would probably do nothing - they would have nothing to live-for...


Not many people now live outside of this bubble of sex addiction; and the contrast is not between the sexually active and the celibate (most celibates are part of the world organized around sexual motivations); but between the world of sexual addiction and the family.

That is the polarity: sex-addiction versus the family

Thus the family has become the primary religious unit, and the primary anti-radical force.


The hippies were correct: a life organized around sex is the primary counter-cultural force, the force most profoundly and most powerfully destructive of society.

Hence destruction of the family has become the primary focus of nihilistic secular Leftism - at first covertly, but now explicitly.

And every strong family which to any significant extent 'holds-out' against the dominant radicalism of the sexual revolution, is nowadays necessarily a religious unit - although the religious nature of the forces which hold a family together may well be implicit and self-disguised, may be non-institutional and unarticulated.


(Note added: Clarification - Religion does not mean Christianity alone, but includes other religions, and includes strong non-institutional individual religiosity that shapes that person's life. All sex addicts are non-religious (even if they self-identify as religious); all non-religious people may be presumed to be sex addicts until-proven-otherwise (that is, until it is clear from their life choices that this is not so) - because it takes a very powerful life goal/ ideology to overcome sex addiction, and aside from religion there aren't many of these. But when a person really has a dominating, underpinning but non-religious and non-sexual life goal/ ideology, then the fact is very obvious indeed. Such people are rare and stand-out sharply from the norm, their behaviour is very different from average.)


Sunday 24 March 2013

The ideal truth about family life


For those who haven't yet seen it, there is a wonderful recent video, Earthly Father, Heavenly Father on the LDS church website:

This is an ideal, but true, depiction of Fatherhood; and of family life as - in its best moments - an earthly microcosm of Heaven.


Saturday 23 March 2013

The remarkable thing that is free will


Christianity is based on, or perhaps more exactly based around, the reality of free will - the autonomous agency of each person.

This is a remarkable thing, one of the most remarkable of all things: its consequences are far deeper and further reaching than at first apparent.


Because free will is ultimately independent not just of circumstances, but of God.

God created and sustains and influences so much - but human agency is absolutely and always free.

God either cannot or does not constrain Man's agency.


So much is determined, so much unfolds according to laws, rules, predictable sequences - so much else is (so far as we can tell) chaotic, meaningless... yet free will stands apart from all this.

The universe waits on Man's choices - from each man's every choice the world is repatterned.


And each Man has this entailed power; intrinsic, ineradicable - free will is necessarily being exercised, and the direction of the world is necessarily affected by each act of free will.

And all this is multiplied by the number of Men: all exercise this power willy nilly, knowing it, not knowing or denying it.


What a remarkable thing! 


Thursday 21 March 2013

Have the ranks of the high-IQ Outsiders been swelled of late?


I often return to look at this brilliant essay on the high-intelligence 'misfits' or Outsiders by the late Grady M Towers:

And this time of reading I was struck by the realization that Grady's category of ultra-high-IQ psychological walking wounded will have been swollen in recent years (and despite the probable decline in average intelligence) by the socio-political bureaucratic-Leftist trends that select against men, in favour of 'lower skill' 'minorities', and which make mandatory the kind of conformity and sociability that are required for working in large organizations under oppressive ideological surveillance.

All of these trends will exclude those of high intelligence but (more or less) misfit personality who would in the past have found employment in reasonably high status domains but who are now displaced to chronic dependency among the marginal and under- (or un-) employed.

I just state this as a (probable) fact of modern life: that we would expect to find (if we took the trouble to look) that a greater proportion of the most intelligent people (especially men) would be found to inhabit the status of outsiders than has been the case for the past few hundred years.

Naturally, most modern people could not be expected to care two hoots about any misfortune attaching to such a group; but it is noteworthy that genuine ability is never in surplus, and such a profligate exclusion of potenitally valuable talent counts as yet another factor in the self-loathing-based, willed-suicide of the West.


My innate pragmatism and pluralism twangs-back...


Before I became a Christian I was a philosophical follower of William James (via Robert Pirsig) - thus a pragmatist and pluralist.

When I became a Christian, for whatever reason, I jettisoned this and tried to adopt a Classical Greek approach - first Aristotle/ Aquinas linked with Western Catholicism, then Platonism linked with Eastern Orthodoxy.

The advantage of Platonism, for me here and now, was that the future held the prospect a condition I envisaged as a blissful eternal stasis: as I imaigined it, like an infinitely prolonged moment of aesthetic, loving and philosophical contemplation.

Indeed I regard Platonism as essentially contemplative and other worldly, such that THE problem is finding reasons ever to do anything or to delay death and put-off the euphoria which awaits on the other side.


Yet, after a period of increasing tension my innate disposition has reasserted itself but this time within the Christian world view; and I have thus twanged-back to William James and his pragmatic/ pluralist vision of the nature of life - especially as described by some aspects of Mormon theology.

(The link of philosophy, interest and sympathy between James and Mormonism is seemingly well known and has been documented among LDS intellectuals for more than a century, but I became aware of it only recently.)


Unless one regards philosophy as more fundamental than Christianity - which sounds like an absurd belief for a Christian yet is clearly very common - then there is nothing whatsoever that is paradoxical or self-contradictory about being a pluralist Christian.

(Indeed, a degree of pluralism is, as James, points-out, intrinsic to all monotheisms in dividing creator from created - but of course Trinitarian Christianity takes this further, and some 'catholic' types of Christianity take it far indeed.)

Monism (as found in Classical theism) is not 'more Christian' in essence, nor indeed necessarily in practice than pluralism; even if it has been much commoner among Christian intellectuals.

At any rate, it is an aspect of the Jamesian perspective that more formal systems are driven by inexplicit feelings of one sort or another - which is why philosophy (and theology) has been so often/ most usually a divider rather than a uniter in human affairs.

(Contrary to theory, religion based on philosophy is frequently no more able to attain consensus than is a religion based on revelation or mysticism - since philosophical discourse is driven by prior feelings and convictions, it leads to schism as quickly and reliably as does personal conviction.) 


However, one big disadvantage of the pragmatist pluralist way of understanding Christianity is that the prospect is exhausting compared with that hope for permanent contemplative bliss to which I referred above.

As a naturally tender-minded and asthenic personality prone to acedia, I naturally looked forward to permanent relief from the recurrent business of living - yet to the pragmatist, the afterlife is 'more of the same forever' with respect to effort, striving, learning, and developing and dealing with the triumphs and tragedies of existence...

I can only hope and presume that the resurrection body brings with it much greater dose of health, energy, motivation and resolution than I am used-to here in mortal life!

Then I might be more enthusiastic about the propect of endless delightful (yet also painful) labour, rather than euphoric eternal rest.


Potter versus Rowling


That the Harry Potter series of novels was inspired - and not a product of JK Rowling's unaided motivation and imagination - has seemed increasingly obvious since I was first able to appreciate the marvellous qualities of the books, and contrast them with the air-headed-ness of the author's public persona.

Indeed, before I engaged with reading the books, I was for many years put off by having seen interviews with Rowling, from which I concluded that someone like her simply could not have written anything worth reading.

But the books are a wonder - hence the necessity of acknowledging that they were indeed inspired (a fact confirmed by seeing what talentless and soul-draining bilge she produces when she sets Harry aside and is thereby bereft of that inspiration: I refer to her recent 'adult novel').


Thus we get the fascinating clashes between the traditional Christian belief system which underpins the Harry Potter books, and the anti-Christian, anti-marriage, anti-family, anti-Good nihilism of Rowling's real-life bureaucratic Leftism.

So, while I have seen no reference to Rowling's views on the topic on the the bearing of weapons by subjects or citizens, I would be extremely confident that she would be against it (and in favour of sustaining and extending the current UK situation of mandatory Eloi-ism; in which only violent criminals and feral youths are tacitly 'permitted' to carry and use weapons; and the decent and physically weak are rendered helpless, and harshly prosecuted for any attempt - or any possibility of any attempt - at self-defence).


Yet the Harry Potter novels, from the Prisoner of Azkabahn onwards, and especially the Order of the Phoenix, are brilliant depictions of precisely the form of tyranny which exists in the modern West.

An inverted reality  in which the existence and badness of baddies is excluded from public discourse, and the goodies become 'the problem'.

A world in which aggressors are relabelled as victims, and victims are blamed for provoking aggression against themselves.

In which the mass media, government policy, administration and regulation, and enforcement are all unrelentingly focused upon the past, present, and potential future, actual or extrapolated or invented, transgressions of decent people.


You may recall that Hogwarts classes in 'Defence against the Dark Arts' are made wholly theoretical (all practical defensive training being abolished), and focused on elementary, harmless and useless responses; meanwhile the fact that Voldemort has returned and is preparing for war is ignored and denied.

Because nobody want Voldemort to have returned, Voldemort has not returned. Because effective defence against Voldemort carries risks, there must be no effective defence (and those who insist on preparing are taking needless risk). Because to prepare for disaster is scary, there must be no preparation for disaster (and those who do prepare are terrorizing the ignorant, for their own selfish or deluded purposes).

Because any form of organization outwith the state might resist the state, then all forms of actual or potential organization outwith the state are forbidden - and therefore organized resistance to Voldemort is severely impaired; and therefore resistance is scattered and individual, and may be officially portrayed as eccentric or revolutionary.


Instances of aggression by the Death Eaters and their minions such as the Dementors are unmentioned, denied, or claimed to be propaganda from the disaffected, stupid or crazy - and contradiction of this line is punished by shaming and ridicule in the media (which almost everybody believes, even against the evidence of their own direct experience and common sense) and by increasingly sadistic sanctions against those who continue to speak out.

And whatever happens is made into a justification for more Ministerial control.  

In other words, life in England under the rule of JKR's close personal friend Gordon Brown, and its continuation under the current 'Conservative' 'coalition' government.


I found this interesting post and comment on the topic which Americans call 'the right to bear arms':

In which the thought processes of (more or less) common-sense tradition versus Leftism are set-out clearly, and the Potter versus Rowling oppositions comes through with force.


It is fortunate that so many millions of Harry Potter novels have already been sold and dispersed beyond all possibility of recall - since I am sure that if it were possible for them to be rewritten as politically correct tracts by the post-inspired and now evil-allied Rowling, then she would do this.

But as it is, I think Potter has broken free of his mediator, and he is no doubt at work on behalf of God and the Good (and against JK Rowling) - in a subliminal fashion - in the minds of many millions...


Wednesday 20 March 2013

Mere Christianity - losing faith in the power of the idea...


I have, since I became a Christian, usually said that I was a Mere Christian in a modified sense of that used by C.S Lewis - which is that I am a Christian first, and the denomination and specific church comes second and third; or, that there are several/many Christian denominations which I consider validly Christian, the choice between which is more a matter of lifestyle rather than salvation.

I still believe this - yet as time goes by the conviction is tempered by a concern that many/ most ostensibly Christian denominations and specific churches do net-harm to the average Christian member (I am thinking particularly of the 'liberal' Christian denominations).


On top of this, I have experienced an increasing sense of the importance of marriage and family as the major secondary aspect of Christian life.

Consequently, I felt a mounting sense of horror in contemplating the demographic composition of most self-styled Christian denominations and churches, and particularly the statistic of sub-replacement sized family size among so many supposedly Christian groups.

I have come to regard above-replacement fertility as a necessary (but not sufficient) aspect of any Christian denomination or grouping - this 'demand' is non-negotiable except where fertility was being actively prevented.

(Not above-replacement fertility of each and every specific church member - of course not! But of the group as a whole. So that the unmarried, married couples without children or with small families, and celibates are on the average compensated-for by the fertility of the rest.)

So that any denomination or national church which displays sub-replacement fertility, I would regard as defective and - on the whole - not Christian; and it does not matter a jot what their theoretical creed or confession may be. Theoretical creeds are just documents - and anybody can say they believe anything they choose; but if people are not living by the creed, then the creed is irrelevant.

And vice versa - when people are living as Christians (so far as I can tell) then they are Christians, by a broad-brush definition; and the micro-detail of creed and confession is as irrelevant as it is when (as more usual) the creed is 'orthodox' but being ignored.


Anyway, at the end of all this I perceive that the concept of Mere Christianity is - in practice - just a good idea.

I think it is sometimes very helpful to new converts such as myself, that is intellectuals outwith any active church domain; it can get us across the line to be Christians without becoming 'hung-up' on the specifics of 'which church?'

But then the problems arise.


With mainstream institutional Christianity in such a profoundly corrupt state; the wrong choice of denomination or church may be a disaster to the convert - being more likely to deconvert them than building them in faith.

(Aside, I find the sheer venom of inter-Christian infighting among serious Christians to be profoundly dismaying. Of course they are not fighting and killing one another; but in our weakness I hoped for goodwill and cooperation among real Christians - but it does not take much provocation for the sniping and backbiting and mutual damnation to begin. And the relish with which this sport is prosecuted is the worst aspect of the business.)

The new convert may find that among Christian churches that are real and alive (therefore not ruled-out by the evidence of being de facto anti-marriage and anti-family), there may not be any to which one can readily make a wholehearted commitment.

Or, at least, making oneself commit to a specific actual church - when working alone and without help from enjoying the process of church-going - can be a long haul.

And in the meantime we are on our own.


I can be as Merely-Christian as I want, and so presumably can other people - but as a mass movement it lacks both traction and a basis for cohesion.

So it seems that Mere Christianity has individual value and mainly as a temporary expedient - while trying to sort-out a specific church or a denomination - although the 'temporary' phase may turn out to be long-lasting, perhaps even 'permanent'.


The Christian Evolutionist


I have cobbled-together an essay of some twelve thousand words by bringing together some of my blog postings on the theme of Christianity and Evolution by natural selection; and made it into a blog called The Christian Evolutionist.

I intend to edit this essay over time, removing repetitions and and adding to it if I have anything further to say - so it is a work-in-progress - but in the mean time it gathers into one place my notions up to this date.


Tuesday 19 March 2013

The comment that threw into doubt my previous ideas about the problem of pain


It is from Orson Scott Card, writing in the Mormon Times, and it runs as follows:

(Please don't write in with all the sophistries designed to explain the "timeless" God, or with "higher" math invoking multiple dimensions — trust me, I've heard them all, and they still come down to the nonexistence of a God who is actively involved in the universe of causation.)

This comment hit me... well, if not exactly like a thunderbolt, then like something which had been growing in my mind for many months, pressing outward, and which had reached the point where it was ready to burst-free.

Card's impatience with overcomplexity, the suspicion that I may have been soothing (and deluding) myself with pseudo-explanations that satisfied only because they were either meaningless or incomprehensible, the idea that by answering the question in this way I was creating a God who, even if he existed, was so abstract and uninvolved that he could be neither Father nor Saviour... All this emerged from reading the above 'aside'.

Others will not be in the same place or state as myself, and the above will seem trivial, meaningless or simply misguided; by either way it was this which did it for me, at that particular time and place.


The context is an article about God's Foreknowledge, from which I include some excerpts, to put the above quote into context.


We teach our children to anticipate the results of their actions. I call this "practical prophecy." They can't know with certainty, but they should be able to anticipate that hitting baseballs in the front yard is likely to break a window.

This is the essence of accountability, isn't it? We can't hold children responsible for their choices until they understand cause-and-effect.

Our knowledge, however, is imperfect, to say the least. But Jesus said that God is perfect, and expects us to aim for that same goal. One meaning of "perfect" implies completeness; another suggests that there be no errors.


How perfect is the foreknowledge of God? This question is the source of great anxiety and many potential errors in our understanding of our Father.

When bad things happen, many people believe that it must be part of God's plan; he, knowing all things past, present and future, must have known this thing would happen.

Since he is all-powerful, and he did not prevent this great evil, it must have been his will that it happen.

And since he is good, what seems evil to us must be good on some level beyond our understanding.


This idea is in the English language in the old phrase "God willing" — whatever plans we make, they are contingent on the will of God.

Many believe that everything that happens is the will of God. Either he causes it, or he is content that it happen. If we only understood his purposes, we would understand that all things are good.

The problem comes with the idea that God knows everything and planned everything to the last detail...


I've been thinking about this since I was a kid, and at various times I've held almost every shade of opinion on the matter. But always I came up against the serious problem of how to reconcile human free will with God's perfect foreknowledge.


For a time, I believed the explanation that God knew us so well in premortality that he could join together all the choices that all his children would make through all of human history and figure out the end from the beginning.

Then I did a little math (in my feeble way) and calculated that to know all the causal webs through all of human history, from storms and climate and earthquakes to every decision of every human being, would require more bits of information than there are molecules in the universe.

I might be a little off, of course, since my data are incomplete, but I thought: That's an awful lot of trouble to go to. Couldn't God have an easier way to deal with foreknowledge?


Then there's the idea — neoplatonic, and definitely not a doctrine of the Restoration — that God stands outside of time, living in an eternal "now."

The problem is that such a concept of God is as good a way of defining atheism as I can imagine. Time and causality are inescapably linked. For God to not exist in time is to say that God cannot actually do anything, because that would require that he exist in time.

There was a moment before he acted, and then he acted, and now his action is in the past...

(Please don't write in with all the sophistries designed to explain the "timeless" God, or with "higher" math invoking multiple dimensions — trust me, I've heard them all, and they still come down to the nonexistence of a God who is actively involved in the universe of causation.)


In recent years, I've reached the conclusion that while I cannot, from scripture or by reason, determine the truth of the matter, there is a way to account for the foreknowledge of God without compromising our freedom or requiring that God have everything nailed down in every detail in advance...

God has given us a world in which things happen according to natural laws. This includes the natural laws that govern the behavior of the natural man, as well as the spiritual laws that govern the children of God.

Regardless of what happens to us, God judges us by what we do in response. People who live through horrible trials that most of us shudder to imagine will reveal their true character in those times of duress.

But people who seem to lead charmed lives where only good things happen to them manage to have just as many opportunities to be wicked and miserable, and as many to be good and kind.


As for God's larger plans for the history of nations, he knows human nature.

Societies that behave in certain ways destroy themselves — history shows it again and again. It does not take specific foreknowledge for the Lord to make such prophecies.

Plus, God knows what he is going to do. As often as not, prophecies are actually promises: I will do this, he says, and I will do that. These prophecies will be fulfilled because God will keep his word.


To my way of thinking, this is all the foreknowledge required for God to be perfectly just and loving, and for this life to do a perfect job of testing us while leaving us morally free to choose according to our uncreated, eternal nature...

God's plan for us has no errors in it, though we are free, during mortality, to err to our heart's content. For in this life we cannot cause any eternal harm except to ourselves (Matthew 15:11).

God's perfect foreknowledge needs to be no more than this: In this life, we will freely show who we are, so his judgment will be just. That is the end, and he knew it from the beginning; all his promises are fulfilled in this...


What is the purpose of the discourse of the biology of human evolution?


In considering the origins of Man, the Bible and evolutionary theory are generally considered to be rivals; although in actuality they are in one sense incommensurable and in another (deeper) sense the Christian account includes the biological while the biological is metaphysically-incoherent when detached from divine revelation.

But a puzzle is the actual function of the scientific, biological discourse of human evolutionary origins: what work does this discourse actually do?


This is a necessary question because all sciences must be rooted in wider reality if they are to be valid.

Much of biology is rooted-in, and tested by, practical disciplines (involving prediction and intervention) such as medicine or agriculture; much of chemistry and physics is rooted in engineering.

The performance of scientific theories (and the relevance and validity of experiments) is thus underwritten by some practical field of endeavour, which 'keeps it on the rails'.

(A complementary example is concern over 'superstring' theories in physics, in that this discourse has perhaps detached itself from such practical roots, hence stopped being a science.)


So what, if anything, is the practical application of the biology of human evolution?

My suspicion is that there is no significant practical application for human evolutionary theory - but rather than supplying useful answers, biological evolutionary theory serves primarily to assert itself as the proper method for establishing (or rather denying) the place, function, purpose, meaning of humanity in the larger scheme of things.

The reason I doubt the practical relevance of biological accounts of human origins (having worked in precisely this field over a couple of decades, and been observing it for much longer) is that nobody in general society takes any practical notice of the findings.


The genre of semi-popular accounts of human evolution is a well-established one...

Nevertheless, the successive stories perform a regular series of U-turns in what is put forward as accepted fact.

The same fossil homonids (australopithecines and Homo Habilis) are portrayed in quick succession as daring hunters of big game, peaceful vegetarians, and nimble scavengers from carnivores...

Others (Neanderthals) are described one year as sensitive and religious people who buried their dead with flowers while speaking human language, the next as animals whose difference from chimpanzees and gorillas would not be immediately obvious to us...

Yet other homonids (homo erectus) have often been envisaged as fire-making dwellers in caves; but according to some new versions the caves were merely where their bones were brought by scavenging animals, and the ash of their hearths just debris of occasional natural bushfires.

The examples sound so far-fetched, when put like that, that it might be thought I have invented them. I have not. What has happened in each case is that a careful re-examination of apparently convincing evidence has shown some 'association' to be a product of randomness...

These errors were not malicious or even foolish at the time; they are just what must be expected when so much theory has to rest on so little evidence. 

Each discovery of new fossil bones is liable to cause dramatic revision in the story offered... the resulting changes of story are embarrassing and are not often pointed-out, but they are obvious to anyone whose interest in this fascinating area lasts more than a couple of years. 

Richard Byrne - The Thinking Ape, Oxford University Press, 1995.


I was, for several years, interested by the implication that distinctive human cognition (approximately everything that makes humans different from chimpanzees) probably evolved in the past two and a half million years (when the differential size of the brain grew) and that this meant an awful lot had to happen in not many generations (if there were 4-5 generations per century, then this would mean a maximum of about 100K generations - which is many-fold less then used to be assumed to be necessary for the evolution of consciousness, language and all the rest of it) 


But the fact is that nobody really, seriously, does anything, as a consequence of these rapidly-changing theories of human origins.

Therefore, I infer that their purpose is not scientific, nor practical, but popular.

It seems that genre of semi-popular accounts of human evolution is well-established because that is the 'bottom line' (insofar as there is a bottom line) for biological theorizing about human origins.

That this is plausible is confirmed by the fact that, since Darwin, the fossil hunters have always gone straight to the general public with their theories - whether real or (as with Piltdown Man) fake. The evolution of Mankind is indeed the first most enduring, and always present genre of popular science.


But why this link between evolutionary accounts of human evolution and the mass media?

It cannot all be about funding and fame - the public must be getting something from it as well.

Yet, if the story of Man's History is continually changing and reversing, then it cannot be the specific content which is important: it must, by elimination, be the process at which the content is generated that is important - and the continually changing content merely serves as a way to supply novelty and keep public interest going.


What people get from this field is continual affirmation that this (i.e. evolutionary biology) is the way to understand the nature of the human condition.

No matter how often the story is changed or contradicts itself, the one thing that does not change are the assumptions of the field - that scientific disciplines such as paleontology, archaeology, geology, anthropology, primatology, genetics and so on... that these are the way in which we understand what made us human, and what it is to be human.

The specific sciences involved matter little - because all of them exclude the divine, and indeed the transcendental as matters of assumption.

Therefore, the discourse of human origins is a prime domain, perhaps even the prime domain, for establishing and enforcing the 'primacy of science' and the elimination of religion from public discourse.


On scientific grounds it certainly made sense to eliminate divine will from the study of evolution - after all, it has never been precisely or in detail known what is the divine will, so that is disputed; and the way in which divine will opertes is likewise a matter of continual debate.

How straightforward and clarifying, therefore, to eliminate the divine from the business of science.

But this elimination is not, of course, evidence that the divine will is not real, nor that it is of no effect. It is just a pragmatic, an heuristic, which simplifies things - just as it simplifies ballistics to ignore wind and air resistance and potentially changing effects of gravity.

However, that does not mean that wind and gravity don't exist - and sometimes they need to be taken into account.


Most evolutionary biologists, and almost all those who read and 'believe' the stories of human origin, have forgotten that Darwin did not discover that God did not exist, nor did he discover that God was un-neccessary - he simply made the a priori decision to try explaining things without God.

Did this work? Well, it depends what you mean by 'work'.

If by 'work' you mean something practical and tangible like medicine or technology, then evolutionary theories of human origin seem to make no difference either way - they change and they change, and nobody seems to care.

But if by 'work' you mean 'effectively destroy Christianity'; then sure, the theories of human origins have worked; they have worked very well indeed.


God's power


God’s power rests not on totalizing omnipotence, but on the ability to alchemize suffering, tragedy, and loss, into wisdom, understanding, and even joy.

Rachael Givens


To alchemize suffering, tragedy, and loss, into wisdom, understanding, and even joy; seems to me a profoundly helpful analogy for understanding the nature of the help God provides when we are faced with pain, here in this mortal life on earth.

God does not will all instances of suffering; He cannot prevent all instances of suffering; and yet the risk of suffering is necessary - being intrinsic to and inescapable from God's plan.

But God can and will ultimately, in Time, weave all evil and suffering into his purposes.


Monday 18 March 2013

Free will, the torturer and the tortured


If free will is real - as it is - then the extreme torturer (and nobody and nothing else) really is responsible for his choice to inflict torment.

But who is responsible for the mind-destroying agony of the torturer's victim?


Whose will or choice is it that such a degree of suffering can be experienced, and is experienced?

Does the pain of a torture victim matter? Is it insignificant in 'the larger scheme of things'? Or a means to a greater end?...


What kind of Father could ever will the experience of torture upon any of his children for any reason?

Not a loving Father.

Ergo it is not His choice, or will; it happens (here, now) because He cannot (not will not) always stop it happening (not here, not now).


But He can and does always heal its consequences (in Time).

That is the best He can do; and He does it.  


Charles Williams on the implications of God's omnipotence


From 'The Cross' in The Image of the City, and other essays; by Charles Williams (edited by Anne Ridler, 1958). Excerpted from page 136:


Easter... began in the Cross. 

I say 'in' rather than 'on', for by the time it began He had become, as it were, the very profoundest Cross to Himself... The Cross was He and He was the Cross. 

His will had maintained, or rather His will in His Father's will had maintained, a state of affairs among men of which physical crucifixion was at once a part and a perfect symbol. 

This state of things He inexorably proposed to himself to endure; say, rather, that from the beginning He had been Himself at bottom both the endurance and the thing endured. 

This had been true everywhere in all men; it was now true of Himself apart from all men; it was local and particular...

He was stretched, He was bled, He was nailed, He was thrust into, but not a bone of  Him was broken...

It was the Cross which sustained Him, but He also sustained the Cross. 

He had, through the years, exactly preserved the growth of the thorn and of the wood, and had indued with energy the making of the nails and the sharpening of the spear; say, through the centuries He had maintained vegetable and mineral in the earth for this. 

His providence overwatched it to no other end, as it overwatches so many instruments and intentions of cruelty then and now.


Natural selection: its power and its limitations


Natural selection is the observation that 'nature' can work like an animal or plant breeder to modify traits - and the suggestion that this process could (given enough generations) lead not just to amplified, suppressed or re-shaped traits, but to new forms (such as new species or families of organisms).

The strength of natural selection is its accumulative potential: natural selection builds incremental change upon incremental change so that 'mony a mickle maks a muckle' (lots of littles makes a lot).

An analogy would be an animal trainer that begins with undirected behavioural variations and, incrementally, by small but many steps, uses reinforcement to build long and complicated sequences of behaviour, as when a squirrel is trained to do an obstacle course:

So, more-or-less-plausible stepwise incremental and accumulative sequences of natural selection have been constructed to explain the evolution of something as complex as the mammalian eye.


The constraints of natural selection include that what it builds-upon must be un-directed - so that the original form/s of which all later form/s are incremental shapings must have arisen by chance - specifically the original form must have arisen with no aim or teleology.

So that the first step in the presumed evolution of life on earth must have happened without natural selection - on the one hand, it must have been a form that was sufficiently simple to have happened by undirected chance arrangements of matter, yet on the other hand that which arose by undirected chance must have had a form sufficiently complex to be capable of replication.

(This whole problem is very well described, and a solution proposed, in my old friend Graham Cairns-Smith's book 'Seven Clues to the Origin of Life'.)


The other major constraint of natural selection (which does not apply to artificial selection, i.e. teleological selection done by an intelligence such as a human) is that each modification must provide an improvement in differential reproductive success - each incremental step must enhance relative replication.


Whether or not natural selection is a possible explanation for any given change under discussion is ultimately a matter of probabilities - except that the data for calculating probabilities is almost never available, and perhaps is not an objective fact but itself an assumption.

And even when plausible probabilities have been calculated - for instance, by GC-S in the above-mentioned book; which purports to show that the energetic properties of nucleic acid and amino acid/ protein molecules mean that neither could be the first step in the evolution of life - that this is too wildly improbable to have happened by chance during the believed-lifespan of the earth ... then nobody seems to take any notice of the results.


The fact is that the constraints of natural selection are not interpreted, in practice, as placing constraints on its applicability - since within the field of biology natural selection and physical explanations such as chance or the intrinsic properties of stuff (maths, physics, chemistry, systems etc), are the only two allowed classes of explanations for anything.

No matter how implausible or improbable, the assumption is that either undirected chance alone, or undirected chance plus natural selection, must suffice to explain everything.

So the constraints on natural selection are not interpreted as constraining its applicability as a general phenomenon - since NS is assumed to be generically universally sufficient to explain everything; but rather as a constraint upon the plausibility of any specific theory within natural selection or physical explanations.

(Apparent exceptions to this statement prove, on closer examination to be sub-classes of either or both natural selection/ physical theories - or else incoherent nonsense.)


Inklings in-jokes in the Notion Club Papers



What does natural selection operate upon?


Natural selection is about incremental modification of already-existing forms or traits.

There is no problem about this happening - I mean that traits such as body size and structure or behaviours and abilities are modified by natural selection - obviously they sometimes are modified by selection (whether natural or artificial).

But there are difficulties which an explanation using natural selection must acknowledge.

One is this: How do we know what are the forms which natural selection modifies?


From the open-ended complexity of an organism - the limitless ways in which we might analyze its structure, behaviour and everything about it - how do we decide what are its 'traits' in order that we can potentially explain how they have evolved?

What is the objective evidence that a hand, or a wing, or a particular patten of food seeking behaviour is a trait? - something unitary, cohesive, which can be explained?


It seems 'obvious' to us that a hand is a trait - but that obviousness may be denied, or it may be an artifact of our own evolution. To an amoeba a hand is not a trait. If somebody doubts that a hand is a trait, how can they be convinced?

This is the deepest metaphysical problem of using natural selection as an explanation - the problem of explaining how we know what it is that has to be explained


This problem has only one answer: that the knowledge of what has to be explained, if it is to be valid, must come from outside of the discourse of natural selection: thus natural selection cannot be an ultimate explanation.


Natural selection operates within the discourse that tells us what needs to be explained - it just does - so the discourse that tells us what needs to be explained is more ultimate than natural selection.

Consequently, natural selection must be (and I mean must be - this is logically entailed) just one way of explaining what it is that needs to be explained.


Consequently, in relation to discussing the status of natural selection (the philosophical meta-subject which is evaluating the validity of natural selection as a discourse, rather than the specific instances of proposed natural selection - which are just normal science) the discourse that must be made explicit is that which describes what is a species, what is an organism, what is a trait.

How seldom this is addressed by those who argue for the ultimate and universal validity of natural selection...


(Obviously that meta-discourse which tells us what natural selection validly does, cannot itself use the explanation of natural selection! Natural selection cannot be used to validate natural selection; when the validity of natural selection is the matter being evaluated!)


From this we can infer that natural selection is based on assumptions concerning the nature of reality - that there are species (or some equivalent of organisms related by descent), that there are organisms as basic units of explanation, and that organisms may be analyzed into traits each of which can evolve by natural selection (with some significant degree of autonomy), and that we can recognize all these - that we humans can look-upon the natural world and validly perceive that there are such entities as species, organisms and traits, and we recognize what they are individually and specifically.

A pretty big set of necessary assumptions...

A pretty big class of problems which are routinely ignored.


Sunday 17 March 2013

Where lies hope? A Schumpeterian analysis


The greatest weapon of the enemy is despair - it is against despair that we must fortify.

Yet not by false optimism.

Because false optimism does not work.

In a situation where realistic evaluation leads to pessimism about the outcome, where lies hope?


What seems futile is to hope that the mass of population, and all powerful institutions (including most churches) can be persuaded to abandon their path of suicidal, hedonic distraction.

Absent an almost-instantaneous switch to Christianity, any of the ruling elite who abandon secular materialism will instantly be thrown into a despair which is paralysing.

They will be denied their pleasures, their goals, their social status and support - yet they will have nothing to replace them.

(A grim satisfaction derived from the greater accuracy of one's world view will not be of any practical consoling value - certainly it provides near-zero motivation for most people most of the time.)


To reform a thoroughly corrupt and rotten 'institution' like the Church of England, state schools and universities, the legal system, political parties, the civil service, health services, or the mass media - to reform any these in a world of dominant and interlinked bureaucracy, and a world where a change of direction in any one place will be fought by all the other places... well, it really is inconceivable.


And yet we must hope for change. 

And I mean must: Despair is such an overwhelming sin that it sweeps away all virtue.

If reform is impossible (or, more accurately, something an informed and rational person cannot believe-in) then replacement is the only alternative.

Replacement, not reform.


The master theorist of this simple but unfamiliar perspective was, I think, Joseph Schumpeter:

The idea was that economies grew mostly by replacement of large units - as when one whole industry (automobiles) replaces an other (horse drawn carriages and carts).

That human societal adjustment was not typically incremental but categorical.


On this basis, we can assume, realistically, that the current secular, hedonic society of nihilism and self-loathing suicide will not last, and will be replaced; and we can assume that it will be replaced by a religiously-based society - but we can also assume that on present trends that, in most places of the modern world, that religiously-based society will not be Christian.

The trends are against Christianity.


So, we have a situation in which we await a Schumpeterian period of 'Creative Destruction' in which we anticipate wholesale replacement of many or most social institutions - but most Christians in most places must realistically anticipate that the wholesale replacement will not bring in a Christian society.

And yet we must hope.


My conclusion is that Christians need to transfer their hope away from dying institutions that want to die

These are hope-less.

And instead channel their hopes to living institutions that want to live: no matter how small and powerless they may currently seem to be compared to the vast lumbering cancer-riddled dinosaur institutions which constitute modern socio-political life in the West.


Life in the dinosaurs is one of mutual parasitism - success comes to the tumours which can most efficiently feed on the masses of rotting flesh which they themselves have caused and are exacerbating.

Modern leadership therefore celebrates neoplasia, and admonishes us to join-with the most malignant metastases; to focus on first killing, then consuming, the dwindling supply of healthy, living tissue


This metaphor of malignancy seems to capture the weak-strength, the effete-vigour, the docile-domination displayed by modern bureaucratic 'leadership'.

Modern leadership is a matter of organizing the forces of destruction more effectively to exploit the destruction they themselves create and continue.

Replacing a modern leader with another who is more 'effective' is usually akin to a malignant transformation; in which a slow-growing local tumour - that might take many years to kill you - undergoes swift evolution into an invasive, metastatically seeding and rapidly-lethal sarcoma.


The message of hope is not to cling to delusive optimism, not to seek by persuasion to reform suicidal institutions which do not want to be reformed.

Much of my life has been a serial (typically delayed) realistic recognition of the fact that things have now gone too far - and a withdrawal of hope from institutions, organizations, professions, groups that have now, one the whole and in overall tendency, abandoned their proper role and embraced self-destruction.

Realistic hope therefore depends on each of us finding at least one alternative group of at least some people who, one the whole and in net effect, embrace life not death, proper function not parasitism, creation and making not novelty and decomposition, Heaven not Hell.



Lest I be misunderstood.

I am not advocating the utopian, impossible, unreal idea of quitting the evil bureaucracies of modernity - bureaucracy is in fact the world in which we all live, even when we do not work directly for a bureaucracy - bureaucracy, hence our complicity in evil-motivated institutions, is inescapable.

But I am stating that we must learn not to place hope in these institutions, not to hope that they will become self-reforming, or be persuaded to become good from the inside, or even significantly better.

Indeed, we must not 'give them the benefit of the doubt', as if they were basically well-meaning. If in doubt, we should assume (on the basis of past experience and organizational inertia) that they are always (except by accident) up to no good - any and all bureaucratic 'initiatives' are to be considered destructive (unless preceded by explicit repentance). 

Nor am I suggesting that we must join any or every group in which we have hope (that may, or may not, be possible, to varying degrees) - most of our hopes will necessarily remain theoretical and at-a-distance.

But if we cannot or do not join an institution in which we have hope, we should try to support it; and also I think we must endeavour to find at least one or two, or some group of, people with whom we can ally, meet, speak face to face. 


Shippey on bureaucracy



Saturday 16 March 2013



A decade ago (thus before I was a Christian) I was fascinated by shamans and also by neo-shamanism (the modern Western revival of would-be shamanism)  

I read scores of books on the subject, ranging from library copies of 19th century 'first contact' accounts of hunter gatherers (eg in Tierra del Fuego or among the Eskimos), to modern ethnographic scholarship, and New Age 'self-help' or spiritual books.

It was a personal quest.

I was an alienated modern intellectual seeking 'contact' with reality via the kind of animism of children and nomadic peoples. This seemed to me to be the 'meaning' in life - not a matter of purpose or a cosmic plan; but simply life as a fully-engaged relationship with the rest of the world.


My own 'shamanic' experiences were periods of this kind of thinking, semi-dreamlike moments or minutes when I was fully engaged with the world - solitary, generally remote, often in relation to natural phenomena.


The fact that I have become a Christian is evidence that this kind of things was 'not enough'; but it was valuable in itself - and I have often striven to ensure that my Christian life incorporates the value that I found in Shamanism - which is why I consider a personal relationship with a personal God to be a non-negotiable essence and ideal of Christian life - for lack of which nothing can compensate.


The animistic hunter gatherer (or indeed, ourselves when we were children) lived in a world of meaningful personal relationships that included landscape features, the sky, plants and animals - as well as people.

All this is, and ought-to-be, incorporated-within Christianity - and not (as so often) rejected as a 'paganism' which Christianity has superceded.


Many devout Christians have a lively and personal relationship with Christ, and also with other people especially family - but in order to live properly in this world, as God intends us to live, these relationships should also embrace the natural world - Christians should strive to see the natural world in a lively and personal way.

(Or, perhaps not so much strive as simply allow themselves to do this - because it is spontaneous.)

Different traditions provide different vocabularies by which this may be done (for example, the medieval Christian understanding that the sun, stars and planets are angelic intelligences).

But however it may be done, done it should be!


Friday 15 March 2013

Christianity ought to be the warmest and most personal of all religions


But too often it has degenerated, under top-down intellectual leadership, into the demand for submission to an abstract scheme.

The most devout folk Christianity has always pushed against this, and personalized the abstractions: we could see ikons, special relationships with Saints, and the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary in this light.


The only thriving Christian denominations of today are those which emphasize the personal - for instance (but not exclusively) evangelical Protestants who (in practice) have a specifically Jesus and Gospels-focused, highly personal faith; and who reinforce this immediacy with pictures, drama, novels, songs, multiple and varied re-tellings and reconceptualizations of the Gospels, and narratives of their own personal relationships with Christ.


Intellectuals are drawn to the neatness and complex coherence of cool abstraction; and Christian leaders tend to be intellectuals (more or less); but Christianity is intended for everybody (including children and the simple) - and what everybody most needs (including intellectuals, whether they know it or not) is a warm and personal relationship with God - that is the only basis of Love, Trust and Hope in God.


Any complex abstraction potentially stands in the path of a loving, hence personal, relationship with God - of a kind open-to and understandable-by everyone - such abstractions should be analyzed with a skeptical eye.

The maxim for intellectual Christians ought to be:

                 Is your abstraction really necessary? 


Absolute abstractions can make people crazy


There are some words, quite a lot of them, that name absolutes - and they can drive us crazy.

We can, it seems, quite easily get to the point where the abstraction takes over from immediate reality, such that the absolute requires nothing short of absolute submission to... to what?

To the absolute truth of the absolute.


An example:

Properly speaking, equal means the same - and 'the same' means no more than that things are in the same category - to say that humans are equal before God, or the Law, or whatever, means only that they are members of the same category.

Thus, there is a relationship with God which is characteristic of humans, and the category of humans includes (for Christians) men and women, children and adults.

The word equal is doing no necessary work here (or anywhere else), but instead - by its pseudo-mathematical and un-human precision, making our brains go into convulsions.


But in politics, equality has become an absolute abstraction.

As an absolute 'equality' comes first, as an abstraction it can never be known whether any specific reality matches up to the absolute value of being wholly 'equal'.

Because we cannot measure the concordance between reality and an absolute abstraction, yet hold the absolute abstraction as primary - equality becomes a concept which requires absolute submission.

Even to discuss the reality, achievability or degree of equality is an appalling thing - because equality is absolute.


Substitute for equality 'justice', we see the same.

There are many examples: freedom, democracy, human rights, poverty, oppression...

There can be, there is, often a gross dissociation between a person's adherence to what would seem to be the implications of equality, or justice and their actual lives (both outer and inner). But once the absolute abstraction holds-sway, then that doesn't matter - because of course there never can be any proportionality between an absolute and reality...


To refuse to submit to a concept like equality is to insult equality.

To refuse to say the right things about equality, to put equality first, to swear by the concept of equality... such things are seen as a gross act of aggression against society.

What matters is submission to the concept: public, and preferably private, submission to the validity of the idea in all its abstract purity.


In philosophy the 'omni' words when applied to God are similar absolute abstractions.

In terms of human understanding, to have 'total' power, knowledge, extent doesn't mean a thing.

We could imagine power, knowledge and extent which had no definable bounds, but our minds implode at the matter of absolute power, knowledge, extent...


And in religion these unimaginable incomprehensible absolute abstractions operate in an analogous fashion to equality and justice in modern politics...

People are not required to understand the omni words, because they are un-understandable; they are not required to live-by the omni words, because their implications are abstract and disconnected from life.

People are required to submit to the omni words; because to do otherwise is seen as insulting God (to whom these absolute abstractions have been linked).


So these omni words, and the absolute abstractions which lie behind them, come to rule religions; despite that nobody knows what they mean, and nobody even knows what it would mean to live by them.

It should be possible to make a one-sided rejection of omni attributes; to say, that don't make sense... and leave it it that.

But anybody who challenges an omni attribution is assumed to be stating the opposite as an alternative in philosophical terms.

And the opposite to an absolute abstraction is a terrifying thing, not least because it is necessarily perceived as incomprehensible and as craziness-inducing as the abstraction to which it is put in opposition...

So to oppose an approved absolute abstraction is to be perceived as proposing something so vast and total as to be mind-numbing in its horribleness.


So we recurrently get the situation in which submission to the official absolute belief system, in all its abstract perfection, becomes the hallmark of orthodoxy, and indeed in practice the one and only absolutely (!) required mark of orthodoxy.


For some religions that is appropriate, but not for Christianity.

For Christians, the essence is the personal relationship with God: that is the essence, not the whole thing, but we must work outwards from that.

And we cannot work outwards from a personal relationship to meet an absolute abstraction - if we try to do this, if we insist on doing that - at some point we will leave behind the personal relationship.

For all matters of doctrine, the  Christian hopes and aims to achieve a conviction in his heart; to understand is to have that conviction - and that conviction is of the form of a personal relationship.


The Christian must strive above all to love God; but we cannot love an absolute abstraction, only a person.