The Genesis of Time Travel

 

 

Doctor Who Genesis

In an alternate reality,  people believe that the Universe was bootstrapped into existence by the efforts, of  a time-traveller the Once and Future Man.

They are wrong.

Theirs and a multitude of other universes, the multiverse, were catapulted into existence, unintentionally when an experiment on mind-control across time went awry. The scientists of the original universe had discovered that while they could not transmit matter backwards across time, they could transmit ideas.

They amused themselves by leaving coded messages of their interference, in the literature and art of the past.  They knew the explanation for the smile of the Mona Lisa, and exactly how Jonathan Swift was able to prophesy that the two moons of Mars would be discovered by a non-European scientist.

Providing evidence that you have changed your own timeline is difficult; something our experimenters discovered only after their experience with La Giaconda.  They had successfully changed the famously melancholic beauty, into a lady with an enigmatic smile. As far as the rest of the world was concerned, she had always had that smile.

No reason to believe is a good reason not to believe.

They realised that if their funding was to be maintained, they were going to have to provide independent evidence, that such changes had been made.

Jonathan Swift was their first target, he was easy to find.  They managed to get incorporated within Gulliver’s Travels claims that were only discovered after Swift’s lifetime, to be scientifically and historically accurate.  This then became their modus operandi.  They had the original authors incorporate information into their texts, that could be verified by modern science, but which could not have been known at the time that the text was written.

Sometimes the changes they made, did not get transmitted across time.  They eventually discovered to their horror that these changes were associated with rips in the fabric of time and space, rips that had in some cases given rise to other universes.

Among those universes you will find the universe of the Once and Future Man, and ours. Some evidence of the activities  of the unintentional creators can be found in both  universes. For instance the Mona Lisa has her enigmatic smile, and Jonathan Swift makes his prophetic claims about the moons of Mars.

The tears in reality that brought about the genesis of these two systems, appear to be linked ironically enough to the different interferences made to the Ancient Hebrew scripture, in  Genesis Chapter 1.

In the universe of the Once and Future Man, their ancient scripture gives an account of creation, that is exactly in accord with the findings of modern science. It was this accord that led to the belief  in the Time Traveller.

One of their greatest philosophers, Bertrand Russell, expressed his faith and admiration in this man, a Man not subject to the natural force of time,  in his famous 1952 essay, “Is there a Time Lord,”  in words that are identical to those made by our Bertrand Russell.

Man in so far as he is not subject to natural forces, is free to work out his own destiny.  The responsibility is his, and so is the opportunity.

Bertrand Russell Is there a God? Commissioned, but not published by Illustrated Magazine in 1952

This belief in the reality of time-travel was encouraged by those in the originating universe, who had long since stopped interfering with their own time-line.  But  were using the same technique to misdirect those in the secondary universes so that they did not develop the potentially disastrous ability to manipulate their past through mind-bending.

It was initially believed that the reason for the failure of transmission of the changes to Genesis 1, was that the description of reality, was too different, from the worldview of the Ancient Hebrews.

So the version that our universe obtained was less detailed, and more in accord with what had been there previously.  For instance, the creation was recorded as taking place in days rather than aeons..

The Hebrew writers of the pre-interference script, played down the importance of the sun and other heavenly bodies.  Understandably enough.  They wished to distinguish clearly, their beliefs from the ‘superstitious’  astrological beliefs of the Babylonians, who at that time held them captive. This bias remains in the Genesis account of our universe.

The mind-benders, noted that the description of the separation of land and sea that the writers of the original text had used, ‘let the waters under the heaven be gathered together into one place and let the dry land appear,’ had a parallel in what  modern science had discovered about the history of the earth.  There really had been a time, in fact more than one, when all the waters of the earth had been gathered together into one place, and a dry land had appeared.

This is the state the earth was in at the start of the Mesozoic- the age of dinosaurs.  Rather than trouble the ancients with an account of the monstrous beasts that roamed the earth, or the fact that the giant dry land of Pangaea was breaking up, the scientists picked on something else that clearly marked the later part of Day 3 as the Mesozoic. The flowering plants -the angiosperms, originated in that era.

The scientific name for flowering plants, angiosperms, means enclosed seeds, and it is this defining feature  that they used  as part of their efforts to provide proof that they had interfered across time. As this quote from Genesis demonstrates.   ‘And the earth brought forth….. the tree yielding fruit whose seed was in itself ……..And the evening and the morning were the third day.’ 

The Mesozoic ended with a massive bang, an asteroid hit the earth, and the subsequent environmental disaster, is linked to the extinction of among other things the great sea reptiles, and the dinosaurs.  The scientists seeded the recovery from this period of celestial disruption into the Genesis account as Day 4.  A sort of return to normal service, when the two great lights and the stars again appeared in the skies.  (The idea that the celestial bodies were made at this time, was a later addition, possibly but not necessarily made independently of the scientists.)

The whales originated as part of the earth’s recovery, from the asteroid linked environmental disaster. The scientists decided that these should be the defining feature of Day 5, along with the radiation of modern type birds that occurred at around the same time.

There was obviously a problem in ensuring that the animals that they labelled great sea monsters, and other living creatures, should be clearly identifiable as whales rather than fish, or the previously extinct great sea reptiles.  They did this rather neatly by portraying God as speaking directly to them, something that happens only one other time in Genesis 1, when he speaks to people.  Whales being the only sea creature that there has ever been any reason to believe might be capable of understanding language.

“And God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas,”  portrays God as speaking directly to the whales, this was put directly beside his communication about birds in an attempt to emphasize the point being made, “and let fowl multiply in the earth.”

Being satisfied that they had identified Day 5 as beginning no earlier than the Eocene period, they then considered which features should be used to identify Day 6, as later in time again.

They decided that the use of the term living creature, had been established sufficiently clearly as meaning a creature with whom it is possible to communicate, so they used this phrase at the start of Day 6 to describe the hominids that we evolved from.  They also recorded the other creatures that shared the grasslands that were our ancestors home, the grasslands that came into being around 1o million years ago: the ruminants (cattle), the  4-legged predators (creeping things), with everything else included in the catch-all beasts of the earth.

Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind, and it was so.

Then the reference living creature vanishes from the list, to be replaced by man, who is given dominion over the earth.  And with this the scientists stopped their interference, convinced that they had adequately placed their, “Kilroy was here.”

They were mystified as to why these changes didn’t show up in their ancient scriptures; and it was sometime, before physicists made the link between their activities and  various rips in the fabric of space and time.

As a consequence of this discovery a new program was set up by an international commission. It was entasked  with policing their earth’s timeline to make sure no more interference was caused; and also to make sure that  scientists in those universes that had come into being as an accidental artefact, did not acquire the knowledge necessary for time interference.

Efforts were made to ensure that those of us living in the secondary universes, did not come to an understanding of what consciousness is. As it was this knowledge that had made the across time mind-bending experiments possible.

They didn’t actually implant the belief, held by many scientists in our world that the purpose of science is to oppose religion, but it was one that they encouraged the development of. Regarding it as something useful to distract those who might otherwise have directed their talents to finding out what was really going on.

Sometimes, just sometimes the interferers sense of humour gets the better of them, and you will find their in-jokes incorporated into our universe.

One such joke was recorded as part of a report by Massimo Pigliucci  on a naturalism (the view that everything that is, is part of one reality) workshop held in 2012.

During the roundtable introductions, Dawkins (as well as the rest of us) was asked what he would be willing to change his mind about; he said he couldn’t conceive of a sensible alternative to naturalism. Rosenberg, interestingly, brought up the (hypothetical) example of finding God’s signature in a DNA molecule (just like Craig Venter has actually done). Dawkins admitted that that would do it, though immediately raised the more likely possibility that that would be a practical joke played by a superhuman — but not supernatural — intelligence.

Massimo Pigliucci From the Naturalism Workshop Part 1 2012

Richard Dawkins is actually making a sensible, if rather tautological point, when he says that any outside being interfering with our earth would not be supernatural.  Once you define the natural realm as meaning all that is, then by definition, any existent being must be a natural entity.  The joke lies in the fact that he treats superhuman , rather than natural, as the opposite of supernatural.  Our accidental creators are vastly entertained at the notion of themselves as superhuman intelligences.

The notion that they might have left their, ‘Kilroy was here,’ on DNA is a useful distraction, from the reality of where they did leave it.  They know from experience that the Ancient Hebrew Scriptures, are a much better place to acquire literary immortality, than  mutation and transposon vulnerable DNA.

Of course their real purpose in intervening in this conference was to distract these serious minds away from the problem described vividly, if rather histrionically, by the philosopher Jerry Fodor, in the following quote, the problem of consciousness.

“If it isn’t literally true that my wanting is causally responsible for my reaching, and my itching is causally responsible for my scratching, and my believing is causally responsible for my saying… if none of that is literally true, then practically everything I believe about anything is false and it’s the end of the world.”

Jerry Fodor as quoted by Sean Carroll in Downward Causation 2011

What is the relation, between feeling thinking and doing. How do you get a machine, albeit a biological one to experience pain, itching etc.  And if thinking is in anyway causal, how is it done. How we experience the world feels vastly different from the mechanistic explanations that science is delivering. It isn’t enough to say that our experiences are an emergent property, a sort of lusus naturae.  As Jonathan Swift pointed out in Gulliver’s travels, this kind of explanation, is just as much an attempt to deny ignorance, as were the occult explanations of earlier times.

After much Debate, they concluded unanimously that I was only Relplum Scalcath, which is interpreted literally, Lusus Naturae, a Determination exactly agreeable to the modern philosophy of Europe, whose Professors, disdaining the old Evasion of Occult Causes, whereby the followers of Aristotle endeavoured in vain to disguise their Ignorance, have invented this wonderful solution of All Difficulties, to the unspeakable Advancement of human Knowledge.

Jonathan Swift  Gulliver’s Travels 1726

(Jonathan Swift had that which a more gentle satirical novelist, Terry Pratchett, described as the gift of first sight, the ability to see what is really there.  It will not surprise you to learn that the scurrilous attacks upon him by intelligent people such as George Orwell, were the result of our accidental creators efforts to discredit him and what were for their purposes anyway his dangerous ideas.)

The fact that these serious scientists and philosophers are using the argument, Relplum Scalcath, is not unfunny. Our accidental creators do like their little joke. George Orwell accused Jonathan Swift of what can only be described as having the gift of prophecy. But it  really is no secret as to   how come  Swift writing in the early 18th century, could have described so accurately the behaviour of 21st Century scientists. The alternate universe civil servants, are manipulating the scientists behaviour to match that described by Swift.

So focused have they caused  our philosophers and scientists to be on the notion that the purpose of science is to oppose religion, that they are terrified to admit their ignorance in case a supernatural being might be tempted to crawl into the gap.

Not every scientist at the Moving Naturalism Forward Workshop had been implanted with the idea that consciousness was an emergent feature. The  civil-servant who was tasked with minding biologist, Jerry Coyne, has the kind of sense of humour that almost lost him his job.  He has managed to convince the man, who blogs at. ‘Why Evolution is True,’ that the fact that we are subject to the laws of physics, proves something, that if it were true, would be a bigger threat to Darwin’s theory of evolution, than any number of fluffy bunnies hopping around in the Pre-Cambrian Era.

Jerry Coyne believes that as we are collections of atoms whose behaviour is completely determined by the laws of nature, that consciousness has no role to play in decision making.

He quotes the results of experiments done by Benjamin Libet in the 1980’s, which showed that actions that we would normally think of as volitional, had been initiated, before the conscious mind was aware of them, as evidence that consciousness plays no part in our decision making.

To understand why Coyne’s interpretation of these results causes a problem, for Darwinian’s consider the following  hypothetical scenario.

A man is wired up for a brain scan, and then kicked in the groin.  The evidence shows that his hands had moved to protect his testicles, before he was consciously aware that he had been hit, and before he had experienced pain.

This if it were true, would be absolutely consistent with the response being an adaptation, operating, more quickly than conscious processes, to maintain something extremely important in evolution by natural selection, reproductive fitness. One up for Darwin.

But Professor Coyne’s hypothesis is that even in the long-term,  consciousness is not the kind of thing that can have any effect on the physical universe, and therefore that any subsequent actions  that the man took towards his assailant, could not be affected by his conscious experience of pain. And if this is the case it therefore follows logically, although obviously not to Jerry Coyne, that pain and all  other complex conscious effects can not be the product of evolution by natural selection.  Evolution can only select for features that have a material effect on the world.

In standing firm against the notion that consciousness can have an effect on the physical universe, Coyne believes that he is taking a stance against religious superstition.

In reality he has thrown open the front doors and laid down the red carpet for creationists and the intelligent design brigade.

A complex non-adaptive feature or better still range of features, is just the kind of thing that intelligent – designers are looking for.  Although fortunately for Jerry’s guardian civil servant, the kind of god who would inflict pointless confabulations and  purposeless pain on his creation, is  not the one whose existence they  are trying to prove.  So they are not likely to alert his charge to the problem.

It was an incident that took place at the naturalism workshop that almost caused the alternate universe joker to lose his job.

….We all agreed that dualism (often called “nonphysical libertarian free will”) is dead, and that our decisions are determined largely before we become conscious of “making” them.  Surprisingly, Steve Weinberg was the one person who seemed to disagree with this, saying that his consciousness had a “role” in making his decision. I claim that consciousness of making a decision may be merely a phenomenon that follows a decision made unconsciously, and, indeed, may have evolved just for that purpose. That is, confabulating may be an adaptation.

Jerry Coyne Moving Naturalism Forward :My Summary 2012

Coyne’s surprise that someone, whose wisdom he respects as much as he does physicist Steve Weinberg’s, believed that consciousness had physical effects might have led him to, question his own views, if the civil servant had not taken emergency action, and implanted the confabulating notion.  But even then if he had not been further distracted by the free-will problem, he might have had time to realise that evolution is only going to select for deceptive systems that do have an effect on the material realm.

It was the real problem of pain, “How do you get something that is basically a moist machine, to experience pain, and react to it?” that led the scientists of the original universe to the discovery that they are trying to prevent our scientists from making – the  nature of consciousness.

Jerry Coyne is not the only thinker in our universe whose thought processes  have been manipulated.  It was their idea to initiate the belief in our universe that the real problem of pain was, ‘Why does God allow?’

They also, within our universe, corrupted the thinking of René  Descartes. The ‘evil genius, ‘ that he mentions as deceiving him, is yet again an example of the interferers bigging themselves up.

In the original universe, Descartes most famous quote was a response to the death of his much loved young daughter, ‘I am in pain therefore I am.’ In our universe this courageous life affirming statement, embracing the reality that our nature is to be a feeling animal, has been deleted, and replaced with the insipid, ‘I think therefore I am.’ And the claim that to be human is to be a rational animal.

Jerry Coyne has clearly fallen hook line and sinker for the myth that he is a rational animal. More so than Descartes, who first had to convince himself that he was not deluded before he could accept that he existed as an agent, an I, who could trust his own rationality.

Jerry Coyne, thinks that he is deluded and that he has no agency, and yet at the same time he believes he can trust his own rationality.  Immoral as it may seem, I feel a strong urge to high five his guardian deceiver, on a job well done.  Especially after reading this.

The illusion of agency is so powerful that even strong incompatibilists like myself will always act as if we had choices, even though we know that we don’t. We have no choice in this matter. But we can at least ponder why evolution might have bequeathed us such a powerful illusion.

Jerry Coyne What Scientific Idea is Ready for Retirement 2014

Notice what we are being asked to ponder.  If he had asked the question, ‘How has evolution bequeathed us such a powerful illusion?’ he might have been directed towards the realisation that evolution can only act on those things that make a material difference to the universe.

He is however right that he doesn’t have free will. Not because consciousness doesn’t have an effect on the physical, but because he is the victim of a deception.

 

Postscript:

I don’t know how the correlations between Genesis 1  and the  scientific account of the order in which modern life on earth arose. But they are there.

I agree with Jerry Coyne, that he does not have free will, but not because consciousness doesn’t have real effects on the world.  For humans to have freedom, they have to have the truth.  Jerry Coyne’s ability to recognise truth shows signs of having been suborned by a deceiver. I think the theory of evolution can explain how an innate deceiver could have been selected for. Therefore even though I don’t know how consciousness works, I think it is rational to assume that the innate deceiver, something that works using confirmation bias, is not an occult entity, or an external agent from another reality.

We are social animals, who very frequently bond on shared ideas.  Holding views vastly different from those in ones social group is likely to make social bonding more difficult, and on average thereby decrease our reproductive fitness.

In an environment where those who hold different views are demonised, being seen as a staunch upholder of the correct view, is likely to increase social status, and especially for the male of the species, at least in primitive societies, their reproductive fitness.   It should be no surprise in these conditions to find adaptations in existence, that serve to disguise from those who have a chance to gain high status within their communities, the flaws in their logic.

And it is my hypothesis that it is these deceiver instincts that served to derail the thinking of both René  Descartes and Jerry Coyne. Although obviously I can’t rule out evil geniuses, or alternate universe civil servants.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Is there a Time Lord?

Eyes in Space

Bertrand Russell in his 1952 essay, Is there a God? demonstrated that there is clear evidence that the omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient, god of traditional western philosophy doesn’t exist.

The argument he made wasn’t new. It can be found in the, allegedly ancient Greek, Epicurean paradox.

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?

If evil exists, and there is evidence that it does, any God that exists must be, less than omnipotent, and/or less than omnibenevolent.

The god of traditional western philosophy therefore does not exist.

From this perspective, it is difficult to understand why Russell chose to conclude his argument with this rather weak conclusion.

My conclusion is that there is no reason to believe any of the dogmas of traditional theology and, further, that there is no reason to wish that they were true.

Bertrand Russell Is there a God? Commissioned, but not published by Illustrated Magazine in 1952

Why go for the, ‘no reason to believe,‘ option, when he could have gone for the option, not only is there no reason to believe, but there is good reason not to believe?

Perhaps it is because he understood, that his argument, like the Epicurean paradox isn’t an argument against the existence of God, merely a claim that he has been mislabelled.  Any God that might really exist doesn’t meet the standards set by the philosopher’s definition, of maximal greatness.  And is therefore not the god of traditional Western Theology.

There are ways of understanding the concepts of omnipotence, and/or evil that appear to falsify the Epicurean Paradox, but all of these arguments are like the paradox itself, arguments about definition, rather than fact.  Why bother?

While it is peculiar that Russell claimed merely that there was no reason to believe that, for which there was very good reason not to believe; it is not at all strange that he should say that there is no reason to wish that such a monster as he describes , should exist.

Peter Capaldi as Dr Who

Peter Capaldi as Dr Who

This is not the God of the human heart, the God that is loved.  That God, like Peter Capaldi’s Time Lord, in the BBC series Dr Who, is the God that, no matter what the appearances may be,  cares  about us, has our back.

Within Christianity, where you find the notion of God’s Omnipotence being pushed as a sign of orthodoxy, there you will also find that while the lip service is being offered to power, the adoration isn’t going there.  It is bestowed on Christ, or  on the Lady Mary.

Beings that the Bible tells us had the characteristics of that which, in the very last sentence of his famous essay, Bertrand Russell recognised as ultimate greatness; i.e. there were occasions when they were not subject to natural forces.

Man in so far as he is not subject to natural forces, is free to work out his own destiny.  The responsibility is his, and so is the opportunity.

Bertrand Russell Is there a God? Commissioned, but not published by Illustrated Magazine in 1952

This abstraction of Russell’s, this Who’s the Daddy of Man, is every bit as much a supernatural being as the one he has spent the rest of the essay demolishing.

If you can find any part of humankind that is not subject to natural forces, then naturalism is falsified.

One of the things that I find interesting about Bertrand Russell’s, ” Is there a God,” and Richard Dawkins , “The God Delusion,” is that they both concentrate on disproving the existence of a god, that logically can’t exist.  In Dawkin’s case he ends up arguing not that the impossible god doesn’t exist, but that his existence is just very improbable. From the point of view of a theist this argument is just funny.  This is just a version of the ontological argument.  If that which exists beyond the universe is infinite, and if there is any probability of this god existing at all, then Richard Dawkin’s has proved that the existence of the Impossible is certain.

Many of us experience life as though we are, at least on occasion, interacting directly with a consciousness not our own.  I am not necessarily adverse to Richard Dawkin’s hypothesis, that this is just the imaginary friend experience carried on beyond childhood.

This certainly seems the most probable explanation. but then as discussed earlier, probability arguments don’t really work, when you are dealing with a possible infinity.

Consciousness, and by that I don’t mean information processing, but the ability to feel: pleasure, pain, emotion, is peculiar.  I know that it is something that can be achieved in a machine, because I am a biological machine, and yet I don’t understand how it is done.  I am amazed to be living on a planet, where the dust has given rise to this mystery.

Consciousness is so amazing that it doesn’t strike me as necessarily ridiculous to believe that the universe, or even the multiverse is part of a  process aimed at its reproduction. Nor does it strike me as necessarily impossible that this feeling of other consciousness, that some of us experience, has a reality that extends beyond the human.

However I do think it is reasonable to look for evidence, before jumping to the conclusion that this is either true or untrue.  The rational position is strict agnosticism, because while we have reason not to believe in celestial teapots – we know what china teapots are, and how unlikely it is that one, could not only get into orbit, but also survive in the extremes of outer space ; we don’t even understand how consciousness is created in ourselves.

It has occurred to me that the position of  any God who wanted to prove that he wasn’t a figment of our imagination or part of a con , might be similar to that of a time travelling alien out to save the world.

This is a position I dealt with in previous posts, “Is There a Teapot?” and “Beginnings Chapter 1.”

In the Alternative Universe of,  “Is There a Teapot?”  the holy scripture is the, “Book of River Song.”  And the contents of “River Song,” prove the falsity of the alternate Bertrand Russell’s claim the one that is equivalent to our Bertrand Russell’s, “there is no reason to believe any of the dogmas of traditional theology.”

In ironical voice, where he mocks the over certainty of the adoctorists, Russell says that there is no reason to believe any of the teachings of River Song.

This is of course not true. For instance the book  states that the earth had  a beginning (Beginnings Chapter 1 verse 1) and that there is more than one universe, i.e. the host of the heavens. (Beginnings Chapter 2  Verse 1) It would be very strange if a book containing as much information as River Song was not in agreement with modern  knowledge in some places, even if entirely by accident.

 Linda Bailey Is there a Teapot? June 2013

In this universe the same holds true, there is good scientific reason to believe that the earth had a beginning, and this was true even in 1952, when “Is there a God,” was written, and there is reason to believe that there is a multiverse i.e.more than one universe.  And in our universe Genesis 1:1 tells us that the earth had a beginning  and Genesis 2:1 talks about a plurality of heavens. (N.B. The word that is translated as heaven in Genesis 1:1 in the King James Bible, is identical to the word that is translated as heavens in Genesis 2:1.  The Hebrew word is in the plural.)

Of course as in the alternative universe, these two correlations are compatible with coincidence.  Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

It would take a lot more co-incidences between ancient scripture and modern science, to leave   coincidence an improbability.

In the alternate universe of “Is there a Teapot?”  The first chapter of their holy book, Beginnings Chapter 1, a fusion of Genesis 1, and our scientific story of the earth’s history, provides these co-incidences by matching exactly the scientific discoveries of their scientists with the ancient scriptures.

There are reasons, apart from the fact that I have a clear recollection of having made it up, for believing that this alternate universe does not exist.

Firstly, if scripture is to be passed through time, it requires its first hearers, and at least some of every succeeding generation, to hold it in enough reverence to ensure that it is copied and passed on.  This is extremely unlikely to happen if it portrays a world that is vastly at odds with that which the  first generation, and to a lesser extent subsequent generations believe to actually exist.

Secondly it is likely that a science, that served only to confirm scripture would be regarded as a minor branch of teapotology, their equivalent of theology, and held in no great esteem. It would be unfit to independently verify anything.

This is not true in our universe, where some religious fundamentalists attempt to gain respectability for their interpretation of scripture, covering it with a great big fig leaf labelled Scientific Creationism.

It isn’t just fundamentalists who have attempted to force a correlation between scripture and science, a point made by Stephen Gould in “Bully for Brontosaurus,” in a chapter entitled Genesis and Geology.

There he recounts the tale of a dispute, which took place in the late 19th century, between a former British Prime Minister, William Gladstone , and the biologist,Thomas Huxley.

Gladstone, based on his reading of Genesis made a probability argument for the existence of God. He argued that the appearance of animals in Genesis: first the water population, then the air population, followed, by the terrestrial population, and lastly man – is what the fossil record shows.  He argued that this was such a great coincidence that it could only be achieved by the writer of Genesis being gifted beyond belief, or divine intervention.

This argument doesn’t say a lot for Gladstone’s maths.  When ordering 4 different objects or pieces of information, there are only 24 different permutations. If in an exam you were asked to place 4 events in temporal order, you would have a 1 in 24 chance using straight forward guesswork of getting the answer correct.  This is more probable than throwing a double 6 in a dice game, not something that is generally thought of as proof of divine intervention.

Of course there is a 23 in 24 chance of getting the order wrong, and Huxley didn’t waste too much time in proving that the order that Gladstone was suggesting was incompatible with the findings of what was then modern science.

Huxley pointed out that there is clear evidence from the fossil record and from the morphology of birds and bats that terrestrial animals existed before the animals of the air.

He also argued that Gladstone should have included the plants in his argument.  (When you are ordering 5 pieces of information, there are 120 different permutations.  There is only a 1 in 120 chance of getting the temporal order correct by chance.)

Huxley wanted the plants included in the argument because he had noted that the description of the plants given in Genesis 1:11-12, the fruit trees, and other plants with enclosed seeds, identified them as angiosperms, the flowering plants.  These appear late in the fossil record, but are the first living organisms to be listed in Genesis.

Modern Scientific evidence shows that flowering plants diversified during the Cretaceous period, the last portion of the age of dinosaurs. And that there is some evidence that they may have been in existence throughout the age of dinosaurs.

In fact had Gladstone had access to modern scientific knowledge, been a bit better at statistics, and had gone for Genesis ordering correctly the times for the diversification of modern type lifeforms rather than first appearance of water, air and land animals, he could have argued that there was only a 1 in 120 chance of the following correlation happening by chance.

The flowering plants, which Genesis records as sprouting forth in the latter half of Day 3, scientific evidence shows as diversifying in the latter part of the age of dinosaurs, the Cretaceous.

The age of dinosaurs ended with a mass extinction, which modern science links to an asteroid collision with the earth around 65 million years ago.

The next readily identifiable creature mentioned in Genesis is the whale.  The word which is translated  as whale in the King James Bible, is more literally translated as great sea monster.  These appear in Day 5 in Genesis.  The first whales  appear in the fossil record around 55 million years ago.  This coincides with the diversification of modern bird groups. Winged fowls are mentioned as multiplying in day 5 of the Genesis account.

The rise of widespread grassland about 15 million years ago, resulted in a burst of animal diversification, a proliferation of  grazing animals, predators and the bi-pedal apes – our ancestors and related species. This happened after the origin of whales, in the same temporal position as Genesis describes the earth bringing forth, the living creature, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth. Another co-incidence.

Modern man, the not very modestly self-identified Homo sapiens, is a late appearance on the scene of life, according to both palaeontologists and Genesis.

And if you take into account the non-biological events mentioned there are still more co-incidences.

The flowering plants arose during the age of dinosaurs, the Mesozoic Era. The period prior to the start of the age of dinosaurs, the Permian, had seen the formation of the supercontinent Pangaea. When tectonic plate activity had resulted in smaller continents coalescing into one large continent, with one would suspect the mother of all continental weather systems – a dry land. This was surrounded by one ocean Panthalassa.  Or as Genesis 1:9 has it all the waters of the earth gathered into one place and the dry land appeared.

It is surprisingly easy to correlate the events of Genesis 1, with the findings of modern science.  Something I had fun with when I wrote, Beginnings Chapter 1.

It answers a question, that I asked of God, when I was teenager.  If you wanted us to believe that you created the world that really exists, why didn’t the Bible get it right.  I hadn’t at the time figured out that he hadn’t written the book himself.

The Genesis account was capable of telling the people for whom it was originally written that God had created the real world. It is still capable of telling us that God made the world that really is.  That makes it a fairly amazing piece of writing.

What it cannot do is prove the existence of God. There is no matter of fact that could make this a necessary conclusion. Even an inability to think of another explanation, would not prove that such an explanation did not exist.

To go from believing to not believing in God, or vice-versa is a paradigm shift. Not a matter of merely thinking one less or one more thing about reality, but a total change in the way you view reality.   A paradigm shift is, and I sympathise with those atheists who object to the phrase, always “a leap of faith.”

Douglas Adam’s provided a much better metaphor in his Dirk Gently novel, “The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul.”  It’s like, ‘a turn through half a molecule,’  everything is the same, and yet everything is different. A metaphor that works both ways.

The Christian Satanist

A   Northern Irish Christian Fundamentalist preacher- Pastor James McConnell  has acquired the support of the National Secular Society. Pastor McConnell is being prosecuted for under the 2003 Communications act for allegedly posting a  grossly offensive message, a recording of a sermon where he claimed that Islam was Satanic, “A doctrine spawned in hell.” The National Secular Society regard his prosecution as an infringement of his fundamental right to free speech, arguing that there was no incitement to violence in what he said.

In Northern Ireland we have a history of firebrand demagogues stirring up anger, and then taking no responsibility for subsequent violence. We also have a recent history of attacks on immigrants; so I am not as certain as the NSS that his message was inherently peaceable.

The NSS would have been considerably less vocal in support of Pastor McConnell’s rights, if he had wished to pray during a council meeting. There being “inappropriate, divisive and unnecessary”, even when it isn’t likely to incite violence, seems to be regarded as sufficient reason, for denying free speech.

Pastor McConnell is not the first Christian to argue that the God worshipped by those of a different Abrahamic tradition, is evil.  Marcion, of Sinope, who was expelled from the Church in Rome in 144 AD, made similar claims about the Jewish God, the God of the Old Testament. He argued that, the stories of the Old Testament should be taken literally, and that they clearly portrayed a wrathful vengeful God, who was not the God whom Jesus called Father.

It is undoubtedly true that in places the Old Testament presents a God who not only endorses but insists on genocide, the killing of the innocent, and the abandonment of wives and children. Pastor McConnell and other Christian fundamentalists claim like Marcion,  that the Old Testament should be treated as literally true.

Unlike Marcion, they believe that this is the God, that Jesus worshipped, and the First Person of the Trinity. They are able to hold this  belief, while being most of the time mostly harmless themselves.

Given what he believes about God the Father, it is perhaps no wonder that when Pastor McConnell wished to distinguish his belief system, from what he alleged was Satan worship, that he was very emphatic that his God was Jesus.

While there are passages in the Old Testament, that show God in a very bad light, there are others that show a very different God, a God who is just and merciful. A God who doesn’t require very special pleading to be called good.

And then there is Leviticus 24:10 -23.

Steve Wells at Dwindling in Unbelief, had fun with this  passage comparing the events to the stoning of the blasphemer, Matthias, Son of Deuteronomy of Gath, in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. A comparison that is more accurate than he realizes.

And the son of an Israelitish woman, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the children of Israel: and this son of the Israelitish woman and a man of Israel strove together in the camp;
And the Israelitish woman’s son blasphemed the name of the Lord, and cursed. And they brought him unto Moses: (and his mother’s name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan:)
And they put him in ward, that the mind of the Lord might be shewed them.
And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
Bring forth him that hath cursed without the camp; and let all that heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him.
And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, Whosoever curseth his God shall bear his sin.
And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death.
And he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death.
And he that killeth a beast shall make it good; beast for beast.
And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbour; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him;
Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again.
And he that killeth a beast, he shall restore it: and he that killeth a man, he shall be put to death.
Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for one of your own country: for I am the Lord your God.
And Moses spake to the children of Israel, that they should bring forth him that had cursed out of the camp, and stone him with stones. And the children of Israel did as the Lord commanded Moses.

Leviticus 24:10-23

Elbe Spurling, the creator of the Brick Testament and Steve Wells creator of The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible,  have this in common with the theologians of Christendom, they interpret the phrase, “And the children of Israel did as the Lord commanded Moses,” as synonymous with, the children of Israel stoned Shelomith’s son to death.(1,2)

This is to ignore, what is metaphorically speaking, the small print.  God commanded quite a lot of things in this passage.  He commanded, that the hearers of the blasphemy identify themselves before the entire congregation, including presumably the relatives of the accused.  Relatives who were likely to be very upset and have easy access to stones.

If anyone was still willing to identify themselves as a witness to this alleged blasphemy, by standing close enough to the accused to touch him, then other laws come into play. God is entirely clear about the consequences of damaging or killing another human being.

Some thousands of years before Shakespeare wrote the Merchant of Venice, we have the Jewish God, making an equivalent demand to that made to Shylock; take your pound of flesh without drawing blood.

There is only one of the commands given that could have been obeyed without contradiction, or danger to the life of the obedient.

And he that killeth a beast shall make it good; beast for beast.

An explanation of what the fight was about?

It is likely within the context of the story, that it is the mixed race man who had had his livestock killed. I have no doubt that the sweethearts who would have seen him stoned, would have been quick to seek legal redress if it had been their cattle.

This is the story of a God, whose  laws are harsh even by the standards of our judgemental, and fear filled nature, but which, like Isaac Asimov’s laws of robotics, in practice collapse in on themselves. This is the story of a God of justice, grace and wit.  One who understands His creation well.

Neither Elbe Spurling or Steve Wells see the logical consequence of the laws that God commands the Children of Israel to obey in this story. They do not however claim that ordering the cruel execution of a  mixed race man, over a matter of unwise speech, is the act of a virtuous God.

One of those who failed to recognize in Leviticus 24, the outworking of the claim made in Deuteronomy 8:3, and again in Matthew 4:4, that “Man shall live by every word that comes out of the mouth of God,” was the founder of Methodism, John Wesley.

Shockingly, to me anyway,  he justifies the barbaric desecration of this young man as an act of righteousness.

Lev. 24:23 Stone him with stones – This blasphemer was the first that died by the law of Moses. Stephen the first that died for the gospel, died by the abuse of the law. The martyr and the malefactor suffered the same death; but how vast the difference between them.

John Wesley  Wesley’s Explanatory Notes 1755

This shocks me, because everything I know about John Wesley says that he was a good man: opposing slavery as against mercy, justice and truth; arguing for prison reform, and universal education – he fought the abuses of his own age.

Modern day Methodists recognise that blasphemy laws become a source of victimisation for minorities. Why didn’t Wesley recognise that this was being described in the text?  Why was he willing to believe that God would condone such a thing?  Why didn’t he look for another explanation?

I think that at least some of the explanation lies in the understanding of God that was formulated by  Anselm, (c. 1033 – 21 April 1109)  the first of the  scholastic philosophers.

Prior to Anselm, the majority view of the medieval church was that Christ had given himself as a sacrifice to ransome us from Satan, that is the ransome theory of atonement.

Anselm, argued instead that the being that Christ was paying tribute to was in fact God.  An argument he fleshed out in Cur Deus Homo, as a discussion between himself and someone called Boso.

Anselm. I think, therefore, that you will not say that God ought to endure a thing than which no greater injustice is suffered, viz., that the creature should not restore to God what he has taken away.

Boso.  No; I think it should be wholly denied.

Anselm. Again, if there is nothing greater or better than God, there is nothing more just than supreme justice, which maintains God’s honor in the arrangement of things, and which is nothing else but God himself.

Boso. There is nothing clearer than this.

Anselm. Therefore God maintains nothing with more justice than the honor of his own dignity.

Anselm  Cur Deus Homo Chapter 13 (Deane’s 1903 translation)

This is the image of God, that is central to traditional Western theology.  For centuries Christians have acknowledged this self-obsessed and cruel God, as the foremost person of the Trinity. And have bowed down and called evil good.

It is this image of God, that enabled John Wesley to take Lev.24:10-23, at face value and accept the cruel execution of a young mixed race man as just?

It is this image that hides the other interpretation?  The story of a God, who far from being obsessed with his own importance, took steps to not only save the life of a man, who may well have blasphemed his name,  but also to ensure that those who had unjustly destroyed his livestock , replaced them?

A God who regards the deliberate killing or otherwise blemishing of those made in his image as the ultimate blasphemy.

Nearly one thousand years ago a clever pious man replaced a God deserving the honorific Father, with a monster who required torture and execution to appease him.

This is the God that John Wesley recognised in Leviticus. The God of Anselm’s imagination. The God that is not there.

24:14 Lay their hands upon his head – Whereby they gave public testimony that they heard this person speak such words, and did in their own and all the peoples names, demand justice to be executed upon him, that by this sacrifice God might be appeased, and his judgments turned away from the people, upon whom they would certainly fall if he were unpunished. Stone him – The same punishment which was before appointed for those who cursed their parents.

John Wesley   Wesley’s Explanatory Notes 1755

Anselm was  a very gifted man.  So gifted was he, that he had the power to make the devil from hell appear, not merely as an angel of light, but the very God of heaven.

No matter how gifted Anselm was, he could not have succeeded in this, if we did not instinctively subscribe to the notion of pecking order justice; the instinct that might is right.

John Wesley though he paid lip service to the abomination, in life was Christ’s man.  He proved the power of the cross, to save us from  that shameful, forelock tugging human instinct.  To recognise the greatness that lies in love not power.

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If Jesus Never Lived

photo

“Cottingley Fairies 1” by Elsie Wright (1901–1988) wiki

Two photographs taken in 1917, by 16 year old Elsie Wright and her cousin 10 year old Frances Griffiths along with 3 others taken in 1920, were accepted by, Sherlock Holmes creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as evidence for the existence of fairies.

The cousins didn’t admit until 1983, that the fairies in the photographs were cardboard cut outs. Even then they still insisted that they had really seen fairies. And I am quite prepared to believe that they did indeed remember seeing fairies. I too have such a memory.

When we were very young, my brother and I adored the teenage girl who child-minded us. Being with her could be enormous fun.  Once when she was doing the dishes, she told us that the reason the washing up liquid was called Fairy, was because there were fairies in the bubbles.  She then blew some bubbles for us.  I have a distinct memory of having seen fairies, including one using a steering wheel to manoeuvre her bubble.  Imagination is a wonderful thing.

The upshot of this experience wasn’t that I ended up believing in fairies, but that at a very young age I learned that seeing is not sufficient reason for believing.

From the age of eight until I was in my mid teens I was a voracious reader, reading everything that I could find, including a book of poems by the First World War army chaplain, preacher and poet, G.A. Studdert Kennedy. (1883 -1929).

The following section from one of those poems left me absolutely bewildered.

Suppose the gospel story lies,
What then? Why, then
There are no fairies
Any more For men,
The shore
Of fairyland is dry,
Unlapped by any sea.
All fancies die,
If Jesus never lived,
For living fancies need to be
The symbols of a Truth.

G.A. Studdert Kennedy If Jesus Never Lived

As far as I was concerned there were and never had been any fairies, and whether or not Jesus had ever lived had no bearing on the matter. To me then the clear sense of what he was arguing was that it didn’t matter whether or not Jesus had lived, and yet  bewilderingly he was drawing the entirely opposite conclusion.

As an adult I understand him to be arguing that living beliefs need to be based on truth, and I  think that there is clear evidence that he is wrong. Beliefs require emotional resonance, and, as the story of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Cottingley fairies shows, this can be achieved without that which is believed having any underlying substance.

Aesop’s fables, such as Belling the Cat, and The Lion and the Mouse, demonstrate that truths can be told, by stories of things that never happened.

So no, living fancies don’t need to be the symbols of a truth. But also just because something isn’t literally true, doesn’t give you any reason to believe that its message is false.

Having said all that, I am going to argue that it is probable that Jesus of Nazareth was a real person.

The Bible can be a very informative book; for instance it was reading Genesis 1and 2 that convinced me that Scientific Creationists were basing their faith on the literal truth of their interpretation of the Bible, not on what it actually said.

It also tells me that the implicit claim made in this quote, taken from the introduction to my Gideon copy of the New Testament is false.

Most of them (the human writers of the bible) had no contact with each other and no means of knowing that when their writings were all put together as one book it would be complete, all parts agreeing in doctrine, teaching and prophecy.

Nor of course had they any way of knowing the truth, that their writings would be put together into a book, where the different parts did not agree in doctrine, teaching and prophecy.

One of the discrepancies in the Old Testament was noted by the philosopher Bertrand Russell.

The Bible says both that a woman must not marry her deceased husband’s brother, and that, in certain circumstances, she must do so. If you have the misfortune to be a childless widow with an unmarried brother-in-law, it is logically impossible for you to avoid disobeying ‘God’s law’.

Bertrand Russell What is an Agnostic? 1953 

The New Testament despite the fact that it was written over a much shorter period of time is also loaded with incompatibilities..

In the following quote taken from The Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is portrayed as affirming his commitment to the Jewish Law, in fact telling his listeners that they must be even stricter in their adherence to the law, than the most strict Jewish adherent.

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew Chapter 5 Verses 17-20

Yet in  John’s Gospel Chapter 8 Jesus is portrayed as  failing to follow the law himself, and also dissuading others from doing so.  The Law was very clear on what should be done to those caught in adultery.

And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.

Leviticus Chapter 20 Verse 10

That two different authors make apparently incompatible claims about Christ, while it is relevant to the claim of Biblical consistency, doesn’t tell us whether or not Jesus was a real person.

What appears more relevant is that there are incidences in Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus is portrayed as condoning the breaking of Jewish Law.

In Matthew Chapter 12 verses 1-8, Jesus disciples pluck ears of corn and eat them on the Sabbath day.  When the Pharisees point out to Jesus that his disciples are breaking the  Sabbath; rather than telling his disciples to desist, he says King David broke the law too, and the, “Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath”. (The term Son of Man, in Hebrew Ben Adam, literally son of Adam, is found in what are regarded as Messianic texts in the Old  Testament, it is also used as a synonym for any man/person, see Isaiah 56:2.)  A slightly different version of this story appears in Mark’s  gospel.  There Jesus says,  “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath”, Mark 2:27.

In Matthew Chapter 15 verses 1-11, the Pharisees berate Jesus because his disciples didn’t follow the ritual purity laws and wash their hands before eating.  He answers them by pointing out one of their customs which transgresses the law, and ends by saying in contradiction to the ritual purification laws, that it is what comes out of the mouth of a man, not what goes in that defiles him. A very similar account to this can be found in Mark’s Gospel, Mark 7:1-15

The Jesus in Matthew’s sermon on the Mount , with his strict legalism, is very different from the Jesus described elsewhere in Matthew,  where the behaviour described indicates that he understood the law to be flexible, there for the service of man, rather than the other way around.

These discrepancies don’t prove there was a non-mythical Jesus. They may be nothing more than the consequences of taking the beliefs of two different early Christian sects and trying to form a coherent whole.

We read elsewhere in the New Testament, notably in Galatians that there was a controversy in the early Christian Church, between those who thought that the new movement should follow the Jewish Law, and those like the writer of Galatians, a letter biblical scholars tell us might actually have been written by Paul, who held that Christians were no longer under the judgement of the Law.

For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

Galatians Chapter 5 Verses 13 and 14.

The law  is fulfilled by acting in love to yourself and to the other.

So no the incompatibilities discussed here, don’t prove that Jesus was a real person, but they provide evidence supporting another claim of the New Testament. The claim that there was a faction within the early church who opposed the teaching that Christians were no longer subject to the law.

The gospels are foundational documents, explaining the origins of  Christianity. All of them claim that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah long expected by the Jews.  All of them contain one detail that was absolutely not expected of the Jewish Messiah.  He had been crucified.

It is  improbable that all four gospels would contain this claim, if it had not been an historical reality; therefore I conclude that there probably was a real Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified.

Rational arguments  do not have the power to impart emotional certainty.  Stories do.  And it was a moment of empathy with what I concluded, based on emotional resonance, to be the  bewilderment  of  a First Century eye-witness;which convinced me that there had been an historical Jesus. That and the fact that the verses which inspired  the reaction contained such a mixed message , that the only reason for including it just had to be the conviction of the collator of Matthew that it was an eye-witness report.

The Parable of the Fish that Got Away

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind:
Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away.
So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just,
And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Jesus saith unto them, Have ye understood all these things? They say unto him, Yea, Lord.

Matthew Chapter 13 Verses 47-51.

It is the good (kosher) fish that cook and the (non-kosher) that live.  The moral drawn is not consistent with what went before, unless of course Jesus wished to indicate that it is the just  that are to be cast into the fire

What I saw recorded with stunning simplicity  at the end of this story was the utter bewilderment of an eye-witness, that those around her/him all claimed to understand what had been said. A bewilderment which at the time matched my own.

I came to the conclusion that the most probable explanation for the peculiar nature of the parable, was that it was an account of a story Jesus once told,  as reported by a person who really did not understand the point being made

The story of the fishes is consistent with Paul’s claim, that the followers of Christ have been called to liberty from the law, and also with  the behaviour of  Jesus, when challenged about his disciples not  following the law. (It could of course just have been a very poor analogy.)

The phrase,”Wailing and gnashing of teeth,” is frequently used, facetiously and unsympathetically, today to describe the reaction of those who have had their wishes thwarted.  For example:

Many evangelicals have predicted doom and gloom if the Supreme Court issues a ruling in favor of gay marriage. However, I predict the sun will come up the next day and after a lot of weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, not much will change.

Warren Throckmorton Scotus Blog June 2015

This usage makes sense.  Wailing and gnashing of teeth is behaviour consistent with someone throwing a tantrum, and not as the hellologists of Christendom had and still have it, the reaction of people enduring the pain of eternal torture.

Whatever the flaws and disagreements within the early Christian communities, and the New Testament is very clear that these existed; in their acceptance of the Man from Nazareth as the divine Messiah, and through their various writings they have sent into the world an image of a God, whose maximal greatness lay not in power: but in love

It is an image of maximal greatness that doesn’t sit easily with our species’ respect for power.

The sense that life is just and that people get what they deserve is a very common human belief, and not just of religious people.  It can lead to a blame the victim mentality, and a belief that might is right.  That people wouldn’t have all that power if they weren’t good.  A belief in a God who is maximally powerful can provide the rationale, for this belief, and be used to shore up very unjust power based systems.

It has taken considerable theological and philosophical ingenuity to mould the God of the New Testament, the God who became man, into a format that suited the complacent views of life’s privileged – the Omnipotence that Bertrand Russell identified, as one of the dogmas of traditional theology.

It is this Omnipotence, and the belief that he was God, that G.A. Studdert Kennedy railed against in a poem of his, that has immense emotional resonance.

And I hate the God of Power on His hellish heavenly throne,
Looking down on rape and murder, hearing little children moan.
Though a million angels hail Thee King of kings, yet cannot I.
There is nought can break the silence of my sorrow save the cry,
“Thou who rul’st this world of sinners with Thy heavy iron rod,
Was there ever any sinner who has sinned the sin of God?

G.A. Studdert Kennedy High and Lifted Up

United Church of Canada Minister Gretta Vosper has recognised that belief in the Omnipotence, can result in evil. She argues that we must reject the god called God, because belief in him can motivate bad things.

Studdert- Kennedy would have agreed, but he would have rejected the notion that the Omnipotence was the God that he called God. .

God, the God I love and worship, reigns in sorrow on the Tree,
Broken, bleeding, but unconquered, very God of God to me.
All that showy pomp of splendour, all that sheen of angel wings,
Was but borrowed from the baubles that surround our earthly kings.
Thought is weak and speech is weaker, and the vision that he sees
Strikes with dumbness any preacher, brings him humbly to his knees.

G.A. Studdert Kennedy High and Lifted Up

This is the saving myth of Christianity, bequeathed to us by the very human writers of the gospels. To recognise, “That than which no greater can be conceived to exist,” in the broken bleeding man on the cross, is to be saved from the dominant  myth of this world, that might is right.

This is the truth that our species shameful forelock tugging respect for power, and two millennia of theology have conspired to hide from us.

 

 

 

Shakespeare’s Lad

Eros bow Musei Capitolini MC410.jpg

Eros bow Musei Capitolini   wiki

William Shakespeare’s appeal in his own time was not just to an educated elite, but across the board.  He had the common touch, picking up on basic human realities, even when he referenced high culture.  The human reality he alludes too in Sonnet 153 is very basic.

But at my mistress’ eye Love’s brand new-fired,
The boy for trial needs would touch my breast;

William Shakespeare Sonnet 153

The cubit long Cupid, the boy from Sonnet !53, who,when awakened, could touch Shakespeare’s breast, is a masterpiece, of a very common type of male banter; the impulse to exaggerate the size, and staying power of the aroused penis.

Shakespeare follows up his claim that the boy had touched his breast, with a claim about his boy’s staying power. A  bath could not cure his discomfort. He then makes the claim that only his mistress can cure his problem.

I, sick withal, the help of bath desired,
And thither hied, a sad distempered guest,
But found no cure, the bath for my help lies
Where Cupid got new fire; my mistress’ eyes.

William Shakespeare Sonnet 153

I think it unlikely that the first audiences for this poem, unaware, as they were, of listening to the words of the immortal bard, would have interpreted his cure literally, unless of course his mistress was there.  Then the joke might be that a dirty look from her could cure his ardour, and that he despite his allegedly very large penis was well and truly henpecked.

It is sometimes claimed that the size of the human penis, is involved in the formation of male dominance hierarchies, i.e. pecking order, and that this effect continues to the modern day.  The features that are boasted about in Shakespeare’s poem, the length and staying power of the erection, are features that would indicate a high level of health in the person displaying them.

Attacking an opponent able to hold such an erection would be contraindicated, and this fact should be useful in reducing aggressive behaviour.  Even better is the fact that the perspective from which the male of the species observes his own penis, means that it appears shorter in comparison to one seen from a different angle. (For men a glance in the mirror, should show that their reflection is relatively better endowed than they are – an optical illusion.)

But Shakespeare isn’t doing show and tell, and his audience would have been well aware that his claims were false.

The type of banter that Shakespeare is using enables the forming of social bonds, and the reduction of within group aggression. His unbelievable claims of cock supremacy, and his joke admission of being under female control, means that without admitting or accepting a low position in the pecking order, he has presented himself as no threat.

The laughter inducing capability of the virtual penis is more effective than the actual, in conflict reduction.

A large penis may be indicative of good health, and may initially discourage challenges to its possessor’s position in the social hierarchy.  But human beings are capable of using more than one gauge of fitness. And while Shakespeare may or may not have had a large penis,he certainly had a large wit.

The  penis isn’t the problem. In it’s symbolic role in male group dynamics, it may be a fairly effective agent for aggression reduction.

What Shakespeare was doing is related to, but opposite in nature to what is, within British and Irish culture anyway, described as willy waving.

Willy waving is a metaphor describing the behaviour of those who try to gain and keep status within their own social group, not by direct intra-group competition, but by proving their superiority against  those not in their group. Those doing so can pick any symbol that applies to their group, but not to the other, and use this as evidence of the inferiority of the other.  Status is then gained within the group by those making the most zealous attempts to remind the other of their inferior status, in a metaphorical or sometimes actual display of the symbol of authority.

Who knows, the symbol might even be an actual penis.

This waving of the group penis, can lead to inter-community  violence.  

This cartoon from Steve Bell of the Guardian links penis waving with the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris, and is making the point that the killers were impotent to stop the voices of the murdered men.

At a literal level it is horrifically false.  The Kouachi brothers shot straight, and the cartoonists are dead. What they have already said is all they will ever say, and they are interpreted through the manner of their death, as though the most important part of their life was that which in the eyes of the gunmen made them legitimate targets.

The murders were  interpreted not as an attack on human life, but ona defining symbol of our Western culture, free speech.

The human reality of the  marginalized socially disadvantaged Kouachi brothers, was ignored, as too unimportant a target for the outpouring of grief and anger that followed these killings.  On the 11th January 2015, four days after the attack, and two days after the murderers had been killed by French police, millions of people including world leaders marched through Paris against terrorism and in support of free speech.

For many these killings were seen as an attack on free speech and the freedom of the West. A threat sufficient to demand penis rattling displays of defiance, in many cases long after the young men who had carried out the murders were in any position to be offended by their actions.

Marc Randazza who blogs at The Legal Satyricon, in the title of his post  from the day of the murder makes his penis waving explicit; issuing the cry of the impotent would be rapist, and the man in the dirty mac, against the killers, who clearly would have had nothing more urgent to do than read his blog. Then posting, among others, some sexually degrading images, images. reminiscent of some of the  photographs that came out of American held Abu Ghraib prison, cartoons of a man of Middle-Eastern appearance wearing a turban,  taken from back copies of Charlie Hebdo.

He makes the assumption that the goal of the Kouachi brothers was to force we freedom loving Westerners to give up our right to insult the culture and religion of the other, with the cartoonists  being collateral damage in the struggle of international Islam to deny him this most important facet of  free speech.

I am inclined to the assumption that the killers succeeded in what they intended to do.  Their objective was to kill, not deny the cartoonists free speech. That these disadvantaged young men, at the bottom of the pecking order, not just within French society but within their own community, had decided to go out in a blaze of glory.  And in this they succeeded, dying like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, in suicide by gendarme.

These young men were far down the pecking order of their community.  Those Muslims calling for death to those who disrespect the Prophet, are  further up in the social hierarchy. And it is likely that such a call, and the subsequent media attention, increases their profile within their own community.

To think that their main aim in this is to stop infidels drawing pictures of the Prophet is to fail to understand factionalism.

Community leaders acquire power through the amount of influence they have within their own faction.   As we in Northern Ireland have good reason to know verbal attacks on people, not of their community, by wannabe somebodies, are more likely to be driven by a desire to foster the hive mentality within their own community, than by the behaviour of the other.

We wave our flag, they respond to the threat by waving theirs.  Demonstrations ensue followed by rioting, as those  low down in the pecking order of their own communities assert themselves against the other.

The people within the factions experience a greater sense of solidarity as they work together to oppose the other, and community leaders acquire a great deal more power than they would have, if their followers, instead of focusing  on the evil of the opposing faction, were scrutinizing the leaders.The main threat to the position of  the leader comes from those, who are even more vitriolic in their condemnation of the other..  So the hate rhetoric spirals on both sides.  And where there is hate rhetoric, violence follows.

Atheist blogger J.T. Eberhard had not a approved of  the American Freedom Defense Initiative’s recent draw Muhammad competition, understanding it  to be pointless offending for the sake of offending, rather than a defence of free speech..

He however approved of the actual winner of the competition,: a cartoon of an Uncle Abanazar/genie of the lamp type figure meant presumably to represent Muhammad, with a speech bubble saying, “You can’t draw me,” being drawn by a hand, with a speech bubble saying,”That’s why I draw you.”

He thinks it sends the message to those issuing fatwas, that if they want free speech advocates to stop drawing Muhammad, then they should stop threatening violence.

These people  are acquiring power by complaining about the perfidy of the infidel.  Why would they want you to stop?  The presence of an external focus for dissatisfaction binds their followers together, and distracts them from questioning their leaders’ dictates. And the power-seeking complainants are not the ones  doing the dying.

The irony of the situation is that those proponents of free speech,such as Marc Randazza, who insist on producing or reproducing images of Muhammad to demonstrate that they cannot be intimidated, are by their own account, letting their actions be controlled by  Muslim extremists. They are only producing or reproducing pictures because they have been told not to.

The American Freedom Defense Initiative’s winning cartoon, tells a different and I think more accurate story.  This cartoon is subtly off message. It is the hand drawing the Uncle Abanazar/genie figure that is in control of the situation.  It has drawn the man and put the words into his mouth, ‘You can’t draw me.’

The anti-Islamists are bonding on the perfidy of the other. The actual reality of Islam is irrelevant. They are being driven by the Islam of their imagination, and like Scientific Creationists explaining the Grand Canyon, all facts will fit the conspiracy theory on which they have bonded.

The type of confirmation bias that  they are exhibiting is also a feature of religion, and it is a temptation to refer to them as religious nutters.  But the behaviour, they are exhibiting,factionalism, also exists in the secular world, and in the interests of clarity, it would be more accurate to refer to them as factionalist nutters.

The real penis may have had a function in limiting within group conflict, in our evolutionary past and even now.  The masturbatory fantasy of the factionalist, may also serve to limit within group conflict, by focusing on the evil of the other, and may have done little harm, when the world was big enough, and we were nomadic enough  to avoid the other. It may even have been a causal factor in our survival, when all the other species of upright ape became extinct; the adaptation that ensured that our species was well spread out and that all our eggs were not in one basket.

In our increasingly crowded world it is a dangerous luxury, and one that as Jonathan Swift pointed out in, An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity  1708,  will not be obliterated by abolishing religion.   

Factionalism has the power to make Charlies of us all.  It is the driving force that calls us to take sides, and hand out white feathers to those who do not join in, in displaying our naked contempt of the other.

It is the driving force that can make the destruction of human life appear a virtuous act, providing that it is the life of the other that is taken.

It is why Wendy Dackson who blogs at Past Christian was, although I agreed with her at the time, wrong when she proclaimed, “Je ne suis pas Charlie.”

In a world where factionalism, with its ultimate disrespect for the human, is rooted deep in our nature, anyone of us could suffer the fate of the murdered men and woman, of Charlie Hebdo.

It is factionalism: not religion nor any other belief system, that is the enemy. This part of our nature, as the history of Christianity should tell us, has the power to corrupt any belief system, no matter how peaceable its origins are.

We are all potentially Charlie, just as we are all potentially the Kouachi brothers.  The victims of a human nature, that  has the power to consign us all to hell.

The Way of the Pasta Fairy

The Flying Spaghetti Monster meme originated in a satirical open letter, written by Bobby Henderson to the Kansas School Board in 2005, protesting  against a proposal to teach Intelligent Design as an alternative scientific theory to evolution by natural selection.

Based as it is on the justifications that Scientific Creationists present as evidence that their beliefs are scientifically endorsed, it is an intuitively brilliant personification of a human instinct  – confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias is the instinct that, to paraphrase Voltaire, gives us  humans the wonderful power of being able to find reasons for believing exactly what we want to believe. The instinct that enables creationists to find their own arguments for the literal truth of both Genesis 1 and 2   entirely convincing.

It is a mistake to think that this instinct is limited only to the religious.  Confirmation bias enables us to form strong social bonds including pair bonds. It enables us to see the members of our community through rose tinted spectacles, and hence to value, the people in the group  and our membership of it. It enables us to commit to the shared values and beliefs of our community. It  is involved in creation of the kinds of committed social bonds that are conducive to an average increase in the reproductive fitness of those who successfully form them.

However these gifts come at a price, the price of factionalism. The price of judging those within our group as better than they really are, is that the other  can appear odious by comparison.

Religious beliefs can be used as faction markers. But as Jonathan Swift pointed out, In his satirical essay of 1708, An Argument Against Abolishing Christianityfactions can be formed on much simple identifiers than religion. Anything that allows one group of people to identify themselves as an us, different from another group of people can act as a faction marker

And we in Ireland have reason, now as when Swift was writing, to know only too well that factionalism can have very nasty consequences.

The tendency to judge the actions of our own faction as good, decent, etc.,and those of the other, as morally dubious, can lead to the conclusion that the evil lies exclusively, or almost so, on the other side. It is conducive to violent interaction, because it is obvious to both sides that it is the immorality  of the other that is driving the situation.

Belfast peace wall

Belfast’s Peace Walls – Protecting Those Evil Awful People Over There, from Ordinary Decent People since 1969.

The creationism versus evolution dichotomy that inspired Bobby Henderson’s letter has not, yet at any rate, led to violent conflict between the factions.

Bobby Henderson’s satire on the confirmation bias driven rationality of  scientific creationists is to my mind spot on.  But in the same letter he provides evidence that he too may be a victim of the noodly appendage.

What these people don’t understand is that He built the world to make us think the earth is older than it really is. For example, a scientist may perform a carbon-dating process on an artifact. He finds that approximately 75% of the Carbon-14 has decayed by electron emission to Nitrogen-14, and infers that this artifact is approximately 10,000 years old, as the half-life of Carbon-14 appears to be 5,730 years. But what our scientist does not realize is that every time he makes a measurement, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is there changing the results with His Noodly Appendage.

Open Letter to Kansas School Board   Bobby Henderson 2005

The most that the carbon dating has proved is that the  material, from which the artefact was made, probably came from an organism that died approximately 10.000 years ago.

This totally unnecessary bigging up of the power of science, is consistent with its author being himself blinded by confirmation bias.  He has unintentionally in his very funny letter, provided evidence that his opponents may see as further evidence of the irrational nature of the theory of evolution.  They would only be entitled to see it as the irrational nature of this one claim, but they too fluff up their evidence.

As the Bible almost says, “First take the noodly appendage from your own eye, before attempting to correct the vision of the other.”

Coming from the source that it does, it should perhaps be no surprise that the American prophet of anti-religion Sam Harris ignored this advice, when in a recent exchange of e-mails he attempted to enlighten the philosopher Noam Chomsky on the true nature of morality.

Sam Harris enters the fray with all the enthusiasm of a Dr Seuss character, convinced that he will be able to demonstrate to Noam Chomsky  the merits of green eggs and ham; or rather of the merits of his belief that even where America does wrong, that it has the moral high ground, because its intentions are good. And Sam Harris does admit that America is not only capable of doing wrong, but has in fact done so, as shown in this quote from his book, “The End of Faith,” which is part of the material he e-mailed.

There is no doubt that the United States has much to atone for, both domestically and abroad. In this respect, we can more or less swallow Chomsky’s thesis whole. To produce this horrible confection at home, start with our genocidal treatment of the Native Americans, add a couple hundred years of slavery, along with our denial of entry to Jewish refugees fleeing the death camps of the Third Reich, stir in our collusion with a long list of modern despots and our subsequent disregard for their appalling human rights records, add our bombing of Cambodia and the Pentagon Papers to taste, and then top with our recent refusals to sign the Kyoto protocol for greenhouse emissions, to support any ban on land mines, and to submit ourselves to the rulings of the International Criminal Court. The result should smell of death, hypocrisy, and fresh brimstone.

Sam Harris   e-mail exchange with Noam Chomsky  2015

Despite all these acknowledgements of American wrong doing Harris  believes that Chomsky is in error in comparing, what Harris considers the real good intentions behind apparent atrocities carried out by the American state, with the delusional beliefs of  for instance Hitler and Japan in World War II, that the atrocities they committed were driven by good intentions.

He sets out to demonstrate the genuine exceptionalism of America, by discussing the American  bombing of the  Al-Shifa Pharmaceutical plant in Sudan in August 1998, an act which may have resulted in the deaths of thousands of people, by cutting off their access to medication.

He accepts that the death toll of this act was as Chomsky claimed comparable to that of the “horrendous crime” of 9-11.

He understands Chomsky to be claiming that because the death rates are similar, the two acts are morally equivalent.  He therefore decides to defend his thesis, of moral superiority by proving that the bombing of Al-Shifa was more moral than 9-11.

In an attempt to achieve his aim he initiates the following protocol.

  1. Find a salient difference, between the apparently similar acts carried out by our side, and the other side.
  2. We know that our side are the good guys, and therefore this salient difference, whatever it is, will  demonstrate to all right thinking people, the clear moral superiority of our side.
  3. Suggest/claim that anyone who doesn’t recognize the aforementioned salient difference as clear evidence of our moral superiority, is ethically unsound.

This is the way of confirmation bias, and it is the technique that Sam Harris uses to no effect, on Noam Chomsky at any rate, in this e-mail exchange.

He finds his salient difference, and argues  that deliberately aiming to kill people is intrinsically more evil, than knowingly killing them as collateral damage. And if you didn’t know that you were going to kill them, because you didn’t even consider the possibility, before cutting off vast numbers of people from their only access to medication, that makes you less evil still.

Noam Chomsky argues that this denigrates the value of African lives. It does more than that. It also denigrates the value of the lives lost in 9-11.  The most important factor isn’t that thousands of people have had their lives stolen, but the goal of the perpetrators.

Ethically speaking, intention is (nearly) the whole story. The difference between intending to harm someone and accidentally harming them is enormous—if for no other reason than that the presence of harmful intent tells us a lot about what a person or group is likely to do in the future.

Sam Harris  e-mail exchange with Noam Chomsky  2015

In this e-mail exchange, Sam Harris demonstrates one other technique, frequently used in those following the way of the Pasta Fairy.  He starts off making a very large claim, and then defends a lesser claim. He set out to demonstrate the goodness of American intentions.  Note the thesis that he is actually defending here:

Perhaps we can rank order the callousness and cruelty here:

1. al-Qaeda wanted and intended to kill thousands of innocent people—and did so.

2. Clinton (as you imagine him to be) did not want or intend to kill thousands of innocent people. He simply wanted to destroy a valuable pharmaceutical plant. But he knew that he would be killing thousands of people, and he simply didn’t care.

3. Clinton (as I imagine him to be) did not want or intend to kill anyone at all, necessarily. He simply wanted to destroy what he believed to be a chemical weapons factory. But he did wind up killing innocent people, and we don’t really know how he felt about it.

Is it safe to assume that you view these three cases, as I do, as demonstrating descending degrees of evil?

Sam Harris  e-mail exchange with Noam Chomsky  2015

Being less evil than al-Qaeda is nothing to boast about, something that Harris seems cheerfully oblivious of. Something in fact that he is so unaware of that he regrets that Chomsky’s hostile attitude to him,  means that he has been unable to explore with him the evidence that America is in fact morally superior to Nazi Germany and World War II, Japan.

Sam Harris is, I think,  genuinely hurt by what he understands as Noam Chomsky’s unreasonable hostility towards him. He is discussing an intellectual problem, that has for him no more emotional resonance than the problem in the children’s nursery rhyme:

If all the world were apple pie,
And all the sea were Ink;
If all the trees were bread and cheese,
How should we doe for drink.

Mother Goose Rhymes

He has rationalized the problem as one about intentions, one that has nothing to do with the horrific reality of thousands of human beings deprived of their lives.

He doesn’t see himself as Chomsky does, as an apologist for mass homicide.

He is also extremely irritated by Chomsky’s  use of the words, “as you know.”

I am also sorry that you evade the fact that your charge of “moral equivalence” was flatly false, as you know. 

Noam Chomsky  e-mail exchange with Sam Harris  2015

Noam Chomsky seems to be of the opinion that having access to sufficient evidence, means that a normally intelligent person should be able to recognize the truth.  He therefore judges Harris as being deliberately perverse.

On the evidence of this e-mail, I would suggest that it is probable that Sam Harris doesn’t know that he is misrepresenting Chomsky, or that he has failed to provide an argument showing how the bombing of Al Shifa was an act of good intention.  Arguing that America’s action is less evil, than the action of a terrorist group is not exactly high praise.

But that he has been blinded by a human instinct – confirmation bias.  The gift that makes us, like Douglas Adams’ electric monk, able to believe things that are contrary to all available evidence. Or as a comment on a post from noted atheist blogger P.Z. Myers has it:

Sam Harris’ moral compass reminds me less of a real compass and more of the one from Pirates of the Caribbean, pointing not to true north but rather to whatever his heart desires, in this case whatever conclusion paints him and the US as morally superior.

The Mad Tapper commenting on A Classic Mismatch @ Pharyngula 2015

P.Z. Myers noted in 2009 the operation of confirmation bias in the writings of the religious apologist Karen Armstrong.   He finished an accurate take down of what Karen Armstrong said with the following  intentionally funny quote.

Bleh. What a mess of goo and vapor. I don’t doubt that Armstrong is an intelligent woman, but she’s giving us another reason why religion is bad for people and for nations: it turns good brains to mush. And that’s a condition that can only make toothless zombies happy.

P.Z.Myers The Zombies will Sup on Karen Armstrong with a Straw 2009

I think that the Sam Harris e-mail exchange with Noam Chomsky provides strong evidence that it is not just  religious people that can have their brain turned to mush, by the operation of the noodly appendage.

The inability to see the reality of your own side, compounded by the ability to see only evil in the other is an extremely dangerous instinct, in a world where weapons of mass destruction are extremely real.  And where it is entirely possible that those in charge of those weapons, are operating instinctively under the control of the mythically inebriated Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Related Posts:

Hanlon’s Razor and the Flying Spaghetti monster

The Father of Lies

p.s. I discovered the zombies Karen Armstrong quote when following through allegations made by my fellow islander, Michael Nugent, in the post where Atheist Ireland publicly dissociated itself from the harmful and hateful rhetoric of P.Z. Myers.

P.Z. Myers in his post “The  Brine Shrimp Gambit,” does indeed claim to despise a lot of people, but it is their arguments, that he is targeting. I understand that it is very easy to become angry with people,  when they appear to be justifying, the unjustifiable. So I empathize with both participants in this contretemps, but suspect that Michael Nugent is playing host to the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  While P.Z. Myers is being driven by by his anger.

This is his introduction to The Brine Shrimp Gambit.

How adorable! A dodgy fellow has invented what he thinks is a new get-out-of-jail-free card, called the brine shrimp gambit.

P.Z. Myers The  Brine Shrimp Gambit 2012

The brine shrimp gambit is a way of displacing the criticism to something other than its original target, so you can accuse your opponent of being unreasonable.  He is quite right not to give the dodgy fellow the credit of being the first to invent it.  It is used so ubiquitously, by the sophisticated and unsophisticated, that it is rational to treat it as product of a human instinct, that which I like to think of as the Pasta Fairy.

Neolithic Engraving from Carrowkeel, Co Sligo

An engraving from the neolithic passage tomb at Carrowkeel, Co. Sligo

There is no reason to think, that this was not a basic human instinct, even when the passage tombs of Ireland, which are older than the pyramids of Egypt were being built. There is however no reason to believe that the many noodly engravings found therein are  a direct reference to it, or that the first people to settle in Ireland were in fact Ancient Noodlians.

So therefore as the  Book of the Ancient Noodlian, definitely doesn’t say:

If you would resist the Pasta Fairy you must first recognize it.

Here’s to Us, and Who’s Like Us

River Song

River Song

Humans (and other animals) are often remarkably unselfish.  We do favours for people we don’t know and who aren’t related to us.  We pass over opportunities to take advantage of others.  We seem to have evolved to be reasonably altruistic.  But evolutionary theory appears to suggest that selfish traits should be favoured by evolution, while altruism towards strangers appears to have no evolutionary benefit.  So how does altruism arise? 

Tony Mann When Maths doesn’t Work What we Learn from the Prisoner’s Dilemma. February 2015 Gresham Lecture

Darwin’s original theory of evolution, was based on the morality of empire and the industrial revolution.  It saw evolution as driven by ruthless competition for survival in the war of all against all.

The problem with this  theory was that it didn’t match the evidence.  Altruism and co-operation existed in nature, and not just in civilized Victorian drawing rooms.

One reason for this is that co-operation aids the survival chances of the co-operative individuals.  This is however not sufficient to make it an evolutionarily stable strategy. In co-operative societies cheating individuals may gain at least short-term advantage, and unless there are mechanisms in place to stop them, will destabilize the situation.

Co-operative societies do exist, one such being the human body which as Richard Dawkins pointed out can be considered as a survival machine for genes.  The complexity of function of our bodies belies the  pejorative description, selfish,  which he gave them. Our genes are  amazingly successful co-operators.  They play a major part in the  system of, growing, maintaining and reproducing the disposable biodegradable machines which carry them across time.

The system by which bodies are reproduced ensures that those genes which find themselves sharing new bodies, have demonstrated that they are at the very least  insufficiently disruptive to have prevented the successful operation of the old body.

In a modern reworking of the story of the fall, atheist Adam Roberts, although he doesn’t express it  in this way, re-imagines the angels in heaven  as beings operating, as genes do in a healthy body, in a way that is in all their interests. The structure that is in place and  the angels’ rationality mean that in the unity of heaven Satan’s disruptive power is negated.

Man and woman were content, as to the measure of content, when the whole world was  a garden; and they worshipped God as animals do, blithely and brutishly, by their nature not their will. And God was well pleased, for faith sustained them unconsciously: it was something they were, rather than something they did. But Satan, whose name means pride, had fallen from the horizontal paradise of heaven, where all are equal in the love of God. Satan craved hierarchy, and rank, and to define his own superiority in terms of the inferiority of others — all monstrous in the eyes of all-loving God. He could do nothing to persuade the angels, for they knew that to surrender their equality with God and sink into hierarchy would be loss and no gain.

Adam Roberts The Atheist Paradox  Aeon magazine November 2012

The angels in this story are the kind of rational beings that traditional economic theory considered human beings to be.  The Man of  the rest of the story is what the economist Carlo M.Cipillo, in his humorous article the laws of human stupidity identified as a Stupid, someone who hurts others for no benefit or possibly even harm to himself.

But Satan recognised a kink in the soul of humankind, and visited them in the garden.

Adam Roberts The Atheist Paradox  Aeon magazine November 2012

Adam Roberts’ fall of man story expresses a truth about modern human existence, the problems caused by hierarchies of power. The kink that Satan is represented as noting in the human soul our respect for power, and our acceptance of hierarchies, isn’t an anomaly.  It is an ancient adaptation to social living – the pecking order. This story while it recognizes the horror that hierarchies can make of human life, has no claim to historical veracity.

Amazingly enough the original story on which this is based, while it doesn’t pinpoint a time when basic human nature changed, does pinpoint an historically verifiable change in human interaction with the environment, one that vastly increased the potential for abusive behaviour.

The story of the Biblical fall, as befits a story where the main character’s name, Adam, also means mankind; is capable of being interpreted in many different ways. But however else it may be interpreted, it is undoubtedly an agricultural origin myth: starting as it does with no man to till the earth (Genesis 2:5), and ending with Adam condemned to suffer the hardship of subsistence agriculture (Genesis 3:17-19).

Nowadays the Agricultural Revolution is generally looked upon as a good thing.

The people who originated the Adam and Eve myth, were as Richard Dawkins accurately reminds us a tribe of middle eastern herders. People whose ancestors would have found their traditional pastoral routes blocked by settled horticulturalists, and found themselves being pushed into progressively less fertile lands.  It should be no surprise to find in their ancient writings a myth that pictures the origin of agriculture in a less than favourable light.

Horticulture originated some six to ten thousand years ago, into a world that already contained nomadic herders: a situation that was likely to produce conflict. Their’s was not the only lifestyle that horticulturists would have impacted with. There would also have been hunter-gatherers.

The original title of scientist Jared Diamond’s first popular work,  The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee   1991, (third chimpanzee = human) also linked the concept of human fall with the agricultural revolution.  He noted that while agriculture produced undoubted blessings for human beings, many of the curses of modern human existence, while they did not actually arise with agriculture, became more prevalent.

With agriculture came not only greatly increased food production and food storage, but also the gross social and sexual inequality, the disease and despotism, that curse modern human existence. 

Jared Diamond The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee   1991

Jared Diamond, argues that horticulturalists, while less healthy than hunter-gatherers, because of their poor diet, were more numerous, and so would have been able to push the hunter-gatherers into lands unsuitable for farming. And I have no doubt that for some groups of foraging people this is what happened.

In his discussion Professor Diamond ignores one other option.  Settled farmers were vulnerable to predation, and also to bandits running protection rackets.  And nomadic groups of hunters would have been in an ideal position to take advantage of this lifestyle.

Thus, with the advent of agriculture an elite became healthier, but many people became worse off. Instead of the progressivist  party line that we chose agriculture because it was good for us, a cynic might ask how we got trapped by agriculture despite its being such a mixed blessing .

Jared Diamond The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee   1991

A cynic should have no reason to ask this question, anymore than those who prefer to consider themselves realists.

John Ball an English priest executed for his part in the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381, asked a very pertinent question.

When Adam delved and Eve span, Who was then the gentleman? From the beginning all men by nature were created alike, and our bondage or servitude came in by the unjust oppression of naughty men. For if God would have had any bondmen from the beginning, he would have appointed who should be bond, and who free. And therefore I exhort you to consider that now the time is come, appointed to us by God, in which ye may (if ye will) cast off the yoke of bondage, and recover liberty.

John Ball  Sermon at Blackheath 1381

Who were these sons of God, who thought they had the divine right to enslave other humans, but unjust and naughty men.

The Agricultural Revolution allowed the existence of civilizations based on exploitation, and maintained by tyranny.

Murphy’s Law and the Arise of  Naughty Men

In computer models of communities which start off being highly altruistic, then there are opportunities for more selfish individuals to prosper and the society, over time, becomes more selfish.  But then altruism builds up again, and the community swings backwards and forwards, having periods of relative altruism and periods of comparative selfishness.  The modelling suggests that these cycles, rather than a steady state, might be the natural state of society.

Tony Mann When Maths doesn’t Work What we Learn from the Prisoner’s Dilemma. February 2015 Gresham Lecture

Any social practice which lends itself to exploitation, will end up being exploited.  Agriculture created a world where a minority of people could have vast amounts of power, at the expense of the primary producers in their society.

Altruistic individuals are those who help others at their own expense, those that the economist Cipillo identified in his laws of human stupidity as the Helpless.  I strongly suspect that the type of behaviours that cycled in the computer model mentioned in Tony Mann’s lecture, as relative altruism, and comparative selfishness, were cooperative and exploitative behaviour.

Christianity arose among the exploited underclass – those who had the most to gain by cooperation.  In one of the earliest surviving written records of the beliefs of these first Christians, Paul’s letter to the Galatians, the prime directive is given as:

 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

Galatians 5:14  King James Bible

Note that this law is not advocating selflessness. Its first, and unwritten premise is  love of self.   Used in the bizarre way that Richard Dawkins used the word in, “The Selfish Gene”, it could be described as advocating selfishness, by not putting others first.

It is a law conducive to what Cipillo described as intelligent behaviour; helping others in a way that helps yourself and vice versa. The kind of behaviour that creates stable societies.

A religion that taught that all human beings were valuable and loved of God, was good news for the poor and dispossessed.

Christianity did not remain the religion of the poor and dispossessed. It became first the religion of the Roman Empire and then Christendom. It became the religion of those who were in the position to gain vastly from the exploitation of others.

Theologians worked to transform the message of Christianity to this new reality; a message that was no longer at variance with the way of the world, and where god’s power was again his greatest glory.

The early medieval rationalization of the Crucifixion was the ransom theory, whereby Christ died  as a pay off to Satan, the Prince of this World, into whose power we had delivered ourselves through sin.  This notion was anathema to Anselm, (c. 1033 – 21 April 1109)  the first of the  scholastic philosophers, and the first Archbishop of Canterbury, to be Primate of All England.  He held that God was too great to negotiate with anyone.

Here’s tae us
Wha’s like us
Damn few,
And they’re a’ deid
Mair’s the pity!

A Scottish Toast

By the time this toast was in existence the Christian message had received a complete overhaul of meaning, through Anselm and modified by John Calvin.  Humans were no longer the sometimes errant children of a loving Father, we were instead unsatisfactory serfs, fit only for extinction, with a god who could only bear the stench of us if we were covered in innocent blood. Our ordinary  biology having been reworked as sin.  And the exploiters were re-imagined back into the role they had filled from the beginning of history, god’s overseers.

Who’s Like Us?

Northern Ireland can be a very divided society.  And our version of the Scottish toast, “Here’s to us, and who’s like us,” would appear to lend itself to a celebration of the particular faction to which the speaker belongs.  Yet as I have heard it used, it has always been inclusive, regardless of who you are, or what you believe, for the purposes of this night’s craic, you’re one of us.

One night’s socializing does not a peace process make, anymore than a football match, was able to end the First World War.

Under what conditions will cooperation emerge in a world of egoists without central authority? This question has intrigued people for a long time. We all know that people are not angels, and that they tend to look after themselves and their own first. Yet we also know that cooperation does occur and that our civilization is based upon it.

Robert Axelrod The Evolution of Cooperation  Stanford.edu

Robert Axelrod is a political scientist best known for his work on the evolution of cooperation. He noted that cooperation emerged between enemies during the First World War, as a way of dealing with practical problems.

One concrete demonstration of this theory in the real world is the fascinating case of the “live and let live” system that emerged during the trench warfare of the western front in World War I. In the midst of this bitter conflict, the frontline soldiers often refrained from shooting to kill – provided their restraint was reciprocated by the soldiers on the other side.

For example, in the summer of 1915, a soldier saw that the enemy would be likely to reciprocate cooperation based on the desire for fresh rations.

It would be child’s play to shell the road behind the enemy’s trenches, crowded as it must be with ration wagons and water carts, into a bloodstained wilderness … but on the whole there is silence. After all, if you prevent your enemy from drawing his rations, his remedy is simple: He will prevent you from drawing yours.

In one section the hour of 8 to 9 a.m. was regarded as consecrated to “private business,” and certain places indicated by a flag were regarded as out of bounds by the snipers on both sides.

What made this mutual restraint possible was the static nature of trench warfare, where the same small units faced each other for extended periods of time. The soldiers of these opposing small units actually violated orders from their own high commands in order to achieve tacit cooperation with each other.

Robert Axelrod The Evolution of Cooperation  Stanford.edu

This mutual reciprocity arose between units that were interacting over a considerable period of time. This is not the only feature that is important.  The units were also fairly evenly matched, there was no immediate prospect of either side being able to defeat the other.

There is a lesson in the fact that simple reciprocity succeeds without doing better than anyone with whom it interacts. It succeeds by eliciting cooperation from others, not by defeating them. We are used to thinking about competitions in which there is only one winner, competitions such as football or chess. But the world is rarely like that. In a vast range of situations, mutual cooperation can be better for both sides than mutual defection. The key to doing well lies not in overcoming others, but in eliciting their cooperation.

Robert Axelrod The Evolution of Cooperation  Stanford.edu

The problem is that we, as a species, don’t really appear to understand this.  The concept  of cooperating, with those that we regard as not of our faction, comes a very poor second best to the notion, of exercising unilateral power over them.

It is possible that power acts as a supernormal stimulus, triggering a supernormal response.That is the response  that  can occur when animals become attuned to one particular cue, instead of making a choice built on multiple cues.   

supernormal egg

A Supernormal Response

This one cue, properly applied, can drive an animal to self-destruct.

Esther Inglis-Arkell Supernormal Stimuli – Using Nature to Destroy Itself  2011

There is also the possibility that the will to power is adaptive.  An adaptation that works against the reproductive interests and life-chances of most of those bearing it. But one which when it succeeds has been so  successful that it increased in the population, despite disadvantaging the majority of those displaying the trait.

Some evidence for this is provided in this paper by Zerjal et al (2003) where they show that there is genetic evidence consistent with about 0.5% of the world’s male population, 1 out of every 200 men, being on the direct male lineage of Genghis Khan. (They were using a genetic marker on the Y chromosome, so did not acquire data about female descent.)

You don’t find followers of the devil descending on villages with bayonets in their teeth shouting, “The devil is great!” as they cut throats. You never hear war-mongers geeing up the population to support bombing some country back to the Stone Age by assuring them that, “We have the devil on our side.”

Eamon McCann Lucifer gets a bad press…. what evil is he responsible for.  Belfast Telegraph 1st April 2015

This would be because the devil is the name we give to other people’s personification of power. We have a tendency to believe that the problem with power is that it is in the wrong hands, not that it is the wrong method.  dalymural

The writing on the wall may say, “History is written by the winner.” But in power struggles there are no winners, just those who are temporarily on the ascent.