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PMS crisis is a satanic attack, says new Moderator

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William Crawley | 10:33 UK time, Tuesday, 2 June 2009

StaffordCarson.jpgLast night, the new Presbyterian Moderator, Dr Stafford Carson, pictured, told a packed opening session of his church's General Assembly that the Presbyterian Mutual Society crisis was a satanic attack on the unity of their church. I spoke to some of the Presbyterian protesters who picketed the opening session and they had other explanations, both for the collapse of the mutual and for the church's handling of the collapse. They regard the whole business as an example of human failure, and they were quite prepared to put names on the humans in question. They believe the church's initial response was legalistic, rather than pastoral; that there was an attempt to distance the denomination from the crisis; and that the church has failed to accept its moral responsibility to come to the aid of PMS savers. As for the Mutual Society itself, the Financial Services Authority has offered a non-theological explanation.

Perhaps, in this day and age, only a church leader could deploy a devilish explanation for a financial crisis and hope to get away with it. Even though the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, said recently that some expenses claims by MPs were an affront to his "Presbyterian conscience" -- a response that didn't satisfy many -- one can hardly imagine him claiming that the whole business was a satanic attack on the unity of his government.

In fact, if one thinks through the practical implications of the claim that the PMS crisis is a satanic attack on the unity of the Presbyterian Church, how should we regard the seventy Presbyterian protestors who picketted the Assembly last night and expressed their anger, and their sense of betrayal, at their church's handling of the crisis? Are they unwitting pawns in the Devil's plan to disturb the unity of the Presbyterian Church? Those protesters will be there again today; if I get a chance, I'll ask them.

However one assesses the church's role in this crisis, there's no doubt that this whole saga has become a massive public relations disaster for the Irish Presbyterian Church.

The Assembly will be discussing the crisis this afternoon, from 4pm. I'll be tweeting during the debate (www.twitter.com/williamcrawley). The General Assembly will be tweeting too (www.twitter.com/pciassembly), and the Assembly's proceedings are being live-streamed online.

And another thing ...

There was a second protest outside last night's opening session. A member of a Presbyterian Church in Belfast was handing out copies of correspondence between himself and Stafford Carson on the issue of women's ordination. In the correspondence, Dr Carson explains his reasons for opposing the ordination of women -- particularly, how this view is, in his judgment, consistent with his belief in the full equality of men and women -- and the (male) church member offers a biblical and theological challenge to those claims.

Finally, an update on an exchange on last week's Sunday Sequence, when I asked the now-former Moderator, Dr Donald Patton, if his church continues to give space to the Presbyterian Mutual Society on its official website. He explained that the Mutual Society now has its own website. This is true; though there is still a forwarding page on the PCI site.


  • Comment number 1.

    There is no devil?

    It's odd that a Church leader would believe in the devil?

    And the existence of the devil would be incompatible with human wickedness?

    Silly, silly Stafford!

  • Comment number 2.

    Er... does anyone *really* believe in the Devil and Hell any more? For one thing, they completely undermine the "intelligent" christian argument that god can be omnipresent, which blows Alvin Plantinga's (very silly) reformulation of the Ontological Argument out of the water. But there are lots more problems besides.

    It seems that the only sensible rescue for the quaint notion of the "devil" is to identify it with human behaviour (ditto for angels and demons and similar thingies), and agree that these are all "metaphorical" where they turn up in the bible (and that's pretty scarce). So for the temptation of Jesus, what we really have is a situation where he faces off against his own "sinful" nature, for example.

    Alternatively, of course, some people might like there to be a real devil stomping around with his team of imps and sprites, and YHWH the vengeful Sinaitic moon god is stomping around with his team of angels and baby Jesuses trying to thwart them at every turn.

    It seems that ye cannae hae it the twa ways.

    If we blame devils for our woes, we are simply shifting the spotlight from ourselves. Our imaginary "bad boy" came into the house and broke your vase, mummy. It's childish, and an abrogation of responsibility.


  • Comment number 3.

    Welcome back!
    I'll get stuck into that post after I've had me lunch.

    Students are hellish today! (Time to set some copying out and hide behind the computer)


  • Comment number 4.

    Missing the point, gveal. Missing the point completely. It's time church leaders accept responsibility rather than throwing the blame in the direction of demons in their midst.

  • Comment number 5.

    On a day as warm as today, with kids as nutty as mine, I'm happy to make it to reach my seat on target.
    That said, if Carson's *only* response is to blame the devil and hide, then he is in the wrong. No arguments from me on that score.
    But if he is affirming that there are spiritual realities that oppose the Church, then he's just affirming something that we would expect a moderator to believe.

    OK - so if the moderator is affirming that the PMS crisis (and we really need a better term than PMS(!)) is only spiritual he's wrong.
    - if he is affirming that it is only financial and ethical he'll find sympathetic audience.
    - if he is affirming that it is financial and ethical *and* spiritual then there is actually a greater imperative to end the crisis. If it is a source of disunity, or a bad testimony to the church, then all reference to market forces is moot. The *Church* will need to bail the vulnerable out, full stop.

    So the billion dollar question is not "does Stafford Carson believe in the Devil?". The question is "where is this rhetoric leading?"


  • Comment number 6.

    Graham, do *you* believe in Satan?? Like, *really*?

  • Comment number 7.

    Oh, yeah, sure.

  • Comment number 8.

    A double period with 11v1 and you'd believe too.

  • Comment number 9.


    How entertaining this thread has become so soon. Actually I see the validity of both reactions to this comment by Carson... I would expect him to believe that there is a devil who is active against the church, and therefore that this might manifest in the form of a financial crisis for its organization... at the same time it's the exact opposite of the message he should be sending at this point; it demonstrates more than anything how completely awfully the PCI understands public relations.

    Do I believe in a devil? Not in the sense Carson means.

  • Comment number 10.

    William I must express a little surprise at your take on the Moderator's address, the last thing I expected from you was a bit of tabliodesque misdirection. (You'll never become a regular on Radio Four's 'Moral Maze' or 'Beyond Belief' with that kind of journalism!) I note too your lack of quote marks in commenting on the address, which, I can only assume, is because the phrase you use, "PMS crisis is a satanic attack", doesn't actually appear in it.

    Here is the relevant paragraph for those who do not wish to read the full address, "As this awful situation with the Presbyterian Mutual Society unfolds, some of us are fearful that as a church our unity is under serious threat. What Satan has failed to achieve through arguments about theology and ecclesiology, he now seeks to achieve through this financial crisis. He wants to divide us and to neutralise our effectiveness as a witness to Christ in this community. And that is why we need to resolve that, however this situation develops, we will support and love and care for each other." Now if we're going to discuss it then let's discuss what actually was said. And it certainly wasn't setting one group within the church against another. "Unwitting pawns in the Devil's plan...", don't be ridiculous! It is a call to work together for those in need, both in PMS/PCI and the wider community.

    Mind you the whole thing, available here, http://www.presbyterianireland.org/assembly/incoming.html is worth reading for other PMS related comments like, "Some of the letters we have received have been heart-breaking, and it is clear that it is devastating for individuals and debilitating for congregations." "Make no mistake about it: we are all in this together." "Christians recognise that they need each other. We know that we can't survive on our own." "I know I speak for many members of this Assembly when I say that we personally feel the pain and the anger and the injustice of this situation. But we cannot allow that to separate us or divide us from one another." "...more than ever, as we work through this crisis, we need to show care and patience and love and compassion for one another and especially to those in the greatest need." The whole thing is set in the context of the community of people who are 'in Christ'.

    My views on the PMS are pretty well known on here, I wish we didn't have one at all, but I'm sorry William, this is more spin than reporting.

  • Comment number 11.

    This is all good knockabout stuff, but it strikes me that the reporting of the whole PMS issue has missed two main and to me obvious themes:

    1 Who were the execs who thought they were running a bank? Was there no professional indemnity insurance? If not why not, name and shame etc etc.

    2: Who was the money loaned to? Who are the defaulters who have spent (or squirreled) the Presbyterian money? Have they no assets that can be recovered? Can they not be bankrupted so they enter the light? There is room for naming and shaming here, too.

    This is a straightforward financial funnybusiness story that any competent business journalist - and the BBC has plenty - should be able to drill far more deeply into. The Moderator's stuff about Satan and all the rest makes colourful, fun copy - but it's nowhere near the heart of the story.

  • Comment number 12.

    "Where's ma dough?" would seem a far more urgent question than "Is there a personification of evil called Satan?"

    Personally I've never believed in horned, goat-like demons, prefering to think that evil is more likely to wear a grey suit and come across as very acceptable and presentable.

    Actually, that could answer both my questions.

  • Comment number 13.

    Indeed RJB, like you I get more worried about grey suits than horned goats (!) but if Presbyterians can manage to stick together in order to find a resolution then people are more likely to recover at least some of their money, even if Gordon brown says no. Why we can't just decide to create a church wide fund to ease the burden and seek as much recompense as we can from defaulters, as suggested by jivaro, is more than I know. I suspect the moderator's call for unity is with a view to the church working together to help those in need. The 'Satan' debate is a sideshow.

  • Comment number 14.

    Jivaro, I'm sure Crawley would be the first to agree that he isn't trying to present a 'business news' approach to this story.

  • Comment number 15.

    Peter that's crazy. Read the Carson quote. He says Satan is attacking the church through this crisis. The paraphrase title is completely accurate. What's your beef?

  • Comment number 16.

    Are you sure it's not *Santa* attacking the church?

  • Comment number 17.

    Damn, I thought it was Stan.

  • Comment number 18.

    jovialPTL, read the Carson quote? I posted the Carson quote! My beef is simple, accurate reporting versus spin. William states,"PMS crisis is a satanic attack", but those words do not appear in the address. What was said is that that Satan seeks to foster disunity, (again) through, via, in the circumstances of, the (current) PMS crisis. Mr. Carson is not saying that the PMS crisis is the work of Satan, he is not as William suggests describing the protesters as "pawns in the Devil's plan", that is nonsense. In fact from what I have read the Moderator is going after the point that if people stick together then there is more chance of the issue being resolved. He acknowledged "that it is devastating for individuals", that "we need to resolve that, however this situation develops, (that) we will support and love and care for each other", that in the context of communion we the church are one body and we need to act like it. Not only is this sensible but it is to my mind an acknowledgement of frustration and hurt that hasn't been made before, but sure if all we can do is sound bite off one phrase...

    Unfortunately William has created a side show, maybe he did it deliberately, I don't know, only he can answer that as only he can explain why he choose to run with the sound-bite he did rather than the full quote from or link to the address. PTL I'm not a great fan of the formality of the church nor do I have much time for robes and 'offices' and 'positions of authority', I'm not a yes man when it comes to these things, I don't even like the concept of a PMS, but this thread is a misdirection away from the necessity of finding a solution.

    It's a story hunted out of nothing.

  • Comment number 19.


    Helio you are one scary dude...


    "...note how Satan robs the Lord Jesus Christ of His glory by spreading the Santa Claus tradition..."

    John, Stan who?

  • Comment number 20.

    peter you're losing your senses, the story has been covered over and over again ... if the Moderator was foolish enough to throw away a line about the devil he cant complain if it becomes a column by a journalist. One of my friends has money with PMS and he noticed the Satan comment too. he wasnt too pleased by the moderator's attempt to side-step the church's responsibility either.

  • Comment number 21.

    PTL you're right, I must be going off my rocker, he obviously said nothing about sticking together.

    "Make no mistake about it: we are all in this together."


  • Comment number 22.

    BTW PTL, I actually don't care what William does with a 'line', it's his job, it's to be expected, what I'm simply trying to do is set the thing in a wider context and put a different perspective.

  • Comment number 23.

    Stan from South Park.

  • Comment number 24.

    Maybe Sinnita is involved in it too. After all, Stafford Carson is So Macho, and an anagram of "ROSCOFF DR SATAN", clearly a reference to his frequent slap-up lunches with the Evil One, prior to it becoming Cayenne.

    Ladies, I am gathering the impression that some of you actually do believe in this devil chappie - would that be correct, or are you just messin'?

  • Comment number 25.

    Im losing all sense of this debate.

    the moderator says: "What Satan has failed to achieve through arguments about theology and ecclesiology, he now seeks to achieve through this financial crisis"

    the blog says this means: "Mod thinks PMS crisis is a satanic attack"

    I have to say they look like exactly the same proposition to me. Peter might not like the emphasis being placed on the sentence, but let's be fair: Crawley has not twisted the sentence to mean something different. The Mod DID say that this crisis was an attack from Satan (='satanic attack').

  • Comment number 26.

    I think the Rev. Carson is attempting to divert attention from the real issues. Personally speaking, he's failed miserably.

  • Comment number 27.

    Not being a member of the PMS (not even a Presbyterian) I am unaffected by the collapse of what appears to be poorly run and badly advised financial vehicle. In the current climate where many poorly run and badly advised financial vehicles and institutions are costing governments and individuals TRILLIONS (a number followed by 9 zeros), obviously the devote will be asking what can I do to help those less fortunate than myself (even if they were until very recently more fortunate than myself).
    The point to realise is that the "attack on the church" is by none other than the 'cash and money brothers' (aka greed and envy) who, after the 'my god is the real god and your god is wrong' brigade have caused the most hurt and suffering (not to mention death, disease, etc, etc) to humanity since the dawn of time.
    If you are going gambling and investing is gambling, be sure you can live with the losses. Ask any premiership footballer.
    Name and shame is a great idea, you can't beat a good old fashioned witch hunt. Put them on the ducking stool till they 'fess up.
    The whole board is at fault because they made mistakes, if they have lost then they have paid for the mistakes with their money too. If they pulled thier money out before it went belly up then that would be at least a moral lapse if not a crinimal one.
    I was given some advice when I was a teenager which has proved to be very helpful: the only information you can trust in a newspaper is the date any very soon that will be wrong too!
    I would never have read the article, never mind the comments if it hadn't been for "PMS crisis is a satanic attack, says new moderator". A head line by its nature is sensationalist and the article that follows will be biased to the point of view of the author. Get past the words on the page and listen to all the points of view.

    P.S. I'm glad to see that contary to a previously held belief, at least some presbyterians do have a sense of humour. Stan form south park, I laughed out loud.
    As for Santa being the root of all evil, I'm not sure if that was hilarious or bloody scary. I'm glad your not my father Peter.

  • Comment number 28.

    Look, it's simple, the emphasis in the address is on sticking together through thick and thin, unity in other words. In this context the 'Satan' reference clearly means that the church should not allow the PMS crisis to create disunity, sticking together, working together as the people of God is the way to see it through. Right at the very start of this way before Christmas, I kept saying we are the church, all the members of PCI, there is no church and then the rest of us, that's the basic point, the 'Satan' thing is a sideshow. Please read the whole address, the 'together' bit can't be missed. What we have on this thread is a fuss about nothing, a good soundbite perhaps made into a debating point, but nothing more. Augustine you are right I don't like William's emphasis, the reason I don't like it is that it's a diversion and it implies that the protesters are somehow being cast in the role of creating division, if that is the case then that would be wrong, I just don't think it is the case. The point is let's stick together, and that's what should be heard, not this Devilish plan nonsense.

    He didn't say, "that this crisis was an attack from Satan", what was said was, "What Satan has failed to achieve through arguments about theology and ecclesiology, he now seeks to achieve through this financial crisis. He wants to divide us and to neutralise our effectiveness as a witness to Christ in this community." Disunity as the aim, in the context of a crisis, is not the same thing as the crisis being an attack.

    Yes H, there's a Devil boyo, an angel, once you get over the believing in God bit...

  • Comment number 29.


    I found the Santa Satan thing on the web. All I did was google Santa Satan. It appears that the guy you wrote it is serious and I agree that is really scary. I put it up to give Helio a laugh. He's a Christian and so am I (sorry H did I just call you a Christian?) Helio is actually an atheist and I thought he'd find it funny.

    Hopefully I'm a Presbyterian with a sense of humour, maybe you need a sense of humour to be a Presbyterain!

    I'm glad about something else tty30, you appear to recognise sensationalism when you see it!

    With reference to the PMS crisis, the one reason I am happy to be part of a financial solution is that there are those who, and I know they were misguided, thought their money would be safe because it was a church thing, they need help, I'm happy to help, it's the sticking together thing again.

  • Comment number 30.

    Still missing the point Peter. The two statements make the same claim. The Mod said what he said. Get over it. if he hadn't said it, the press wouldn't have reported it. Stafford Carson is a public figure now, he will have to get used to this when he speaks in public ... the press will read his speeches and decide which angle they want to focus on. There's no point him saying, 'But what about the second paragraph? Why didn't you write an article about that instead?' This is the real world now, not church house.

  • Comment number 31.

    BTW, on your use of the word 'sensationalist' ... there is such a thing as a sensationalist sermon or a sensationalist theology. Appealing to 'Satan' (yes, that's a quote, Peter) is a sensationalist diversion from institutional mismanagement by the church.

  • Comment number 32.

    I think it was CS Lewis who said that one of the Devil's greatest tricks has been to conceal his existence....seems he has suceeded with some on this blog!

  • Comment number 33.

    "Perhaps, in this day and age, only a church leader could deploy a devilish explanation for a financial crisis and hope to get away with it."

    Yes, I rather imagine that Religious people do believe in supernatural entities. This is news how?

    "Even though the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, said recently that some expenses claims by MPs were an affront to his "Presbyterian conscience" -- a response that didn't satisfy many -- one can hardly imagine him claiming that the whole business was a satanic attack on the unity of his government."

    If Tony Blair can be lampooned for mentioning God *after* his Premmiership, and if 75% of Britons don't believe in the Devil, and if the secular press is going to attack a minister for believing her Churches teachings even though she tries to separate them from her day job, then I can't see how a Prime Minister would be well advised to use supernatural explanations to explain the financial crisis to the Public.
    But Mr Carson was addressing a Church about Church unity. (This is abundantly clear from the full transcript).

    So there isn't anything remotely like a story here, unless we create one. This is roughly were I came in a year ago, but I'm with Peter Morrow. I think the post was unfair to Mr Carson.

    G Veale

  • Comment number 34.


    Mr Carson did not appeal to Satan as an explantion of the PMS crisis at any stage of his address. At no stage did he say that the Church had no moral or spiritual responsibility as a result.
    He made the point that Satan can use this crisis as a means to create disunity. You don't believe in a personal devil, but this is a Pauline argument. I don't see that there is anything remotely sensationalist about the address, and unless he gave the address in a darkened assembly lit by candles inside human skulls, I doubt there was much in the style of rhetoric that could cause anything like a sensation.


  • Comment number 35.

    A clarification about Plantinga and the Ontological Argument.

    Plantinga was surprised to find a valid Ontological argument, and in fact published a refutation of one of Anselms early in his career. He is also very clear that it is not a successful piece of natural theology.
    Ontological Arguments at their best argue that unless it is impossible for a maximally great being to exist, such a being does exist. Plantingas argument runs (very roughly) as follows.
    The universe could have turned out very differently logically this is the case at least. So well call all the ways that the universe could have been possible worlds. Theres a possible world in which I dont have to face off with 11v1 in the middle of a heat wave. Theres a possible world in which I sincerely believe that a Flying Space Pixie made the Universe. But there isnt a possible world in which Im a square. (Unless were being metaphorical and unduly aggressive about my dress sense and taste in music.)

    Theists assume that God is a perfect being, as good as it gets. So Plantinga talks about "maximal greatness".
    (i) There is a possible world in which "maximal greatness" exists
    (ii) A being has "maximal greatness" in a world if it exists in every possible world. Thats just our definition of maximal greatness - you are soo great you can't fail to exist. Whatever else is true of the universe, a "maximally great" thing will exist.
    (iii) Being "maximally great" entails that you are "maximally excellent" in every possible world. Maximal excellence means being omniscient, omnipotent, and morally perfect.
    (iv) The real world is a possible world.

    So if (i) is true, then there is a being in the actual universe with that meets Gods description. But why think (i) is true? PLANTINGA offers some reasons for doubt. He suggets the proposition:
    (A)There is a possible universe that contains one being not created by God.
    If (A) is true, (i-iii) cant be. And (A) seems to be a perfectly reasonable belief. It seems to be every bit as plausible as (i-iii).
    So Plantinga says that we have to consider the key premise (i) and consider its connection to our other beliefs. So you might ask if God coheres with or explains the world we experience. Or you might reflect on the problem of evil. You might be able to think of some evils that would meet a description similar to (A).
    If we still find (i) compelling then were "within our rights" to accept the ontological argument. If you dont , then you can reject it. Thats all Plantinga was claiming. Out there in the wild blue interweb, a lot of skeptics think that he was claiming to have achieved something more.
    The other way out is to offer a plausible alternative description of Maximal Excellence. Nirvana or Spinozas universe might do the trick. Again you need to consider the propositions in connection with everything else that you believe. (Well, the important stuff. I dont think our beliefs about the best "Terminator" movie count. (And its 2, end of conversation)).
    Some philosphers are uneasy about the existence of possible worlds, even if we mean they only exist in some abstract Platonic realm. But the argument can be restated without these sorts of modal commitment.
    The argument isnt as easy to parody as you might think. Is there an ontological argument for Bill and Teds Most Excellent Adventure? Unfortunately not. Maximal Excellence isnt talking about the perfection of a "perfect beach" or "perfect banana". Maximal Excellence entails "most worthy of worship" and then entails perfections that explain why they are *truly* most* worthy of worship. Something like "worthy of worship" because every other thing that exists depends on it follows, along with freedom and Moral Perfection. Thats the sort of perfection that a banana will never attain.


  • Comment number 36.

    Guys, just to alert you to the dangers of blog addiction. I've been waiting for (and worrying about) the imminent arrival of my electricity bill. Its been in the back of my head for a few days now. I read through the latest blogs on here last night then went off to bed. I had a very vivid dream in which my lecky bill arrived. I opened it and it read -


    Dear customer, you are owe the sum of £345. We would be pleased if you could settle this payment with us at the earliest opportunity.

    HELIO - Dont pay it! There is no such thing as electricity. Electricity is an invention of deluded people who wish to avoid accepting the harsh reality that things like 'cold' and 'darkness' actually exist.

    PASTOR PHILLIP - Pay up and quickly! You probably used up all that electricity for immoral purposes anyway. Failure to pay will result in you being cast into the abyss where there will weeping and gnashing of teeth (and no electricity!)

    PETER MORROW - No way should your bill be £345! But you're best to pay it anyway, even although its an injustice, just to be on the safe side.

    OT - Well it does say in the Bible, "To those who have much, much will be expected." I feel for you, but get the bill paid. And by the way, once you've paid that, you can start on your gas bill.

    In my dream, I decided to just pocket the cash and went off to be an MP.

    Am I cracking up?

  • Comment number 37.

    It's also worth noting that any reason to believe that a quasi-perfect being exists -say a being with all of God's properties save moral perfection - is also a reason to believe that a perfect being exists.
    Quasi perfect beings can be defined as existing in every possible world. But as I said you need some reason to believe that your first proposition isn't impossible. SO any reason for thinking that a quasi perfect being can exemplify the perfection of existing no matter what else is true of the universe is reason for thinking that a Maximally Great being is also possible, and therefore exists.
    Being maximally great means that everything else depends on you for your existence. That includes quasi-perfect beings. SO if you want to postulate that a quasi-perfect being is possible, you need some reason for thinking that a maximally perfect being would bring them about.
    So there is no ontological argument for Satanic deities, or Zeus (or Maximally Perfect Spaghetti Monsters before you start).

    Speaking of Satan, you could run a FSM objection to him. Unlike God he doesn't have a clear description (Even if you take puported revelations like the Bible you don't get far- he's real, he's personal, but beyond that the Bible is actually astonishingly vague). He doesn't do any explanatory work that can't be carried out by moral realism about evil, or psychology. There's no quest for the historical Satan. He doesn't even explain my own nature very much.

    He does make a difference to the way that I view evil. Unlike the ancients I don't see that evil follows from the gods having to build out of Chaos. Unlike atheists I believe that evil is real - as real as gravity. It does not just exist in human psychologies. Evil is real. The cause of evil lies not in a flawed nature but in the will, in free choices.
    Belief that there is a Satan also means that I view evil as something that goes far beyond human capability. We couldn't get rebellion against God off the ground on our own (it's actually incredibly arrogant to assume that evil is part of the human psyche, and only the human psyche. We are quite limited in what we can achieve in terms of our capacities).
    And evil would possess us *if we let it*. Only if we let it. That preserves responsibilty. But if there are evil powers greater than human powers, then a great deal of caution is needed on humanities part. So I've greater reason to be on my guard. My evil actions may be far more effective than I desire.
    I can't see that I would belive that there is a devil if the Bible didn't tell me so. (There is experiential evidence, but it is very, very weak). Outside of a broadly Christian worldview, the question of his existence doesn't even make sense. But the belief does have very practical importance for me, and I can't see any reason to doubt it if I can buy the Resurrection and Incarnation.
    To put that another way, if YOU told me you believed in the Devil I'd tell you you're nuts. It just doesn't cohere with your other beliefs. It would be like believing in an invisible pixie.


  • Comment number 38.

    Jesus clearly believed Satan existed (he personally tempted Jesus in the desert) so he does exist. But to blame him for the Presbyterian Society's ills is rather shifting the blame. Perhaps it is time for churches of all denominations to return to their primary spiritual task rather than worrying about mammon?

  • Comment number 39.

    "The devil can cite scripture for his own purpose."

    Was Shakespeare suggesting that the Devil CREATED Scripture? If not, then in what sense is Stafford Carson's comment suggesting the devil created the financial crisis.

    Where William says "the Presbyterian Mutual Society crisis was a satanic attack on the unity of their church" a better reading is that "the Presbyterian Mutual Society crisis is being used as part of a satanic attack on the unity of their church" As Peter says, he is saying the devil can USE this situation, whoever is responsible for it, to separate us. William is certainly smart enough to know this, and as such I am also disappointed at the tone of the article, which is more like tabloid or gutterpress reporting than the writings of a man with an IQ of 632 (or whatever it is) and a more than sound working knowledge of Presbyterianism and of the (alleged, if you will) workings of Satan.

  • Comment number 40.

    Graham, you say Plantinga was surprised to find a valid ontological argument, then go on to demonstrate that that is the one thing he didn't find! It makes no sense to talk of a "perfect being", because the word "being" requires deeper clarification, as does "perfect". "Maximal greatness" is not a meaningful concept, even in mathematics - some infinities are greater than others.

    At best, a "being" is a system that when in a certain state, primed with a certain stimulus, exhibits a certain behaviour. Attributes such as "greatness" are piffle - mere verbalisms - that mean nothing unless they can be mapped to a *behaviour* of a system. All we are doing is indulging in reification, and allowing language to fool us into thinking that we know something about something.

    An example, does the sky have the attribute "blue"? We *say* the sky is blue, but what we really mean is that the atmospheric system of the sky in a certain state, with an influx of solar photons (which we could describe further if we wanted to) results in the behaviour of scattering photons to our eyes that are of the correct wavelengths to induce the perception we call "blue". But it's silly to insist that "the sky is blue" (reasonable thing to say) means that the sky system "has" blue as an internal attribute, if ye fally.

    The purpose of the ontological arguments is to demonstrate their logical futility, and that they do very well indeed.

    Maybe we all need to get out more. Either way, there is no devil - don't be so silly.

  • Comment number 41.

    "But it's silly to insist that "the sky is blue" (reasonable thing to say) means that the sky system "has" blue as an internal attribute, if ye fally."

    Doesn't "the sky is blue" mean that the sky system has "the ability to be in a certain state, with an influx of solar photons resulting in the behaviour of scattering photons to our eyes that are of the correct wavelength to induce the perception we call blue" as an internal attribute, if ye fally?

    I mean, you can talk about contingent circumstancdes, but isn't the fact that "in a certain state the sky will result in perception that we call blue" itself an internal attribute. It is part of the nature of what we call "the sky" that it has the ability to be in that state.

  • Comment number 42.

    God is purely spiritual. Humans are both spiritual and physical (as was Jesus). Animals are (probably) purely physical.

    Why then is it 'silly' or 'ridiculous' to believe that God also created a kind of creature which is purely spiritual - angels - and that some of them - like man - rebelled. And that they have a leader, known as THE devil?

    There is no need to blame all evil on him - in fact, the idea that he would look at fascism and some of mankind's worst deeds with envy at our ingenuity is a compelling one. If our alternative is to see Jesus' temptation as contending with his own sinful nature (which according to the Bible he didn't have); to see his casting out of demons as a dishonest appeal to superstition when he knew the people were merely mentally ill (which is a pretty nasty thing to do to the poor victims, not to mention his excellent ventriloquism when the devils talked back as if they existed); and to believe that Mary (mother of the Messiah and most highly favoured woman of all time) hallucinated her encounter with the angel and yet somehow got the future spot on; I'm for accepting that the Bible is not equivocal, and that it does in fact clearly teach that both angels and demons exist.

    Now, maybe the Bible's wrong, but I fail to see why it is silly or irrational to believe it, especially if we already believe in an admittedly supernatural God who is above and beyond the physical.

  • Comment number 43.

    Thought you'd be back on that post.
    "Valid" just means that if the premises are true the conclusion follows. So the ontological argument is valid. But that's trivial. To be a good proof you need true premises (to be sound)and some reason to think that the premises are true.
    I should make it clear that Plantinga doesn't talk about "Perfect Beings" for the reasons you outline. I was trying to clarify the general thinking behind the argument.
    You seem to think that the premises are meaningless, or don't give reasons to assume that Maximal Greatness entails Theism. I mentioned the latter as one escape route, but hadn't thought of the former.
    I should also have mentioned that if your description of Maximal Greatness isn't coherent then you have no reason to believe that it is exemplified. (Plantinga mentions this, I think). You might be arguing to that conclusion.
    And Plantinga wouldn't have a problem with those responses at all. There are responses and counter responses, and so on. He thinks that he has given a clear description (I agree with him here. And I don't know that many logicians would challenge that assessment. "Exemplification in every possible world." What's the problem with that exactly? And omnipotence and omnipresence aren't like an infinite large set or a sort of qualitative substance that God possesses - is that what you're suggesting? I'm a bit lost there.)
    In your example, I think "the sky" just turns out to be a human construct. And you're in danger of reifying behavior. You should say that there are just human descriptions. There is no order (in terms of properties and substances) other than the order we impose on the world.
    If you have good arguments for that sort of nominalism, then you have one way to dodge Plantinga's possible worlds, and his modal argument. But nominalism has it's problems also. The debate can go round and round. But Plantinga did not imagine that anything less would happen.


  • Comment number 44.

    I've no idea what to do with the argument. It's made the concept of necessary existence explicable, and deals with some Kantian/Humean objections to necessary existence. But the argument itself doesn't give us any real reason to believe necessary existence has been exemplified. You need to consider the sort of issues you discussed in your post.

    That doesn't mean that the argument isn't sound, or that it's invalid. It just means that some people doubt it's premises. Plantinga isn't surprised. He wasn't trying to be another Anselm.

  • Comment number 45.

    Just one more thing, as Columbo would say.
    Even on your account it is true that "the sky is blue". You just don't think that there is an abstract realm independent of human psychology that makes that statement true. What makes it true is facts about light and atoms and eyes etc.
    So you can just say that God necessarily exists if he would exist no matter what else was true about the universe. What makes that true is something about God, not an abstract fact that exists outside anyone's mind.
    Of course, on your view in makes no sense to say that something exists in a possible world. Possible worlds are just ways of talking about what we believe may have been true, or something like that.
    You can restate the argument without reference to possible worlds. That makes it immune to your nominalism, but it doesn't give you any reason to accept the premises.

  • Comment number 46.


    It appears I'm not he only fruitcake on the blog, some others appear to have read this thread the same way as me. (not that that means anything of course!)

    I agree Stafford Carson is a public figure now, I agree that the media will find an angle, or make an angle on what he says, yep, it's the real world. But that's my point, William's comments on this thread are an angle. All you have to do is compare this one with "Presbyterians cry out to Gordon Brown", and you will notice that the more recent one is substantially more rigorous that this one. Let's face it, William isn't suited to tabloid journalism (and that's a compliment BTW). I actually expected William to read, and pay attention to the second and third and fourth paragraph of the speech, grasp the context and report what was said, in full. (That's a compliment too)

    You are also correct about there being such things as sensationalist sermons or theology, I've heard them, I used to hang out with the Charismaniacs, and believe me, putting the word 'Satan' in an address isn't sensationalist, I've heard of Satan being in places that I didn't know there were places! I think he once flew out of a Christmas card, yep there are some nutters around but I don't think the Moderator is one of them.

    And yes I also agree that there has been mismanagement, but might that not be a reason to stick together, which at the risk of being unduly repetitive, was sorta the main point of the address.


    No you are not cracking up, but 345 quid for an electric bill definitely is an injustice. Maybe however a solution to the PMS problem lies in the possibility of a PCI minister becoming an MP and claiming back the losses on expenses!


    There's no devil? How the divel do you know that?

  • Comment number 47.

    If you read your Bible, Satan is very real. However, with regard to PCI, human error has played a big part, whether created by Satan or not. We have to pray that it will come good in the end.

  • Comment number 48.

    Some of you guys are starting to sound like spin doctors for Stafford Carson. Except that a good spin doctor might know when to stop digging.

    Fact: Dr Carson didn't say Satan *could* use this crisis as an attack on the church, he said Satan *is* using this crisis to attack the church. Let's not try to rewrite the statement to make it more palatable. It was a gaffe. Dr Carson will learn a lesson from this speech, now that he's in the public eye. He'll re-read his sermons from now on and ask if any of the sentences are hostages to fortune. That's the real world of public figures, isn't it? If he was a politician, he'd face the same treatment. Time to wake up to that fact, Peter.

    Blogs are places where people can write commentary, quirky observations, satire, sketches ... Even humour. Time to lighten up a bit?

  • Comment number 49.

    "If you read your Bible, Satan is very real."

    Whether one reads one's Bible or not, actually has absolutely no bearing on his existence whatsoever.

    Caught the pigeon.

  • Comment number 50.


    Who claimed that Stafford Carson said 'could' and not 'is'? Peter quoted him verbatim, and I said 'a better reading is that "the Presbyterian Mutual Society crisis is [NB!] being used as part of a satanic attack on the unity of their church"'

    The distinction is irrelevant anyway. The problem I (and I believe Peter) have is that this is not even close to what William claimed he had said. William's headline, and the thrust of the article, imply that Stafford Carson blamed the crisis itself on Satan - 'crisis is a satanic attack, says new Mod.' - which is the kind of misrepresentation I'd expect from a tabloid, not an informed and intelligent BBC reporter like William - even on a blog.

    Incidentally, I am a Presbyterian, and I think the church's handling of this is a dreadful witness. I believe lies have been told, deliberately misleading statements made, and attempts to wiggle out of responsibility, all by senior church people. I think that the law was broken (hopefully through ignorance not criminality) in the way the PMS conducted business. I think the debate was a whitewash to at least some extent.

    This doesn't change the fact that William misrepresented what Stafford Carson said, possibly in order to have a more sensational headline and post, and if Peter hadn't posted the text, it's strongly possible that many reading this blog would believe it to be true.

  • Comment number 51.


    I agree with your points about the Mod being a public figure, I've said that already, I agree too that "Blogs are places where people can write commentary, quirky observations, satire, sketches ... Even humour." so tell me, which of those was William's choice of genre on this thread?

  • Comment number 52.


    I'd also like to say that I'm not spinning for anyone, I have made my views on the PMS debacle abundantly clear on this web site over the last 8 months, there's a lot I don't like about it, but I haven't spun anything from the address, I quoted it, and posted a link to the full version, which means that people can read it and make up their own minds. And yes I hope Mr. Carson does write his sermons carefully and read them for hooks upon which someone might hang him, I just hope that next time that happens I read it in 'The Sun' and not W&T!

  • Comment number 53.

    Some PMS savers are less than happy about Mr Carson bringing in the Devil as part of his explanation of what's happening. It's a diversion, a distraction from the real questions that need to be asked about financial accountability and moral responsibility. No surprise there: the idea of the devil has often been invoked, particularly in the history of the church, to avoid responsibility or put off the day when responsibility will finally be faced. Better if Christians in the 21st century dropped this 1st century concept altogether. Mostly, that's what Christians have done. When someone is injured in a car accident, or falls victim to mental illness, we rarely (thank goodness) hear any Christians jumping up to say this is an attack by demons. In the 1st century, they would have done. We've made some progress here, so perhaps that's also why it seems odd to many that a church leader would jump for a demonic explanation in this situation.

  • Comment number 54.

    peter theres a sketch quality to all this. it made me raise my eyebrows. the post focuses on one section of dr carsons talk and isnt trying to be the last word on the pms disaster! you're way over the top here with all your tabloid language. whether you like it or not, the mod said it and the press noticed it. in a story that has been covered from every angle, the mod gave them a new angle ... it was the devil! come on ... by any standards that's worth reporting and it was reported and i really think you've lost your sense of reality here. if you're a supporter of dr carson, as i am, just chalk this up to experience and advise him to have his speeches checked in future in case he leaves some buried treasure for the press in them!

  • Comment number 55.

    A Church Leader is not a politician, so he should not keep an eye to the headlines. A Church Leader is accountable to a heavenly court, or none. (Hence the reference to Satan. Mr Carson believes that ther eis more to the mission of the Church than a secular worldview can comprehend).
    Bad PR is neither here nor there, and if Mr Carson begins reading his sermons with an eye to the headlines his ministry is doomed. In fact it would be a losing battle. The press probably made up it's mind about him when he vocally opposed Women's Ordination. (Although I suspect there was more to that dispute than meets the eye.)
    In fact there was an absolutely farcical BBC radio report at that time in which a reporter claimed that she could not get local residents to comment on the issue as they were too afraid to speak out.
    In Portadown the Presbyterian Church runs a campaign of terror. We've had Drumcree and LVF/UVF disputes. But what keeps us all awake at night is the thought of Kirk Session's Institue of Vice Prevention and Virtue Promotion. They know your worst fears, see, and if you disagree with them you get taken to this Room, and you have to say terrble things about your loved ones or they let hungry rats feast on the soft tissue on your face. There's lots and lots of proof - but everyone's too afraid to speak out about it. It's tragic.
    Mr Stafford Carson. Believe me when I say - he must be stopped!

  • Comment number 56.

    "whether you like it or not, the mod said it and the press noticed it."

    PTL, I'll try one more time. The point is, the mod DIDN'T say what the press claimed to have noticed. It's not a case of liking it or otherwise - it simply didn't happen the way it was reported, and that's bad reporting, even in a blog.

  • Comment number 57.

    Hard to keep up with all this chaps! I know the devil is not real because even if Graham's rehash of Plantinga's flawed arguments (even if they are "valid" in the very specific and narrow philosophical definition of "validity") were on the money, such a proof of "god" would be flatly contradicted by the existence of the devil. Essentially, even if "maximally perfect" had any meaning (and it does not - it's just verbage), the Primary Intelligent Cosmos-Creator (PIC-C, or "pixie") could be even more maximally perfect if he rubbed out ol' Satan. So if we use the one argument, it screws up the other. You can't have a maximally perfect pixie AND Satan. Indeed, you can't have a maximally perfect pixie AND any form of evil at all, so maximal perfection is empirically observed as not being attained, so Plantinga can go and eat grass like an ox if he likes.

    But let's leave the nonsense of "Satan" aside as the fairy tale that it is. Plantinga (and Graham) claims that his argument has Philosophical Validity (which of course has no impact on whether its conclusions are "true" or not). The assertion is made that if the premises are true, then the conclusion logically follows. But this is inane nonsense of the first water, because premises and the logical relations between them quite frequently contain invisible baggage that renders them pants, but we might not spot that UNLESS we are in a position to TEST the conclusion scientifically.

    This, I'm sorry to say, is one of the principal vanities of philosophy - the notion that you can say what you like, back it up with logical argument (which may even appear quite tight), and proudly proclaim that you have done the biz without the need to subject the conclusion to further testing.

    Plantinga is a clown. Yes, he is a highly-regarded clown in some circles, but he has clown-ness as a specific internal attribute. Or, rather, that is his observed behaviour. Red nose, funny shoes, squirting flower and all.

    Give us some SCIENTIFIC evidence of the devil and god, and then we'll examine the philosophical arguments - after all, they are nothing more than structured hypotheses.


  • Comment number 58.

    You're in danger of cutting off the branch you're sitting on.
    (i) Everyone uses logic, especially those who are arguing against it.
    (ii) You use the term "evil" and know that it is incompatible with "perfection". But you didn't offer a precise definition. You DID NOT say that the terms were so imprecise we shouldn't even talk about them.
    (iii) Then you talk about Science and Evidence without offering definitions (good luck on getting necessary and sufficient conditions there.)
    (iv) And science uses inferences. SO you're back to logic.
    (v) You haven't really considered what I pointed out about attributes and behavior. You're really arguing for some sort of nominalism. Which is fine, but that has no bearing on Theism.
    (vi) Then you argue that statements/arguments only have meaning if they can be tested scientifically. Which would include that statement/argument. Which leaves you (at best!) arguing in a circle. And I'm curious - what experiment showed that Perfection and Evil cannot co-exist?
    (vii)If the premises are true, and the argument is valid, *by definition* the conclusion follows. What you really mean is that an argument can seem valid and sound, but in fact contain a fallacy. That's not news H. SO Plantinga could argue successfully (to EVERYONES satisfaction) that the logical problem of evil contained fallacies.
    (viii) Maximal Greatness has already been clarified. I said that Plantinga dropped terms like perfection for Maximal Excellence.
    (ix) SO if God's maximal power or omnipotence would just mean he is "able to bring about any logically possible state of affairs consistent with his nature and consistent with what he has already created." "Omnipresence" just means that God actively conserves space-time. It DOES NOT mean God is invisible, intangible but infinitely big. "Omniscience" just means "knowing all that can be known,consistent with what he has already created."
    (x) Those are all simple precise definitions. Now you can say - but what does "consistent" mean, what does "logically possible" entail? And so forth. But you can apply that to any argument. What does "knowledge" mean? Even if we confine ourselves to dictionary definitions, then you have to look up the meaning of each word in the definition, and then each word in that definition, ad infinitum.
    (xi) Your argument is a philosophical argument, and takes a philosophical position. So it's open to all the objections you raise to philosophy.
    (xii)And so forth...

    But you already know all this. You don't make mistakes like this unless you're satirising (ie making mistakes on purpose) or you've lost your temper. Why does Plantinga irritate you so much? I certainly wouldn't agree with a lot of his arguments. And he does believe some very odd things. But he isn't a clown.

  • Comment number 59.

    Graham, he's a clown, and you're clowning around after him. My simple position is that he is trying to assert things that he in fact has no grounds for asserting, and trying to disguise those assertions with fancy verbage. "Maximal Excellence" remains pure puff unless you can get it to *mean* something. Yes, I accept that a philosophical argument can *seem* valid, but be trashed by hidden fallacies. My point is that you can never really identify some of those fallacies until you find other ways of testing the argument. And ontological arguments do NOT cut the mustard. There is simply no point in slobbering over them again - they cannot do the job.

    You accuse me of cutting off the branch I'm sitting on - I am doing no such thing. In science we *test*. The real world works the way it does; we are not even asking for a "true" answer most of the time - just whether or not something WORKS. And whether something works as a philosophical argument or not is irrelevant to the world - it'll rise or fall depending on experiment. So relativity, although it is philosophically brilliant, can be found to WORK when we look at things like gravitational lensing etc. Our interpretations of what is *actually* going on are pretty irrelevant - the results either match the theory, or they don't. This is what Popper was saying about falsifiability.

    If you say that Satan "exists", you need to show how that works, because the word "exist" carries a fair bit of baggage. It's an important word that can't be fobbed off with theological twaddle. If you say that you *imagine* that Satan exists, then I can marry that with what I know about your superstitious mindset. But if it exists for you, you are implying that it exists for me too. And you have no evidence for that whatsoever, apart from some ancient woo and a visceral anthropomorphisation process that stems from the evolved human hindbrain.


  • Comment number 60.


    We've been here before! It's just a rehash of the 'How can God allow evil' question, but I have to say I like, "Primary Intelligent Cosmos-Creator (PIC-C, or "pixie")" you're getting funnier all the time.

    A question, in your theological world view are the (obviously non existent!) beings, God and the Devil, equal and opposite? You appear to be barking up the wrong theological tree again. Christianity is not saying, "God is all powerful" and "God is not all powerful".

    Now, you want scientific evidence for the same, well, I tell you what, you establish your existence in a non self referential way, and then I'll establish the existence of God or the Devil. Should be easy for ya, after all, I take it you believe that you exist.


    I suspect that we agree on quite a bit, but this thread, yes it has a sketch quality all right. You say this thread is focusing in one aspect of the address, yes, my point exactly! I expected more, this isn't 'Private Eye'. If William was being satirical, it's not what he normally does.

    Anyway I simply disagree with you and Augustine on the reading of this. Mr. Carson did not say 'it was the devil'!! William linked the Satan comment to the PMS crisis, the address links Satan to church unity, or the lack of it, and that, whether we see eye to eye on it or not, is standard Christian theology; this concept, among others, runs through John's first letter, "We should love one another." In my view William picked up on the word Satan and used it and all I was doing was providing a counter balance to this, "Satan stole our money" angle, I still think it was reasonable to do that.

    I suspect something else too, that William, whether he agrees with it or nor, whether he hates it or not, whether he has abandoned it or not, understands the nuances of reformed theology and, whatever angle he chooses to take on them, hasn't and won't misread the new Moderator's addresses.

  • Comment number 61.

    Peter, you haven't really given a great deal of thought as to how we arise at scientific statements. We don't have to start at the "base of all things" - we start from where we are *now*, and work up, down, back, forward, sideways, and into any dimension that presents itself, and we fill in the picture from there. It is the lamest possible defence to deploy the old "ah, but you can't provide an epistemological defence of your own existence, therefore I don't have to address your arguments against god's frilly knickers" argument.

    Yeah, whatever, I'll assume that *I* exist, with all the angst that that gives the cowardly, but not being able to frame it in Plantingaesque philofluff does not keep me awake at night. I'm not the one trying to get you to believe something silly on the basis of my very authoritative say-so.

    It's an interesting cognitive thing, however. Most scientists are happy to plot their co-ordinates in terms of landmarks they can observe, and place their situation relative to them. Philosophers seem to insist on latitude and longitude down to the nth degree, and will quite happily try to drive through a wall if that's what the satnav says they should do. The map is just a map, Pete - look over the dash & through the windscreen! There's a big old world out there, and if you want to understand it, you place your base where you *are*, and work outwards. That's what *works*. If you're looking for bedrock, you will most likely be disappointed.

    -Happy Helio

  • Comment number 62.

    Yeah, all that's great Helio, but it doesn't justify your faith in science without lapsing into a circular argument.
    It's like offering evidence for evidentialism. There's just no argument for me to consider "beyond it works, except when it doesn't."


  • Comment number 63.


    You know H, maybe I haven't given enough thought to how we arise at scientific statements, I'm not a scientist, but you don't appear to have given much thought to the limits, yet absolute necessity of your own existence if you are to know something scientific. Donkeys don't do science, not even in pairs(!), but you do, and that's great, but you can't really complain if I go ahead and assume God, for, when it comes to the bit, all I have to say is that I can have science and god and that works for me.

    But, I actually respect your science and the fact that it works. Everyday I'm glad it works. I'm glad my car starts in the morning, I'm glad we can grow food, I'm glad (and believe me I'm really glad about this one) I'm glad when the school computer network works, cos a lot of the time it doesn't. I'm glad when new cures are discovered for sick people, and was particularly glad when, a number of years back, my 4 month old baby came through a successful operation to correct a pulmonary stenosis.

    And there's something else, you know and I know that the science you do is pretty fantastic, much better than 'just is', or 'just works', just as you know that the theological understanding that Graham and I and others on the blog have outlined is much more rigorous than 'just believe'; for the truth is that science doesn't always work, and we are finite, and that, while it doesn't keep me awake at night, interests me too.

    BTW I wouldn't want you to believe anything on the basis of my authoritative say-so, my 'authority', so-called, is very much over-rated.

    And here, dashboard? windscreen?... where? :-)


  • Comment number 64.

    Boys, boys, boys - it is not a circular argument. It is merely assuming that the starting point is right here, with us. You assume it is your specific god, and try to work up from there; that doesn't work. It is a rootless argument, and you have to *define* a root (it all boils down to an ontological fallacy anyway). If I start with me/us, I just accept that I can work out in any direction - forwards, backwards, up, down, left, right. Yeah, if we find something more fundamental, we can build up from that, but that's what science *is*. It is exhilarating, and having been a theist at one point in my life, I can tell you this is better.

    For one thing, I don't have to make a twit out of myself pretending that the *bible* is the word of a god, or that there is a devil trying to thwart my every good plan! The very idea!

  • Comment number 65.


    I don't have to pretend the bible is true to make a twit out of myself either, I can do that in all sorts of other ways!

    As for the rest of post 64, yes, I know you assume yourself, you said that already!! But sure tell me again, which point on the circle are you starting? Or, for something altogether more interesting, tell me what it is about yourself that you are assuming, or even what it is that you are assuming you are.

    Alternatively if you are still happy with 'just accept', then I'll 'just believe' and that'll save us both alot of time.

    'Just accepting' doesn't seem very scientific tho'.


  • Comment number 66.

    Hey guys - completely off-thread - an opportunity has come up for me to do something I've very much wanted for some time. Do not expect to be able to post again until the Autumn. Have a good Summer - look forward to rejoining the fray in due course!

  • Comment number 67.



  • Comment number 68.


    Have a good one and....thanks!!

  • Comment number 69.

    Have fun Portwyne, whatever you'll be up to. Care to tell us a little about it?

  • Comment number 70.

    What I found surprising about SS today was that there was no mention that I heard of two very good news stories regarding the PMS from recent days.

    - Last weekend the First Minister confirmed he is to meet Gordon Brown on 17th June about a rescue package for the PMS

    - This week Shaun Woodward made a major U-turn in the commons when he was lambasted by cross party MPs and agreed to "break the bureacracy" to help PMS savers. This was a major move. Before this he was very dismissive of PMS savers but now he has vowed to bring all stakeholders into one room to see what can be done to help. If you read the hansard he was actually bullied into taking a new stance on the hoof by MPs.

    Neither of these points are solutions.

    But by not mentioning either of these major issues today SS has potentially left itself open to accusations that it was using the PMS issue to lambast PCI.

    The perception was not helped by the interview with Rev McKelvey in which WC gave him more than a run for his money.

    The SS presenter conluded by saying to the Rev;-

    "Did you enjoy that bible study? That was my old boss there, Rev McKelvey".

    It almost came across that SS was gloating at the whole predicament, though Im sure that is not actually the case, with so many vulnerable people suffering.


  • Comment number 71.


    ref post 64

    Correct me if im wrong, but as I understood it the entire scientific revolution was explicitly inspired by Christians, at "worship" in their labs/workshops.

    "Science is thinking God's thoughts after him" Kepler, could easily be the motto of the scientific revolution which gave us the foundations for all our modern disciplines.

    Kepler was saying that modern science was inspired by the assumption that God is there.

    Only very much more recently, thanks to the enlightenment, did the assumption change, that God would now have to be proven.

    But this was an ideological change, not a scientific one.

    It could be argued that society snapped modern science out of God's hands and then told him to get lost.

    Why do you think this assumption was flipped on its head Helio?


  • Comment number 72.

    OT, christianity had been live for over 1600 years before science got started, and for most of that period, a lot of the previous learning had been lost. Thanks, ignorant theistic morons. Indeed, many people even went back to assuming the earth was flat. During a lot of that period a lot of things were wrongly assumed, and as we got better at this malarkey, we realised that god was one of them; geocentricity was another one. It is therefore quite appropriate that the very existence of god is questioned. I feel that we have enough confidence to suggest an answer in the negative.

    Your problem with that is what, precisely?

  • Comment number 73.


    William gave Mr. (sorry, I'm a Presbyterian but I'm simply not gonna use this Reverend tag) McKelvey a run for his money alright, but given that PCI has been in bed with civic society for years and years now, it was hardly going to be difficult! That's a good bit of our problem, we want the status and the return when things are on the up but when the crash comes it leaves us looking less like a church.


    "Thanks, ignorant theistic morons."

    You're welcome.

    BTW, this Satan fandango (thunder bolt and lightning, very very frightening) which you mentioned on another thread, but which was inspired in all its devilishness by this one; if there is a God (as you said), it's not Satan we need saving from.

  • Comment number 74.

    You can't just start with humans and get to science (what about rationalism? Or relativism?). And you can't just get from "it works" to "it's true". (What about Empiricism - we can only make predictions about sense data?).
    I'm also unsure about your critique of Theistic "ontological commitments". The best sense that I can make of what you are saying about "behaviors" and "systems" is that what makes "the sky is blue" true is the behavior of atoms, our nervous systems and our psychology.
    That's just a form of nominalism. There are no real "abstract truths" or properties that make these statements true. There is just what is created by minds like ours.
    But that isn't a threat to Theism. (It's not even a threat to the Ontological Argument, but I won't go there). If you want to go down the route of behaviors (although I can't see why unless you've turned Buddhist on me) - God is "Maximally Powerful" would be "God has displayed more power than anything else, and we can only use logic to predict the limitations of his power". If you want to quibble about "power" we can just say that it is the ability to create and control matter and energy.
    God is "Maximally Good" would be the prediction that, when all the facts are in, every rational being would describe God's actions as "good".God is "Perfect" would be the prediction that, when all the facts are in, every rational being would describe God as "the greatest being conceivable". God "exists necessarily" would be the prediction that whatever else is true of the universe, God would be doing something. (In fact, classically God was described as pure act, rather than as static being.)
    You could define God as a simple system that has causal power, and that produces rational thoughts. Say it intearcts with what it has casued so that it lacks no available knowledge of it's creations.
    I've no idea why a person would want to do this, but it meets your objections if you insist on holding to them.


  • Comment number 75.

    As for Plantinga's Ontological Argument - I only wanted to defend Plantinga a bit. The argument was published in 1974. At that stage Philosophy was all about definitions and logic. (An ethicist would tell you what good meant - not what to do if you wanted to be good.)Also it was considered to be impossible to advance any valid argument for Theism. Theism was meant to be well and truly dead in Philosophy. So Plantinga's argument came as something of a shock.
    Basil Mitchell and Richard Swinburne made Theistic arguments respectable again in the late 1970s. Subsequently it has become somewhat easier to defend Theism. We don't need arguments as complex (convoluted?) as Plantinga's Ontological Argument. The argument marks a turn of the tide in Philosophy of religion, and it had modest aims. I can accuse Plantinga of eccentricity in a numebr of places. But not at this point. Given the period in which it was published, and given the modest claims made for the argument, I can't really see why it would bother anyone.

  • Comment number 76.

    Ha! Just when you think that metaphysics has no relevance to the real world, I pick up this article from the New York Times (referenced on Alex Pruss' blog).

    Aristotle, it seems, was wrong! The Pringle is indeed a "potato chip", and not just a crisp.

    Published: May 31, 2009
    Britains Supreme Court of Judicature has answered a question that has long puzzled late-night dorm-room snackers: What, exactly, is a Pringle? With citations ranging from Baroness Hale of Richmond to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Lord Justice Robin Jacob concluded that, legally, it is a potato chip.
    The decision is bad news for Procter & Gamble U.K., which now owes $160 million in taxes. It is good news for Her Majestys Revenue and Customs and for fans of no-nonsense legal opinions. It is also a reminder, as conservatives begin attacking Judge Sonia Sotomayor for not being a strict constructionist, of the pointlessness of labels like that.
    In Britain, most foods are exempt from the value-added tax, but potato chips known as crisps and similar products made from the potato, or from potato flour, are taxable. Procter & Gamble, in what could be considered a plea for strict construction, argued that Pringles which are about 40 percent potato flour, but also contain corn, rice and wheat should not be considered potato chips or similar products. Rather, they are savory snacks.
    The VAT and Duties Tribunal disagreed, ruling that Pringles which have been marketed in the United States as potato chips are taxable. There are other ingredients, the tribunal said, but a Pringle is made from potato flour in the sense that one cannot say that it is not made from potato flour, and the proportion of potato flour is significant being over 40 percent.
    An appeals court reversed, in a convoluted opinion that considered four interpretations of the law before ultimately rejecting three of them. In the end, it decided that Pringles are exempt from the tax, mainly because they have less potato content than a potato chip.
    The Supreme Court of Judicature reversed again, in an eloquent decision. Lord Justice Jacob, in an apparent swipe at the midlevel court, insisted the question was not one calling for or justifying overelaborate, almost mind-numbing legal analysis.
    The VAT and Duties Tribunal took an eminently practical approach, he said. It considered Pringles appearance, taste, ingredients, process of manufacture, marketing and packaging, and concluded that while in many respects they are different from potato crisps and so they are near the borderline, they are sufficiently similar to satisfy that test.
    The tribunal was not obliged, he said, to go on and spell out item by item how each was weighed as if it were using a real scientists balance. It came down to a matter of overall impression.
    The Supreme Court of Judicature had little patience with Procter & Gambles lawyerly attempts to break out of the potato chip category. The company argued that to be made of potato Pringles would have to be all potato, or nearly so. If so, Lord Justice Jacob noted, a marmalade made using both oranges and grapefruit would be made of neither a nonsense conclusion.
    He was even more dismissive of Procter & Gambles argument that to be taxable a product must contain enough potato to have the quality of potatoness. This Aristotelian question of whether a product has the essence of potato, he insisted, simply cannot be answered.
    In the Pringles litigation, three levels of British courts engaged in a classic debate over line-drawing, a staple of first-year law school classes. At some point, a potato-chip-like item is so different from a potato chip that it can no longer be called one but when? Lord Justice Jacob invoked the wisdom of Justice Holmes: A tyro thinks to puzzle you by asking you where you are going to draw the line and an advocate of more experience will show the arbitrariness of the line proposed by putting cases very near it on one side or the other.
    In other words, sometimes you just have to call them as you see them.
    Conservatives like to insist that their judges are strict constructionists, giving the Constitution and statutes their precise meaning and no more, while judges like Ms. Sotomayor are activists. But there is no magic right way to interpret terms like free speech or due process or potato chip. Nor is either ideological camp wholly strict or wholly activist. Liberal judges tend to be expansive about things like equal protection, while conservatives read more into ones like the right to bear arms.
    In the end, as Lord Justice Jacob noted, a judge can only look at the relevant factors and draw an overall impression. His common-sense approach was a rebuke not only to Procter & Gamble, but to everyone out there who insists that the only way to read laws correctly is to read them strictly.

  • Comment number 77.

    Graham, if you remove every atom from a Pringle, replacing it with a new one, is it still the same Pringle?

  • Comment number 78.

    Only if 40% of the atoms remain in the essentially "potato" like substance of the Pringle.
    There is, in fact, a Platonic Pringle, of which all other Pringles are a copy. So as long as the proportions do not change, and the location does not change, we have the same Pringle.
    I suppose you could argue that *temporally* the Pringle has changed. So we should replace the atoms, one at a time, in a black hole.


  • Comment number 79.

    I'm waiting for the Discovery Institute to publish an article on the Irreducible Complexity of the Pringle.
    Maybe the Irreducible Spuddity would be better.

  • Comment number 80.

    Graham, the Discovery Institute's argument is thus: the humble Pringle was designed. The universe is much more complex than a Pringle, therefore it MUST have been designed, even more so than a Pringle.

    However, under the Inflationary Model of the early universe after the big bang, "once you pop, you can't stop". Therefore, spacetime must be seen as open, and the universe will expand forever without contracting. Interestingly, Pringles display negative (hyperbolic) curvature, which has been proposed as the macro scale geometry of spacetime across the universe (see Penrose: "The Road to Reality"), and this geometry can potentially explain certain features of the spacetime manifold.

    Does this mean that the Universe is 40% potato? That's not something that physicists and cosmologists can resolve - it's a matter for the Advertising Standards Authority.

  • Comment number 81.

    Well, "Dark Energy" could well be fuelled by Spud Particles left over from the original Pringle box. And the little crumbly bits that you can never quite get at, but somehow end up spread all over the sofa, could well provide the Dark Matter necessary for Galaxy Formation.
    Interestingly, too many spud particles would leave us with a universe incapable of supporting life. In fact, there is just enough spud to guarantee the correct rate of expansion. Not too much, not too little. This used to be dubbed the "Goldilocks Principle" as cosmologists mistakenly confused Dark Energy with Porridge.
    The next big question for Physical Cosmology will be "What flavour are we?" I firmly believe that Science cannot answer such questions, and I am searching the Bible Code for the answer.


  • Comment number 82.

    Graham, I firmly believe you are trying to open the wrong end of the packet. Our universe exists as but one in a stack of universes, just like one Pringle among the Multingle. Where the symmetry breaks is indeed in the area of flavour, so we might postulate that at one point in the Multingle, the flavour is Sour Cream and Chives, while at another it is Original (ah, but what is "Original" in this context, eh?), and at another, it can EVEN be Paprika! The correct approach to this has to be to get to the bottom of the tube, and define exactly what it means to "be" a Pringle. If we follow the argument of Pringologists such as Paul Davies, or even Einstein, if Pringles were 100% potato, they would collapse. Indeed, you can calculate this very precisely, and it turns out that at 41% potato, the Pringle would be extremely unstable, and fall in on itself. At 39%, it would fly apart. So it would seem that to maintain its structural integrity AND hyperbolic curvature (let's not forget that - it is important), it needs to be PRECISELY 40% potato, otherwise there would be no Pringle at all.

    Which leads us to the next issue - the Snackological argument for Spud, as proposed by the verbose (and rather fat) philosopher Alvin Plantpringla. This is quite different from the Pringological argument (as espoused by William Pink Queens Craig), and goes something like this:
    1. Spud is defined as a maximally popalicious pringle popper.
    2. It is possible that Spud popped a Pringle, which means there is a POSSIBLE PRINGLE that Spud popped. (Note, this is distinct from the peck of pickled pepper that Peter Maris Piper picked).
    3. If Spud popped a POSSIBLE Pringle, then the maximally popalicious character of Spud means that he (and it must be a he, probably muscled and tanned, to appeal to the girlies) popped ALL Pringles, including our ACTUAL Pringle.
    4. Therefore through him all Pringles were popped and without him nothing was popped that has been popped.

    This argument has also been supported by extensive ellipsisisised quotations... ...from Sir Karl Popper.

  • Comment number 83.

    We're enjoying this too much for sane men, you know that H?

    Still, I'd like some grunds for believing it possible pringles.

    Say Maximally Perfect Pringles. That are popped in every possible world. Indeed it is inherent to the nature of a pringle to be popped. We cannot conceive of an unpopped pringle. Therefore there is an unpopped Pringle.

    QED God Exists.

  • Comment number 84.

    Graham, Helio

    The (ehem) bottom line question is this, "Who popped?"

  • Comment number 85.

    But according to the Kalam Pringological Argument, even if you can have an infinite series of pops extending into the future, it is not possible to have infinite pops in the past, since we would never be able to get to the point in the tube where we are now. So even if the tube is bottomless, it cannot go topless.

    Everything that begins to pop must have a popper. The Pringle began to pop, therefore the Pringle must have a popper. In order for a finely-tuned Pringle to exist, the popper must be popalicious, personal, pot-bellied, popresent, popotent and popscient. Potatists identify this popper with Spud.

    Peter, there is no point in being sceptical. You're just a happy clappy apotatist, and you have the Mark of the Blight!

  • Comment number 86.


    But how can science even define the taste of sub atomic particles? Let alone measure them?
    No, we need a theology of the Pringle to fill that gap.
    On the Kalam argument - it follows from the statement "ONCE you pop you can't stop" that there was a first POP. Otherwise there would be no popping to be stopping.
    Therefore, God exists.


  • Comment number 87.

    To illustrate - each Pringle cannot be eaten until the Pringle before it is eaten. If we have an infinitely long series of Pringles, then each Pringle has a prior Pringle. Therefore no Pringle could ever be eaten.

    Also consider the shape of the Pringle, perfectly suited to the tube. And the concavity of each pringle allows another pringle to rest neatly inside it. So even if there was an infinite series of Pringles, we would need to explain the design of the Pringle.

    No, the Pringle is Irreducibly Complex. No doubt about it I'm afraid.

  • Comment number 88.

    Graham, the chief fallacy of the Pringological argument is using what is inside the tube to infer what is on the other side of the lid. You cannot use the fact that Pringles are now being popped to suggest that the first thing to be popped was in fact a Pringle, nor what it was popped *by*. Our viewpoint is limited to what is inside the tube, and as such the Anthropic Pringiple applies.


  • Comment number 89.

    "Our viewpoint is limited to what is inside the tube"

    Which is where revelation comes in.


  • Comment number 90.

    Actually, I think H just won the argument. Pringles have always existed.

  • Comment number 91.

    Well, they've certainly always been worn by golfers.


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