Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Thinknet Project Part 1: Introduction

This yellowing paper back started something for me.

This series on The Thinknet Project is really part of my Melencolia I series. The paper for part 1 of The Thinknet Project  can be downloaded here. I reproduce the first paragraph of this paper below.


In the last of my Melencolia I series I reached a hiatus on the nature of quantum leaps, a hiatus that left me wondering where to go next: For if quantum leaps really do regularly clear the wave field in favour of the coherent objects of intensive matter, at first sight this seems to hamstring the unrestricted quantum searching needed to find (and ultimately select) stable organic structures. So in this latest series I return to the work that started my quantum mechanical investigations in the first place, work which eventually led to my very speculative proposal about gravity. The Thinknet Project was a project that influenced how I was to start thinking about several topics, not least the relationship between language, thinking and even reality itself. The general idea of embarking on this latest series is that by returning to this topic it may give me some pointers showing which way to proceed with the Melencolia I series.  


Relevant Link:

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Good Cause, Pity about the Extremism.

Disclaimer:The right-wing makers of this video have been accused of willful selective editing by the left-wing

There has been a flurry of outraged posts on the internet about the family planning doctor (see above) who was filmed talking about her work, macabre work involving the distribution of the body parts of the unborn children she aborts.  I find the idea of abortion carried out for marginal reasons of choice abhorrent and oppose it. Loving parents who want to build a family form a bond of great love for their unborn child even at an early stage of development. For these parents the loss of that developing child would be a great tragedy for them:  So, if an unborn child can on the one hand stimulate intense parental feelings why should love and protection be withheld from selected unborn children for quite marginal reasons?  Are those parental feelings to be regarded as a fixation that signifies nothing?

Conscious cognition is unlikely to suddenly switch on during a child’s development and this means there is no clear cut demarcation to justify parental protection and love being withheld.  Therefore except in dire circumstances I find abortion unjustifiable. There is no fundamental basis why an unborn child should receive less protection than a new born child. However, given the philosophical and social pathologies of our society that’s not to say abortion should be made illegal any more than divorce or prostitution should be made illegal. Moreover, I don’t automatically equate abortion with murder as do some, although I do see it as killing. (See below)

So having set that scene you might think I would have a basic agreement with many right-wing Christians on this subject. Think again. Here is how one member of the Intelligent Design community, Cornelius Hunter, puts it (“Darwin’s God”  15th July)

As predicted, evolutionists are desperately attempting to dismiss and delegitimize a several-hour long video of an evolutionist discussing the routine practice of crushing live babies to murder them in cold blood. Business Insider, for example, leads with an absurd headline labelling the video as “false.” No the video is not false. What is false is the evolutionist’s claims that humanity, and everything else for that matter, arose from a series of random chance events—what their Epicurean forefathers referred to as swerving atoms. And, as William Jennings Bryan foresaw, if the world is nothing but a happenstance accident, then what does it matter if we kill? And kill they do. In our country alone evolutionists have murdered more than 50 million babies. It is Bryan’s worst nightmare come true. Evolutionists have brought us this nightmare, and they will insist that it continues. What we are now seeing is how evolutionists conduct business—lies, more lies, and blackballing and delegitimization of anyone who points it out.

 “Evolutionists have murdered…. Evolutionists have brought us this nightmare”.  That’s a rather emphatic connection being made there between evolution and abortion. In order to avoid incriminating the innocent that really needs qualifying:  Are all abortionists evolutionists? (probably, yes). Are all evolutionists abortionists? (probably, no)  Where do the above accusations place evolutionist Christians like Francis Collins and Ken Miller? And what about Intelligent Design Guru William Dembski who is arguably a crypto-evolutionistEvolutionists this, evolutionists that…..; IDists like Hunter (along with  Christian fundamentalists)  trace back  many of society’s woes to evolution, from mass murders to the holocaust, from eugenics to abortion, from out of control gun owners to Islamic State….  did I just say Islamic State? I think I must have got that wrong: Islamic State are very likely to be anti-evolutionist*1 (But see footnote)

But evolution is not as well defined as Hunter’s sweeping accusations hints. In fact evolution is so ill-defined that it could conceivably cover intelligent design! See here for example:

So if evolution cannot in and of itself be implicated as determining one’s stance on abortion what is the underlying philosophy that leads one to have no problem with it?  Hunter tries to express it by saying,

…..what their Epicurean forefathers referred to as swerving atoms. And …… if the world is nothing but a happenstance accident, then what does it matter if we kill

Hunter is no doubt right in tracing heartless abortionism back to a world view, but ironically Hunter himself conspires to help along a debased concept of evolution. For as has been shown in this series of posts conventional evolution cannot work in an informational vacuum – it must itself tap into the givens of an a priori mathematical structure in configuration space. Therefore evolution is far from a happenstance process; in fact evolution is a thermodynamic analogue of embryo development, where in both cases up front but background information guides and biases the random shufflings of atoms. This is not to say that I believe evolution actually works like this. However, the intricate nuances of the evolution debate are pushed aside in the highly charged and polarized atmosphere in which Hunter is contending

Evolution in its distorted debased form is very readily infected with the virus of reductionist nihilist nothing buttery. This in turn is likely to affect the value people place on life: In such a context nihilism and extreme postmodernism find fertile ground. The hopelessness and purposelessness engendered by nihilism and demented fragmented postmodernist thinking*2 can even tempt suicide – the ultimate expression of a belief in an empty world. The grand narrative of atoms and the void has a hidden inner contradiction that is liable lead to a disbelief even in truth itself (See here). If antifoundational nihilism has the potential to depress to the extent that it increases suicide risk what chance does an unborn child have?

And yet it is true that from the third person perspective that a close look at matter only reveals swerving atoms. In fact if we look very closely at a human being all we see is, apparently, swerving atoms, even though those atoms follow some very sophisticated swerves. What is lacking here is the first person perspective of conscious cognition. Any human being, born and unborn, is more than the third person perspective – it is also a first person perspective: If abortionists don’t perceive the unborn child as a unique and sacred first person and instead just as atoms and the void then within the parameters of that perception, however wrong that perception is, abortion will been viewed as just killing and not murder. A necessary (but not sufficient) condition of murder is knowing that killing ends the life of another first person perspective.  To those who only see the unborn child as atoms and the void it is unlikely they would see that child as another conscious being; in fact there are some ultras out there who even express doubt about the existence of consciousness. Therein lies the problem: Abortionists can’t be accused of murder if they simply don’t perceive it as anything to do with murder; to those with such an arid view of the fetus, abortion is just the disposal of a molecular machine and so their conscience is clear.

Appendix: On polarisation and my wariness of evangelico-fundamentalists
It is probable that someone like Hunter leans toward the political right-wing. Evidence for this comes from the kind of supporting comments he gets. The text below was extracted from comments on his post of July 14. Notice the way moderate commenter “William Spearshake” is thought of as a liberal-leftist devil’s advocate and the rightists do their best to push him in that direction. That the liberal-leftist abortionists are “evil” rather than simply working out a fallacious world view is axiomatic to these rightists. Inevitably the gun-owning issue gets thrown into the inflammatory mix. Hunter’s fulminations are very much part of this highly charged debate. This kind of behaviour is the main reason why I avoid contact with fundamentalists and some evangelicals: They see the world almost exclusively through moral spectacles: This means that those who disagree with them are likely to be viewed as willfully disobedient to moral principles and an affront to a sense of morality. All too often, then, one finds evangelico-fundamentalists accusing detractors of moral defect. I have experienced this myself and that’s one reason why I avoid contact with them.  We can see some of the antecedents of this type of conduct below. We can also see an almost organic join between evangelico-fundamentalists and the gun owning small government rightists; this I believe traces back to the American Revolution. (See here). And for good measure I suppose I ought to mention the rightist susceptibility to conspiracy theorism (See here). The US needs to get back to its progressive Whiggish roots.

Joe G July 15, 2015 at 7:08 AM
How do you losers justify the killing of millions of unborn children? Why do you scream bloody murder at gun violence when the deaths caused are less than 1% of the deaths caused by abortions?

William Spearshake July 15, 2015 at 9:56 AM
And for the first century of its existence, the NRA was in favour of more restrictive gun control laws. The motives and focus of organizations change over time.

Joe G July 15, 2015 at 10:48 AM
The NRA responded to the liberal attacks. In order to keep what they had they had to pull far to the right.

William Spearshake July 15, 2015 at 11:11 AM
I wasn't criticizing the NRA, although there is much to be critical of. I was merely pointing out that you can't judge a long standing organization based on the motives and philosophy of its founders. These things often change considerably over time, as was the case with the NRA.

Joe G July 15, 2015 at 5:45 PM
The NRA had to change due to liberals.

Tokyojim July 15, 2015 at 7:15 PM
Wait William, you are trying to compare PP with the NRA?  PP was born out of this type of a worldview! That was the whole purpose of the organization from the get go. That is a whole different thing than saying some of it's policies have changed over time. The founder was an evil person and had evil motives in beginning the organization! This is not a fair comparison at all. You only try and justify it because you too are a leftist.

William Spearshake July 15, 2015 at 7:41 PM
Have I said anything justifying PP?

Addendum 22/07/15

The above is a video response by Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. In spite of Hunter's accusation I suspect that Ms Richards is telling the truth in good conscience: She does not deny that her organisation carries out abortions and distributes "fetal tissue" for research purposes, but she does deny that the organisation is profiting from this distribution; rumor has it that the rightists edited their video to give this false impression. Ms. Richards reels off the work Planned Parenthood is involved in "Cancer screening, birth control, STD detection and treatment and abortions"; reading Hunter you'd think that abortions was all that PP do!  There is no real murder here and my feeling is that Ms Richards is doing what she feels to be right in good conscience. That's not to say I agree with abortion. For Planned Parenthood killing fetuses is just a job of work among others, comparable perhaps to the professional executioners task. Although I would not want to say that all of Planned Parenthood's clients have unjustified abortions, that troubling question remains in my mind: How many of those unborn children are aborted for quite marginal reasons and treated as unwanted parasitic machines fit only for experimental scrutiny?

Addendum  29/07/15

In the above video uber-feminist Rebecca Watson weighs in on the debate and takse exception to the term "baby parts" when used of something as small as a bean; better she thinks is "tissue". In this debate connotationalism looms large.

*1 It is possible that extreme Islam is in part a reaction to the mind boggling open ended freedoms and choices of Western secularism.
See here:

*2 Postmodernism is a bit like very hot spice: In moderation it can season and mature our epistemology, but too much of it can be a killer.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Deistical, God of the Gaps Thinking

In a blog post here evangelical atheist Larry Moran criticizes a web article by Intelligent Design guru Kirk Durston.  I know that Larry Moran is apt to call people like Durston “IDiots”, but looking at Moran’s post I’m not surprised. Below I quote both Durston and Moran as they appear on Moran’s post. As is my usual practice I add my own comments.

Durston: In the neo-Darwinian scenario for the origin and diversity of life, the digital functional information for life would have had to begin at zero, (Wrong!) increase over time to eventually encode the first simple life form, and continue to increase via natural processes to encode the digital information for the full diversity of life. An essential, falsifiable prediction of Darwinian theory, therefore, is that functional information must, on average, increase over time.(Wrong again!)

My Comment: This statement tells me that Durston is unfamiliar with the kind of the issues I raised in my series on Joe Felsenstein’s and Tom English’s post on Panda’s Thumb (see links below). If evolution is to work as currently understood, it must start out with a full complement of information. This burden of information is found in the abstract “sponge” structure that occupies configuration space: It is this structure that acts as the “rails” which guide the evolutionary/OOL diffusion processes. The "sponge" is conjectured to be an implication of physics.  As such evolution is not a process that creates information as Durston claims: Rather evolution is a process which transforms information from an abstract structure in configuration space to reified organisms. Of course, I must qualify all this by registering my reservations about the existence of this spongey structure: How I see evolution/OOL is another story which I tell in my Melencolia I series. (I’ve got no illusions that my own attempt to handle the OOL/evolution question would be laughed off by pure secularists, but at least I won’t get censorious insults about courting divine displeasure from them!)

Bellow I quote a section of Moran’s post and add my comments at the end (My emphases).

Moran: Contrast this [i.e. real evolutionary theory] with the Intelligent Design version of creationism. Apparently its followers understand the mind of the "intelligent designer" because they are prepared to make predictions about what he/she/it/them intended. Here's how Kirk Durston describes it…..

Durston: Interestingly, a prediction of intelligent design science is quite the opposite. Since information always degrades over time for any storage media and replication system, intelligent design science postulates that the digital information of life was initially downloaded into the genomes of life. It predicts that, on average, genetic information is steadily being corrupted by natural processes. The beauty of these two mutually incompatible predictions in science is that the falsification of one entails verification of the other. So which prediction does science falsify, and which does science verify?

Moran: If I understand this correctly, the Intelligent Design Creationists all agree that all the information required to make complex organisms was written into the genome at some time in the past (3.5 billion years ago according to many ID proponents). Since that time, the intelligent designer has allowed that information to steadily degrade so that eventually all species will become extinct. (I don't know how Durston came to understand the mind of the gods.)

Durston: This is the first problem for neo-Darwinian theory. Mutations produce random changes in the digital information of life. It is generally agreed that the rate of deleterious mutations is much greater than the rate of beneficial mutations. My own work with 35 protein families suggests that the rate of destruction is, at minimum, 8 times the rate of neutral or beneficial mutations.

Simply put, the digital information of life is being destroyed much faster than it can be repaired or improved. New functions may evolve, but the overall loss of functional information in other areas of the genome will, on average, be significantly greater. The net result is that the digital information of life is running down.

Moran: Isn't that interesting? Intelligent Design Creationists believe that over the past 3.5 billion years the genetic information in simple bacteria has been steadily degrading at a rate 8 times the rate of beneficial mutations.

Aside from the fact that Durston's statement is ridiculous, it says something very weird about the intelligent designer that these creationists believe in. Those gods intelligent designers don't resemble any human engineers or computer programmers that I've ever met. Humans would have done a better job of designing in the first place and they would make sure that crucial systems get frequent updates and repairs to keep them working. (My emphasis)

My Comment: Moran is right: Durston is making implicit assumptions about the way his purported intelligent agent works. This has lead the de-facto ID community into an inconsistency: On the one hand IDists will claim  that the function of ID science is only detect the presence of intelligence and make little or no assertion as to character of that intelligence. And yet whenever the IDists attempt to make predictions we find they are working from an implicit raft of assumptions about the way that intelligence works (as does Durston above). In fact I would submit that even to make sense of the works of an intelligent agent requires a background knowledge of just what intelligence is and the kind things it does.  I made a similar point to Moran’s “Apparently its followers understand the mind of the "intelligent designer” in this post. Viz:

And yet the ID community claims to be able to make predictions such as economy of design and absence of Junk DNA. I suggest that they cannot make these predictions unless they are actually making implicit assumptions about the nature of the intelligence they are dealing with; there is therefore an inconsistency in Torley’s thought: He can’t make claim to knowing so little about the nature of the intelligent agent and yet at the same time try and pass on predictions that contain implicit assumptions about that intelligence. After all, motive, that is emotions, are a huge part of any practical intelligence and we need some inkling of those motives to make predictions. But when we do hazard postulating something about the nature of the intelligence involved the resultant science is far from exact, in fact it is a science that is a lot softer than archaeology (see also:

Durston, as other IDists, is very naturally interpreted as a dualist God-of-the-Gaps thinker. This is what comes over to Larry Moran and it certainly also comes over to me. As Moran says Durston conjures up a picture of a God who, on occasion, downloads a piece of his mind into molecular matter and then steps back and allows it to degrade. This is a classical deist conception of God. No doubt the ID community will try to deny this, but the fact is whenever they attempt to explain ID to themselves they appear to fall into the dualist and desitical trap of god-of-the-gaps style thinking. Part of the problem seems to be down to their explanatory filter epistemic (See here) but a lot of it may be down to a default Western dualist philosophy of God.

As is the way with communities who have become the target of general disdain, marginalisation and insult, the de-facto IDists have reacted with an insular embattled mentality. We therefore find Durston simply repeating the fallacies of his IDist peer group. As I’ve recently expressed in this blog post the de-facto ID community have been a huge disappointment to me: They have screwed up in several issues and don’t seem to have the self-critical back bone to dig themselves out of the hole they are in. There is one advantage of the secular community (and “secular” does not necessarily equate to “atheist”) that some insular Christian sub-cultures are unlikely to benefit from: Viz: the secular scientific community is less a community than it is a disorderly free for all. Although the dangers of nihilism and postmodernism are ever present among pure secularists, disagreement at the price of unity is not something they lose sleep over. On the other hand closeted and sectarian Christian communities do lose sleep over it and end up forming a tight-knit penguin cluster who are very easy targets for the machine gun fire of criticism. That the ID community have so badly failed in the area of apologetics is, for a Christian like myself, disquieting; on the whole they are some of the most intelligent and reasonable evangelical believers around*. But if the de-facto IDists are performing so badly on the apologetics front that doesn't bode well for the anti-science Christian fundamentalists.

Safety in numbers? Not when there are Maxims about!

Relevant links:

* But beware; because of their personal certainty about their moral convictions and pilgrimage they can turn "nasty".

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Melencolia I Part 6: Quantum Leaps

Part 6 of my Melencolia series can be found here. I reproduce the introduction to this paper below:


1     Introduction
In this short paper I make a proposal as to the nature of quantum leaps. These “leaps” are the apparent discontinuous changes of the quantum mechanical Hilbert vector, a vector which otherwise moves continuously according to a deterministic wave equation. I have come down in favour of the view that these leaps are literal rather than apparent. The following paper is largely a qualitative discussion of a subject which could no doubt bear a lot more rigorous quantitative formulation. However, in this Melencolia I series my sights are really on the evolutionary and OOL questions and I hope I have enough in this paper on quantum leaping to assess its impact on my general objectives. But having said that I’m not quite sure just where this paper leaves my ideas about a declarative model of evolutionary computation. For on the face of it my proposal on quantum leaping seems to hamstring the searching that would be needed to find the configurations of life: This is because the “leaps” would, apparently, clear the quantum signalling field before it could make any worthwhile discoveries. One little consolation, however, is that in conceiving matter as a combination of a coherent object and a shadowy gravitational field I find some scope for fixing the energy problem thrown up by proposing literal quantum leaps.

The general idea that guides the Melencolia I series is the view that intelligence is a process, a process with a general declarative structure, of search, reject and select. Thus, the life generating processes are, in this context, viewed as intelligence at work and therefore open to observational scrutiny. This very much contrasts with the views of the de-facto ID community who envisage intelligence as a kind of black box very distinct from natural processes. This black box gets little or no analytical treatment from the de-facto IDists.  In contrast one thing that encourages me to pursue the endogenous ID proposal is the fact that the our current understanding of the mind suggests conscious cognition is very much bound up with the material organisation of the brain;  That is, we do not see “mind” down at the low neuronal level;  these low level elements are wholly impersonal. But at the high level personality becomes apparent. Likewise we don’t see cosmic intelligence/personality operating at the low particulate level, but we may only see it in the big picture. This is not to say that current molecular views of the mind are the full answer; for example, we may eventually have to feed into to the mix the ideas of people like John Searle, Roger Penrose or whoever.

As I continue to use this series to explore the processes that generate life there is, I feel, little chance I’m following anything like the right path. But as I always say: Enjoy the journey while you can because the destination may not be up to much! And below, the journey so far…..

Also relevant are these links:

Monday, June 29, 2015

Garden Shed Technology

All I can say is that it's a good thing it's going no where near the sea!

The above picture shows the current progress of the full-size Noah's Ark  being constructed at the "Answers in Genesis" theme park. The line taken by the thin curving piece of wood on the extreme  right appears to show the shape of the hull in cross section. This cross-section is worth comparing with the cross section of Nelson's ship HMS Victory:

HMS Victory: This  is what a sea-worthy  X-section looks like!

Now it's probably true that HMS Victory as a warship was over-engineered, but even so look at the relative thickness of the hull  in comparison with its size: The Hull was about 2 feet thick for a boat 186 feet long by 51 feet wide; the internal floor beams are also very thick.  Compare this with the Ark's 500 foot length and 86 foot width - in volume much, much bigger than Nelson's ship.  Since weight goes up with the cube of linear dimension I would expect a genuine sea-worthy Ark to have a cross section that reflects this - that is, the amount of wood thickness employed in cross section to be proportionally greater than that of HMS Victory*.  Now, it's true I 'm not a ship engineer who has done the calculations but to my eye AiG's "Ark" looks decidedly flimsy: As an out-sized garden shed designed to support several floors of visitor exhibits and keep the weather out it's no doubt fine, but it looks far too spindly to stand the buffeting of a catastrophic global flood. This is no genuinely scientific or  technical demonstration of the Ark's plausible construction, but rather an Ark-shaped exhibition centre.  My guess is that the "hull" of AiG's Ark will be covered in a thin facade of planks and that's highly symbolic because in the final analysis that's what this "Ark"  project is all about: namely, a matchstick facade sufficient to give visitors the impression of being inside the Ark.  If AiG want an authentic testimony to their belief that the Ark sailed the high seas of a huge global flood they will have to increase the cross sectional thicknesses considerably; but I suppose that would be far too expensive. All in all it looks as though it's a monumental folly and an embarrassment to the Christian faith; This thoroughly sham construction will simply convey the message that Christianity is all about the ability to believe in fairy tales

Relevant links:

8/7/15: Panda's Thumb has a post on this subject here:

Noah according to the gospel of toytown.
* Compare the way the cross section of dinosaur bones increases in relation to their increasing volume: small animals can walk on spindly legs: dinosaurs that weigh in at around 70 tons have extremely thick legs. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Disunited States of America

American Storm in a Tea cup? Let's hope so.

North America isn't very much at one with itself nowadays. Some right wingers still seem to be fighting a version of the anti-taxation war of independence.  I'm not just thinking of the Tea Party, but also the Sovereign Citizen movement and "Operation American Spring": See below:

This is not to say that I would have supported the British Crown's war against the American settlers; My own church (Norwich Central Baptist Church) supported the American revolutionarys in those days. That's no surprise because the Norwich Baptists of the day had also had enough of oppressive government interference.  (See here). But in spite of  the fact that the American revolution had radical Whig roots, today, ironically, that war has come to symbolize gun toting right wing America! The Whig aversion to the centralised power of an absolute monarchy  has morphed into something weird in America!

And now we find the North-South fault line also starting show up: Here's someone taking  down to the old Confederate flag after the recent Carolina massacre of black-church members in a racially motivated attack.

According to the BBC article where I found this picture There has been a social media campaign to remove the flag. But I think these southern guys below want it put back up:

The BBC caption on this picture is: There have been rallies to support the use of the flag.  

Right-wing extremists have an unfortunate tendency to send up the USA. Obama, however, rises above the mean minded right-wingers, fundamentalists and cranky conspiracy theorists with statesman like grace:  All I can say is thank God for a dignified Christian president.  Let's also thank God for the black church who faced a massacre of innocents: Their response to barbarianism was a pinnacle of civilisation; if only there was more of it the world.

Relevant Link:

Friday, June 19, 2015

Shrouded in Mystery (I bet that one’s been used before)

This mystery is far from wrapped up!

(Note: see 21 June postscript)

As a bit of light relief I thought I’d make a few comments on this BBC article on the Turin Shroud:

Even if one accepts the 1989 radiocarbon 14 dating which puts the shroud between about 1260 and 1390, the shroud is, as the article says,  “a deeply puzzling object”.

The radiocarbon dating is consistent with the first historical reference to the shroud which the BBC article gives as 1357 in Lirey, France. (Although Wikipedia thinks 1390 is more certain). I’m hardly an authority on medieval art or techniques, but it strikes me that for the shroud to be a work of art of considerable technical expertise we would have to push the artifact well into the Renaissance; it is far too early for that. In any case the article suggests that the material evidence for the shroud being a painting is slim. That leaves us with various mechanical and/or natural means of generating what seems to be a very realistic looking, technically correct even, picture of a crucified man. In this connection the article goes on to consider some possibilities. Viz: Various chemical reactions in the cloth catalyzed by the presence of a real dead body or perhaps it was created by skilled medieval technologists who knew enough to make a crude photo of an effigy or may be even of a crucified dead body. But it turns out there are problems with all these explanations.

If we assume that the cloth is the genuine article and we have no inhibitions about invoking fairly exotic processes in its formation, there is still a question in my mind:  When the image was formed presumably the cloth would have been wrapped tightly round the body of Christ. I suppose one really needs to do some experimentation with real shrouds and know something about first century Jewish funerary practices, but off the top of my head I would have thought that this wrapping would so distort the receiving medium of the cloth that the image would hardly look like two photographic plates taken front and back!* But if one is willing to invoke exotic processes in the formation of the image, no doubt the imagination can soon fix this little query!

And finally an irony: Aficionados of evangelical atheism, of course, won’t countenance even a hint of doubt about the natural or human origins of the shroud image.  But guess who else detests this very Catholic artifact of devotion and is thoroughly committed to the idea that it is a fake?  Take a look at an extract from a letter to the May Premier Christianity magazine in response to an article on the Turin Shroud the month before:

John’s Gospel says that Jesus’ head was covered by a cloth separate from the linen Shroud.  As the Turin Shroud is in one piece it cannot be genuine. It has no place in a true engagement with the risen Christ. The Shroud has been shown by many historical tests to be a 14th century fake, dating from a time awash with similar artifacts. The pieces of “evidence” in the article sidestep those conclusive proofs. The article is a disingenuous attempt at promoting credulous superstition. That leaves with me with real concern that Premier Christianity has put its name at risk.

Now it may well be the shroud is a fake, but I would certainly not want to argue along the lines of this naive piece of fundamentalist prejudice: It doesn’t follow that the presence of a head cloth entails the absence of a full length shroud – one would have to delve into the history of the funerary practices of the time before one could use this head cloth reference as a basis to assert with any level of confidence that “it cannot be genuine”. Moreover, head cloth or no head cloth it would all very much depend on the process of image formation, a process which if it involved the “supernatural” would introduce so many possibilities that we've no knowing what could happen under such circumstances! The BBC article appears not to be aware of those “conclusive proofs” that the letter writer claims exist and in any case is science ever absolutely conclusive? And where are those "similar artifacts" of the period comparable with the Shroud's apparent expertise?

I’m not quite sure what evangelical tradition this fundamentalist is coming from: Fundamentalists who style themselves as “Reformed Christians”, who loathe the Catholic Church and are still fighting the Reformation would certainly not accept that such a “heretical” institution is the custodian of the real shroud of Christ. But a Reformed Christian is unlikely to write to a charismatically flavored magazine like Christianity. So perhaps this person is what I call a reformo-charismatic. But whatever: Notice that as is the wont of fundamentalism we find juxtaposed with the superlatives of high devotion (like “true engagement with the risen Christ”) the utmost spiritually condemning terms; in this case accusations of hypocrisy, dishonesty and the promoting of superstition!  This is why I don’t get on with fundies (and some evangelicals) – even when their conclusions may well be right I still don’t agree with them. This is mainly because they are so arrogantly certain of their opinions and so ready to accuse more liberal Christians of heresy and blasphemy! What’s wrong with a bit of self-skepticism, self-doubt and self-criticism? Everything in the fundamentalist's eyes: To criticize self is to criticize one's opinions and to criticize one's opinions is to criticize the Bible where those opinions are claimed to originate; and that is tantamount to criticizing God himself! Such intellectual vice!

* This query extends to all explanations that posit the formation of the image whilst the body was wrapped; but it is only a query: May be laying the body on one half of the shroud and then gently draping the other half over the body generates the sort of relation between shroud and body we are looking for.

Postscript (21 June)

So what's my opinion of this object: Real or Fake? That could be another false dichotomy as I shall explain. A less loaded question is: Is the shroud from the first century or the late middle ages? Although I have a measure of open mindedness about this puzzling object, on balance I think it originates from the late middle ages. This is because I find the coincidence of the radiocarbon dating with the historical references fairly compelling: If a miraculous first century image formation process somehow had the effect of distorting the radiocarbon dating it seems unlikely that it would contrive such a coincidence.  Alternatively, if the cloth has become contaminated in someway (e.g. with repairs) during its passage through history would this have the likely effect of returning a radiocarbon dating that coincided with the date of its first historical reference?

There is also an internal consistency question that arises if one is prepared to accept that the shroud is a product of exotic paranormal processes. If such processes are available is it just possible that the image could conceivably have been impressed on a late medieval cloth in response to the psyche of the medieval mindset, a mindset that as we know was obsessed with relics? After all, there are claims of paranormal images having been imprinted upon photographic plates, floor tiles and even human bodies. In fact, perhaps even God himself arranged for this to happen in order to give post black death medieval devotion something to hook on! It it is also conceivable within the paranormal paradigm that God inspired skilled medieval workmen to do his bidding! Who knows? Of course, these sorts of hypotheses are unlikely, but if you are prepared to accept the miraculous in the formation of the image, these candidates should be weighed and rejected or selected.

I would love to think the object is the real thing, but as I have said "real or fake" may be inappropriate categories expressing an implicit valued judgement. Perhaps the Catholic church has the right idea in not commenting one way or the other. If the shroud is a 14th century creation (as opposed to a "fake") it still remains a very singular object and a very realistic depiction of the end result of crucified suffering. Whether it be a work of art, a medieval technological feat, or perhaps even a  record of some 14th century paranormal event, it nevertheless is so remarkable in its execution that like any really good piece of art it inspires; and that can't be bad - unless you are an evangelical atheist or an artless fundamentalist Christian!